One of the most tragic words found in all of Scripture are those recorded in the book of Jeremiah: “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (Jer 5:31).
What a shocking description of the people of God – they actually preferred lies to truth; false prophets to true prophets; autonomy to divine rule. Not only that, but they loved it that way. The very things they were supposed to delight in they despised, and the things they were supposed to hate they loved.
Preferring false prophets over God’s true prophets is of course a tragic reality we find often addressed in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jeremiah himself spoke regularly about this. Consider just one other passage, Jer. 14:14-16:
“Then the LORD said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds. Therefore this is what the LORD says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name: I did not send them, yet they are saying, “No sword or famine will touch this land.” Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine. And the people they are prophesying to will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and sword. There will be no one to bury them, their wives, their sons and their daughters. I will pour out on them the calamity they deserve’.”
Not only did ancient Israel receive the false prophets with glee, but they just as routinely rejected the true prophets sent by Yahweh. Jeremiah makes this complaint about his own rejection by the stiff-necked Israelites:
“For twenty-three years—from the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah until this very day—the word of the LORD has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened. And though the LORD has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention. They said, ‘Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the LORD gave to you and your fathers for ever and ever. Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not provoke me to anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you. But you did not listen to me,’ declares the LORD” (Jer 25:3-7).
The reason for all this is not hard to discover. The people back then preferred the good news of the false prophets to the bad news of the true prophets. They wanted to hear that which made them feel good, not that which made them squirm under the holy and righteous God whom they were disobeying and rebelling against.
They preferred the sweet cotton candy and feel-good bubble gum of the false prophets much more than they did the tough-love realism of God’s prophets. They wanted to believe that Yahweh was happy with them just as they were – with all their sin, carnality, compromise and selfishness.
Yahweh says this of these folks in Jer 6:14: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” Superficial remedies to deep-seated problems were what the people wanted. They wanted to hear that everything was just hunky-dory, that all was well, that peace would prevail. They did not want to hear that judgment was coming for their gross sin and idolatry.
They wanted the superficial dressings of the false prophets instead of the radical surgery needed to deal with their cancerous sin. “Leave us alone” was their plea. “We want to be left alone to do our own thing.” And for that God sent them one prophet after another, and they all basically were treated the same way that Jeremiah was.
And the sad truth is, the church of Jesus Christ today is hardly any different. We are just the same as ancient Israel. We too want the sugar-coated candy and the harmless fluff of feel-good sermons. We don’t want any strong meat of the Word, and we certainly don’t want any words of warning, challenge, rebuke or exhortation.
We just want to be told how to feel good about ourselves. We want to be told the following:
-become a better you
-your best life now
-it’s your time
-everyday a Friday
-how to be happier seven days a week
-living in favor, abundance and joy
We want a totally me-centred gospel in other words. We want the entire message to be about ourselves, our happiness, and our satisfaction. God is nowhere to be found in any of this, except as a celestial butler ever present to do our every bidding, and jump at our every command.
And lest you think I am going a bit overboard here, let me mention that the six points I listed just above all happen to be titles of best-selling books penned by the pastor of the biggest church in all of North America. No other Christian leader gets as many people pouring into his church each week, all to hear these self-centred, feel-good messages. I refer of course to Joel Osteen.
No wonder he is the most popular preacher in America. He tells people exactly what they want to hear. He does not tell them what they need to hear. He almost never mentions the very things the New Testament is always talking about: sin, the cross, self-sacrifice, repentance, denial of self, mortification of the flesh, the cruciform life, judgment, hell, and wrath to come.
And no wonder so many people get angry with a website like mine. People complain that I deal in so much bad news. They say I am too “negative”. They complain about me dealing with unpleasant truths. They don’t like all the politics, the culture wars, and the hard-headed exhortations.
Well, we can always just pretend babies are not being killed, that children are not being abused, that Christians are not being slaughtered, that the church is not going down the gurgler in so many places. We can just shut up about the things that God cares about, such as the sanctity of life, the needs of the poor, and his institutions of marriage and family.
We can just go on living our selfish lives, demanding that our needs and wants be satisfied. Forget about those all over the world who go without food and shelter. Forget about those believers who are being tortured for their faith as well. And forget about the slaughter of the innocents.
I guess living with our heads in the sand is one way to go through life. But just don’t call yourself a Christian if you do, and don’t kid yourself into thinking that when you stand before his judgement seat one day he will say to you, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord”.
The truth is, loving God with our whole being means obeying him, worshipping him, putting him first, and putting ourselves last. And loving your neighbour as yourself means being aware of all the evils, injustices and oppression taking place, and being actively involved in working to prevent or alleviate it.
If that means we will be accused of being a bearer of bad tidings, then so be it. I prefer the words of Leonard Ravenhill to so many of our namby-pamby preachers today: “The Roman orators were very brilliant men; they attacked the emotion. The Greek orator attacked the intellect. The true preacher is not a descendent of the Greek orator nor is he a descendant of the Roman orator. The true preacher is the descendant of the Hebrew prophet; he is not there to tickle emotions, he is not there merely to stir the mind, he gets deeper down than either, he gets to the conscience.”
Or as A W Tozer put it: “Yes, if evangelical Christianity is to stay alive she must have men again, the right kind of men. She must repudiate the weaklings who dare not speak out, and she must seek in prayer and much humility the coming again of men of the stuff prophets and martyrs are made of.”