Rogate Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf Preus| May 25, 2003
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. He is the author of the biblical book called Lamentations in which he laments with tears the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of God’s people. In the book that bears his name he recounts how the nation of Judah repeatedly ignored the warning God spoke through His prophets. They listened to false prophets and followed false shepherds. They worshipped false gods and denied the LORD who loved them, saved them, protected them, and nurtured them in the truth. They despised and denied the truth. They rejected their God. God warned that they would be destroyed and He urged them to repent. They preferred idolatrous lies to God’s pure truth. But God does not care for His people by means of lies. God does not save people in their idolatry. He saves them from their idolatry. He did not call Abraham into idolatry, but out of idolatry. So it is with Abraham’s descendants.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is God, and there are no others gods. Only the Triune God is God. All other gods are idols. The only true God is the God who freed the children of Israel from the tyranny of Pharaoh through the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. The only true God is the God who led His people for forty years through the Sinai wilderness with a cloud by day and fire by night. The only true God is the God Who send His only begotten Son to become incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and to become man, to suffer crucifixion, to die, be buried, and rise from the dead on the third day. The only true God is the God revealed in and by Jesus Christ.
The same God who directed the affairs of this world for the benefit of His people in the past is the God who is in control of this world’s future as well. God alone is our hope and our future. We cannot have any hope in our future unless that hope is anchored in the God who has governed the past and controls the future. Idolatry is the worship of false gods. Since all false gods are invented by sinful human beings, idolatry is at root a worship of the sinful flesh. The nation that God had redeemed and preserved and blessed and loved turned its back on God and embraced the false worship of false gods created by sinful men. Listen to how Jeremiah describes his prophetic ministry to Jerusalem in Jeremiah 25:1-11:
The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), which Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying: “From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even to this day, this is the twenty-third year in which the word of the LORD has come to me; and I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, but you have not listened. “And the LORD has sent to you all His servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear. “They said, ‘Repent now everyone of his evil way and his evil doings, and dwell in the land that the LORD has given to you and your fathers forever and ever. ‘Do not go after other gods to serve them and worship them, and do not provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands; and I will not harm you.’ “Yet you have not listened to Me,” says the LORD, “that you might provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands to your own hurt. “Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Because you have not heard My words, ‘behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ says the LORD, ‘and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, against its inhabitants, and against these nations all around, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, a hissing, and perpetual desolations. ‘Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. ‘And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
Nebuchadnezzar was God’s servant. He didn’t want to be. He didn’t intend to be. But God uses evil to punish evil in order that He may do good in the midst of evil. God patiently endured the idolatry of His people until the time had come when He could no longer tolerate it. His people had refused to set aside the Sabbath to give their single-minded devotion to the true God. So God gave the land a seventy-year rest or Sabbath from His people, delivering them into captivity for seven decades. During that time, as they suffered severe religious persecution, they learned what it meant to worship only the true God. Every Sunday school child knows how Daniel was thrown into a den of lions and how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were put into a fiery furnace. These men refused to participate in idolatry and they were punished for it, yet God delivered them. God taught His people what it meant to worship Him alone, even if the face of bitter persecution. The Babylonian Captivity stands today as evidence of God’s “tough love” for His people. God’s love is not a feckless or unconsidered emotion. God’s love is purposeful. It is strong. It is driven. Nothing can stop the love of God from reaching its goal.
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD.” God does not think idle thoughts. God thinks and in thinking God purposes to do. He plans. The disobedient and idolatrous people of Judah saw a terrifying enemy destroy their city and take them out of their homes. They watched helplessly as the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar took them captive and brought them to Babylon where they would be strangers in a strange land. They could not see the hand of God in it. Much less could they see God’s grace behind it all! But God could see because it was God who was in control of the whole thing.
God had to humble His people or they wouldn’t cry out to Him in their need. It is never enough to need God. We must know it. Needing and knowing our need are two different things. We are living in a time of tremendous spiritual poverty in America, but who knows it? Today is Rogate Sunday. Rogate comes from the Latin word for ask. We call upon God and God hears us. He listens to us. He is ready, willing, and able to help us. In today’s Gospel Lesson Jesus says to us: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” We ask God in Jesus’ name because it is only in Jesus that we can know God as our gracious Father who has thoughts of peace for us. Only in Jesus can we find God’s goodwill. Only in Jesus can we have hope, because our future as children of a loving Father is the future that was established in the past when Jesus died for us and rose again.
The problem with idolatry is not only that it is offensive to the true God who is being treated as if He were the equal to idols invented by sinful men. The problem with idolatry is also that it must of necessity destroy the idolater because it has him trusting in what can only destroy him. There is this strange notion popular among even many nominal Christians that everyone who worships only one god must all be worshipping the same god. Perhaps you have heard this. People will argue that since Jews, Muslims, and Christians all teach that there is only one god and all worship only one god this must mean that they all worship the same God but in different ways. But this opinion is false. It is false because it is based on the false premise that the origin of true worship is from within the individual worshipper. This is not so. The origin of false worship, like false faith, is from within the human heart. That is because our hearts by nature are turned away from God and the truth and are devoted to lies. But the true faith and worship don’t come from within us. The true faith comes from God. It is planted inside of us when God speaks to us through Christ, His Son. The true teaching comes to us from God, not from us. By means of His true teaching, the true God establishes in us the true faith, and from the true faith, He leads us into true worship. The true teaching, the true faith, the true worship, and the true God all go together.
What does God have in mind for you? What does He intend? What are His thoughts toward you and concerning your future? Many of us remember the words of the song sung by Doris Day, “Que sera, sera; whatever will be will be.” There is a kind of gentle fatalism – a “whatever” approach to the future – which may provide a little bit of comfort for folks in their anxiety. It is the idea that since we can’t control the future we shouldn’t fret over it because whatever’s going to happen is going to happen whether we worry about it or not. But God offers us a far deeper comfort than that! God says that He is actively in command and that He determines the future His children will enjoy. What he has in mind for us is peace, prosperity, wellbeing and everything else that gives us reason to have hope. We don’t need to go through life with a fatalistic shrug anymore than with a fearful worry about what might happen. We know Christ. We know that He came forth from God into this world. He offered Himself up to God for this world. He bore the burden of this world’s sin as He suffered the punishment God’s law demanded all sinners to suffer. He became the substitute for sinners and thereby took away all sin. He rose from the dead, returned to the Father, and gave to His church on earth the authority to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments through which sinners are justified by His blood and, by God’s grace, become saints. He continues to give us the right to pray in His name with the full assurance that whatever we ask the Father in His name, the Father will give to us.
Even when God send Nebuchadnezzar to take His faithless nation away into the Babylonian Captivity, He still loved them and had planned for them a future filled with joy. God never gives up on His church, even when she commits spiritual adultery through idolatry. He is always ready, willing, and able to deliver her out of captivity. God’s intent for us is always gracious. When it seems to us that He has hidden His face from our suffering because, after all, we would deserve it if He did, He speaks to us as He has always spoken to His wayward children. He reminds of us His plans for our eternal peace. In the meantime, however, God chastens His church by destroying the idols that would lead her to destruction and by humbling her so that she will seek Him with all her heart. He chooses, in His fatherly goodness, to hear her when she calls on Him, for the sake of Christ in whose name she prays. Amen.