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The Dangerous Business of Prophecy - Jeremiah 23:9-40

It is not safe for a man to take lightly the responsibility to speak for God

Jeremiah 23:9-40; 2 Kings 22:13

Mar 03, 2013 12:00 PM

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9 Concerning the prophets: My heart is broken within me; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, like a man overcome by wine, because of the LORD and because of his holy words. 10 For the land is full of adulterers; because of the curse the land mourns, and the pastures of the wilderness are dried up.  Their course is evil, and their might is not right.

11 "Both prophet and priest are ungodly; even in my house I have found their evil, declares the LORD. 12 Therefore their way shall be to them like slippery paths in the darkness, into which they shall be driven and fall, for I will bring disaster upon them in the year of their punishment, declares the LORD. 13 In the prophets of Samaria I saw an unsavory thing: they prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray. 14 But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah."

15 Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets: "Behold, I will feed them with bitter food and give them poisoned water to drink, for from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has gone out into all the land."

16 Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, 'It shall be well with you'; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, 'No disaster shall come upon you.'" 18 For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? 19 Behold, the storm of the LORD!  Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. 20 The anger of the LORD will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart.  In the latter days you will understand it clearly. 21 "I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. 22 But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.

23 "Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? 24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD.  Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD. 25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, 'I have dreamed, I have dreamed!' 26 How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, 27 who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully.  What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD. 29 Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

30 Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the LORD, who steal my words from one another. 31 Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the LORD, who use their tongues and declare, 'declares the LORD.' 32 Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the LORD, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them.  So they do not profit this people at all, declares the LORD.

33 "When one of this people, or a prophet or a priest asks you, 'What is the burden of the LORD?' you shall say to them, 'You are the burden, and I will cast you off, declares the LORD.' 34 And as for the prophet, priest, or one of the people who says, 'The burden of the LORD,'I will punish that man and his household. 35 Thus shall you say, every one to his neighbor and every one to his brother, 'What has the LORD answered?' or 'What has the LORD spoken?' 36 But 'the burden of the LORD' you shall mention no more, for the burden is every man's own word, and you pervert the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God.

37 Thus you shall say to the prophet, 'What has the LORD answered you?' or 'What has the LORD spoken?' 38 But if you say, 'The burden of the LORD,' thus says the LORD, 'Because you have said these words, "The burden of the LORD," when I sent to you, saying, "You shall not say, 'The burden of the LORD,'" 39 therefore, behold, I will surely lift you up and cast you away from my presence, you and the city that I gave to you and your fathers. 40 And I will bring upon you everlasting reproach and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.'"

There is always a tendency for us to avoid telling people the truth about their own sinfulness.  The reason for this is usually because of the threat of some kind of backlash against the messenger.  There is the typical standard response, “Who do you think you are?”, which, of course, does not address the issue at hand at all.  Or the most popular, “Judge not!”, which is also a blatantly obvious diversionary tactic on the part of the guilty.

People who point out other people’s sinful behavior are usually the subjects of some kind of reprisal or personal attack that completely avoids the topic being raised, and in the case of those who claim to speak for God as a prophet, like Jeremiah, murder is a very real possibility.  Why is this the case?  Why are people so indignant and violent when it comes to confronting them about their sinful behavior?  Especially religious people?  I think you know the answer to that.

This passage does not deal primarily with the unrighteous indignation and anger of religious people.  It is concerned with the indignation and anger of God.  And His indignation is directed specifically against those men and women who presume to speak for Him as prophets but who are not prophets at all.  This may be one of the most relevant topics for 21st century Americans that you will find in the book of Jeremiah: God’s condemnation of false prophets.

Of all the sins that Christians love to hate, this sin of false teaching by false teachers seems to get a pass from the majority of us.  It is in this area of spiritual discernment that the American church is most profoundly retarded.  It seems that absolutely anything that smells remotely “spiritual” can find a place in some denomination that claims to be Christian and biblical.  It is hard, if not impossible, to find a church that speaks out regularly against the myriad of false teachers and false teachings that permeate what we call Christianity here in America.  I was recently reminded of the fact that persecuted Christians elsewhere in the world pray regularly for us here in America that we would not be deceived by false teachers.  That is a huge indictment against the mindset of most American Christians.

Christians seem to not take false teaching seriously, as though the truth about God doesn’t matter all that much.  There are many things I can afford to be wrong about.  I can afford to be wrong about Y2K.  I can afford to be wrong about picking the winning team in the World Series.  I can even afford to be wrong about which translation of the Bible is the very best one because, frankly, all of them are pretty good.  Except for the Living Bible.  And the Good News Bible.  And The Message.  And the New World Translation.  And several others.

Which leads us directly to the point I’m trying to make: Americans are particularly guilty of playing fast and loose with the Word of God.  Here in America, the Bible is more about making money than about providing an accurate translation of what God has said because, honestly, American Christians as a whole, and American Bible publishers in particular, are not that concerned about what God has actually said.  They do not trouble themselves with searching the Scriptures to see what God has said, or to determine if what someone is teaching is true.

I want to give you a very troubling example of the kind of thing I’m talking about.  Yesterday I received the latest newsletter from the Keystone Baptist Association.  In that publication is this announcement for a Pastor’s Retreat:

Looking Forward . . . Pressing On

2013 Ministers Retreat

May 20-22, 2013

Bongiorno Conference Center

Carlisle, PA

MORE COMEDY,

MORE FELLOWSHIP,

MORE SURPRISES,

MORE, MORE, MORE!!!

I will not be attending.  I am not interested AT ALL in more comedy at a ministers’ retreat.  If there is one single thing we could afford to do without, it is ministers gathering together for comedy.  We cannot afford to be wrong about the role of ministers, and their role does not include encouraging more levity amongst ourselves or in our churches.  I am actually ashamed to see this in print.  And undoubtedly, I will be one of the very few ministers in our association that will make an issue of it.  And I will be summarily shushed by the powers that be, or more likely, totally ignored.  What do they care what I think?  Keith who?

Our culture and our churches are addicted to entertainment.  So much so that we are laughing when we should be weeping.  The church growth specialists tell us if we want to grow our church, we MUST entertain in order to gather people into our church.  We MUST have excellent programs for their children.  We MUST have engaging, multimedia presentations and a full-blown “worship” band that plays contemporary worship choruses.  And last, and in some cases least, you MUST have a pastor who is suave and debonaire, capable of engaging peoples’ fleeting 20-minute attention spans with compelling, relevant stories about current events that touch them where they are and minister to their felt needs.

In other words, if our church is going to “succeed”, we MUST PANDER TO ITCHING EARS.  Otherwise, our church won’t grow, we will perpetually flounder, we will be an embarrassment to the Christian community, and I will be an abject FAILURE in my calling as a minister of the Good News to this generation of disaffected, “spiritual but not religious” people who have no desire for “organized religion”.  Whatever that means.

We MUST tell people what they want to hear.  Just like the prophets in Jeremiah’s day who had multitudes of followers.  It appears from what we read throughout the book of Jeremiah that he had lots of competition in the prophetic ministry.  And Jeremiah was the mot pitiful of all the prophets.  How can you be a pastor of the flock, a shepherd of God’s sheep, with no sheep?  Well, meet Jeremiah.

All the other prophets had plenty of sheep.  All the other prophets were wolves pretending to be sheep, leading God’s flock to their own destruction because they would not tell the people the truth.  They did not want to know the truth.  In verse 16 we read what was really going on:

16 Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, 'It shall be well with you'; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, 'No disaster shall come upon you.'"

Vain hope.  Wasted faith.  Deceptive teaching.  These shepherds were about the task of further condemning those who already despised the word of God because they stubbornly followed their own hearts rather than submitting themselves to the actual word of God which a lonely prophet named Jeremiah preached.

But, beloved, there is good money to be made in telling people what they want to hear.  Or to put it another way, the truth has never been a best seller.  The biblical gospel message has always been hated because it confronts proud and sinful people with the truth about themselves.  But if you pronounce peace and love and tolerance and blessing and prosperity and salvation upon people who despise God’s word and who stubbornly follow the dictates of their unrepentant, rebellious hearts, then you will soon be a very popular and oftentimes very rich man.  “It shall be well with you!”  “No disaster shall come upon you!”  “Jesus wants you more than anything else!”  (Sharon and I actually saw that on a church sign two weeks ago.)

Once again, I implore you: Turn off so-called Christian TV and radio.  As for me and my house, we don’t have cable so TV is not an issue.  And I cannot listen to Christian radio.  I always wind up and getting mad and talking back at the people who are teaching lies for the truth.

Then there is the Internet.  If someone asked us to give up the Internet it would be like asking us to give up water.  It seems that unless you are over 70 years old (and none of you are), the Internet has become a necessity, a permanent fixture in our lives.

For hundreds of years Christians have been trying to determine who the Beast in the book of Revelation is.  A popular suggestion amongst Christians for many years has been that the Beast of Revelation is a super computer in an underground bunker in Switzerland or Austria capable of tracking every human being on earth.  All that remains is for the one-world government to implant microscopic GPS devices in our foreheads so they can control us!

There is a supercomputer that controls many of us.  It is the supercomputer sitting on our desks at home.  Or the one we carry around in our pockets or purses.  The Internet distributes more false teaching than any other invention in human history.  Even more than the printing press.  More lies about God and Christ and human nature are available in more languages and more places than ever before.  The proliferation of false prophets, false preachers, false teachers, and false churches has never been so widespread.  Jeremiah might have said the same thing:

21 "I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied.

False prophets were in abundance then as they are now.  Thankfully the opposite is true as well.  God has sent genuine prophets and preachers and missionaries out into the world.  The biblical gospel has never been more accessible to more people than it is today, right now.  The good seed is being sown all around the world even as I speak.  And for that we thank God.

28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD. 29 Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

Many are faithfully speaking God’s word today.  But there is a LOT of straw among the wheat.  How do we determine which is which?  How does one distinguish between sound and unsound doctrine?  Between truth and lies?  The same way we’ve always done it: By seeing how it measures up to the teaching of Scripture, the word of truth.  Beloved, we have in our hands a 100% reliable “prophet” which will tell us no lies.  We have the Holy Spirit to guide us into a right understanding of all that God has said to us in His word.  It is like a fire.  It is like a hammer that breaks rock-hard hearts into pieces so that God might give us new hearts and new minds.  This is the powerfully prophetic word of God.

Had the people of Judah read the books of Moses, as King Josiah did; had their prophets read it and preached it to the people; and had they taken it seriously, they could have averted the disaster that was just over the horizon which went by the name Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Chaldeans.  But they did not.  Rather they lied to the people: “It shall be well with you!  No disaster shall come upon you.”

30 Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the LORD, who steal my words from one another. 31 Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the LORD, who use their tongues and declare, 'declares the LORD.' 32 Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the LORD, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them.  So they do not profit this people at all, declares the LORD.

We should be against such false prophets as well.  And the very best thing we can do to insure that we are not led astray is by being students of the word of God.  Read your Bible.  That is not just good advice, it is an absolute necessity.  Not only us, but those who come after us are dependent upon how we handle the word of God.  Once again, I want to remind you of those who found the book of the Law in the Temple and took it to King Josiah.  When they read it to him, he immediately understood what he had to do.  He called for national repentance and a restoration of the Passover.  Why?

“For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:13 ESV)

How does that happen?  How is it possible that the Bible got lost in the Temple?  How do the people of God lose the Word of God?  The same way the Scriptures are being lost among God’s people today:

  • The Scriptures are not held in high esteem by Christians as the infallible word of God,
  • They accept any translation or paraphrase or even Christian novels as being equal sources of inspiration from God,
  • They unquestioningly accept their own “spiritual” experiences as legitimate expressions of biblical truth
  • They welcome anyone who looks good and sounds good and who brings in lots of visitors (and their money) and causes their church to grow and be successful,
  • They long for more and more Christian entertainment, even to the point of having Ministers Conferences with “MORE COMEDY” and less Bible.

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  • But the man who would dare to stand in the pulpit and preach the Scriptures as the very word of God, confronting people with their sin and calling them to repentance, will be further and further maligned and marginalized.
  • The Christian who stands by the truth that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God will be condemned for his narrow-minded intolerance.
  • And the church that proclaims Jesus Christ as the single means of salvation, will become a target for those open-minded people who insist we should all co-exist, regardless of our religious beliefs, holding no truth so dearly as the truth that whatever anyone believes is debatable, compromisable, and unauthoritative.  After all, who are we to say our way is the only way?

 

33 "When one of this people, or a prophet or a priest asks you, 'What is the burden of the LORD?' you shall say to them, 'You are the burden, and I will cast you off, declares the LORD.'

God’s people became a burden to Him which He was unwilling to carry.  The American church is headed in that very same direction.  If someone were to ask, “What is the burden on God’s heart today?” the answer we might hear from God is, “You.”  Is it possible that the Church in America has become burdensome to God?

Flee from the false teachers.  Read and listen to the teaching of sound doctrine.  This Bible is our inerrant and infallible prophetic word from God.  It is the only infallible word we have.  Do not neglect the true prophets who cannot lie, who wrote for us the very words of God, the Scriptures.  Our future, and the future of our children, and the future of our church is at stake.


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