Irritation and Healing

Irritation and Healing

mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen.

Change is
all around us. For better or for worse, nothing of this world stays the same
for long. Just think of the changes in such things as technology,
transportation, medicine, and world affairs you’ve experienced in your own
lifetime, whether you’re 80, 60, 40, 20, or less. Change can make us
uncomfortable, but it’s been a constant in the human experience from the fall
into sin, and is very much a thing of this world. Yet when we look back at our
lives and at history, we realize that many of the changes that have taken place
have been for the good. We should also always remember and trust in faith that
none of these changes have taken place apart from the Lord’s will.

at the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, we see that the people of Jerusalem clearly didn’t want to hear about the changes they would face, but are just as
clearly reminded that in the midst of worldly change, God’s Word is constant
and sure. It conveys to us what our Lord wants us to learn and know. It
teaches us about the Law that shows us our sin and our sinfulness, and it likewise
reveals to us that the only escape from this condition and its horrible eternal
consequences is through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

beneficial as it is, though, in curbing our sin, driving us to sorrow and to
fear of punishment, and preparing us for the Gospel and for Christian living, God’s
Law still irritates us. It stings. It hurts. Just like any other change we
face, we may grumble and complain, but we can rejoice in the fact that God’s
Word does not change. Instead, God’s Word changes us.

believers and not scoffers, we are blessed to know that the Bible is God’s Word,
and that it is His revealed truth. What a great gift that is to us. How
grateful we should be! St. Paul wrote, “And we also thank God continually
because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you
accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God,
which is at work in you who believe”
(1st Thessalonians 2:13).

comforting that the Word of God remains constant, a solid foundation in all
times and places! How amazing that God’s Word is dynamic and living in each
one of us! How beautiful that we have the opportunity to hear in our changing
times the eternal message, including that which comes to us across the
centuries from prophets like Jeremiah.

was a major prophet in the Old Testament. His ministry was a “wake-up call” to
the people of Judah. Those who had been the apple of God’s eye had drifted
away. They had become infected with the pagan cultures around them, no longer
a people “set apart” to the Lord. Jeremiah was sent to preach a message of Law
and Gospel to them. Jeremiah prophesied as the Lord commanded. He told the
people that they must listen to the Lord and obey His Law, and to the words of
the prophets He had sent to them. If they did not, their nation would become
accursed, and face destruction and desolation.

That was
a change the people of the land weren’t prepared to hear and accept. We have
their reaction to Jeremiah’s preaching recorded in today’s lesson:

as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the LORD had
commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him
and said, “You must die!”

couldn’t change God’s will or His message by putting Jeremiah to death, of
course, but maybe they thought by killing him, they wouldn’t be made to feel so
uncomfortable about hearing it. They didn’t like feeling offended, and tried
to deflect the blame for their discomfort away from themselves, and onto God’s

people asked Jeremiah, “Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this
house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?”

Now, Shiloh had at one time been the center of Israel’s religious life. The
tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant had been set up there for a time, prior
to the construction of God’s temple by Solomon. But Shiloh was in ruins, and
had been abandoned. Their fear of the possibility that Jerusalem would fall
under a similar fate should have been the primary concern to Jeremiah’s
listeners, but their pride rose to the surface instead.

If Jeremiah
was wrong, why should they care what extreme things he said? But they had come
to comfortably depend upon their status as God’s chosen, apart from faith in
God Himself. Jeremiah was grabbed by the angry mob, right there in the temple.
Crowding around him, they tried to intimidate the prophet, to scare him into
retracting his message. But Jeremiah’s message was not his own, but the
message of God. It was the truth, unpopular as it might be.

Just as
people flock in fawning droves to those who speak what they want to hear, a
great clamor often arises against those who tell unpopular truths. Jeremiah’s
message, and the reaction it had caused among the people and the priests, came
to the attention of the government officials a short distance away. They came
to investigate the commotion and to take action to prevent a riot.

people who had first heard Jeremiah’s message demanded his execution: “This
man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You
have heard it with your own ears!”
Jeremiah didn’t deny it. He didn’t
backpedal from his earlier statements. He didn’t try ‘spin control’ to explain
his words away and placate the public response. He stood firm in the Lord’s
Word and stated once again, in the presence of the people, the religious
leaders, and the political officials: “The LORD sent me to prophesy
against this house and this city all the things you have heard.”

He didn’t
change—he could not change—God’s message. If he had, it wouldn’t
have been God’s message any longer; it would’ve been Jeremiah’s own message.
What he had proclaimed stung them. It hurt. It frightened them. But it was
the truth: The Law told them that they would be destroyed on account of their

message hasn’t changed for us, either. We don’t like to hear the Law, either.
It does sting and hurt. It reminds us that we have strayed from God’s
commands, and have nothing to offer Him but our sins. Contrasted to His
perfection, we are miserably flawed, terribly filthy, incredibly ungodly. Every
statement of God’s Law accuses and convicts us of evil thoughts, wicked words
and sinful actions—over and over and over again.

Paul made
it clear that the Law isn’t going to save us any more than it could save the
Israelites or the Romans or anyone else of any era when he wrote: “Therefore
no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the Law; rather,
through the Law we become conscious of sin,”
(Romans 3:20). The Law
reminds us that we are unclean, offensive to God. It points out that we
continually and habitually sin, and in no small way. The Law places our sin
before us, holds up a mirror, and along with Satan accuses us and condemns us.

word tells us that, quite clearly. You can close your eyes and cover your ears
and run away from it screaming, “La-la-la-la-la!” like so many in our
community and across the globe do, but the Law remains valid. It will put
them—just as it puts me and you—under both the microscope and the intense light
of scrutiny and accusation, and there’s no way around that. And no matter
whether the Law is rejected and avoided, or accepted and worked toward, it
cannot save. It can only condemn.

From Galatians
3:10 we read: “All who rely on observing the
Law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not
continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’.”
Even if we
try to keep the Law, we’re under a curse because we don’t keep all of the Law.
We are insufficient to keep it.

Yet how
often have we heard it said, especially concerning a person who has died, “He
led a pretty good life and did far more good than bad. God will let him into
heaven because of that. He tried his very best.”
Maybe you’ve even felt
or thought that about yourself.

The world
says that, certainly. Billions and billions of people think that if they work
hard enough and long enough and rightly enough, the god they believe in will
have mercy. But the true God says “No, that is trying to keep the Law.”
The Law reminds us that we fall short, and trying to generate our own
righteousness and salvation is a false hope; an illusion.

We could
react like many do and reject the Law, but we’d be lying to ourselves and
everyone around us, every bit as much as when “we say we have no sin, we
deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Like the
people of Jerusalem to whom Jeremiah proclaimed the unvarnished and
uncomfortable truth, we deserve nothing but eternal death and punishment. That’s
been the truth from the Fall into sin, and it is a message God’s prophets are
called to proclaim today. I know it hurts, and stings, and offends, for it
does the same to me, as it should.

But as
hard as the Law hits and hurts us, even stronger does God’s Gospel gently touch
and heal us. Jeremiah realized that. He proclaimed Law to God’s people, but
only when they were ready for it. They weren’t ready when they crowded around
him and tried to intimidate him into softening or changing his message.
Instead, he confirms that it is God’s message and not his own.

Jeremiah offered them hope. He didn’t say God would immediately destroy them.
He told them that they should change their ways. That’s Law, but it has to be
understood with Gospel, too. The change could only come through the work of
the Gospel upon their hearts. They wouldn’t—couldn’t—listen and repent without
the Holy Spirit working upon them; giving and growing faith within them.

said if they mended their ways and became obedient to God’s voice, He would not
bring upon them the disasters He had warned them of through Jeremiah’s
preaching of the Law. That is Gospel—the Lord’s constant willingness to
relent, to restore, to forgive. He would set aside their sins. The Gospel
could heal them, just as it has the power to heal you. It always changes lives
so that lives can be changed.

about how Jeremiah’s situation was similar to that of Jesus, centuries later.
First the religious authorities and the people wanted to falsely convict him
and sentence him to death. They enlist the support of the government. It
didn’t happen to Jeremiah here, because God wasn’t done with Jeremiah yet.

Jeremiah didn’t know that, and his trust in the rightness of God’s message
gives him courage: “As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever
you think is good and right.”
God’s will would get done, no thanks to
them, for God’s Word is both truthful and enduring, and works according to His
timing and will, not always seen by us.

It is often
uncomfortable to hear the Law, but until you hear it and understand your
shortfall of it, the Gospel cannot benefit you. You need to see that you
cannot help yourself, much less save yourself. You can’t do enough good works,
you can’t buy your way into heaven, and you can’t pray your way into heaven.

The Lord
saves us by His grace alone. He saves us by the comfort of His Gospel. He
raises us up with the healing of His Gospel. “Christ Jesus came into the
world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst,”
St. Paul wrote to
Timothy (1st Timothy 1:15). When you see yourself as the worst of
sinners—and each of us should—you then realize the depth of the love that God
has for you.

what we examine during Lent…that we’re saved by Christ alone. “God’s
grace has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus,
who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through
the Gospel.”
Paul wrote (2nd Timothy 1:10). We who are
mortal shall put on immortality. This is God’s Gospel. By it, we’re moved to
live lives of love. We bind ourselves to each other’s weaknesses, even as
we’ve been bound together by Christ’s strength in the weakness and seeming
foolishness of the cross.

We are
told in the Scriptures, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins
may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”
3:19). Burdened by sin because of the Law, turn to the Lord. He forgives your
sin. Times of change will come in this world, but times of refreshing come
from God. God’s eternal message does not change. Through all the threats and
harm and death and rejection of God’s prophets and the message they proclaim,
God’s Word is still God’s Word. It hammers us down about our sinfulness. It gently
yet powerfully lifts us back up with His forgiveness.

preached that eternal message, a message still proclaimed in our changing world
in faithful congregations by faithful pastors and teachers.
Faithful people still hear it, accept the discomfort and pain of its Law, and
rejoice in the comfort and healing assurance of its Gospel.

We are those
to whom God has entrusted His message today, in all its truth and power. We
are given the task of communicating it among a people who don’t want to hear
that message. They don’t want to hear about sinfulness, because they don’t yet
understand or appreciate their need for forgiveness. Only those who realize
the depth of their sin and their need for rescue find joy in forgiveness. We need
to remind people of that depth of sin and height of grace.

We are
reconciled to Him. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
not counting men’s sins against them,”
we are told. That defines
reconciliation—an undoing of the flaws found in someone or something; in this
case the record of your great and many sins. And God has committed to you and
me and to all believers that message of reconciliation. We are today’s Jeremiah’s—
proclaiming the Lord’s message. We will sting, hurt, and condemn with God’s
Law—just as happens to us.

Yet as the
Gospel lifts us up, heals us, and saves us by God’s grace, it also carries that
same power of His forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life to all whom He has
called; all who will hear the words of His truth that we speak into their ears.

In the
name of Him who is the Way, the Truth, the Life, and God’s eternal Word, Jesus
Christ. Amen.