“Faithful Preachers” (Jeremiah 23:16-29)
10th Sunday After Pentecost (August 18, 2019)
I’m so glad you all came today! I’ve just been chomping at the bit most of the night and all morning to share a fresh, new, word with you today from the LORD. Last night I had a dream and the LORD spoke to me and I can’t wait to share with you what He said so that it can refresh your soul!
Some of you are looking at me right now like you are having a dream, or a nightmare! “Is this really Pastor Schreibeis or have I just tuned in to TBN (Trinity Broadcast Network) or walked in on Joel Osteen or something?”
Be assured you in the right place and it is really me. I was just trying to imitate much of what you hear these days from the contemporary preachers. Their modus operandi is to share their dreams or the latest musings of their hearts. For their credentials they constantly appeal to the claim that the LORD spoke to them directly (immediately). And, of course, they claim the LORD gave them some fresh new word and not that stale, old, dead orthodox, Bible based, word they have been accustomed to hearing from the likes of the traditional, confessional, Lutheran preachers of the world. This fresh word will instead invigorate them with enthusiasm for the Lord and fill their lives with one blessing after another.
How do you and I evaluate the claims that the LORD spoke to them or laid on their heart this new word? Did they really hear God’s voice? Was it really the Holy Spirit Who had stirred their heart or was the new burning in their bosom just the after effects of the pizza they ate the night before? God can as we know from the Biblical record speak to people directly if He so choses. And, so, to question their claim is to question their personal integrity. But at the same time, just because they might genuinely believe God spoke to them and no matter how fresh and appealing their words might seem, do you and I have to accept their words as the Gospel truth?
Have you ever noticed how often it seems when people say that the LORD spoke to them that what the LORD said seemed to comport exactly with what they had always really desired in their hearts? Just once I would like to hear someone say, “You know, I was wanting to do such and such or go to such and such place, but the LORD spoke to me and said, ‘No! I don’t want you to do that or go there.”
It’s somewhat analogous to that child that says to the babysitter, “Mommy told me that you should give me some ice cream before I go to bed.” “Oh, really?” the babysitter replies. “Well your mother told me absolutely no snacks or ice cream before putting the children to bed!”
Today, we hear from the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah, who for almost 3 millennia now has been accepted by God’s people as someone to whom the LORD has truly spoken immediately and has therefore truly received through his ears the Word of the LORD. Jeremiah proclaims this: “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. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”
One thing that becomes increasingly clear to any student of The Holy Bible is that as Isaiah records the LORD saying, the LORD’s thoughts are not our thoughts neither are His Ways our ways (Is. 55:8-9). What often appears reasonable and good to us human beings is completely illogical and evil to God or even visa-versa, what might appear to be a bad thing or idea to us is actually good and pleasing to God.
Now, there is a very good reason for this. We human beings have all inherited a nature corrupted by evil, lies, treachery, self-indulgence, and idolatry. It can not comprehend the things of God. So, if you or I want to follow the advice of our hearts, we can be confident we will end up being opposed to God’s heart. The Incarnate LORD, Jesus Christ Himself says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). Accordingly, even the premiere apostle of the LORD himself, Paul, acknowledges concerning his own inner self… or heart, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Ro. 7:18)
Today, we stand warned to be on guard against prophets, preachers, who preach from their own minds/hearts. Of course, their sermons might be quite popular. They might really pack them into the large assembly halls and colosseums. They might have millions of friends on FaceBook, enormous numbers of faithful followers of their Twitter Feed. That is to be expected for they know exactly what to preach to you and me that will appease our inner most longings and make us feel good about ourselves because they have hearts just like ours, sinful and unclean.
But God does not speak His Word to us to make you and me feel good about ourselves. Why would He want us to feel good about all these desires and thoughts that lead us away from Him? Instead, as we also hear the LORD say through Jeremiah, “‘Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’” Likewise, the holy writer to the Hebrews proclaims, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
Already in the very beginning the words God spoke to our very first parents proved to be the very opposite of what they wanted to hear. When the LORD put them in the Garden, He said to them, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16,17). We all know how that all worked out. Not so good. A false prophet, under the guise of a serpent, spoke to the man and the woman, not from the mouth of God but from his own evil heart. And what he said clearly appealed to their hearts, “You shall not surely die…you will become like God knowing good and evil.” They chose to despise God’s clear word and follow their own sinful hearts.
The more time passes it is uncanny how much things remain the same. Jeremiah was called by God to proclaim His Word to a rebellious Judah. But God did not send Jeremiah to preach to the people of the visions and desires of his heart or their hearts. Rather, God sent Jeremiah to preach the desires of His heart. That message included hard words of Law and condemnation against their rebellion. He called upon the people to repent of their evil ways or be destroyed as a nation and hauled off into captivity by their enemies.
Jeremiah, however, was not the only preacher in town. The devil had made sure of that. The people had an abundance of self-styled preachers to choose from, very much like today. There may not be a preacher on every street corner but in our age of television, the internet and social media, there are preachers galore. Your choices are almost endless. With very little effort you can find a preacher (prophet) to tell you just what you want to hear and make you most comfortable. You can go from church to church… radio station to radio station… website to website and you will find that great preacher who will tell you just what you want to hear. He will make sure with his words that you feel good about yourself… good about your lifestyle choices….good about your decisions in life. It does not mean, however, that he is a faithful preacher of God’s true Word.
Jeremiah found himself to be a lone voice in a vast wilderness of false and deluding prophets. The result was that Jeremiah was anything but popular. He was despised by kings and paupers alike. He was publically ridiculed, humiliated, beaten and frequently jailed. His message was not at all what the people wanted to hear. The other preachers were all saying, “Don’t listen to that crack-pot Jeremiah, who always preaches harsh words of Law and predicts destruction. Instead, give heed to my voice. God spoke to me to tell you that He is not vengeful but He loves you. He wants to bless you. I’ve had a dream. He wants you to be happy. He wants you to be assured that all will go well in your days!”
But the LORD Almighty said, “Do not listen to what these prophets are prophesying to you. I did not send these prophets. I did not speak to them. They speak from visions of their own hearts. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, 'I have dreamed, I have dreamed!' How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? (vs. 25-27).
So, how does one decipher the false from the faithful preachers of the LORD? From what we have heard so far, it is clear our first clue that there might be something amiss with the preacher is if his message always tends to coincide with our heart’s desires or makes us feel good about ourselves. As sinners we have no reason to feel good about ourselves. By our sin we stand under the wrath of God. If we can feel good in our sins, why in the world do we need the Son of God to feel so bad and die for our sins? The faithful preacher does not, as we see with the false prophets in Jeremiah’s day, exhort their hearers to return to their idolatries and immoral behavior. The faithful preacher turns people away from all evil and sinful ways (v. 22).
Secondly, if the preacher speaks as though he has a corner on the market of God’s revelation to man, then you can be sure he is false. The Holy Spirit has spoken through the apostle Peter: “…no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20,21). Every true prophet is indeed led by the Holy Spirit and is, therefore, subject to the other true prophets of God (I. Cor. 14:32). Even Peter himself found that out. At one point in his ministry he had to be publically reprimanded by the apostle Paul for his false doctrine. Only a charlatan feigns examination.
Look at Mormonism or Islam as classic examples of faiths built on what is claimed as a direct revelation to one person. Neither will allow any sort of testing. To question the legitimacy of Mohammed’s prophecy is not only forbidden, it is a capital offense; you could lose your head! Mormonism is not as brutal, but it tolerates no scrutiny of Joseph Smith’s revelation claims nor any questioning of the truthfulness of his prophecy. What are they afraid of? The Truth?
But through Jeremiah the LORD says of the false prophets: “For 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…But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from the evil of their deeds” (vv. 18, 22).
Short of standing in the very presence of the LORD in heaven, how does one stand in the council of the LORD? The Hebrew Word for council implies an intimate, confidential, discussion or you might say a circle of confidants. On Earth who are the LORD’s circle of confidants but those to whom He has truly spoken His Words, His true prophets and true apostles sent directly by Jesus.
This is why the whole cannon of Scripture has gone through such an exhaustive, rigorous and lengthy process of adoption in the church over the centuries. None of the 66 holy books were accepted by the Church as God’s Word simply because its human author claimed direct revelation, whether from a dream or otherwise! Every prophet and every apostle was subject to all the others. They all had to be tested to see if they are truly of God.
Ought any self-proclaimed prophet or preacher today receive any less examination? Of course not! Claims of direct revelation or not, you and I as hearers of the Word are charged as the holy apostle John declares to “…not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (I John 4:1). Ultimately, our litmus test to see if a preacher is truly speaking to us the truth of God’s Word and not simply the musings of his heart or just something to make himself popular is to examine it with the Holy Scriptures, the clear council of God. Does it agree with the prophets and apostles or not? Is this preaching clearly anchored in the Holy Bible or does it have its foundations in the imaginations of this preacher’s dream or heart?
And if the preaching is of such a nature or subject that Holy Scripture has not spoken clearly about it or there is wide disagreement as to the interpretation of what the Bible says, then the preaching is further judged by the long accepted teaching of the Christian Church. In other words, how does it comport with what Christians have through the centuries understood and taught concerning the matter. Here we are blessed to have our Lutheran Confessions to guide us. They are the agreed upon confession of what the Scriptures teach on many matters. The LORD would have us believe no claims of direct revelation, dream or otherwise, simply on face value without the testing of the whole council of God.
This means that the faithful preacher does not seek to be innovative or fresh but always true to what the LORD has already clearly said in the council of God. After all, as we Lutherans confess: Verbum Domini Manet et Aeternum: The Word of the LORD Endures Forever. So the holy writer says of Him Who is the Word made flesh; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings…(Heb. 13:8,9a). A fresh word from the LORD is a false word, a devilish delusion.
This means then, of course, that the faithful preacher preaches the hard truth whether it is the hard word of Law that condemns us in our rebellion and sin, exhorting us to repentance or the sweet, comforting, words of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sinners, leading us to eternal salvation.
So we see with Jeremiah. Unlike all the other prophets who were preaching the false message that everything would be okay, here in our text he alone faithfully proclaims to his hearers the hard word that unless they repent of their idolatry and wickedness, they would experience the full wrath of God. But likewise, just prior to our text he had also forthrightly preached the Good News (Gospel) to those in sorrow over their sins that God was providing a true remedy to their situation; that He was going to raise up a Righteous Branch, a true King of David who would Himself atone for their sin and restore all things to God once again.
So, what do you do with a preacher like me? First, you recognize that I am a sinful man like you, subject to the same deluding temptations and falsehoods you are. Second, whether I claim the LORD gave me a dream or spoke directly to me or not, you test my preaching with the council of God as we have received it in the Holy Scriptures. And finally, you earnestly and regularly pray that the LORD would guide and direct me to preach to you only His Word and also pray that He would give you ears to hear only your true Shepherd’s voice, Who is Jesus Christ.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!