War, Famine, and Pestilence
4th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 8) LSB #541 to tune of #733
Text – Jeremiah 28:8
The prophets who preceded you & me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, & pestilence against many countries & great kingdoms.
WAR, FAMINE & PESTILENCE
On May 13, 1940, Winston Churchill addressed the British parliament as he was about to become prime minister. The troops of Adolph Hitler had already invaded Poland, & just begun their Blitzkrieg into France, Belgium & the Netherlands. War was crashing upon the world as Churchill stepped into leadership.
Unlike many politicians, Churchill did not promise a bright, optimistic future; he held out no hope of speedy victory or early peace. Instead, he electrified the parliament & unified his country with famous but difficult words: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears & sweat.” Can you picture any of our politicians campaigning on a slogan like that?
The prophet Jeremiah delivered a message similarly difficult: God’s righteous judgment was making itself known in the rising power of Judah’s enemy – Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar’s victory of was inescapable; captivity & long exile was looming – blood, toil, tears & sweat.
These were not only geopolitical realities, but as Jeremiah proclaimed, Yahweh Himself was directing events to judge His people & to call them to repentance. War, famine & pestilence are not pleasant words, but they were the reality facing God’s people because of their own unwillingness to submit to the will of their Creator & Redeemer.
It’s easy to say, “We believe in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God,” but submitting to His will, that’s another issue all together. Making Him #1 in every aspect of our lives, good times & bad, that’s where we truly find out what it means to “believe” in Jesus. People believe in Santa Claus for he brings presents & gifts. People believe in the tooth fairy because she leaves money behind. People play the Mega Millions Powerball Jackpot because they believe they might hit it big. Who believes in war, famine & pestilence? It seems our heavenly Father does because He had His prophets preach that sermon on many occasions.
Jeremiah is often called the “weeping prophet” due to his persistent message of God’s judgment. Micah prophesied in the days of King Hezekiah, “…Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins...” (Micah 3:12 ESV) So when the false prophet Hananiah predicted victory & peace within two years, Jeremiah had to confront him.
Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, & you will know the truth, & the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV) Lies are always used by Satan to enslave people. Why are we so tolerant of them? We’re not pleased with sermon titles about war, famine & pestilence, yet all of them spring forth from lies.
Jeremiah’s entire ministry was a type of martyrdom as his life was constantly being threatened by other men, yet Jeremiah followed the truth. He obeyed His Creator. You & I are to fear God & we are not to fear men. We should fear God in the sense of obeying Him rather than obeying the teachings of men.
In the OT reading, Hananiah was preaching the easy lies which men wanted to hear. Jeremiah was preaching the hard truth of God & his life was threatened for it. Discerning between true & false prophets is never merely an exercise in theory. Lies bring about war, famine & pestilence. Our Lord’s truth brings life. It creates life. It restores life.
However, it takes faith from God’s Holy Spirit to believe that, because Jeremiah’s prophecy made it clear that Babylon would conquer the nation of Israel, that such conquest was God’s will, & any would-be prophet who predicted otherwise was simply lying. It would be easier on us now if there was forgiveness without repentance, but we cannot return to God without actually returning to Him. The nation of Israel tried it & they died. All the worldly powers in our United States are trying it now. They will die trying as well. The false prophet Hananiah was offering the people false comfort. The elite & well-connected men & women in our culture are doing the same. They want us to give up the Word of God as outdated.
Rather than resist our culture & do battle against the lies of the rich & famous, who would not prefer a quick and easy peace? I’m sure Winston Churchill did as well. Our selfish nature just wants to live its own life, according to its own desires; which is exactly why the Lord God was sending His wrath & judgment on Israel. They only wanted the same.
Even Jeremiah wishes what Hananiah said were true. In verse 6 of the OT reading he says, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord make the words you have prophesied come true.” Yet he also reminds Hananiah, & us, that God’s prophets are usually bearers of bad news: “war, famine & pestilence.” (28:8)
Even Jesus gets into the act in the Gospel reading: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34 ESV) That is a startling warning coming from the lips of the Prince of Peace. The words of Jeremiah, concerning true & false prophets, help us listen to that much greater Prophet.
How do we know if any prophet speaks the truth? We know by seeing whether or not what he said actually happens. The sword of judgment from God really did fall on Christ on the cross. It was His blood, His toil, His tears & His sweat that satisfied Yahweh’s judgment & brought us peace. That is the rich, costly freedom of Yahweh’s saving love.
How do we know if any prophet speaks the truth? Our heavenly Father’s grace & victory for us actually did dawn with Christ’s resurrection. The new creation has come into being in the risen flesh & blood of Jesus Christ. Our resurrection too, will be part of that new creation. Then, war & famine & pestilence will be gone for all eternity. For today, speaking & showing the truth about how God loves life, & chooses life, may not bring temporal peace, but through faith we do see the all-surpassing hope & joy of living forever in Yahweh’s family.
Our Lord’s love of life not only preserves us in adversity but also reaches out & rescues those deceived by the devil’s lies. That category includes us, “For all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 ESV)
What St. Paul wrote about in his letter to the Romans is not comfortable or pretty. Though harsh it is truth. The prophet Jeremiah holds out the same thought. And the 1st words of the Gospel reading from Jesus aren’t exactly how our culture would go about creating a safe space. The truth often hurts, but in God’s kingdom it also creates life.
We have the privilege of living our lives on the foundation of the blood, toil, tears & sweat of Jesus Christ Himself, our Lord & our Savior. That may seem old-fashioned, outdated & hopelessly unenlightened to our modern & progressive culture, but the cross of Jesus is truth –hard, solid, unchangeable & eternal. Jesus has rescued us from this body of death. Amen.
“Away from us!” the demon cried when Christ, the Lord, drew near. “Our dark, disordered world is lost when You, the Light, appear!” But Jesus spoke with God’s own power; “Come forth!” was His command; for evil cannot bear the Light nor sin the Truth withstand. O risen Christ, God’s living Word, to us, we pray, draw near. Come, speak the truth that cleanses sin with love that conquers fear. Drive out the doubt that cripples faith; expel our pride & greed that we, from powers that threaten us, may, by Your grace, be freed. Then help us, Lord, to greet each day with hearts & wills made new &, when You call us forth to serve, to rise & follow You. Amen. LSB 541
Pastor Dean R. Poellet