Based on: Jeremiah 26:1-6
Last week we celebrated the Reformation, and we heard the gospel message, which is also the Reformation message, in all three of the readings for last week. Like bells in a carillon they rang clearly and joyfully. We heard that heaven is ours because Jesus rescued us from the pit of hell when he died on the cross. Today in our reading from Jeremiah we do not hear the joyful ringing of bells, but the slow tolling of a bell as we are reminded that one day Christ will return to Judge every single soul that has ever lived on this earth.
How do we prepare for that? How do we prepare to meet God when he comes as our judge? God himself tells us how to prepare to meet him. In these words from the book of Jeremiah, God says, "Listen to me." In fact, throughout the whole book of Jeremiah God tells Israel and he tells us, "Listen to me." One-hundred and eighty-four times the prophet Jeremiah uses the Hebrew word for "listen" or "hear". In fact, that word comes up more frequently in Jeremiah than any other Old Testament writer. Do you think God was trying to tell the Israelites something?
Yes, God was trying to tell them something, but they were not listening. They were not listening to God and they were not listening to the prophets, the ones God sent to tell them his word and to shepherd them. Instead they abused God’s prophets and sent them away or even killed them.
God sent the prophet Jeremiah to give them that message from God yet again, "Listen to me." God didn’t tell Jeremiah to go out into the country where people were worshiping idols and deliver this message. No, God sent Jeremiah to Jerusalem and into the temple. He sent Jeremiah to the people who looked like the faithful Israelites. They did not seem to be the godless or the openly immoral. If we saw them today they might look like you and me. Is this a mistake then that Jeremiah would go into the temple where people were bringing sacrifices to God and deliver these harsh words?
No. God knew what was in the hearts of these Israelites. God knew that there were simply going through the motions. They came to church. They gave their offerings, perhaps they gave as little as they could get by with or perhaps it was an amount that would make them look good to others, but it was not out of appreciation for God’s gifts. Certainly they were coming to God’s house and they might have even heard what God had to say to them. Certainly they heard the prophet Jeremiah on this occasion. But during the rest of their lives they didn’t think about God. They were not interested in listening to Him. They trusted more in the fact that they were children of Abraham, and that they had this great temple with them in Jerusalem. They trusted more in their church membership than in God himself to protect them.
That’s why God gave them a warning, "If you do not listen to me … then I will make this House like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among the nations of the earth." What happened at Shiloh? That was another time when the Israelites were not listening to God. Actually there were many times, but that particular time they trusted in the Ark of the Covenant to protect them – like a good luck charm.
Before the temple in Jerusalem the Israelites used the tabernacle – the temporary tent structure God told the Israelites to build when they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. They had set up the tabernacle in Shiloh. When the Philistines attacked Israel, instead of looking to God for their strength, they took the Ark of the Covenant from the tabernacle and took it into battle, thinking that would bring them victory. But the Ark was captured by the Philistines. Even though it was eventually returned to Israel, we never again hear about the Ark being in Shiloh. God abandoned Shiloh as the place of worship. In a psalm 78 the psalm writer says, "He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent he had set up among men." (Psalm 78:60).
The Israelites were doing the same thing in Jeremiah’s time with the temple that they had done with the Ark of the Covenant at Shiloh. God tells them that their actions would have the same result – God would abandon Jerusalem as the place of worship.
God tells them to listen to him. To disobey him is sin. God’s judgment will eventually come. Do not confuse God’s patience with permissiveness. Eventually God’s judgment did come on Israel. They did not listen. The temple was destroyed and Jerusalem became uninhabited for the most part.
If only the Israelites would have listened to God. If only they would have obeyed God they would’ve heard the message of comfort and of peace. They would have heard about their own salvation – that God loves them and would protect them. It was for their own good that God wanted them to listen, like a parent telling his child to bundle up on a cold winter day or to stay away from the things that will hurt him.
But we are not like the Israelites, are we? When God tells us to listen to what he says, do we realize he is telling us out of love and so we want to listen? Do we realize that God’s message is important for our eternal good and do we listen to what he has to tell us on Sunday morning? This message is very important to us as Christians and we love to hear this gospel so that we read our Bibles or have devotions at other times during the week as well. Perhaps not every day, but we don’t just think about God on Sunday morning for one hour. He is in our thoughts throughout the week. We also know that listening to God and what he says is more important than the things we volunteer to do in the church.
We love to listen to His message because it is one of peace and comfort. God wants us to listen to this message, and he tells us to trust in him. He knows that we don’t always listen to him as we should, and that is why he sent his son Jesus. Jesus always listened to his heavenly Father and he took our place on the cross. God tells us that at that last judgment, before the whole world and separates all people into the sheep and goats; we will be among the sheep. We will be among those whom God will make holy and perfect in both body and soul so that we can live forever in service to him. We will not be abandoned like Shiloh.
But we are not the only ones to whom God says, "Listen to me". There are others who need to hear this message. We can use faithful Jeremiah as our example. He had a message that was very unpopular. He told those Israelites in the temple that they haven’t been listening to God or to God’s prophets and that if they didn’t start listening, their temple would be like Shiloh. After he delivered that message to the people, they wanted to kill him.
As we tell others to listen to God, it is a very unpopular message, but others need to hear. There are those who have not heard about Jesus and so we share the good news with others in the community, our friends, neighbors, and family. We also support our synod in sending out missionaries to share the Gospel in this country and around the world..
There are also those who we talk to who are members of our own church, those who are in some way openly doing something against what God’s word says. No matter what it is, whether living together outside of marriage, or divorce, or disobeying authorities, they are not listening to God.
God tells us that the last judgment is coming. The time is short. In fact, each day some people come to the end of their life when there are no more opportunities to listen to God. That makes our message even more urgent.
But we have God’s promise. As we listen to him he assures us that he will take care of us and the spread of his message. God tells us how to prepare for his coming, for that last judgment. We simply listen to him as he tells us about all that he has done to rescue us from hell so that we do not need to fear that last judgment. We want to listen to this good news over and over again and share it with others.