23 “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? 24 Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.
25 “I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ 26 How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? 27 They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship. 28 Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord. 29 “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:23-29)
I like to write short devotions on Bible passages. Maybe you’ve had the chance to read some of them. I post the devotions on a blog I’ve started and on Facebook. To catch people’s attention, I always find pictures to go along with the Bible verses. I go to Google images, type in the verse, and dozens of pictures show up with that verse written on them. There are lots of pictures for just about every Bible verse. Can you guess what’s most common? Flowers. There are tons of Bible passages set to flowers. Then mountains and beaches. Peaceful. Beautiful. That’s what people think of when they think of the Bible, isn’t it? Peace and beauty. Flowers and mountains.
So what about this verse from Jesus today: “I have come to bring fire on the earth!” (Luke 12:49). What picture would go with that? A flower? No way! How about: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division” (Luke 12:51). Peaceful mountains? No! “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three” (Luke 12:52). Far from a walk on the beach, doesn’t it feel like Jesus is hitting you with a hammer? In fact, that’s exactly what God says his Word is today—a hammer. It’s easy to forget what God’s Word is really meant to do. God’s Word smashes and divides.
So God has Jeremiah remind us. Jeremiah was a prophet who had to tell God’s people what they didn’t want to hear—over and over again. The book of Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible. When Jeremiah lived, King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were attacking God’s people, because they had sinned and turned away from God. The Israelites assumed God would rescue them. But do you know what Jeremiah’s message was? “God is not going to rescue you. You can’t escape. This is God’s judgment for your sins.” Do you think that was a popular message? “You’re going to lose. You’re being punished.” No way! Who wants to hear about their sins?
So there were a lot of false prophets spreading other messages. We think that false prophets say bad things. That’s not the case. False prophets say things that sound really good! As Jeremiah prophesied God’s judgment for the people’s sins, can you guess what the false prophets were saying? “It’s okay. God loves you. He won’t judge anyone. It’s all going to be fine.” Sound familiar? To people who had turned against God, they said, “You will have peace.” To people content in their sins, they said, “No harm will come to you” (Jeremiah 23:17). They filled people with false hopes. They spoke words from their own minds and not from God. It sounded good!
But it wasn’t true. So God sent Jeremiah to tell those prophets and those people what they really needed to hear. “‘Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.” Usually it’s a good thing to know that God is everywhere. He’s always with us! But that’s not a good thing if you’re going around spreading lies about God. There’s nowhere to hide! God sees everything. How do you think God likes having people contradict what he says?
God tells us: “I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds?” God gets sick of people thinking their ideas are better than his! God gets tired of having people suddenly having “dreams” that go against his Word. It’s ironic that both Islam and Mormonism today were founded by people who had dreams that contradict the Bible. God wonders, “How long will people keep twisting my Word?”
Here’s God’s greatest concern: “The dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name.” God knows the end result of every false teaching: People forget about God. How? When you get comfortable with your sin, Jesus doesn’t seem that necessary. Isn’t that exactly what we see in our world today? False peace and love are preached everywhere, so when you tell people you’re a Christian, aren’t more and more people simply asking, “Why?” Even our own children. When we encourage them to be keep believing in Jesus, how often don’t they say, “Why?” False prophets have a lot of success. The dreams they are telling are making people forget God.
So here’s a super important verse for believers in Jesus: “‘Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?’ declares the Lord.” What powerful words! Let other people speak about their dreams. Let other people boast about their great ideas or new knowledge. But you who have God’s Word, speak it faithfully! Our human ideas and God’s Word are as different as straw and grain. One is empty and worthless. One is rich and valuable. How dare I mix my ideas and God’s Word together! “‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’” God’s Word crushes our own false ideas. We need the hammer of God!
Here’s why: Our sin is like iguanas. That’s right: Iguanas. I never would have said that before our vacation to Florida the past week. Did you know that south Florida has an iguana problem? Iguanas are not native to Florida, but now they are everywhere. Do you know how it started? Somebody let a pet iguana loose. Just one. Then another person did. Then a few more. There are no natural predators. Nobody stopped those iguanas. So they started to reproduce. Now there are more iguanas than we have squirrels or rabbits—eating everything! There’s no solution. Iguanas everywhere! Just a few unwanted pets left unchecked turned into an uncontrollable problem.
That’s just like our sin, isn’t it? It starts with one little sin, right? One little sin that doesn’t seem so bad. Then two little sins. When those sins aren’t stopped, when no one calls you to repent, those two little sins start to work together. More sins. Bigger sins. You know how this works. Suddenly, you look at your life, and you realize it’s full of sins. Sinful attitudes. Sinful words. Sinful thoughts. Everywhere you look. Everything you think. You’re amazed that it’s gotten to this point. Just a couple little sins left unchecked turn into an uncontrollable problem. We’re so far from what God intended. With so much sin, where do we even start? With a hammer…
This reminds me of a different trip that I took to New Orleans in 2006. Remember what happened in New Orleans in 2005? Hurricane Katrina. Much of the city was under water. Six months later, it was still a ghost town. Houses hadn’t been touched since the hurricane. They were filled with rot and mold. Where do you even start? Emily and I went to New Orleans over spring break in college to help with the clean-up. Can you guess what we did? We gutted houses. We put on full body suits and masks, picked up sledge hammers, and tore everything out of those moldy homes right down to the studs. For 10 hours a day for a whole week, we hammered away.
That’s what God’s Word does to our hearts. Guts them. The hammer of God. Get it? When I see sin filling my heart, I don’t need false promises of peace. I need the hammer of God to pound away like you’re gutting a house. Pride is okay, right? No! Bam! A little lust is normal, right? No! Bam! I have a right to feel bitter, after all they’ve done… No! Bam! At least I’m better than those people. No! Bam! God’s Word crushes our sinful natures. There’s no excuses. No false comfort for our sins. The false prophets say, “It’s all going to be okay.” The hammer of God’s Word says, “You are not what you ought to be. Not even close!” It hurts! To be hammered hurts!
So why listen? Why listen to the hammer of God—to God’s Word? Many aren’t. Just over the past couple weeks, two well-known Christian leaders have renounced their faith in Jesus. Both said about the same thing: “I’ve decided to move on. I’ve now found a better way.” What does that sound like? “I have a dream. I have a dream!” To them, their ideas sound so much better than God’s Word. Instead of the hammer of God, it’s easy to try to make the Bible the Play Dough of God. Mold it into anything you want. Make it say what you want. False prophets sound good with their words of peace and love. But remember the result? We lose Jesus.
Why listen to the hammer of God? Because we need it. Those moldy homes in New Orleans weren’t okay. Neither are we. Deep down, we know that. We took hammers and gutted those homes. But the job still wasn’t done. Someone else came and built them back up. With what? Hammers! We gutted those houses, because that was the only way they could be rebuilt as something so much more beautiful than they had been. They had to be destroyed to be rebuilt. The same hammers did both! Make sense? Just like us. God’s Word crushes our sin and our pride, so that the same Word can build us up again so much better trusting in Jesus our Savior.
I don’t know the solution for iguanas, but I know the solution for sin. If you’re trying to ignore it or excuse it or make up for it one sin at a time, that’s not going to work. You need Jesus. Whatever disgusting things the hammer of God uncovers in your heart and life, Jesus has already died to take them away. You are forgiven. You are loved. Because Jesus let those Roman soldiers pick up hammers and nail him to the cross, so that death and hell and destruction won’t be the end for you and me. God’s Word is like a hammer that breaks my sinful heart to pieces and then graciously rebuilds me as a forgiven child of God who trusts in my Savior Jesus.
Only Jesus and his Word can build you up better than you ever were before. That guilt that you feel? God’s hammer rips that out and fills the space with Jesus’ forgiveness. That fear that clouds your days? God’s hammer rips that out and fills you with hope. That hatred that rages in your heart? God’s hammer rips that out and replaces it with God’s kindness to you in Jesus. That discontent that’s always on your mind? God’s hammer rips that out and shows you God’s peace. God is always building. Every time you hear God’s Word, God’s hammer is working. God’s law smashes our sinful thoughts and God’s gospel of Jesus rebuilds our hearts as God’s people.
This is our goal as we pastors preach every week. To share with you the hammer of God—law and gospel—every week, in every sermon. It’s so much deeper than flowers and mountains and beaches. God’s law shows our sins and tears down our pride. God’s gospel shows us Jesus and rebuilds our lives around him. Sure, you can always find people telling you what you want to hear. Let the people who have their own dreams talk about their dreams, but let the ones who have God’s Word speak it faithfully. That’s what we need, all the time. The hammer of God!