(Written by Pastor Tim Redfield)
Jeremiah 28:5-9 – Then the prophet Jeremiah replied to the prophet Hananiah before the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord. 6 He said, “Amen! May the Lord do so! May the Lord fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the Lord’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. 7 Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: 8 From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. 9 But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.”
As we think about think section from Jeremiah, we should look at a few of the statements that preceded Jeremiah’s words in verses 5 to 9. Before I point to those statements, I want you to think about the time period when Jeremiah was speaking. The year was 593 BC. Babylon was the main world power at that time and they were expanding their power. Back in 605 BC, Judah came under the control of Babylon. About that time, many Jews including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were taken into captivity in Babylon. Shortly after that, King Jehoiakim of Judah rebelled against the Babylonians and the Jewish people were defeated. In 597, over 3,000 Jews were taken into captivity. The next king, King Jehoiachin was carried off into captivity with 10,000 Jews. After that, Zedekiah became king. That was a very quick summary but it brings us to the time of our text.
We know from Scripture that God was using the Babylonians to punish the Jews for their unfaithfulness toward God. God continued to send them prophets in order to draw them back to repentance and true faith in God. Jeremiah gave them a strong message in chapter 27. God told Jeremiah to wear a yoke around his neck to further illustrate the point. God told the Jews to submit to the king of Babylon. In chapter 27 verses 12-15, Jeremiah said, “Bow your neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon; serve him and his people, and you will live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, famine and plague with which the Lord has threatened any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? Do not listen to the words of the prophets who say to you, ‘You will not serve the king of Babylon,’ for they are prophesying lies to you. ‘I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord. ‘They are prophesying lies in my name. Therefore, I will banish you and you will perish, both you and the prophets who prophesy to you.’”
Shortly after that we come to chapter 28. In the first 4 verses, the prophet Hananiah told the people the opposite of what Jeremiah had told them. Hananiah told them, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the Lord’s house that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from here and took to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and all the other exiles from Judah who went to Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’”
All this background really helps us understand Jeremiah’s response. There is probably some sarcasm in Jeremiah’s words when he says, “Amen! May the Lord do so! May the Lord fulfill the words you have prophesied.” Jeremiah is admitting that it would be wonderful if God would do what Hananiah had said but Jeremiah also knows that it is contrary to the message that God had previously given. That’s why Jeremiah says this in verse 8, “From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms.” Jeremiah is reminding Hananiah and everyone else that many other true prophets have prophesied this destruction and other wars. Hananiah is giving a nice message that people want to hear but it disagrees with previous messages from God.
The unfortunate fact of history is this: the Jews listened to Hananiah rather than listening to Jeremiah. They heard a message which sounded good to them so that is what they accepted. Hananiah had not actually received his message from God and yet he boldly declared that it truly was the message of the Lord. Rather than comparing Hananiah’s message to what other prophets had said, the people blindly accepted it as the truth.
By looking at the details of this event it helps us see that we fall into the same sins that Hananiah and the Jews committed. We live in a culture in which people want to be their own Bible. People want to pick and choose what religious ideas sound good to them and they even want to make declarations about what God wants for us even if those statements don’t actually agree with Scripture. I think of some of the preachers who declare prosperity in the name of Christ. They tell us that God surely wants to give us great earthly blessings, all we have to do is truly trust in Christ. However, that thinking drives us to despair when we don’t receive blessings because the logical conclusion would be that it is our fault for not trusting Christ enough. We would conclude that maybe we are not true believers.
It is very tempting to follow after those people who tell us exactly what we want to hear. Many people latch on to that idea that God loves us so much that he would never ever send anyone to hell. So what do they do? They use God’s love as an excuse to commit their sins boldly. They please themselves in all kinds of ways. They don’t respect God’s plan for marriage. They don’t worship the Lord in the proper way. They stay away from Church because they think there is nothing wrong with ignoring God 99% of the time and then simply saying they trust in Jesus if someone asks them about their faith. These sins are crouching at the door of our heats too. We don’t always want to listen to the truths of God’s Word. We want to serve our own selfish ambitions and desires.
And that is why we need to return again and again to the truths that God has laid out for us in his Word. We don’t have prophets like Jeremiah today because we have been given God’s Word in the Bible. In Jeremiah’s day, the Word of God was still being written down. Now we have it in front of us. Jeremiah tells us exactly how we can know that we have the truth of God. Verse 9 says, “But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.” The Word of God shows itself to be true particularly through fulfilled prophecy.
As we look further in chapter 28 of Jeremiah we see that God gave decisive evidence that Jeremiah was speaking the truth and Hananiah was lying. God had Jeremiah say this, “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebellion against the Lord.’” A few months later, Hananiah was dead. The prophecy of the true prophet Jeremiah came to pass.
The reason that we look to the Bible as the only source of God’s Word is because it is the only place where we find the true Gospel message that leads to eternal life. From other sources you will get messages of works righteousness or perhaps a message that God will take everyone to heaven no matter what. Either way, there is no need for Jesus in those false ideas. Either people have to earn it themselves or it just comes to us without the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is our Savior who brings us peace and we see that in fulfilled prophecy. The predictions of the Old Testament prophets came to be through Jesus.
You can put together a huge list of all the prophecies that came to pass through Jesus. The Old Testament points out that he would be born of a virgin. We are told that he would be forsaken by God and he was as he was suffering on the cross. We are told that he would rise from the grave. Isaiah 53 tells us that he would endure incredible punishment all because of our sins. All the prophecies of the Old Testament show us what real peace is all about. God never predicted that we would have an earthly peace. He told us that we would have spiritual peace through Jesus. We have the peace of forgiveness for all of our sins and we have the peace of everlasting life in heaven because of Jesus.
Always watch out for messages that try to point you to what you would have to do to merit forgiveness and eternal life. Be wary of any message which talks about free salvation apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus. There are so many messages which are trying to distract us from the truth of Scripture. They probably sneak up on us and we don’t even realize it. That is why we need to cling to the pure gospel. We need our time with Jesus and his Word because his word is the only place that we have the path to heaven.
We also need to remember that we will be like Jeremiah as we speak the truth. There will be people who don’t like what we have to say because we have to speak all of God’s truth. The law and our failures to keep the law are vitally important. Without the message of sin, the gospel really doesn’t make any sense. Many people will buck at the idea that they are sinners who deserve damnation because their sinful nature has convinced them that they are basically good and they don’t need a Savior. But we need a Savior. God’s Word makes that clear. So we continue to speak the truth.