The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 8, 2019

Jeremiah 23:23-29

Let Him Speak My Word— Faithfully!

 

“Am I only a God nearby,” declares the LORD, “and not a God far away?  Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the LORD.  “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD. “I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name.  They say, ‘I had a dream!  I had a dream!’  How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds?  They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their fathers forgot my name through Baal worship.  Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully.  For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the LORD, “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”  (NIV1984)

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

 

When I was in college the very first thing on my agenda when I came home for summer break was to find a summer job.  I had to work as quickly as I could and as long as I could in order to be able to afford my next year of college.  One summer I was hired as a paraprofessional for the State of Minnesota.  I was working in the testing department.  My boss’ goal for the summer was to review and update the exams that people had to take if they wanted to work for the State.  It was actually much more interesting than I had originally thought it would be.  On my very first assignment I sat down with a department head and we reviewed the exam that people took in order to get a job in his department.  He told me what parts of the exam were working well and which parts needed to be revised in order to get more qualified candidates.  After I had it all worked out I went up to someone in our department and asked her if she would type it up for me.  I had seen her typing many times and thought that this was how the system worked.  Without even looking up from what she was typing she said, “No.”  When I asked her why she said, “That is not in my job description.”  Confused I went to my boss, told him what happened and asked him, “What is a job description?”  He chuckled and explained to me that she was hired to do a very specific list of things and typing something up for me was not on that list.  Then he took me down to the Secretary Pool and showed me how to get things typed up.  That was my first encounter with a “Job Description.”

 

Have you ever had a job description?  Most of you probably have!  I learned that it is actually quite nice to know exactly what your job does entail as well as what it does not entail.  Over the course of the years I had many jobs that helped me pay my way through school.  Each one had their own job description.  But have you ever wondered what a pastor’s “job description” includes?  It is amazing how many different answers you can get to that question!  Believe it or not, some people think that a pastor’s “job description” is to increase the membership of a congregation and insure that the budget is met.  Some people think that a pastor’s “job description” is to basically do whatever the members do not want to do.

 

When I was at the Seminary our professors emphasized over and over again that the number one main “job” a pastor has each and every week is to prepare and present the Sunday morning sermon.  I quickly learned that this is not as easy as some people might think!  For way too long every time I handed in a draft sermon when I got it back from my professor he had written the question “Where’s your text?” in big red letters in the margin.  Finally I took one of my sermons up to him and asked what I was doing wrong.  Was I including false doctrine in my sermons?  He looked at me and asked if that was what he had written in the margin.  I said no.   Then he asked, “What do I keep writing in the margins?”  I said, “Where’s your text?”  Then he explained to me that what I wrote in my sermon was indeed Scripturally true, but it did not come from that particular text.  He handed my draft sermon back to me and said, “Mr. Lockman, just preach the text I give you!”  I still hear him speaking those words every single time I write a sermon!

 

The sermon text that we have before us today, my friends, focuses our attention on what I believe is the core responsibility of a pastor’s “job description.”  Today then let’s listen very closely as the Lord Himself reminds both you and me of what He expects from those who speak in His Name.  When it comes to preachers, the God of heaven has one overriding requirement.  That requirement is:  Let Him Speak My Word— Faithfully!

 

The prophet Jeremiah was given a very difficult ministry to carry out.  Both the kings of Judah as well as the priests of Judah had led God’s people into idolatry, immorality, injustice and violence.  Because of the wickedness of God’s people the Lord sent His servant Jeremiah to proclaim a very strong message of Law.  Open rebellion against the God of heaven always brings consequences.  And for the people of Judah the consequences of their sin would include the destruction of the beloved city of Jerusalem, the destruction of the magnificent Temple built by wise King Solomon, PLUS seventy years of captivity in Babylon.  As you can imagine the message which God gave to Jeremiah to proclaim to God’s rebellious people did not go over very well.  In fact, many of the men who claimed to be prophets of the Lord convinced the people that Jeremiah was at best confused and most likely crazy.  Instead of calling on God’s people to repent of their sins these so-called prophets were leading God’s people even deeper into sin!  (See Jeremiah 23:13-14)  Instead of warning God’s people of the consequences of their sins these so-called prophets were trying to convince God’s people that Jeremiah’s message of destruction and captivity was a bunch of hogwash!  “You will have peace” these false prophets maintained, “no harm will come to you.”  (See Jeremiah 23:17)  Today these same men would probably adopt the saying:  “Don’t worry!  Be happy!”

 

In light of the false message that these false prophets were bringing to God’s people the Lord proclaims His strong message of Law.  Look at the opening verses of our text, “’Am I only a God nearby’ declares the LORD, ‘and not a God far away?  Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the LORD.  ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.  ‘I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name.  They say, “I had a dream!  I had a dream!”  How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds?’”

 

Basically, what the Lord is emphasizing here is that He is both omnipresent as well as omniscient.  You can’t hide from God because He is everywhere.  You certainly can’t keep a secret from God because He can see into your heart as well as read your mind.  And so when a so-called prophet or a so-called preacher proclaims to God’s people “I had a dream!  I had a dream!” and then proceeds to tell God’s people a lie, or proceeds to tell God’s people the “delusions of their own minds” and try to pass it off as God’s Truth— well, God knows!  God will hold those so-called prophets and those so-called preachers accountable for every last lying word they proclaim!  (See Matthew 12:36; Hebrews 13:17; James 3:2)

 

Likewise God expects that His people will be so well acquainted with His written revealed Word (see Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 6:4-8) that when a false prophet or a false teacher proclaims something that either contradicts God’s Word or goes beyond what God Himself has revealed that the voice of that false prophet sounds “strange” to them.  (See John 10:1-5)  Some 120 years before Jeremiah came on the scene the Lord had sent His servant Isaiah to proclaim to God’s people the very same message He sent Jeremiah to proclaim.  Therefore, if God’s people truly wanted to know who was speaking God’s Truth— Jeremiah or those other prophets— all they had to do was to take out the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and compare!  (See for example Isaiah chapters 13-14 and 21-22)

 

That brings us then to what I consider to be the key verse of our text for today.  Look at verse 28.  The Lord says, “Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully.”  The #1 requirement of a prophet or a preacher or anyone who claims to be speaking in God’s name is:  faithfulness!  (See also I Corinthians 4:2)  A faithful preacher is not one whose goal is to entertain the people so that they keep coming back week after week after week— with their offerings, of course.  A faithful preacher is not one who softens God’s Law and never confronts you with your sins so that you always “feel happy” and never “feel uncomfortable” in church.  A faithful preacher is one who like Jeremiah, like Isaiah, like John the Baptist tells you what you need to hear even if it is not what your “itching ears” want to hear.  (See 2 Timothy 4:3)  A faithful preacher is one who uses the “hammer” and the “fire” of God’s Law to shatter the self-righteousness of your old sinful nature and burn up any hopes you may have of earning or working your own way into heaven.  A faithful preacher does all of this all so that he can point you to the cross of Jesus Christ (Pointing to the cross) and say:  Trust!  Trust in what your God has done to save you!

 

“Let the one who has my word speak it faithfully.”  Therein lies the responsibility that God has given to both me as well as to you, my friends.  When I stand in front of you, God’s people, whether that is here in church or in Bible class or wherever that might be God Himself holds me responsible for teaching you His Truth— faithfully.  When you, God’s people, sit in front of me, whether it is here in church or in Bible class or wherever that might be, God Himself holds you responsible for comparing what I teach with what God reveals in His Word.  (See Acts 17:11)  If I contradict Scripture or if I go beyond what God says in the Bible then God wants you to call it to my attention by pointing me back to Scripture.  If I refuse to preach God’s Word faithfully then God wants you to avoid me and find someone who is teaching His word faithfully.  But if I am teaching God’s Word faithfully then the Lord expects that you will be here in His house listening to His Word as often as you can.

 

“Let the one who has my word speak it faithfully.”  Therein also lies the reason why the Lord does not want us to join the ecumenical movement that has swept across modern-day Christendom like wildfire.  The ecumenical movement says that it doesn’t make any difference if you join together with the Catholic Church or the Baptist church or the Methodist church or the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America because basically they all teach the same thing.  “Not so!” declares the Lord.  Since the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be found in the Roman Catholic Church and since one of the ways in which God the Holy Spirit creates and strengthens the gift of saving faith in the hearts of sinners is through His powerful Word, there will be Catholics in heaven.  And yet, when a Roman Catholic priest says that you cannot be saved purely by grace through faith alone but you need to add good works to that faith, when a Roman Catholic priest says that you have to do certain acts of penance in order to make up for your sins and if you don’t make up for all of your sins before you die you will need to suffer in Purgatory before you are allowed into heaven, that is not speaking God’s Word faithfully!  Since the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be found in the Baptist church and since one of the ways in which the Holy Spirit creates and strengthens the gift of saving faith in the hearts of sinners is through His powerful Word, there will be Baptists in heaven.  At the same time, when a Baptist preacher maintains that you have to “make your decision to accept Jesus as your Savior” and then He will enter into your heart, when a Baptist preachers teaches that that the only valid form of baptism is baptism by immersion and so if you have not been immersed you are not a baptized child of God, when a Baptist preacher says that the bread and the wine of the Lord’s holy Supper merely “represents” Jesus’ body and blood, that is not speaking God’s Word faithfully.  Since the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be found in the Methodist and since one of the ways in which God the Holy Spirit creates and strengthens the gift of saving faith in the hearts of sinners is through His powerful Word there will be Methodists in heaven.  And yet, when a Methodist pastor tells me, “We don’t claim to have a lock on the truth, for God’s truth is always being revealed to us,” that is not speaking God’s Word faithfully.  Since the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be found in the ELCA (the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) and since one of the ways in which God the Holy Spirit creates and strengthens the gift of saving faith in the hearts of sinners is through His powerful Word, there will be members of the ELCA in heaven.  And yet, when an ELCA pastor can preach his entire Easter sermon without even mentioning the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (true story!), when an ELCA pastor looks me in the eye and says that if her congregation actually knew how liberal she is they would have a problem with it, that is not speaking God’s Word faithfully!

 

“Let the one who has my word speak it faithfully.”  The reason this truth is so vitally important to remember my friends, is actually quite simple.  I cannot save you.  I am not nearly smart enough to save you.  I am not nearly strong enough to save you.  I don’t have the right to say, “Ah, sure.  You can go live in God’s house forever.”  At the same time you cannot save yourself.  You are nowhere near smart enough to save yourself.  You are nowhere near strong enough to save yourself.  You don’t have the right to say, “Well, if I do this and I don’t do that then God has to let me into His heaven because at least I did the best I could.”  Only God has the wisdom and the power and the right to save us from our sins and to give us the freedom to live in His heavenly home.  That glorious message— the message of our eternal salvation— can only be found in one place— God’s holy revealed Word!

 

So while I hope that you do indeed enjoy coming to church here in our congregation, and while I hope that you find the hymns uplifting and inspiring, and while I hope that you leave this building as a joyful and confident saved child of God, more than anything else I pray that you come this church because you have the very same expectation that the good Lord Himself expresses here in our text:  “Let the one who has my word speak it faithfully”

 

To God be the glory!

 

Amen