Silencing the Messenger

Text: Jeremiah 11:18-20
Date: Pentecost XVII (Proper 20) + 9/23/12

In a world where one TV pundit famously promises that “the spin stops here because we’re looking out for you,” a time when a lot of people are arguing angrily in the public square about politics and religion, a moment of conflicting worldviews dismantling formerly solid, unquestioned values and self-evident truths, even the Church is threatened to violate her own tenets and teachings. In concert with our Synodical President’s testimony before a congressional committee and any number of supporting statements from our district conventions this summer regarding the threat to religious liberty posed by the so-called “women’s preventive care” mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the faculty of our Ft. Wayne seminary has recently published a statement on Religious Liberty.[1] They remind us of Martin Luther’s own confrontation against the princes and the emperor of the Roman Empire at the Diet of Worms where he famously said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against my conscience. May God help me. Amen.” This reminds us of the earlier bold confession of the Apostle Peter before the Jewish council, upon the threat of imprisonment and death, saying, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). And there are many other examples in history that we could mention.

Even further back than New Testament times, however, forces of the devil and the world have tried to silence the messengers of the Church. All of the prophets met with martyrdom, suffering and/or dying as a witness and messenger of God’s truth. Most notable was the prophet Jeremiah, called “the weeping prophet,” whose name has even become a noun, “Jeremiad,” meaning a prolonged lamentation or mournful complaint. Today’s short Old Testament reading reveals the prophet’s inner struggle between a faithful witness and preaching of God’s Word over against the threats of violence against him from his own hometown acquaintances. To disbelieve or threaten to silence God’s messengers is equivalent to rejecting God Himself. Not desiring personal revenge for his own people the prophet nevertheless is commanded to preach punishments and judgments for their apostasy.

May these words of the prophet Jeremiah lead us to a greater confidence and conviction of believing and confessing the Divine Truth before an increasingly secular, unbelieving world.

I truly love the doctrine of the Bible held, taught and confessed by The Evangelical Lutheran Church and specifically The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Not because the “Missouri Synod” has always been reliable or right, but because regardless of our problems, misgivings and detours through the years, God has been gracious to allow sound doctrine and right teaching to endure among us. I am thoroughly convinced of the purity and solidly Biblical character of the doctrine we confess to the joy and edifying of God’s people and the clear invitation to repentance and saving faith extended to all people, to the entire world.

It is deeply troubling therefore, when others cannot see the glorious truth we believe, teach and confess. Jeremiah’s adversaries plotted against him secretly. But the Lord revealed this threat to him. He said, “The Lord made it known to me and I knew [it]; then you showed me their deeds.” How can that happen among us? How can we be made the more aware of threats against pure teaching and faithful belief, detect the proverbial “camel’s nose under [our] tent” before it becomes “the elephant in the room?” The better we grasp and understand history, especially the history of the devil’s onslaughts through the ages including our own to silence God’s Word, to tear people, especially believers away from faith in God’s Word, the more likely we will recognize the devil’s schemes today.

Because the Lord revealed what was really going on to Jeremiah he now realizes that he was “like a gentle lamb [being] led to the slaughter.” Like an innocent, ignorant farm animal, he said, “I did not know,” “I did not know it was against me they devised schemes,” schemes to silence his unpopular, offensive preaching, dastardly planning to silence him by actually plotting to murder him. He therefore preached exposing their neglect and even disposal of God’s commands calling them to repentance with God’s Word of judgment and the threat of God’s Law. So deeply, however, was their rebellion and sin that they could only threaten, saying, “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord, or you will die by our hand” (Jer 11:21). Jeremiah described their threat in more poetic words, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,” like cutting down a tree while it’s bearing fruit before the harvest. “Let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.”

In the face of rejection, of failure to draw people, even his own beloved friends, back to God through repentance and faith, though with tears in his eyes, Jeremiah committed his cause, his life to “the Lord of hosts who judges righteously.” Jeremiah knew divine judgment and vengeance was called for. But who could know that God’s answer would be according also to His grace and mercy?

For it was in pure grace and utter mercy that God finally sent His own Son. For Jeremiah, for the townspeople of Anathoth, for us and for the whole world He would be led like a gentle lamb to the slaughter, God turning the very rejection of the world, our sin as the hymn says it, “I caused Your grief and sighing” (LSB 453:4), to serve His will of providing the one-and-only sacrifice of the Lamb of God to take away all sin and its wages death along with it. Isaiah had foretold it of this Lamb, speaking then as if this Gift were already an accomplished fact:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? (Isaiah 53:7-8)

So Jesus, as He once passed through Galilee, taught his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mk 9:31). Though they didn’t understand what He was talking about at the time, neither their ignorance nor fear would change God’s plan.

So in the face of those who reject us, who may want to silence us, who even plot and threaten evil against us, or who just don’t understand us, we must commit our cause and our life to the Lord of hosts who judges righteously, even as He has judged us and the whole world righteously in providing for the forgiveness of the sins of the whole world and calls, still calls everyone to repentance and faith, that is, calls to life in the land of the living those for whom Christ died.

Sometimes that “commitment” takes the boldness of a prophet, of an Apostle Peter, of a Martin Luther, of a synodical president, of a husband, father, wife or mother, maybe even of a son or daughter to stand boldly for God’s truth, His graceful, merciful truth. So, how do our young people in the Higher Things organization say it today? “Dare to be Lutheran.”

[1] “A Whole New Can of Worms,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 76 (2012) pp. 178-181.