“Behold, I am against the prophets,” says the LORD, “who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’ “Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” says the LORD, “and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the LORD.”
In the Name of Jesus. Amen. To many, even in the church today, these words from Jeremiah the prophet seem out of place. “They are too rigid, too condemnatory, too judgmental. They are words from an historical narrative, an unenlightened past, and don’t deserve our hearing.”
Though many in the church in today’s Christendom would immediately dismiss these words of our Lord through the prophet as irrelevant, irrelevant these words certainly are not! To say that they are irrelevant to our day is essentially to declare that God’s Word for God’s people is only applicable for a certain time, place, and locale. But a closer look at what God says reveals the truth far differently than that of today’s “enlightened” and “advanced” “Christianity.”
A closer look at Holy Scripture reveals that God’s people today face the similar temptations of those who have come before us in the faith, to deny the truth and to go after their own gods, even while claiming faith in the true God. Today’s church faces the same struggles as the people of God in the Old and New Testaments and throughout the history of the Church, to compromise the faith, to follow the popular and “acceptable” way, and to live by sight (and experience) and not by faith in what the Lord says.
In Jeremiah’s day, prophets preached, not according to the Word that God had given them to preach, but according to the content of their own heart and that which the people wanted to hear. This was the easier way to go. Just look at Jeremiah! Look what his preaching got him—thrown into a pit, ridiculed, despised, rejected by the people. Who wants that? I know that I don’t.
Jeremiah didn’t have an easy time with the people, for they didn’t listen. Yet his calling was not to please people or to say what they wanted to hear (Ephesians 6:6). His calling was to speak the truth, the very words that God gave him to speak: “Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’ Then said I: ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’ But the LORD said to me: ‘Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you,’ says the LORD. Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, To root out and to pull down, To destroy and to throw down, To build and to plant’” (Jeremiah 1:4-10).
Jeremiah’s words were not to be his own, but God’s. The same applies to those who preach with the name clergy today. However, as in Jeremiah’s day, so today, there are those who say that the Lord says where the Lord has not said. Today, there are those who say what people want to hear, who compromise the truth for acceptance by the world, and who condemn those who speak the truth as unloving, intolerant, and hate-mongers, even though they are simply making the same distinctions that God Himself makes in Holy Scripture.
Most certainly, there are those who do say what they say in spite or in anger. There are those, too, who speak uncharitably and not out of love for neighbor. Yet how something is said should not take precedence over what is said.
The litmus test for the truth is not how we sinners view or respond to the message. Just because we get excited about the preaching because of the dynamism of the preacher, or “get into the service” because of the beat of the music, these don’t immediately translate into “God at work.” In contrast, just because the preaching is unappealing and the service slow or dull doesn’t mean that God is not at work.
The true litmus test for true preaching and the faithful worship service is not how you feel during or afterwards or what you get out of the sermon, how moving the message was, or how people react. The true litmus test is simply this, the Gospel rightly preached and the Sacraments administered according to the Lord’s institution. The music, hymns, responses, etc. should all point to Christ and what God has done in Him. Where they do not, be on guard, and closely examine Scripture. Yet, even where the preaching is right, and the congregation seeks to be faithful, and the worship is Christ-centered, continue to examine Scripture, for those who are of God hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27). They continue in His Word (John 8:31-32), and they know Him and His ways, not according to what they see, feel, or experience, but according to Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).
Also to remember is this, as St. Peter reminds us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We remain sober and vigilant as we look to the Lord and His Word (See also Ephesians 6:10ff).
We most certainly have the devil to contend with throughout our earthly lives, as well as the world and our sinful flesh. Therefore, does our Lord give us His Word, that we remain in the faith. He gives us prayer, that we call upon Him in every trouble (Psalm 50:15). He joins us together with others that we encourage one another in the faith (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:23-25). In effect, God doesn’t leave us alone, but gives us what He would to keep us in the faith.
The reality is, in Jeremiah’s day, as in ours, not all preachers preach the truth. False preachers and false preaching continue. Falsehood, however, is not of the truth. And false gospels, though appealing and man-centered, do not confess the truth, nor do they lead to heaven. False gospels, essentially, teach salvation apart from faith in Christ alone. They teach another way to heaven than the way God has already given (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
It is necessary, therefore, to make distinctions, to clarify, and to avoid that which is false, according to the Word of our Lord. Not doing so leads away from Christ and His Word. It also leads to self-security or despair. Either direction does not lead to heaven, but to eternal death.
God’s people do make such distinctions between truth and falsehood, and they long to abide where Christ is. Indeed, where Christ is, there also are they (John 12:26). They forsake the false, even denying themselves, and follow Christ, carrying their crosses and burdens, and rest only in Christ, where true rest and genuine peace are found (Matthew 11:28; Romans 5:1-5)
Now when Paul speaks of “the truth of the Gospel,” he shows that there are two uses of the Gospel, a true one and a false one, or a true and a false gospel. It is as though he were saying: “The false apostles proclaim a faith and a gospel too, but their gospel is a false gospel. Hence my stubbornness and refusal to yield. I did this in order that the truth of the Gospel might be preserved among you.” Thus in our day the pope and the sectarians brag that they proclaim the Gospel and faith in Christ. Yes, they do, but with the same results that the false apostles once had, those whom Paul (Gal. 1:7) calls troublers of the churches and perverters of the Gospel of Christ. By contrast he says that he is teaching “the truth of the Gospel,” the pure and true Gospel, as though he were saying: “Everything else is a lie masquerading as the Gospel.” For all the heretics lay claim to the names of God, of Christ, of the church, etc.; and they pretend that they want to teach, not errors but the most certain truth and the purest Gospel.
The truth of the Gospel is this, that our righteousness comes by faith alone, without the works of the Law. The falsification or corruption of the Gospel is this, that we are justified by faith but not without the works of the Law. The false apostles preached the Gospel, but they did so with this condition attached to it. The scholastics do the same thing in our day. They say that we must believe in Christ and that faith is the foundation of salvation, but they say that this faith does not justify unless it is “formed by love.”7 This is not the truth of the Gospel; it is falsehood and pretense. The true Gospel, however, is this: Works or love are not the ornament or perfection of faith; but faith itself is a gift of God, a work of God in our hearts, which justifies us because it takes hold of Christ as the Savior. Human reason has the Law as its object. It says to itself: “This I have done; this I have not done.” But faith in its proper function has no other object than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was put to death for the sins of the world. It does not look at its love and say: “What have I done? Where have I sinned? What have I deserved?” But it says: “What has Christ done? What has He deserved?” And here the truth of the Gospel gives you the answer: “He has redeemed you from sin, from the devil, and from eternal death.” Therefore faith acknowledges that in this one Person, Jesus Christ, it has the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Whoever diverts his gaze from this object does not have true faith; he has a fantasy and a vain opinion. He looks away from the promise and at the Law, which terrifies him and drives him to despair. (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p87-88)
Prayer: Gracious Father, forgive us for turning from you to our own way. Continue to have mercy on us, through Your only Son, Jesus Christ, that we remain steadfast in the true faith, and denying all others, boldly confess Your Holy Name. In Your Name we pray, Amen.
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