Second Sunday after Pentecost
Second Sunday after Pentecost (A – Proper 8)
June 26, 2011
Text: Jeremiah 28:5-9
Beloved in the Lord, today we begin a new sermon series that will last most of the summer, in which we will concentrate our meditations on the Old Testament lessons each Sunday. There are several reasons for doing this, among them being the fact that we’re just not as familiar with much of the Old Testament literature. We tend to know more about the New Testament. The Season of Pentecost, which is a season of growth for the Church in the Word and in faith and in the Christian life, provides a good opportunity to grow in our understanding of the Old Testament. Also, pastors are charged to deliver the whole counsel of God to their flock (Acts 20:27), and this includes the proclamation of the Old Testament prophets. Finally, and most importantly, by examining the Old Testament lessons, we will see that the whole Bible is about Jesus, that Christ may be found on every page, that Jesus is the whole content of the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments. Jesus Himself says, “You search the Scriptures,” meaning the Old Testament, “because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39; ESV). On the road to Emmaus, before the disciples realized it was the Lord, Jesus demonstrated that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer the cross and so enter into His glory (Luke 24:26), “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures (again, the Old Testament!) the things concerning himself” (v. 27).
So it is that we turn to our text from the Prophet Jeremiah, and happily this very day, June 26th, is the day set aside on the Missouri Synod’s calendar of observances to honor Jeremiah. You can read more about him in the observances section of your bulletin. In our text, we encounter Jeremiah debating with the false prophet, Hananiah. Let’s set the scene by examining the historical context. Babylon, during the reign of the infamous King Nebuchadnezzar, has taken the place of Assyria as the great world power. Babylon, near modern-day Baghdad, has become an expansive empire, a conqueror of nations. And now the armies of Babylon are knocking on Judah’s door. Judah has been unfaithful to her God. She has run after other gods. She has trusted in her own might and in the might of other nations. But Babylon is mightier yet. God has allowed His chosen nation, Judah, to be plundered by the Babylonians as a call to repentance. Babylon has already carried off many exiles. Babylon has already carried off the sacred vessels of the LORD’s house. And King Nebuchadnezzar has already replaced Judah’s King, Jehoiachin, with Zedekiah, who subsequently rebels against Nebuchadnezzar. Now the Babylonians are really mad, and they’re coming to Judah to finish what they started. The LORD is chastising His people, calling them to repentance. He sends His prophet, Jeremiah, to preach Law and Gospel, to call the people to repentance for their sins and idolatry, to call the people to faith in the one true God, YHWH. “Repent, or the Babylonians will destroy you,” Jeremiah preaches. But the people do not repent. They do not like Jeremiah’s preaching. They reject the prophet and his prophecy. You see, they much prefer the preaching of another, Hananiah by name, who assures them that all this doom and gloom preaching is only so much exaggeration. Within two years, Hananiah declares, the LORD will bring back those who have gone into exile, along with the sacred vessels of the Temple (see Jer. 28:3). Within two years, the real King of Judah will be restored and Babylon will never again be a threat (v. 4). Thus says, not the LORD, but the false prophet.
It has always been the case that there are false prophets a-plenty to tickle the fancies and scratch the itching ears of those who want to hear feel-good, patriotic, religious-sounding, spiritually optimistic preaching. Just tune in to a Joel Osteen or a Robert Schuller sermon sometime, and you’ll find that the spirit of Hananiah is alive and well. Sinners want to hear what they want to hear. Sinners do not by nature want to hear the Word of the LORD. Because the Word of the LORD will kill them. The Word of the LORD will kill them for the purpose of making them alive. Beloved in the Lord, the Word of the LORD will kill you, convicting you of your sins, of your idolatries, and pronouncing the whole thing damned. The Word of the LORD will do this, not to leave you in death and hell, but to bring you to repentance, and to drive you to your only Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for you and gives you eternal life. This Word of the LORD is hard. You don’t want to hear it. But you need to hear it. Because there is no other way to be saved. The Babylonians are coming. In your case, death, hell, and the devil are coming because of your sin. The only escape is the precious blood of Jesus Christ and the salvation you receive by faith in Him alone.
That is why God sends the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah confronts the false preaching of Hananiah in the Temple. “Amen!” he says. Jeremiah wishes it were so. He wishes the optimistic prophecy of Hananiah could be true. “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” (vv. 6-7). But here’s the problem. That’s not the Word of the LORD. That’s only a hopeful word of man. It is a lie, a deception. The true preaching is this. Babylon is coming. Repent, or you will be destroyed. The people don’t repent. And in 587 BC Jerusalem is leveled, the Temple is utterly destroyed, Judah no longer exists as a nation, and the people are taken into exile in Babylon. It will be 50 years before Jerusalem is rebuilt. False preaching cannot save. False preaching cannot prevent disaster. False preaching offers no lasting or real comfort. False preaching inevitably results in death.
True preaching of God’s Word brings salvation, because it brings Christ. Such preaching isn’t easy to preach, and it isn’t easy to hear, though. Even Jesus points out in the Gospel lesson this morning that true preaching of God’s Word can lead to earthly divisions even between family members. Preachers who proclaim God’s Word in its purity will face opposition from within the Church and persecution from without. Christians who believe and confess God’s Word in its purity will face rejection and mockery on the part of unbelieving family and friends. And you may even someday be called upon to suffer full-fledged persecution, beatings, imprisonment, loss of property, even death for the sake of Christ and His Word. Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life,” namely, by making peace with the unbelieving world, “will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). You will be persecuted to one degree or another for faithfulness to the Word of God. But it’s worth it. Because Jesus Himself is your reward. He is your life. He is your salvation. And your inheritance is with Him, in heaven. So take up your cross in this life, and follow Jesus. The exile is not forever. The Temple will be rebuilt. Christ is risen. Sin, death, the devil, hell, Babylon is conquered forever.
Jeremiah suffers for proclaiming the truth. He is mocked, scorned, abused, imprisoned, and often threatened with death. But such is his honor for faithfulness to God’s Word. Jeremiah is, in fact, a living picture of our Lord Jesus Christ, who proclaimed the truth and was nailed to the cross for it. Our Lord Jesus was mocked. He was scorned. He was abused and imprisoned and often threatened with death. And when the divinely appointed hour came, He was betrayed into the hands of sinners, Jews and Gentiles, that they might have their way with Him. He suffers and dies at their hands. He suffers and dies at our hands. Because He dies for us. He dies for our forgiveness. He dies not only preaching the truth, but as the Truth made flesh, that we might come to know the Truth and be saved. He dies that we might not perish, but have eternal life. And the reason He can do that is that He knows His vindication is coming. His vindication is that He is risen from the dead, and that His enemies, you, me, and all sinners, enjoy the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. That’s why Jeremiah could boldly suffer for his preaching of the Word. That is why you can boldly suffer for believing and confessing the truth of Jesus Christ. Because Christ is risen, and your time of exile in the land of sin and death is coming to an end. You have died with Christ by Baptism into His death. So also, baptized into His resurrection, you have new life now. And on the Last Day, He will raise you from the dead, bodily, even as He is risen, bodily, lives, and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.