Posted by: Johnold Strey | February 27, 2010

Sermon on Jeremiah 26:8-15

DON’T CONFUSE THE MESSAGE WITH THE MESSENGER

  1. The messenger merely echoes God’s Word
  2. The message from God’s Word deserves to be heard

 Text: Jeremiah 26:8-15

Introduction

Nine years ago this July, I preached my first sermon as the newly installed pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.  If it weren’t for the file folders of sermons in my desk and the digital files of sermons on my computer, I would have forgotten most of the sermons I’ve preached by now.  But I still remember the details around that first sermon.  I preached on the Gospel for that particular Sunday (from Luke 10), since that particular reading spoke about matters that were appropriate for me to discuss in an inaugural sermon.  And I still remember the sermon theme I used.  “Don’t confuse the message with the messenger” was the theme of my first sermon with you.  I survived the ordeal, and I don’t think anyone fell asleep, so I guess that sermon was a success!

The theme of that first sermon, “Don’t confuse the message with the messenger,” came back to my mind frequently this week as I prepared this sermon.  We aren’t marking any milestones or new beginnings today.  It’s the Second Sunday in Lent today, a rather ordinary and straight-forward day in the church calendar.  But in the First Lesson for today’s service, we see Jeremiah, a prominent Old Testament prophet, as he deals with discord because people didn’t like what he had to say.  But their real problem was that they confused the message with the messenger.

Even though I used that phrase for a sermon theme for a different Bible reading several years ago, I’m going to recycle that phrase and apply it to today’s First Lesson and this sermon.  Don’t confuse the message with the messenger!  The messenger merely echoes God’s Word, but the message from God’s Word deserves to be heard.

I.

Jeremiah did not exactly have an easy ministry.  He served as a prophet in ancient Judah during the years that led up to conquest and deportation by the Babylonians.  Jeremiah started his work when Josiah was the king—the last godly, moral king on Judah’s throne.  After Josiah, the spiritual situation seemed to go from bad to worse on a regular basis.  The political situation was equally bleak.  Jeremiah had a challenging ministry as a prophet; he faced strong resistance, persecution, and even death threats simply because he preached what God told him to say.

The situation in today’s First Lesson is one of many examples of Jeremiah’s difficult ministry.  King Josiah died shortly before this chapter.  Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, succeeded his father as king for a short three months before he was assassinated at the direction of the Egyptian Pharaoh.  At the start of this chapter, the next king in Judah, Jehoiakim, was on the throne.  There’s not much good to say about Jehoiakim, nor about the spiritual condition in Judah at this time.  Chapter 26 begins with Jeremiah in the temple preaching a stern message of judgment and a serious call to repentance from the Lord.  As you might expect, Jeremiah’s sermon didn’t find a warm reception.  “As soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, ‘You must die!  Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?’  And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.” 

Jeremiah had just delivered a word-for-word message from God, and it didn’t go over well.  If they didn’t shape up, Jerusalem was going to turn into another Shiloh.  That doesn’t mean much to modern readers, but that wasn’t a very complimentary statement to Jeremiah’s audience.  Shiloh was the city that had housed the tabernacle, the temporary worship facility God himself had designed.  But eventually Shiloh was attacked, the tabernacle destroyed, and the city abandoned.  Our reading takes place in Jerusalem, the city that housed the temple, the permanent worship facility for God’s people.  The idea that Jerusalem could be desolate like Shiloh and the temple destroyed like the tabernacle—well, that was highly offensive even to suggest it! 

Perhaps we can understand why Jeremiah’s message was so irritating.  But the people of Judah exhibited a major problem with their violent response.  They confused the message with the messenger.  They failed to understand that Jeremiah, the messenger, merely echoed the message God had given him.  Crowding around him, cornering him, and calling for his death because they didn’t like what he had to say merely confirmed the obvious.  They confused the message with the messenger, and they failed to recognize that the messenger—in this case, Jeremiah—merely echoed God’s Word.  The people’s rejection helps us understand Jesus’ lament in today’s Gospel: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34).

Several years ago, before I moved to California, I knew a man who belonged to another Lutheran congregation in my home state.  The church he belonged to was rather large; the congregation was served by two pastors.  He always spoke highly of both of his pastors, and one of them in particular.  After some time had passed, I ran into this man again.  As our conversation went on, he spoke about the pastor he had previously appreciated quite a bit.  Now he had nothing good to say about the very same pastor.  Months later I learned the reason for his about face.  The man was seeking an unscriptural divorce, and his pastor was threatening him with excommunication.  God’s messenger was “okay” with this man until his words hit too close to home.  That sounds quite a bit like the people in Jeremiah’s day, doesn’t it?

Truth be told, that sounds like us, too.  The messenger who speaks to us might be another Christian.  Parents pull their teenage children aside when they have reason to suspect they have been drinking or engaging in premarital sex.  They remind them that their actions are dangerous and sinful in God’s eyes.  We hope for repentance, but how often aren’t parents written off and ignored as old-fashioned control freaks.  The messenger might be the pastor.  In Bible Class or in a sermon, perhaps we hear something that hits close to home—lust in the heart, lovelessness in the home, laziness at work, lying mouths, or some other sin in a laundry list that looks all too much like a page from the diary of our lives.  And instead of praying, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” we deflect the issue by confusing the message with the messenger.  “Well, that’s his opinion.  I can come up with five or six good reasons why that doesn’t apply to me!”  We deliberately choose to ignore the fact that messenger merely echoes God’s Word.

You may think that the law’s accusing finger aimed at your heart somehow doesn’t apply to you.  But as the bumper sticker I saw the other week said, “Don’t believe everything you think!”  You may think that God doesn’t condemn or even care about your sin, but it was ultimately God, not Saint John, who wrote, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. … If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1 John 1:8,10).

II.

You’re Jeremiah.  You say what you’re told to say.  Instead of repentance, you get a riot.  A mob scene ensues.  The leaders of the city gather in the temple for a trial.  The temple priests and prophets, of all people (!), raise these charges against you: “This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!”—in other words, treason and blasphemy.  It’s your turn to speak.  What do you say?

I don’t know about you, but I know what I would say.  I’d be pleading my innocence with every word.  I’d be screaming about the terrible injustice taking place.

Yes, Jeremiah did plead his innocence, but we should take notice and give him credit that the first thing he says—and he says it forcefully—is that the people should listen to his message because his message is from God and it deserves to be heard.  “Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard.  Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God.  Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you.”  Even when Jeremiah gets to his defense, he uses it to repeat what he’s already stated.  “Don’t put an innocent man to death, because your actions would only reveal that you don’t want to hear the message God has given me to say to you.”  “As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right.  Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”

Another Sunday morning rolls around, and here you are in church.  For many of you, this is a standard and familiar routine that has gone on for most, if not all, of your life; you can hardly begin to estimate how often you’ve found your seat in God’s house on Sunday morning.  But if you stop and think about it, isn’t our weekly activity in God’s house kind of odd?  Week after week, we show up on Sunday morning and listen to some preacher tell us what God expects of us, and then he has the audacity to tell us that we haven’t met that expectation.  I can think of better ways to spend a Sunday morning than listening to someone tell me that I’m a sinner!

But there’s a reason why we involve ourselves in this spiritual exercise week after week.  When we don’t confuse the message with the messenger, we realize that the message from God’s Word deserves to be heard.  My sinful nature may not like it when someone else condemns my lust, lovelessness, laziness, lying, or something else from a laundry list of my sins.  But my Christian nature knows that God proclaims that message to me through others because he loves me.  Jesus longed to gather Jerusalem to himself, and he longs to gather every one of you into his family.  He wants you to take his Word seriously and listen to it sincerely, because his Word is a message of both confrontation and comfort.

God’s Word deserves to be heard when it says, “The wages of sin is death.”  And when that message brings our hearts to repentance, God’s Word deserves to be heard again when it says, “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  God’s Word deserves to be heard when it says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air.”  And when that law brings our hearts to repentance, God’s Word deserves to be heard again when it says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1-2,4-5).  God’s Word deserves to be heard when it says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Hebrews 10:26-27).  And when that bad news brings our hearts to repentance, God’s Word deserves to be heard again when it says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2).

God is serious when he confronts your sin, and he is equally series when he comforts your repentant heart.  We cannot overdose on this message!  How wonderful to hear and believe that Jesus’ life and holiness counts for me as if it were my life and holiness!  How amazing to hear and believe that Jesus’ blood washes away every last sin that stood between us and God.  How incredible to know and believe that Jesus has defeated death for you and that his resurrection promises your own resurrection from the dead to eternal life!  This is a message that deserves to be read and preached and heard and proclaimed in worship every week!  This is a message that never gets old!  This is a message that never loses its credibility, because the message isn’t from the messenger; the message is from God himself!

That’s why we should take the Scriptures seriously!  This is not Pastor Strey’s idea or Saint Paul’s philosophy or Jeremiah’s news.  This is God’s Word.  That’s why we repent when we hear God’s law, and why we rejoice when he hear God’s gospel.  That’s why the message from this Book deserves to be heard.  That’s why we don’t want to confuse the message with the messenger.

Thank God for faithful messengers who proclaim his message!  Amen.

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Responses

  1. So the point of your introduction was “Don’t confuse this message with the other message”? 😉

    Thanks for sharing the message you shared with the saints in Belmont.

    I’m preaching on the Psalms this Lent. Interesting to consider how many of them must have been in Jesus’ mind and on his lips as he wound his way to the cross.


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