Is There A Wolf In Your Pulpit?

Text: Jeremiah 23:16-23, Matthew 7:7-15-23, Acts 20:27-38

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

We have a very clear theme in all of our readings today. 

Jeremiah said this,

“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who speak to you, filling you with empty hopes – those prophets who speak their own mind and not the word of God.”

Jesus said,

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing.”

And the Apostle Paul said,

“Be alert for men will speak twisted things to draw you away.”
So, what is the theme of our readings?

It seems that all three of our readings this morning are attempting to not only point out the threat of false teachers but also to warn the church to be alert and aware of this threat. 

You see, there is a two-fold problem that is before us.  On the one hand, some false teachers rise in the church.  And on the other hand, churches can be gullible or lethargic – not worrying about the message that they are hearing from the pulpit week after week.  So, if you combine these two – a false teacher and an unconcerned church – what you end up with is a disaster.  You end up with a church that is no longer a church – but just a bunch of na├»ve sheep being led by a heretical pastor into the twisted lies of darkness.  You end up with sheep being led to a slaughterhouse. 

So, with that said, let us consider both of these concerns today. 

First, these false pastors – these false teachers. 

As we know from the Scriptures, the devil likes to masquerade as an angel of light.  His false pastors and teachers like to do the same as well.  Indeed, the devil and his false teachers typically do not go around attacking the Christian church in red outfits, horns, and a devil’s pitchfork.  But rather, the devil’s false teachers appear to be Christians.  They look and sound very convincing, with a pious spiritual demeanor.  Yes, they will look like and act like a kind and loving pastor.  Generally speaking, they are nice – in fact, they are very nice and very loving, with a pleasant smile.  Now, the reason why these false pastors look spiritual, act pious, and are very nice, is that they are wolves in sheep’s’ clothing.  Think about this for a moment; if they were not pious, nice, and loving, they would not be wolves in sheep’s clothing, they would be wolves. 

Now, there is a very dark side to these wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Underneath the pleasant smiles and nice attitudes, these wolves are all about twisting, distorting, and perverting the Lord’s Word.  Their deceit has its power as it masquerades as the truth.  And make no mistake about it, their twisting of God’s Word is so dangerous that they will destroy souls and plunge people into the abyss of hell. 

Second, let us consider churches. 

In the American church we have this strange desire to place peace, happiness, warmth, smiles, and getting along, above faithfulness, integrity, and the truth.  We say, “As long as we believe in Jesus that is all that matters.”  And there is more, our ears itch, and we accumulate for ourselves false teachers to tell us what we ‘want’ to hear, not what we ‘need’ to hear.  And so, we end up believing in Jesus but not really in what Jesus says.  Instead, we believe in what false teachers are saying… and what they are saying is typically the exact opposite of what Jesus said in the Bible.  But that doesn’t matter, because we are all getting along. 

This is nothing new though.  During the Old Testament times, God’s people in Judah listened to and embraced false prophets.  These false prophets spoke visions of their own mind and did not speak the Word of the Lord.  This did not matter though to the people in Judah, for they continually despised God’s inconvenient truth and embraced the vain and hopeless teachings of the false prophets.  They embraced the false prophets and the false prophet’s damning teaching unto their own destruction because it tickled their ears.       

So, where do we go from here? 

Well, Jesus tells us in the Gospel reading to beware of false prophets.  Paul tells us to be alert.  Jeremiah tells us not to listen to false prophets. 

What this means is that we might not be able to identify false teachers by their outside appearance, but rather, we must be ready to judge the fruit of false teachers.  And what is their fruit?  The fruit of false teachers is not their love, piety, and nice qualities, but it is what they preach and teach.  In other words, even though a false teacher looks like a gentle and harmless sheep and even though they may well claim the Gospel when it comes down to it, they cannot conceal their real identity, for it will be evident in their fruit – what they preach and teach. The fruit of false teachers is in their sermons and bible lessons and lectures. 

Now, as Christians, you do not need to know Greek and Hebrew, like your pastor.  You don’t need to know all the fancy theological terms.  However, you certainly can and should judge the fruit – the bad teaching of false shepherds – that comes to your ears. 

So, may be asking right now, what does it sound like? 

Generally speaking the preaching and teaching of these false teachers – their bad fruit – has three characteristics.   

First, they diminish mankind’s sin:

“You are not a poor miserable sinner for God loves you just the way you are.  God would never send anyone to hell.  You are fine choosing your own religious path, for all roads lead to the same God.  Don’t be so hard on yourself; you have greatness within.” 

In this kind of preaching, mankind’s sin is either denied or diminished – or sin is not even talked about.  

Secondly, this kind of toxic preaching lifts up what the preacher does, and what you should do: 

“If only you would do a little more for Jesus, he would bless you as he blesses me, for I do all things well – or at least better than other folks. If only you would have more faith and give a little more and work a little harder, then you would see what God promises.  If you pursue God with a little more devotion, you will find a more growing relationship with the Lord.”

In this preaching, the so-called “Gospel,” is not focused on Jesus, but is conditioned on something the preacher wants to get out of you.   It is not about what Jesus has done for you as a poor miserable sinner, but what you must do and accomplish by your own spiritual powers.  It is about you climbing upward to the Lord, not the Lord coming down to you.    

Thirdly, these false teachers will not focus on Jesus, but their sermons will consistently be on money, or morality, or tolerance, or social justice issues, or environmentalism. Pick your project, but the message is the same; it is not Christ-crucified for the forgiveness of sins, but rather some project or contemporary social event. 

Indeed, these false teachers will diminish sin, take the focus off of Jesus, and put it on you, and then stick you on some project or social event. 

Baptized Saints, this is anti-Christian, because it eliminates Christ and His gifts.  If we are not sinners, we do not need Jesus, for Jesus came only for sinners.  If we are focusing on the Christian and not the Christ, it also eliminates Jesus.  May God protect us from this wretched theology that strips away the central message of Jesus Christ dying for sinners – sinners such as us.   

So what makes good preaching then?  What does good fruit from true pastors and teachers look like?  Well, it is not zeal or eloquence or imagination or attracting a huge audience for the sake of numbers. It is not a warm fuzzy sermon with stories of sadness and joy.  It is not standup comedy from the pulpit.  It is not meaningless inspirational stories that are intended to exalt the pastor and lead the hearer to believe that they have a hidden potential within to make their wildest dreams come true.  It is not the recent new social cause or the most recent social injustice. But rather, the good fruit of a faithful teacher and pastor is the unchanging Word of God.  It is the Word of God that is like fire and a hammer that invades our world breaking us poor miserable sinners into a thousand pieces and rendering us as helpless sinners.  It is the mighty and forceful absolving news that all of our sins are forgiven for Christ sake – all of them.  It is the bold declaration that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is your Lord, who has redeemed you, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won you from all your sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that you may be wholly His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

Dear Baptized Saints, may God preserve me as your pastor to be faithful to His Word.  Pray for me.

May God also grant you zeal for the truth, discernment to identify falsehoods, and the integrity to hold me and judge me with the faithful confession of the Word.  I will pray for you. 

Finally, let Paul’s blessing then also be upon us together:

“And now I commend you to God and the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all that are sanctified.” Grant this, Lord, unto us all.”

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

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