Read Jeremiah 23:23-29
There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stairway to heaven.
If you grew up back in the day, you recognized these as the opening lyrics to Stairway to Heaven. It was perhaps Led Zeppelin’s best song of all time. It always shows up in their top three. The band presented the stairway to heaven concept in something of a satirical mode surely not suggesting this as a vision received between Beersheba and Harran; but still the lyrics echo in the minds of so many again and again: She’s buying a stairway to heaven.
If you click the like and share buttons on your Facebook when you see the picture of Bill Gates, Microsoft will send you a new notebook computer. The fact that Microsoft is a software company and not a computer company should not influence you in any way as you hit that share button.
We should understand the following quote by a great American. “Half of what you read on the internet is not true.”
Who said that?
Why, Abraham Lincoln, of course.
You can’t buy a stairway to heaven. Bill Gates is not going to send you a computer, and how absurd is the Lincoln quote. We all know that Lincoln didn’t say half but three-fourths of the stuff on the internet is not true. Let’s at least get the facts straight when we are quoting our 14th President.
But we see and hear and forward and repeat crazy stuff all of the time. Yes, some of it we do just for the humor factor, but some people believe what they hear in songs and in emails and via other media without regard to the source.
Jeremiah lived in a time where there were many false prophets. They said what the people they served wanted to hear. If the king wanted to know if what he was doing was approved by God, he would show favor upon the prophet who gave him the most favorable review.
The prophets wanted some veracity in what they had to say, so they would often say, “I had a dream.”
This was common among the Egyptians and Babylonians. Dreams were how their advisors received what they thought was divine revelation from their idols and false Gods. Dreams had played a part among God’s people as well, but never in such a way that they came so casually and without the inspiration of God.
But in Jeremiah’s time, there were prophets claiming that they were sharing messages from the one true God when the one true God had neither anointed them as prophets nor sent them prophecies to convey.
For their own self promotion, they presented their prophecies. For their own self preservation, they shaped these prophecies to their target audience. These so called prophets had run amuck and had led many of God’s people down the wrong path.
God, through his own prophet, Jeremiah, asks, “Do you really think I don’t know what is going on? Do you really think that I don’t see the anything and everything of this charade?”
The Lord says, “Challenge these knuckleheads. Ask them, ‘What does the Lord say?’”
God is telling his people to call out these false prophets. Don’t let them off the hook with some fuzzy language that leads you to believe they are conveying a message from God. Ask them to their faces, “What has the Lord spoken?”
Confront them. Is this your idea or did God speak to you?
Are you making this up or did God truly reveal something to you.
At one time I was an addictions treatment counselor in a private prison. The treatment programs had used a therapeutic community model since the facility had opened. This was a peer-centered treatment program. The inmate clients had all grow used to it. It was uncomfortable to them at first, but they came to accept it.
But one day, the customer decided they wanted a different model. They wanted a counselor-led program so the facility had to adjust. The staff was not sure exactly how this would work out but the inmates were getting worried. They didn’t know what was next. Would it be better or worse? But worse than knowing the new program might not be as good as the old program was not knowing anything.
As the facility was in transition with this program, my inmate clerk would ask me a dozen questions every chance he got.
I usually had an answer for him. I had read the directives from the customer and read the new manuals and had visualized something of a model for this new program in my mind.
One day, my clerk just kept rapid firing the questions. I could feel the anxiousness in his voice. What about, what if, how will this…
Finally as I was walking to wherever I had to be next, I just stopped, turned towards him and said, “Take a breath. I am making this stuff up as I go along.”
He doubled over in laughter, fell to the floor and laughed for about three minutes for everything that he had ever heard from me was always official sounding. The fact that I had been giving him matter of fact answers to complex questions with about a third of a second between question and answer never struck him as odd. Being told that I was making this stuff up as I went along was just too much to handle.
I was not in charge of writing the procedures for the new program; though I figured I would probably get the job. I had no authority to say just how the program would be administered; but it would probably go pretty much liked I had told my clerk because nobody else had a clue how to constitute a new program from scratch.
But the truth of the matter was that I was making it up as I went along.
As it turned out, the program directive came out pretty much as I had said, except one of the higher ups insisted that some of the subjects and verbs not agree with each other, but I was operating on my own authority.
As it turned out what I was making up as I went along turned out to be what we used.
In Jeremiah’s day, many prophets were just making up stuff as they went along and God didn’t care for it. They did it to appease their earthly masters but God chastised them saying that what they were doing was causing his people to forget his name.
This had happened before as the people worshiped Baal and now it was happening again, except this time the false prophets were telling everyone that they were speaking for God.
No one wanted to hear Jeremiah’s prophecies, for they came from God and God did not say that he was ok with this anything goes way of living.
Jeremiah stood in stark contrast to the other prophets of his time. He told the people that God would let Jerusalem and the Promised Land fall into the hands of the ungodly.
Jeremiah spoke of 70 years of captivity in Babylon.
No one in authority wanted to hear this. They did not want to believe this. They wanted someone to preach and prophesy to their itching ears. That should sound familiar.
We know that Nebuchadnezzar did come and conquer the Jews and deport them to Jerusalem and we could just look at this time and say, “Well, they should have listened to God. They should have known better.”
We could just say, “Yup, got a history lesson. Now let’s get to something relevant in our time.”
We don’t see a whole lot of false prophets these days, at least the kind that says they speak on behalf of the one true God.
We do see a lot of stuff presented as the truth that requires more scrutiny than it receives.
We rely less on prophets today than in Jeremiah’s day because we have this wonderful revelation from God called the Holy Bible.
The things that lead us astray these days often come from not being able to rightly divide the word of truth. We are being taught by television and the internet and in many other ways over which we exercise no verification, and many of these are leading us to forget God’s name.
There is not a person that I know that does not have at least one Bible or access to one. When I come across people without a Bible, I give them one.
It is not that God’s word is not available to us. It is that so many choose to read or listen to something else. And of those who do read the Bible, too many do it in an eisegetical manner.
We need to look at two words: Exegesis and Eisegesis.
Exegesis is to rightly divide the word of truth. It is to extract the intended meaning from scriptures. There are many approaches to this but at the heart of all of them we find a genuine desire to hear and understand what God is saying through these special words. We might call this a teachable spirit. We also find reliance upon the Holy Spirit. Interpretation of scripture is more than an academic exercise.
Eisegesis is taking what we believe and finding a way to fit it into scripture. It is a way to come up with our own modern day false prophets. We do this more than we might realize.
We believe something or at least want to believe it and the next thing we know, we have manipulated a scripture to back it up. These beliefs come from our upbringing, political persuasions, economic philosophies, and other places that we might not be able to trace to their origin. It doesn’t matter. We believe it and we want the Bible to say it, so we find a way to make it fit, somehow, anyhow, even if it means totally ignoring the message from God.
We live in a different place and time than the prophet Jeremiah. He surely felt that he was overwhelmed at times. He surely didn’t enjoy conveying many of the prophecies that he was given by God. Who in their right mind wants announce that their own homeland is going to be trampled by the armies of the godless? Jeremiah was talking about his own homeland.
These were his people.
This was his home.
But this was the true message from God.
Those of us who preach and teach and write and guide people with God’s word are called to a strict standard. We must preach and teach what God has given us. We don’t have the latitude to preach and teach what we want in the name of God.
We have plenty of latitude to use the examples and metaphors of our time. We have a wonderful model. Jesus used figurative language on a regular basis. His disciples got excited when Jesus said he wouldn’t use these sort of literary tools anymore and would just talk to them in plain language. They didn’t get to enjoy this direct language too much because Jesus was only hours away from the cross when he said this.
But we who are preachers and teachers are charged to take great care in the fidelity of our messages and teaching. We have wonderful tools and resources at our disposal but we must be faithful to what God is saying to us.
Put it into modern language? Absolutely.
Use a familiar example? You bet!
Put it in sports metaphor? They are some of the best around.
Tell a personal anecdote that helps people understand the teaching? Yes, yes, yes!
Start with what we believe and try to make the Bible back it up? That dog don’t hunt!
Jesus said that if they were not against us, then they are for us. Sometimes we take this as an anything goes, get out of jail free, do your own thing expression. It is not.
This is a warning against placing importance on who we are and how we do God’s work. If we are doing God’s work, we shouldn’t get wrapped up on how the next guy is going it a little differently. The key is that we are doing what God has told us to do.
Jesus is telling us that so long as we are following him and doing the will of the Father, our diversity is a wonderful thing.
When we are doing our own thing and trying to pass it off as God’s will, now that is a horse of a different color. We are not going to ride that horse.
It seems that God’s preachers and teachers are held to a higher standard and they are, but what we must realize is that in our modern age, when we hit share or forward, we have tacitly assumed the role of teacher.
We endorse what we are sending on. We are responsible for influencing others.
So we must ask, “Did the Lord say that?”
I am not talking about those pictures of your grandkids or your vacation. Consider all of the things that we read and pass on as a “God said it” forward or post.
I challenge you to verify the scripture, read it in context, and seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit as you read God’s word and profess other wisdom before you pass it on.
I challenge you to rightly divide the word of truth.
I challenge you to take the Sunday morning message as an inspiration to read more of God’s word. Go to the source. Study it. Read it aloud. Discuss it with family and friends.
The Body of Christ is a wonderful sounding board for our thoughts. The Body of Christ is that group of people where you can ask without fear, “What did the Lord say?”
If you do not belong to a Bible Study, find one.
If you don’t read any more of the Bible than the verse of the day, read more.
If you are listening to the Sunday morning sermon and think that you have been fed; realize that you have only finished the appetizer, maybe a little soup and salad on some Sundays. We must spend a good part of our Sabbath reading more of God’s word. We must do more than nibble on it during the week.
Just about all of us have been on some sort of diet intended to lose weight at some point in our lives. Today, I am announcing the Bible Super Weight Loss Diet. It is simple. You just eat like you read the Bible.
Half of America, maybe more, would look anorexic in a month. We just nibble on a Bible verse here and there and think we are fed. There are a handful of folks that will put on some weight by sticking to this diet, but not many.
There is a long standing psychological and mass media term called “narcotizing dysfunction.” It explains that we are inundated with so much information and commentary that it’s like we are being drugged. We become apathetic to it all. It is too much to deal with—to truly comprehend—so we don’t even try.
In today’s world, we often mindlessly read and forward, read and repost.
Let’s make a comparison for the purposes of understanding Jeremiah and the false prophets. We have the Bible and we have thousands of other sources of information and commentary. The Bible is what God says. All of the others we should confront by saying, “Is this really what the Lord says?”
Read your Bible.
Study your Bible.
Discuss what the Lord says with other believers.
Read, study, and discuss with a teachable spirit.
Read, study, and discuss seeking the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
And we might just be content with that, if it were not for the fact that not all are free from sin and death. There are those who do not have victory in their lives. There are those who remain blinded to the truth and subject to evil.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
And who will deliver the good news that brings freedom from sin and death? Who will teach our generation of a righteous, holy, and merciful God that we know through Jesus Christ?
Who will proclaim freedom for the captives?
How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news?
Who will proclaim the truth?
Not just the preacher.
Not just the Sunday School Teacher.
But everyone who has received and believed the good news of Jesus Christ.
We might say that we have few prophets today, but I say we have many. God has spoken to us all through his written word and so many in this lost world have yet to hear the good news.
We have a message of truth to convey amidst a sea of babble.
We have the bread of life to offer a world addicted to junk food.
We have a message of love from a heavenly Father to a generation too numb to even contemplate its own existence.
What is true prophecy? It is an immediate message from God. And though the words of the Holy Bible were written thousands of years ago, they remain an immediate message from God.
We have a choice. Speak the truth as God has given it to us or go along with the mindless babble.
Truth or babble?
Truth or speak to itching ears?
Words that lead people back to the one true God or words that cause people to forget him?
We are messengers of truth.
We will not lead people to forget the one true God.
We will convey the truth so that none will forget God’s name.