The 13th Sunday After Trinity August 21, 2005
243, 447, 264, 493
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
“Am I a God near at hand,” says the Lord, “And not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him?” says the Lord; “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord. “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal. The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?” says the Lord. “Is not My word like a fire?” says the LORD, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” says the Lord, “who steal My words every one from his neighbor. Behold, I am against the prophets,” says the Lord, “who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” says the Lord, “and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the Lord.
In the name of Jesus who comes to us in truth, dear fellow-redeemed:
Two thousand years ago Pontius Pilate asked the question: “What is truth?” That’s the question that has been asked in every generation. In the 1960’s and 70’s people turned to hallucinogenic drugs in an effort to find truth. Today it seems that everything is believed as long as it’s on TV or the internet. Conspiracy theories abound. Urban legends and hoaxes fill email inboxes. We find that we may believe just about anything if the story is good enough.
If we believe that Proctor & Gamble supports Satanism (not true), or that Mr. Rogers wore sweaters to cover up his Green Beret tattoos (also not true, but both are prevalent hoaxes), we may feel taken, but no permanent harm was done. But when there are lies concerning God and His Word, then there can be eternal damage to the soul. The Devil—the Father of Lies—propagates misinformation about our Lord. Today we are reminded of the obvious antidote: the truth. As Christians who have been commissioned to proclaim God’s Word, we are then also instructed to speak His Word faithfully. We will consider I. The benefits of such faithfulness and II. The consequences of unfaithfulness.
When God’s Word is spoken and received and applied as it is written, then good results will follow. There will be blessings outpoured upon those who hear it. When you follow a recipe for cake to the letter you’ll have good results. It’s only when you skip an ingredient or skip a step that you run into trouble. The same is true with God’s Word.
After the Lord compares a faithful and unfaithful speaking of His Word, He says, “What is the wheat to the chaff?” [v.28] There is the part that is harvested and consumed, and the waste which blows away. The chaff is not beneficial. If you buy unhusked sweet corn from a road side stand, you’ll husk the corn, throw away the waste, and keep the ear of corn to eat.A faithful relating of God’s Word brings to us exactly what we need. It is the wheat or corn and feeds our souls. Words from mere people are not going to sustain us. They blow away and are gone like chaff.
There is a tremendous amount of information that we have to process each day. Just think of how many numbers you need to have at your disposal: telephone numbers—now including cell phone numbers, social security number, and passwords. We are bombarded with much, much more information every single hour. Most of what we hear we relate to ourselves. In other words, we process things as to how they affect us personally. In receiving chaff we wonder exclusively how can I improve my life? What can be done for me?
The wheat, the nutrition that God gives to us in His Word, is what He has done for us. He set us free from the curse of sin. A faithful presentation of God’s Word directs you to the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior. A faithful presentation of God’s Word directs your heart outward in a love for God and for your fellow man.
Blessings will follow when we hear the truth about sin and grace. To appreciate the benefits of the truth consider the consequences of the lie. Satan deceived Eve into thinking that she could be like God by disobeying Him. He convinced Judas that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to betray Jesus. How many times has he deceived you into thinking that what was wrong and hurtful was really innocent and harmless? That is how he operates.
The Bible tells us that we have itching ears that love to hear lies concerning God’s Word. In proclaiming God’s Word there is a temptation to gloss over parts of Scripture in order not to ruffle feathers and to tell people what they want to hear: “You want to live together? I don’t see any harm in that as long as it’s under a year.” “You have more important things to do than to go to church? That’s no big deal.” It’s like the prophets who proclaim, “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace. They are referred to as those “who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal.” [v.27]
We need to hear what sin is no matter how ugly it gets or how bad it makes us look. We need to hear the truth about what kills and what makes alive. Imagine the audacity of a doctor who wouldn’t tell a patient that she had cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages. Even worse is the Christian who ignores sin when he sees it and instead prefers the lie. That doesn’t help anybody.
We need to hear the truth about the grace of God. There is only one way to heaven. There is only one name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. That name is Jesus. Surprisingly enough we don’t always like to hear that truth either because our sinful nature opposes it. We don’t always like to hear about grace because that means we did nothing to earn salvation. Yet it is a glorious truth. Heaven has been given to you free of charge. God paid the price for your sin through the death of His Son so that you may live and be with Him for all eternity. That’s truth. That’s life.
Another benefit of faithfully proclaiming and receiving God’s Word is that it stops lies from expanding. If left unchecked, lies grow. We’ve seen this with politicians. We’ve seen it in our own lives. It also happens with lies about God’s Word. If you’re shingling a roof and on one of the first runs the right side is 1/16 of an inch higher than the left side no big deal, right? But if you keep going on the pattern, the gap will continue to increase as you work your way up.
It is terribly difficult to get back on track once error takes hold. Yet, when we have the Word of God we have the opportunity to expose lies by comparing what we hear with the truth. When Paul gave his farewell to the elders of Ephesus, he warned them of attacks from within and from outside. Those same dangers are present to us. The Devil will do what it takes to take the spotlight away from Jesus and deceive hearts with smooth words and flattering speech.
As we look forward to beginning another school year in the next few weeks, we are reminded of the great blessing of continuing Christian Education. We have the opportunity for formal Christian education from 3 years old in Sunday School through college at Immanuel Lutheran College. Through Bible Class, personal readings, and home devotions we have many opportunities to defend ourselves against lies and the expansion of lies with the antidote of truth.
Now, on the other side we find that there are consequences for those who are unfaithful in the proclaiming of God’s Word. There are consequences both for those who present the lie and for those who are exposed to it.
First of all, we read in our text, “‘Behold, I am against the prophets,’ says the Lord, ‘who use their tongues and say, “He says.”’” [v.31] This does not always seem to be the case. When I was in the seminary I had to read and evaluate a book on the Lord’s Prayer written by Robert Schuller. After reading about a third of the book I asked and was relieved of the assignment because the book was such garbage and blasphemous that I couldn’t take it. Yet, this Robert Schuller preaches in the Crystal Cathedral in California and is wildly popular and successful by just about any standard. It doesn’t seem that God would be opposed to him But the Lord tells us plainly that He is against those who lie about His Word.
It doesn’t matter whether a person intentionally or unintentionally misrepresents God’s Word. The results are the same. Instead of helping God—which a person may very well want to do—he is assisting the Devil.How dare we change what our Lord has to say! How dare we take lightly the charge that we have been given to speak His Word faithfully!
Secondly, our Lord tells us that those who prophesy false dreams “cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness.” [v.32] That is a serious consequence for those receiving bad information. Jesus says in Mark 9, “Whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42).
God forbid that by our carelessness we would let someone who is sinning think that he is doing the right thing! God forbid that we should unnecessarily burden a conscience and cause guilt where there shouldn’t be! God forbid that we should give a person false hope and comfort that is really an illusion!
Thirdly, God says, “I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all.” [v.32] What great blessings people are deprived of because they don’t know the truth. Needlessly they toss and turn at night not knowing that their sins are forgiven by God. Needlessly they fret unaware of the perfect peace that comes through Jesus Christ. Blessings that would make a difference in this life and the life to come are unavailable when lies are believed instead of the truth.
This sermon is not meant to scare you from talking about God’s Word. It is not intended to say that God cannot use men such as Robert Schuller or other false teachers to bring people to faith because the Gospel of Christ is present in their message as well. Rather, it is reminder to continue our training so that we do not deprive ourselves or others of blessings that God has intended for us. We don’t want to miss out on the comfort that God brings to us through His Son. It is there. We do not want to be led astray by what may sound good to our itching ears. God has given us the truth in His Word. That truth puts to an end lies and deception and clearly shows not only our sin, but also the grace of God.
What is truth? Open your Bible. Pray the Holy Spirit will direct your mind and heart so that you will know the truth, and that truth of Jesus will set you free. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.