By Simon ManchesterSunday 7 Feb 2021Christian Growth with Simon Manchester
(Prayer): Our Father, as we think about your word, as we hear it for these next few minutes, we pray that you will prepare our hearts to be good soil. We pray that as the word is received it will bear good fruit to your praise. We ask it in Jesus name. Amen.
We like to have a balanced diet in this church, and so we feed from the Old [Testament] as well as the New, and we try not to stay in just one portion of the scriptures.
When I was growing up, we had a series of meals that sort of rotated, and we knew what was coming – and they ‘did me good’! I was only little when I started; its been a good diet.
This diet of Old Testament and New Testament is a feast for us.
In A World Full Of Voices, Who Should We Listen To?
The section that we’ve picked are some middle chapters in the book of Jeremiah, 25 to 33. The question that the chapter is asking – and it’s a very good question – is sort of like this:
“Since the world is unreliable, since the world is crazy, since the world is dangerous, since the world is misleading, and since the Church is weak and often vague and confusing – who should we be listening to as the priority voice for this world and the next?“
And you will say, “the person who speaks the Bible”.
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But there are lots of people claiming to speak the Bible who are saying contradictory things. So how are we meant to work out what is really true?
Now the Bible recognises the dilemma; it’s not new. It’s right back there in 600 BC, and we need God’s help to deal with the dilemma. And nothing is more significant than for you in your life and your death, to be standing on the rock of the solid promises of God.
Nothing is more tragic than for a person standing quite securely in their feelings on sand, which is about to give way.
The Famous False Prophets Of Our Day
Nostradamus was a man made famous by predictions. I was reading recently that of his 942 fairly ambiguous and fluid verses, they have estimated that not one of them is a clearly accurate prediction, but everything is being read back into the writings.
Charles Russell, one of many leaders to predict the end of the world, kept adjusting his predictions for the end of the world.
1914, then 1915, 1918 then 1921, then 1927, until it became completely discredited.
Henry Warner of Warner Brothers famously said in 1927,“No-one wants a movie where actors talk.” There’s a strange prediction!
Adolf Hitler predicted a thousand year German Reich and said, and I quote, “Anyone who supports me is a fellow fighter for a unique spiritual and divine creation.” Now there was clearly a false prophet.
Darryl Zanuck, Hollywood studio boss said, “Television will never last – people will soon get tired of staring at a box in the corner.”
And Kenneth Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation said, “There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home.” I agree with that.
But you see these people said was completely misguided things didn’t they? They said foolish things, and much of what we listen to, well a lot of it is foolish, some of it is entertaining, it’s distracting, some of it is seriously misleading, some of it is scare-mongering.
Jeremiah’s Warning To God’s People
Who should we be listening to?
Well let’s think quickly this morning about Jeremiah 28 and see if it helps us.
The background, if you’re visiting today, is that Jeremiah the prophet, in 600 BC, had been given the very heavy task of warning God’s people who lived in the land of Judah that God’s patience was running out.
And because they were breaking the covenant agreement and they were breaking the commandments he was going to come in and discipline them.
And the way he was going to do this was to use the new rising super power called Babylon to come in and take them over.
To make the point, we saw last week God instructed Jeremiah the Prophet not just to talk, but to put in his back a huge wooden yolk – which was of course a wooden beam which would normally be placed on oxen as they ploughed the field. This was used to show the people that God was going to use Nebuchadnezzar to basically bring them to submission and to slavery.
So in this message, which astonishingly was not just for Judah but for all of the nations, the Lord said “Nebuchadnezzar is going take control of the world” – that is, that vicinity.
And if you want to survive, said Jeremiah, you’re going to have to submit to Nebuchadnezzar. Believe it or not, if you fight Nebuchadnezzar, you will die; if you submit to him, you will live. So put yourself under his yolk, as painful and disciplinary as it is.
That, of course, is why when you get to the New Testament, Jesus says “Come to me all ye who are labouring and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yolk upon you.”
Jesus says, “when you come under my leadership, my care and control, you will be rested, you will be freed, you will be blessed”.
Hananiah’s False Prophesy
Well in Chapter 28 as we heard in the reading, a guy comes along who I call ‘Mr Popular’. A false prophet, his name was Hananiah, which means ‘God is Gracious’.
He basically told the people, “You’ve heard from Jeremiah that there is this super power rising up called Babylon and it’s going to come in and take you over for 70 years. [But] it won’t be 70 years,” said Hananiah, “it will be two – it will be just two years – this is going to be a very brief problem.”
Now you’ve got two prophets speaking. One of them, Jeremiah, has said 70 years, the other one, Hananiah, has said two years.
Which one are you going to listen to?
The Popular Message of Hananiah
Well, I want to divide this chapter up into three headings.
The first one is called “The Popular Message”. There’s no doubt that Hananiah brings a popular message.
Look at chapter 28 verse 1: He confronts Jeremiah in front of everybody in the temple – public confrontation – knowing that Jeremiah has said “this is a 70 year problem”. And he says (in verses 2 and 3) “it will be two years”.
This is very confusing for the people because Hananiah uses the same formula to begin his talk, as Jeremiah has used to begin his.
They both begin by saying, “This is what the Lord almighty of Israel says.”
Well how do we know?
That’s what Jeremiah had said, this is what Hananiah is saying. And as Hananiah is giving this very popular message, nobody could doubt that the God of Israel could easily break the yolk of the Babylonians in two years.
And look at how attractive Hananiahs message is. He is really getting warm to his theme. He says “everything is going to be back in place. Whatever they take away, it will all be back in two years”. And not only that, he says in verse 4, “everybody is going to come home within two years”.
You can imagine this false prophet, as he warms to his theme, and the people who are listening are calling out “Amen” and “Yea” and “We much prefer this guy to Jeremiah”, and he’s getting excited as he says all this. But it’s just a complete fabrication.
Now they clearly cannot both be right, both Jeremiah and Hananiah.
One says that the takeover will be long; one says it will be short.
One is speaking an unpopular message, one’s speaking a popular message.
Hananiah is very clever because he knows that Babylon is on the rise; there’s no point pretending there’s no trouble. But what he says is not “There’s no trouble”, but “There’s tiny trouble”, “There’s a brief problem”.
And just like two religions today, where one speaker stands up and says, “There’s one God,” and another stands up and says, “There’s lots of Gods.”
And someone stands up and says, “Jesus Christ is God come into the world,” and someone else stands up and says, “Jesus Christ is not God.”
They cannot all be right. It’s a complete mistake to imagine that you can get all the religions together in agreement. It’s just impossible. It’s like asking people going North, South, East and West to all go in the same direction.
The Stark Difference Between The Two Prophets
Now if you want to know the difference between Jeremiah and Hananiah, the explanation is actually back a few chapters, in Jeremiah 23, where you see the mark of a false Prophet.
The mark of a false Prophet, says God, is that they don’t stand in God’s counsel. In other words they don’t stay where they are and hear what God says, and then run and say whatever the cost. “No”, says God, “they run with their own message. They don’t listen to me. They say what they want to say and they fill you with false hopes and they speak visions from their own minds”.
It would be a little bit like somebody standing up at the Australian Christian Lobby over the weekend and saying things that he thought, which had nothing to do with the scriptures.
Now the question is, who stands in Gods counsel? Who listens to the word of God? These false prophets are saying what they want, they’re saying to make people happy, and they’re changing nobody.
There is no “turn around!”. Nobody likes to hear “turn around”, nobody likes to hear “you’re going the wrong way”.
But you only say to people “turn around, you are going the wrong way,” if you know the road they’re on is a dangerous road.
The signs that tell us “go back, you’re going the wrong way” are annoying, but if you ignore them and keep going, it’s more dangerous.
It was interesting that in our Anglican synod in this last week somebody was telling me that there was a big debate about the mission of the Church leading up to 2020. One of the words that had been left out of the Gospel message is “repent”.
So people were standing up and saying “look, I think we should be asking our city to turn around”.
And there are a lot of people of course who were saying, “well, you know, that’s unfriendly.”
I am slightly exaggerating, but the debate was backwards and forwards as to whether you should call on people to repent.
Well Jeremiah does call on people to repent, Hananiah does not.
And the Lord says that Hananiah’s message and all the false prophets’ message is “straw” – it just does you no good – but the true Prophets are speaking “grain”.
God’s Message Changes Lives
Now friends, when we think about an Old Testament prophet like Jeremiah standing in the counsel of the Lord – whether he’s under a tree, or standing on a hill, or in his kitchen, I don’t know, and I don’t know exactly how God communicates to him, and I don’t know exactly how God communicated to the apostles – but the God who knows how to communicate was able to bring to the prophets of Old and the apostles of the New, his message.
[A message] which ended up changing lives, changing churches, changing cities, and got written into the scriptures where it continues to change lives, communities and cities.
Please don’t read what happened to Jeremiah and say “that should be our experience as well”. We don’t stand under a tree to hear the word of God. We go to our Bibles to read what was said by God. It’s been recorded for us. This is how God did speak, this is how God does speak.
And when the faithful prophets speak, like Jeremiah telling people to repent, it is because it is their only hope of safety.
How To Tell A True Prophet From A False One
I said a few weeks ago that one of the keys to working out a real prophet is the ‘ABC test’. The ABC test is:
A – “Whose Authority are they claiming?” That’s worth working out.
B – “Are they in line with the rest of the Bible?” That’s a good measuring stick.
C – “Do they have a genuine Concern for the people, even to the point of suffering cost?”
Because the false prophets, of course, will say “I’m speaking in God’s name, I’m claiming to be saying what’s true,” but their concern was really of themselves, their popularity and their pockets.
Nobody exemplified true authority like Jesus, full Bible like Jesus, or concern to death like Jesus.
That’s why we must take him so seriously.
Jeremiah’s Unpopular Message
So you see how the prophet Jeremiah has got a difficult job. He’s got to say some ‘no’s’ and some ‘yeses’.
When you get married, as you know there is a saying “yes” to your fiancé, and there’s a “no” to others. That’s the way of progress.
And when a Pastor or a faithful Christian is wanting to convey the message of Christ, there needs to be a “yes” – “I’m the way the truth and the life”, says Jesus, and a “no” – “no-one comes to the father but by me”, says Jesus. Otherwise we’re only getting half the truth.
Some Churches get weaker and weaker and weaker because they’re only hearing positive things. Nobody ever says “this is wrong”, “that’s is a dead end”, “this sin will kill you”.
Nobody ever says it, but it needs to be said, and that’s what Jeremiah is doing.
So, Hananiah has a popular message. What is Jeremiah going to do?
The True Test Of God’s Prophets: Did It Come True?
This is the second point – a vital test.
Not only has Hananiah said, “it’s going to be two years”, but he lifts the yoke off Jeremiah’s back, breaks it somehow, and visibly and verbally says, “no big problem”.
Well in Chapter 28 verse 5, Jeremiah replies.
He replies in the temple, because that’s where the public lie has taken place and it needs a public answer.
His first reaction, if you look at verse 6, is to say, “Amen, this would be great, I love what you’re saying Hananiah, I would love it to be two years. If you’re right, and we’re there and back in two years, nobody will be happier than me.”
But he goes on to say in verse 7, (and this is the point), “If you contradict the many, many prophets who have predicted trouble for sin, and you say it will be peaceful, the test is, will it turn out that you’re right?”
Now in a way, they’ve got to wait two years to work out whether Hananiah is speaking the truth. In a sense, they might have to wait two years. But if in two years they’re not back from Babylon, not only is Hananiah a false prophet, he is an extremely dangerous prophet.
He’s totally misrepresented God, he’s misled the people, and that is a serious, serious thing.
Testing The Prophets Of Old
The principle of testing a prophet goes back to Deuteronomy Chapter 18, which says “You may say, “how can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?”, Answer: If it doesn’t come true, it’s not from the Lord!” Which seems almost too simple to be true.
But you see, what God is expecting of His people is that you’ll keep testing the prophets who you’ve had, to see whether some of their short-term predictions have come true, and you can also keep testing the prophets of the past, to see whether even their long-term prophecies have come true.
So think about predictions to Abraham. “I’ll make you – even though you and your wife are in your 90s – I’ll make you a huge family, and a land which will be yours. Unbelievably, I’ll get you a land. And you’ll begin to affect the whole world.”
Well it just looks ridiculous, doesn’t it? But all of that comes true.
And then predictions to Moses: “I’ll bring you out of Egypt. It’s impossible humanly, but I will bring you out. And I’ll take you across the Red Sea, and I’ll bring you through the desert, and I’ll bring you to the Promised Land.”
And all these prophecies, as we look back, we’re able to say, “we actually stand in 2014 at the end of a lot of great predictions”.
So, dear brothers and sisters, if you’re thinking of giving up the Christian life because there just isn’t enough going right for you – and we often feel like that – remember that you stand in the queue of so many people who’ve heard the promises of God and seen them come true, and who kept trusting the promises of God, even in the difficult times.
Jesus, The Greatest And Most Trustworthy Prophet
Now nobody, of course, is a greater example of this predicting than Jesus. And if there was one thing that I wanted you to remember from today, it is this: you can trust Jesus because He’s trustworthy.
Did Jesus not say on one occasion to man, “Go home, your servant who you’re worried about is now healed”? And the man went home and the servant was healed.
Did not Jesus say, “Let’s cross the lake”? He didn’t say to them “there’s going to be a terrible storm”, but “we will cross the lake”, and they did, through a difficult storm.
Did he not say on one occasion, “Go around to the next village, you’ll see a donkey, attached to a fence. Untie it, the owner will say this, you say this, bring it to me, I’m riding it into Jerusalem”?
Did he not say “Go around the corner and you’ll see a man carrying a water jar. follow him up to a room; he’s preparing a place for the last supper”?
Did he not say to Judas on one occasion, “You’ll betray me”?
Did he not say to Peter, “You’ll deny me”?
Did he not say on one occasion, “This city of Jerusalem and the temple are going to be razed to the ground”? And in AD 70, in came the Romans and they razed it to the ground.
And the most significant thing that Jesus ever said is this: “I’m going to Jerusalem. They will crucify me. On the third day I will rise. I will die, I will rise. I will die, I will rise.” Three times, he said it. And he laid the foundation of utter trustworthiness, so that we might know, “here’s somebody we can stake our life and our death on”.
So that’s what Jeremiah is basically saying to Hananiah. The big test is whether this comes true. Because you’re contradicting almost everybody. It’s very popular, you’re probably making a lot of money, but we’re going to see whether it comes true.
Jeremiah’s Shocking And Helpful Message
Now the last thing, in verse 12 and following, is that Jeremiah gives an astonishingly helpful message – what I would call a reliable message.
Chapter 28, verse 11. Notice that Jeremiah had walked away after Hananiah broke the yoke. Why did he walk away? Possibly he was rejecting the one who was breaking the word. Or possibly God had not given him anything to say. But in verse 12, God speaks to Jeremiah, and Jeremiah speaks to Hananiah, and he says two things: One, “you broke the wooden yoke, that was easy. But actually, says the Lord, “I’m about to put on you an iron yoke. You won’t break that. It’s easy to break a wood yoke, relatively, but you cannot break an iron yoke, and the promises of God are made of iron. So you can ignore them, you can disobey them, but you can’t stop them.” And so the message is that “Nebuchadnezzar will rise, will take over, he will be the superpower, this will affect all the nations”. “And,” says Jeremiah, “Nebuchadnezzar will be in so much control, even the wild animals will do his will”. Which I presume is a proverbial way of saying, “complete control”.
The second thing that Jeremiah says to Hananiah, in verse 15, is this: “Your message has not just been interesting, free speech, popular, slightly frustrating. Your message has been a lie. It’s affected people, you’ve misled people.” Verse 16, “it’s been rebellion against the Lord. And so”, says Jeremiah, “this year you will die”.
Now there’s a prediction for you! “This year, you will die”. It turns out, within eight weeks, Hananiah died.
So Hananiah stood up and said, “Two years, our problems will be gone”.
Jeremiah stands up and says, “Two months, you will be gone”. And within two months, Jeremiah was proved right. Hananiah was gone, and all the people know that Jeremiah speaks the truth. And therefore he’s to be trusted. And the God he represents is to be trusted – if the people are willing.
Are You Ready To Trust The Trustworthy God?
That’s the question. There is a trustworthy God; will the people be willing?
There is a trustworthy God; will I trust Him? Will I obey Him? His word is iron. Will I trust it, will I obey it?
Let me just draw some threads as we finish.
Is it not wonderful that God continues to speak to such a difficult people? Would you keep speaking to somebody who ignored you for years and years and years? It’s very difficult isn’t it?
Astonishing that God in His mercy would keep on speaking to His people. And it’s part of His mercy. His mercies are new every morning. And here He is, mercifully speaking. So you may think today, “I wonder if I’ve gone past the line of safety? I wonder if I’ve crossed the line? I wonder if God is pretty well giving up on me?”
Well of course He’s not giving up on you! His mercies are new every morning! His word comes to you every day. The question is, will you trust and obey?
Notice how serious the word of God is; it’s iron, it’s not to be played with. I know we’re tempted to play with it, I know we say to ourselves every now and again, “It doesn’t matter”. But the word of God is iron. It’s fixed. And so if you’re doing something at the moment which is unfaithful, dishonest, ungodly, the Bible says “repent”, “make your break with it”, “walk with Christ”, “trust His word and obey Him”, “keep repenting”.
How much we need discernment. I get shocked every now and again, when somebody says something which is so bad on a public platform. I don’t mean a dull sermon – I’m capable of the worst! I’m just saying, you know, the person who says complete rubbish. Watch your television! The person who says complete rubbish.
And there is an adoring audience, saying “this is fantastic!” [With the] discernment of a falling girder. Unbelievable isn’t it? The blind leading the blind.
We need to be believers of the truth, and unbelievers in the lies.
I want you to grow up, and I want me to grow up as well, being a strong believer, and a strong “unbeliever”. Believe the word of God; don’t believe the lies.
And could God be more gracious to us in speaking so clearly, so wonderfully, so many promises waiting to be culled from the Bible, so many precious things that are absolutely perfect for your condition and for your condition at this minute.
There isn’t a condition that’s going on in this building any day of any year, for any person, where there is not one part of the word of God that is absolutely appropriate.
And could He not speak more clearly in coming in flesh, the Word made flesh, a Word called Jesus, so clear, so gracious, so powerful, so wonderful, we couldn’t be more blessed than we are.
So I just want to say to you, when you’re trying to work out who is the supreme voice that you should listen to, take Jesus seriously. He has all the credentials, His words matter enormously.
When you go from a death bed as I have this week, to the normal world of driving and shopping and everything else, it puts a very serious light on things as to what’s really important, and what’s not important.
And what is really important is the Word of God which sheds light on our path, all the way to glory.