2nd Sunday in Lent – C LSB #’s 449, 436, 508:1-3, 5, 7
Text – Jeremiah 26:8
And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests & the prophets & all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die!”
DEATH TO THE WORD OF GOD
For years, people have tried to appease Vladimir Putin, hoping to draw him & Russia into the “league of free nations.” President George W. Bush said he looked into the eyes of Putin & saw a man with a good soul. It should be clear now that W was seeing what he wanted to see. In Ukraine, the true colors of President Putin are on full display for all the world to see.
God does not work to appease those who are opposed to Him. On the contrary, when Pharaoh refused to let God’s people go, Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to prove who truly has power. Then God destroyed Pharaoh & his entire army by drowning them in the Red Sea. In Jeremiah 26, it is God’s own people who have now hardened their hearts.
They have been blessed by Yahweh for centuries yet are stubbornly going their own way & it’s in the entirely wrong direction. However, instead of trying to appease the people of the Southern kingdom, God sends Jeremiah to prophesy their destruction, unless they turn back.
The nation had split into two kingdoms after the death of Solomon, & the Northern half had already been conquered & destroyed. They too had rejected the warnings of God against their false religions. The Southern kingdom had seen the demise of the north & took no heed of it. They continued to refuse the ways & the love of their Creator.
These are the words that God sent through Jeremiah: “…If you will not listen to me & obey my word I have given you, & if you will not listen to my servants, the prophets – for I sent them again & again to warn you, but you would not listen to them – then I will destroy this Temple as I destroyed Shiloh, the place where the Tabernacle was located. And I will make Jerusalem an object of cursing in every nation on earth.” (Jeremiah 26:4-6 NLT) No appeasement there on the part of the Almighty Creator, & given those words, our sinful nature well understands the reaction of the people:
“The priests & the prophets & all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests & the prophets & all the people laid hold of him, saying, ‘You shall die!’” (Jeremiah 26:7-8 ESV)
When the city of Nineveh, in a pagan nation, heard the Word of God from the prophet Jonah, they repented & turned away from their evil. When the city of Jerusalem hears the Word of God from Jeremiah, they want to put the prophet to death. The reaction to Jeremiah’s sermon moves his audience further away from God & into even greater danger than before.
However, Jeremiah is not responsible for how the people respond. He’s only accountable to God who gave Jeremiah the message to share. That Word of God was meant to kill the stubborn pride, arrogance & rebellion of the Southern kingdom. It was meant to kill those sinful attributes so that the holy attributes from God could thrive.
The holy attributes that God’s Spirit creates in us are things like humility, self-control & repentance. Yahweh’s great act of appeasement occurred on the cross. That sacrifice was the one to end all sacrifices. It covers the sins of all people throughout all time. The wrath of God was satisfied there. There is no wrath left to come against us.
To our sinful nature this is totally backwards, but it is surrender alone that brings life. Obstinance brings death. The false prophets & religious leaders would rather sell their souls than give up what they’d worked so hard to achieve. These hardened people rejected & attacked the Word & the messenger. Their rejection of God’s warning drove them even further from the safety of Christ’s love & salvation. What the false prophets & priests were hearing, from Jeremiah, as rejection & destruction was actually given as an invitation to life. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:9 ESV) Those are the words of another prophet quite a few centuries later. You know Him by the name Jesus.
Jesus was on earth teaching people almost 2000 years ago. Jeremiah was prophesying over 2700 years ago. In the minds of so many people today, Jeremiah & Jesus, Babylon & Rome have nothing to do with our lives today. I would disagree, but I can make a case for this sermon in another way that is very current & extremely relevant, & it will grab your attention.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine demonstrates the mind of a man who might properly be described as ‘anti-Christ.’ I do not mean that Vladimir Putin is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, nor would I presume to know that the ‘end is near.’
Instead, Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine is exactly the opposite of Christ’s decision to set aside all His advantages in order to serve others & to sacrifice Himself for the sake of the world. In that sense, Putin is anti-Christ.
Whereas Putin sees his position as a means of grasping more power & wealth at the expense of others, Christ demonstrates the sort of service & self-sacrifice that reflects what it means to be God. Christ’s self-giving then lies at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.
So, as the world watches Putin & his regime attack the Ukrainian people, we are witnessing a moment in which Putin’s dismissal of God & His ways is resulting in devastating consequences.” (James Spencer, head of the D.L. Moody Center in Northfield, Mass.)
Those words make a very appropriate application for the sermon text from Jeremiah, because the president of Russia is acting in a similar way to the chief priests & kings of ancient Israel. Those leaders were getting rich at the expense of the people they were supposed to be serving. Jesus came to set people free, not from an earthly kingdom, but from Satan’s kingdom which is an eternity in hell. Jeremiah was sent by God & was working for Jesus. He was proclaiming a message meant to set people free from leaders who were only serving themselves.
The men, women & children of Judah were living as slaves to the things of this world, things that do not last. They were on the path to hell, but they did not want to hear that, because they themselves had chosen that path. Jeremiah was telling them, “You’ve made the wrong choice! Turn back!” But the people & their leaders were arrogant, proud & rebellious.
The people of Judah were anti-Christ, just like Vladimir Putin is, but if self-sacrifice is the way of Jesus, where do you & I stand? Doesn’t the prospect of WWIII make us nervous because we’re anxious about losing the things of this world that we believe belong to us?
When we think of the horrific suffering going on in Ukraine, aren’t we concerned as much for ourselves as we are for the Ukrainian people? And as much as Mr. Putin may be anti-Christ, through the war he’s waging on Ukraine, if we understand the Bible correctly, we realize that even a rogue president like Vladimir Putin is still a servant of God’s will.
The Babylonians conquered the Southern kingdom by God’s direction so that His people might possibly wake up & turn back from their rebellion. It is almost certain that Yahweh is using the invasion of Ukraine to wake us up, & to wake up all the people of our world, that we too might turn from the path to hell & come back to our loving Creator instead.
The central theme of the text from Jeremiah is that God is our refuge & without Him we are lost. Jeremiah faced death threats from a mob because he prophesied that the temple would be destroyed due to the religious hypocrisy of the very people Jeremiah was warning. These words of the Introit this morning, come from Psalm 74, but they speak on our behalf:
“Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? Remember your
congregation, which you have purchased of old, which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage!” (74:1b-2a ESV) Still today, the Word of God is meant to kill pride, arrogance & rebellion, wherever it exists. Those attributes are signs of death, not life. The unique thing, in all the world, that Christian faith brings to this is love.
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. The Gospel of John also tells us that Jesus is the Word & God the Father had the Word put to death in order to gain for you & for me, in spite of our sins, the gift of eternal life.
In that context, the sermon title Death To The Word Of God is not so shocking, in fact if understood correctly it is comforting. Whatever God may be doing through Vladimir Putin that man is not as self-sufficient as he most likely thinks that he is. And whatever is happening to people around the world, but especially in Ukraine, God is still love.
The heavenly Father is working, even through sin, to accomplish His will. He alone cannot be denied, & His love for us is real. He will do whatever is necessary to draw us back to Himself whenever we stray. That will at times be painful for us, in the here & now, but glorious for us in the ever after. As St. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:18-21:
For many, of whom I have often told you & now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, & they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, & from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.
Go to dark Gethsemane, all who feel the tempter’s power; your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour; turn not from His griefs away; learn from Jesus Christ to pray. Follow to the judgment hall, view the Lord of life arraigned; Oh, the wormwood & the gall! Oh, the pangs His soul sustained! Shun not suffering, shame, or loss; learn from Him to bear the cross. Calvary’s mournful mountain climb; there, adoring at His feet, mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete. “It is finished!” hear Him cry; learn from Jesus Christ to die. Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay; all is solitude & gloom. Who has taken Him away? Christ is risen! He meets our eyes. Savior, teach us so to rise. Amen. LSB 436:1-4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet