The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, "Stand in the gate of the LORD'S house and proclaim there this word, and say, 'Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the LORD!'" Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, "Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.' For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever."
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
In Acts 19, Luke relates the account of some Jewish exorcists who were jealous of the blessings which God had bestowed on Paul. Paul was working wonderful miracles, even people who were touched by handkerchiefs Paul had handled were being healed of their illnesses. Those who were not Christians, but thought that they had the right to God's power and blessings were trying to take advantage of Paul and what He was doing - not understanding that the power was real and that the power was not in Paul, but in God. The Bible says, and let me read you a couple of verses:
But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, "I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches." And seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, "I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
I share this account with you as an example of what our text is speaking about, this morning. Jeremiah is speaking the word of God to the people of God, telling them that God can tell the difference between the truth and a lie, between sincerity and hypocrisy. God warns those who would be His people not to indulge in self-deception and place their trust in anything but Him alone. The exorcists in our account from Acts did not know God, and did not believe in Jesus, but they tried to claim something there anyhow, and when they spoke in their unbelief, they spoke words without any real authority or power. They spoke words that confused no one but themselves. Our theme, this morning, is "Deceptive Words".
I want to take just a moment to point out that the Word of God, and the name of Jesus, has real power - but it is not magic. Magic works by speaking the right sounds in the right order under the proper conditions. Presumably anyone can make it work, if they just use the right words at the right time, in the right circumstances, and in the right order. The sons of Sceva were trying to do just that. The Word of God doesn't perform just because someone speaks it, but because God is behind it. That is the truth about the power of the sacraments and of the preached Word which brings us to faith. The power does not reside in the sounds we make when we speak the Word, but in God, who speaks through us and gives His Word power. The sons of Sceva did not understand the source of the power or its reality, just like many today who do not understand the truth or power of the Word as it is preached or connected to the elements in the Sacraments. Back to our text.
Let me start this part of the sermon by reading the verses just following our text. It will save a lot explaining. "Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal, and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and cry, 'Deliver us!'-- that you may do all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it," declares the LORD.
The people of Israel were used to calling on God when it was convenient and when they had a need, and ignoring God when things were good. They used His house for whatever purpose struck their fancy -- even when it was a purpose for which He had expressly forbidden the use of His house. They ignored Him in their daily lives, and even in their worship, and did the very things He had commanded them not to do. They acted as if He did not exist, or He could not see them, until they got in over their heads, and real trouble came a-calling, and then they were all pious and called on God. When the prophets warned them of the dangers of what they were doing, they would hide behind who they were - or who they were supposed to be - and the fact that they had the temple of God among them.
God's message to them was simple and abrupt: "Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.'"
The words of the people of God who did not live as the people of God, nor honor His covenant, words intending to identify them as God's people and expressing their certainty that they were under some sort of divine protection, were deceptive words. They were deceptive because the words were used to suggest that the people were God's people when it was clear that they were not. They intended to deceive God, but the only ones being deceived were the people who prayed and lived as our text describes. Oh, God is real and honest. His love for His people is genuine. His power is real, and His house was real. It was His people and their faith in Him that were not real. They were leaning on a covenant with God which they freely ignored, hoping to fool God with their words.
But God was not deceived. They claimed that they were God's people. But they did not live that relationship out. Not in the slightest. They worshiped other Gods. They did evil. They treated one another and foreigners in a vile manner, in ways expressly forbidden by God. They did not live in the light of the covenant. They refused to be holy, and yet they assumed that they had God tied up and that He was going to have to take care of them and rescue them. They were trusting in deceptive words because they were merely pretending to be God's people while living out a reality which was quite different.
The Word of God, in our text here, underscores the truth that what you believe determines what you do, and, on the other hand, that what you do and how you behave, reveals what is in your heart. Holy people do holy things. God's people walk in the light of His will. Those who refuse to do so, demonstrate that they are not God's people. And anything they might say to the contrary is just deceptive words.
The application of this text to our lives would seem pretty clear. We don't want to be the sort of people who rest their comfort and hopes on deceptive words. There are a lot of those sorts of people around today. They talk about being Christian, but they do not let God's Word change their lives or how they live them. They do not allow the Word of God even to determine what they believe or confess. They lie to one another and cheat one another, and then go to church on Sunday and claim that they are God's people. But why wouldn't they? Their profession of faith and of a relationship with Christ is just one giant deceit. They gossip about others, gamble, take advantage of others, manipulate people and then call themselves God's Children. But those are deceptive words.
Then there are those who want to call themselves Christians - God's people - without even coming to church. They miss weeks at a time, sometimes months at a time - some just about never make it to church, and yet, heaven help you if you criticize them or suggest that they are less than faithful. They want to believe that they receive every blessing of being the child of God without actually being the child of God. It is, in a way, an imitation of those sons of Sceva.
The point here is really not about behavior, or church attendance, or religion. It is about reality, and about faith, and about what is in you and is a priority for you. Too often, people get caught up in debates about religion, and about what they can or cannot do and still be a Christian. But that is not the point. The real point is Jesus.
The real focus of our faith is not on what we do, or how we behave. The real focus is on Jesus, and what He has done. He has carried our sins to the cross. He has died an ugly death on an instrument of torture in our place. He has borne the wrath of God against our sins, so that we might be forgiven. He has done what needed to be done, and now He pours out forgiveness of sins and life and salvation upon us. Your sins are forgiven! Those blessings are received by grace through faith. So, he that believes and is baptized shall be saved.
The question our text asks you is, what do you actually believe? The children of Israel of Jeremiah's day knew God, in a sense. They knew His name, and they knew His promises. They had an understanding that God rescued and that God saved. They even had some sort of expectations connected to God and the temple and their security in this world. But they simply did not believe. They did not have trust in God in them, or a relationship with God. They merely knew about Him, and how, according to legend, God would do such-and-so for them. And their sign, their proof, appears to have been the temple, standing among them in Jerusalem
They didn't ask themselves who God really was or if He was real. They thought they knew, and didn't really think much past that simple point. They did not ask what God expected from them or wanted from them. They knew what they expected from Him and they felt a sense of entitlement. It was as though God owed it to them, no matter what.
How does your life reflect your faith? It does, you know. Your life will always reflect your faith. What does your life say that you believe? Do you stop to consider who God is and what He expects from you? Or, do you just figure that God owes something to you because you call yourself a Christian, or a Lutheran, and count your blessings as entitlements? Have you stopped to consider the seriousness of sin? Look at the price God paid to set you free! So, do you then casually wander back into sin, as though it really means nothing? God has to take you any way He finds you, right? Just like some people say it doesn't matter which church you belong to, or how often you worship.
What is it that your life says about God and His place in your life? Does it say that you know the rich grace of God, and how little you actually deserve His forgiveness and salvation? Or, does your life say that you haven't really thought about it? Are you a Christian, or a pretender? Are you a member of Shaped by the Cross, or are you merely a spectator? "Member" means "body part." You are part of it and it is part of you. We are part of you!
A lot of people call themselves "Christians", but for many it is just an deceptive word. It doesn't shape their life. It is just another brand-name label in their wardrobe. Christians actually live in connection with Christ. Being a Christian means that one cannot live rightly or choose properly without taking Jesus Christ into account. Truth is, for the Christian, what Jesus tells us it is, and what we consider right and wrong are to be determined less by public opinion and more by God's clearly revealed will. If these characteristics are yours, they show themselves in how you live.
"Lutheran" means many things - it means forgiveness from God first, and from us to others second. It means clear doctrine, not taken for granted, but insisted upon. It means the true body and blood of our Lord in the Sacrament. It means the historic liturgy, and life of the congregation as fundamental to the life of faith of the individual members. For those who are truly Lutheran, these truths are precious and vital - and it colors how one deals with faith and church and church fellowship with others. If your faith-life is not shaped by these truths and values, then calling yourself a "Lutheran" is just "deceptive words".
Let me say it again, clearly. Your salvation does not hinge on your behavior. It does not depend on you living consistently in the light of your faith. Your salvation depends completely on Christ and all that He has done. He that believes and is baptized, shall be saved. We simply want to be careful - that is pay attention and take care - that what we confess is actually what we believe - and vice-versa.
Ours is an age of sound bites and "image". Our culture is lost in how things appear, and what people say, without actually looking to see what the truth is or what is real. There is even the modern proverb, that in politics, perception is reality. Many people allow themselves to get caught up in deceptive words, words that suggest something is real, or that they value something when, in fact, they haven't stopped to even think about it, or what it means. Jeremiah reminds us by the Word of God, that what we do reveals who we are and what we believe. As John wrote in his first epistle, "Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth."
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
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