From the book of the prophet Jeremiah, the 20th
you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
everyone mocks me. (Jeremiah 20:7)
There’s an old adage that goes, “Fool me once, shame
on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” The supposed wisdom in that statement is
that—while it’s wrong to deceive others—it’s also bad to be deceived by another
more than once.
The reasoning behind the wisdom, of course, is that
while we might be willing to trust others up to a point—even to the point of
letting them fool us—we ought to be bright enough that once they’ve violated
our trust, we will be skeptical from that point on. We’ll learn, and not be so
easily fooled the second time around. There may even be an element of that in
Jesus’ guidance to His disciples, “Be as innocent as doves, and as shrewd
We live in a world that is full of lies and
deceptions. As Christians, we are to be focused on the things of God and
eternity more than on the things of this world. Yet we, just like the unbelieving
masses, still must function in this life in our many and various vocations—as
workers, students, spouses, children, and siblings. A healthy degree of
scrutiny and caution toward others and the world around us not only helps us
learn, it can keep us out of many troubles and dangers, too.
But God—we’re supposed to be able to trust God,
right? After all, we learn from the Small Catechism that we are to “fear,
love, and trust in God above all things.” St. John described Jesus,
the only-begotten Son of the Father, the Word made flesh, as one who was “full
of grace and truth.” Jesus prayed to His Father that His followers
might be sanctified in His truth, and said that God’s word was truth. If God
is holy and pure and perfect and true, God would never deceive us, would He?
It would seem that Jeremiah thinks God would. At
least, it appears so, if we look upon the opening words of our Old Testament
lesson today without giving them scrutiny, either. Jeremiah accused God of
deceiving him, of taking ahold of him with His almighty strength, and
overcoming him. Jeremiah laments the suffering that he has had to endure—the
ridicule and the mocking he experiences each day, every day, all the day long,
for speaking out God’s word to those whom he confronts.
What about you? Do you throw the same accusations
God’s way that Jeremiah did? Do you complain that you’ve been deceived by
God? Maybe you think that being one of God’s chosen and saved means having God
on your side, having a “good buddy” who will stick up for you no matter what,
even when you’re wrong. Maybe you think that being a believer is supposed to
give you a certain immunity from life’s problems—whether those problems be
poverty or pain, inconvenience or illness, harassment or heartache.
If you believe that about being a Christian, I’ve got
news for you: It’s not just those in the fallen world that are making you a
laughingstock. God’s word mocks you, too. From the very time of the fall,
when mankind first was deceived—not by God’s word but by the falsehoods and
evil intentions of the prince of this world—the Lord made it clear that it
wasn’t going to be smooth sailing for us.
His promises remain always true and good, of course,
but because we often concern ourselves more with the world’s ideas and opinions
than by God’s Word, we are hurt by the world’s reproach and derision. We, like
Jeremiah, want to blame God and others for that discomfort, and for all our
other problems, too.
Repent. God has not deceived you, any more than He
deceived Jeremiah. In fact, the English word “deceived” doesn’t really fully
convey the feeling that Jeremiah was trying to express as he opened this
section of scripture with his lament over what he was experiencing in his
life. What Jeremiah was really complaining about was that, in following
God, he was having a rough time of it.
But what did Jeremiah expect? For that matter, what
do we expect? Having been reached by God’s word, just as Jeremiah was,
do we truly think that God has deceived us about what His promises mean for our
Has He deceived us about the cost of discipleship? Is
following the path God laid out for you—even if you do it quite piously and as
faithfully as humanly possible—going to lead to you being healthy, wealthy, and
Well, last time I checked, Ben Franklin wasn’t one of
God’s prophets. For that matter, it’s pretty clear from his own writings that
old Ben, smart and savvy as he was, wasn’t even a Christian. And if your hopes
and dreams of the blessings of the Christian life are shaped by the worldly
wisdom of Ben Franklin, or the pseudo-biblical heresies of TV preachers with
$100 haircuts and $2000 suits, then you’re not only in for a great deal of
disappointment in this life, but a rude awakening at the end as well.
No, if we want to know what God intends for us, we
ought not to lean on our own understanding or the speculations of others, but
on the whole counsel of His Word.
That’s what God was trying to do through Jeremiah in
his day—to give the people of Jerusalem the whole counsel of His Word, both Law
Unfortunately, in Jeremiah’s day, as in ours, people
had their own ideas. They didn’t want to hear the Law part, which they needed
to convict them before the Gospel could pardon them. They had developed their
own sense of right and wrong, apart from—and very much contrary to—what the
Lord had revealed to them.
And so, tragically for them and to the detriment and
consternation of Jeremiah, they refused to listen. Jeremiah had tried. He had
cried out the words of God’s Law, shouting, “Violence and destruction.” He had
warned of the consequences of their sin and their unfaithfulness.
With closed ears and closed minds, Jeremiah’s
contemporaries refused to listen, refused to learn, refused to repent.
Instead, they heaped insults and even physical punishments upon him, to the
point Jeremiah felt that he had been deceived by God.
“You told me to do this, God,” Jeremiah might’ve been
thinking. “You told me you’d be with me all the way. Why is this happening to
me? Were you deceiving me?” Jeremiah had forgotten God’s promises. Back at
the beginning of his prophetic call, God had said to Jeremiah:
“Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”
The Lord had also promised:
“Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before
them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and
bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its
officials, its priests, and the people of the land.” (Jeremiah 1:17b-18)
Jeremiah had forgotten those promises, so Jeremiah had
lost hope. The same thing happens to us. When we forget the promises God has
made to us—the promises made at our baptism, the promises made in His Word, the
promises made in Holy Absolution, the promises made at His altar—we, too, can
lose hope. We begin to listen to the mockers and the scoffers of this world.
We lose sight of the blessings we have, and let the devil whisper in our ears
about all the ones we don’t have, but think we should.
That’s when we can begin to accuse God of deceiving us
about who He is, who we are, and what He has done for us.
But if we try to turn away from God, and say with
Jeremiah, “I will not mention the Lord, or speak any more in his name,” the
power of His word won’t let us. It’s made its mark on you. It’s made you
God’s own, and is written in your heart. Therefore you cannot shut it in
there, or it will burn like a fire in your bones. The battle within you
between your sinful nature and God’s word will rage, but in end, He will wear
you down and you will have to let it out, confessing His name and proclaiming
That’s the spiritual journey Jeremiah went through.
That’s the journey all believers go through. We face some trouble, and
we begin to doubt. We get mocked or laughed at for being Christians, and we
are reproached and derided.
For a while, we might fall away, and may even accuse
God of being deceptive or unfaithful. We worry about what others may think,
especially those who would have us give our loyalty to them or to the things of
this world, rather than to our Maker and Redeemer. It’s a battle, and they
hope to overcome us and our faithful God.
Lord, forgive us when we choose the wrong side in this
battle, and we doubt your promises, and shut your Word up in our hearts until
it burns in our bones. Even in the midst of terror and denunciations, while
the devil and those around us who are of the devil seek to make us stumble and
fall, the Lord stands firm for us.
Jeremiah came to recognize this. After he had
stumbled and accused the Lord of deceit, after he lamented the mocking and
punishment he endured for speaking the Word of the Lord, Jeremiah realized that
the only thing standing between him and the destruction that would be theirs;
the only thing separating him from his enemies, was the truth of the Lord’s
Word and the confidence that he had in its promises. That is, the only thing
that would save him was faith.
We see this conviction and faith take place in
Jeremiah’s soul even as our lesson progresses. First there are accusations,
blame, and shame. Then there is defiance and resistance. Next comes
resignation and fear. Once Jeremiah realizes that the Lord is with him and not
against him, however, his fears and doubts dissipate. Confidence grows,
commitment to the work of the Lord is restored, and finally Jeremiah concludes
with praise and thanksgiving.
In seven verses, the prophet moves from anger and
doubt to faith and joy. It can happen just that quickly for us, as well, but
sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes God lets us wrestle with His Word for a
while. He tests his righteous ones, but in the end, never leaves us in doubt
or fear. He who sees into our hearts and minds puts His holy Word to work
there, but not only there. He also causes that Word to be poured onto our
skin, spoken into our ears, and placed upon our tongues. In the end, He never
leaves us in doubt or fear. Instead, He stands with us as He stood with
Jeremiah: As our dread warrior. He causes our accuser and persecutor not only
to stumble, but to fall like lightning from heaven to hell.
We have heard the Word of the Lord as it was
proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah, and that Word delivers us out of the hands
of evildoers. God does this by exchanging our sinfulness for His
righteousness, our neediness for His rich grace, our hopelessness into
confidence in Him.
Our Lord does not deceive, nor will he leave you in
despair. His Word will not be your reproach and derision, but will be your
salvation. No matter who tries to deliver you up, no matter who rises up
against you, no matter who hates you, have no fear. What God has revealed to
you in His Word, what He has placed in your heart and shut up in your bones,
has saved you. Your soul is safe, protected by the dread warrior of the cross,
Acknowledge Him before men, endure to the end, and He
will prevail and deliver your life. Amen.