Jeremiah 23:16-29 (Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 15—Series C)
“Speaking God’s Word Faithfully”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
August 14, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah 23:
16Thus says Yahweh of hosts, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They fill you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their hearts, not from the mouth of Yahweh, 17continually saying to those who scornfully reject Me, ‘Yahweh says peace will be with you,’ and to all who walk in the stubbornness of his own heart they say, ‘Evil will not come upon you.'” 18For who has stood in Yahweh’s council and seen and heard His Word? Who has paid attention to My Word and heard it? 19Behold, the whirlwind of Yahweh. Wrath has gone out and a whirling storm-wind will whirl upon the head of the wicked. 20The anger of Yahweh will not turn back until He has accomplished and until He has carried out the purposes of His heart. In the latter days you will understand with understanding. 21I did not send the prophets but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. 22But if they had stood in my council they would have caused my people to hear my Word and they would have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds. 23Am I a God who is near? oracle of Yahweh, and not a God far away? 24Can a man hide in secret hiding places and I cannot see him? oracle of Yahweh, Do I not fill heaven and earth? oracle of Yahweh. 25I have heard what the prophets have said, those who prophesy falsehood in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed; I have dreamed.’ 26How long will it be in the heart of the prophets who prophecy the falsehood and the prophecy of deceitfulness of their heart, who think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they recount to one another just as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? 28Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream but let him who my Word speak my Word faithfully. What does straw have to do with grain? oracle of Yahweh. 29Is not thus my Word like fire? oracle of Yahweh, and like a sledge hammer that shatters a rock?
God says to His people, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They fill you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their hearts, not from the mouth of Yahweh.” False prophets pander to popular wishes. They simply tell people what the people want to hear, regardless of whether or not it is true. But how bad could it be always hearing what you want to hear? How bad is it only to hear positive things?
Really, really bad!
Everything that you and I want to hear isn’t always true. Only surrounding yourself with those who will make you feel good with their words can give you the wrong impression. That was the point of Hans Christian Andersen’s short story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In the story, a vain Emperor who cares about nothing except wearing and displaying clothes hires two weavers who promise him the finest, best suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or “hopelessly stupid.” The Emperor’s ministers cannot see the clothes themselves, but pretend that they can for fear of appearing unfit for their positions and the Emperor does the same. Finally, the weavers report that the suit is finished; they mime dressing him and the Emperor marches in procession before his subjects. The townsfolk play along with the pretense, not wanting to appear unfit for their positions or stupid. Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor suspects the assertion is true, but continues the procession. Why would he do that? Because hearing only what he wanted to hear created a false reality for the Emperor.
When we are told, and when we only listen to, what suits us, we get lulled into a fake reality and a false sense of security. Listen to the culture of our world, even to many so-called “churches.” Many only speak about things that make people feel good. “God loves everyone and simply wants you to be happy. Don’t worry about that sin-stuff; it’s old-fashioned. God knows we are just humans and that we’re going to mess up now and then, but that’s not a big deal. It’s not like He would really send anyone to hell, if hell even exists.”
When sin is downplayed or when sin is not even acknowledged everything seems awesome. No rules, no guilty, no worries. And that is what gives people a false sense of security. If there is no concern about sin, then there is no need for a Savior from sin. “You’re okay; I’m okay.” There’s nothing to worry about. That’s the message of today’s false prophets. You can forget about God and His rules and live the way you want to without consequence. “If it feels good, do it!”
How very different the truth is compared to this fake reality! Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” Ezekiel 18:20, “The person who sins is the one who will die.” What did Jeremiah write in our text? “Behold, the whirlwind of Yahweh! Wrath has gone out and a whirling storm-wind. . . . The anger of Yahweh will not turn back until He has accomplished and carried out the purposes of His heart.” The true Word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah was not peace, even though that’s what the people wanted to hear, that everything was okay between them and God. God’s true Word to them was a fiery storm and a furious whirlwind of wrath against those who sinned against Him. God spoke a Word of judgment against sin and a word of justice against sinners who break His commandments in thought, desire, word, and deed. Sin does matter!
If you had a disease that was killing you, would you want your doctor to tell you about it, even though it would be hard to hear, and then tell you about the cure? Or would you want to the doctor not to tell you anything so that you would think everything is okay and feel good about your life, even though it wasn’t true? To be told that everything is fine might make you feel good, but the lie would be hurting you.
In the same way, even though it is unpleasant to hear about sin and the punishment of death, God loves us so much that he tells us about sin in His Word. We have to know the truth about the disease that is killing us so that we can know about the cure that will save us!
Luther wrote in his lecture on Galatians, ”Therefore the proper and absolute use of the Law is to terrify with lightning (as on Mt. Sinai), thunder, and the blare of the trumpet, with a thunderbolt to burn and crush that brute which is called the presumption of righteousness. Hence God says through Jeremiah (23:29): ‘My Word is a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces.’ For as long as the presumption of righteousness remains in a man, there remain immense pride, self-trust, smugness, hate of God, contempt of grace and mercy, ignorance of the promises and of Christ. . . . Therefore this presumption of righteousness is a huge and a horrible monster. To break and crush it, God needs a large and powerful hammer, that is, the Law, which is the hammer of death, the thunder of hell, and the lightning of divine wrath. To what purpose? To attack the presumption of righteousness, which is a rebellious, stubborn, and stiff-necked beast. And so when the Law accuses and terrifies the conscience—“You must do this or that! You have not done so! Then you are condemned to the wrath of God and to eternal death!”—then the Law is being employed in its proper use and for its proper purpose. Then the heart is crushed to the point of despair. . . .”
But the Lord’s Word does more than break down and crush the conscience as it makes us aware of sin. It also tells us how Yahweh’s anger against sin was turned away from us when He fulfilled the purposes of His heart—saving all people through the sacrifice of His own eternal Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered the wages of sin for us and for all people. On the cross, the full wrath and anger of God was poured out on Jesus as He carried our sins. Jesus endured the fire and the hammer of God’s Word of judgement against our sins winning complete forgiveness and eternal life for you and for all humanity.
The message of the Gospel Word reveals to us the truth that everything IS fine between us and God through the forgiveness of sins won by the shedding of Jesus’ blood and His death for our sins on the cross. God has judged sin. The whirlwind of His wrath whirled upon the head of Jesus, crowned with thorns and dying on a cross. The once-for-all sacrifice for sin has been made. You have been redeemed. Sin has been atoned for. Without Christ, without His cross, we are still in our sins—condemned to eternal death and hell—despite what the world and our culture would have us believe. But Christ has taken away our sin. His blood has made us clean. God is no longer angry. His wrath is no longer against us. That’s the message of truth. Sin has been dealt with, not ignored. Satan has been defeated, not denied. Death has been undone, not relegated to a mere biological event. In Christ there is forgiveness, resurrection, and everlasting life.
As the redeemed people of God in Christ Jesus, we have been baptized into Christ’s death and His resurrection by water and the Word. We are empowered by grace through faith NOT to listen to the words of the prophets who speak of useless and vain hopes. We are able to discern by the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word that they do not speak the truth because they do not proclaim sin and judgment (Law) and so they cannot proclaim peace and hope (Gospel) in the Savior.
You, then, have the very true Word of God. It is that Word found in Holy Scripture that you are able to read and to hear faithfully. We call sin for what it is because you and I as Christians are privileged faithfully to proclaim God’s Word of truth in both Law and Gospel to a community and world inundated with lies and false prophets. Today we also have the opportunity to hear about and prayerfully consider supporting the work of Lutheran Bible Translators and our missionaries who work to ensure that the God’s Word of Law and Gospel, the Word of Truth, is written into the heart-language of people who do not have it. As sisters and brothers in Christ we are blessed indeed to be able to faithfully speak God’s Word so that the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Jesus’ name might be shared throughout the world! God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Wikipedia, accessed August 12, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emperor%27s_New_Clothes.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 26 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 310–311.