Of Wolves, Dogs, and Pigs
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus refers to wolves, dogs, and pigs. Before our text, Jesus says, "Do not give to dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs." In our text, Jesus says, "Beware the wolves." Wolves, dogs, and pigs are a fitting thing to learn about as we enter the long season of Sundays after Pentecost, the season of growth.
The first thing we learn is there are wolves in sheep's clothing. Unlike pigs and dogs wolves hide their true nature. Dogs and pigs don't pretend to be anything but what they are. Wolves sneak about. Wolves don't come growling at you like a pack of mean dogs. They don't grunt and snort letting you know they're close. They pad softly into an area and wait for their prey to get close. They'll act as nice as Red Riding Hood's grandmother or as gentle as a sheep.
Jesus says, "Watch for false prophets coming to you looking like sheep," but you watch for them looking for horns and pitchforks. You watch for false prophets urging you to worship Satan or desecrate a crucifix. You think false prophets will look like what they are. Jesus says, "No, they look like what they aren't." They don't look like ferocious wolves but gentle sheep. Everything they do they do is in Jesus' name. Note Jesus says they actually do these things. They prophesy, cast out demons, and do miracles all in Jesus' name.
You don't need to be warned about a wolf that looks like a wolf but one that looks like a sheep. Jesus says, no promises, "By their fruits you will recognize them." The fruits of a false prophet aren't what he does but what he teaches. And it's not how he teaches but what. But do you know what people do? They judge pastors by their personality: good, dynamic, charismatic personality equals a faithful prophet, a sound pastor. Or sheep judge by speaking ability. If I had a nickel for every layman who said after visiting a church that the pastor was "a good speaker," I could retire today.
Wake up people. Now is the season to grow. False teachers don't look like false teachers; they look like true ones. You can't go by the nice physical things they do or even the spiritual things they do in Jesus' name. You must go by what a teacher teaches. And if you can't tell if a pastor is correctly preaching Law and Gospel, the whole counsel of God, and all things whatsoever Jesus has commanded, then you are condemned to looking for grapes on thornbushes and figs on thistles.
"There are wolves in sheep's clothing," teaches Jesus, and all dogs don't go to heaven. "All Dogs go to Heaven" isn't just a title of a1989 movie, but of this American holiday. You won't find a Memorial Day observance that simply remembers the service of America's war dead which is a fine, fitting thing to do. No, every one of those ceremonies place those who died serving our country in heaven. They've earned a place in heaven by making the ultimate sacrifice. The Greeks had their Elysian Fields, the Indians their Happy Hunting Grounds, and the Norse Valhalla, and we Americans have heaven.
But not all dogs go heaven neither do all warriors, soldiers, and heroes. What's more Jesus says, "Not even everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord' goes to heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father." Here Jesus doesn't say what that will is but what it's not. It's not prophesying in His name, quoting so many Bible passages people say, "Wow." Doing the Father's will isn't preaching so eloquently about what Jesus can do for and with your life that people get excited. Nor is doing the will of the Father driving out the demons of alcohol, drugs, violence, or low self-esteem in Jesus' name. And finally doing the will of the Father isn't doing the miraculous thing of building a church, filling a church, or reaching a 100 million people in Jesus' name by the year 2017!
Jesus tells you in John 6 what the will of His Father is, but we hear it and think, "That's it? That's easy! Isn't there more?" thereby showing that the wolf still lives in us. Jesus says in John 6, "This is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life." The Father's will is that you believe on His Son for salvation. The Father's will is that you believe that Jesus' works are what count not yours, not even the ones you do in His name. The Father's will is that you believe Jesus' suffering and sacrificing are what count, not yours. The Father's will is that you believe that your sins, even your sins of not crying wolf when you should and believing all dogs go to heaven when you shouldn't have been paid for, forgiven, sent away from you.
Jesus begins by telling us, "There are wolves in sheep clothing, so beware; all dogs don't go to heaven, but you will," and Jesus closes by saying, "Pigs can't fly." "When pigs fly," is a centuries old proverb with many variants, yet all mean that something will never happen. Jesus says, "It will never happen that a hearer of My words but not a doer will go to heaven." Yet people believe not only that this pig will fly, but that even a fatter pig flies. They believe those who don't hear His Words at all will survive the disaster of death and fly away to heaven. But that's not what Jesus says. Jesus says that while pigs can't fly, everyone who hears and does His Word will stand even when the storm of death comes against their house.
This is an amazing promise. Paul compares life to a tent. The best tent might withstand a driving rain and maybe even steady wind, but it won't survive a flash flood. Solomon compares life to a golden bowl suspended by a sliver thread. That won't withstand a good rain or a bad wind let alone a flash flood. Yet Jesus knows of a life that will. To us people of clay, to us frames made of dust, to us who are aging, ailing, graying, and aching, to us who can see the storm of death approaching as sure as we saw the thunderstorms coming two weeks ago, this means a lot.
Jesus knows of a hearing and doing that produces a life that not only withstands death, but sin and the Devil too. It has to be able to do all 3 because Paul says that the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law, and Hebrews says that it is through the fear of death the Devil enslaves us all our days. So, to withstand the sting of Death which gives the Devil power over us, sins must be dealt with and the Law must be kept.
No amount of hearing or doing can deal with your sins and God's Law. O people think otherwise. They think if they go to church enough, that is hear enough, they will be saved. The mere sounding of words in the ear doesn't save. In Luke 13 Jesus shows people protesting they ought to be saved because Jesus taught in their streets. Jesus says to them, "I don't know you." Nor does doing, even lots of doing, even doing things in Jesus' name save. Our text makes this plain. Jesus says to those who prophesied, exorcized, and performed miracles in His name, "I never knew you." If you're not known by Jesus you can't be saved by God. The angel of death only passes over those known by God through the blood of the Lamb that marks them.
Now we're getting close, real close. There is a hearing and doing that withstand the rain, the river, and the icy wind of death. It's hearing Jesus kept the Law and hearing Jesus paid for your sins. There's salvation in hearing that the Laws of God you are required to keep but can't have been kept by Jesus. There's salvation in hearing that neither the Devil, your conscience, nor Death itself can threaten you based on your not keeping God's Law because Jesus kept them all in your place. When the Devil says, "What about keeping this Law?" And your conscience says. "What about paying for that sin?" And Death hisses, "What about doing this sin and paying for that one?" Your heart can say, "Done, done, and done; paid, paid, and paid" based on what you've heard Jesus did and paid.
There's a hearing that's able to withstand death and it leads to a doing that does. This doing isn't you doing works: doing stewardship, evangelism, or church work. Nor is it a doing of your vocation, job, marriage, or family. Death and the Devil take these fine, shinny works of yours and crumble them up as easily as you do so much tinfoil. On your deathbed if you try to shield yourself from the rain with your works, you'll drown for eternity. If you try to keep back the flood of death with your works, your levee will break and you'll be forever swept away. If you try to brace the walls of your life against death's demonic howling with your works, you'll find not only that pigs can't fly but that they get their homes blown to bits by wolves.
The doing that saves from death, that withstands death, is the doing that Jesus left us. He said do Baptism; do Absolution; do Holy Communion. In the doing of these the doing of Jesus that you heard about in the Gospel - His perfect keeping of the Law and His paying for your sins is delivered to your door. Death can huff and puff all it wants about your sins, and it won't be able to blow away God's Absolution of your life. Death can rain down all the guilt from your past, and you'll be bone dry guiltless under the Waters of your Baptism. Death can bring a whole flood of all that you haven't done that deserves judgment ,and the Body and Blood of Jesus in your mouth won't allow you to be swept away.
Wolves in sheep's clothing seek to devour you; all dogs don't go to heaven, and pigs can't fly. But pigs, dogs, and sheep are saved from the big bad wolf by hearing what Jesus did for them and by doing what He left for them. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday after Pentecost (20080522); Matthew 7: 15-29