10th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 15 – C)
August 14, 2022
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah.
I don’t know if public discourse has always been as impolite and biting as it is today; knowing how people think, it probably was. People have opinions, and since they want their opinions heard, it’s not unusual to see manners and courtesy thrown out the window. People think if they’re the loudest and most persistent, their voices will rise above the fray. News commenters yell at each other, interrupt their opponents, and throw around unsubstantiated accusations. It’s not unusual for talk shows on channels like ESPN to descend into bickering with neither side listening to each other. And don’t even get me started on that show The View!
It’s true that the loudest voices tend to get the most attention, but just because someone is the loudest, sincerest, or the most rational voice doesn’t mean you should listen to them. They could be wrong, or they could be lying. To find the truth in all the voices you have to listen with discernment, and this is as true for your faith as it is for political commentators.
The prophet Jeremiah served as God’s messenger for forty years, and in that time he had virtually no success. Instead of listening to Jeremiah as the voice of God, his family disowned him, he was beaten, jailed, and eventually killed. Jeremiah’s voice, the voice of God, was drowned out by the voices declaring what the people wanted to hear. While his message warned of the coming of God’s wrath and the need to repent, the people listened to the voices which said the exact opposite: “It shall be well with you…No disaster shall come upon you.”
We don’t know how many people listened to Jeremiah, obviously those in power didn’t. Those who heard God’s voice repented of their sin and the evil they had done, and mourned the destruction of Jerusalem. Those who refused to listen didn’t change their behavior and the results were devastating. And the false prophets that God didn’t send received the full brunt of His wrath, for His Word must be heeded in all its truth – the good and the bad.
We live in times that are far removed from the days of Jeremiah, and yet lying prophets are just as dangerous now as they were five centuries before Jesus. Those who claim to speak for God pollute God’s Word by twisting it all up in a knot. How? Some, like Jim Jones back in the ‘70’s, claim to be God. Some avoid the parts of the Bible that are unappealing. Some teach that since times have changed, God’s teachings must change or are no longer applicable. Some reject the existence of hell. Some celebrate abortion. Some, like the Mormon Joseph Smith, claim to have received new messages from God. Some, like radical TV preachers, claim the ability to do miracles. Some prophets are more subtle in their lies: you must do good works to go to Heaven, God will bring everyone to Heaven, God wants you to be happy, you need to pray harder if you want your problems to go away, the lies go on and on. These lies only lead their listeners into idolatry, sin, death, and damnation.
So, how do you filter out the noise and hear only the truth? How do you know which voice is true and which one is false? To filter out the noise, you can’t listen to the voice in your head or on TV or on the Internet, you must listen to what God says, and what He says is found in the Bible. In fact, God’s Word is the touchstone by which all other words are judged. God’s Word is the test, if it disagrees or is contrary to what God clearly teaches in the Bible, it’s false.
Now, this means nothing to non-Christians. They don’t care what the Bible really says because they don’t believe it, and since they reject it, they can twist it any way they want. Christians are different because we read the Bible with eyes of faith, guided by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the Word of God, without mistakes, without inaccuracies, and without lies. From “In the beginning” to “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” it is God’s pure and holy word.
Some false prophets say that the Bible isn’t totally God’s Word; some of it is, some of it isn’t. If you use this logic, who decides when God is talking and when He’s not? How do we decide what to keep and what to throw away? The thing is you cannot impose your beliefs or feelings on the Bible. Rather it is God who forms our beliefs through His Word. We’re sinners and when we try to impose our own logic on the Bible, we’re always, always going to get it wrong. God is infallible; we are not.
And actually, this is a good thing. If our feelings or opinions are used to decipher God’s message, we’ll never know what’s true and what’s not. This is why it’s great that we have one guide for determining the truth. There are lies and there is God’s truth, there’s nothing in between. So instead of relying on our interpretation, we compare what we hear to God’s Word, and if it’s different, it’s wrong. In the book of Acts, Luke talks about the men and women in the city of Berea: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” The Bereans compared what Paul taught with the Old Testament and when they saw they matched, they believed in Christ.
This is a good place to mention the necessity of Bible study. Reading the Bible on your own is great, but let’s be honest, most Christians don’t spend much time in their Bible, if any. But more importantly, how can you know if what you’re hearing is a lie if you don’t know the Bible. Bible class is a great opportunity to learn, to ask questions, to grow in your faith with others. It doesn’t matter who we are, we all need to make time to study the Bible.
False prophets like to say that the Bible needs to change or that what it used to teach doesn’t apply to today. In some isolated instances this is true. We don’t stone adulterers. We don’t have to take special baths before entering God’s presence. We aren’t stoned if we work on Sunday. And we’re no longer bound by the dietary restrictions of the Jews. But this is important, the behavior that required those rules, is still in force. Adultery is still wrong. We still approach God with awe and reverence. We still need to honor God through worship. We still take care of what we put in our bodies. The ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, like the ones about stoning adulterers or an eye for an eye don’t apply, but the moral Law of God is always applicable.
Through His prophet Jeremiah God says, “Am I a God at hand…and not a God far away…Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him…Do I not fill heaven and earth?” God is omniscient which means He is all knowing. He hasn’t been caught off guard by anything that happens in our world; He’s never surprised. It’s not like the Supreme Court ruled on same-sex marriage and God suddenly realized that He should’ve known He would have to change His teachings to fit the culture. We shouldn’t care what society says. If it conflicts with the Bible, it’s either a mistake or a lie. And what Paul said in 40 AD is still true today. God’s word doesn’t go out of date!
Everything we’ve heard today can be summed up in one verse: “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” The Word spoken by all-knowing, perfectly holy, all-powerful God exposes the lies and crushes them. The Bible is the ultimate lie detector. It’s so powerful it breaks through the noise and tells us what we need to hear. Sometimes what we need to hear is the Law which tells us that our behavior is sinful, that we’re not living as Christians, and that we’re listening to lies. Sometimes, most times, what we need to hear is the Gospel, that our sins, our chasing after lies, our listening to false prophets are sins that have been washed away by the blood of Jesus. You see, the central message of the Bible is that God loves you and for the sake of Christ forgives the sins of all believers. He forgives yours! And unlike the noise that false prophets and liars produce, God’s Word is the only thing that delivers all that it promises. It alone is true, the touchstone by which all other voices are compared, the Word that will never let us down, and which will never be conquered by the lies.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen