By Paul Koch –
People often ask me if I miss living in Georgia. When they do, my usual response is to say that I miss the people. You see, I don’t miss the bugs or the humidity or the lack of mountains but I miss the wonderful people I grew to know and love in Southeast Georgia. However, there is one thing that recently I’ve found myself longing for. I don’t know if it’s just our absolute lack of rain here in Southern California but I’ve begun to really miss storms. In Georgia we had storms that were unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was the type of weather that would grind a freeway to a halt in minutes. They were violent and powerful and beautiful all at the same time. If you were driving down the freeway in the afternoon you could often see the approaching storm. Behind you were clear blue skies but in front of you was a black cloud that seemed to swallow up the cars driving into it. The only light emanating from it were the flashes of lightening that could be traced in its gloom. Everything became alive in a storm like that, things were going to change. And as you sped into it at 70 miles an hour, all your senses were alerted to the approaching storm.
But I fear that we have a habit of forgetting the approaching storm. Not just because we live in a parched land, but because we live in a world that has grown to understand itself as consumers above all else. As long as we have a steady stream of entertainment and distraction to feed upon we don’t worry much about the dark cloud on the horizon. We forget that there is a powerful working of God here and now, that he is not a simple bystander to what is happening on his creation. For there is a storm that will change things; a storm that is violent and powerful and beautiful all at the same time and it will not allow us to just carry on as usual. But we forget that the storm is coming, in fact we forget that it has already begun to rain.
The prophet Jeremiah was sent to warn the people of God about the impending storm of the Lord. His focus is on the false prophets who have risen up within the household of faith, those who mislead and distort the hope of the children of God. He says, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophecy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” The false prophets encourage people to follow their own heart’s desire and declare to them that no disaster will come upon them.
Now at some point we begin to realize that all of this sounds familiar. Truly the words of the preacher of Ecclesiastes rings true when he says, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” False prophets have never ceased to vex and plague the church of our Lord. The problems threatening to rob the Israelites from the true Word of God are very much alive and well today. Too often so-called preachers of the word of God have stood before a congregation and instead of preaching the council of God, they preach their own dreams and visions. Too often the Bible is set aside so that a certain behavior can be produced, whether it is giving of money or authorizing power or something along those lines. Too often the true Word of God is pushed aside so that fame and fortune can be gained by the false prophet.
Now it is both easy and dangerous to downplay the threat of false prophets. Perhaps we simply rest secure because we are in a church that strives for doctrinal purity and makes firm stances on the Word of God, so we think that we have nothing to worry about. After all we are members of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, not some fly-by-night non-denominational happy-clappy feel good church, what do we have to worry about? Or perhaps you say, well my pastor isn’t preaching from his own dreams so we’re alright. But just because this place is a place where we stand upon the true and eternal Word of God, what about your family members? What about your friends and neighbors? What about the TV preachers and the swindlers of falsehood gracing the shelves of bookstores across the country? Do we just wall ourselves in and not worry about the rest of them? False prophets don’t just confuse the faithful, they don’t just get things mixed up, they rob the people of God of his promises, and so they rob them of hope and confidence in his gifts. We cannot simply act like we don’t care.
But even if we acted like that, even if we said, look we have a place that stands on the Word so we don’t need to worry about anything or anyone else, I fear that we will not be secure. For the temptation of the false prophet isn’t just an “out there” problem. It isn’t something that we can hide from within the walls of the church. For lurking within each and every one of you is the spirit of the false prophet. Right there within the heart of the Christian is the old sinner who never rests. There is a desire within you to have things your way, to have the final say – even over the Word of God itself. You can hear the Word, you can understand the command and decrees but you have your own standards of love, your own ideals of what is good, right and salutary and so the subtle desire is to tweak and shift the Word of God to make it fit what you already have decided within your own heart.
The false prophets are still with us because they are carried within the walls of the church every time you enter it. The temptations of our world, the deceit of the devil, and our own sinful hearts keep the false prophecy going. And so I say to you, “Behold, the storm of the Lord!” A storm that is violent and powerful and beautiful all at the same time is coming, in fact it has already come. God purified the faithful of Jeremiah’s day through a storm off captivity and exodus in a foreign land. But that storm was just the beginning. Again and again the hammer would come crashing down as sinners found they had nowhere to hide from our God. But the clouds grew the darkest when they blackened out the sky in the middle of the day of that Friday afternoon when the Son of God breathed his last on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. There the judgment of God fell with all his wrath establishing the only place for hope and confidence, the only place for salvation and victory. As his only begotten dies, hope is born.
And it is through the storm of the cross and tomb that we find hope and life as well. For the Son of God who dies that death dies because of your sin. He dies because of your sinful desires. He dies because of your unwillingness and inability to keep his Word. You see, the storm of the Lord when turned upon Christ is our only hope. For truly his word is like a hammer that breaks rocks to pieces. It shatters any hope you have within yourselves. It decimates any pride you muster up. It shows you the foolishness of your ways and empties you of any hope to stand upon your own heart’s desire.
But while the storm is both violent and powerful, it is also beautiful. For that same storm gives hope and confidence to you. The same storm that kills can also give new life. And so as the false prophets of the world and the false prophets of our own hearts die in the storm of God’s true and everlasting Word, so we are given the hope and assurance of that unchangeable Word. A Word that declares you to be his children, that calls you brothers and sisters of Christ: the washed, the forgiven, the saints of God himself.
Behold, the storm of the Lord. In it is death and life. Death to yourself but life in the Son of God. Behold, the storm of the Lord. It builds now out on the horizon for a final judgment, but we can already feel the rain. It will be violent and powerful and beautiful.