Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the LORD. They keep saying to those who despise Me, ‘The LORD has said, "You will have peace"'; and as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, they say, ‘Calamity will not come upon you.'
"But who has stood in the council of the LORD, that he should see and hear His Word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? Behold, the storm of the LORD has gone forth in wrath, even a whirling tempest; it will swirl down on the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD will not turn back until He has performed and carried out the purposes of His heart; in the last days you will clearly understand it. I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds.
"I am a God who is near," declares the LORD, "And not a God far off. Can a man hide himself in hiding places, so I do not see him?" declares the LORD. "Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" declares the LORD. "I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name, saying, ‘I had a dream, I had a dream!' How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart, who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal? The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?" declares the LORD. "Is not My word like fire?" declares the LORD, "and like a hammer which shatters a rock?"
Sermon for Eighth Sunday after Trinity 8/02/20
Two Kinds of Religion
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
They had a problem in the days of Jeremiah. It was the problem of two kinds of religion. They had those who preached a religion of prosperity and blessing and peace, and then there were those who preached judgment and doom and destruction. If they had possessed no more information than that, it would not have been a difficult choice. Who wants to hear gloom and doom?
They had some prophets who were prophesying peace and rescue and the good intentions of God, and others who were preaching the wrath and judgment of God and the condemnation of the sins of the people. One was a proclamation that was easy to hear, and popular, the other was the Word of God, and difficult to listen to. In those days, the more difficult message was the true message. Jeremiah was preaching God's reaction to it all. Our theme, this morning, is two kinds of religion.
Very simply, the two religions were the true religion and a false religion. Then, as now, the problem was how to distinguish which message was true. Which kind of religion is the right kind, the faithful kind?
Yes, we have the same problem today. We are confronted by two kinds of religion. One kind is rooted in the Word of God, and the other finds it foundation in the imagination of man. Both claim to be speaking about God, and both claim to be speaking for God. One is full of things we often do not want to hear, and the other is comfortable and reasonable and pleasant. The pleasant one appeals to us. It is just what we want to hear. The harsh one is often just the wrong message, in our minds.
The trouble is, we have to distinguish which message is true, and which message is sent to deceive us. God spoke through Jeremiah to the false prophets of Jeremiah's day. They were preaching just what the people wanted to hear. Those were dangerous times. Judah had never been so weak and threatened, and the people wanted to be comforted. They wanted to hear that they were still safe, and God was still on their side. The problem was, that they had abandoned God and the covenant long ago.
The people of Jerusalem were hedonists, looking for comforts and pleasures. They were worshiping who and how they wanted, with no thought about what was right or good or holy. When trouble threatened, they knew the name of God, they knew to call out to Him, they just did not know God. They called on the familiar name, but they no longer knew who it was that was behind the name. They did not believe in the God who existed.
They were like those people today who believe in "Jesus", but have no real idea who Jesus is, or what belief in Him means. We believe in Jesus – the same Jesus for whom Christians have laid down their lives confessing the faith, throughout the centuries. But today, many so-called "Christians" cannot even make it to church regularly.
We confess the Christian hope which transformed western society from pagan and violent to "Christian" and polite and safe, and yet many who call themselves "Christian" today cannot see that it is wrong to abort babies, and who will not allow ‘religion' to determine what is right and good for them, or tell them what to do or not to do.
We confess a Gospel for which Lutherans died in massive numbers during the Thirty Years War in Europe, rather than surrender their faith, and their doctrines, and their eternal comforts – and today, some "Lutherans" don't want to practice Closed Communion for fear that it will trouble our non-Lutheran visitors.
Holy conduct was the goal during this life of most who confessed Jesus and hoped in Him for everlasting life, and yet today we read that homosexuality is acceptable even for Christians, even for pastors, and some people are comfortable doing things clearly forbidden in God's Word, such as spreading evil tales about others without even knowing if they are true.
Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free," but preachers are condemned today for saying, "Here is the truth, and everything contrary to this is false." Many people today want to believe that there is no difference of any importance between the different denominations, and some think that all religions lead to the same God and the same eternal destination! Yet some of these people want to be called "Christians" and "Lutherans."
We face the same fundamental religious situation that Jeremiah addressed. There are two kinds of religions proclaimed today
– true religion and false religion,
– religion built on the Word of God and religion built on the imagination of man
– the religion of sin and grace, and the religion of "feel comfortable"
– the religion of "know the truth" and the religion of "whatever you want to believe, it is okay! "
I would tell you who some of the practitioners of this false religion are, those who Jesus called "wolves in sheep's clothing," but every time I point out where the truth is and where the false doctrine is, someone gets angry. "Just tell us what we believe," they say, " and don't mention anyone else. Just speak the truth – and don't criticize others, or error."
Okay. God's Word is true, and every word of it is important. And we Lutherans believe every bit of it. The hard part is that God's Word is not always pleasant. He condemns sin – and He particularly condemns those who twist His Word, or teach their own thoughts as though they were His. He calls them "bad trees," and their false teaching "bad fruits". He tells us clearly that not everyone is going to heaven – not everyone who says they are, and not everyone who thinks they are. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven."
And what is the will of God?
The Truth saves, not wishful thinking. You may have the freedom to believe anything you want as an American — but not as the child of God. The Child of God is bound to the Word of God!
Look at the difference between the two kinds of religion that God proclaimed through Jeremiah! I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds.
If those prophets had spoken the truth, instead of trying to sound pleasant and be popular, God would have worked through His Word from their mouth and turned His people back and spared them the horrors that befell them in the destruction of Jerusalem. But a sweet lie was easier – and more acceptable – than the truth. It was more popular to say what the people wanted to hear than it was to speak the hard truths of God's Word, and so the people perished.
The truth will save. One truth that you need, just like they did back then, is the truth that you people are not good people. Your conduct is not holy and God pleasing. Neither is mine, so forget the idea that I am attacking you, from position of holier-than-thou.
We all sin. Our conceit that we are good and right, even while we lie, cheat, gossip, hate, envy, and love ourselves and manipulate others is wrong. We are sinners. We do evil. You do it every time you do anything but show goodness and kindness and love to your neighbors, to your fellow-members of Immanuel Lutheran of Bartlett Township. Anytime you repeat a word of gossip. Anytime you lie. Anytime you tell someone that you are not doing the things that you are doing, or that you are doing things that you are not doing, you are playing the hypocrite and acting out sin. When you put yourself first, and the rest of us – or just some of the rest of us – second, you sin. I sin. We all sin!
Does it hurt to hear me say that? Yeah! It does! It hurts like hell – and Jeremiah speaks God's Word to say that His Word is like a fire! It is supposed to burn! "Is not My word like fire?" declares the LORD." It hurts. It strikes hard at our proud and sinful hearts and calls us evil and twisted and sinful, just like we are! "Is not My word like a hammer which shatters a rock?" You need to know and believe and humbly confess this truth in order to know and understand and believe and rejoice in the other truth – the truth of Jesus Christ and of the forgiveness of sins.
Oh yeah, you can "know" about Jesus without any sense of your sinfulness. You just cannot understand what it is that God has done, and what He gives to you in Jesus Christ! Your sins have been punished on the cross! Jesus died – you should have died – I should have been tortured and put to death – but Jesus was instead! He paid the price of our sins, and He pours out forgiveness for us freely and richly!
If you think that you are not such a bad person, and I am just engaged in rhetorical excess – then Jesus is probably just a ‘nice guy' for you, and you probably want to hear something to make you feel good and to cheer you up. But if you see what a deadly and evil thing your sins are, then Jesus has done something remarkable, and fully worthy of your time and attention. He took your guilt and sin, and gave you eternal life and resurrection from the grave for the future, and peace right now, because you can understand and perceive the love which God has for you!
When Jesus is just that ‘polite Savior' who did ‘nice' things for us, then the truth is not that important -- and we see this reality at work in many churches today. Salvation is cheap and easy, and it doesn't really matter which denomination you are or which religion you follow. It is, after all, all the same — unless you have real sins and real guilt. Then you need a real Savior! Then you need real forgiveness and comfort that doesn't fade away because someone in a pulpit somewhere challenges your security and peace of mind with something from the Bible. When you know your sin, then you need a God who is worth dying for – and therefore One who is also worth living for.
"I am a God who is near," declares the LORD, "And not a God far off. Can a man hide himself in hiding places, so I do not see him?" declares the LORD. "Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" declares the LORD. "I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name, saying, ‘I had a dream, I had a dream!' How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart, who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal? The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?"
The answer to the question God asked, of course, is "Straw and grain have nothing in common." There are two kinds of religion before us in our text, God's and man's – and they have nothing in common either, in truth. I don't know about you, but I want the God who is near. I want the God who has done the hard work of salvation on the cross. I want the truth, because Jesus said that the truth will make you free.
I want the truth because I am a real sinner, and I need a real Savior! I want the religion that is built upon the Word of God, the Word that burns like a fire and crushes like a hammer — and comforts and saves from sin and death and hell. There are two kinds of religion today, just as there were in the days of Jeremiah. One saves and one just makes you more comfortable on the way to hell. God grant us all the Holy Spirit and faith in Him and His truth.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)