Jesus said, beware of false prophets. Then he said something interesting. He said, they will come to you. You don't have to look for them, they'll find you wherever you are. They might knock on your door, they might have literature to pass out to you, they might bicycle through your neighborhood. Whatever the case might be, they will come to you.
Every now and then, I'll get a letter from what I would consider, a false prophet. And there is a common theme in these letters. The theme is basically, God sent me to tell you a certain message. So if you want to be blessed by God you better listen to me, and here's the message. And it's usually not a good message.
Now every time a letter comes like that, I want to be careful to pause and wonder, could this possibly be from the Lord? I want to be careful to be accountable and open. The Bible says, despise not prophesying. At the same time, I know that it's the oldest trick in the book to say, the Lord sent me to tell you whatever it is. I look at it this way-- God has my phone number. I talk to him every day, and I tell him I am open to whatever he might have for me. He knows my number, he knows my address, he knows that I am open.
I say it's the oldest trick in the book because as soon as you say, God gave me a message and here it is, if you argue with it, they make you feel like you're arguing with God. There's no appeal. Rather than, I feel that I need to share something with you, it's on my heart, this might be from the Lord, it's just, thus saith the Lord.
Sometimes false prophets are just obvious. You look at their stuff and you go, oh come on. Well, at least you'd think they'd be obvious. They're not, it seems, obvious to everyone. I got something in the mail that I found interesting. I'm not going to share names with you, simply because the name isn't on here readily.
But it's a prayer rug. It's not really a rug. It's a piece of paper, but it's called a prayer rug. And the instructions are that you stand on this rug, or kneel on this rug, and you hold the rug, and you say certain kinds of prayers, and you will have peace. You will have prosperity. Well, there's a list of things you'll get-- strength, true love, good health, money blessing, miracle healing, success, peace, financial help, prosperity, willpower, a good job, et cetera, et cetera.
But false prophets need to be checked. They need to sometimes even be confronted. And Jeremiah does that in this chapter. He confronts a false prophet. Jeremiah was a true prophet, his message was from God. Chapter 28 and chapter 29 are a beautiful comparison between the true prophet and the false. The false prophet is going to say peace, prosperity, good health, blessing from the Lord, you won't be in Babylon long. At the most, two years, and then you'll all return. God will bless this place.
Jeremiah is going to say, well, that's not true. God is about to judge you, though he does love you. And Jeremiah will be there at the end to encourage those who are under the judgment of God, encourage those who are in captivity. We see a beautiful comparison between the character of these two people.
I was in India one time. Actually, I flew over to India with a false prophet. I didn't know he was a false prophet until I got to India. And his spiel is that Christians can be demon possessed, and his boast was that he had exorcised demons out of most of the great Christian leaders in America. So he was on a mission from God, he told everybody, to cast demons out of Christians in services and church meetings.
I was at this one particular meaning in southern India, packed full of brothers and sisters who, many of them, put their lives on the line for the gospel. Suffered intense persecution, loved their lives not unto death. And yet, here is this guy from Texas saying that they were all demonized, had demons. And at one particular point in the meeting he said, right now, in this meeting, I see demons all over you. It was tragic.
What puzzled me is that the audience clapped, responded favorably. They clapped, they got excited, they were so joyful. And I couldn't figure it out until after the meeting. And after the meeting, the guy interpreting interpreted with a biblical theology. That is, he corrected what the false prophet said and, on the fly, gave them the truth. So as the prophet said, I see demons all around you right now, the interpreter said, God's angels are surrounding you right now. They all clap, they got excited. Then I understood. And then the interpreter said, never have this guy ever back over to India. He's a false prophet.
Jeremiah was giving the correct interpretation of their future of the will of God. Chapter 28, verse 1-- "it happened in the same year, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah the king of Judah, in the fourth year and the fifth month, that Hananiah the son of Azur the prophet, who was from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, 'Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying-- I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.'"
Refresh your memory. You remember last time when we studied Jeremiah, God had told the prophet to make a yoke and bonds of wood, and to wear them, and to come in very dramatically with a yoke on his neck, his hands in bonds, and say that Babylon would take captive Judah and five other kingdoms. He was to then send this yoke and these bonds to these five other nations that were surrounding Judah saying, not only will Babylon take Judah, but he's going to take lots of other territory. It was a dramatic message.
Hananiah comes in a similar manner to Jeremiah. He copies his style. He didn't copy his message. It's a wrong message. But he tries to copy his style. He's very dramatic. Verse 3-- "'Within two full years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the house of the Lord, that Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. And I will bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah who went to Babylon,' says the Lord, 'for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.'"
Again, refresh your memory. Three attacks by the Babylonians on Jerusalem-- 605 BC, 597 BC, 586 BC. In all of those attacks there were deportations. That is, the king and his armies took some of the people of Jerusalem back with them to Babylon. And at each of those attacks brought some of the vessels that were in the temple, and brought them back to Babylon.
There is often a question asked-- whatever happened to the Ark of the Covenant? Because it seems that the Ark disappears from history by the time the Babylonians come into attacking. Some have supposed that the Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Babylonians. Others suppose that it went to Ethiopia, others say made it to Egypt. There is apocryphal literature that says that Jeremiah took it, and hid the Ark of the Covenant in a cave on Mount Nebo east of the Dead Sea, and protected it. Of course, it's all speculation.
Then there is the idea that when the city of Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonian army, that some of the officials, the priests, carried the Ark and hid it underneath the Temple Mount. There is an area known as the rabbi's tunnel. And they have found passages that lead from the rabbi's tunnel-- the digs on that western end of the Temple Mount-- underneath, where it is thought that temple treasures were kept. The problem is, you can't excavate that area because that happens to be that section of it under Muslim control, and there's a big controversy about it. So nobody knows to this day.
And frankly, I think it's a good thing. I say that because, can you imagine what people would do if the Ark of the Covenant was found today? People would be worshipping it. People would be making pilgrimages to that place, assigning special powers to it. I'm sure it could become quite a distraction.
"Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and in the presence of all the people who stood in the house of the Lord." So now there is this confrontation between the false prophet Hananiah, the true prophet Jeremiah, and it gets really good. It's a great, great confrontation. Again, Jesus said, beware of false prophets. They will come to you in sheep's clothing.
I remember in school often hearing from science teachers and certain professors that, that old adage, that scientific axiom, that with every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. That's also true in the spiritual realm. Whenever God moves, whenever God sends his work, his prophet, or revival-- whatever the case might be-- you can expect an equal and opposite reaction from the kingdom of darkness. So that, if God sends true prophets, you can expect false prophets. If God sends a true gospel, you can expect a false gospel.
If the Father sends Jesus Christ, be sure that the devil will eventually send the Antichrist. There's always a reaction in hell to the work of God on earth from heaven. Sort of like when you turn on a light. Not only is it wonderful because it shows the path that you want to take, but as soon as you turn on the light, the bugs come. God turned on the light through the prophet Jeremiah. Hananiah is the bug. And he's confronted.
The prophets spoke in the house of the Lord, verse 6-- "and the prophet Jeremiah said, 'Amen. The Lord do so. The Lord perform your words which you have prophesied, to bring back the vessels of the Lord's house and all who were carried away captive, from Babylon to this place.'" I love Jeremiah's style. He's a very patient man. He could have pointed the finger and said, you sir, are a false prophet. And he would be perfectly correct to do so.
He's not agreeing with Hananiah. He's not assenting to his words. He's simply saying, well would to God that that were true, buddy. That would be wonderful. Amen if that happened. There's something wonderful about a servant of the Lord not needing to strive, but relaxing and being confident is in his calling, and just riding it out.
Now here's a guy who was surrounded with problems. I say surrounded because he was attacked personally, there were problems nationally-- the nation was going away from God. There were problems internationally-- there was a power shift in that part of the world with Babylon. Assyria had fallen off. They were all attacking the area of Israel and Judah. All of this was going on around him, and now there's a false prophet. What does Jeremiah do? He just stays the course, he just stays faithful, he just keeps shining, he just keeps preaching, keeps ministering.
There was once a judge who was running for re-election in his district. His opponent started a smear campaign to denigrate his character and his integrity. And those that were on the judges campaign came to the judge one day and said, do you hear what your opponent is saying about you? Do you hear all the lies that he's spreading everywhere concerning you? We know they're not true. What are you going to do about them?
The old judge smiled and he said, you know, when I was a boy we had a dog. And every time there was a full moon, that dog would howl at the moon. All night long. Howl, howl, howl. He said, we never got any sleep on those nights when the moon was full. But then he said, yet that old moon just kept on shining, even though that dog was howling. And he said, that's what I plan to do. I know they are lies. I'm just going to keep on shining beautifully, confidently.
That's Jeremiah. True prophet, knew what God had said. The false prophet speaks, Jeremiah says, amen, that'd be great. But he goes on to say, "'Nevertheless hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people-- The prophets who have been before me and before you of old prophesied against many countries and great kingdoms-- of war and disaster and pestilence. As for the prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, the prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent.'" In other words, the proof is in the pudding. You just made a prediction, Hananiah. Let's see if it comes to pass.
Jeremiah was wise. He knew the scriptures. He knew Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 13 and 18 speak about the eventuality of a false prophet coming to the land and what to do. How they are to be judged, how they are to be analyzed. And the first analysis is, is what they say going to come to pass? Does it actually happen? Number two, is what they are saying to the people leading them to worship the true God or is it leading them away from the worship of the true God? So Jeremiah says-- kind of thinking that, no doubt, in the back of his mind-- "when the word of the prophet comes to pass, the prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent."
So we ask ourselves, whenever somebody makes a prediction. If somebody prophesies that Jesus Christ is going to come at a particular date, we wait and watch. I was inundated back in 1988-- inundated-- by people who said, you have to distribute Edgar Whisenant's book 88 Reasons Why Jesus is Coming. On September from the 11th to the 13th, those three days, Jesus will come back on those days. You have to warn people, you have to tell people. I said, no I don't. The Bible already tells people Jesus is coming soon and gives the signs, and tells us to be ready. Oh, but you've got to get this book out. They asked me, when are you going to talk about this book? I said, in October. Let's watch and see.
Well here we are today, 2005. Whisenant decided that he did make a miscalculation. So he produced a second issue of it called Future Watch Rapture 1989 and then Future Watch Rapture 1990, and then 1991, then 1992, '93, and '94. Or the Jehovah Witnesses who said Jesus was coming in 1914. Oops. Then they said 1918, then they said 1925, then they said 1931, then they said 1941. It didn't come to pass.
So Jeremiah just says, great, I hope it happens. Let's just wait and see. Let's wait it out. Let's see if what you have said actually comes to pass. Paul writes in Thessalonians, "test all things. Hold fast to that which is good." There's Jeremiah listening confidently. And Hananiah the prophet now, he gets a very dramatic. Hananiah the prophet took the yoke off the prophet Jeremiah's neck, and he broke it.
So you got to picture the scene. There's Jeremiah saying all this while his neck is in a yoke. And he was drawing attention to himself. That's what God told him to do. The prophet Hananiah decides to be very dramatic, breaks the neck-- not the neck. God's going to break his neck, you'll see. Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people saying, "Thus says the Lord, 'Even so I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within the space of two full years.' And the prophet Jeremiah went his way."
Just brushed it off, let it slide, felt good. The yoke wasn't on his neck any longer. But the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah after Hananiah the prophet had broken the yoke from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah saying, "Go and tell Hananiah, saying, 'Thus says the Lord-- 'You have broken the yokes of wood, but you have made in their place yokes of iron.' For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, 'I have put a yoke of iron on the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon. They shall serve him. I have given him the beasts of the field also.'
The prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, 'Hear now, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, but you make this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the Lord, 'behold, I will cast you from the face of the earth. This year, you shall die, because you have taught rebellion against the Lord.' So Hananiah the prophet died in the same year in the seventh month."
And if you compare that with verse 1, it was two months after Hananiah gave that false prophecy of peace, prosperity, and the return of those vessels from Babylon. Two months later, he died. You would think that the death of a false prophet would be enough to shake the people back to God, and get them to at least return in some fashion. But they don't.
Now you could also ask the question, why would God be so harsh? Well actually, what God was doing in killing him is what the people should have done. God was doing what he had once told the people to do if a false prophet came and uttered a false prophecy. Let me read to you a portion of Deuteronomy 18.
The Lord speaks to Moses, his servant. "The prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, 'How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?' When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that the thing which the Lord has not spoken, the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you shall not be afraid of him." So God was simply doing what he told the children of Israel to do. They were responsible. They didn't do it, so God did it.
In the Book of Revelation, we find an interesting judgment of God upon the earth. Hail stones come out of heaven, the weight of about a talent, killing people on the earth. And now we understand why stoning to death was reserved for those who would turn away from God for the false prophet, for the rebellious, for those who would forsake the Lord. Now the Lord says, don't be afraid of them. They're not speaking in my name. Don't worry about them. Jeremiah wasn't worried at all. He just went his way, came back with this word, and watched God take care of him.
There is good wisdom in that. Sometimes Christians get a little bit too spooked by false prophets, by people who claim to have certain powers. I read an interesting story about a man who claimed to be at one time an agnostic. His name was Victor Ernest. And this man went to a seance. He frequented them, actually. And he believed in the spirit world. He contacted demons and other spirits quite frequently until he happened to read a Bible, out of curiosity. And in reading the scriptures, he came across first John. And at first John, chapter 4 "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God. Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you shall know the Spirit of God. Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world."
Well this man, Victor Ernest, wrote about this in a book called I Talked With Spirits. He said that he went to a seance one night having read that passage. And the spirit supposedly directed the medium to tell the people in the seance they could ask any question they wanted of the spirit-- up to three questions per person. He said this had never happened before in a seance he attended.
So Victor Ernest asked question number one-- is Jesus Christ the Son of God? And he waited. And he said the spirit, through the medium, gave a smooth, calm affirmation of yes. Then he asked the second question-- is Jesus Christ, God's son, the Savior of the world? Now, the spirit was agitated, and through the medium, rebuked Victor Ernest for his doubt.
But he had one question left. So he said, is Jesus Christ, God's son, the Savior of the world who shed his blood for the remission of the sins of the world? He said he watched as the spirit took the medium and hurled him to the floor violently. The seance was broken up. Victor Ernest said he never attended another seance again in his life, but he entered the ministry and became a pastor. Isn't that beautiful? The power of God testing the spirits.
When I was a brand new Christian, I remember hearing the testimony of someone involved in demonology. And I had a brush with that in my own life through spirit riding and astral projection. And this guy claimed at one time to be a witch and talked about his credentials. He was now a minister. He said, when we were casting spells in his heyday, we would always make sure that the people we were casting spells on were not born-again Christians.
And he said there was a reason for that. We discovered that if we uttered a curse, and that person was a born-again Christian, that the curse would reverse and we would be the recipients of it. We were powerless against God's true children. So God says, don't be afraid of them. Jeremiah thought, he's a false prophet, he's not really speaking in the name of God. I'm on God's side.
And by the way, that was one of the things that drove me to Christ. Because in the spirit world I discovered it is powerful. It is real. There is a reality and a spiritual power that attracts young people to it. But then one day I thought, if there is that much power on the wrong side, how much power must there be on the right side? And I discovered, greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.
Now in chapter 29, the year 597 has come. Presumably, come and gone already. And the predictions of Jeremiah have now become a reality-- that people have been taken captive, many of the leaders politically and spiritually, have left Jerusalem, have taken that 500-plus mile journey. They're in Babylon. They're suffering what God told them they would suffer.
Chapter 29, Jeremiah writes a letter to the captives, the exiles. A letter of encouragement saying, hold on, get ready, you're going to be there a long time. You're not coming back in two years. No, you're going to be there a lifetime. You'll be there 70 years. And so the words of Jeremiah the prophet are to steady the hands of those who are exiles to trust in God, and to show them that God wasn't done with them yet. God had a plan and a future and a hope for them.
As you read through this chapter-- and we'll just make a couple of notes as we go through it in our thinking-- I see a parallel between the captivity of the children of Judah in Babylon and our own situation in life. 70 years is, by most accounts, a lifespan. That's the average lifespan. Threescore and 10-- 70 years. Many people would go and they wouldn't come back. And those that had the opportunity to come back, only a small remnant would return.
In a sense, we live like the children of Judah in Babylon. We're in a world surrounded by people who do not hold the same value system we do, who do not worship the God that we worship, who are not sympathetic to Jesus Christ or his principles. They don't love the gospel. And Jeremiah gives these people principles on how to maintain sanity and spirituality, and responsibility, in such an environment as that.
"Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive-- to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon. This happened after Jeconiah the king, the queen mother, the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsman, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah the king of Judah sent to Babylon, to Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, saying, 'Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have cause to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon.'"
The letter that Jeremiah sends to them, as I mentioned, is a letter of encouragement. The letter filled with encouragement was a message from God in written form that would sustain them during those long hours and those 70 years of captivity. I see a parallel. Just as they were sustained by the written word of God during their 70-year span, we have been given God's letter, his word, the written Revelation. Not a short letter, but 66 books, that give us all of the promises, all of the encouragement-- everything that we need that pertains to life and Godliness through the knowledge of him who called us. It's all here.
And during the toughest part of our lives, the darkest nights, is the word of God to sustain us. Job-- boy, talk about a guy who suffered. A long dark episode of suffering. In that dark episode said, I have treasured or esteemed the words of thy mouth more than my necessary food. I get to watch people go through crises in life. And as a pastor, we interface with lots of different life experiences. And we watch how people deal with the onslaught of problems that come their way, what they lean on.
Some people lean on friends. Some people lean on alcohol, or a snort of a drug, or a needle, or some spiritual, metaphysical experience. All of these are crutches that will break. They won't sustain a person over the long haul. It's a short quick-fix that leads to a greater bondage and greater dependency, but never freedom, never victory. God gives them his word to sustain them during this time.
I'll never forget a plaque that I read that said-- as if proudly on the plaque in an office-- I'm going to have a nervous breakdown. I've earned it, I've worked hard for it, and nobody is going to stop me from having it. And I looked at that. And I thought, OK, I guess. If that's really what you want. But nobody really wants that.
That's why we need, as our constant companion, the word of God, the scriptures, words from heaven with all of its promises, all of its encouragement, all of its admonitions, and even all of its rebukes. Because the Bible will change you. It's alive. The writer of Hebrews says, powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword. It cuts and divides between the soul and the spirit. It changes us. It'll also give us direction for the future. It's a lamp to our feet, a light to our path. It cleanses us.
Jesus said to his disciples when he spoke to them in John, chapter 15, "now you are clean through the word that I have spoken to you." All of these benefits that come from the scriptures. Tyndale House Publishers put out an interesting poll that said 90% of frequent Bible readers are at peace nearly all of the time, as compared to 58% of sporadic, infrequent Bible readers. There's something about being sustained by the promises of God that keep us going in life.
Charles Spurgeon used to say, a Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to somebody who isn't. I like that. That doesn't mean you should take your Bible out and trash it, and run over it so it really looks like you're spiritual. But it is true. If you resort to relying and being sustained on the promises of God, on the scripture, you'll make it just fine.
When Sir Walter Scott was on his death bed-- he was that famous British poet and novelist. He was dying, and he said to his secretary, his amanuensis, he said, bring me the book. And his secretary said, Sir Scott, you have thousands of volumes. You say bring me the book, which book am I to bring you? Scott smiled and said, The Book. The Bible. The only book for a dying man. It's the only book for a living man, a living woman. It's sharp. It's powerful. It will sustain.
And so, the letter from Jeremiah, but it was from the Lord-- thus saith the Lord. Look what He says in verse 5. "Build houses, dwell in them, plant gardens, eat their fruit, take wives, beget sons and daughters, take wives for your sons, give your daughters to husbands so that they may bear sons and daughters-- that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it. For in its peace, you will have peace."
In other words, the word that God gives Jeremiah to give the exiles is this-- be responsible where you are. You're going to be there for 70 years. Make the best of it. In verse 5, provide for your families. Get a home, get a job, get a life. In verse 6, get married, have kids. Now I suppose that somebody in Babylon hearing these words might say, I don't want to have kids in Babylon. This is a wicked place. There's gods everywhere that could influence my children. It's a wicked generation, it's a wicked place. Jeremiah says, make the best of it, have families.
It is scary raising our children in the present evil age, as the Bible calls it. What the scriptures call, a perverse generation. And it would seem, and I would say it is true, that with each subsequent generation it gets worse and worse. So I suppose the argument could be made, I don't know about having children in this day and age, things are much worse. And it is true. If you look at american life from the mid 1960s until now-- 30 years later.
The '60s was a volatile generation. 30 years since then there has been a 560% increase in violent crime. Not 10%, not 20%, not 80%, 560% increase in violent crime. A 400% increase in illegitimate births, a quadrupling of the divorce rate, a 200% increase in the teenage suicide rate. And so somebody could say, I'm going to have kids in this day and age? No way.
I submit to you-- have kids. This world needs the kind of kids you can produce. You see, when it gets really dark we need lots of light bulbs, don't we? I'll never forget a conversation I had with a young couple. They were pregnant with their seventh child. I said, wow, your seventh baby. Are you sure you want to do this? And I just meant, it's hard to support seven kids.
And they looked at me and they said, Skip, this world needs the kind of children that only Christians can produce. You bet we want to do it. I thought, that's a great answer. It's a great response. So Jeremiah says, build houses, settle down, have families, have children.
Verse 7-- "seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive and pray to the Lord for it." Get up every morning and say, Lord, we commit the city of Babylon to you. Give the leaders wisdom. You say, but that was such a corrupt city government. That's why I say the parallels are incredible. We need to be praying for our governments-- our city, state, local, national, federal. For it says, "for in its peace you will have peace."
In other words, get involved so that you can live peacefully. Jesus put it this way, I'm coming. But occupy, occupy, or stay busy until I come. I remember in the height of the Jesus movement some of us got so excited that Jesus would be coming in the next 10 days. And I think, by the way, we should always live that way, with that anticipation that he could come at any moment. Because the truth is, he can. And I believe it is soon.
However, some got so carried away with that, that they thought, we shouldn't be responsible anymore. And I remember when I was planning to go to college for a medical program and some of my friends looked at me as, how carnal can you get? They said Jesus is going to return before you finish college. I said, fine, He'll find me at college. I said, the way I figure it, there's a lot of people that need Christ in college as well as outside of college. He needs ambassadors everywhere. Occupy, stay busy, get involved in the city, and pray for its peace. For in its peace you will find peace.
I'll tell you who's a good role model of that, was Joseph. He was taken captive by his brothers, sold to Egypt-- you know his story. He became prime minister and he became involved in a pagan government and left a great witness. Saved the world from a famine. Was God's ambassador in a dark and wicked place. In fact, one of his children was named after the experience-- Efraim, fruitful. Because, he said, God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.
And he had it right. He was involved and he sought peace. "For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel," verse 8, "do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name. I have not sent them, says the Lord."
There is another principle for us. As you're making your pilgrimage in this world, in your Babylon, surrounded by people who don't share your value system, in this 70-year or plus, minus time span you and I have, be careful who you listen to. Be careful who you listen to. Not everybody who speaks in the name of the Lord speaks in the name of the Lord. There were prophets, they were diviners. God says, be careful who you listen to.
There's Jeremiah, this voice crying in the wilderness, so to speak. Saying, God's going to judge. Listen to my words. The false prophets are saying peace, prosperity, two years you'll be back. Jeremiah says, don't listen to them.
There's a couple of different kinds of road signs. Some provide information, you might see a road sign that says Los Angeles, 35 miles. Then there'll be another type of road sign that's not for information. It's for admonition. It will say caution, warning, danger ahead, icy bridge-- whatever the admonition might be.
Jeremiah was that kind of a road sign. He was warning the people. And in warning them saying, be careful who you listen to. Be selective. And if you know the scriptures, you have the edge, you see. You have the edge. Paul the Apostle commended the Bereans because they received the word with all readiness of mind, but searched the scriptures daily to see if these things be so. So check out the voices. Listen carefully. Is what they are saying, will it come to pass? And are they leading you to worship God in humility?
Remember The Wizard of Oz when they came to the great Oz and they were so awestruck by this voice that thundered, until Toto the dog ran behind the curtain? And then the man had to say, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. God is saying, pay close attention to the man behind the curtain. Somebody who purports to speak with that kind of authority, watch their life, and watch out who you listen to. "For thus says the Lord, after 70 years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place."
There is another principle-- be mindful of your transience. Be mindful of your transience. You put it all together and it sort of goes like this-- settle down, be responsible, buy a house, raise a family, but keep in mind that 70 years is really a short period of time. I'm going to bring you back eventually, from this place. Back to your place in Jerusalem in Judah, so keep a light touch.
I love what one missionary used to say. He loved to say it. His daily prayer was, God stamped eternity on my eyelids. Isn't that great? I want to live my life and filter everything through those lenses. Eternity, eternity, decisions that I make, eternity. Friends that I make, eternity. Relationships I get involved in, eternity. Stamp eternity, Lord. Or as Moses said, in Psalm 90-- he wrote that Psalm-- "teach us to number our days that we might apply our hearts to wisdom. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord. Thoughts of peace, not of evil, to give you a future and a hope."
One of the greatest promises in all of the Bible. "I know the thoughts that I think." Wait-- wait a minute. Just the very fact that God would have a single fleeting thought of me is staggering. And if the Bible said, you know, just for one tiny flash, split second in history, God actually thought of Skip. It wasn't long. His name just sort of came into God's thinking and then it was out again-- that would be staggering. But it's plural. I know the thoughts. You mean there's more than one?
David said in Psalm 139, "how precious also are your thoughts to me, oh God. If I should count them they would be more in number than the sand." Really? You ever wonder what God thinks about you? You might say, well, I know God loves me. He's supposed to, He's God. But I don't know if he likes me. I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord. He wants to give you a future and a hope. I love the way it's put. Thoughts of peace, not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
I am certain that those captives in Babylon were a bit shaken. And they were wondering, what does God think about me? God has forsaken me, he didn't care any more. They thought that because of the trouble that had fallen upon them, they were doubting God's care. God is saying, I love you. My thoughts are towards you for good. Yes, I will discipline you in this place and you will learn your lesson, but I have a plan for you. I'll bring you back. The reason for the captivity was discipline, wasn't it? It was God's way of spanking the people so that they would return and repent so that God could bless them and bring them back with the right motivation and the right frame of heart. It was for disciplinary reasons.
"Then you will call upon Me and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, I will bring you back from your captivity, I will gather you from all the nations, from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive." That's the letter from Jeremiah to the exiles.
Now we have some words, presumably in another letter, concerning Jewish false prophets that were speaking to the people. And Jeremiah replies, "Because you have said, 'the Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon'-- therefore says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, concerning all the people who dwell in this city, concerning your brethren who have not gone out with you into captivity-- thus says the Lord of Hosts, behold, I will send on them the sword, the famine, the pestilence, will make them like rotten figs that cannot be eaten, they are so bad." Remember that idiom in chapter 24?
"And I will pursue them with the sword, the famine, with pestilence. And I will deliver them to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth-- to be a curse, an astonishment, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they have not heeded My words, says the Lord, which I sent to them by My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them. Neither would you heed, says the Lord. Therefore, hear the word of the Lord, all you of the captivity, whom I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon."
"Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who prophesy a lie to you in My name-- Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and he shall slay them before your eyes. And because of them a curse shall be taken up by all the captivity of Judah who are in Babylon, saying, 'the Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire.' Because they have done disgraceful things in Israel, they've committed adultery with their neighbors wives, they have spoken lying words in My name, which I have not commanded them. Indeed I know, and am a witness, says the Lord."
These false prophets were giving-- wouldn't you know it-- false hope to those people living in Babylon. Saying, well King Zedekiah is still on the throne. This is only a temporary thing we're going through. You'll be back. And so Jeremiah responds. Now in verse 24, it is a letter from Shemaiah, who was just mentioned, to the temple priests about Jeremiah.
"You should also speak to Shemaiah," this is now Jeremiah's response through the Lord, "the Nehelamite, saying, Thus speaks the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, saying, you have sent letters in your name to all of the people who are at Jerusalem, to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, to all the priests saying, 'The Lord has made you priest instead of Jehoiada the priest, so that there should be officers in the house of the Lord over every man who is demented and considers himself a prophet.'"
Isn't that great? They consider themself a prophet, they're demented. They're not thinking clearly. "That you should put him in prison and in the stocks. Now therefore, why have you not reproved Jeremiah of Anathoth who makes himself a prophet to you? For he has sent to us in Babylon, saying, 'This captivity is long. Build houses, dwell in them, and plant gardens and eat their fruit.' Now Zephaniah the priest read this letter in the hearing of the prophet, Jeremiah."
So Shemaiah was one of the false prophets that are mentioned. He was a false prophet living in Babylon. Jeremiah's in Jerusalem. He wrote the letter from Jerusalem, sent it by an emissary to Babylon. The message from Shemaiah is, get a hold of that Jeremiah guy. Arrest him, put him in stocks. He's not fit. And so they were encouraging those in Jerusalem to hassle Jeremiah even further. And verse 30, it's a response now. You might say a paragraph or a short letter from Jeremiah to the exiles about Shemaiah.
"Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah saying, send to all those in captivity saying, thus says the Lord concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite-- because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, and I have not sent him, and he has caused you to trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the Lord, behold, I will punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his family. He shall not have anyone to dwell among this people, nor shall he see the good that I will do for My people, says the Lord, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord."
So Jeremiah, steady on the wheel, steady on the course, not afraid of the false prophets. The moon shines, even though the dogs howl. He is not afraid but he trust the Lord. And his message is simple-- Listen to God, trust in God. No matter what you're going through now, God still has a plan. So bank on His promises. That's the word of the Lord to us.
Two little boys were talking. One little boy asked his friend, hey, how much money you got? He said, I have $5. His friend said, no you don't. I looked in your wallet. You've only got $1 in your wallet. The boy responded, that's true, but my dad promised that when I get home he'd give me $4. So I have $5. Now there's a boy who took dad's promise to the bank.
How rich are you? Well you're in Christ Jesus, seated in heavenly places. And all of God's resources, whatever you might need, God is ready, willing to dispense you those things that you need. So, let's be sustained by the same letter from God, and hold true to his promises, and live by them.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the time we've spent in your word, for your great and mighty promises to us. Lord giveth us discernment to be very selective and careful who we listen to. Thank you for your word, that it is a lamp to our feet, a light to our path. May we search it. May we live by it. For it's not a book just for a dying man or woman, but for a living one. In fact, we see clear by it than any other way, any other philosophy. Thank you, Lord, that it's not a crutch. It will never break. Your promises are true in Jesus' name, Amen.
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