Jeremiah bemoans the existence of prophets who prophesy lies in the Name of the Lord. These prophets run quickly as if they have an important message, and the words on their lips are full of urgency. Yet the Lord has not spoken to them.
Here the Second Commandment is broken in the most heinous way possible. To say, “Thus says the Lord . . .” when He has not spoken is to use His holy Name as a cloak for wickedness.
But ministers today so easily say, “I have had a dream!” Yet how do we know that the man really had a dream? Or if he did, and it really is what he describes, how can we know it is from God?
Yet these men speak with boldness and confidence, as if the genuineness of their words is beyond doubting. Indeed, they seem to gather many followers, and so many swallow their dreams down hungrily. People cannot seem to get enough of their prophetic spouting, even when their prophesies are proven wrong.
What do we follow? We carry the Lutheran name like a badge of honor, which ought to mean that we listen to Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. Yet many people sneak off to get a little fix of their favorite television evangelists. We privately read a book by some man who seems best to us now, or who has a sense of purpose that we admire, yet he denies or refuses to teach basic doctrines of the Christian faith. Perhaps we have even gone to rallies of famous men who seem very Gospel-centered to us, yet they go against what we were taught from our youth. Or perhaps we like the other preacher down the street, and he is a friend from way back, so we visit his congregation as well, even though we know that he does not teach the same as the Lutheran Church. Members of Missouri Synod congregations are as prone as the wrest to fall for the charismatic utterances of men who repeat, “Thus says the Lord ... Thus says the Lord ...”
This is not limited to people in the pews. Many men in Missouri Synod pulpits are being taught to lead their people with their visions. They may not claim that these are miraculous, prophetic visions such as Jeremiah received. Yet these men claim the same importance for their visions, as if they came notarized by the Holy Spirit. Get behind the vision, or get out of the way!
The Lord says, “I am against the prophets who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’” This is a most serious warning. Preachers must be certain that what they preach is from God, not their own imaginations. This sounds easy to discern, but is very difficult, especially in our modern age where we have difficulty rigorously proving things. Emotional arguments, false arguments, or simply believing a source because he is a nice guy – there are so many ways that we have shown unconcern for the truth.
Lay people as well as preachers must be warned. Be ready to test things, and make sure that you are testing them with the true source of all sources – the Word of God.
Yet many false prophets today pound their Bibles and quote them in such a way that it seems that their message is truly from the Scriptures. Only careful discernment and testing can prove whether something is true or not.
“But that sounds like hard work, Pastor.” Yes, it does. It also requires discipline and willingness to learn.
We have largely grown soft and lazy in America when it comes to testing and proving things by the Word of God. We have grown lackadaisical in our dedication to learning the doctrines of Scripture. Even the efforts of the best of us are put to shame by the dedication and discipline of our forefathers in the faith.
In America, “doctrine” has become a negative word. Some say, “Deeds not creeds!” and “I am spiritual, not religious!” Doctrine is seen as a man-made thing, but spirituality is from the Spirit. Of course, the Spirit wrote all doctrine when He inspired the holy writers of Scripture. Besides, when people say the word “spirituality” these days, they seem to mean either the emotions we feel or a dedication to rejecting traditional religion. Neither is a good place to start.
But we Lutherans can fall for this too, if not in our outright thoughts, then in the subtle ways our culture has influenced us.
May the Spirit renew our zeal to do the hard work necessary to be discerning and wise students of the Word. May He teach us to reject the words of false prophets, even when they seem at first glance to be genuine.
In the Word we find the true Prophet of all prophets, the One who never spoke a false word in the Name of God. Our lips may slip into error by accident, or by misunderstanding, or even, God forbid, by false doctrine that has crept into us. But Christ the pure One never slipped up or erred or fell into sinful teaching.
This Man showed us true dedication to the Word. He studied and asked questions, even though He as God needed neither study nor questions. How much more should we put our whole mind and soul into receiving the instruction of the Word.
When others taught falsely, Christ would not put up with it. He was most dedicated to upholding the integrity of the Word, and warned His disciples against the false teachers who dress in sheep’s clothing.
We are often afraid of offending anyone by calling them a false teacher. We are afraid of being rejected by friends or of being seen as legalistic. But Christ our Lord was not afraid of the consequences. His zeal for the truth eventually led to His crucifixion. He could have avoided that fate if He had simply softened His words against the Jewish leaders and got along with them better. But He did not, because He was faithful to the Word.
May we be found so faithful, even to death.
In the end, He did not avoid His fate on Golgotha because He had a prophecy from His Father. The prophecy was this: I will be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.
This was no made-up teaching from His imagination. Who would make that up? No, Christ only taught what His Father gave Him to teach, and then lived out the path that was laid before Him to walk. For as was so often true, a prophet of God would be killed for his message. This is no less true for Christ. He upheld the truth, and died for it.
But He also upheld the other part of the prophecy. He rose again the third day. By this we know that He is a true prophet, the one greatest Prophet of all, the very Son of God. His Word is truth.
Therefore, we do not go running after this vision or that dream. We need none of that. Instead we come for the revelation of Jesus Christ to sinners, which is life, and salvation, and forgiveness.
In His Name alone and to His glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God forever. Amen.
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