The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. AMEN.
Jeremiah 28:5-17 (5) “Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and in the presence of all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD, (6) and the prophet Jeremiah said, ‘Amen! May the LORD do so; may the LORD CONFIRM YOUR WORDS WHICH YOU HAVE PROPHESIED TO BRING BACK THE VESSELS OF THE Lord’s HOUSE AND ALL THE EXILES, FROM BABYLON TO THIS PLACE. (7) Yet hear now this word which I am about to speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people! (8) The prophets who were before me and before you from ancient times prophesied against many lands and against great kingdoms, of war and of calamity and of pestilence. (9) The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent. . .
(15) Then Jeremiah the prophet said to Hananiah the prophet, ‘Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. (16) ‘Therefore thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD.’ (17) So Hananiah the prophet died in the same year in the seventh month.”
The only thing worse than no hope, is false hope, that is a hope that turns out to deliver the opposite of what it is that you hope for. There is a lot of that kind of thing going on these days. A lot of people believe in a promise of peace and freedom from whatever they think is oppressive. This is a false hope and it is the stuff of revolutions in the civil realm and despair in the life of an individual.
Whether it is the hope of personal health, wealth, and a trouble free life or the hope of a utopia, there is no shortage of modern day prophets who promise something that cannot be. False promises feed false hope. There is no shortage of modern day prophets who tell people what it is they want to hear.
What is it that a great many modern people want to hear? They want to hear that they are righteous and morally superior to other; and their prophets tell them so. They want to hear that they are deserving of better than what their parents provided and what our country provides now; and their prophets tell them they are. They want to hear that their good intentions justify the means they use to accomplish their goals; and their prophets tell them so. They have been told that if they tear down history and institution of the present, a new and glorious future will simply spring up; and they act on it.
I am not talking just about the people and politicians who are in the process of tearing apart our country. The church people also trade in false hope and false promises. We have a lot of preachers running around preaching, teaching, and promising things in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that are just false.
“If you have faith, God will heal you.” “If you have faith, God will keep you from hardship.” “If you have put enough in the plate, God will bless you with wealth.” “If you have faith, your family will grow to be healthy and wholesome.” These preachers are sometimes called prosperity preachers and they come in different varieties, promising different kinds of things. The Old Testament assigned for this morning is an example of the same basic problem.
We have before us two prophets, each with a radically different message than the other. One prophet told the people what they wanted to hear and another told the people what God wanted them to hear. One prophet beloved by the people. The other despised. Hananiah was the former. Jeremiah was the latter.
Hananiah and Jeremiah lived during the time of the king Josiah (640-609 B.C.) and his two sons, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah. Josiah was a godly king. Judah and Jerusalem only had a few of those. During his reign he had rebuilt Jerusalem, instituted religious reforms, and brought back orthodox worship services. He also gained some political independence for Judah. After Josiah was killed by one of Egypt’s Pharaohs in 609, everything went downhill for Judah.
By Jeremiah chapter 28, the Babylonians had invaded Judah and Jerusalem and defeated the Israelites. Some of Jerusalem’s leaders and people were hauled back to Babylon as slaves. By Jeremiah 28, the Babylonians were an occupying army. The Israelites lived under constant harassment, the threat of further military action, and the threat of deportation.
Enter the prophets Jeremiah and Hananiah and a meeting in the temple. Two prophets both claiming to stand in the stead of the Lord God, both claiming to adhere to the same Old Testament texts of the prophet Moses, and both claiming to speak words given to them by the Lord God. But their messages could not be more divergent.
Hananiah told the people that all was well. The Lord God was pleased with them. He was pleased with their worship, gifts, faith such as it was, and lives. Hananiah told the people that from here on out everything was going to get better. The Lord God would bring them peace, prosperity, and spare them from any additional attacks and exportations of Hebrews to Babylon.
That’s what the people wanted to hear. They wanted the message and promise of peace regardless of what their own history taught. History taught that the people were caught in a cycle. They turned their backs on God time and time again and that He disciplined through war, famine, and hardships as a manifestation of the law to bring about repentance.
In contrast to the message of Hananiah, Jeremiah called for faith and repentance. Jeremiah was sent by the Lord God to face Hananiah and speak God’s law and judgment. Jeremiah goes to the temple and confronts the “prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and in the presence of all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD.”
Jeremiah proceeds to make an argument. It is an argument, interestingly enough from history. He makes an argument from that which has always been true from “ancient times.” He points out that the pattern of the faithful prophets of old was to preach “against many lands and against great kingdoms, of war and of calamity and of pestilence.”
Jeremiah points out that the Lord God did not send prophets when things were going well. The Lord God doesn’t send prophets to His people to give them a “That-a-boy. Well done. You’re wonderful.” He sent prophets to call the Israelites and the nations to repent. That’s what makes a prophet a prophet of the Lord God. He comes to speak judgment and to comfort those who repent.
Jeremiah also makes the following assertion. If the prophet speaks the Word of God, then what the prophet spoke will always come to pass. God’s words do what they say is going to happen. Jeremiah told Hananiah that (9) The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent.”
Jeremiah knows that peace is not what is going to happen. He knows that because He knows how the Lord God works. He knows what idiolatry and lawlessness produces – the judgment of both God and nature. Just as we know that the efforts to undermine our God ordained institutions aren’t going to produce peace and prosperity. We undermined the family, the church, the educational system, the judicial system and courts, property rights, and law enforcement and how is that working for us?
Having made the argument from the history of God’s interaction with His people and the people’s response to God’s chastening and comfort, (15) “Jeremiah the prophet said to Hananiah the prophet, ‘Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. (16) Therefore thus says the LORD, Behold, I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD.’” Peace did not come to pass as Hananiah had promised, but (17) “Hananiah the prophet died in the same year in the seventh month.”
Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord God reminded His children that the Christ will come just as promised. The Messiah will sit on the throne of David and will reign forever. In the meantime, things in this world are going to get a lot worse before they get better for the children of God.
Then the question usually comes, “if we are the Father’s children, then why does it seem that we have a tougher road in this life?” The question rests on the belief that earthly success, honor, and glory comes to God’s own children because they are the Father’s children.
Jesus Himself rejected that kind understanding of Christian faith and life. Jesus is no friend to such prosperity teachers and false prophets and preachers. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” (Matt. 6:19). And from this morning’s reading, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34)
There is no promise that Christians will live in peace and prosperity in this world or even in this country. There is only the promise of the person and work of Christ and a peace with God that the world cannot give and does not understand. The truth is, we have been given a peace that the people of this world cannot tolerate.
Real prophets and faithful pastors don’t forget that even the ground we walk on is cursed (Gen. 3:17). The nations come and go, including ours. Job 12:23 “He makes the nations great, then destroys them; He enlarges the nations, then leads them away.”
Christians live in a paradox. God makes a nation great and God dismantles them and at each end of that process and in between, the Christian is to fulfill his/her vocation as a Christian, confessing the Gospel truth, defending our neighbors, and doing justice while showing mercy.
True prophets remind the children of God that even those Jesus healed during His earthly ministry eventually died a natural death. Their physical healing and resurrections were temporary.
The curse on sin applies to everything that belongs to creation. If there is a peace, it is local and temporary. War and hardship is the natural state of a sinful world. “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. ‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’ What advantage does man have in all his work Which he does under the sun?” (Eccl. 1:1-3)
The message of Psalm 146:3-5 is a message that we all and those people out there in the streets out to hear and take to heart. “Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish. How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God.” There’s where hope is to be found and placed, in the God of Jacob. The thoughts of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels,Valdimir Lenin, and even Adam Smith (father of capitalism) the rest will one day pass away into the ash heap of this old sinful world.
Jeremiah sounds like a prophet who prophesies doom because he does. He speaks doom to the false hopes and dreams of the false prophets and those who follow. Jeremiah prophesies about the God who does not lose no matter how strong or popular His enemies appear.
True prophets/pastors/preachers/teachers in the church tell us that the Lord God has sent a Savior who could not be corrupted and did not fail (Jer 23:5; 33:14–26). They preach words of ultimate hope, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people” (7:23; cf 11:4; 30:22). God will bring salvation to all nations (16:19), and they will share in His glory (4:2). The Lord God himself will come to Jerusalem to be the world’s Savior and King (3:17).
These prophetic messages and many more have come true through the work of Jesus Christ, the one of whom all the prophets spoke. He has delivered His people from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He has brought true and eternal peace that comes only from Him. He has endured all the deadliest weapons of the enemy and was victorious. He defeated death. All the nations have heard the voice of His prophets and His people have His words written in the Bible in on their hearts and minds. In the end, Jeremiah proclaims good news instead of misleading dreams and false hope.
Jeremiah was the true prophet and Hananiah the false. How do we know? Because through Jesus Christ, all the words of the prophets and apostles have come true for in Him we have the forgiveness of sins and peace with God.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.