Would Pastor Casmer or I ever say something from this pulpit from God’s Word that would cause all of you in the pews to rush up at us and yell out for all to hear, “You must die, Pastor Kolander. You must die, Pastor Casmer.” Obviously I hope and pray that something like that would never happen, but that kind of thing is exactly what happened to the pastor named the prophet Jeremiah — the prophet of God who spoke true and needed things to the people of Israel that are just as true and needed by you and me as God’s people today, true and needed things that we can describe today as Speaking about Shiloh.
To get a little feel for what’s going on here, imagine being asked to speak to a group of people about the greatest, most wonderful events of our nations’s history that make us proud to be Americans, and you decided to speak about Shiloh. If you know Civil War history, you may remember that Shiloh, Tennessee was the location of the first of the worst battles of the Civil War, as in two days more people – 24,000 – in two days more people were killed, injured or captured than had occurred in any battle in American history up to that time. This was a sad, ugly, horrible battle, paving the way for much more of the same. The people to whom you were speaking would be wondering why in all the world you were talking about that, because they did not come to hear about Shiloh. They might not rush the stage and say, “You must die,” but they might boo you off the stage because they would want nothing to do with you.
The first two verses of our lesson give us the reaction of the people to the Shiloh Jeremiah was speaking about: 8But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! 9Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.
What was there about Shiloh that made the people act like that? This Shiloh was a city right in the middle of the land of Israel where the tabernacle – the tent church – the worship place of the people — was located for quite a few years before the temple got built by King Solomon. That meant it was the central place of worship – the key religious city of the children of Israel where they offered their sacrifices and were prayed for by their priests. Over the years, however, this holy place became a horrible place – a place of sexual adultery and fornication as some of the priests took advantage of some of the women who offered sacrifices there to the point that God’s patience finally wore out, and he used the people called the Philistines not only to pulverize the city of Shiloh, but also to steal the prize of Israel – the ark of the covenant. All this trauma led the pregnant wife of one of those sinful priests to die in childbirth, and before she died to name her son Ichabod, meaning “the glory has departed” – and it certainly seemed that it had. The people didn’t seem to care one bit about their all-glorious dear Lord God.
Do you see why the people of Jeremiah’s time were so angry? The people to whom Jeremiah was speaking about Shiloh didn’t want to hear that he was saying that God was saying that the very same thing was going to happen to them now as had happened to the people of Israel back then over four hundred years before. Jeremiah’s words were fighting words, insulting words, who-do-you-think-you-are-telling-us-things-like-that words. In fact, they didn’t want to hear these words so much that they rushed up at him in the house of God and said, “Jeremiah, you must die.” But no matter what they said, speaking about Shiloh in this way was true. And God showed how true it was just a couple of years later when he actually had a nation called the Babylonians do to Jerusalem what the Philistines had done to Shiloh, also taking off thousands of captives to their faraway land, including people like Daniel of the Lions’ den fame, and Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, who would later end up in the fiery furnace.
Do you like speaking about Shiloh? It’s hard, right? It’s hard sometimes both saying and hearing true things from God’s Word. It’s hard sometimes not to feel mean talking to people whom you love about things they are doing that are wrong, and it’s hard to accept it when someone tells us the same thing. It’s hard sometimes not to feel ignorant telling people that we believe in a God who tells us things that are humanly impossible to be the way he says, and it’s hard to not think that maybe it’s not that big of a deal if we don’t believe everything the Bible says the way the Bible says it. It’s hard sometimes not feeling empty and limp when trying to assure people that suffering and sadness are meant to be helpful things for them, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for ourselves when we go through the very same sufferings and sadnesses. But, just like with Jeremiah, when we say what God says, what we are saying is true. Jeremiah said it clearly to them back then, and he says it clearly to us right now both to warn us when we don’t like it when someone is speaking about Shiloh to us and also to comfort us when we are speaking about Shiloh to others. “14As for me, Jeremiah said in verse 14 near the end, “As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. 15Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”
Speaking about Shiloh is true, and it’s needed. It’s needed because that’s how we know about God’s love. In his love God speaks so harshly to us about what we have done wrong because in his love he wants us so much to know all that he has done to make things right. We can assume that Jeremiah did not enjoy having all those people rush at him and threaten to kill him, but he knew that the only way any of them could come to faith in the coming Messiah as their Savior was if they would acknowledge their wrongs by repenting of their sins. He showed that that was his purpose – and God’s purpose – when he told them in verse 13: “Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you.” God wanted them to know he was willing not to make their city of Jerusalem and the great temple there become like the old city of Shiloh and its tabernacle. Sadly the people for the most part did not listen.
That message of the apostles and prophets continues among us today, not in terms of Shiloh and Jerusalem, but in terms of heaven and eternal life. This message is so needed to know because that is the only way we can know why we are spending this time during the Lenten season or at any time of the year thinking about what Jesus Christ did when he went to the cross.
Isn’t that what the apostle Paul was talking about in his words to us from the letter to the Philippians? He was warning us about not listening to people who say false things about the Bible, because in his love he doesn’t want us to get tripped up by the hassles of life and forget that our citizenship is in heaven — and that someday we will get to live there. And isn’t that what was shown by our Savior in the Gospel reading for the day, when in his love he resolved to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die for us, despite the fact that he was warned that Herod wanted to kill him and that so many of his own people would reject him, even though he wanted to gather them to himself as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings? And isn’t that exactly what we sang with thanks and joy about the love of our Lord in our opening hymn, “He stood before the court On trial instead of us; He met its power to hurt, Condemned to face the cross.” And isn’t that why you and I sang what we sang in that hymn before the sermon about what the Lord in his love will do for us on our last day, “Lord, let at last your angels come to Abram’s bosom bear me home That I may die unfearing.”
Dear friends, speaking about Shiloh is a true and a needed thing. It’s true that we need to confess what we have done wrong, and it’s true that God sent his Son so that through his work you and I could be looked upon as having done everything right. And it’s needed, because there is no other way to enjoy being alive right now than by treasuring the life and death of Jesus, and it’s needed because there is no other way to know that everything will be okay when the angels come to take us home to enjoy a life with Jesus forever. The real Civil War of our sins and our death and the devil against our Lord Jesus has long since been won – by our Lord Jesus. Listening to God speak about Shiloh in his Word is the way to know that Shiloh — for the sake of Jesus, our true and needed Savior — will never, praise God, happen to us. Hopefully that will make us want to be speaking about – and hearing about — Shiloh all the more all the time. Amen.