It Shall Not Return Empty
2nd Sunday in Lent – C LSB #’s 511, 513, 673
Text – Jeremiah 26:8-9a
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! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, & this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?”
IT SHALL NOT RETURN EMPTY
New York, London & Paris – you’ve heard the names of these famous cities & may have a picture that comes to mind with them such as the Empire State Building, Buckingham Palace & the Eifel Tower. What if I mention the city of Shiloh? Anything? Probably not, unless you remember it as a famous Civil War battlefield in SW Tennessee.
Long before that, Shiloh was a city serving as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel. It was the major Israelite worship center before the 1st Temple was built in Jerusalem. Did you catch the name as I read it in the OT lesson, “Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, & this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?”
You see, Jeremiah was prophesying that the current capital of Jerusalem was going to end up being destroyed as Shiloh was & the people weren’t happy about it. It’s sort of the equivalent to saying that Washington D.C. will end up like Hiroshima. In the days before David was king, when Samuel was prophet, (about 1060 BC), the Ark of the Covenant was there.
That was God’s dwelling place with men. It was the Mercy Seat where atoning blood was splashed & from which God spoke & forgave sin on earth. (Exodus 25:21-22) It was a spectacular place! What came of this city that housed God’s mercy? It was completely destroyed. Psalm 78 tells us why.
God’s people rebelled against Him, ignored His Word, & angered Him with their false worship of Canaanite idols. So the Lord “full of wrath... forsook His dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where He dwelt among mankind.” (Psalm 78:59–60) The Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines & when the high priest Eli heard about that he fell over in his chair & died of a broken neck. His two sons were also killed in the battle along with 30,000 soldiers of the Israelite army.
Fast-forward a few hundred years (640 BC) to the temple in Jerusalem, where Jeremiah could just say “Shiloh” & everyone immediately understood (& hated him for it) as he preached against their idolatries: “This house shall be like Shiloh, & this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant.” Could this sturdy temple in Jerusalem really end up like Shiloh? Yes, & it did.
That brings us to the question, “Could Washington D. C. end up like Hiroshima?” We’d be foolish to think it cannot. Much closer to home, what will people say years from now when they hear the name of this place, this congregation?
Will it be but one more monument to human faithlessness, or still a place where our Lord proclaims His Law that brings to repentance, & His Gospel that forgives? In this season of Lent will we remember that Jesus willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance? Repentance is a gift that God gives to His children & He longs for us to make constant use of it.
Since a repentant heart believes it is forgiven it turns away from its sins through leaning upon Jesus. Key to that is recognizing that every aspect of our lives falls short of perfection, so each aspect of our lives needs repentance on our part. When people demand their right to do whatever they please it’s a clear sign they do not understand what it means to lean on Jesus.
Demanding my rights makes it obvious that I’m still leaning upon my own abilities to get through life. Do you remember the prayer of the tax collector? It’s a perfect illustration of someone who is leaning on Jesus & Him alone: “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13 ESV) He’s not demanding his rights. He is surrendering them all as he begs for mercy. And I know for a fact that the sinful nature in you hates to beg, because so does mine. All have sinned & fallen short of the glory of God. Our sinful nature is totally aware of that & despises the reality. The question is, “What to do about it?”
By the time Jeremiah was sent to preach to God’s people, they’d already decided what to do. They had moved on to other gods, gods invented by sinful human beings who would satisfy their every sinful desire. The nation of Judah had tired of living in the tension of being repentant yet forgiven sinners. Our nation, our people, & ourselves included, struggle with the same issue.
There will come a day, as it does in every nation, when Yahweh can no longer tolerate the rebellion of His creatures. In the OT He warned the people that once they are in the land of milk & honey they will grow complacent & satisfied. He warned them in order to help them stay on the straight & narrow. He warned them of the danger they were in because He loved them.
Yet, the majority of the people were so far gone that they threatened to kill the messenger as you heard earlier: “…then the priests & the prophets & all the people laid hold of [Jeremiah], saying, ‘You shall die!’” Even the Gentile city of Nineveh repented when Jonah warned them to turn from their sins so they might live. The hearts of the people in Judah were already dead.
In the Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus also was being threatened with death for warning the people about the dangers of not taking God seriously, & at His word. This is how St. Luke recorded it, “…some Pharisees came & said to [Jesus], ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’” With Jeremiah & with Jesus, the Word of God goes forth & does not return empty.
Both of them understood that even if they were killed, Yahweh would rescue them for speaking the truth. The heavenly Father certainly speaks strong words, & that annoys those who have rejected Him. Our words are often wishy washy & filled with weakness, but when Yahweh speaks it is to uproot the sin in your heart & mine. He speaks to tear down, destroy & overthrow the sinful nature in us. Before He brings life, first He must bring death to the rebellious soul that demands to have its rights guaranteed. Before He speaks the Good News there is the command of Yahweh. Grass fades & the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.
For the people of Jeremiah’s day, when the judgment came there would no longer be a priesthood, no temple, no liturgy, no city, no government, no sacrifices, no more Promised Land. But they would still have the written Word of God, & it never returns to Him empty. If the people take it to heart it always brings life everlasting.
If they reject it, at Judgment Day that same Word will bring everlasting condemnation, as it bears witness against their refusal to lean upon Jesus. Until then, Yahweh does everything necessary that everyone might be saved. When Shiloh was destroyed, rather than sending the people into exile, God sent the Ark of the Covenant into exile in the hands of the Philistines.
Years later, when Jerusalem is destroyed, a remnant of the people is sent into exile in the nation of Babylon. Finally, years after that, God the Father would send His only begotten Son into exile here on earth & then, on the cross, in order to suffer the death that was truly our right. At Golgotha, Jesus became desolate & abandoned, suffering the curse of all mankind.
That is the Good News that comes after the command of God to obey. During this season of Lent, will you hear the Good News? Will you allow that Word to take root in your heart & produce fruit in keeping with repentance? How often, & in what ways, do we respond to the call to return to the Lord, to listen & turn from our evil ways, to walk according to His will?
If we can’t answer that question, we are still clinging to our own & old way of life. That type of living does not include leaning upon Jesus for all things. One way to answer that question would be to remember the public confession we, as a church, make at the beginning of our services. For example, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins & iniquities with which I have ever offended You…” It’s not uncommon to hear people complain about those words. They say things like, “I’m not a poor miserable sinner! I’m forgiven!” What they seem to miss is that if you are forgiven, you have to be a sinner in the 1st place.
In this life, confessing our sins will never be easy. Our sinful nature is too strong, yet, just as God’s Word will not return empty as it judges people, His Word also will not return empty in the hearts of those who believe & trust in our heavenly Father.
Paris, London & New York will one day be gone like Shiloh, if not sooner, certainly when the world is brought, by God, to its end. That God is almighty is something we really struggle even to comprehend, yet alone believe. On the Last Day we may well see the true power of His Word as the old heavens & earth pass away & the news one arrive.
The Words of St. Paul in today’s Epistle reading from Philippians are comforting & encouraging as they describe what is to come for us who trust in Jesus alone:
“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. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love & long for, my joy & crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Philippians 3:20-4:1 ESV) Amen.
The clouds of judgment gather, the time is growing late; be sober & be watchful, our judge is at the gate: the judge who comes in mercy, the judge who comes in might to put an end to evil & diadem the right. Arise, O true disciples; let wrong give way to right, & penitential shadow to Jesus’ blessed light: the light that has no evening, that knows no moon or sun, the light so new & golden, the light that is but one. Amen. LSB 513:1-2.
 Jeremiah 26:9 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet