5th Sunday After Pentecost July 17, 2011
219, 409, 528, 784 [TLH alt. 410]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
O LORD, You induced me, and I was persuaded; You are stronger than I, and have prevailed. I am in derision daily; everyone mocks me. For when I spoke, I cried out; I shouted, “Violence and plunder!” Because the word of the LORD was made to me a reproach and a derision daily. Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not. For I heard many mocking: “Fear on every side!” “Report,” they say, “and we will report it!” All my acquaintances watched for my stumbling, saying, “Perhaps he can be induced; then we will prevail against him, and we will take our revenge on him.” But the LORD is with me as a mighty, awesome One. Therefore my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail. They will be greatly ashamed, for they will not prosper. Their everlasting confusion will never be forgotten. But, O LORD of hosts, You who test the righteous, and see the mind and heart, let me see Your vengeance on them; for I have pleaded my cause before You. Sing to the LORD! Praise the LORD! For He has delivered the life of the poor from the hand of evildoers.
In the name of Jesus, who speaks to our hearts in His Word, dear fellow Christians:
I don’t know much about carpentry, and the few projects I have attempted have only been marginally successful. But there is one basic bit of advice which I picked up and remembered: “Measure twice, cut once.” If you are not careful to double check the measurement, the tape could move or you could misread the markings. You could end up with a piece of lumber too short for the job and once it’s cut you can’t undo it.
“Measure twice, cut once” is good advice for conversation too. We need to carefully measure words before speaking. Once they have been said we can’t take them back no matter how much one might want to. Have you ever thought to yourself, “If only I had kept my mouth shut”? An ill-chosen word can cost a candidate an election, hurt a loved one, destroy a friendship, or lose a job. James writes: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19 NIV).
The prophet Jeremiah was lamenting: “If only I had kept my mouth shut and not spoken the Lord’s Word.” More than that, he accused God of enticing and pressuring him into the role of prophet and then letting him down. Would he go on speaking for the Lord or not? We have the Word today. Will we speak up or keep quiet?
Jeremiah was called to preach a hard message during difficult times. He shouted, “Violence and plunder!” to the people of Judah. He warned them that God was going to bring disaster on them for their sin and lack of repentance. Through Jeremiah God announced: “I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem…I will give their carcasses as food to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. I will devastate this city and make it an object of scorn” (Jeremiah 19:7-8 NIV).
Jeremiah’s preaching stirred up a hornet’s nest of persecution. A temple priest ordered him beaten and put in the stocks. He was mocked because the disaster he threatened had not happened yet. Even his friends were sick of listening to him and looked for ways to retaliate against him. He was seen as a delusional babbler or a psychotic pessimist. To Jeremiah it felt as though God had thrown him into a pack of hungry wolves and then forgotten about him. “If only I had kept my mouth shut, life would be much easier now.”
Jeremiah’s situation is not an isolated case. Speaking God’s Word brings persecution. It is still true today. As long as the words are vague generalities such as “God is good,” there won’t be much of a reaction. But if you speak up with a clear message of Law and Gospel, then there will be persecution of one sort or another. If you say that living together outside of marriage is sin no matter how well accepted it is by society, some people will become angry. If you say that gay marriage is a sinful perversion of what God intends, you will be labeled as intolerant. Confront someone for cheating on a test, being dishonest at work, or misusing God’s name, and you may be called some terrible names. Tell others that no matter how good they are, they are by nature dead in sin and heading for Hell, and you may be hated as Jeremiah was.
Surprisingly, even the good news of the Gospel can create a backlash. It hardly seems possible, does it? After all, who wouldn’t be thrilled to hear that Jesus is the Savior who took away the sin of the world? Yet many take offense when they hear that Jesus is the only name that saves. They may be willing to agree that Jesus is one of several ways to eternal life, but not the one and only. Some object that while Jesus is needed, a person must do their part, as well, to be saved. For some, Jesus’ cross just seems too barbaric and the Means of Grace in Word and Sacrament too plain and ordinary.
We like to be liked, but if we speak up and share God’s Word, there will be persecution. Jesus says, “A disciple is not above his teacher…If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!” (Matthew 10:24-25 NIV).
If speaking up puts you in uncomfortable situations and turns others against you, the logical solution is to keep quiet. And that is just what Jeremiah tried: “Because the word of the LORD was made to me a reproach and a derision daily…I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.” [vv.8,9]
I would guess that we have all done that. We were afraid of the reaction we might get if we spoke up so we kept quiet when someone bragged about what they got away with, or explained their philosophy that as long as you are reasonably decent God will take you to heaven. If we keep our mouths shut and don’t talk religion no one will know we are followers of Jesus, and we’ll avoid the rejection He endured. Life will be good, right?
But it is not quite the perfect answer it might seem. Listen to what Jeremiah discovered: “I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.’ But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not.” [v.9] Trying to keep quiet and not speak God’s Word was like trying to contain a raging fire in a closet of your home. It’s impossible! It kept getting hotter and hotter, until it burned through whatever was in its way. A fire in a closet will burn through walls, until it finally shoots through windows, doors, and the roof.
That is the power of the Word. It is living and active. The Lord touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said, “Now I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9). The Word filled his heart, and he couldn’t keep it in. He knew God was right. He wanted what God wanted. He believed in the coming Messiah and wanted God’s kingdom to advance. As he thought about all God had told him he couldn’t help but speak in spite of the persecution. St. Paul experienced the same thing: “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). When Peter and John were arrested and ordered by the Jewish supreme court not to speak or teach anymore in Jesus’ name, they replied, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20 NIV).
Jeremiah, Paul, and the other apostles were not compelled by fear of punishment, but by the power of Christ’s love. That was the driving force in their lives which overcame everything else. Think of how true that is of lesser loves too. What about the professional football player who continues playing year after year in spite of aches and pains accumulated over many seasons? Why do it? He has no money worries. He can pursue other interests. In some cases, it’s a great love for the game—that fire within which wants to get out. It makes it hard for someone to just walk away in spite of the pain and sacrifice involved.
The fire of Christ’s love is much greater than any other. The Lord has placed it within us through His Word. He has called us to speak the message of Law and Gospel, to “tear down and build up,” as the Lord told Jeremiah. Can you recall a time when you didn’t speak up when you had the chance? Afterwards, did you feel like Jeremiah with the Word burning inside you telling you to speak? Did you ask the Lord for forgiveness and for another opportunity to speak up? Have there been occasions when you did speak even though you knew it would be like throwing a lit match into a can of gasoline? In making us His followers Jesus has lit that fire which just has to get out.
Look for ways to speak up. When someone asks, “How’s it going?” you could answer, “Great, another day closer to home.” If someone asks about your family you could respond, “The Lord has blessed us with three children.” But above all, look for times to speak Law and Gospel, to tear down with the Law which points out sin and then to build up with the Gospel of Christ’s saving work. Tell others that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 6:23). Don’t let opposition stop you from speaking up, for Jesus promises: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12 NIV). “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).
After focusing on himself and his troubles, Jeremiah looked to the Lord and there found grace and strength to go forward. As intimidating as the enemies were, God was greater. “The LORD is with me as a mighty, awesome One. Therefore my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail.” [v.11] Even though it didn’t look like it, Jeremiah was on the winning side. The God of loving promise would keep His Word and not only rescue Jeremiah, but save all mankind through His Son.
Many of us have pictures of Jesus in our homes. Many of them show Him with a calm expression on His face as though he were posing at Olan Mills for a portrait. Others portray Him as the Good Shepherd holding a lamb and leading the flock. But maybe we should also have a picture of Him dressed as a soldier prepared for battle to remind us that He is our Champion who won the war for us. He wasn’t afraid to stride into the front lines and face the enemy. He went to the cross for our sins of keeping quiet when we ought to have spoken up. He fought against sin, death, and Hell. Our Old Adam was nailed to the cross and buried with Him. Jesus died, but by His death He won. He crushed the Devil’s head. He paid the penalty for sin, rose in victory, and proclaimed it to the gates of Hell. By Christ’s resurrection we have been raised up to new life, and no one can snatch us out of His hand.
It means that even though we face opposition we have nothing to fear for the Lord is always there with His protection. Every hair on your head is important to Him. “If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the LORD, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:9-10 NIV).
The next time you feel insecure, look up 2 Kings 6. When the servant of the prophet Elisha was terrified by an enemy surrounding the town with horses, chariots, and troops, Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the servant looked, and saw the hills full of the fiery horses and chariots of God’s angels!
When you go out the door in the morning to be a witness for the Lord, look around. You won’t see an angel holding the car door open for you. You won’t see half a dozen at the dangerous intersection, and you won’t see angels at your work place. But they will be at all those places guarding your ways.
When you face ridicule, you can be sure the Lord is there to rescue you. When you speak the Word you can be sure that it is not wasted breath, for the Spirit is at work in it to lead souls to salvation in Jesus. That is the encouragement we need not just for speaking, but for singing praises to the Lord. May we never stop speaking up and singing out! Amen.
If God Himself be for me,
I may a host defy;
For when I pray, before me
My foes, confounded fly.
If Christ, my Head and Master,
Befriend me from above,
What foe or what disaster
Can drive me from His love?
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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.