Jeremiah 23:16-29 Jeremiah’s message for the Israelites was primarily a word of judgment. Because of their sins, and because of their lack of repentance, God was going to judge them by the hands of the Babylonians.
But almost immediately, as Jeremiah began to preach that message from the Lord, false prophets also began to tell the people just the opposite: that what they had done wasn’t as bad as all that—that God would not really judge his covenant people—that they had nothing to fear.
Truth and lies being spoken side by side among the people of God competing for their faith. But God wouldn’t stand for it!
Thus says the Lord of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.
Truth and lies spoken side by side among the people of God. So it has always been! Jesus said to watch out for false prophets because they are ravenous wolves. Paul said to mark those who cause divisions among you contrary to the apostolic doctrine and have nothing to do with them.
In our own day: there are church bodies who say that what the Bible calls sin is not sin at all. There are movements within the Church that say that if you get “left behind” when the Lord comes again you’ve still got another chance. There are church leaders who add doctrines never taught in the Bible which they say must be believed for salvation. Truth and lies being taught side by side among the people of God.
But now as then, God’s judgment always falls upon those who speak lies in his name. And to tell people that their sins are not really sins; to tell them that even after jesus comes, they’ll still get another chance; to add to God’s Word the doctrines of men-- is to lead people to hell because these lies provide what the Lord calls “a vain hope”—a hope that things are O.K. between me and God apart from sincere, heart-felt repentance and faith in Christ alone.
Then and now, these kinds of “vain hopes” are the product of sinful, human thinking-- not the revealed word of God --and very simply God says: Do not listen to them! Do not listen to them for they are not speaking God’s Word!
Who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear HIS word, or who has paid attention to HIS word and listened? Behold, the storm of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked.
The Lord’s judgment on false prophets and their words is that they had failed to hear and to heed his Word—because if they had, they would have known what Jeremiah knew: that judgment was coming for the people of God.
So it is for the Church today! We too are to preach the judgment of God upon sin! We too are called to stand for the truth! We too are to warn folks that there is a day of reckoning and wrath to come!
And all who deny or downplay that message in one way or another, do not speak for the Lord; and are not sent by the Lord; and are not helping those they speak to, but assuring their damnation because they are robbing them of the God-given means to repentance and faith—which is his Word of Law and Gospel.
God’s judgment can be ignored and ridiculed only for a time. The lies of the false prophets who tell their flocks that sin is not sin and that even if Christ comes they will get another chance can continue to deceive only for a time.
And then as certainly as the Israelites were carried into exile at the hands of the Babylonians-- so will God’s final judgment fall without mercy on those who speak lies and those who believe their lies.
But it doesn’t have to be that way for us. There is still time for us to hear the truth of God’s Word and turn from our sins and be saved. The Lord says:
If they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way,
The task of the faithful preacher is very simple: to speak God’s Word and only God’s Word—not his opinions and not his ideas and not what he would prefer and not what he thinks—but God’s Word and God’s Word alone: when people want to hear it and when people don’t—when there is good news and when there is bad—when those words hurt and when those words heal.
The faithful preacher limits himself to speaking God’s Word. And the task of the people of God is very simple: that you would demand to hear nothing else.
The Lord’s voice is the only voice that is to be heard among the people of God because it is the only means which God has given to accomplish his saving purpose: to turn men from evil and to turn them in faith to the Lord.
That is why he spoke so forcefully to his people through Jeremiah—to break their hard hearts like a hammer upon stone—to get them to see how desperate their spiritual condition really was—that he would not- and could not- abide forever with their sin and faithlessness—but that he would punish them if they did not repent of their sins and believe in him.
The Lord works the same way through his Word today—to turn us from our sins to faith in him. To bring that about, we have to hear things about ourselves that we don’t want to hear: that we too are sinners—that we haven’t listened attentively to God’s Word like we should—that instead we have listened to what our itching ears want to hear.
And so the Lord warns us (with the same kind of certainty that he warned the Israelites) that judgment is coming. But he also assures us that there is a way of deliverance—a way of forgiveness and restoration that he alone provides.
"Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
That new covenant that the Lord promised through Jeremiah was based upon the shed blood of the Messiah—a new covenant based upon the forgiveness that Jesus earned for the world by his life, death, and resurrection—a new covenant that is given as a free gift of God’s grace in preaching and Baptism and Eucharist.
That is what they looked forward to in faith—that is what we know to be the finished work of our Savior and our one true hope from sin and death.
So long as we are living and breathing there still remains a day of grace when we can turn from our sins and turn in faith to the salvation that God has provided to the world in his Son Jesus Christ.
But for that to happen the church must be about the work of the Lord—speaking his Word of Law and Gospel to the world-- and fighting against the false teachers and their lies that threatens to mute those words of truth and life.
We are not permitted by God to remain on the sidelines-- or take a “live and let live” attitude to lies that are spoken among the people of God in the name of the Lord. Instead we are to fight the good fight of faith with the hammer of God in hand knowing that the Lord looks on.
"Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name,
When it comes to what is said in the Church, let there be no doubt: there is a God who hears- and there is a God who sees- and no one who speaks lies in his name will escape his judgment.
The Israelites had forgotten that the Lord was holy and demanded holiness of his people. They had forgotten that he was righteous and would judge the evildoer.
But they had also forgotten that he was merciful and gracious and willing to forgive and so they refused to turn to him in faith for forgiveness. Instead, by their lies, they turned aside from the one true God to an idol that they could manipulate and mute.
False teachers and their lies still work the same way to try to make us forget about who God really is. When they tell us that sin is not sin--they deny the holiness of God. When they tell us that our works contribute to our salvation--they deny the graciousness of God and the sufficiency of his Son’s sacrifice on the cross. When they tell us that God is not the Creator of all--they deny the power and greatness of God.
And slowly but surely, the devil uses those lies to try and turn our hearts from the one true God to an idol that can be carried around and rubbed like a rabbit’s foot or Genie’s bottle when we need something. But I am telling you dear friends in Christ—the One true God will not abide with that attitude forever. He says:
Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?
Right up unto the Last Day of God’s judgment there will be tares in the wheat—there will be wolves in sheep’s clothing among the flock of God—there will be false teachers who lie and true prophets who faithfully speak the Word of God.
There is a difference between the words of God and the words of men and it is as stark and as clear as the difference between wheat and straw—between truth and falsehood—between wolves and shepherds.
The Good News for us today is that our faithful Lord has the last word and at his word the wheat will be separated from the chaff which will be burned in unquenchable fire and those who have been broken and re-shaped by the hammer of God and filled with the fire of the Spirit will live forever. Amen.