Thursday, February 21, 2008
Jeremiah 1:11-19 2:1-13 A Charge To Confront The Religious But Lost
Then the word of the Lord came to me, asking, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I replied, “I see a branch of an almond tree.” 12 The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I watch over My word to accomplish it.” 13 Again the word of the Lord came to me inquiring, “What do you see?” And I replied, “I see a boiling pot, its mouth tilted from the north to the south.” 14 Then the Lord said to me, “Disaster will be poured out from the north on all who live in the land. 15 Indeed, I am about to summon all the clans and kingdoms of the north.” This is the Lord’s declaration. They will come, and each king will set up his throne at the entrance to Jerusalem’s gates. They will attack all her surrounding walls and all the other cities of Judah. 16 “I will pronounce My judgments against them for all the evil they did when they abandoned Me to burn incense to other gods and to worship the works of their own hands.17 “Now, get ready. Stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not be intimidated by them or I will cause you to cower before them. 18 Today, I am the One who has made you a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the population.
2:1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Go and announce directly to Jerusalem that this is what the Lord says: I remember the loyalty of your youth, your love as a bride— how you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. 3 Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of His harvest. All who ate of it found themselves guilty; disaster came on them.” This is the Lord’s declaration. 4 Hear the word of the Lord, house of Jacob and all families of the house of Israel. 5 Here is what the Lord says: What fault did your fathers find in Me that they went so far from Me, followed worthless idols, and became worthless themselves?6 They stopped asking: Where is the Lord who brought us from the land of Egypt, who led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and ravines, through a land of drought and darkness, a land no one travelled through and where no one lived? 7 I brought you to a fertile land to eat its fruit and bounty, but after you entered, you defiled My land; you made My inheritance detestable. 8 The priests quit asking: Where is the Lord? The experts in the law no longer knew Me, and the rulers rebelled against Me. The prophets prophesied by Baal and followed useless idols.
9 Therefore, I will bring a case against you again. This is the Lord’s declaration. I will bring a case against your children’s children.10 Cross over to Cyprus and take a look. Send someone to Kedar and consider carefully; see if there has ever been anything like this: 11 Has a nation ever exchanged its gods? (but they were not gods!) Yet My people have exchanged their Glory for useless idols.12 Be horrified at this, heavens; be shocked and utterly appalled. This is the Lord’s declaration.
13 For My people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.
These are not good days for the evangelical church as three recent books agree: 'No Place for Truth' by David Wells; 'Power Religion' by Michael Horton; and 'Ashamed of the Gospel' by John MacArthur. Though the titles speak clearly, the subtitles are even more revealing. Respectively, they are: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church, and When the Church Becomes like the World. These three careful observers agree that evangelicalism approaches abandoning its truth-heritage.
Two evangelical theological colleges have grown large and numerous. Evangelical churches emerged from their suburban ghettos to engage selected aspects of the secular culture. One decade later, Newsweek magazine would call 1976 "the year of the evangelical." From 1968 to 1980, I was part of a mainline church. Like other churches, it was declining because it had adopted the world's ways in the four following areas:
The World's Wisdom
Liberals ceased to seek wisdom from God through the Scriptures and became deaf to the reforming voice of God in the church. Undermined by rationalism, they were no longer able to receive the Bible as God's Word to man, only as man's word about God.
The World's Theology I will define the world's theology as the view that human beings are basically good, that no one is really lost and that belief in Jesus Christ is not necessary for salvation, though it is helpful for some people. Liberal churches could not abandon biblical terminology and still pretended to be Christian. But biblical terms were given different meanings. Sin became ignorance or the oppression of certain social structures. Jesus became a pattern for creative living - an example or a revolutionary. Salvation became liberation from oppression. Faith became awareness of oppression and the willingness to do something about it. Evangelism meant working to overthrow entrenched injustice. Like the liberals, evangelicals are giving new meaning to the Bible's words, pouring secular, therapeutic content into spiritual terminology. Sin has become dysfunctional behaviour; salvation, self-esteem or wholeness; and Jesus, an example for right living. Sunday by Sunday people are told how to have happy marriages and raise nice children, but not how to get right with God.
The World's Agenda The theme of the 1964 World Council of Churches was: "the world must set the agenda." Liberals believed that the church's concerns should be the concerns of the world, even to the exclusion of the gospel. Hunger, racism, ecology, ageing - whatever issue was crucial to the world was to be of first concern to Christian people. Francis Schaeffer said that happiness is the maximum amount of personal peace and sufficient affluence to enjoy it. Forget world hunger, racism or ecology. The world's agenda is to be happy. But is not this the message of much evangelical preaching today? To be happy? To be satisfied? Though its most extreme expression is found in health, wealth and prosperity preachers, the gospel of the good life permeates evangelical preaching, failing to expose sin, and to drive men and women to the Saviour' True discipleship is hard.
The World's Methods God has given us methods to do his work: participation, persuasion and prayer. But mainline churches jettisoned these methods in favour of power, politics and money. A cartoon that appeared in The New Yorker got it exactly right. One pilgrim on the Mayflower said to another, "Religious freedom is my immediate goal, but my long range plan is to go into real estate."
The Worldly Churches What hit me like a thunderbolt several years ago is that what I had been saying about liberal churches in the 1960s and 1970s now can be said about evangelical churches too. Have evangelicals now fixed their eyes on a worldly kingdom and chosen politics and money as their weapons? About ten years ago Martin Marty, a shrewd observer of the American church, said that by the end of the century evangelicals would be "the most worldly people in America:"
Lord Macauley: “it is difficult to conceive any situation more painful than that of a great man, condemned to watch the lingering agony of an exhausted country, to tend it during the alternate fits of stupefaction and raving which precede its dissolution, and to see the symptoms of vitality disappear one by one, till nothing is left but coldness, darkness and corruption.”
Moorhead “It was Jeremiah’s lot to prophecy at a time when all things in Judah were rushing down to the final and mournful catastrophe; when political excitement was at its height; when the worst passions swayed the various parties and the most fatal counsels prevailed. It was his to stand in the way over which his nation was rushing headlong to destruction; to make an heroic effort to arrest it, and to turn it back; and to fail, … and to see his own people whom he loved… plunge over the precipice into the wide weltering ruin.”
A. What The Problem Always Is
1 The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests living in Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. 2 The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah
The same problem that confronted Jeremiah is the same problem that confronts the Christian church at this momentous time.
Three of five kings are mentioned here:
1. Josiah (640-609 B.C.) 3 It also came throughout the days of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah, king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.
2. Jehoahaz (son of Josiah) 3 months deposed by Egyptians
3. Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.) (son of Josiah)
4. Jehoiachin 3 months deposed by Nebuchadnezzar and taken to Babylon 597 (son of Jehoiakim)
5. Zedekiah (597-586 B.C.) (son of Josiah)
1. Devotion – “love”
A honeymoon in the desert
• the Lord led his bride
• his bride gladly followed him
“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest;…’” (Jeremiah 2:2-3)
2. Desertion – “forsake”
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)
“Redemption is a romance”
What sin is
1. Forsaking the Lord “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water”
2. Relying on your own initiatives “and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
• making foreign alliances “Now why go to Egypt to drink water from the Shihor? And why go to Assyria to drink water from the River?” (verse 18)
• worshipping foreign gods “They followed worthless idols” (verse 5)
• your desertion is unjustified “This is what the LORD says: “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.” (verse 5)
• your desertion is unprecedented “Cross over to the coasts of Kittim and look, send to Kedar and observe closely; see if there has ever been anything like this: Has a nation ever changed its gods?” 10-11a
your desertion is unbelievable “Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all)”
• exchanging Reality for fakes “But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.” (verse11)
Never so religious.
Never so lost.
Deut 28:46 These curses will be a sign and a wonder against you and your descendants forever. 47 Because you didn’t serve the Lord your God with joy and a cheerful heart, even though [you had]an abundance of everything, 48 you will serve your enemies the Lord will send against you, in famine, thirst, nakedness, and a lack of everything. He will place an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.
B. What The Results Will Be
THE VISION OF THE SEETHING POT FORESHADOWS APPROACHING DOOM. God is about to “hold his session” upon Jerusalem and the cities of Judah. They who are most favored by God must expect the severest judgment if they prove unfaithful to him.
THE VISION OF THE SEETHING POT ILLUSTRATES THE CHARACTER OF THE APPROACHING DOOM.
It is gradually prepared. The vessel is slowly heated to the boiling point. The guilt of sin accumulates and the evil consequences gather in force until they burst upon the victim with the energy of long pent-up wrath.
It breaks forth suddenly. Suddenly the vessel boils over. Judgment may be delayed and gradual in the preparation, and yet suddenly surprise us when at length it falls upon us.
It is violent and overwhelming, as the seething pot suggests fury, tumult, and, in its boiling over, a rushing forth of its scalding contents. Notice: The pot was turned towards the south and heated by fires in the north. That was the problem, where the people of God turned for help became the cause of their destruction.
If you turn to anything but the Lord, whether it be rock music in church, whether it be charismatic practises whether it be intellectual liberalism, where ever you turn if it is not the Lord will destroy the nature of the church.
C. What Jesus offers
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)
“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17)
D. How You Must Bottle Up To The Task
Deut 30: 4 Even if your exiles are at the ends of the earth, He will gather you and bring you back from there.
5 The Lord your God will bring you into the land your fathers possessed, and you will take Deut 30:19 I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul, so that you will live.
Deut 30:19 I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 love the Lord your God, obey Him, and remain faithful to Him. For He is your life,
Be resolute. “But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them.” (v. 17)
• “Brace yourself.” The Hebrew is literally “Gird your loins.” We have all seen the flowing Arab robes, which are not exactly ideal for running or fighting, so girding your loins meant putting on a belt and hitching them up so that you were trim and ready for action.
• “Stand up.” What Jeremiah face was no time for armchair quarterbacks or couch potatoes.
• “Speak out.” However hard the audience and whatever the cost, Jeremiah had to speak out, and whatever God said, he had to say to the people.
• “Don’t lose your nerve.” Here is the hardest of all. One translator puts it, “Don’t lose your nerve in front of them, or I will shatter your nerve right before them.” There is no question this is tough stuff – Jeremiah’s equivalent of Churchill’s promise of “blood, tears, and sweat.” Or more accurately, this is Jeremiah’s equivalent of the challenge of Jesus: “If any man will follow me, let me take up his cross and follow me,” or Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s
“When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Jeremiah had one of the costliest calls in all human history, and his charge is a bracing challenge to be resolute. In other words, fear God and we have no one and nothing else to fear. But if we fear man -- or majority opinion, fashion, or the demands of power -- and we will have God to fear too.
Be realistic. “I for my part have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land.” (v. 18) Those three images are strong and inspiring. Jeremiah is to be as impregnable as a fortress, as impervious as an iron pillar, and as immovable as a bronze wall. They are highly positive, but only because he is being warned. Jeremiah has to be like that because of what is coming against him – and it came. “The whole land” would oppose him, the Lord says. He was to be like “Athanasius contra mundum” (against the world), to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for standing for orthodoxy and the truth of the Trinity against the Arians. Jeremiah was warned that he would find himself ranged against “the whole land,” and it is described as “the princes,” which included not just the royal family, but the state officials; “the priests,” which meant the entire religious establishment; and “the people,” which included Jeremiah’s fellow-villagers who plotted to take his life. Thus Jeremiah found himself a loner and a social outcast, a political reject, and one considered a traitor, a subversive, and a fifth columnist. Jeremiah’s pain was so great that as we shall see next week, he almost curses his own calling.
Be reassured. “They will make fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.” (v. 19) Fortunately for Jeremiah, and for us, the charge ends with a strong reassurance. He is not promised victory, but he is assured that he will be able to hang on and endure to the end. This reassurance comes for the second time in the passage, “For I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.” (v. 19)
The early 17th century German poet, Paul Gerhardt, basing his verse on this guarantee, wrote:
“IS GOD FOR ME? I fear not, though all against me rise;
I call on Christ my Savior, the host of evil flies.
My friend the Lord Almighty, and He who loves me, God!
What enemy shall harm me, though coming as a flood?
I know it, I believe it, I say it fearlessly,
That God, the Highest, Mightiest, forever loveth me;
At all times, in all places, He standeth at my side,
He rules the battle fury, the tempest and the tide.
“A Rock that stands forever is Christ my righteousness,
And there I stand unfearing in everlasting bliss;
No earthly thing is needful to this my life from Heaven,
And naught of love is worthy, save that which Christ hath given.
Christ, all my praise and glory, my Light most sweet and fair,
The ship wherein He saileth is scathless everywhere!
In Him I dare be joyful, a hero in the war,
The judgment of the sinner affrighteth me no more!
“There is no condemnation, there is no Hell for me,
The torment and the fire mine eyes shall never see;
For me there is no sentence, for me death has no stings,
Because the Lord who saved me shall shield me with His wings.
Above my soul’s dark waters His Spirit hovers still,
He guards me from all sorrow, from terror and from ill;
In me He works and blesses the life-seed He hath sown,
From Him I learn the Abba, that prayer of faith alone.
“And if in lonely places, a fearful child, I shrink,
He prays the prayers within me I cannot ask or think;
In deep unspoken language, known only to that Love
Who fathoms the heart’s mystery from the Throne of Light above.
His Spirit to my spirit sweet words of comfort saith,
How God the weak one strengthens who leans on Him in faith;
How He hath built a City, of love, and light and song.
Where the eye at last beholdeth what the heart had loved so long,
“And there is mine inheritance, my kingly palace-home;
The leaf may fall and perish, not less the spring will come;
As wind and rain of winter, our earthly sighs and tears.
Till golden summer dawneth of the endless Year of years.
The world may pass and perish, Thou, God, wilt not remove –
No hatred of all devils can part me from Thy love;
No hungering nor thirsting, no poverty nor care,
No wrath of mighty princes can reach my shelter there.
“No Angel, and no Heaven, no throne, nor power, nor might,
No love, no tribulation, no danger, fear, nor fight,
No height, no depth, no creature that has been or can be.
Can drive me from Thy bosom, can sever me from Thee.
My heart in joy unleapeth, grief cannot linger there –
While singing high in glory amidst the sunshine fair!
The source of all my singing is high in Heaven above;
The Sun that shines upon me is Jesus and His love!”