Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf
Silver Spring, Maryland
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Jeremiah, the reluctant prophet

The Story about the Yoke
Rev. Ron Friedrich
August 13, 2006

Jeremiah 27 & 28 (NIrV)

 27:2 This is what the LORD said to me: "Make a yoke out of straps and poles, and put it on the back of your neck. 3 Then send messages to the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon by their messengers who have come to Jerusalem to see Zedekiah king of Judah. 4 Tell them to give this message to their masters: 'The LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, says: "Tell your masters: 5 I made the earth, its people, and all its animals with my great power and strength. I can give the earth to anyone I want. 6 Now I have given all these lands to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, my servant. I will make even the wild animals obey him. 7 All nations will serve Nebuchadnezzar and his son and grandson. Then the time will come for Babylon to be defeated, and many nations and great kings will make Babylon their servant.

 12 I gave the same message to Zedekiah king of Judah. I said, "Put yourself under the control [yoke] of the king of Babylon and serve him, and you will live. 13 Why should you and your people die from war, hunger, or disease, as the LORD said would happen to those who do not serve the king of Babylon? 14 But the false prophets are saying, 'You will never be slaves to the king of Babylon.' Don't listen to them because they are prophesying lies to you! 15 'I did not send them,' says the LORD. 'They are prophesying lies and saying the message is from me. So I will send you away, Judah. And you and those prophets who prophesy to you will die.' "

28:1 ...The prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, from the town of Gibeon, spoke to me in the Temple of the LORD in front of the priests and all the people. He said: 2 "The LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, says: 'I have broken the yoke the king of Babylon has put on Judah. 3 Before two years are over, I will bring back everything that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took to Babylon from the LORD's Temple. 4 I will also bring back Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and all the other captives from Judah who went to Babylon,' says the LORD. 'So I will break the yoke the king of Babylon put on Judah.' "

10 Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke off Jeremiah's neck and broke it. 11 Hananiah said in front of all the people, "This is what the LORD says: 'In the same way I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. He put that yoke on all the nations of the world, but I will break it before two years are over.' " After Hananiah had said that, Jeremiah left the Temple.

 15 Then the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah, "Listen, Hananiah! The LORD did not send you, and you have made the people of Judah trust in lies. 16 So this is what the LORD says: 'Soon I will remove you from the earth. You will die this year, because you taught the people to turn against the LORD.' "
 17 Hananiah died in the seventh month of that same year.

Back when you were learning the 10 Commandments...

    1. You must have no other gods before Me [Hebrew: "in my face!"]
    2. You must not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
         [sign:  You must not use the name of the Lord your God in wrong ways.]

When I was a young catechism student in our Lutheran elementary school, I learned that this Second Commandment means: I must not use bad words.  I must not swear and cuss.

Since those days I have learned that this commandment means much more.  The Second Commandment teaches me that I must be very, very careful in the way I represent God, both in the way I live, and in what I say.  

Many years ago a young Deaf couple me with me.  The woman had just left her husband (not yet divorced).  Now she was living with her new boyfriend, and the two of them came me asking if I would do their wedding.

It was a pretty sick situation. Of course, my answer to their request was no.  And I encouraged the woman to work on her relationship with her husband.

Two weeks later, Deaf people at church reported to me, "That couple is telling everyone that you approve of what they are doing!  Is that really true?"

Now I can imagine (just a little) what God may feel like when preachers, teachers, and counselors say things about God that are not true.

False teachers are everywhere!  We see them on TV.  Their books fill the religion section of the bookstores in the mall. 

One month ago I received an email (spam) from "the Church of Almighty God."   I normally ignore spam, but the 550 page book that was attached to this email message  got my attention -- especially because my computer is still on a dial-up service (slow!).

This book informed me that Jesus Christ has returned! 
    Sun Myung Moon? No.
    Jim Jones?   No.
    David Koresh?  No.

Jesus is now a woman living in China.  In the Old Testament (the Age of Law) she was called "YAHWEH."   In the New Testament (the Age of Grace) she was called Jesus (appearing as a man).  Now in the Age of the Kingdom, she is a woman calling herself "Ever New God God-Self."  She is preparing to execute eternal punishment on all who do not worship her as God.

What I find interesting is that she quotes the Bible a lot.  But in all her 550 pages, she never once gives a reference for her quotations.  Why?  Because if you looked up her quotations, you could clearly see that she misquotes the Bible.   Her misquotations often say exactly the opposite of what the Bible really says.

[Click here to read my reply to the that spam message.]

But what is of greater concern to me is not what false teachers say, but what I say on behalf of God and His Word.  Some of you who ask me theology questions may notice that I very careful to tell you what the Bible says, and what is only my opinion.  I never, never, never want to confuse those two.

It is important for every Christian to know the Bible well, so we can detect what is true and what is false.  Not everyone claims to speak for God really does speak for Him.

That is the situation that happens in our story from Jeremiah today.

This is what the LORD said to me: "Make a yoke out of straps and poles, and put it on the back of your neck.

What is a yoke?   It is a piece of farm equipment, that is put on the shoulders of an ox, a mule, or a donkey, and then it is attached to a plow, or a threshing sled, or a wagon.  In Bible times, yokes looked like this:

(source: Daily Life in Bible Times,by Arthur Klink)

As we saw earlier in our study, God often used a picture to make a point.  Sometimes the picture was the life and actions of God's prophet.

Remember that Jeremiah is living in a sad time of Israel's history.  For many, many years God patiently waited for Israel to turn back to Him.  He sent prophets to them, begging them to stop worshipping idols as gods and trust only Him.  Finally, God's patience ended.  Jeremiah had the difficult job of telling the people, "All those things that God warned you about, now they will happen."

The picture of the yoke in this story has this message for Israel:

"Put yourself under the control [yoke] of the king of Babylon and serve him, and you will live."

Then Hananiah, the false prophet came, broke Jeremiah's yoke, and said,

"The LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, says ...'I will break the yoke the king of Babylon put on Judah.' "

Hananiah predicted this would happen in two years.   Hananiah was wrong on two points: 
[1] God did not say that.
[2] Israel's freedom would come in 70 years, not 2 years.

Hananiah's false teaching really hurt the people of Israel.  How?  Many people believed him.  Many government officials believed him.  Hananiah's false teaching encouraged people to rebel against Babylon, and many of them died or were sold into slavery because of this.

Today in our culture we have many Hananiah's.  The are the prophets of our modern American culture preaching "freedom" from the "yoke" of the 10 Commandments, and other limitations on new lifestyles.   These prophets are not only TV shows and Hollywood movies, they are also in many so-called Christian churches.  Many of them claim that God has sent them to announce the "gospel" of "tolerance." 

Just like Hananiah's false teaching, the teaching of modern false prophets really hurt people who believe them.  This teaching encourages people to rebel against God.   And instead of become free, they bring themselves under a more oppressive yoke of habitual sin and immorality.

In truth, we all have carried that heavy yoke of sin.  But there is hope.  God has made a way for that terrible heavy yoke to become broken.  God has made a way for us to become truly free.

Just as Jeremiah put the yoke on himself as a picture of God's judgment, Jesus put the yoke of our sin on Himself, and He actually did receive God's judgment.  Jesus' yoke was in the shape of a cross.  There, on that cross, He died in our place.   Jesus' death & resurrection broke our yoke of sin. 

Now Jesus has put on us a new yoke, His yoke.  This is what He said:

"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  (Matthew 11:28-30 NIrV)

Look again at the picture of the wooden yokes of Bible times:


Notice that for each of these four different designs of yokes, each one attaches to how many animals?  Two.  Is this the picture of a yoke that Jesus is talking about?  If it is, then with whom are we yoked?

Now notice what Jesus says:   "Take my yoke upon you..."

If a farmer had a young ox that never had done farm work, the farmer could not just hook up equipment to the young ox and expect that the young ox would know what to do.  To train the young ox, the farmer would put him in a yoke with a strong experienced ox.  The older ox would do most of the work, while the young ox just walked along and learned from the older ox's example.

Again, notice what Jesus says:

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Now you are yoke to Jesus.  He is pulling your load.  And you have the privilege and pleasure of walking with Him, while you share in His work.

There is another way we can apply the picture of Christ's yoke in the Christian life.  

The unbeliever rebels against the moral law of God, as if God's Law were a heavy yoke.  The unbeliever wants to break free from that yoke.

The Christian believer, on the other hand, has a different yoke, a yoke that lifts us up, not push us down.  It is the yoke of Christ's own character.  Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, works in us what the Law cannot do. We are not good people by nature -- the Law shows us that.  But Christ pours His nature, His character, His personality into us, so that He does in us, He does through us what we cannot do by ourselves.