10th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 15) LSB #’s 908, 655, 578:1-3, 585
Text – Jeremiah 23:29
Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, & like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?
LITTLE ROCKS OUT OF BIG ROCKS
It was a standard joke onboard the submarine. Being involved in top secret projects, if you messed up really bad, you’d get court-martialed & sent to brig at Fort Leavenworth. It’s the only maximum security prison for the entire US Military. And the joke always ended with these words, “You’ll be making little rocks out of big rocks for the rest of your life.”
Picture in your mind a sledge hammer & a lot of really monotonous pain & suffering caused by turning granite boulders into pea stone gravel. That’s the picture the Lord gave to Jeremiah while describing the effects of His Word: “Is not my word like fire, & like a hammer which shatters a rock?” (Jeremiah 23:29 NASB)
We prefer the text, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet & a light to my path,” (Psalm 119:105 NASB) but not a fire & a hammer. Life is painful enough without God thundering upon you with the almighty power of His Word. You can relate to that feeling can’t you? When you’re guilty God works relentlessly, through His Word, like a hammer pounds relentlessly on the rock.
That the sinful nature in you takes a beating is what it feels like within your heart as your sins weigh heavily upon you. The Gospel of John describes the big picture view when it says of the Word, & of Christ, “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light – for their actions were evil.” (John 3:19b NLT)
Because your actions, & because my actions, are evil – you & I feel the heat of Yahweh’s fire, & we feel the pounding of God’s hammer. Our sinful hearts are like the big rocks of Ft. Leavenworth & our Lord is shattering them into little rocks with the power of the Law. In Proverbs 18 we hear, “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” (18:12 ESV) And 1 Peter 5 tells us, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” (5:6-7 ESV)
When anxiety strips away peace of mind we often strike out at others, casting our anxiety upon them, hoping that our display of power will make things right again in our world. The Word of God tells us something entirely different – when you are anxious cast your anxieties on God. Human displays of power are not the answer to anxiety, but humility is.
Last Sunday, the Gospel reading instructed us in one way of casting our anxieties on Yahweh. It gave an antidote to feeling anxious – “Sell your possessions & give to the needy.” (Luke 12:33a ESV) Selling your possessions forces you to trust in something else. Our Creator wants you to trust in Him, & through that trust you cast your anxieties on Him.
The prophet Jeremiah was called by God at a time after the ten northern tribes of Israel had already been destroyed by the Assyrians 150 years earlier. Babylon had since conquered most of Judah – taking into exile the king, leaders, & many of the people. Babylon was returning for a 2nd siege of Jerusalem & the threat of its complete destruction was not fake news.
Nevertheless, a number of false prophets arose to reassure the people with their own wishful thinking, “‘It shall be well with you;’ & to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (Jeremiah 23:17 ESV)
Think of all the people in our day, in Christian churches, who are stubbornly following their own hearts. They violate God’s commands & His blessings. Then they celebrate how enlightened they are. They proclaim how pleased God is with their new understanding of marriage & sexuality. They preach that our fears & Yahweh’s coming judgment are fake news.
Instead of condemning the way the Judeans despised God’s Word, or the way they
followed their own desires, the false prophets gave words of assurance, & even lies, so as not to offend the people. No longer was repentance over sin the goal of preaching. Through Jeremiah, the Lord condemns the false prophets because they joined in the sins of the people, the very sins against which they should have been warning them.
Aren’t we tempted to do the same, to go with the flow, to live & let live? What kind of love do we demonstrate for our neighbor if we just surrender them to damnation? The heavenly Father’s love for us is such that He sacrificed His own Son on the cross, because He would not simply surrender us to the darkness. What price are you willing to pay?
In heaven, we’ll realize that it costs us nothing. As a child of God, you already have everything, including the new creation to come, & everlasting life with it. None of this inheritance can be taken away from you. The reading from Hebrews 11 gives a long list of things that God accomplished through His people as they loved their neighbors:
“…conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking & flogging, & even chains & imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep & goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated…” (11:33-37 ESV)
The ending of that list is rather intimidating, but we could also see it as an application of the sermon text, “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, & like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” In the case of unbelievers that Word shatters the rock in punishment. In the case of believers that same Word shatters the rock in discipline & in sanctification.
You either trust that God loves you & is able to use the suffering in this life to shape you into the image of His Son, or you do not. As believers, you & I daily struggle with the unbelief that still exists in our hearts. We need the fire & the hammer of God’s Word to bring us to repentance & to humility. Think, for a moment, of one of the trials you’re enduring right now. PAUSE It might be a struggle with a particular relationship. PAUSE It could be a battle with illness. PAUSE Whatever it is, try looking at it as if God, who loves you, is at work in your life to shape you into whom you will be in heaven.
Hebrews 12 has some very instructive words, “…My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, & don’t give up when He corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those He loves, & He chastises each one He accepts as His child.” (12:5-6)
“…But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in His holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening – it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of righteousness for those who are trained in this way.” (12:10-11)
It’s easy for the unbelief in each of us to scoff at our trials & sufferings. It’s natural for the unbelief in each of us to look at our trials & sufferings as the work of an unjust God. That is Satan’s temptation. That is how the Devil labels even God’s blessings. It is why Jesus called Satan the father of lies.
Our Father in heaven, with His wisdom & power, uses the trials & struggles of our lives, no matter how mild or severe they be, to bring forth the peaceful harvest of righteousness. And when you get to heaven you will have no regrets. For now, in this life, look to the cross. That’s how much Yahweh loves you!
Is the sinful nature in you taking a beating? Are there times when your mind is literally filled with anxiety? Are there sleepless nights when all you can do is toss & turn & turn & toss, with no rest at all to show for it by morning?
In the OT, the Lord Himself tells us that His Word is like fire, & like a hammer that shatters the rock. In the Gospel reading, Jesus said, “I came to cast fire on the earth, & would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49 ESV) Those are frightening words, quite unlike the Jesus often portrayed in our world where He accepts even those unwilling to acknowledge their own sinfulness. Though our Lord longs for the day when division will cease, He will not settle for a “dreamy” peace that comes from distorting or silencing His Word.
The goal of God’s Word, especially as a fire or a hammer, is to expose sin – the disease that is killing us. Once our sins are diagnosed & exposed, the goal of Jesus is not to humiliate or embarrass us, but to bring us to repentance. Repentance is returning to Jesus in humility. It’s the very thing the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day, & of ours, avoid at all costs.
In Jeremiah, the condemnation of the false prophets & priests is quite strong. In a society that values tolerance above all things, it is very uncomfortable language. So it’s good to remember – we have a God who is with us, who cares for us, who pays attention to us. In love, His anger burns against those who would lead us astray & speak falsehoods about Him.
The LORD desires to be with us & He will show His wrath toward those involved in severing this relationship! His desire to be with us has been a theme from the days in the Garden of Eden when He walked & talked with His people. Even with the separation that took place at the Fall into sin, God continues His desire to be in the midst of His people.
From theophany to vision, from tabernacle to temple, the LORD God lays out the things which need to be done so He & man can dwell together. What an incredible reality – God loves us so much He desires to be with us! That’s why He invites us to commune with Him at the Lord’s Supper. As He removes our sins, our fellowship with the Creator is restored. Amen.
Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word; curb those who by deceit or sword would rest the kingdom from Your Son & bring to naught all He has done. Lord Jesus Christ, Your power make known, for You are Lord of lords alone; defend Your holy Church that we may sing Your praise eternally. Amen. LSB 655:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet