Sermon audio here.
Today our Lord warns us about the most dangerous thing in the world. But there’s a problem with this particular threat. To begin with, it doesn’t seem dangerous. When we think of what threatens us, any number of things might come to mind. It could be robbers or thinking there’s a monster in your closet. Maybe you’re worried about coming up with the money to pay the bills this month. Maybe it’s terrorism or politics. Maybe it’s a test result. Maybe you’re worried about being alone.
None of these things made Jesus’ list. Actually, those fears all turn out to be idolatry. They come from not trusting in God the way you should. Jesus is with you, and He will take care of you. He experienced worse and His Father didn’t put Him to shame. Repent of your worry.
Jesus’ list of things to beware of is surprisingly short. In fact, there’s only one thing on it, and that’s false doctrine. Now if I would have asked you to list the top most 10 dangerous things in life, or even all the dangerous things you can think of, for that matter, false doctrine probably wouldn’t have made the list. This is another example of how cunning Satan is. He’s managed to convince us that the most dangerous thing in the world is so unimportant that we don’t even think about it.
You should. False doctrine is more dangerous than poison. The worst poison can do is kill your body. False doctrine can destroy your soul.
But it gets worse. Not only is false doctrine not on our radar, when it does show up, it doesn’t sound bad. Those who teach it, our Lord says, disguise themselves in sheep’s clothing. You can’t spot a false teacher by looking at one. If anything, they look godly. The devil doesn’t show up with a sign around his neck that says, “Look out, I’m the devil.”[i] No, the devil disguises himself as an angel of light, and everything he teaches sounds good.
You know where the devil’s favorite place is to sell books? Family Christian bookstores. Sure, they sell some good things. They sell the bible, they sell crucifixes. Those are great. So you go in with your guard down, only seeing the sheep’s clothing. Then you see the Aladdin’s Lamb Study Bible by Joel Osteen with 10 easy steps to turning God into your own personal genie. $39.99 for spiritual poison, and it’s a New York Times bestseller.
Worse, it’s bubblegum flavored poison. It doesn’t taste bad. Who wouldn’t want a God who wants nothing more than for them to be happy? The latest album by Itching Ears for Christ may be catchy, and there’s nothing better than scratching a bad itch when you’ve got one. But here’s the problem. These so-called “praise bands” will keep scratching until you bleed. What felt good at first can eventually become infected and cause death.
Jesus warns about the yeast of the Pharisees. If you do any baking, you know it only takes a tiny bit of yeast to make a whole batch of dough rise. False doctrine’s the same way. It only takes a tiny bit to kill you. Beware.
Satan’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He tempted Eve with fruit that was a delight to the eyes. When our Lord was starving, He tempted Him with bread. The way Satan works is very simple: he finds out what you want, what appeals to you, and that’s what he offers. Everything he says sounds good. The devil is a preacher of hope and peace. The hope may be vain and the peace may be false, but it sounds good, so we buy it.
Our Lord’s preaching, on the other hand, sounds as harsh as the devil’s sounds beautiful. He preaches the way of the cross. There are two groups of prophets, Jeremiah tells us. One preaches a message of peace and security. They say things like, “It shall be well with you,” and “no disaster shall come upon you.” But Jeremiah didn’t praise the beautiful feet of these prophets. He described them as those who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, and all they ever did was preach peace.
Imagine that, the devil preaches peace. The trick is, he does it where there is no peace. He preaches gospel where Christ preaches Law. He tells the sick they’re healthy. He promotes sin under the banner of love, convincing us there’s nothing wrong with divorce and homosexual marriage. The devil even preaches health, especially when it involves the destruction of life in a mother’s womb. That’s a win-win: sex without consequence and murder all in the name of “women’s health.”
Jesus’ preaching isn’t nearly as attractive. He says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”[ii] Jesus’ prophets preach repentance, calling you to turn from your evil way and from the evil of your deeds. He even uses a vulgar word for poop to describe your best good works.[iii] The devil would never risk offending you like that. He’ll give you a pat on the back and say you’re a good person. Better than a lot of people, that’s for sure.
It’s no wonder St. Paul said, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”[iv] And that’s exactly what the devil will do. He’ll tell you to follow your heart, to do what feels right. Jesus says the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.
So sick, in fact, the heart will choose the devil and his pleasant-sounding lies every time. Jesus said the people rejected Him because He told the truth.[v] The congregation in Galatia received a letter from St. Paul in which he asked them, have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?[vi] We don’t want to hear that were poor, miserable sinners. Even if we’re poor and miserable, we don’t want to admit it.
The trouble is no amount of hiding a problem can make it go away. False doctrine remains false, no matter how good or pleasant it sounds. It’s a preaching of peace where there is no peace. It’s sin masquerading as love, licentiousness posing as compassion.
Satan will gladly give you what your heart desires because the heart wants the very things Satan has to give. It longs for the temporal at the expense of the eternal. Satan will offer you the world in exchange for your soul, and your heart is only too eager to say amen. Repent.
One of the marks of false doctrine is that it’s pleasant and inoffensive. False doctrine speaks to the heart. St. Paul says if he were seeking the approval of man, he would not preach the Gospel.[vii] If you want to win friends and influence people, do the opposite of everything Jesus ever did. His friends forsook Him and left Him to the wolves.
As it turns out, this was our Lord proving Himself even more cunning than Satan. It was Him out-tempting the tempter. Just as the devil enticed Adam with beautiful, yet poisonous fruit, so also Christ enticed Satan with the beautiful fruit of the cross, His own body and blood. Christ deceived Satan and he ate that which was toxic for him, but life-giving for you.
Satan’s Turkish delight may taste wonderful, but it will rot your spirit and ruin your appetite for Marriage Feast of the Lamb. The devil would lift you up, even to the tops of mountains. But don’t go with him. As soon as you get there he’ll push you off.
Jesus won’t always give you what you want or say what you want to hear. His Word is like a hammer that breaks your stony heart into pieces. Putting to death the deeds of the body isn’t supposed to feel good. But He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He wants you to turn from your way and live. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. You are His baptized child, and He would rather die than you miss out on His Wedding Feast.
The way of the cross isn’t easy, but as it was for Christ, so it is for us. We suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.
Soli Deo Gloria
[ii] Matt. 10:34
[iii] Phil. 3:8
[iv] 2 Ti. 4:3
[v] Jn. 8:45
[vi] Gal. 4:16
[vii] Gal. 1:10