The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost June 15, 2008
Romans 6:1-11; Matthew 10:34-42
296, 759 [TLH alt. 379], 417, 50
Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and in the presence of all the people who stood in the house of the Lord, and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! The Lord do so; the Lord perform your words which you have prophesied, to bring back the vessels of the Lord’s house and all who were carried away captive, from Babylon to this place. Nevertheless hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: The prophets who have been before me and before you of old prophesied against many countries and great kingdoms—of war and disaster and pestilence. As for the prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, the prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent.”
In Christ Jesus, whose word is truth, dear fellow Christians:
I had a dental appointment scheduled some weeks in advance, but long before that day came I knew exactly what I wanted to hear. After the examination I wanted the doctor to tell me: “Your teeth have never looked better! You’re doing everything right. I’ll see you in a year.” It’s great to be told something like that, but what we want to hear is not always what we need to hear. None of us likes to hear about a cavity, yet we need to know about it so that an appointment can be made to have it fixed. If the dentist were to say nothing and pretend that everything was fine, or if we were to ignore the doctor’s warning, much greater harm would come.
What we want to hear is not always what we need to hear. That is true also in our relationship with God as we learn from our text. The people of Judah were enduring some of the darkest days in their history. Their once-mighty nation had been devastated by the Babylonian armies. King Nebuchadnezzar had invaded and installed a puppet king on the throne in Jerusalem. He stripped the temple of all its treasures and deported the brightest and best of the people to Babylon to serve him. Jeremiah had prophesied this years earlier. He had warned the people that it would be a long-term problem for them.
But then one day another prophet named Hananiah showed up at the temple with a different message: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the Lord’s house that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from here and took to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jehoiachin and all the other exiles…” (Jeremiah 28:2ff NIV). “Don’t worry,” Hananiah told the people, “it’s only a temporary setback. God will soon come to our rescue.” And then to emphasize his point, Hananiah took the wooden yoke which God had commanded Jeremiah to wear as a symbol of subjection to Babylon and smashed it to splinters (cf. Jeremiah 28:10).
Now if you had been there, to which prophet and to which message would you have been attracted : Jeremiah and his preaching of gloom and doom or Hananiah and his fiery pep talk? You can almost hear the enthusiastic shouts of agreement which must have greeted Hananiah’s news of better days right around the corner. People turned to one another with comments like: “What a great prophet! He knows what we need in these times. He understands us. He’s not out of touch with reality like Jeremiah.” Without a doubt Hananiah’s words were what the people wanted to hear. It made sense to their viewpoint and appealed to their patriotic pride. It just “felt” good.
There are plenty of Hananiahs in our world too. They tell us that although there are great problems in our nation we can fix them if we work together to eliminate poverty, educate people, and help dysfunctional families relate better. They tell us that since God is love, you can live as you choose and do what feels good to you, because a loving God would never try to dictate a particular lifestyle or condemn anyone for choosing something different. The same argument is used to defend same-sex marriages and taking the lives of the unborn, elderly, and terminally ill. God is portrayed as a divine being who simply gives His rubber stamp approval to whatever course we might decide is right for us. It is just as Paul wrote: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NIV).
A “feel good” message like Hananiah’s sounds good. It is what we want to hear by nature because it doesn’t call us to account or threaten our pride. By nature we would like to believe that we can have a good relationship with God on our terms. We would like to define what is or is not acceptable to God.
It sounds so good and reasonable, but the fact is, it’s deadly! It is eternally fatal because it avoids and denies the huge problem which all of us have. Ignoring the problem and pretending it doesn’t exist will not make it go away any more than pretending that a mouthful of cavities and abscesses will fix themselves over time. If the problem is not faced and dealt with by the means God provides, it results in eternal damnation. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 NIV).
What we want to hear is not always what we need to hear. Jeremiah would have loved to tell the people of Judah that their troubles were over. Look how he responded to Hananiah: “Amen! The Lord do so!” So then why did he set himself up for ridicule and make his life miserable by disputing Hananiah’s message? He did it because what the people needed to hear was the truth from God, not the false dreams of a man.
Whether they wanted it or not, what the people needed to hear at this time was news of war, disaster, and plague which Jeremiah and other faithful prophets had preached. These terrible hardships had come about because the people had turned away from God. As soon as someone turns from God he risks losing every blessing for God is the giver of every good gift. The Lord had said, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV). God used Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian captivity to make the people realize the problem of their sin.
God’s Law does the same for us today. By nature we don’t want to hear about our shortcomings and faults. We would just as soon forget about losing our temper yesterday over some little thing at home. We would rather make an excuse for neglecting to offer a prayer of thanks when we got out of bed this morning than admit our lack of appreciation is a sin. We would like to put the best spin on our half-hearted service to the Lord by saying, “We’re doing the best we can,” rather than confess it as guilt deserving of God’s punishment. But we need to hear it! I need to hear the truth that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature (cf. Romans 7:18). We need to hear and take to heart the unalterable fact that we are sinful from the moment of conception.
This is not a popular message by any measure. I’m sure there were many who walked out on Jeremiah when he confronted them with their guilt. You may experience the same kind of rejection. Talk about sin and God’s unchanging standards of right and wrong and people may accuse you of being judgmental and unloving. But nothing could be further from the truth.
If a close friend were destroying her life with uncontrolled drinking, would you keep quiet just because she didn’t want to hear about her problem? Of course not! Love would move you to talk to her and do whatever else you could to help her. God did not send Jeremiah with a message of judgment because He relished the prospect of watching His people suffer. It was just the opposite. He warned them of sin and judgment so that they might realize the problem, confess their sin, and turn back to Him for help. The Lord pleaded with them: “Return, faithless Israel…I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful…For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 3:12; 29:11 NIV).
When a jeweler wants to show off a diamond, he puts it on a black velvet pad. The brilliance of the diamond is best seen in contrast to the dark background. Against the blackness of our sin the jewel of the Gospel shines brighter than any diamond in the world. God is still merciful and loving. He pleads with us to forsake our sin and come to Him for salvation.
Jeremiah said, “As for the prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, the prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent.” [v.9] Hananiah predicted a limited, temporary, earthly peace which never came to be, but the Lord offers a permanent peace which soars above every earthly circumstance. That promise has been gloriously fulfilled in Christ Jesus. He is our holiness. Our own lives are nothing to brag about before God. At the beginning of every worship service we confess that we are unworthy sinners.
But Jesus stepped into our shoes and lived a perfect life for which we receive the credit. And while there is no worse news than that our sins must be punished with eternal death, there is the even greater good news that Jesus endured that death for every one of us on the cross. In Jesus we have the peace with God which no one can ever take from us. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NIV).
There can be a great discrepancy between what we want to hear and what we need to hear. The false prophet Hananiah gave the people what they wanted to hear, but it ended in disaster for those who followed him. That message holds a dangerously strong attraction. It sounds so good to follow our own desires, set our own course, and then expect God to help us along the way to achieve our own goals without considering the problem of our guilt. But it is a deceptive lie which leads to death.
On the other hand, God in His mercy comes to us with what we desperately need to hear. He tells us of our sin and its consequences, but He does not abandon us there. e goes on to tell us of a love so great that it moved Him to send His only begotten Son to take our curse on Himself and thereby give us complete forgiveness and eternal life with Him.
We live in a noisy world filled with many different voices calling us to follow them. To whom will you listen? By God’s power, may we listen only to the Lord. May He so fill our hearts with His peace that what we need to hear becomes also what we truly want to hear most of all! Amen.
Speak, O Savior; I am listening,
As a servant to his lord.
Let me show respect and honor
To your holy, precious Word,
That each day, my whole life through,
I may serve and follow you.
Let your Word ever by my pleasure
And my heart’s most precious treasure.
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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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.