Trees, Fruit, and their Prophets

Wolves don’t bear fruit. Trees bear fruit. Trees don’t seek to devour. Wolves devour.

There are two trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The fruit of one leads to eternal life and the fruit of the other leads to death and destruction. Prophets bring you the fruit of the tree. False prophets bring you the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They whisper in your ear that the tree is good for food and a delight to the eye and even good for gaining wisdom. Those who listen to the false prophet eat. Their eyes are opened and they see their nakedness and they are filled with shame and ungodly fear.

So they try to hide their shame and fear. They sew fig leaves and hide among the other trees. That is, they try to cover their shame by doing works man would call “good” and they hide behind laws of their own construct so that when the Lord comes they can try to sound reasonable and say, “I hid because I was afraid! After all, look at you! You are a mighty and powerful God, able to destroy and make alive. You reap where you do not sow and demand what is not yours. I was afraid and so I hid. Can you blame me?” But their fig leaves are not enough and their secret hiding places are made known and they will stand before the Lord who will say to them, “You knew that I was a hard Master, and yet you ate of the Tree of which I told you not to eat. And you made up rules and laws I did not command in order to appease my wrath. You seek a false righteousness, one that cannot stand before me. Therefore, depart, you worker of lawlessness, your love has grown cold.”

The wolf delivered the diseased fruit and the undiscerning hearer ate and brought death.

But there is a true prophet. He brings the fruit from the Tree of Life. This tree is truly good for food and for gaining true wisdom. But it is not delightful to the eyes. Those who look upon this tree are aghast with horror repulsed with gruesome wonder. What sort of Tree is this with its bloodied, pierced, and beaten Prophet hanging on it? What sort of Prophet is this that is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, one well acquainted with grief? There is nothing about Him that is pleasing to the eye; and to behold Him is to want to hide one’s face from Him. He seems rejected and smitten by God, and the nations of men do not esteem Him.

Yet He is the true Prophet of God. Blessed are those who are not offended by Him. His name is Truth and His tree is the Tree of Life. From it He brings you good fruit that leads to eternal life. Whoever eats of His fruit will live forever. Whoever tastes of His hand will taste and see that the Lord is good. He is the righteousness of the sinner and the justifier of the guilty. He is the Man of Mercy to those who are afraid. He is the lover of souls to those who think themselves hated by God. He brings the medicine of immortality and bears the fruit of eternal life. And those who hear Him receive Him gladly and are welcomed by Him into the kingdom of heaven.

He is not one who is far off. He is at hand. And by His wounds you are healed. By His suffering you find peace with God. All who look to Him are heard and all who call upon His name are saved from death and hell.

There are two trees. The fruit of one leads to death and destruction and its prophets are liars and ravenous wolves ready to devour. But the fruit of the other leads you to eternal life and freedom. Its Prophet is Truth and Wisdom. Come and eat from the Tree of Life. Eat the good fruit of the true Prophet and be saved.

(The Reverend Fr. Jason Braaten, wrote this on the mixed metaphor of Matthew 7:15-23.)

A Mediation on the Tree and its Fruit (Trinity 8)

Our Lord says (Matt 7:15-23) that His followers are to “beware false prophets”. They are to avoid false prophets, those who do not proclaim the word of the Lord, but proclaim their own words (which would be the words of the father of lies since a prophet either belongs to the Lord or to the deceiver). These false prophets are “wolves in sheep’s clothing … ravenous wolves” that will devour the flock of God.

How are the followers of Jesus to recognize these false prophets? By their fruit; the same way they recognize true prophets. “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” Of course not. So if the fruit is bad, the tree is bad because bad trees produce bad fruit. If the fruit is good, the tree is good because good trees produce good fruit.

So since we don’t know the value of the tree unless we know the value of the fruit, the question becomes: what’s the good and bad fruit?

It’s easy to assume that a prophet is a good prophet because he talks about Jesus and praises Him. But no one talks about and praises Jesus more than the devil. He’s always talking about Jesus. He just misrepresents Him. He’s always talking about God; just not the one true God. He’s always talking about faith; just not saving faith. He always uses the words of the Bible and quotes it, he just doesn’t actually say what the Scriptures say.  The devil is forever sounding pious and good to the ears of careless hearers. He promises life and hope, fulfillment and satisfaction. Just as God does. He promises love and acceptance and a place to call home. Just as God does. Just like God, the devil promises not to count our sins against us but to cover our faults and accept us. He promises never to reject us or kick us out or point out our weaknesses. So we often gladly hear him because he sounds so good and comforting and welcoming. He and his prophets are dressed as sheep.

In the end, the devil can sound like God. He can appear as an angel of the light. When Satan tempted Jesus, he promised the Son of God everything His Father had promised: daily bread, glory, and dominion. So how can we tell the good from the bad fruit? If the devil can sound like God, how can we discern the good from the bad? We can’t tell the good fruit from the bad fruit if the fruit is simply the word spoken. But the fruit is not simply the word spoken, what is said. The fruit of the tree is what happens because of what is said.

The devil can sound good and godly, but he cannot deliver on his promises. He cannot give you a good life because he is not good. He promises daily bread, glory, and dominion, but they are just words, they have no power to produce. They are a vaporous fog that is burned away with the dawning light of Christ. Because Christ does not just speak words and promises. The Christ delivers.

Christ says, “My Father wants you to have the kingdom and so I baptize you in my name and join you to myself. I remove your sins from you and give you my righteousness so that in me you are not condemned but have eternal life. I feed you with the bread of angels and give you drink from my cup, the cup of salvation, the river of life. I call you my own and know you by name because I named you in the waters purified by my obedience to the Father. I am your Lord and your God, and I promise to be your God and raise you up on the last day to live before me in righteousness and purity forever, even as I am risen from the dead and have joined you to me by washing you in the power of my resurrection.”

It is not that these words revive and gladden the heart, though they do. It is not that the words mention and speak of Christ, though they do this also. It is that Christ is risen from the dead. The promises of God are not promises of the future, they are promises in the man, Jesus, the Son of God. The dead will not be raised in Christ, they are raised in Christ. The new creation will be coming at the end of time, the new creation has come in the fulness of time in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The kingdom of heaven will not appear in the distant future, but appears now and forever in the risen Lord.

The tongue of the devil will always promise you something that sounds good and godly, something you want and for which you even pray. But his promises will always and only be unfulfilled promises of a future that does not exist and will never be. No matter how wonderful it may sound. His promises are lies. They are a mist burned away by the fire of the word of the Lord.  The honey from Christ’s tongue is not a future promise based on a flimsy hope of what we want to be true, but is a past reality fulfilled in Christ risen from the dead. 

The devil can’t steal the power of the word of God, even if he steals to himself the preacher. The devil and his prophets can’t preach the word of the Lord on behalf of his murderous kingdom. Even if they repeat Christ verbatim, it remains the word of Christ and belongs to Him and brings with it the Holy Spirit, not the spirit of deception, so that faith is created in Christ and good fruit is born of the word of the Lord. For the tree is Christ and so the fruit is good even if the preacher be of a wicked and perverse heart.

The word of the Lord doesn’t change in the mouth of the liar but changers the liar into a prophet of God so that even if he is wicked and evil the good tree that is Christ still bears good fruit; fruit that is pleasing to the eye of faith and good to eat. For it is not the preacher of which we eat and are well fed, but we feed on the fruit of the tree, and the tree is Christ.

Thoughts on Trinity 5

The blessed apostle Peter tells the saints of God to always be prepared to give an apology for the hope that is in you. The Greek word “apology” doesn’t mean to be sorry for; it means to make a defense for something. In our language when you apologize for something you are expressing sorrow over having done or not done something. You’re sorry. But in Greek, and so in theology, when you apologize for something you are defending it. You are arguing for it.

So next time you demand an apology from your husband or wife, be prepared to hear a defense of and reasons for what they did or did not do.

And you, O saints of God, are to be prepared to make an apology – to give reasons – for the hope that is in you. This means two things. It means that you must have the hope within you. And it means you must know why you have such hope.

The hope that is in you is not that God exists. So you don’t need to make a defense for the existence of God. If people want to argue about whether God exists or not, let them. But don’t engage them. It’s futile and you don’t have the proof they’re looking for anyway. Besides, the hope that is in you is not that God exists. Neither is the hope that is in you the belief that all things were created in six days. So you don’t need to make a defense for six-day creation. The hope that is in you is not that the apostle Paul visited this city before that city or wrote this epistle before that epistle. So you don’t need to make an argument for the timeline of Paul’s life and journey’s. The hope that is in you is not that God blesses morally good people and punishes morally bad people. So you don’t need to make a defense as to why having morals is better than not having morals. Besides, a moralistic Christianity is a misunderstood Christianity.

Christ didn’t die to make bad men good; He died to make dead men live. And that is the hope that is within you.

Because you, O man, are dead. You might be walking around breathing air, but you are a dead man. I don’t say this to be morbid or to inflict sadness or even to threaten anyone. It’s no threat. The doctor that must give the news of a terminal illness to his patient isn’t threatening his patient. If it were merely a threat then I would use it as a threat to get you to do something or to live a certain way to stop doing something. And I would say that if you did this or that, then you will not die. Just as a doctor might say to a smoker who’s in relatively good health that if he stops smoking he will live longer. But there’s nothing you or I can do to ward off death. We all know healthy victims of heart attacks. We all know nice people who were killed in accidents. There’s no magic pill. There’s no life style that can ward off death.

So thanks be to God that He sent His only-begotten Son to make dead men live!

That is the hope that is in you. And the defense of it, the apology, is not some convoluted, well-crafted argument of higher reasoning and logic. The defense of the hope that is in you is that Jesus is risen from the dead and that He has caught you in His life-giving net.

Now the doubter will ask, “But can you prove that Jesus rose from the dead? And can you prove that the sacraments are the life-giving net that catches us?” And, yes, we can. We have eyewitness reports and we have been baptized. That’s the proof. If the eyewitness accounts for a person are not enough for them, then they are an unbeliever and the Spirit has not given the gift of faith. But if you believe the eyewitness accounts, the words and deeds of the apostles, then you will seek baptism for you and your children. Because holy Baptism isn’t man’s devotion or promise to God; Baptism is God’s promise and devotion to you and your children.

If I said to you that I have untold wealth that I would like to bequeath to your children, even though they are small and have no use of their reason, and handed you a paper that promised them the untold wealth that is being held on deposit by a bank, would you say thanks but no thanks, come back when they can decide for themselves if they want untold wealth and riches? Of course not! You’d take the paper happily and keep it safe and brag about it and show it to your friends and relatives. And as your children grew older you’d tell them about it and the joyous occasion of it and how it warmed your heart that they received such a blessing and gift.

Not only that, but you’d talk about what it meant. You’d talk about the treasure it promises and the beauty of the future it brings. You’d praise the giver of such good gift because it is a gift, undeserved mercy.

That’s what Baptism is. It is the promise of God that the give of life won by Jesus is yours. It is the promise that because He lives so shall you live. It is the deed to eternal life that the Lord gives to you to keep you safe when doubt assails you; when life overwhelms you; and most especially when death comes to threaten you.

Because for the baptized, death is merely a threat. A toothless lion and a bear with no strength. Death is spent. Its energy and power are gone. It is only a shadow of what it threatens to be. It threatens to be annihilation, the great abyss from which none return. But One has returned. And He promises to bring you with Him. Truly death is merely a sleep, a rest from which the Man from Heaven will wake you. Nothing more.

Christ came to make dead men live. He cast His net, and He has caught you. Do not be afraid. You shall live.