Sermon on Jeremiah 23:23-29
Text: “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the LORD, “and not a God far away? 24 Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.
25 “I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ 26 How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? 27 They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship. 28 Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the LORD. 29 “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”
Which would you rather have: a frozen tv dinner or a Thanksgiving feast? Which would a young woman rather see in her engagement ring: a diamond or a zirconia? It seems to me that the answers are rather obvious. There is one choice that is far better than the other. It’s comparing apples and oranges. You might say that there is no comparison between the two of them. In our text, God comes to the people of Judah and compares the message that his prophet Jeremiah was proclaiming and that of the other prophets of Judah. This same comparison is valid in Christianity today. As we study the two messages, we see that THERE IS NO COMPARISON! 1. The Words Of False Prophets Are Lies. 2. The Word Of The Lord Is Truth.
During the forty years of Jeremiah’s ministry, he faced a people who were moving away from the Lord and toward judgment. Their kings and priests had led God’s people into idolatry, immorality, violence, and injustice. As a result, much of Jeremiah’s message is that of the law. He pointed out the sins of the people and their leaders. He called on them to repent and turn from their evil ways. He told them that, if they did not repent, the Babylonians would come and invade the land. Jerusalem would be destroyed. The people would be carried off into exile. You can well imagine that Jeremiah’s message did not make him very popular. He was imprisoned a number of times.
On the other hand, there were other prophets who completely contradicted Jeremiah’s message. They considered Jeremiah’s call to repentance and prophecy of doom ridiculous. What did Jeremiah know? They told the people that God was not angry with what they had been doing. They were still his people. God would continue to bless them. They did not have to worry about a foreign army invading and capturing the land. After, hadn’t God promised that he would give this land to Abraham’s descendants? They came up with their own version of the way that things would be. The people didn’t have to worry about anything. Never mind what Jeremiah had to say. Everything was going to be just fine.
God replies to these false prophets in verses 23&24: “‘Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the LORD, ‘and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.” One can almost see God shaking his head at them. He points out the fact that he is present at all place and at all times. He knows everything that is going on. He knew what the false prophets had been saying. By means of these questions, God is asking the false prophets, ‘Did you really think that you could get away with this? Did you think I wouldn’t hear what you are saying? Did you think that I wouldn’t object to the negative influence you are having on the people? Did you really think I wouldn’t do anything about it?’ It is on this background that God lays out the differences between what these false prophets had been saying and what his prophet was telling them.
God said, “I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’” (Verse 25) The job of an Old Testament prophet was to tell the people what God wanted them to know. These false prophets had arisen, who had not been called by God and did not speak his message. They pushed their own agenda. Claiming that they had received a message from God, they proceeded to influence the people. While it was true that God had, at times, spoken to his people through dreams and visions, the dreams that these prophets were nothing but lies. God says this clearly in verse 26, “How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds?” The message of the prophets was not divinely inspired. They did not come from God. They were telling lies. These men had deluded themselves into thinking that they knew the mind of God. They said what they wanted to say and tried to convince the people that the message came from God.
As proof that what these men was speaking was wrong, all the people would have had to do was to compare what they were saying with what other prophets from God had said. Which of their messages agreed with what other prophets sent from God had said? For example, the prophet Isaiah, who had prophesied 50 to 75 years earlier, had called the sins of the people of Judah to their attention. He called on them to turn from their sins. He warned them that one day, if they did not repent, they would be exiled into Babylon. Whose message said the same thing: Jeremiah or the other prophets? All the people would have had to do was compare what was being said with what had been said.
However, the people refused to compare the two. Why was that? Perhaps, they just got lazy and just accepted what the prophets told them. Also, which of the two messages made them feel better about themselves: the one that pointed out their sins and called for repentance or the one that made them feel good and promised peace and prosperity? They refused to listen to the message that came from God and followed the prophecies of the false prophets.
What would be the result of following the false prophets? “They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship.” (Verse 27) There had been false prophets in Israel’s past, who led them into idolatry by their prophecies. They turned away from God. If the people of Judah continued to listen to the voice of the false prophets, they, too, would be led away from God and would be lost. The results would be catastrophic. This is what would happen if they listened to the lies that came from the mouths of the false prophets.
Unfortunately, we see the same thing happening in many of the churches that profess to be Bible believing, Christian churches. Look at many of the fastest growing churches. Why are they growing? They are telling the people what they want to hear. No one likes to be called to repentance. No one likes to be told that they are sinners who deserve to go to hell. No one likes to be told that they don’t contribute to their own salvation or that they need a Savior. All people like to hear that they are basically good people, with a few flaws. Our society wants to believe that what God calls a sin isn’t really a sin. Cultures change and we have to keep up with the times. As a result, people go in search of churches and teachers “to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3)
Here we find a warning and an encouragement. We need to compare what is being preached and taught with what God’s Word says. God forbid that it ever should happen, but, what if false teachings were proclaimed from our pulpit? Think of the souls that could potentially be destroyed by that false teaching! How do we keep on guard from that happening? We need to always compare what is being preached and taught with what God’s Word says. What is being taught correctly, we want to hold onto with all the strength that God gives us. What is being taught falsely needs to be rejected and dealt with. Think of what is at stake! A little false teaching can eventually lead to the loss of saving faith. It is important that we follow the example of the Bereans when Paul came to them and taught of his second missionary journey. “The Berean Jews . . . received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11) This is also an encouragement for us to know our Bibles better so that we know exactly what God says.
After laying out exactly what was found in the lies of the false prophets, God points them to where truth can be found. “‘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?’” (Verses 28&29) god uses three very descriptive pictures to show the superiority of the message that comes from him. First of all, he describes his Word as “a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.” This is the message of the law. The purpose of the law is to smash our self-righteousness into bits. In the law, we find exactly what God demands of us. He tells us what we are to do and what we are not to do. The law is held up to our lives, like a mirror. When we honestly peer into the mirror of the law, we see how time and again, we have failed to live up to God’s standards. The law acts like a hammer saying that we have sinned here and here and here. No matter where we turn, we see that we have sinned. No matter what excuses we try to offer, the law says that it doesn’t make a difference. We have sinned. The law breaks our self-righteousness into little pieces as we see that there is no way that we can achieve the perfection that God demands for entrance into heaven. The law tells us that we deserve God’s anger and punishment, both for this life and for all eternity. God’s Word breaks into pieces.
The next picture that God uses is fire. In this instance, the fire does not destroy, as a fire would to a house. Rather, this fire purifies, as a refiner’s fire gets rids of all of the impurities from God. This is a picture of the gospel. After the law has done its job, the gospel comes in and tells of the one who has achieved the perfection that we need. The gospel is centered on the work of our Savior. It tells of the Son of God, who loved us so much that he left his throne in heaven to be our Savior. The gospel points us to the perfect life that Jesus lived in our place. The gospel takes us to a cross-crowned hill outside of Jerusalem and points us to the evidence of our Savior’s love as he willingly endured the punishment that we deserved. As a result of that selfless act of love, all of our sins have been taken away. Our slate is clean before God. The gospel takes us to a tomb and shows us that it is empty. Jesus has risen from the dead. This is the assurance that our sins have been forgiven and that we are right with God. Through the gospel’s teaching, our hearts are purified from the sins that had infected them.
Finally, God uses a question to compare his Word with that of the false prophets. “What has straw to do with grain?” Straw has no nutritional value. It’s not really good for anything except bedding. The nutrition is found in the grain. It is used to feed both humans and animals. The same is true for the message of God’s Word. It provides spiritual nourishment. When we read the Word of God or hear it taught or proclaimed, our faith is strengthened and grows. It draws us closer to God, who helps us through any difficulties that we might be going through. As we come closer to God in his Word, we find our comfort in our moments of sadness. It is only in the Word of God that we can find these blessings. All false teaching flies away like straw in the wind.
Since we have been given this precious truth, we have an obligation from God. He says, “Let the one who has my word speak it faithfully.” We live in a world infected with sin. Temptations abound. Morals continue to decay. There are people who, in the name of the church see nothing wrong with adding to or subtracting from God’s Word. In the face of such obstacles, we must remain faithful to the proclamation of God’s Word. This means that we cannot back down from calling someone to repentance. We must make the use of every opportunity that God gives to us to share the gospel of Christ. This is what the Lord has called us to do. May God help us to faithfully proclaim his Word.
This morning, we have again been reminded of how precious the gift of God’s Word is. Everything else, the teachings and philosophies of this world, leads to nothing, except death. God has given us the truth of his Word so that we might be brought to faith and, thus, salvation. He has given his Word so that our faith would be strengthened along the path of life, until we receive the goal of faith, that is, eternal life. When you look at the two options in front of us, the lies of false prophets or the truth of God’s Word, we can truly see that there is no comparison. Amen.
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