Based on: Jeremiah 28:5-9
Perhaps if you are a parent you have had the same experience I have had. Something happens in the house – something breaks, a picture that was on the wall is now on the floor in pieces – and no one seems to know what happened. Or perhaps everyone knows that someone else did it. You get two or more stories about what happened and they all seem to contradict each other. Who do you believe? You may not have any way of knowing the truth, you just have to trust that one of them is telling the truth, but by believing one story you are choosing not to believe the other story.
The same is true in our first lesson for today Jeremiah said one thing but a another prophet, named Hananiah, said something very different. Who were the people of Judah going to believe? These two people were saying two very different things. This was not simple matter where something was broken and they were trying to find out who did it. No, this is an important matter. One of the two men was speaking for God and the other was delivering a worldly message and speaking for himself.
Let me tell you a little more of the story to help you understand what was happening. God told Jeremiah to make a yoke – one of those pieces of wood you would put on an ox when you want the ox to do some work, like pulling a cart. God told Jeremiah to take that yoke and put it on himself and go into the temple area. There Jeremiah delivered the message that the people of Judah should submit to the yoke of the Babylonians, they should obey the Babylonians and submit to them because the Babylonians were carrying out God’s purpose. Jeremiah told them not to rebel against Babylon and God would bless them.
In the temple there was another man who spoke. His name was Hananiah. Hananiah also claimed to be a prophet and he had some very different words to say. He said that within two years the power of the Babylonians would be broken. He said that within two years the the things that the Babylonians took from the temple would be returned and the people who were taken into captivity would come back to Jerusalem. He proclaimed that Judah would have peace again.
Jeremiah said that would be wonderful. Jeremiah wanted that to happen. Jeremiah wanted God to bring peace back to Judah. “But” he said, “the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the LORD only if his prediction comes true.”
Soon after that God told Jeremiah to tell Hananiah that he would die. It was only a few months later that Hananiah died as part of God’s judgment for pretending to speak for God and misleading the people.
If you were there who would you listen to? The two messages contradicted each other. You must admit, however, that what Hananiah said sounded very good. After all, who wants to be ruled by a foreign country? As you probably would guess most of the people sided with Hananiah. Even the priests wanted to kill Jeremiah, but Jeremiah is the one who was really speaking for God and it was his prophecy that actually came true.
We see this common theme in all three of the readings for today. There are two opposites and you are on one side or the other. In our first lesson the people of Judah heard God’s word from Jeremiah and they heard words from a false prophet. Which one were they going to listen to? In the second lesson for today we hear that we are alive in Christ in dead to sin. That means if we are with Christ we leave behind our sinful way of life. We can not live in sin and also remain in Christ at the same time. In the gospel Jesus says he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword. He is telling us that having peace with God means we are at war with the world.
Looking again at the people of Judah, can we really say that we would have done better? Isn’t it easier to believe the false news that sounds so sweet rather than the truth that hurts?
Perhaps you get some of those same e-mails that I get from people overseas who claim to have millions of dollars they would like to share with you if only you share your bank account information with them. Wouldn’t it be nice if they were true? We would really like to believe that they are true. But we know it is a lie and there are many people out there who thrive on the fact that people want to believe something that sounds so good. That’s how the con-man works. He tells you what you want to hear in order to get what he wants.
Hananiah did the same thing to the people of Judah. He was telling people what they wanted to hear, perhaps so that he would be liked by everyone, perhaps so that he would be treated well, perhaps to be more popular among the leaders – whatever his reason, it wasn’t done to please God.
Just like the people of Jeremiah’s time, we don’t always want to hear what God has to tell us, do we? We don’t want to hear about our sin. We don’t want to hear that we deserve hell. That doesn’t sound very nice at all. We don’t want to hear God’s 10 Commandments. They are so limiting. We would rather hear that you can do whatever you want as long as you’re not hurting anyone else. As sinners we hate listening to God’s word. We try to convince ourselves that it is boring, that we have to much else to do, or that it doesn’t apply to us.
If only we could change the message we preach here at St. John’s, then I think we could make this church grow. If only we were more accepting of alternative lifestyles we might get more people into the church. If only we broadened our definition of God to include a greater number of people in this world, then we might get more people to come to our church.
But then who are we listening to? Would we be listening to God and his word and in turn telling others or would we be listening to the world around us and proclaiming the message they want to hear? If we tell people what they want to hear we might be more popular but we would be separating ourselves from God
On our own we would rather listen to Satan and to this world than to God, but remember what Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Do you understand what he meant? Why did Jesus say these words. Isn’t this the same Jesus who is called the Prince of Peace and about whom angels said, “and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
We find the answer in the Garden of Eden where God promised to send the savior. When God put Adam and Eve in the garden he told them not to eat the fruit from the one tree in the middle of the garden or they would die. Satan came along and told them just the opposite – eating from the tree would be good. Adam and Eve heard two conflicting stories. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit they accepted what Satan said and rejected what God said. After that sin and they were at peace with Satan and at war with God. You and I were in that same situation before faith.
But God came to them and, in front of Adam and Eve, he said to the serpent “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers.” God was going to make Eve and the serpent enemies again.
Isn’t that what Jesus did? Jesus lived the perfect life we could not live and when he died he restored that relationship of peace with God. By doing that he made you an enemy of Satan and this world. Now that you have peace with God you listen to that wonderful gospel message that says you are forgiven – for all those times you wanted to listen to Satan and this world because it sounded so good, you are forgiven.
Now you know which story to believe. You know to believe what Jeremiah said and not just what Jeremiah said but also all the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles because they speak for God. You know where to find the truth. It is right here in God’s word.