Dear people standing in the house of the LORD,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Grace to you and peace” is what I said, quoting the greetings in St. Paul's epistles to the Christian churches. But Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). In the Old Testament reading, Jeremiah the prophet said to Hananiah the prophet who was prophesying a coming time of peace, “The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence, against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet” (Jeremiah 28:8-9).
It was actually quite a dramatic scene, and not a good time to be a prophet, if there is any such good time. The LORD had begun to fulfill His Word, that if His people did not turn away from the idolatry and sinful practices of the pagans nations around them, then He would bring in another nation to conquer them and destroy the temple and take away their sons and daughters into exile. It was happening. The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had already made forays into Judea, and even the fortified city of Jerusalem, taking away from the temple some of the golden vessels used in the worship of God, and removing some of the royal family into exile.
In obedience to his call from the LORD, Jeremiah prophesied that the LORD's word would continue to be fulfilled and would culminate in Jerusalem being completely conquered, the temple destroyed, and the people taken into exile for 70 years, because of the sins of the nation in turning away from their gracious and loving God to worship false gods so that they could indulge themselves in all kinds of sinful and immoral behaviour.
Jeremiah had been prophesying dread warnings for decades and had suffered terribly for it. People did not want to hear his prophesies of doom. They did not want to hear that God was angry with them and His wrath was at the boiling point. They did not want to be commanded to stop indulging in their sinful appetites. They did not want to be told that their good land and heritage would be taken away. They tried to silence Jeremiah. They ridiculed him. They beat him. They threw him into a well for a time.
So, did the LORD retire Jeremiah to a peaceful seaside cottage to recover and rest and separate him from the coming destruction and further persecution? NO, not even close. God wanted to continue to offer the people grace and mercy if they would turn from their evil ways and repent. So He kept sending Jeremiah back to prophesy, and not quietly or indiscreetly.
In order to emphasize the coming yoke of slavery the people would have to bear under Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, the LORD had Jeremiah make a yoke bar that would be used for carrying a heavy burden and wear it so that the people would get the picture that the LORD's Word was firmly established and it was going to come to pass. The LORD had Jeremiah prophesy: “It is I [the LORD of hosts] who by My great power and My outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to Me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, My servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave. But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the LORD, until I have consumed it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, 'You shall not serve the king of Babylon.' For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 27:5-11).
There were indeed many false prophets who came to speak peace, just what the people wanted to hear. They wanted to hear that they didn't need to fear God's wrath and punishment upon their sin. They wanted to hear that they did not need to acknowledge that there was a holy God who would punish them for perverting His good gifts. They didn't want to hear that they had done terribly awful things. They didn't want to hear that there would be suffering for years to come, in order to bring about true repentance and faith in their loving and saving LORD.
The warning not to listen to the prophets who prophesied peace was spoken even more specifically by Jeremiah, against those who would even suggest that there would only be a light retribution from the LORD, before He would change His mind. Jeremiah said (and this is the lead up to our Old Testament reading today): “Thus says the LORD: Do not listen to the words of your prophets who are prophesying to you, saying, 'Behold, the vessels of the LORD's house will now shortly be brought back from Babylon,' for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you. Do not listen to them: serve the king of Babylon and live. Why should this city become a desolation? If they are prophets, and if the word of the LORD is with them, then let them intercede with the LORD of hosts, that the vessels that are left in the house of the LORD, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem may not go to Babylon” (Jeremiah 27:16-18).
And right on cue, Hananiah, the prophet from Gibeon, spoke in the temple, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD's house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, declares the LORD, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 28:2-4). This is just what the people wanted to hear.
This is where our reading picks up the story. Jeremiah the prophet responds to Hananiah the prophet saying, “Amen! May the LORD do so...” (v. 6). Truly that would be wonderful. That is what we all would like. We want nothing more than peace and restoration. But it will not happen. All of the faithful prophets from ancient times proclaimed what the LORD had said to Moses and Joshua and all the people when He had brought them to this land: That if they kept His commandments they would live long in the land, but if they forsook Him and turned away to worship false gods and adopt the immoral practices of the nations around them, then He would bring in another nation to conquer them and take them out. So Jeremiah concluded, “As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet” (v. 9).
The dramatic confrontation continued between Jeremiah the prophet and and Hananiah the prophet. Hananiah took the yoke that the LORD had Jeremiah make and wear, and Hananiah broke it and lied prophesying, “Thus says the LORD: Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years” (Jeremiah 28:11). The LORD told Jeremiah to reply, “'Thus says the LORD: You have broken wooden bars, but you have made in their place bars of iron... Listen, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD: Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the LORD.'” And in that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died.” (28:12-17). His prophesies were not fulfilled.
Rather, the Word of the LORD through Jeremiah came to pass. The nation was conquered. The people spent 70 years in exile in Babylon, and then the LORD raised up the Persians to defeat the Babylonians and eventually the people returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt the city and the temple, and rededicated themselves to the LORD who truly keeps His Word and restores His repentant people.
So doesn't it all make for a dramatic Bible lesson, perhaps not for the Sunday School children, but maybe for the youth who are a little older? Isn't it the kind of thing that we want them to hear? Isn't it the kind of thing that we want Western European nations to hear where the Christian Church has suffered great decline and devastation? Isn't it the kind of thing that we hope the citizens of the United States of America hear as we see such civil unrest in these times? But is it the kind of thing that we will hear?
We will celebrate Canada Day this week, and celebrate the freedom and liberty and blessing that we enjoy living in this nation. Will we pay any attention at all to the Word of the LORD from His prophets who warn that the LORD will punish the nations who worship false gods and indulge in immoral practices? There are a whole host of prophets out there proclaiming peace. Every Christian denomination has their liberal side which is intent on proclaiming peace while our nation continues to indulge in immorality and turn to the worship of false gods. Woe to those prophets who proclaim peace where there is no peace, because they are leaving people content in their sins which bear the condemnation of eternal suffering in hell. They do not point people to the holy God who offers forgiveness for those who turn from evil; who offers life for those who acknowledge that have a made a mess of this one; who offers peace with Himself but not with the world.
And so Jesus told His apostles, to whom He entrusted the preaching of His Word, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36). So this is not just an issue for nations and kingdoms, but for families and individuals. And those who preach the Word of God have to recognize that their preaching is not designed by God to bring about peace in the world. It is not designed to say, “everything is all right. God will bless whatever you choose to do.” No, when the preacher proclaims the truth the only peace that can come is peace with God, not with the world.
But that peace with God is the one peace that matters. And it is the peace that Jeremiah prophesied even while he was verbally duelling with the prophet Hananiah. Jeremiah ended their session that day by saying, “As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet” (Jeremiah 28:9). Jesus is that prophet whose word of peace came to pass. But it was not a word of peace in the world, not even a word of peace between family members. It was a word of peace with God. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
When Jesus asked “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:13-14). Jesus is the Prophet that Jeremiah and all of the faithful prophets spoke of. Jesus is the prophet whose Word brings us peace. It brings a peace that the world cannot give. It brings us peace with God through the blood of His cross. Jesus' Word brings us forgiveness for our sins of hatred and immorality, and turning away from the one true God to follow after the false gods of the pagan peoples who approve and encourage all of those disgusting practices that indulge our sinful appetites and corrupt or destroy the good gifts of a loving Creator's blessing.
Jesus is the Prophet whose Word brings peace but whose coming brought a sword, a sword that killed the baby boys in Bethlehem, a sword that prodded Him from the Garden to Golgotha, a sword that pierced the soul of his mother Mary, as she watched Him give His life for the redemption of the world. The sword beheaded James and is stained with the blood of countless other apostles, prophets, and martyrs. The Word of the Lord brings this sword upon you. “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
This Word does not bring peace in the world. It does not bring peace within you, for it will pierce deep enough to discover your sinful thoughts and intentions, hidden way deep down within you: your desire for peace with the world so that you can join in to satisfy all of your sinful appetites. But this Word of the LORD is the only thing that will bring peace between you and God. For this Word is the eternal Word of God, come in the flesh to save sinners; not to give you peace on earth, or peace with yourself, but peace with God. So that in whatever state you find yourself, Babylon, Persia, Canada, or in whatever household you find yourself, or in whatever manner of sin you are caught, there is peace with God in the forgiveness that is yours in Christ Jesus. The Prophet has brought His Word to pass. He forgives the penitent.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.