August 29, 2016

August 14, 2016 - Jeremiah 23:23-29

Theme: To Speak Faithfully is Better Than Any Dream

Today we focus on Christian education, particularly as it applies to our children. This past week we conducted VBS at Redemption, which is one of the biggest undertakings this congregation pursues in the realm of education. No one doubts the importance of education. It is always one of hottest political issues. It is on the minds of parents. It is a goal that is worthy to be pursued. But, when we talk about Christian education, the level of importance ratchets up even higher. Now, no one here doubts that. But, let us ask ourselves the tougher question. What kind of Christian education are we giving our children?

Our final lesson at VBS was about the Good Shepherd Psalm, Psalm 23. In that psalm, as many of you know, David depicts God as His Shepherd, who provides for both his physical and spiritual needs. David ended that psalm with a closing note that I hope is always on your minds and hearts too: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” David’s hope for Christian education, began and concluded in the LORD’s house; both the temple on earth and the halls of heaven in eternity.

Our text for today is given in a much different circumstance. The beginning verses of Jeremiah 23 are really the anti-shepherd psalm. In these verse God chastises the prophets for being false shepherds. They led the people astray. They gave them false hope and lies. They did not provide for the people’s spiritual needs as the Good Shepherd does. Notice the stark contrast from David’s psalm to Jeremiah’s chastisement in these verses:  Jeremiah 23:1 "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!" says the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: "You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings," says the LORD.

What a difference from the Shepherd who leads His flock to green pastures and quiet waters so that no need is left unfulfilled and unfaithful shepherds who lead to destruction. Our text for today picks up later in chapter 23, where God shows the reasons why these prophets failed in their duties:

Jeremiah 23:23-29 "Am I a God near at hand," says the LORD, "And not a God afar off? 24 Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him?" says the LORD; "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" says the LORD. 25 "I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, `I have dreamed, I have dreamed!' 26 "How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, 27 "who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal. 28 "The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?" says the LORD. 29 "Is not My word like a fire?" says the LORD, "And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

In these verse the LORD reminds us: To be faithful is better than any dream. Do we teach this to our children? Dreaming in America is almost a national right. I’m not talking about the dreams of the night, when your mind escapes to a different reality. I speak of the dreams of the day; the intentions we have in life which direct our decisions and our goals. To pursue a dream is to set your sights high, to work for something that is currently beyond your grasp. Is this not one of the chief reasons for educating our children? We want them to aspire to something in life. This is Christian education too. God desires us to use our talents and abilities to serve one  another and through that, serve Him. It is good to dream for this.                            
I believe this was the way the American dream starting in our nation and that idea of an American dream has spurred on the need for quality education for our children ever since. But in recent times, this dreaming has taken on a different meaning. Instead of dreaming for something this intrinsic, truth-based quality; the American dream often turns into a hot pursuit for personal glory and self-esteem. This doesn’t mean that everyone who dreams or encourages others to pursue their dreams, has the wrong intention. What it does, though, is reveal the inherent danger is relying so much on our dreams. If not motivated by God’s love and truth, even our dreams can separate us from Him.

This is where the nation of Judah found themselves in this chapter, or more appropriately where God found them through His prophet. Listen to the way God described their situation. He had to rebuke them by reminding them first of His eternal presence because they were living like He didn’t exist. So He asks them, “Am I a God near at hand, and not a God afar off?” If you’re trying to resist the Lord’s will and supplant it with your own dream, then the first step is finding a way to ignore His presence. On the surface, it’s pretty easy to do this. So many things in life are driven by what we can sense on our own. Since we can’t see God or hear His direct audible voice, it’s pretty easy to act like He’s distant. But deep inside all people know better. Our sense can lie to us all they want, but God created us with an inner knowledge of His presence and of His will.

God breaks away this false sense of sinful security. As Jeremiah recorded, no one can hide themselves. God is present everywhere. He fills heaven and earth. Lesson learned; don’t try to hide from Him just because He is beyond your physical senses at times. Don’t let your dream lie to you.

But here’s where the danger heightens. It comes to a completely different level when prophets begin teaching the lie. It’s one thing to feel it in your heart, but to hear it proclaimed by someone else, especially a member of the clergy, really gives it credibility. This is ultimately why God was so furious in His anger against these false shepherds. To those whom He has given His Word, He expects a much stricter attention to conduct and truth of the message. A prophet, pastor, teacher, or any public spokesperson for God is expected to put in the extra time and go the extra lengths to ensure the faithfulness of their preaching. It’s not just their faith and life on the line, but those whom God has entrusted to their care.

What got in the way of these shepherds’ messages? What led them and the people off the track? It was their dreams. God Himself said, "I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, `I have dreamed, I have dreamed!' 26 "How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Every prophet issues some type of claim for the people to listen to them. For these prophets, their claim was based on their title. They said, “We are prophets and we have dreamed, so listen to us!” Their request to the people had nothing to do with the truth or the validity of their message. They had to encourage the people this way because all they had to go on was their own dream.

We should understand that these prophets’ dreams were different than our dreams. They were speaking of divine visions; of something revealed to them from God. This is what they claimed, even though it was a false revelation. When we speak of our dreams, we don’t often mean that something has been supernaturally revealed to us by God. Our dreams in life are more of a hope or goal that we have. But, even though these prophets claimed to have a higher type of dream, a vision or revelation if you will, they were really no different than our dreams.

God tells us the source of these dreams. They were not from Him, but rather from the prophets’ own hearts. The intention of these supposed divine revelations revealed their hollowness as well. God went on to say that the prophets intended to have the people forget His name. Earlier in the chapter God gave an example of this. In verse 17 He says, The prophets continually say, You shall have peace, and to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, “No evil shall come upon you.” That is what it looks like and sounds like when people are led to follow their own dreams instead of God. When God levels the accusation that these prophets led the people away from His name, that was a serious problem. Remember what God’s name is. It reveals not only His title but who He is and what He does. God said in time past to His people, “I am Yahweh, that is My name, and my glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images (Isaiah 42:8).” God’s name is power, not just a title. It is a status that equals holiness. To use His name in a false way or to lead others away from it is to mess directly with the person of God.

The importance of God’s name is found best in Jesus. Listen to how Paul described the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. He explains this monumental achievement in terms relating to the name of God. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth. To have God’s name in our lives is the goal that all believers have. That’s what it is to have faith; it’s to have God’s name in the same way that Jesus earned it for us on the cross. The opposite is to lead people away from that name; away from the standing that faith in Jesus gives us before the Almighty God.

Now, that sounds like a pretty bad place to be in, but why then wouldn’t the people quickly reject these false prophets? It seems like these lies were pretty popular. The people jumped on them right away without thinking twice. They were eager to share this pseudo good news, so much so that everyone told his neighbor. How could it be that such a dangerous belief, one that would lead people in the opposite direction from God, would be so popular? The answer was that it was the delusion of the dream. The dream that came first from the false prophets and then directly to the peoples’ hearts.

Think about your own dreams for a moment. They are strong in your heart because you desire them. They are personal. They are on your mind regularly. That doesn’t mean they’re bad. But, it doesn’t guarantee that they are good either. The feeling that our dreams attach to us only indicates their hold on our lives, it doesn’t indicate their quality. And it certainly doesn’t mean they have any effectiveness to get us through life’s problems.

God gives us the proper balance for our dreams. He says, The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. It’s okay to dream. In fact, it’s necessary. If you don’t have dreams, you drift through life without purpose. If you don’t dream you miss out on opportunities to serve God. But, don’t let those dreams interrupt your faithfulness to God’s Word. He will not desire an expectation from you that contradicts His will. In other words, something that would lead you away from His name. To be faithful in our goals and activities is to be sufficient in Jesus, the true Good Shepherd who does not lead us astray but rather leads us to the water of life and the bread of life in the forgiveness of our sins.

Let us return to our original question. What kind education do we desire for our children? To adequately answer that you must first ask, what kind of education does God desire for my children? He is clear in His answer. Let them dream. Given them a goal. Help them grow. But, show them and teach them what faithfulness means too. No dream is worth sacrificing faithfulness. Your children see that example in your lives; as they learn from you and as they witness your sanctified walk in life. But, they see it best in their Savior. Don’t let dreams over shadow Him. Dreams to be popular. Dreams to fit in. Dreams to make a comfortable living in life. There are many dreams, but there is only one who is faithful. 

When a dream gets in the way, are we content enough in God’s grace to look the other way? Are we okay sacrificing the popularity and the feeling of desire in order to stay closer to God’s name? What would we rather have for our children and where are we leading them? Do we teach them to think and act like God’s present, or do we care more about what others around us think? Have activities like sports practices or social clubs become more important than learning and sharing God’s Word. Is your primary objective rest for your body or for your soul? Which is the first you lay aside, pursuit of the dream or time around God’s name?

The message of these false prophets spread like fire. Jeremiah had a difficult ministry to say the least. He was constantly under attack and under pressure to conform to the popularity of the time. I’m sure it often felt like he had no help. And yet, none of these pressures really made things any different. The truth was the same as it had ever been and as it is today. And despite the seemingly out of control lies of the false prophets, God’s Word endured, the gospel promise survived, Jesus came and destroyed sin, death, and Satan, and we live in that victory today. Error and deception do spread like fire under the right settings, when people are starved for truth and righteousness. But, God’s power remains as strong as ever. His Word is the true fire which ignites hearts with hope. His name crushes the false intentions of the human heart like a hammer on stone.

May God break down the sinful exteriors to our hearts and keep the bright flame of faith in Jesus constant and the faithfulness to teach our children the same. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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