St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

How Do You Know The True Prophet?

Sermon on Jeremiah 28:5-9

Text: Then the prophet Jeremiah replied to the prophet Hananiah before the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD. 6 He said, “Amen! May the LORD do so! May the LORD fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the LORD’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. 7 Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: 8 From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. 9 But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the LORD only if his prediction comes true.”

It certainly has been hot the last number of weeks, hasn’t it? There are few things that can make you feel better than a nice cold glass of water. So, let’s suppose you have been outside in the summer sun. You come in and you see three glasses of liquid. Before you take a drink, let me tell you what is in each of the glasses. The first one is pure, refreshing water. The second is full of liquid drain cleaner. The third is 95% water and 5% drain cleaner. Which one would you choose? Would you just pick one at random and take a big drink? Of course not! So, how will you decide which one you drink? I would imagine that you would investigate each of the glasses as best you could to try and determine which one is pure water. This morning, we are going to talk about another very important choice, even more important than which glass from which to drink. HOW DO YOU KNOW THE TRUE PROPHET? 1. Many prophets proclaim “The Lord Declares!” 2. Only True Prophets Proclaim The Whole Truth.

A bit of background is necessary to understand the exchange between Jeremiah and Hananiah. Seventeen years earlier, King Nebuchadnezzar had invaded Judah. He had captured Jerusalem and had taken all of the things that the people used for worship from the temple. He, also, took 10,000 Jews to live in exile in Babylon. Now, God told Jeremiah to take a yoke and place it upon his neck. He was to declare that the Lord was going to bring the people of the area under the rule of Babylon. Obviously, this was not a popular message that God gave Jeremiah to proclaim. A number of months later, another prophet by the name of Hananiah began to proclaim a different message in the temple courtyard. He said, “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 son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and all the other exiles from Judah who went to Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’” (Jeremiah 28:2-4) He told the people that the Lord was going to break the power of the Babylonians and within two years all of the exiles would return home. What a different message than what Jeremiah had been proclaiming! You can well imagine the people being filled with hope at Hananiah’s message, especially in contrast to what Jeremiah had been saying.

It is here that we pick up our text. It says in verse 5, “Then the prophet Jeremiah replied to the prophet Hananiah before the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD.” Since Hananiah had made his prophecy in the temple for all to hear, Jeremiah used the same forum to address what Hananiah had said. Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the LORD do so! May the LORD fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the LORD’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon.” (Verse 6) In essence, Jeremiah was saying that it would be wonderful if what Hananiah had prophesied came true. As a child of God, Jeremiah desired that the whole exile and Judean devastation would cease. He wanted the people of Judah to return to the Lord. However, what Hananiah was in complete contrast to what God had told Jeremiah. That is why he said, “Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people.” (Verse 7) While Hananiah’s message seemed to be loving and compassionate, it wasn’t what the Lord had said. It sounded good and pleasing to the ear, but it contradicted what God had said, when he prophesied through Jeremiah that the people would be taken into exile. Hananiah showed himself to be a false prophet by what he said.

We see many instances of this in Christianity today. There are many teachers who will say, “This is what the Lord says,” when, in reality, it is not something that God says, at all. Allow me to give you a couple of examples. One of them is the idea that we are not completely sinful. There is a spark of good in all people. An example of this type of thinking was expressed by Father Flanagan, the founder of Boy’s Town. He said, “There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking.” These people say that there is a spark of good in all people and, if we work to cultivate it, we can get right with God. You can see how this would be appealing, because it tells us that we are not really that bad. However, contrast that with what God says in Psalm 14:2&3, “The LORD looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” When people promote this type of thinking, they are speaking at odds with what God says.

Another example is those who teach that you must make your decision for Christ. You decide to believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. One of the greatest advocates of this type of thinking from the last generation is Billy Graham. He was well-known for his tent revivals, where, after he had given a rousing sermon, would then ask those in attendance to come forward and make their decision for Christ. He said, “Placing your faith in Christ means that first you must make a choice . . . In order not to be condemned you must make a choice — you must choose to believe.” Many teachers have followed in his footsteps. You can see why this type of thinking would be appealing. After all, you pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You had some role in your salvation. While this type of thinking may be appealing, it flies in the face of what the Scriptures so clearly say. For example, Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:1, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” Since we are, by nature spiritually dead, there is no way that we can ever make the first step toward God. This popular teaching also goes contrary to what God says in his Word.

Allow one more example. A popular teaching in Christianity is prosperity theology. Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity. The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment, proposing that it is God’s will for his people to be happy. Reconciliation with God is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. In other words, if you are truly a Christian, you will only have happiness, health, and wealth. One of the greatest proponents of this today is Joel Osteen. He said, “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us.” Obviously, this is appealing. Who wouldn’t want a life like that? However, God never promised that the life of the Christian would be like this. As a matter of fact, Jesus makes it quite clear that it will not always be easy. He said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

So, for all of these teachings, as well as a host of others, we can see that, though they may claim to be teaching what God wants, and use his Word to convince you that what they are saying is true, they are false prophets. However, does it really make a difference? I mean, if they have many good things to say, what’s wrong with a little false teaching. Let’s go back to those glasses of liquid that I mentioned earlier. Obviously, you would reject the one that was only drain cleaner. However, would you be willing to drink the one that was mostly water and only a little drain cleaner? Of course not! You would carefully test the contents of each glass to make sure that what you are ingesting is pure water. If we would put that much effort into seeing which water to drink to take care of our thirst for a little while, how much more shouldn’t we examine what is being taught, can either strengthen or kill our faith?

We return to our text as Jeremiah said, “From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms.” (Verse 8) Jeremiah appealed to the history of prophecy. While Hananiah’s prophecy was appealing to the ear, it did not fit with the fact that prophet after prophet had been sent with messages of war, disaster and plague. God did not always give his prophets appealing messages, prophecies that made the people feel good. At times, they were to speak messages that spoke of judgement, unless the people repented of their sins. They were to speak the whole will of God, not just the parts that made the people feel better about themselves. Ultimately, Jeremiah said, “The prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the LORD only if his prediction comes true.” (Verse 9) He knew that Hananiah was a false prophet. It would be seen when his prophecy of peace and prosperity failed to come true. Jeremiah was proved right when, eleven years later, Nebuchadnezzar completely destroyed Jerusalem. The ultimate proof of whether a person was prophesying correctly was to compare what he said to the clear Word of God.

This is the same litmus test that we must use today. We must compare what is being taught to what the whole of Scripture says. This will mean that they must speak things that are not appealing to us. Though we may not want to hear it, we must have our sins exposed. We must hear that we have not done what God wants us to do. For example, God tells us that we are to gladly hear and learn his Word. We must confess that we have not always done this. We would rather be doing something else rather than take the time to hear God’s Word or read it for ourselves. We must be told that what the world often calls fun is not how God wants us to at. We must also be told that, because we have sinned, we should spend our eternity apart from God forever in hell. Anyone who teaches in such a way to minimize sin or overlook sin cannot be a true prophet of God, for this is clearly what God says in his Word. This is part of the whole truth of God’s Word.

A true prophet of God will also point to Jesus Christ as our only hope of salvation. He will point to the perfect life that Jesus lived and note that this was done for us. He will show Jesus Christ on the cross in all of his suffering as he paid the entire debt of sin for the world. The highlight of any true prophet’s teaching will be the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because on that day, Jesus showed that he had completed all that was necessary for our salvation. The true prophet of God will, in no way, suggest that there is any other way of salvation or that we contributed to it. The true prophet of God points his hearers to their Savior. This is the other part of the whole truth of God’s Word. If either of these two parts is missing or is compromised, that person cannot be a true prophet of God.

So, how are we going to know who is a true prophet of God and who is not? Obviously, they will not come to you and tell you that they are a false prophet. They believe that what they are saying is true. The way that we know who is teaching the truth and who is not is to be familiar with God’s Word ourselves. It is vital that we know what God’s Word says and not just take someone else’s word for it. We do so for two reasons. First of all, we do so out of love for God’s Word. We realize that this is God speaking to us. We, out of love for him, want to keep his Word pure in our hearts. Secondly, we do so out of love for our own souls. We don’t want to allow anything in that might damage our faith. Our faith is the most valuable possession we have. Through that faith we receive the forgiveness that Jesus has won for us. Because we are forgiven, we know that we have eternal life to look forward to. That is why we need to have the true prophets, who will share all of God’s Word with us.

So, which glass would you like to drink from? Foolish question, right? We would want to drink from the glass that only has the water in it. Otherwise, our health would be damaged or we could even die. Which prophet are we going to listen to? One that says all of those things that makes me feel good about myself, but are saying things that are contrary to God’s Word, or the one who proclaims all of God’s truth: Law and Gospel, sin and grace? May God continue to open our ears to those who proclaim his truth. May God continue to raise up prophets who will faithfully speak his Word to us. Amen.