Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Thus Says the Lord
Second Sunday in Lent, 24 February 2013
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
About the Cover: “You shall die!” they thundered at Jeremiah. They thought the prophet had spoken blasphemy, but he had spoken only the truth God put in his mouth. Jesus, too, is threatened with death (by Herod, “that fox” [Luke 13:31–32]), but our Lord is undismayed. He still has work to do, and He knows He will not die until the appointed time and at the appointed place: Jerusalem, when the lambs are slain.
We should set the stage for the death threat against Jeremiah. This text has something to say to us here and now.
In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came from the Lord: 2 “Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. 3 It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds. 4 You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, 5 and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, 6 then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.’ ”
7 The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord.
It sounds pretty straight forward doesn’t it? The Lord told His prophet to proclaim His word. The Lord wanted His people to repent, listen to His prophets, and repent. It sounds straight forward enough, right? If they choose not to listen or choose not to obey, then, the Lord says, “I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.” “A curse” we at least understand. What does the Lord mean about Shiloh? Shiloh was destroyed. It had once hosted the Ark of the Covenant. When the people there began to think of it superstitiously, as only a “good luck charm,” the Ark was temporarily lost to the Philistines and the city itself was destroyed.
And here is where today’s Old Testament text picks up the account:
8 And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! 9 Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.
Let’s pause and understand what is going on. Jeremiah did what the Lord told him to do. The priests and other prophets and all the people did not believe what Jeremiah said from the Lord. They didn’t want to hear it. They didn’t want to do it. Their solution was to get rid of the person, Jeremiah, who had offended them. Now the government gets involved.
10 When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the Lord. 11 Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”
Where is the king in all of this? He sent his officials. The priests and prophets appealed to the officials to put Jeremiah to death, not because he spoke unfaithfully, but because Jeremiah proclaimed the Lord’s own judgment against them and their city. There’s a big difference between the two, of course. What would Jeremiah say?
12 Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. 13 Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you. 14 But as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. 15 Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”
Jeremiah proclaimed the Lord’s Word. The Lord wanted His people to repent, listen to His prophets, and repent. Instead, the people call for Jeremiah’s death. That is where the reading on the back of your bulletin ends. It is our point of connection with the text. What do you do with God’s Word? You have heard it today. You are hearing it explained, proclaimed, and applied to you here and now. What will you do with it the rest of this day? What will you do with it the rest of this week? This month? This year? The Lord calls for you to repent so that you may benefit from the delivery of His life, salvation, and forgiveness. His Word is good seed that can remain hidden or dead, or it can be planted and bear fruit. Which will it be for you?
World magazine, 23 February 2013, p. 4: How far and how quickly [our nation has moved on social issues, away from what God’s Word says,] from [declaring something] “taboo/criminal à toleration à acceptance à approval à normalization à protection à preferential treatment.” Indeed, what’s to keep the same pattern from repeating itself with reference to a variety of moral issues? [This is the pattern our old evil foe uses to introduce false teaching to a pastor, a Christian, a congregation, and even a church body. Pray for steadfastness, for faithfulness, for courage to stand firm, for bold, faithful, and winsome proclamation of God’s Word in all of its truth and purity.
This sermon, like any sermon, is unfinished. Faith responds to God’s Word with its “Amen,” looking to Christ alone, breathing forth with good works, good works that are faith’s “thank you” to the Lord, not good works misunderstood as bribes to the Lord. Salvation is in Christ Jesus alone. Period.
Jeremiah proclaimed the Lord’s Word. That is what you and the Lord has called me to do. The Lord still wanted His people that He gathers to Himself and His Word to repent, listen to His Word, and repent. Instead, apathy reigns. So many people don’t want to take even an hour of their time on a Sunday morning to pay attention. Ignorance of the Bible is to be expected in America. It is common for me to meet adults who have never been baptized. It is common for me to meet children who have rarely, if ever, set foot in a church. It is common for me to meet nursing home residents who haven’t been near a preacher in thirty years. It is easy to be distracted even while in the pews. Once the service ends, we all leave this place and go forth into our vocations. What will you do with God’s Word? How will you respond in faith?
I can tell you the rest of the story for the people in Jeremiah 26.
16 Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” 17 And certain of the elders of the land arose and spoke to all the assembled people, saying, 18 “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “ ‘Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’
19 Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and did not the Lord relent of the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves.”
This is another good time to pause. The government officials, representatives of the king affirmed Jeremiah’s ministry and message. And elders of the land spoke to the people from the scriptures. Proclaiming the Law of the Lord, they said, is not a cause to call for the prophet’s death. No. It is time to repent and believe. And the Lord relented on the disaster He had proclaimed as a judgment on unfaithfulness. Finally, these elders said: “But we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves” [if we do not repent and believe].
These elders knew what they were talking about. They also knew the account of a counter-example: 20 There was another man who prophesied in the name of the Lord, Uriah the son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words like those of Jeremiah. 21 And when King Jehoiakim, with all his warriors and all the officials, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death. But when Uriah heard of it, he was afraid and fled and escaped to Egypt. 22 Then King Jehoiakim sent to Egypt certain men, Elnathan the son of Achbor and others with him, 23 and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and dumped his dead body into the burial place of the common people.
So what happened in this counter-example? Uriah the prophet faithfully proclaimed the Lord’s Word like Jeremiah is doing. He fled to Egypt to escape a death sentence like the people want against Jeremiah. Egypt extradited him back to Jehoiakim who killed him and dishonored his remains. So much for the Lord’s prophet.
What is to become of Jeremiah?
24 But the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over to the people to be put to death.
Jeremiah is rescued. As I mentioned before, Jesus, too, is threatened with death (by Herod, “that fox” [Luke 13:31–32]), but our Lord is undismayed. He still has work to do, and He knows He will not die until the appointed time and at the appointed place: Jerusalem, when the lambs are slain.
TLSB: Faithful proclamation of God’s Word often brings serious, even fatal opposition by the worldly powers. Despite this, [we Christians] faithfully defend those wrongly accused, and pray for fellow Christians who face persecution. God often rescues His people from physical harm, but the greater blessing is that He rescues you from eternal condemnation through Jesus Christ.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.