Summary: The world and our sinful flesh are happy when false teachers tell us God’s Word is unclear or can be ignored. God will have none of that - his Word is clear.

August 29, 2004 — 13th Sunday after Pentecost

Christ Lutheran Church, Columbia, MD

Pastor Jeff Samelson

Jeremiah 23:23-29

Adjust Your Vision:

Seeing Black and White Where the World Wants Gray

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Word of God for our study this Sunday is our first lesson, Jeremiah 23:23-29, as printed in your bulletin and already read:

"Am I only a God nearby," declares the LORD, "and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?" declares the LORD. "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" declares the LORD.

"I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, `I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their fathers forgot my name through Baal worship. Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?" declares the LORD. "Is not my word like fire," declares the LORD, "and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (NIV)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear Friends in Christ:

If you look in your bulletin where we have our first lesson printed out, you should find it pretty easy to read. The print is clear, in black letters on white. God’s Word stands out clearly against its background.

Compare that to this (show other sheet). These are the same verses of Jeremiah 23, but they have been printed in gray on gray. God’s Word is hardly distinguishable from what surrounds it.

And that’s what the world around us wants. It’s especially what the lying prophets the Lord condemns here want, and it’s what the sinful nature that lives inside every Christian also wants — that the clear Word of God not be clear, not be considered, and not be seen as any different from the words of men or any other “god”. They do not want the Lord to be understood, obeyed, or believed, and so they don’t want him to be heard, either. It’s this reality that these verses from Jeremiah are addressing — they apply as directly to our situation today as they did to Jeremiah’s 2600 or so years ago.

I. Now God begins these verses with some rather pointed rhetorical questions:

"Am I only a God nearby," declares the LORD, "and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?" declares the LORD. "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" declares the LORD.

To a believer, it may be almost strange that this needed to be asked. After all, God was talking to his own people — the people of Judah, a nation he had brought out of Egypt and made a covenant with, a country that would not exist were it not for his power and love, a community supposedly centered around the temple bearing his name. But still God reminded them that he was no “local deity” whose power and presence was limited to the temple, or Jerusalem, or the land of Judah — the Lord is the One Almighty God everywhere. And anywhere anyone might go, there God will find him — there’s no hiding from the Lord — he is everywhere.

Now why would it have been necessary to remind the people of these things? It wasn’t just that many, if not most, of his people had forgotten the answers to these questions, or at least no longer thought about them. It was also, and undoubtedly, that the false prophets the Lord was exposing here were suggesting — probably indirectly — that God could be ignored. Jeremiah had been calling the people to repentance — but why worry about the punishments of a powerless God? The Word of God from Moses and the Prophets condemned much of what the people were doing — but why worry? What the Lord didn’t know couldn’t hurt them — his law was only words, just like theirs, and they liked their words better.

I’m reminded of a story an Illinois state trooper told when I was in high school. He was patrolling on the interstate and tried to pull someone over for speeding or some other violation. But instead of pulling over, the driver decided to try outrunning the trooper. The chase went on for some time, and then the driver took an exit. He drove for a while on the connecting highway and then, inexplicably, pulled his car over to the side and got out just past a sign announcing that he’d entered the city limits of some town. When the trooper got out of his car, the man — who was apparently enjoying himself immensely — said something like, “Ha, ha! You can’t do anything to me — I’m inside the city limits now!” The driver believed that the trooper’s authority was limited to the state highways. He was, of course, very wrong — the state police had authority everywhere in the state — and so the man was also very much in trouble, and very much under arrest.

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