Testing the Word

Jeremiah 28:1-9


            Try to picture this …

            One morning you walk out the door of your little house in the middle of Israel.  As you stand there in the door way with your morning cup of coffee … okay, not really sure they had coffee in Israel but I like the idea.  Anyway, you are standing there in the door way and you take a moment to look around.  You hear the sheep out in the pasture as they graze on green fields of grass.  You hear the birds singing they joyous songs from the branches of the fig and olive trees growing in the grove.  You see other birds fluttering around the grapevines out in the vineyard.  You turn and see the wind blowing through the fields of grain.  As you come back to focusing on yourself, you take a moment and say, “self, you are doing really well for yourself.  All your hard work is really paying off.

            But you know with all these blessings, there is work to be done.  Sometimes that work is enjoyable, but other days that work is hard.  When the sheep decide to wander off, you have to go chase after them.  When the weather has been dry, you have to figure out how to keep the figs, the olives, the grapes, and the crops from going bad.  Harvesting involves long days under the burning sun.  You work from sun up to sun down, six days a week and just feel like you need a vacation. 

            And then you hear through the Israel Gazette about this new and exciting vacation destination.  It’s a place with palm trees and fresh spring fed pools.  There are all natural hot tubs and massage spas.  And to top it all off … the King of Babylon is offering a severely discounted rate to all Israelites with a free one-way ticket.  After working long, exhausting, and backbreaking hours’ day in and day out … this sounds like a pretty good deal.  As you read through the article, you see the date in which the King of Babylon is coming.

            Fast-forward a few weeks and the big day, the beginning of your vacation is here.  You have everything set, all the workers are in their place.  You pick up your duffle bag and step out the front door.  But there’s a problem.  All your workers are standing in front of you instead of out in the field.  You look out and everything is on fire.  You look down the walkway and you see soldiers marching from your fields and towards your house.  As they stop in front you, they announce that they are from Babylon and that everything you owned, including yourself is now the property of the King of Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar.  This wonderful vacation destination you heard so much about … it exists, but it isn’t for you for you are now a slave to the king.  This vacation destination is now simply called … exile.

            You know … it’s really easy to listen to things when they sound good.  By a show of hands … who likes to receive bad news?  Yeah, no one likes to receive or to listen to bad news.  It’s really easy to tune out all the bad news which is going on around us and live within the peaceful security of our own personal little bubbles.  This is why so many people quit watching the news on TV.

            This not wanting to listen to bad news is nothing new.

            The story I told you a few minutes ago isn’t entirely made up.  The country of Israel was invaded by King Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon.  King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel and over the course of four different conquests starting in 605 BC, the majority of skillful people were exiled. 

            I say majority of the skillful people because our Old Testament lesson this morning from Jeremiah 28 takes place in the temple in Jerusalem.  Here we find the prophets Hananiah and Jeremiah talking with the priests and the people of Jerusalem.  By this time, two of the four conquests have already happened so the number of people in Jerusalem is getting smaller and smaller.

            Besides the number of people in Jerusalem and Israel shrinking, Babylon’s method of conquest was a destructive one.  They didn’t come in and try to make peace with the people and use what Israel had to their benefit.  The Babylonians were the type who came in by force, torched everything, took the spoils, and went back home.

            So in the midst of the dwindling numbers and the destruction, Hananiah speaks.  “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the Lord’s house that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from here and took to Babylon.  I will also bring back to this place Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and all the other exiles from Judah who went to Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’” (Jer. 28:2-4). 

            Did you catch Hananiah’s time frame?  Within in two years, he says, God will bring back absolutely everything to Jerusalem.  This is great news!  This is awesome.  Only two more years and everything will be normal again. 

Now two years may seem like a long time, but you need remember that the Babylonians have been in control for about the last 10 years and their most recent raid was only about three years earlier.

As everyone is about to start praising God for this great revelation from Hananiah … Jeremiah is like …uh, excuse me.  “May the Lord do so! May the Lord fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the Lord’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon” (Jer. 28:6).  Catch the sense irony here.  Jeremiah is like … “You know, nothing would make me happier than if what you say were true! May it really come to pass! Neither I nor the Lord wish the final and total destruction of Judah.”  Jeremiah has his doubts.

But then he says that word which turns the table … “Nevertheless.”  It’s never good when someone says that.  “Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true” (Jer. 28:7-9)

Employing Scripture and logic, Jeremiah essentially is saying, “Look.  Look at what the prophets who came before you have said.  They have spoken the very opposite of what you have just said.  The God of Israel does not lie or change his mind.  He is faithful to his Word and promise.  He does not contradict himself.  His faithfulness is the very foundation of the covenant, the promise and of all we believe.  His Word is consistent with itself.  To accept what you say, we would have to deny the Lord.  The peace you proclaim will not come.”

Well … that stinks.  But here’s the thing.  Jeremiah never says the Israelites will never return back home.  In the next chapter he says the Israelites will return home after 70 years.  After 70 years, God will again remember his people and bring them back to Jerusalem and Israel.  If you are in this group in Babylon, you may think, well, this stinks.

No, no it doesn’t.  You see, God made a promise.  He says in Deuteronomy 11, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known” (11:26-28).  God made a promise.  Obey and you’ll be blessed.  Disobey and you will be cursed.  The Israelites for years had disobeyed and neglected God and now they are suffering for it.  But … there is light at the end of the tunnel for them.

It may seem unfair … but it really isn’t.  If you get caught breaking the law, you will be arrested.  Is that fair?  Yeah.  If you break the law and don’t get caught … hopefully your conscience will be fighting against you.  Is that fair?  Yeah.

Hananiah basically thought that God wasn’t really going to punish the Israelites for their sins.  But God doesn’t deal with sin merely with a slap on the wrist as Hananiah thought.  Romans 6 says, “the wages of sin is death” (6:23a). 

The thing to remember is this … God doesn’t delight in punishing sinners.  He hates it actually.  The last part of Romans 6 says, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  So as a means of helping out the Israelites of old, as a means of helping out you and me and bringing us from death to life … God gives us his Word.  God’s Word gives strength to someone who is in the midst of trials and temptations.  God’s Word gives peace to someone who is grieving or struggling with life.

Don’t have itching ears which Paul warns Timothy about which only goes after the things which sound good or make you happy.  Doing that can severely mislead you and take down that long dark road of doubt and despair. 

Instead, be in the Word.  Be in the Word of God, listen to Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit transform your life and the life of others around you.  Test and compare the teachings of the world in light of what the Scriptures say and let the light of the gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection bring you the true peace of God. Amen.

Now may that true peace of God, which truly does surpass our human understanding, guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus our living Word, now and forever.  Amen.