“It shall be well with you.” “No disaster shall come upon you.” That’s what the false prophets were telling the people of Judah at the beginning of the sixth century B.C. They were saying that everything was going to be just fine.
As I considered these words, I thought about how they compare to the message we receive from politicians about the looming financial crises that face our nation and state. We know about the enormous debt owed by the United States federal government, and the state of Illinois. We know about the impending insolvency of Social Security. Various communities face similar crises related to their pension commitments.
On the whole, it seems to me that the message we hear from politicians takes one of two forms. The first is nothing. It is easier if the problem is just ignored. It seems that everyone wants to go about with business as usual. The other is that sometimes there are voices that acknowledge the problem. However, the answers that could address the problems are too painful, and therefore politically unpopular. And so in the end they just “kick the can down the road.” So for example, during the sixteen years of Presidents Bush and Obama, the federal debt ceiling was raised eighteen times. Again, it is easier to go about with “business as usual.”
But I don’t think even the politicians of our day are declaring, “It shall be well with you.” “No disaster shall come upon you,” when it comes to these issues. And remember, that’s what the false prophets were claiming was the message from Yahweh. They were telling the people that God said everything was going to be fine.
Their message could not have been further from the truth. You didn’t need to be a prophet to see that danger threatened. The Babylonians had replaced the Assyrians as the great power in the near eastern world. They were asserting their power over Judah. Already twice, they had taken exiles of people from Judah back to Babylon. In 610 B.C. they took the very elite of society like Daniel. In 597 B.C. they took the next level, such as a priest like Ezekiel.
King Zedekiah was now on the throne. In the previous chapter Yahweh had sent Jeremiah to the king with this message: “Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.” The king and those in power were not acting according to God’s instruction of the Torah. And the root cause was very simple – they were worshipping false gods instead of Yahweh.
Jeremiah was calling the king to repentance. He told him that judgment would come on Jerusalem and why it would come as he said, “And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, ‘Why has the LORD dealt thus with this great city?" And they will answer, "Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and worshiped other gods and served them.’”
The prophets were no better. Just before our text Jeremiah said, “But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.”
And it wasn’t just the prophets. The people wanted to hear this message because they had turned away from God. Jeremiah says in our text: “They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”
These were not true prophets. Jeremiah challenged: “For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened?” The Old Testament describes the prophets as those individuals who were provided access to Yahweh surrounded by his holy angels. Because of this access, they received the real deal – the word of Yahweh.
These false prophets had none of this and the results were disastrous. We hear in our text: “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.”
False prophets exist in our own day. No longer do they claim to speak for Yahweh – in fact most of them don’t claim to be religious at all. But they have a message about how to think and live, and they declare: “It shall be well with you.” “No disaster shall come upon you.”
We hear the voice of the false prophets that begins in academia and then spreads through media and popular culture as it says there is no such thing as truth. Instead, you need to determine your truth. That truth may include some vague version of “spirituality,” but it cannot include truth claims based on revelation from God. The voice of the false prophets says that there is no truth - no norms or standards – for the use of sexuality. And so sex outside of marriage, living together when not married, homosexuality and the common use of pornography are all perfectly fine and beneficial. The voice of the false prophets says that the rich and full life must be filled with things, gadgets and experiences – you must have the great stuff the world offers; you must travel and have experiences to be fulfilled.
How much are we allowing these voices to influence us? After all, even as those who are a new creation in Christ through baptism, there the old Adam is still in you that despises the word of the LORD. He still wants stubbornly to follow his own heart. Are we silent when we should speak? Do we live and think in the ways of the world when it comes to sexuality? How do the views of the world impact our stewardship as we return a portion of God’s blessings back to him?
After all, the Lord knows everything about us – our every thought, word and deed. In our text Yahweh says, “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.
I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, 'I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’” The false prophets’ sins were not hidden from God. And yours aren’t either.
God knew about the sins of the false prophets. And in our text Jeremiah declares, “Behold, the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly.” Those latter days arrived in 587 B.C. when God sent the Babylonians as the instrument of his judgment. They destroyed the temple, tore down Jerusalem’s wall and took all but the poorest of the land into exile in Babylon.
Yet do not think that God’s anger against your sin has turned back without executing the intent of his heart. The false prophets had not stood in the council of Yahweh. He had not sent them. But there was one who had – who had from eternity. The Son of God – the second person of the Trinity – as true God had stood in council of Yawheh. And God the Father did send him. He sent him into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He sent Jesus as the One who spoke the true words of God to us, because he is the Son of God.
For the true prophets sent by Yahweh, their experience was often was one of suffering. Jeremiah himself was rejected, beaten, put in stocks, and even thrown into a well. Jesus Christ did not come in the latter days. Instead his presence began the Last Days. He came as the final end times prophet who did what no human prophet could ever do. As true God and true man, Jesus came to suffer as the sacrifice for your sins. God’s anger against your sin was poured out on him as he suffered and died.
But on third day, God raised Jesus from the dead. He vindicated him as the One who had carried out the Father’s will to win your salvation. Jesus’ resurrection has defeated death and given you the living hope. You have shared in Jesus’ saving death in baptism. And so you will also share in his resurrection. Ultimately, your existence can only end in one way – resurrection life with our Lord. And even if death intervenes before our Lord’s return, you who are in Christ can never be separated for Christ. To die is to be with the Lord.
In our text today God says through Jeremiah, “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.”
Jesus Christ has spoken the word of God to us. Through his word he now turns us from evil ways; he turns us from evil deeds. At the end of our text God says, “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” This word of God crushes us in our sin, as God works repentance. It is a word that the Spirit uses to repress and subdue the old Adam - that bashes him so that he doesn’t run the show.
And as the exalted Lord who has poured forth the Spirit, Christ’s Spirit is at work through his word to lead and enable us to live in the ways of God. We learn that the life of faith – the life of the baptized child of God – is one of love and service toward others. It is a life that sees the blessing and goodness of God’s ordering that he has revealed in the Ten Commandments and their explanation by Jesus and the apostles. The Spirit leads us to recognize, “Yes, that’s what I want to be!” “Yes, that’s what I want do do.”
And then the Spirit who has created the new man in us, leads and enables us to seek to live in these ways. For sure, this happens in the midst of struggle. There is no quit in the old Adam until we die or the Last Day. That alone is when he is finally killed. But the resurrection power of Christ is already at work in us to lead us in this struggle. And we know that the struggle can have only one outcome - Jesus Christ will have the final word when raises us up on the Last Day.