Word Like Fire

Text: Jeremiah 23:16-29

The Lord spoke through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes…I did not send [them], yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council…they would have turned [My people] from their evil way.”[1] These words, God directed to His people in Jerusalem and against the false prophets that filled the city. Jerusalem was practically bursting with prophets who proclaimed peace and prosperity. Yet, God’s true prophets had preached for over a hundred years that she would fall because of her sinfulness; but the people only listened to the false prophets who promised peace.

We have in this text a description of what a false prophet is: someone who claims to speak from God’s authority, but ultimately speaks from the dreams of their own heart. The false prophets in Jerusalem were not preaching God’s Word of Law and Gospel. Instead, they only prophesied what they wanted to hear. To the contrary God says, “Is not My Word like fire…and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?[2] Today we confess that a true prophet and messenger of God proclaims both His Word of Law and His Word of Gospel. God’s Word of Law is like a fire and hammer that exposes sin and brings to repentance, while His Word of Gospel offers pardon and peace to those who turn to Him in faith.

I.

This is the second time this year that we’ve been in Jeremiah 23. The first time we heard it was in a very different context – the first Sunday in Advent. Jeremiah 23 is where God promises that a Righteous Branch will come who will reign as king and deal wisely. He will make all of God’s people dwell in peace and safety. That portion of the chapter was given to comfort us with the promise of Christ, but it was also directed against the false shepherds, the wicked kings and priests of Israel. In this later part of chapter 23, God’s Word turns against the false prophets who filled Jerusalem in the decades leading up to its destruction.

If you’re familiar with Isaiah, you might remember that he prophesied before the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. The hope of the prophets, and dare I say God, was that the people of Jerusalem would learn from that and return to the Lord their God. Instead, Jerusalem got worse and worse. There were high points, like the reign of Josiah – which is when Jeremiah started preaching. But overall, Jerusalem was on a steep and steady decline.

One of the major factors in that decline was the false prophets going around and telling everyone that, because it was Jerusalem – God’s holy city – nothing bad could happen. God says this, “They speak visions of their own minds, not form the mouth of the Lord. 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.'”[3] The priests, also, were aligned with them.

What’d this look like on the ground level? Idol worship was vastly and widely-spread. It was the norm for people to worship false gods, in addition to God. They even set up idols and sacrificed to them in the very temple of God. Nobody kept God’s Commandments; nobody even tried. Adultery and fornication were openly accepted and encouraged. Bribes were given and received. Selfishness and apathy for one’s neighbor were the way to play. And the false prophets said everything would be okay. But, God did not send them. He sent Jeremiah.

II.

Jeremiah was called by God to prophesy to His people. Though there are many good and comforting words in Jeremiah, in large part his call from God was to proclaim that Jerusalem would be destroyed if she wouldn’t repent. Jeremiah’s call was to preach God’s Word of Law. That’s how God contrasted the false prophets. They did not preach the Law. They did not point out sin nor the need forgiveness. They preached only peace, comfort, and happiness – while wallpapering over everything else. “If they had stood in My council,” God said, “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.”[4]

God’s Word, He says, is like a fire and a hammer. He’s talking about His Law, the Ten Commandments. His Law doesn’t wallpaper over sin; it exposes it and shows it for what it is. The author to the Hebrews says God’s Word is, “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”[5] The false prophets were false because they did not proclaim God’s Word of Law against sin. They turned the Word into wallpaper, which, before long, just becomes part of the background. When preached as it should, God’s Law exposes sin. It crushes the sinner like a hammer, when it shows that we aren’t as righteous as we think we are. God’s Law offers no word of comfort; it makes demands.

III.

God’s Law exposes and crushes. It shows that we are sinners. The correct response to the preaching of the Law is: yes, it’s true; I repent. To repent means to sorrow over sin. It means to stop doing one thing and do something else; to change directions. This is what God desired for His people: that they repent of their sins and be forgiven. The false prophets declared that there was no sin, and therefore no need for forgiveness. Jeremiah preached the Law to expose sin, so that he could then preach the Gospel. So, also, the true preachers of God’s Word do today.

As God sent Jeremiah, so He sends pastors to us now to proclaim both His Word of Law and His Word of Gospel. The Law is and remains God’s Holy Word, and its job is to point out our sin. Its job is to show that we are sinful in our thoughts, words and deeds. Its job is to show us that there is nowhere to run or hide, that we can’t wallpaper over our sins. Only once our sins have been shown to us, our need for forgiveness demonstrated, can the Gospel then be preached.

The Gospel is also God’s Holy Word. It’s job is to show us Jesus. All those things that the Law demands, all those things we fail to do, Jesus did. The Law says that, for our sins, we deserve to die. The Gospel says that Jesus paid that debt when He died on the cross for you. Then, He rose again to give you new and eternal life. As Baptized Christians, God’s Law now also serves as a guide for our lives. We seek to serve God by obeying His Commandments, even though we do it imperfectly. For those times when we do fail, we are forgiven in Christ.

But if there is no Law, there is no sin. If there is no sin, there is no forgiveness. This is what the false prophets were preaching in Jerusalem. And, because of the people’s refusal to repent and believe, Jerusalem was destroyed. But, even until the end, God sent Jeremiah. Jeremiah preached both the Law and the Gospel, to point out sin and to declare that people are forgiven by God’s grace through faith in Christ. God’s Word of Law is like a fire and hammer that exposes and crushes sin. His Word of Gospel says that Christ gives us His righteousness as a gift. For all those who have been crushed by the Law, there is balm and healing in the Good News of Jesus Christ. God grant that He would continue to send faithful preachers into the whole world, so that we might all hear about the forgiveness that is in Christ Jesus.


[1] Jer. 23:16, 21-22, English Standard Version.

[2] Jer. 23:29.

[3] Jer. 23:16-17.

[4] Jer. 23:22.

[5] Heb. 4:12-13.

“Do Not Hold Back a Word”

2017/03/22 Lent Midweek III – Manuscript

Text: Jeremiah 26:1-15 (Alternate text in LSB)

We’ve spoken of Jeremiah’s ministry on a few occasions. We’ve learned that Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem during the time leading up to the Fall in 586 B.C. His ministry lasted about 40 years – perhaps longer. Jeremiah is often singled-out for the difficulty which he faced in his ministry. He was viciously opposed by many of the priests and the abundance of false prophets in Jerusalem, who held that it was utterly impossible for Jerusalem to fall. In our text tonight we get to peer back behind the curtain and see why Jeremiah was rejected and treated as he was.

The Lord gave him specific instructions in verse 2, “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.” That is to say, the Lord sent Jeremiah to speak the Law to His people. He was sent to call out against Jerusalem her great and many sins, which would soon bring upon God’s wrath. He was sent to preach the Law, and was told not leave anything left unsaid. But, not leaving anything left unsaid also applied to the other part of Jeremiah’s preaching: the Gospel. Jeremiah was sent to preach both the Law and the Gospel to God’s people. The Lord sent (and still sends) His servants to preach both Law and Gospel, so that sinners may repent and be forgiven.

I.

Jeremiah’s ministry took place over a long time, but the king in our text is Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim was a son of Josiah, and actually the 2nd son of his to reign – after his evil older brother was taken to Egypt. Jehoiakim was also evil. When the Lord sent Nebuchadnezzar up to Jerusalem, he rebelled and the end of the city began in earnest. But still, even at this point all was not lost. Even in the face of impending doom, the Lord again sent His servant to preach. He said to Jeremiah, “Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah…all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word.”

Jeremiah was another in a long line of prophets. Each was sent by God to speak His Word to His people, both about their transgressions against Him and His mercy and willingness to forgive. Jeremiah was also sent to preach both Law and Gospel. In this case, the Law was that, because of Judah’s evil deeds, Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. God said, “If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh.” Shiloh was the first resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, which the Lord caused to fall to ruin because of Israel’s unbelief.

II.

The Lord sent Jeremiah to preach the Law, specifically telling him not to omit a single word, even though the people wouldn’t like hearing it. We learn from Scripture that the Law always has an effect; it always causes one of two reactions. The first reaction, which is really Satan’s work, is what we see in our text. It says, “when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded…then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, ‘You shall die!’” The first reaction to the preaching of God’s Law, the attitude that is from the devil, is denial and resistance. God’s Law is meant to show us our sin, but the Old Adam in us, and the influence of the devil in the world around us, tempt us to deny its truthfulness. Sadly, in the case of some who are deeply lost in the sin, the result of pointing out their sin leads them to become hardened and even more resistant to God’s Word. This is purely the devil’s handiwork.

There is another reaction to God’s Law, the one which He desires and creates: repentance. We learn in our text why God sent Jeremiah to preach the Law. He says, “It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way.” In short: God sends His servants to preach the Law to show us our sins, so that we may repent and be forgiven. God’s great mercy is also demonstrated in this text. It was not long after that Jerusalem did fall. Even up until the very last possible moment, God continued to send the prophets, who promised that God would stop the disaster, if only they would repent. God’s Word through Jeremiah was not hypothetical. Because of Judah’s sin, Jerusalem would be destroyed. Yet even then, God was willing and desired to forgive, and would avert their doom, if they would only repent.

III.

That is the reason why God sent Jeremiah to preach the Law, so that the Gospel might also be preached. The Lord said, “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.” Though their sins were great, though they were like scarlet, God was ready and willing and more fully desiring to forgive than we can ever know. Even in the face of destruction, after generations of idolatry and covetousness, God would forgive. Just like we heard on Ash Wednesday, “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him.”

So also does God send His servants to preach to us today, both His Word of Law and His Word of Gospel. He sends them to preach the Law to show us our sins. When we hear from them that we are sinners, the words which judge us are not theirs, such as what the people thought of Jeremiah, but God’s. The Law is and remains God’s holy Word. When we hear from it that our sins are great, we should respond with the words, “Amen; this is true.”

God also sends His servants to preach the Gospel to those who recognize from the Law that they are, in fact, sinners. Just like God offered to freely forgive even the adulterous people of Jerusalem, He will freely and completely forgive all who turn to Him in repentance and faith. If God the Father willingly sacrificed His only-begotten Son on the cross, how true His promise to forgive our sins must be; if only we repent. So that we may repent, God speaks to us His Word of the Law through His servants. Then, when they have shown us our sins, they reveal to us the Gospel of Christ: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

2017-03-22 Lent Midweek III Bulletin

Wednesday After Oculi, Third Sunday in Lent

March 22nd, 2017

Order of Service: Evening Prayer, Hymnal Supplement, pg. 17

Psalm 4 (antiphon v. 8)

Readings: Jeremiah 26:1-15

Hymn: LSB 589, “Speak, O Lord, Your Servant Listens”

Sermon

Prayer

Collect of the Day

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy, be gracious to all who have gone astray from Your ways and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of Your Word; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Jeremiah 26:1-15 (English Standard Version)

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. 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.

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.”

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.”