“Who’s Telling the Truth?” Series: “Plans for God’s Good Future”
Some time ago, back when TV was beginning to establish its place or prominence in American households, network executives came up with a format that came to be known as the “game show,” in which contestants would compete with one another for prizes and grand excursions and significant sums of money. It would arguably become a format that would turn out to be the staple of television broadcasting even to the present day.
Back in those early years it didn’t take those executives long to see how involving celebrity guests into the game show mix could spice up the competition and work to generate more viewers. Many of you will remember in those early years one such game show in which four celebrity panelists would be presented with the task of interrogating three ordinary, everyday contestants, all of whom claimed to be the owner of a similar story, but only one of whom would be actually “telling the truth.” And that’s how the game show got its name, “To Tell the Truth.”
Come to think of it, “To Tell the Truth” is one of the few game shows that have managed to stay on the air over the years, bouncing from one network to the next, and from being a syndicated show to one that holds down a weekly spot. Why is that so? How is it that this particular game show has managed to remain viable when so many others over the years have bit the dust?
Might one answer be that the search for truth has always been an indispensable one, dating back over time all the way back to the Garden of Eden?
I don’t think there’s any question but that our present day is one where we really don’t know what to believe or who is telling the truth? There are all kinds of opinions swirling around us and some who even say that each of them carries equal weight so that it’s no longer the case that there’s just one truth around which we might order our lives. You just find the truth that speaks to you, the truth that “rings true” to your soul, and then go with that one.
Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe that there is right in this world and there is wrong, and we need people in our lives who are bold enough to help us see the difference so that we might devote our time and energies to something that is based not just on hopeful optimism or wishful thinking but on a firm foundation that is grounded in reality.
The prophet Jeremiah was just that kind of person for people in his day. Though we call Jeremiah “the weeping prophet” because of how God’s calling upon his life required him to speak truths to the people that broke his heart, Jeremiah did not flinch. Even when what he said raised people’s ire, Jeremiah stood firm on his conviction that no one should trust his own heart until he had first heard and heeded the heart of God.
Consider this section of his prophecy where Jeremiah finds himself confronted by another preacher, a prophet by the name of Hananiah, who is offering the people a contrary perspective on God’s plans for His people, one diametrically opposed to what Jeremiah is preaching. It’s not in any way the same story the two prophets are telling, and this is not a game show. Their stores are vastly different from one another, and the future of the nation hangs in the balance in terms of which story is the true one.
The scene is so etched in Jeremiah’s mind that he remembers the precise date – the fifth month of the fourth year in the reign of Zedekiah, a king the Babylonians had placed upon the throne as their puppet– someone they could manipulate and control in order to make sure that the people they had left behind in Jerusalem might not rise up against them in revolt. The city was in a state of turmoil, given how the first wave of exiles had already been taken to Babylon – the artisan, the craftsmen, and even the king at the time, Jehoiachin. Everyone wanted to know answers to questions like, “Where do we turn? What do we do? Whom should we trust? What does our future hold?” You’ve faced seasons like that in your life; haven’t you? Maybe some of you here this morning are going through such a season today.
Needless to say there was no shortage of voices offering answers to these vexing questions. For his part, Jeremiah had counseled the king and his officials to adopt a policy of acceptance with respect to this whole Babylonian nightmare. God had told him that the people would be subject to the Babylonians for a period of seventy years, which as you can imagine landed on their hearts like a lead balloon. Jeremiah even resorted to a special “wardrobe.” He donned a wooden yoke, an instrument farmers used to constrain their oxen for the purposes of plowing fields. It was for Jeremiah a symbol of the galling bondage to which God would subject the nation until they could learn their lesson and turn back in faith to Him, and it did not make Jeremiah popular with the people.
On the other hand, there was Hananiah, who was trumpeting a very different message. “Two years!” Hananiah thundered. “That’s all it will take!” “Two years, God says, and I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon and bring back to this place all the articles of the LORD’s house that Nebuchadnezzar had removed, along with all of the exiles!” I find it interesting that Hananiah would have mentioned the money before the people. Perhaps that is a clue as to when there are competing messages and opposing visions we would do well to listen more carefully to those who elevate people over possessions.
Be that as it may, I find Jeremiah’s response impressive. Rather than get into a spitting match immediately with his counterpart, Jeremiah instead offers a hearty “Amen!” In other words, “I hope you’re right, Hananiah, and that your words turn out to be the truth.” And yet Jeremiah’s would not allow himself to trust his heart until he had first heard and heeded the heart of God. “You know, Hananiah, the more I think about it, all the prophets who preceded both you and me have preached war and disaster and plague against so many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who preaches peace will only be recognized as one sent by God when and if his prophecy comes to pass, only when his prediction comes true.”
Jeremiah understood and invites us to understand how it is better to align our life with God’s plan than to seek to co-opt God into aligning His plan with ours. God works in His own way and in His own time and by His own schedule, so that rather than try to bend God’s will to ours, it is always better for us to do the bending.
Isn’t that the same message Jesus taught? Didn’t Jesus commit himself to impressing upon others the blessing of being in tandem with God so that we focus our time and energies on seeing not our will but on seeing His will to be done?
I think in particular of that one time where Jesus has finished instructing his disciples and has ventured on to teach and preach in the villages surrounding the Sea of Galilee – Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum – all of whom he denounced as unrepentant cities. But instead of condemning those places as irredeemable and hopeless, he extends to them an invitation to know God’s love and be transformed by God’s mercy. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30). When we link ourselves and our wills to God, as did Jeremiah and as did Jesus, then and only then can we trust our hearts because our hearts will finally be one with the heart of God.
Can you do that this morning? Can you come to a place in your relationship with God that you take His yoke upon you and align your heart with his truth, which will always cause you to flinch before it finally sets you free? Can you find the faith to trust in God’s will in God’s time regardless of how bleak things may seem to be in the near term?
You read on in the story of the two prophets Jeremiah and Hananiah and you see how Hananiah could not abide Jeremiah’s message, even to the point of ripping off the yoke from around Jeremiah’s neck and casting it down to the ground where it broke into a thousand pieces, insisting that God would break the yoke of the Babylonians in the same way and in only two years’ time. It didn’t faze Jeremiah one bit. He just showed up soon thereafter with a new yoke, one fashioned out of iron, a yoke that no one but God could ever remove.
And in a sense, the same thing happened to Jesus. The people who could not abide his message attempted to break him in a similar way by nailing him to a cross, only to discover that while you can seek to put truth in a borrowed tomb, you can’t keep it there. The truth that belongs to God always manages to rise to the surface.
Remember that the next time you encounter a story that seeks to take you in a direction that while at first blush seems most pleasing to your heart is in the end contrary to the one in which God would have you go. After all, it is Satan whom the Bible describes as the “father of lies” (Jn. 8:44) and all who go with him do so to their peril. It is Jesus, who alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and those who follow him will most assuredly find their way to the Father.
Don’t for a moment trust your own heart until you have first heard and heeded the heart of God, because this decision is not a game; it is one that instead will determine your eternity.