3rd Sunday after Pentecost June 10, 2018
32, 222, 373, 283
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May God the Holy Spirit remain living and active in your heart, continually reminding you that you are a holy, sinless, child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and therefore also an ambassador of that same Lord Jesus, representing him to the world. Amen.
Fellow sinners who have been declared holy in Christ Jesus:
My guess is that you’ve heard or asked the question that forms the title of this morning’s sermon before, “But is it true?” Undoubtedly, it was in connection with something that sounded great, but that you strongly suspected to be a bucket of malarkey. Even now when we hear the question, images of used car dealers and door-to-door salesmen likely pop into our minds. In general, it’s never a positive question, is it? The clear implication is that what you are hearing just isn’t so, no matter how wonderful it sounds.
In fact, it would probably be a good idea if everyone at every political speech would periodically all shout this question in unison—just to remind each other of the credibility level of all the ridiculously impossible promises that are made.
It is, after all, as easy as could be to paint an overly optimistic picture of the unknown. It is easy to promise things that could possibly be true, but most likely aren’t. It’s easy to say things like, “These cars run for 500,000 miles, minimum” and “This is the last vacuum cleaner you will ever have to buy.” But is it true?
If we have learned to be skeptical about such claims in the secular, how is it that our society is becoming so naive in accepting such claims when it comes to spiritual or religious assertions? Those who would never allow themselves to be sold a preposterous bill of goods when it comes to their money, are nonetheless proving gullible in the extreme when smooth talkers peddle utter spiritual nonsense that imperils their eternal souls.
Our text proves this is really nothing new, and therefore offers a very timely warning. That text is found in the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah, the 28th Chapter:
Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Hananiah the prophet in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD, and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the LORD do so; may the LORD make the words that you have prophesied come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the LORD, and all the exiles. Yet hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet.”
These are the words of our God, given to us through verbal inspiration by the Holy Spirit speaking through the Prophets of old. We have great confidence in these words and in their ability not only to guide and direct us, but to actually keep every single promise that they make. That our God would so fill and direct us also this morning, so also we study these words with this prayer in our hearts: “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
Before we can get a sense for what we are being taught this morning in our text, we need to understand the context or setting. At the time these words were spoken, the Northern Tribes of Israel had already been essentially annihilated by the Assyrian army. In 722 B.C. they were utterly defeated and deported to foreign lands, never to be heard from again. The remaining Jews (from the Tribe of Judah) had also recently been defeated and plundered by Babylon. The sacred objects that had been used in the temple had been carried off, together with the cream of Judah’s population. The citizens of Judah that remained were understandably dejected and disheartened. Things looked very, very bad for the Jewish nation. The inevitable result was that they were hungry for any bit of good news that anyone at all could bring them. They yearned for something—anything—that was positive or that offered a glimmer of hope to brighten their gloomy world.
Into this setting walked the prophet Hananiah. He gave the people exactly what they were looking for—a divine revelation that all of the captured artifacts and all of the leading citizens that had been carried off into exile would be returned within two year’s time. This was obviously great news, and the people soaked it up. They hung on every word and the words of the prophet gave them what they at least believed they needed the most: hope. They were in no mood to ask the one question they needed to ask: “But is it true?”
The problem? Hananiah was a false prophet. Although he claimed to be the oracle of the God of Israel, the message he brought was a figment of his imagination—a pure fabrication.
But it made him very, very popular with both the people and their rulers. After all, a “man of God” was speaking, so the words just had to be true.
Yet what the people of Judah needed most at that particular moment in time was not hope, it was truth and it was repentance. Their country was awash in the pollution of idols and their conduct was actually worse than the pagans that had possessed the land before them. Yet rather than change their behavior, rather than clean up their act, they clung to the words of a prophet who told them that God would just overlook their sin and perversion and somehow just make everything right again.
Human beings love to believe the lie, especially when the lie offers hope. More than that, they love to believe the lie when it appears to offer divine approval of their sinful actions—or at least immunity from God’s wrath or punishment.
Then the Prophet Jeremiah, a true prophet of God, spoke the words recorded in our text: “Amen! May the LORD do so; may the LORD make the words that you have prophesied come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the LORD, and all the exiles.” Jeremiah loved his people, but he loved his Lord more. Although he longed for Judah to be spared the hardship and misery that he himself had been told to prophesy, Jeremiah also knew that God doesn’t lie. The sum and substance of his statement to Judah was, therefore, “That would be great, if only it were true.”
What undoubtedly had to be running through the Prophet’s mind was this: “Why would, why should the Lord relent concerning the calamity he had prophesied, given the fact that the people still refused to repent?” Jeremiah knew the mercy and kindness of his God, but not in the face of stubborn rebellion, unbelief, and perversion. That’s why we hear the skepticism in the words of Jeremiah in our text, “Yet hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms.” In other words, he was saying that this was something very new and different that Hananiah was prophesying—something unique and different from all that had been spoken before. Jeremiah’s plea to his people to ask the question: “But is it true?”
So what was the big deal here? Wasn’t Hananiah just giving the people hope in a very dark and discouraging time? What’s wrong with bringing hope into someone’s life? Isn’t that a good thing?
Bringing hope into someone’s life is a good thing only when it is based on the reality of God’s Word. The problem with what Hananiah did was that it caused the people not just to cling to a lie, but therefore also to continue in their sin and unbelief. The “hope” that Hananiah offered actually helped to destroy eternal human souls. If, after all, a “holy” prophet was telling them that all would be made right in under two years and that no further evil would befall them, then why change? Why repent? Why turn from the idolatry and unspeakable perversions that they were committing on a daily basis? Why indeed.
So what happened? As punishment for what he had done, God ended Hananiah’s life a year and a half after he spoke his lies to Judah. God absolutely detests false prophets and the damage they do to human souls. As for Judah, far from returning in just two years, the exiles did not return from captivity for another 70 years.
Why are we told these things? As always, Scripture was not preserved and delivered to us all these centuries later for our entertainment, but that we would learn—both from the mistakes of others and to learn how to properly examine our own hearts and actions.
We are in no way immune from the temptation to surround ourselves with those who speak only words that we want to hear, words that we find agreeable. You and I also want to hear those who will assure us that everything is going to be fine, even if we continue in sin. We too can be mesmerized by orators who soothe us with oily words of comfort and hope—even in the face of ongoing perversion and sin. We too can get worn down by those who with authority assert that there are many paths to God, many bridges by which we can pass to paradise.
But hear this well: In so speaking, the false prophets are not only helping to pave the broad road that leads to destruction, they are piling garbage in front of the only real bridge that exists, which is salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ. That old Adam within us doesn’t want to be bothered with repentance and self-denial if all of those other bridges get you to the same place with so much less hassle and condemnation of the evil things that our flesh still desires. Who needs a Savior when God supposedly declares that there is no longer any such thing as sin? Indeed, if every bridge will get you there, the bridge that is Christianity looks downright rickety and rather unappealing.
The damage done by modern-day false prophets cannot be overstated. It is absolutely tragic. We too need to continually reevaluate everything we hear according to the simple Biblical standard: “But is it true?”
In contrast with all of this darkness shines the Biblical truth of genuine Christianity. God did not and does not overlook sin. His incredible solution to the world’s sin problem was to punish his Son, Jesus Christ, instead of the sinners who clearly deserved such punishment. Because of what Jesus did, and because of God’s declaration that the world’s sin debt has been paid in full by his Son, human beings are now saved when they are brought to trust that Jesus paid their sin debt for them. Far from the invention of human beings, this is God’s truth. This is God’s declaration, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)
To such simple, lovely, profound, saving truth the unbeliever finally asks the right question, “But is it true? Can it really be that simple?” God’s answer is, “Yes it can, and is.” This is the simple, unique truth by which we are saved. It is true not because man says so, but because God says so. It is true because this message of hope is rooted in truth and has its origin with God himself.
That is exactly why you and I value our Bibles as we do. In the Bible alone we find that which saves, that which is without error of any kind, that which offers true, real comfort. False prophets will always be with us and they will always do terrible damage to human souls. Treasure instead the truth that you have been brought to know and believe. Celebrate not sin, but repentance and forgiveness. Though all those around you drift from the path of life and walk the broad road to destruction, may God the Holy Spirit preserve you on the path of life eternal, confident that eternal forgiveness and eternal life are yours alone through faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.