September 15, 2019 [Pentecost 14]  Jeremiah 23:23-29  J.D.Roekle

 

23  “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord,

“and not a God far away?

24  Can anyone hide in secret places

so that I cannot see him?” 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 fathers forgot my name through Baal worship. 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell his 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? 

 

God’s Word Divides

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          On our trip to Israel in June, we visited a place where some believe that Jesus was baptized by John.  The location is at the Jordan River just north of where it connects to the Dead Sea.  It is also the area where many believe that Joshua crossed the Jordan River with the children of Israel into the Promised Land.  At this spot, there are people who come to be baptized.

The Jordan River at this point can’t be much more than 50 feet wide.  You could easily cross to the other side.  But what prevents you from doing that is a sign posted by the water: BORDER AHEAD.  The Jordan River serves as the border between the country of Jordan and Israel.  If fact, there is another sign posted here that warns; ‘You are traversing a military zone.  Do not cross fences due to fear of landmines.’  Our guide mentioned also that there may be hidden snipers at the ready in case anyone is tempted to cross the border - the river - to the other side. 

The border divides the two countries.  And that division is taken very seriously.  God’s Word has the same effect as a border.  We may think of the Bible as the thing which primarily unites people together.  In fact, it is Scripture which unites us in this church.  However, that same Word also works to divide.  Just as borders are a necessary division between countries, so also the Bible works to make necessary divisions. 

          There are some voices out there who will try to make an argument that there are many different ways of getting to heaven.  Some even say that everyone who is religious believes in the same god.  Many people just call him by a different name.  For instance, Muslims call him Allah and Hindus call him Brahma. In Deuteronomy 6:4, the Bible might at first glance appear to agree: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” 

          You can pretty much get the Bible to back up just about any belief you want when taken out of context.  In fact, it was Jesus himself who clears up this dispute about one God with different names.  He says (John 14:6): “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

          God’s Word clearly divides here.  Anyone who refuses to accept Jesus as true God, does not accept the God of the Bible.  So, the Bible clearly separates Christians from all other faiths. 

          But even among Christians, the Bible divides.  It divides the truth from false teaching.  And it divides those who speak the truth from those who speak false teaching. 

          Jeremiah the prophet witnessed this firsthand.  God sent Jeremiah with a specific message.  Repent!  During Jeremiah’s time, he watched as the people were pulled farther away from God by corrupt priests and wicked kings.  The people were led down the path of worshipping false gods.  In being led down this path, society declined.  Violent and immoral behavior became the norm. 

          Jeremiah’s call to repentance was a difficult message during difficult times.  It was also a message that wasn’t well received.  People refused to listen to his call to repentance.  They refused to listen even when Jeremiah warned that if they didn’t turn from their ways, God’s judgment would be on them.  They would be carried off as captives of the Babylonian Empire. 

          Another factor working against Jeremiah was the presence of other prophets who were contradicting Jeremiah’s message.  They showed up claiming that God had talked to them in a dream.  There was no need to repent, they claimed.  The nation of Judah would not be harmed by the Babylonians, they declared. 

     And so God intervened, telling Jeremiah: “Am I only a God nearby,”

declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? 24 Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

Did you catch what God was telling Jeremiah?  Do these false prophets really think I can’t hear what they’re saying?!  I’m everywhere!  I know everything! 

          The fact that God is everywhere and knows everything brings fear to anyone’s heart, doesn’t it?!  He sees the things that I do, whether good or bad.  He knows my very thoughts, either good or bad.  He knows the very words that I speak. 

          It is this thought that makes the preacher tremble.  We are tasked with handling God’s Word properly as we communicate it to people.  We want to be clear about what we say so that we are not misunderstood.  We want to say only what God says and not say more and not say less.  We are to be careful not to change anything that God says. 

          That being said, you should always listen with discerning ears.  Be like the Bereans and search the Scriptures to make sure that everything we tell you from here is what God says. 

          That also is very important to do in the world.  Make sure that you closely examine whatever you read that is labeled Christian.  If you listen to a Christian preacher or listen to Christian music, don’t just assume that it is all good.  You and I can be fooled into thinking that it is fine just because the name Jesus is attached to it.  The false teaching that is often peddled in the name of Christ can come back to harm us. 

          Think of it this way.  Someone hands you a $20 bill.  You don’t think anything of it and put it into your wallet.  What you don’t realize is that the $20 bill handed to you is counterfeit.  You go to the store and purchase a couple small items, and hand the woman at the register the $20 bill.  She takes the counterfeit detector pen to it and discovers that the $20 you just handed her is a fraud.  So how will that affect you?  At the very least, you’ve been defrauded of $20.  You may have to talk to the police.  It may cause you legal problems.

          What happens if you ingest false teaching?  Say, for instance, you hear someone say that something is not a sin when it clearly is.  Like that fake $20 bill, you may simply accept the teaching as truth.  What can potentially happen?  Well, maybe nothing at first.  But if you allow it to fester in your heart, you may be apt to fall into that sin.  It can affect your relationship with God.  Most of all it can affect your faith in Jesus. 

Remember that the very first false teacher was the devil.  And his object in spewing false teachings was to win Eve’s and Adam’s souls.  Satan accomplished what he set out to do.  And what did God do, even though Eve and Adam fell for the devil’ false teaching?  God spoke his word of promise to Satan.  He told Satan that he was going to separate the parties of this newfound friendship.  He was going to make Eve and Satan enemies.  His Word divided the two. 

And it was Eve’s seed, Jesus, who would complete the division.  He came to conquer the things which keep us separated from God: sin, death, and hell.  Jesus accomplished exactly what he set out to do.  Jesus took on our sin and faced the separation we deserved as he suffered hell on the cross.  Now through faith in Jesus we are united with our Triune God. 

Through faith, we know that God forgives us all sin.  Even when we stumble into believing false teaching, we are still forgiven.  But that doesn’t mean we thoughtlessly believe anything we hear.  It doesn’t mean we recklessly proclaim whatever we want about God. No, we take God’s Word seriously.  We take it seriously because it is the truth.  The truth that alone can save. 

 

After all, God’s Word is powerful.  The evidence is in the fact that you are here today.  You are here because of God’s Word.  God’s Word has crushed your hearts of stone changing them to hearts that love Jesus.  The power of God’s Word is seen when you confess Jesus as your Savior.  And it is God’s Word which separates the truth from that which is false.  Be encouraged then to stay connected to God’s Word.  Amen.