Septuagesima Sunday

February 1, 2015

“God Speaks through His Prophets”

                                                                                                                          Jeremiah 1:4-10


Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations." Then said I: "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth." But the LORD said to me: "Do not say, 'I am a youth,' for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you," says the LORD. Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: "Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant." Jeremiah 1:4-10



I can relate to Jeremiah.  He was a young man who didn’t want to be a preacher.  I was once a young man who didn’t want to be a preacher.  When God told him he had ordained him to be a prophet to the nations, Jeremiah objected.  He was a youth.  He didn’t know how to speak publicly.  But it was more than that.  You can learn how to speak publicly.  Jeremiah didn’t want to be a preacher because he was afraid.  He was afraid because he knew how people react to the preaching of God’s word.  Sometimes they get mad.  Sometimes they don’t like what they hear and they blame the preacher.  Jeremiah didn’t apply for the job of prophet.  He was drafted.


In a couple of weeks I will be giving a paper at a conference in Kansas City.  My topic is: The Pastor: Shepherd or CEO?  In this paper I am asking three questions about a pastor and the same three questions about a CEO.  First, what is the purpose of the office?  Second, by what standards do you judge those in this office?  Third, by whose authority does the man in this office carry out his work?  The purpose of the pastoral office is that the gospel be preached so that those who hear it may believe in their Savior Jesus and receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life in his name.  The standards by which to judge a pastor is the teaching of God’s holy word.  Does he faithfully teach the pure and wholesome doctrine of God’s word?  The authority under which the pastor does his work is the authority of God and his church.


The purpose of the office of CEO is to provide a vision for the company.  What does it want to be?  The standard of judging the CEO is if the company makes money.  If he makes the company money, keep him on and pay him well.  If he doesn’t, fire him and hire someone else.  The authority under which the CEO operates is the Board of Directors, elected by the shareholders of the company.


They are very different offices, as you can see.  But during the past generation or so, churches across America have adopted the CEO model for their pastors.  What is his vision?  Will he cause the church to grow both financially and numerically?  If the church does well, pay the pastor a great big salary and if it doesn’t, fired him and hire another preacher who will be more successful.


What is this?  It is playing church.  When children playact, they go through motions of adult activities but they aren’t actually engaging in them.  They have a tea party without tea.  I’ve seen children playact weddings, church services, all sorts of things– and it’s all pretend.  So it is for the church of our day.  It is pretend Christianity.


God puts his words in Jeremiah’s mouth.  What he says.  Not the latest stylish opinion.  What he says.  He told Jeremiah to preach the law and he did it.  He preached the law that condemns us all, especially the idolatry that lies deep within our hearts and would capture our affections and souls unless we were delivered by the gospel.  God gave Jeremiah the gospel to preach.  It is in the book of the prophet Jeremiah that the promised Savior is given that most wonderful title, “The LORD, our righteousness.” 


Jeremiah preached against idolatry, but let me tell you, adopting Baal worship was good business.  That was the religion of the people.  That’s where the money was.  So if the church is a business, you want to follow good business practices.


A CEO is judged by how well he helps the company improve financially.  If the company keeps on losing money the CEO is fired.  It’s like coaches who lose games.  Sooner or later they are gone.  You measure success by clearly visible indications.  You can measure money.


You cannot measure faith.  The preacher cannot know what his preaching does.  He can only know if he has preached the words God gave him to preach.  God promised to put his words in Jeremiah’s mouth.  If the preacher cannot say at the end of his sermon that God said it then he shouldn’t have preached that sermon.  I will never forget a sermon I heard some years ago by a pastor who, after talking for about ten minutes without saying much of anything at all and nothing pertaining to the text he was preaching on, finally tired of talking and ended his sermon with the word: whatever.  Whatever!  God did not put that preacher in the pulpit.


There are three things about the ministry that God teaches us here in today’s Old Testament Lesson.


First, God chooses his ministers.

Second, God protects his ministers.

Third, God speaks through his ministers.


First, God chooses his ministers.  We read:


Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations."


You hire and fire CEOs.  You don’t hired and fire ministers.  God chooses them.  In the Bible, God sends preachers.  As we read in Romans 10, “How shall they preach unless they are sent?”  God does the sending.  We use the word call when we speak of the church’s role in this.  The ministry belongs to the church, the whole church, and nobody but the church.  God gave it to the church.  Therefore, the church has the authority from God to call ministers and when she does so according to the direction provided in the Holy Scriptures it is God himself who is sending them.  To hire and fire preachers is to deny that they are servants of God.  But God is the one who chooses.


Second: God protects his ministers.  He said to Jeremiah: “Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you.”  He protects his ministers for the sake of his church.  It is not for the sake of the ministers as a clerical class of people.  It is not on account of clerical dignity or hierarchy.  It is because he loves the church that his preachers are to serve.  They are the apple of his eye.  He loves her.  He redeemed her.  He chose her.  As we sing,


Lord, ‘tis not that I did choose Thee

That I know could never be

For this heart would still refuse Thee

Had Thy grace not chosen me.


God will always provide and protect men who preach his word to his people who live on every word that proceeds out of his mouth.


Third, God speaks through his ministers.  This is why it is the solemn duty of every Christian to make sure that his ministers is a spokesman for God.  If he does not teach according to the clear teaching of the Holy Scriptures, then God didn’t send him, God doesn’t speak through him, and he isn’t serving God but himself.  It is your duty to judge your pastors to make sure that they are genuine ministers of Christ.


Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets.”  He how can you beware of false prophets if you don’t have the wherewithal to distinguish truth from error?  It is every Christian’s duty to learn the chief parts of Christian doctrine and to insist that his pastor preach according to this standard.  Jesus says:


If you continue in my word, you are my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32)


God speaks through his ministers and you can know if the minister speaks for God if you know what God says.  This is one reason why we memorize the Catechism.  If you know the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and what the Bible says about Holy Baptism, the keys and confession, and the Lord’s Supper, then you know how to judge your pastor’s teaching.  God speaks through his ministers.  If they speak for God, if they are his ministers, then listen to them as if God is talking to you for he is.


The word of God given to his preachers to preach has power, though you may see only weakness.  God said to Jeremiah:


I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant. Jeremiah 1:10


This is true power.  God does it.  We often look so pathetically weak and small.  So what?  Who cares about appearances?  We have God’s word!  It will destroy and rebuild.  God’s word through his prophets tore down nations and rebuilt them.  Surely, it has the power to do the same within our own hearts.


Preachers come and go, but the pure preaching continues.  That’s God’s doing.  The law crushes our pride, our self-defense, our façade of righteousness that we hide behind, thinking ourselves to be good enough for God because we’re better than the other guy.  The law that God preaches through his preachers roots out and exposes every sin we’ve ever committed and sets our sins in front of our eyes.


Then God preaches his gospel through the mouth of a minister who needs it as much as anyone else in the congregation’s gospel.  He speaks of the LORD, our righteousness, promised through Jeremiah, the LORD God who became our brother to live that obedience life to fulfill all the demands of righteousness, demands we had failed to meet.  But he did, and he suffered, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins and promises us everlasting life, and his gracious blessing on everything we do in his name here on earth.


What a joy it has been for me to preach this gospel to my dear brothers and sisters in Christ here in this place, knowing that we are all bound together as a communion of saints, regardless of where God leads us in this world.  Amen