Sunday, July 31, 2022

"My People For My Renown" [Matt's Messages]

“My People For My Renown”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
July 31, 2022 :: Jeremiah 13:1-27

I praise the Lord that on this day we have someone following the Lord in Christian baptism. I’m super excited for Johnathan and rejoice with him for this important marker and milestone in his Christian life.

But before we dunk him, we need to focus our minds together on God’s Word, specifically the words of Jeremiah chapter 13. It’s been a couple of weeks since we studied Jeremiah together, but I’m hoping that you remember the general gist of it?

Jeremiah has been a bit of broken record about a broken covenant. He was sent to proclaim to the people of Judah and Jerusalem that judgment and exile was coming because of their unfaithfulness.
 
Sadly, un-faithful Judah was going to be up-rooted.

And Jeremiah 13 is more of the same kind of bad news.

If anything, it is more depressing and more disturbing than anything we have read in Jeremiah so far! It ends with some shocking imagery that alludes to sexual assault in a time of war. I’ll warn you ahead of time in case you’ve had bad experiences and this kind of language can set off alarm bells in your nervous system.

It’s not pretty. Jeremiah 13 is not a happy chapter.

And yet, at the very same time, when we read the darkness in Jeremiah 13, it can light up for us the gospel of Jesus Christ. It throws it into stark relief. It’s the opposite.

Whatever we see that Judah did wrong, we know that Jesus undoes. And everything that Judah was supposed to be, Jesus makes true of you and me.

Let me say that again: Everything that Judah was supposed to be, Jesus makes true of you and me.

So this is a perfect passage of Scripture to study on a Baptism Sunday. Because everything it says that went wrong, we know is fixed by what that water up there represents. Including the searching question in the very last verse of Jeremiah 13 which says, “Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will you be unclean?” 


It must have been really weird to be a prophet.

It must have been really strange to live the life of an Old Testament prophet like Jeremiah or Ezekiel. Not only do you have to be a broken record about a broken covenant, but you never know when the Lord might give you a really weird prophetic assignment.

Like this one. Jeremiah was sent to buy a piece of clothing to represent the people of God.

Look at Jeremiah chapter 13, verse 1. “This is what the LORD said to me: ‘Go and buy a linen belt and put it around your waist, but do not let it touch water.’ So I bought a belt, as the LORD directed, and put it around my waist.”

Like I said. “Weird.”

One of things that really weird about this story is that we’re not 100% sure exactly what kind of piece of clothing this was. It’s hard to translate from the Hebrew.

It’s really hard to know if this is a garment that goes under your other clothing or over your other clothing. Some of your translations say, “undergarment,” or “underwear” or “loincloth.” Those  are under your other clothing. And obviously the NIV goes for “linen belt,” which would be over your other clothing. And it’s hard to say which kind it actually is. We’re going to see that the passage emphasizes how close and tight it’s supposed to fit around Jeremiah’s waist so that would lend itself to the undergarment theory and emphasize intimacy. Some translations go for “shorts.” 

But the passage also emphasizes the overt display of God’s people to be for God’s renown and praise and honor. And it seems like this linen garment is being shown off in a way. On display.  It’s a prophetic sign, which if it’s hiding under Jeremiah’s clothes, it’s hard to see how that could be a sign?! So I lean towards the outer-garment theory, but I think it’s more than just a little belt. That sounds too thin and not showy enough. It’s more like a sash? Or like a decorative outer garment that fits snugly around the waist and maybe holds tools or even weapons (like a toolbelt or a swordbelt?) or (because linen was the fabric of the priests) it might have held instruments of sacrifice for the temple or marked somebody off as holy. I think it really stood out.

We don’t know. But Jeremiah was told to go buy it, wear it, and not wash it.

And here’s where it really gets weird!

Jeremiah is told to go bury his snazzy new piece of clothing. Look at verse 3.

“Then the word of the LORD came to me a second time: ‘Take the belt you bought and are wearing around your waist, and go now to Perath and hide it there in a crevice in the rocks.’ So I went and hid it at Perath, as the LORD told me.”

You think it might have been weird to be a prophet?!

It’s especially weird when you find out where Perath was. Anybody know?  Well, we’re not 100% sure of this either. There was a place called “Parah” which was about 4 miles away from Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth. And many scholars think that Perath might have been a nickname for Parah. But whenever this word “Perath” shows up in the Old Testament, and it is coupled with the word “River,” it is always referring to the Euphrates River which was like 350 miles away! And they didn’t have cars.

So the LORD might have just sent Jeremiah on a many month journey just to bury his clothes in some rocks by a river! And then come home on a many month journey to his hometown and no longer be wearing his flashy new belt.

That might be the talk of the town. “What is Jeremiah doing now? First he buys that thing and wears it everywhere. He never washed it. So it started to get dirty and a little brittle. And then he was gone all that time, and now he says Yahweh told him to bury it in Perath. What is going on?”

It might have been a little fun to be a prophet sometimes when things got weird.

And then it got even weirder! What do think is next? Buy another belt? Nope. Go find the old one! V.6

“Many days later the LORD said to me, ‘Go now to Perath and get the belt I told you to hide there.’ [Walking sounds!] So I went to Perath and dug up the belt and took it from the place where I had hidden it, but now it was [surprise, surprise!] ruined and completely useless.”

If there was just one key word for Jeremiah chapter 13, I think it would be the word “ruined.”

This piece of garment had rotted. It has spoiled. It has been corrupted. It had, very predictably, decayed. It was “completely useless.” It was good for nothing. It was ruined.

I wonder if Jeremiah was supposed to wear it around town? Maybe he couldn’t. Maybe it would just fall off. It was too full of holes. It wouldn’t cling any longer. It didn’t fit. It shriveled and shrunk. It was ruined!

What do you think it stands for?

We don’t have to wonder. Jeremiah tells us. Look at verse 8.

“Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘This is what the LORD says: 'In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. [There go their greatness.] These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt–  completely useless!”

The linen garment stood for the people of Judah.

They had gone to form ungodly alliances with the people who lived in Mesopotamia near the Euphrates River. They had made alliances with Assyria. They were trying to appease the Chaldeans of Babylon.

Instead of trusting Yahweh. And worse, they had worshiped other gods than Yahweh. And they were fast becoming completely useless and ruined and headed for exile.

The ruined linen garment stood for the people of Judah. V.11

“For as a belt is bound around a man's waist, so I bound the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to me,' declares the LORD, 'to be my people for my renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.'”

It must have been weird to be a prophet like Jeremiah. Here he is being a broken record about a broken covenant yet again, but doing it, this time, by prominently displaying a ruined article of clothing.

Now, let’s come back to verse 11 as the last thing we look at again before we hear Johnathan tell his story. Because, obviously, I picked these words from that verse to be the title of this message, “My People For My Renown.”

But the key word right now is not “renown” but “ruined,” and the rest of the chapter shows just how ruined Judah was to be. Look at verse 12.

“‘Say to them: 'This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Every wineskin should be filled with wine.' [That was probably a popular saying at least in the bars. Fill ‘em all up!] And if they say to you, 'Don't we know that every wineskin should be filled with wine?' [Yeah, boy! Fill ‘em all up!] then tell them, 'This is what the LORD says: I am going to fill with drunkenness all who live in this land, including the kings who sit on David's throne, the priests, the prophets and all those living in Jerusalem. I will smash them one against the other, fathers and sons alike, declares the LORD. I will allow no pity or mercy or compassion to keep me from destroying them.'”

How ruined? Destroyed. Like a riotous bar fight where everybody is blind-drunk smashed, the Lord is going to smash Judah from the top down and without pity, mercy, or compassion. Ruined.

How ruined? Not just destroyed, but darkened. Verse 15. 

“Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant, for the LORD has spoken. Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings the darkness, before your feet stumble on the darkening hills. You hope for light, but he will turn it to thick darkness and change it to deep gloom.”

Judgment is coming like somebody who spends the night (maybe a shepherd) on a mountainside, but then the morning never comes, just more darkness. And then even more darkness. [The Hebrew there is the same as the 23rd Psalm, the “the shadow of death.”]

And Jeremiah doesn’t like it one bit. He’s not happy about what is coming on his beloved Judah, but if they will not humble themselves and repent, then the ruinous darkness will fall.

And he will cry. V.17

“But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the LORD's flock will be taken captive.”

They don’t call him the “weeping prophet” for nothing.

And in his weeping, Jeremiah reveals the heart of God who would love to show mercy and compassion on Judah, but they just keep on rejecting Him and rejecting Him and rejecting Him, so He must do the just thing and bring them to ruin.

Even the king. V.18

“Say to the king and to the queen mother, ‘Come down from your thrones, for your glorious crowns will fall from your heads.’ The cities in the Negev will be shut up, and there will be no one to open them. All Judah will be carried into exile, carried completely away.”

He’s probably talking about King Jehoiachin and his mother Nehushta. We read about them in 2 Kings 24. He was Jehoiakim’s son and only lasted 3 months before Nebuchadnezzar carted him off into exile in 597 BC.

And what happened to them, would happen across the whole nation. They would be uprooted and sent into exile. V.20

“Lift up your eyes and see those who are coming from the north [Babylon]. Where is the flock that was entrusted to you, the sheep of which you boasted? [Gone. Exiled. Uprooted.]  What will you say when the LORD sets over you those you cultivated as your special allies? Will not pain grip you like that of a woman in labor?”

The very people you trusted in instead of the LORD are now your oppressors?! And it hurts like labor pains.

And worse.

Verse 22. “And if you ask yourself, ‘Why has this happened to me?’–[which you shouldn’t because you should know it by now.]–it is because of your many sins that your skirts have been torn off and your body mistreated.”

The women of Judah are being violated as they are carted off to Babylon, yes– because of the sins of the Babylonians (and there is no excuse for them), but also because of the sins of Judah. This brutalization, too, is judgment because Judah would not repent.

It was almost like they could not repent. V.23

“Can the Ethiopian [literally the Cushite] change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”

Now make sure you understand that he’s not saying that the Cushite (probably better updated to the “Sudanese” based on where Cush was located–he’s not saying that the Cushite’s) black skin was bad. Just like like the leopard’s spots are not bad. They are beautiful.

Black skin is beautiful skin!

But it isn’t changeable either. It’s permanent and fixed. And so was Judah’s evil. And therefore so will be Judah’s ruin. It was inevitable. V.24

“I will scatter you like chaff driven by the desert wind. This is your lot, the portion I have decreed for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘because you have forgotten me and trusted in false gods. I will pull up your skirts over your face that your shame may be seen–your adulteries and lustful neighings, your shameless prostitution! I have seen your detestable acts on the hills and in the fields. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will you be unclean?’”

How long will you be ruined? Like a linen garment buried in the rocks next to a river. How long you going to be like that? 

Unrepentant of your idolatry, your spiritual adultery. And therefore unclean, shamefully exposed, humiliated, darkened, and destroyed? How long will you be ruined?

What’s the answer to that?

Well, Jeremiah chapter 13 doesn’t tell us. There isn’t even a hint that there is any hope. Just these disturbing images which we would rather not think about.

But the rest of the Bible does give us hope.

In fact, there is hope still to come in the Words of Jeremiah. Listen, for example, to chapter 33. I can’t hardly wait to preach the whole thing to you. But listen to this sample.

The short answer is, “Later. After the exile.” The exile is inevitable, but so is the return. Jeremiah 33:7.

“I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me [listen to these words] renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it'” (33:7-9, NIV84).

Same three words as our verse 11! "Renown, praise, and honor!"

But it gets better. We find out that there is an Ultimate Restoration that is even greater. And it involves a new and righteous Ruler. Listen to chapter 33, verse 14.

“‘The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.' For this is what the LORD says: 'David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel...” (Jer. 33:7-17 NIVO).

Anybody want to guess Who that is going to be?

It’s the Person that Johnathan Bobbert has decided to follow with his life.

It’s the Person who lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and came back to life to give us life! What this water represents!

It’s the Person Who restores light where there was deep darkness.

It’s the Person Who restores dignity where there was deep shame.

It’s the Person Who restores health where there was smashing destruction.

It’s the Person Who restores joy where there was nothing but depression.

It’s the Person Who could save us when we could not save ourselves.

He’s the One who could change us when we could not change ourselves.

It’s Jesus Christ!

He is the One has redeemed us from our ruin to His Renown!

Listen to what the book of Revelation says is given to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle John has vision of the return of Christ in chapter 19. He says, “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints)” (Rev. 19:6-8 NIV84).

How long will we be unclean?

Just until we are covered by the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!

So let’s look again at verse 11 and see what Judah was supposed to be that Jesus has made true of you and me. “For as a belt is bound around a man's waist, so I bound the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to me,' declares the LORD, 'to be my people for my renown and praise and honor.”

Three very quick points of application, and Johnathan, these are for you, and they are for all of us who are baptized in Christ Jesus today.

#1. STAY CLOSE TO YOUR LORD.

He says that He “bound” His people to Himself. 

They were supposed to cling to Him, to stay near to Him.

To not wander off.

I know it’s a weird image, but we’re supposed to stay close to the Lord like a belt that He never takes off.

Don’t wander off!

I think the whole point of the weird journey to Perath was the separation between the prophet and his key piece of clothing.

Don’t let any daylight come between you and the Lord.

Stay close to Him.

#2. LIVE FOR THE GLORY OF YOUR LORD.

The whole point of this weird belt was that it was supposed to bring attention to the wearer.

And Who was the wearer? God was! The people were the belt, and God was the belt-wearer. Verse 11, “I bound [them] to me,' declares the LORD, 'to be my people for my renown and praise and honor.”

That’s why we exist. And it’s why Jesus has saved us.

Johnathan, this is why Jesus has saved you, to be His for His fame and praise and honor.

Live your life as a display of His grace.

Like we learned about in Ephesians 2 at Family Bible Week.

“...it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, [to show off like artwork in an art gallery!] in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–  and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast [BUT GOD!] For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:5-10 NIV84).

So let’s do them! Let’s live our lives for His renown, and praise, and honor!

We want Jesus to get the glory!

#3. PRAISE YOUR LORD FOR HIS AMAZING GRACE.

On our own, we have ruined everything, but Jesus through His amazing grace has saved everything!

He has taken us from our ruin to His renown.

I asked Johnathan what his favorite Scripture verse is.

We have been studying the Gospel of John together, and he told me that it is John chapter 9, verse 25.

It says, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (Jn. 9:25 NIV84).

I think that sounds like a certain worship song I know. And I think we should sing it today as Johnathan gets baptized. "Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a [ruined] wretch like me."

Because with His baptism, Johnathan is saying that he is not going to live for his own ruin, but for the LORD’s renown.

Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "The Word of the LORD Came to Me" - Jeremiah 1:1-19
02. "I Bring Charges Against You" - Jeremiah 2:1-3:5
03. "Return to Me" - Jeremiah 3:6-4:4
04. “Oh My Anguish, My Anguish!” - Jeremiah 4:6-5:31
05. "Ask for the Ancient Paths" - Jeremiah 6:1-30
06. “This Is the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD!” - Jeremiah 7:1-8:3
07. "Is There No Balm in Gilead?" - Jeremiah 8:4-9:22
08. "Boast About This" - Jeremiah 9:23-24
09. "Like a Scarecrow in a Melon Patch" - Jeremiah 9:25-10:25

Sunday, July 17, 2022

We Are His Artwork - 2022 Family Bible Week Kick-Off

“We Are His Artwork”
Family Bible Week Kick-Off
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
July 17, 2022 :: Ephesians 2:10

What do you like to make? What do you enjoy making?

What do you enjoy creating?

As you can tell, our Family Bible Week this year is a celebration of creativity.

Mary Beth has transformed this place into an artist’s studio, but not just one kind of artwork, but all kinds of artwork.



What do you like to make? 

Painting.
Drawing. Like Jacob does.
Making music. Like Joe does!
Photography. Like Laura does.
Carving.
Woodworking. Like Josh does.
Metalworking.
Blacksmithing. Like Andrew does.
Composing.
Writing.
Knitting. Like Heather does.
Crocheting.
Legos.
Minecraft.
Cri-cut. Like Natalie does.
Choreography.
Dance. Like Brandy does.
Beads.
Pottery.
Architecture.
Graphic design. Like Jeff does.
Weaving.
Cinema.
Filmmaking. 
Cooking. Like Linda does.
Baking.
Origami.
Rebuilding a classic car like the Folmars do and the folks who come the Good New Cruise.
Hairstyling like Emigh does.
Nails like Macy does.

I could go on and on.

I may not have even gotten close to something you like to make.

It doesn’t have to be a recognized art form.

Maybe it’s computer code. 
Or databases.
Or spreadsheets.
Or websites.
Or powerpoints.

What do you like to make?

My particular craft is the sermon. I make sermons. I’m a wordsmith. I work with and shape words for the ear. Every week, I write a 15 page auditory message to creatively communicate scriptural truth for life change.

What do you like to make?

As human beings we are all makers. We are made in the image of a Maker God. We are created in the image of a Creator God. So we are all sub-creators ourselves. In some way, we are all makers.

I’m not saying that we’re all masters. We can’t all be masters of all the creative arts. But we’re all, in some way, makers. What do you like to make?

I also like to make a mess. My kids were running around the house yesterday cleaning up the place so that it was presentable for Heather Joy this evening.

What do you like to make?

Here’s another question:

What kind of art do you really appreciate?

What kind of artwork you enjoy receiving, taking in, watching, listening to?

Do you like to go to a museum and see a Van Gogh or a Jackson Pollack or a Andy Warhol or a Claude Monet? We did that last summer with Isaac. We went to MOMA in New York City. The Museum of Modern Art.

Do you like to go to Bud Garvey’s and see some classic cars restored?

Do you like to go to a poetry slam or an improv act or a band concert or a play or a a film? Did you go to the Art Festival in State College or at Way Fruit Farm?

What kind of artwork do you really get into?

It doesn’t have to be just one thing. There are all kinds of art in this world to appreciate.

Humans can make some pretty amazing stuff. Because God has put it into us to be creative. Because God Himself is amazingly creative.

And today’s passage of holy Scripture tells us about how His amazing grace has made us into His amazing artwork.

This passage is not about the artwork that we create (as amazing or non-amazing as it might be), but the amazing artwork that God has made out of you and me.

Here is the astonishing claim the Apostle Paul makes in Ephesians 2:10.

“We are God’s workmanship.”

We, you and I who belong to Jesus Christ, are God’s own workmanship.

Today, I have just two simple points of application for us to consider from this passage as we kick off Family Bible Week, and here’s the first one:

#1. WONDER AT BEING HIS WORKMANSHIP!

The main thing I want to do this morning is just soak in this idea that you and I are the workmanship of God. To wonder and marvel at that idea.

The Greek word translated “workmanship” in verse 10 is ποίημα.

Like the English letters p-o-i-a-m-a. ποίημα

And can you guess what English word comes down from that? P-o-e-m. Poem.

That’s beautiful isn’t it? We are God’s “poem?”

But this word means more than just making poems. It means making things in general. It means “handiwork” or “skillful work.” One translation has “creative project.” 

It means a work of art. You and I are God’s artwork. Isn’t that amazing?

Turn to the person next to you and say to them, “You are a masterpiece in the making.”

Is that a little awkward to say? Is it a little awkward to receive?

Try saying this one, “I am a masterpiece in the making.”

Look in the mirror first thing tomorrow morning and say to the person you see, “I am  masterpiece in the making.” I am God’s artwork.

Isn’t that breathtaking?!

Do you believe it?

Is this how you see yourself? Is this how you talk to yourself about yourself?

Is this how you see your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? The other people in this room. The folks outside.

Because this is a corporate thing, too. Paul says, “WE are his workmanship.”

All of us. Each of us. And all of us together. We are God’s artwork.

I know it doesn’t always feel like it. 

My guess is that if unfinished inanimate artwork had feelings, it would often not feel like artwork yet either. But it certainly is.

We are God’s ποίημα.

And that means that we have value.

Last month, in WORLD Magazine, I read a story about a woman who was shopping at a Goodwill thrift store in Autin, Texas and she bought stone statue, a marble bust for $35.00 and took it home.

Now, she was art collector, and she thought that it might be worth something. And in fact, she was able to prove that it was as Roman original from the first century. Made about the time that Paul was writing Ephesians!

Eventually she got it put on display at the San Antonio Museum of Art!

I’m sure it’s worth thousands and thousands of dollars.

But Goodwill had a sticker on it for $35.

It’s easy for you and me to think that we are worth some thrift-store sticker price.

But we are Whose artwork?

What name do you have signed in the corner by the frame–so to speak–of your life?

Yahweh.
The LORD.
God!

And His Son Jesus Christ.

“We are His workmanship.”

You are worth so much more than $35.00. You are not junk. You are a priceless piece of artwork.

Paul says (v.10), we are “created in Christ Jesus.”

Now, that could be referring to the original creation. Being a creation of God in the first place. Which we all are.

We are creatures. We are made. We didn’t make ourselves. We didn’t create ourselves. And every human on the planet is creatively unique. Every one has their own DNA. Their own beauty. Their own dignity. Even those who are yet unborn.

Every one of us is an original piece of God’s artwork.

And the Bible says that Jesus was involved in all of that initial creation.

The Apostle John tells us that “Through [Jesus] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (Jn. 1:3 NIVO)

Paul tells us elsewhere that “all things were created by [Jesus] and for [Jesus].” (Col. 1:16 NIVO)

But I don’t think that’s what Paul is emphasizing here.

That’s not what he’s been talking about in this part of Ephesians.

There is a different creation being talked about here. It’s a new creation. It’s a re-creation.

It’s God bringing about something new in our lives.

It’s our salvation!

Did you notice that our verse begins with the word “for?” 

Verse 10, “FOR we are his workmanship.”

There is a logic here. Verse 10 is the powerful conclusion of a train of thought that Paul has been chugging along since verse 1.

Let’s go back and see what he says there. He’s actually going to tell you the wonderful story of your life. If you belong to Jesus today, here is your story. Marvel at this. Ephesians 2:1.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” 

This is a dark story, isn’t it? It starts with a death, and the death is yours and mine. Paul says that we were dead. Not physically, but spiritually.

That’s bad news because that means that you and I cannot fix our problem for ourselves. We were dead, and in our dead-life we were following Satan, and were, by nature, objects of God’s just wrath.

That’s really bad news, and if the story stopped there, we would all be in trouble.

But this story has a hero, and it is not us! Look at verse 4.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Stop there for a second.

The hero of this story is God. And He has done something that nobody else could. He a has raised us from the dead–spiritually! He’s “made us alive with Christ” (someone Whom He had raised physically from the dead!).  And He’s put us spiritually up in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

You and I are there right now, spiritually! We are in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

How mindblowing this is! How breathtaking!

And why?! To show off!!! 

Look at verse 7 again. Why? “...in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

We are artwork for Him to display in His heavenly art gallery!

You know that whenever you make something, you want to show somebody? Put it on the fridge. Take it to fair. Toss it up on Instagram or Tictok.

The more proud you are of it, the more you want to show it off.

Please bring in your artwork this week to display there in the entrance art gallery.

But you and I are the artwork in display in God’s gallery!

He’s saying, “Look what I have done! Look what I am doing! 

Look at my workmanship. Look at my grace at work. Look at my ποίημα.”

Because make no doubt about it: it was work.

To make artwork takes work, right? All you makers out there. Is being creative easy?

I’m sure it get easier at least in some ways. But I’ve making sermons now for going on 3 decades, and it’s hard work. I don’t wonder now most weeks if I’ll actually have a sermon for you. But every once in a while, it just doesn’t want to come.

Some week, I thought I might have get up here and say, “Sorry. I don’t have a sermon for you today. We had supply chain issues...And I was the missing link!”

But most of the time, to make artwork takes hard work.

And God wants to get all of the credit.

So, we get verses 8 and 9 to explain who really did the work. Look at that. Verse 8.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

I hope you have those verses memorized.

Do you see how important it is to Him that God gets the glory? 

How are we saved? Are we saved by our good works? No way!

We are not saved by being good people. Which is good, because we are not.
We are not saved by going to church. Which is good, because we could never go to church enough to pay for our sins.
We are not saved by doing good works at all. Which is good because we could never do enough good works to right the scales.

We are saved by grace alone. We are saved by gift.

Through faith! We do receive this gift. We put our faith in and trust in it. But even that is not from us. Even our faith is a gift of God.

So that we cannot boast. And that God can. Isn’t that amazing?

It’s called amazing grace for a reason!

Just marvel at it.

We are not saved by our works.
We are not saved by our works.
We are not saved by our works.

But by Jesus’ work on the Cross.

“Not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.”

Do you see now what that “creation” is?

That is the creation of spiritual life where there was only spiritual death.
That is the creation of light where there was only darkness.
That is the creation of salvation where there was only condemnation.
That is the creation of beauty where there was only ashes.

No wonder Paul says that we are a masterpiece!

He looks at us, and He says, {Chef’s Kiss} “ποίημα!”

And He signs His name in the corner of our lives. 

“Created in Christ Jesus.”

Isn’t that amazing?

I want you to feel that. 

I want you to see yourself in that.

He’s not talking about how pretty we all are. He’s talking about the beauty of what He has done and is doing and will do with our salvation and our lives.

We are His artwork.

Find your joy in that, and nothing can knock you down.

See yourself that way, and shame will not have the last word.

Walk through life knowing that you are a part of God’s masterpiece.

And you will hold your head up high.

You won’t get a big head. Because it wasn’t you that did it.

You cannot boast in your salvation.

The only thing that you and I brought to our salvation was our sin. Our sinful need of it.

But no matter. We are God’s workmanship. Wonder at that.

Unless, of course, you are not yet part of His ποίημα. It is by grace gift you have been saved, through faith. Have you received this gift of salvation? Jesus Christ did all of the work. He went to the Cross to pay for our transgressions and sins and came back to life to raise us to life. Have you received His gift? I hope so. If not, don’t wait any longer.

Now, does the fact that we are not saved by works mean that we don’t have to do any works? That there are no works for us to do?

No! I’m so glad that verse 10 follows right on the heals of verses 8 and 9.

Because it’s really clear here that we are not saved BY GOOD WORKS, but we are saved FOR GOOD WORKS.

In fact, it’s part of the whole point! Look at verse 10 again.

“For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Your works will never save you, but because you’re saved, you’re supposed to do good works.

God has got them ready for you to walk in.

And that’s point number two and last.

#2. WALK IN THE WORKS HE PREPARED FOR YOU.

Wonder at simply being His creative workmanship.
And walk in the works that He has prepared for you to do.

The Greek here can literally be translated “to walk” in these works. It’s the same word from verse 2 where the NIV has “lived.”  We used to walk in the ways of the dead world. But now we walk in the works of a new life. And God’s got it all planned out for us.

We just have to step out and follow Him.

You know that Mary Beth and Cindy have been working for weeks to get the crafts ready for the kids each night this week? There’s a whole room of the art supplies that are prepped and ready to go.

The kids are going to do the crafts. But Mary Beth and Cindy have prepared them ahead of time for the kids to do.

And, in the same way, God has prepared a bunch of good work for you and me to walk out.

Now those good works could take a lot of forms.

It could be serving at Family Bible Week. And many of you will be doing that.

Or it could be doing your work at your work as worship of Jesus. And many of you are doing that week in and week out.

It might be giving to the Family Bible Week Missions Project. That would be a good work. Wouldn’t it be great if we could send at least 7 sewing machines and at least 7 sewing kits to the refugees in Malawi?

I think God has prepared that good work for us to do. 

There are three words you’re going to hear a lot this week:

CREATED. DESIGNED. EMPOWERED.

That’s what we’re going to talk about in each class all week long.

It’s really just working out our salvation on a daily basis, living as the artwork that we truly are.

Because we are not stale and lifeless artifacts. We are not just statues. We are not confined to paper or even film.

We are living artwork, made in the image of a Maker God saved by His amazing grace to live for the glory of our Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

“Conspiracy” [Matt's Messages]

“Conspiracy”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
July 10, 2022 :: Jeremiah 11:1-12:17 

They were out to get him.

They had come together in secrecy and plotted against him.

Behind closed doors, they had decided to gang on up him and lead him “like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.”

They were out to get him.

There was a conspiracy against him.

Whom I am talking about?


The key word for these two chapters is “Conspiracy.”

And there are actually two conspiracies that are recounted in these two chapters.

Both of them were real, not just theoretical. And one of them, the smaller one, was embedded within the larger one. And the story of both of these two conspiracies can teach us about how to live as a follower of Jesus Christ today.

The first conspiracy was the bigger one. And it was a conspiracy against the LORD.

Look with me at chapter 11, verse 1. 

In this chapter, the word of LORD is going to come to Jeremiah and tell him to tell the people of Judah once again why the LORD’s judgment was going to come upon them.

And that’s because they had broken their covenant with Yahweh.

Jeremiah was a broken record about a broken covenant.

Here he goes again. Look at verse 1.

“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Listen to the terms of this covenant and tell them to the people of Judah and to those who live in Jerusalem. Tell them that this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Cursed is the man who does not obey the terms of this covenant–the terms I commanded your forefathers when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the iron-smelting furnace.' I said, 'Obey me and do everything I command you, and you will be my people, and I will be your God. Then I will fulfill the oath I swore to your forefathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey'–the land you possess today.’ I answered, ‘Amen, LORD.’”

This story should sound familiar to us,  and certainly should have been familiar to the people of Judah and Jerusalem. It’s probably a short version of what King Josiah had read to them all when the Book of the Law was discovered and recovered from the Temple.

It’s just basic Exodus and Deuteronomy stuff. Deuteronomy 101. Yahweh saved them from Egypt by His grace. He brought them out of slavery. Hardship. “The iron-smelting furnace” of Egypt. And He promised to give them the fair and fruitful Land of Canaan.

They just had one job. Obey Yahweh. Be loyal to Yahweh. Follow His commandments. Fear Him alone. And walk in relationship with Him: “You will be my people, and I will be your God.” Yahweh was to be the “Portion of Jacob.”

And Israel had said, “Amen! Let it be so!” And Jeremiah said it again for them here in verse 5.

But they did not actually obey. They were not actually loyal. They did not follow His commandments. They did not fear Him alone. V.6

“The LORD said to me, ‘Proclaim all these words in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: 'Listen to the terms of this covenant and follow them. From the time I brought your forefathers up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, ‘Obey me.’ But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep.'”

This why judgment is coming! It’s because of a conspiracy. Verse 9.

“Then the LORD said to me, ‘There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem. They have returned to the sins of their forefathers, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant I made with their forefathers.”

Jeremiah is broken record about the broken covenant.

Judah knew the terms of “the contract” and had breached them. Repeatedly. 

As you read Jeremiah, you see how many angles that Jeremiah can come from to get his point across. He has so many images and illustrations that he draws from.

A few weeks ago, he came at it from the medical side of things. Remember the “Balm in Gilead?” Is there no good medicine? Yes, there was good medicine, but the patient, Judah, had decided it wasn’t so bad and had refused the right treatment!

And early on it was like divorce proceedings. Remember that from chapters 2 and 3? This is more like that. Judah knew what they had agreed to in Exodus and Deuteronomy, but they were in flagrant violation of it.

And, in fact, they were conspiring together to rebel against it. This was mutiny. This was revolt.

I think that, quite possibly, this was bubbling under the surface the entire time that King Josiah was trying to make his reforms across Judah. Josiah was trying to turn his people to back to the LORD. Cutting down idols. Restoring worship to the Temple and not the high places. Cleaning up Jerusalem.
 
But many Judahites didn’t like it one little bit. "There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem.”

Today, I have four points of practical application that I think we can draw from these two chapters, and here is the first one:

#1. DON’T BE SHOCKED IF PEOPLE CONSPIRE AGAINST YOUR LORD.

Do not be super surprised if people come together to resist the LORD and His good plan for them. on’t be shocked because this has been happening ever since the dawn of humanity. Don’t be floored by this because it’s the story of the whole Old Testament. 

These people were the covenant people of God! These weren’t the foreign nations. This is Judah! This is Jerusalem. On one level, it is shocking because these were to be God’s people, and just look at them! There a definitely shocking sense of outrage.

But on another level, it should not shock us, because that’s how people can be. Ever since Adam and Eve, people have come together to resist the LORD and His good plan for them.

Now, it must be noted that these conspiracies never take the LORD by surprise. And they never actually threaten Him. Remember Psalm 2?

“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’

[And how does the LORD respond? “Oh no, what will I do?” No.]

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” (Ps. 2:1-4 NIVO)

And He enthrones His Messiah to take care of it all.

But that’s the conspiring of the nations. What about the conspiring of God’s nation?  Of Judah itself. What will the LORD do about them? V.11

They “have broken the covenant I made with their forefathers."

“Therefore this is what the LORD says: 'I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. [They didn’t listen to me. I’m not going not going to listen to them.] The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes. [Why not? Because those gods are like a scarecrow in a melon patch! They can’t hurt you, but they can’t help you either. No matter how many you make. Verse 13.] You have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem.'

‘Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress. ‘What is my beloved doing in my temple as she works out her evil schemes with many? Can consecrated meat avert your punishment? [No!] When you engage in your wickedness, then you rejoice.”

The LORD called you a thriving olive tree with fruit beautiful in form. But with the roar of a mighty storm he will set it on fire, and its branches will be broken. The LORD Almighty, who planted you, has decreed disaster for you, because the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done evil and provoked me to anger by burning incense to Baal.”

Jeremiah was a broken record about the broken covenant.

Are you starting to get a little tired of the repetition of this message?

How do you think Jeremiah felt? He had to deliver it for forty years! We’ve just been in his book for 10 weeks. 

Don’t be shocked if people conspire against your Lord.

I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder. Because I can easily fall into the error of thinking that people are basically good and deep down they all love God. And so I’m shocked when I encounter opposition, hostility, or even persecution. I should know better though. Remember what we just saw in 1 Peter?

It is true that all people have something good in them. They are all made in the image of God. And they all know something about God.

But aside from the work of the Holy Spirit in someone’s heart, deep down, humans are not good and they do not love God. Instead, they make and choose other gods. And, in fact, they work together to oppose the One true God.

The New Testament has a word for that. It’s the word “kosmos” or “world.” Humans united in conspiracy against the LORD. And the Bible says that we should not fall in with them: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn. 2:15 NIVO).

The Lord is not threatened by these conspiracies. And He wasn’t threatened by Judah’s conspiracy. Though He is clearly pictured as hurt by it. "What is my beloved doing in my temple as she works out her evil schemes with many?”  

Nothing will stop the LORD’s judgment from coming on Judah. That’s why Jeremiah is not allowed to pray for them. It won’t do any good. There will be no leniency. They have passed the point of no return.

They are going to be uprooted. The LORD Almighty had planted them, and now He’s going to undo that planting. They will be exiled. Pulled up by the roots.

Do not be shocked if people conspire against your Lord...and if you get caught up in the crossfire.

In verse 18, we get the story of the second conspiracy. And this one was a conspiracy about Jeremiah. Look at verse 18.

“Because the LORD revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time he showed me what they were doing. [The LORD knows about a conspiracy against Jeremiah, and told him about it so that he could escape. Verse 19.] I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that they had plotted against me, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree and its fruit; let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.’

[They were out to get Jeremiah. And they would have succeeded if the LORD had not revealed the plot to him. So Jeremiah asks the LORD for justice. V.20]

But, O LORD Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.”

Now, that sounds kind of harsh to me. But Jeremiah isn’t saying that he is going to take vengeance on his enemies. These men who were conspiring to assassinate him. He’s just asking for the LORD to give them a taste of their own medicine. And the LORD says that He is going to grant Jeremiah’s request. V.21

“Therefore this is what the LORD says about the men of Anathoth who are seeking your life and saying, 'Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD or you will die by our hands'–  therefore this is what the LORD Almighty says: 'I will punish them. Their young men will die by the sword, their sons and daughters by famine. Not even a remnant will be left to them, because I will bring disaster on the men of Anathoth in the year of their punishment.'”

Now, before we go any further. I want to point out just how wicked this conspiracy was.

Who are these men who were plotting to kill Jeremiah? The men of Anathoth.

What town was Jeremiah’s hometown? Anathoth. This wasn’t Babylon. These were his Israelite neighbors. These were his family! 

Sometimes when they hate your Lord, the people closest to you will hate you, too.

And they will gang on up on you. Don’t be surprised. If they conspire against Him, they will conspire against you. 

Anathoth was a city full of priests, but for several reasons they could not serve as priests at the temple. And Josiah was going around knocking down all of the other places where a priest could do his thing. And Jeremiah was egging him on. And the men of Anathoth were sick and tired of Jeremiah’s preaching. “Broken covenant. Broken covenant. Broken covenant. Repent, repent, repent.”

They wanted to worship these other gods. So Jeremiah almost died. They put out a hit on him. 

Imagine how Jeremiah must have felt!

Actually, we don’t have to imagine. He tells us. Look at chapter 12. Jeremiah is frustrated that all of this is still going on. And so he does something that might shock us. He brings it up to God. Look at chapter 12, verse 1.

“You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?”

Here’s application point number two:

#2. DON’T BE AFRAID TO TELL YOUR LORD WHAT YOU REALLY THINK.

Jeremiah sure is bold here, isn’t he? “Yet I would speak with you about your justice.” Whoo! Them’s strong words.

Now, notice that he starts with, “You are always righteous, O LORD...”  He knows what we learned a few weeks ago about Who LORD is and what He loves. He knows that LORD “exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth,” for in those He delights (Jer. 9:24 NIVO)! He knows that. He’s banking on that.

But Jeremiah doesn’t understand God’s timing on that.

When is that going to happen? These men conspired to kill me, and you said you’d deal with them. When? Why not now? I don’t understand. You said there would be all of these curses. You said there would be all of this judgment coming. You keep making me a broken record about the broken covenant. And here we still are! Forty years of this. Where is the justice?”

Can you relate to Jeremiah? He’s asking an age old question. “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” Why do they get away with it? “Why do all of the faithless live at ease?”

Look at your television. Look at the internet.  How many righteous people suffer and how many wicked people have more cars, more money, more popularity, more power? Look at verse 2.

“You have planted them [the wicked!], and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts. [They are hypocrites.] Yet you know me, O LORD; you see me and test my thoughts about you. [Am I a hypocrite? I don’t think so.] Drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter! [Fix it! Bring the justice.] How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished. Moreover, the people are saying, ‘He will not see what happens to us.’”

“We’ll get away with it.”

“They are mocking you. Why do you allow that, Yahweh?”

Now, before we look at how the LORD responds to Jeremiah, let’s just note that He lets Jeremiah talk to Him like that.

It’s okay.

It’s okay for Jeremiah to be raw with the LORD and to tell Him exactly what He’s really thinking.

Jeremiah does this several times in the course of this book. Sometimes these interactions with God are called “The Confessions of Jeremiah” because they are so personal. But they’re actually more like “The Protests of Jeremiah!” They are the real and raw personal interactions of Jeremiah with Yahweh.

Don’t be afraid to talk to the LORD about what’s really on your mind.

When’s the last time you did that? 

And what was it about?

It’s okay. Don’t be afraid to talk to God about it.

Be careful how you speak to Him. The Bible says a lot about that, too. But, obviously, He invites us to bring our hot mess real selves to Him and even ask Him the hard questions. Where else can we go but to Him?

Talk to your LORD about your heart and your mind and your doubts and your fears and your questions.

I’m so glad that Jeremiah could talk this way to Yahweh. Because I need to some myself.

Now, what is the answer to Jeremiah’s questions?

How would you answer them if Jeremiah was asking you? “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?”

The Bible gives multiple lines of teaching on this topic. This afternoon you might want to read Psalm 37 or Psalm 73 to see what they have to say about pretty much the same question that Jeremiah had.

But, here in chapter 12, the LORD doesn’t answer Jeremiah in any way like he might have wanted Him to. And if you didn’t know that the LORD often answers a question with another question back, you might be surprised at His response. Look at verse 5.

Jeremiah, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?”

The answer back is basically, “Jeremiah, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” “Buckle up, Buttercup.”

Here’s application point number three:

#3. DON’T BE STUNNED IF YOUR LORD SAYS THINGS WILL GET EVEN HARDER.

The LORD answers Jeremiah’s question with a question of his own.

“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” 

It seems to me that he’s likening the conspiracy and the pressure that Jeremiah has felt so far to a demanding foot race between men. And he senses that Jeremiah might be ready to throw in the towel. Jeremiah might feel like quitting.

But instead of just sympathizing with Jeremiah and comforting him, the LORD braces him for more. He says that compared to what Jeremiah has experienced so far, what is coming is like racing a horse.

It’s not going to be Jeremiah versus Usian Bolt or Jesse Owens. It’s going to be Jeremiah versus Rich Strike or Seabiscuit. Now how does that make you feel?

Yahweh says, “If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the [dangerous] thickets by the Jordan?” The conspiracy in your hometown is relatively safe compared to what is coming. 

How does that make you feel?

Well, I personally would like to be coddled and told that things are going to get better. Don’t worry. It’s going to be okay.

And the Bible does promise that things will get better in time. The LORD has promised good to us in the end. But you and I need to hear that things may get much worse before then. Jeremiah needed to be prepared. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather know the truth about what’s coming than to live in a fantasy world and get blind-sided again and again.

Do not be stunned to learn that things may get much harder.

The world hates the LORD. And we belong to the LORD. And so the world will hate us (John 15:18).

The conspiracies against the LORD will continue, and we will continue to be caught up in the crossfire.

Be warned. Be ready. And be faithful.

Remember, Jeremiah is not being told this so that he then fights for his rights. Or votes the right people into office. But that he stands firm in his message from the LORD and doesn’t waver in sharing it faithfully (remember chapter 1). 

Running with the horses means being ready for it to be overwhelming, but not quitting.

Trusting God no matter what.

Like Joel said last week when the storm and waves are overwhelming, trusting in Who Jesus really is and believing that He has got this and He has got you.

Friends, your life may be hard right now.  But it may get harder. I’m just telling you. 

Some of your lives are really difficult, and the Bible does not say that it will just get better right away.

There are pressures in our culture that are anti-Christian. Things might get better if God so chooses.

But they very well might get worse. And we need to be braced and ready for that. We need to be resilient. 

I’m not good at that naturally. I’m a whiner. I’m a worrier.

But I want to run with the horses.

Even if it gets harder and harder for 40 years. I’m sure that Jeremiah wanted to hear that the conspiracy would soon die down and that things would get better around the corner. But the LORD told it to him straight, and I’m sure that in the long run he was glad that he knew what was coming.

It’s not that LORD dismissed what Jeremiah was going through at that point. He wasn’t saying that his suffering then in this Anothoth conspiracy was no big deal. He didn’t discount it at all. Look at verse 6.

“Your brothers, your own family–even they have betrayed you; they have raised a loud cry against you. Do not trust them, though they speak well of you.”

“There is a conspiracy going on. But it’s part of the larger conspiracy against Me!”

He’s saying, basically, “I know how you feel.” V.7

“I will forsake my house, abandon my inheritance; I will give the one I love into the hands of her enemies. My inheritance has become to me like a lion in the forest. She roars at me; therefore I hate her. [What strong words! The lion of Judah has turned to attack the LORD of Judah! Talk about a conspiracy! What choice does Yahweh have than to bring judgement? V.9] Has not my inheritance become to me like a speckled bird of prey that other birds of prey surround and attack? Go and gather all the wild beasts; bring them to devour. Many shepherds [foreign kings] will ruin my vineyard and trample down my field; they will turn my pleasant field into a desolate wasteland. It will be made a wasteland, parched and desolate before me; the whole land will be laid waste because there is no one who cares. Over all the barren heights in the desert destroyers will swarm, for the sword of the LORD will devour from one end of the land to the other; no one will be safe. They will sow wheat but reap thorns; they will wear themselves out but gain nothing. So bear the shame of your harvest because of the LORD's fierce anger.’”

They have chosen to hate me, and therefore I must choose to uproot them.

And yet, even that is not the end of the story.

Here’s point number four and last.

#4. DON’T BE SURPRISED IF YOUR LORD IS AMAZINGLY GRACIOUS.

After all of what you’ve heard today, would you expect the LORD to talk about how He’s going to save the nations? The nations that have conspired against Him? Even Judah who had conspired against Him and against His prophet? Look at verse 14.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘As for all my wicked neighbors who seize the inheritance I gave my people Israel [the surrounding foreign nations], I will uproot them from their lands and I will uproot the house of Judah from among them. But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to his own inheritance and his own country. And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, 'As surely as the LORD lives'–even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal–then they will be established among my people. But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,’ declares the LORD.”

Isn’t that amazing?! The LORD says that He’s going to uproot all of the wicked nations that attack Judah, just like He’s going to uproot Judah.

But that’s not all. He says that after He’s done that, He’s going to be compassionate on–not just Judah but the nations! If they repent and turn to Him, He will receive them and plant them again!

He is relentless in His amazing grace.

Even to foreigners from faraway lands like Indonesia and Pennsylvania.

This is glimpse of the grace of our Lord who has given us a mission to tell all of the nations about His great compassion and salvation. Remember, Jeremiah was appointed a prophet to the nations (1:5, 1:10). And not just for judgment! But for salvation. Gentiles can go from God-hating conspirators to God-loving members of His covenant family.

And here’s how He made that happen:

By coming in the Person of Jesus Christ and experiencing the worst of the worst of conspiracies.

They were out to get him. They had come together in secrecy and plotted against him.

Behind closed doors, they had decided to gang on up him and lead him “like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.”

They were out to get him.

There was a conspiracy against him.

And I’m not talking just about Jeremiah.

I’m talking about Jesus.


Sunday, June 26, 2022

“Like a Scarecrow in a Melon Patch” [Matt's Messages]

“Like a Scarecrow in a Melon Patch”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
June 26, 2022 :: Jeremiah 9:25-10:25 

Last week, we just looked at two verses, verses 23 and 24, which taught us to not boast about ourselves–our smarts, or our strength, or our stuff, but instead, to boast about this–that we know the LORD and know His heart–how He delights in kindness, justice, and righteousness.

Well, sadly, the nation of Judah was not very interested in following that teaching. No, they were tempted, instead, to talk up and trust in everything but the LORD Himself including the temple of the LORD, the Law of the LORD, and even the Circumcision given by the LORD.

Everything but the LORD Himself!

And they were also enamored with the gods of the surrounding nations and tempted to put their faith and their fear in them.

And so, therefore, judgment was coming upon Judah, and the Prophet Jeremiah had been sent to tell them. To warn them. These words in Jeremiah 9 and 10 are meant to be a warning to Judah, warning them about what not to do and showing them the better way that they ought to take.

And you and I can learn from these words for our lives today.

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So here’s the question I want to start with this morning. It’s not a trick question, but it might be a little tricky. Here it is:

How powerful are idols?

I-D-O-L-S. How powerful are they? How powerful were the other gods that the nation of Judah was so tempted to worship? What do you think?

They were certainly tempted to worship them, weren’t they? In this section, Jeremiah has only one major command for the people of Judah. I just read it in chapter 10, verse 2, “Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them.”

And he’s talking, again, about idolatry. The ways of the nations were the ways that they worshiped other gods than Yahweh. The ways that the nations bowed down to Baal and Ashtoreth and Molech and the Queen of the Heavens. The other nations lived in terror of the gods of the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. The nations lived in fear of astral deities. They read their horoscopes daily and studied astrology. And they made idols and worshiped them.

And the people of Judah were sorely tempted to be jealous of the nations and want those gods for themselves.  And then, they gave in, time and time again.

So, how powerful are idols?

In chapter 10, Jeremiah uses incredibly funny satire to answer that question. Jeremiah pulls out some sarcasm with an image that will really stick in your mind. He says in verse 5, “Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.’” Does that answer the question?

You might put it this way: Idols are powerful to birdbrains.

(No offense to birds, of course, and their brains. They are supposed to be that way.)

If this translation is correct, and there is ambiguity in the Hebrew, Jeremiah likens idols to scarecrows in a melon patch. Or some of your translations might say “a cucumber field.” Same difference.

Idols are scarecrows at a fruit farm. 

How powerful is a scarecrow? Well, if you think it’s powerful, it’s kind of powerful. In that sense, it has the power you give it. Scarecrows are powerful to crows. They have the power to scare them.

But it’s all just appearances. When you actually study a scarecrow, you find out that they don’t do anything. Because they don’t have a brain, right?  If they only did.

They don’t have anything. They aren’t alive–unlike the one in the Wizard of Oz or the one in Batman, scarecrows in the real world aren’t very scary if you know the truth about them. V.5 again.

“Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.’”

I’ve got two simple points of application this morning, and this is number one:

#1. DO NOT FEAR IDOLS.

Do not fear others gods than Yahweh. Do not fear idols instead of the LORD.

Now, of course, that is just so basic, so rule number one, right?

In fact, it’s rule number one and rule number two from the Ten Commandments.
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exod. 20:2-6 NIV84).

This is basic stuff. Do not fear idols.

And by "fear" we mainly mean "worship." Do not trust in them, do not bow down to them, do not build your life around them, do not do what they tell you to do.

Do not fear them. This is basic stuff. 

And, yet, the nation of Judah had been continually tempted to do this and repeatedly succumbed to the temptation.

And so Jeremiah and many other Old Testament writers repeatedly took them to task. This disdain for and satire about idols is a regular feature of the Old Testament (see Isaiah 40:19-20, 41:7, Psalm 115 and 135 for some examples).

Idols are something that it is right and good to poke fun at. Because an idol is like a scarecrow in a melon patch.

Let’s back and up and see just how Jeremiah gets to that scathing simile. Back up to chapter 9, verse 25 and 26. The point of these two verses is to lump Judah in with the other nations that they so desperately wanted to be like. But it’s not going to turn out good for them. V.25

“The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh–Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places."

Did you know that some other nations practiced some kind of circumcision? They did. Their circumcision didn’t mean what Israel’s meant. Israel’s meant that they belonged to Yahweh. They were His people.

But they had begun to trust in the outward sign of circumcision just like they had trusted in the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD. And Jeremiah says that outward circumcision without inward circumcision is worthless. Did you see how Judah just got lumped in with Egypt? And Edom and Ammon, and Moab?!

You want to be like those guys? Well, I guess you are. V.26, “For all these nations [including Judah!] are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.’”

Why? Because they were worshiping idols from their hearts.

Jeremiah says, “No!” Chapter 10, verse 1 again.

“Hear what the LORD says to you, O house of Israel. This is what the LORD says: ‘Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. [Why?] For the customs of the peoples are worthless...”  

I think that Jeremiah has a least 3 reasons here why Judah should immediately stop and repent of fearing idols.

First off, they are worthless. The Hebrew word there is the word that Ecclesiastes uses to describe the vanity and emptiness of life without God (“hebel”). And it basically means “nothing” or “empty” or “hollow” or even a “vapor.” 

Here’s what Jeremiah thinks of the worth of idols. They are worth about as much as a belch.

And then he gets really satiric and begins to show just how silly idols are. Verse 3.

“...the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.”

You get the picture? To get an idol, you have to do a lot of work. You take your saw out into Blackie and pick out a tree you like and cut it down. Then you get out chisel and take off the bark and shape it into the form of whatever so it looks more human or at least more “godlike.” And then you take your hard earned cash and buy silver and gold to deck it out. And then you have to nail it in place so that the wind doesn’t knock over your idol.

You see just how worthy they are? It’s the worth you give it! If you pour out your sweat and your cash, they are receiving worth from you, but they don’t give any true worth to you.

Because they are not just worthless, they are powerless. V.5 “Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.’”

That’s double powerlessness. Do not fear idols because they are completely and utterly powerless on their own.

You have to carry them from place to place! You have to pull up the nails and then move that scarecrow to another field if you want it to do anything about the crows.

But don’t, for a minute, be scared of them yourselves. Do not be afraid of the scarecrows in the melon patch. They can’t do a blessed thing. Against you or for you.

Do you believe that?

We all say we do when it’s other gods like Baal and Ashtoreth and Molech.

And I don’t think that any of us here are building physical idols like these in our backyards. If you are, the elders of the church need to have a word with you!

But idolatry is sneaky, isn’t it?

The New Testament says that God’s people are still tempted to fear idols, but they have different names.

Names like “Money.”

You cannot worship both God and Mammon. Covetousness is idolatry.

Or “Pleasure.” Our culture has made an idol out of all kinds of pleasure, especially sexual pleasure. Or “Autonomy.” You can’t tell me what to do!

Or here’s one that really tempts me. I’ve said it before. “Approval.”

I like to be liked.
I love to be loved.
I crave approval.

And I can make it my god. It becomes an idol for me. I find myself fearing it.

What is it for you? What idols are you tempted to fear?

You can tell by how they make you act. When you fear something, it changes how you behave. It shapes your choices. If you find yourself sinning, you are probably trying to serve some idol erected in your heart.

If you find yourself obeying and practicing wisdom, you are probably fearing the LORD. Because the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom.

When I am worshiping the god of “People’s Approval,” I find myself tempted to not say and do the things I should say or do because I might not get Approval’s blessing.

I fear it. It controls me.

But Jeremiah would say to me. “Do not fear “People’s Approval”, Matt, it can do no harm nor can it do any good.” That’s not where the power lies.

Remember: False gods never fail to fail.

False gods never deliver on their promises. They are powerless like scarecrows in a melon patch.

Let me give you the third reason that Jeremiah gives Judah to not fear idols before we get to the last point this morning. Jump down to verse 8.

“They [the nations] are all senseless and foolish; they are taught by worthless wooden idols.”

Idols are not just worthless (same word there) and powerless. They are senseless.

And that doesn’t just mean that they don’t have senses, like they can’t see or hear, but they are stupid. They are dumb. Like the scarecrow, they don’t have a brain.

In fact, they are blockheads. They are made of wood, so why would you want to be taught by them?/!

If you are taught by a block of wood, you become a blockhead yourself.

The nations were blockheads. And Judah wanted to be a blockhead, too.

Which is just so foolish when they have a God like Yahweh!

And that’s point number two and last this morning:

#2. FEAR THE LORD ALONE.

Look back up at verse 6. “No one is like you, O LORD; you are great, and your name is mighty in power. Who should not revere you, O King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you.”

“How great is our God! ... And will see how great, how great is our God”

The LORD alone should be feared because He is all alone in a class by Himself. The LORD is incomparable! “No one is like you.” 

There is a reason we call idols “false gods.”  It’s because they lie, but also because they are nothing like the real God!

Jeremiah has to pray this to God. He can’t help but break out into praise.

“No one is like you, O LORD; you are great, and your name is mighty in power. Who should not [FEAR] you, O King of the nations? [Everybody ought to.] This is your due. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you.”

Search the whole world over, and you will not find a god like Yahweh.

He is incomparable. The idols are worthless. He is incomparably valuable. In a class by Himself. 

Secondly, He is powerful.

The idols are powerless. But God is powerful. “Your name is mighty in power.”

Idols have to be made, but the true God is un-made and makes everything else. Look at verse 8 again.

“They are all senseless and foolish; they are taught by worthless wooden idols. Hammered silver is brought from Tarshish and gold from Uphaz. What the craftsman and goldsmith have made is then dressed in blue and purple–all made by skilled workers. [Very impressive, but you have to do all of the work. V.10]

But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.”

“Who made God?”

Sometimes a little kid will ask that question. “Well, if God made everything, then who made God?” And some philosophers think that it’s stumper of a question, too.

But the answer is very simple and mind-blowing–nobody did. Nobody made God. He is the true God, the living God, the eternal King. He always was and always will be. 

Yahweh is everything these idols are not. Judah was taken with them because they were tangible and right there in front of them, and they were jealous of the other nations, and because they believed the lies that came with them.

I mean, who doesn’t want a bright and shiny thing? Silver and gold and blue and purple. Regal! No doubt. Idols are impressive in the moment.

Did ever shop for something and be totally swayed by how shiny it is? “Ooo. Shiny.” The internet is great at this. It makes everything looks awesome. But then you get the product home, and it’s nothing like what you hoped for? That’s what idols are like.

But not the LORD. 

He is not worthless. He is true.
He is not powerless. He is mighty. 

In fact, He made everything that there is. V.11. This verse is in Aramaic in the original. V.11

“‘Tell them this [Judah!]: 'These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.' [They are so temporary because they are a part of the creation. But God is the Creator! V.12] 

But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.”

He is not just powerful. He is ALL powerful! Everything you see came from Him.

And not from Baal. Baal was the supposed storm god. Jeremiah says that Baal doesn’t control the weather. And neither does weather.com. The LORD controls the weather.

Don’t be “terrified by signs in the sky” (v.2) 

Fear the One who made the sky!

And did you notice how He made it? With wisdom and understanding.

The idols are senseless and foolish, but the LORD is wise. He is no blockhead!

Do you see the contrasts?

Idols are worthless. The LORD is incomparably valuable.
Idols are powerless. The LORD is the powerful Creator of all.
Idols are senseless. The LORD is unimaginably wise.

Idols are scarecrows in a melon patch. The LORD is the Portion of Jacob. Look at verse 14.

“Everyone is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. His images are a fraud; they have no breath in them. They are worthless, the objects of mockery; when their judgment comes, they will perish.

He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these, for he is the Maker of all things, including Israel, the tribe of his inheritance–the LORD Almighty is his name.”
 
Fear the LORD alone. Mock your idols if that helps you repudiate them, and fear the LORD alone.

I love that title, “The Portion of Jacob.”

[I almost entitled this sermon, “The Portion of Jacob,” but I couldn’t pass up the melon patch.]

The Hebrew word for “portion” (“chelek”) is the idea of an allocation of territory parceled out to someone, often as their precious inheritance.


But Jeremiah says that the LORD did not just give them land. He gave them Himself. He is the “Portion of Jacob,” of Israel. He belongs to them.

That’s amazing language, isn’t it? We tend to think about the second part of the verse, that God’s people belong to Him. Israel is “the tribe of his inheritance.”

And that’s right, too. But the LORD says that He gave Himself, in a special way to His people.

He was their Portion. He was to be their Precious Possession. That’s what it means to fear Him. It means that He is yours, your precious possession. “I am my Beloved’s and He is mine.”

We own Him, so to speak. He is the most valuable thing in our hearts. Our treasure.

Is the LORD your treasure?

Idols cannot be that for you. They cannot give themselves to you in any satisfying way because they, really they aren’t real! They can’t do anything. If they are valuable to you, it’s all in your mind.

But “He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these, for he is the Maker of all things, including Israel, the tribe of his inheritance–the LORD Almighty is his name.”

Fear the LORD alone. And you will be satisfied forever.

But sadly, Judah would not.

Judah refused to fear the LORD alone and instead continued to fear the gods of nations. They chose to worship the scarecrow in the melon patch. They refused to heed this warning, so the LORD would bring His judgment. V.17

“Gather up your belongings to leave the land, you who live under siege. For this is what the LORD says: ‘At this time I will hurl out those who live in this land; I will bring distress on them so that they may be captured.’”

The LORD was supposed to be their most precious possession, but now they will have to gather up all of their possessions because they are going to be uprooted. They are going to be be “hurled” or “slung” like from a slingshot into exile out of this land. They are going into captivity.

And, boy, is it going to hurt. V.19

“Woe to me because of my injury! My wound is incurable! Yet I said to myself, ‘This is my sickness, and I must endure it.’ [I think that Jeremiah is speaking for Judah and Jerusalem. He is lamenting the pain that is going to come. V.20] My tent is destroyed; all its ropes are snapped. My sons are gone from me and are no more; no one is left now to pitch my tent or to set up my shelter. [Judgment has come because of our failure to fear the LORD alone.] 

The shepherds are senseless and do not inquire of the LORD; so they do not prosper and all their flock is scattered.  Listen! The report is coming–a great commotion from the land of the north [Babylon]! It will make the towns of Judah desolate, a haunt of jackals.” 

It could have all been avoided. But now there is nothing more than lamentations and supplications to be made. V.23

“I know, O LORD, that a man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps. Correct me, LORD, but only with justice–not in your anger, lest you reduce me to nothing. [I think he’s still speaking for the whole nation and lumping himself in with them. He’s asking for wisdom still and for God’s justice and not full anger. Because He knows that the LORD delights in justice. But he is asking for God’s anger to be poured out on those who are coming to destroy them. V.25.] Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the peoples who do not call on your name. For they have devoured Jacob; they have devoured him completely and destroyed his homeland.”

We will see this theme again and again, as well, as time goes on. Yes, Judah will be judged, and the LORD will use the sinful nations around Judah to do it. But those nations are not safe from God’s judgment either. In time, the LORD will judge them for how they treated Judah–even though He used them to bring justice. That’s another amazing part of His wisdom. And another reason to fear Him.

But did you notice those familiar words in verse 23 that Jeremiah says about what he knows? What does it sound like to you? 

To me, it sounds a lot like Question #1 of the Heidelberg Catechism. I’ll bet those German Christians had been reading Jeremiah 10:23.

“I know, O LORD, that a man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps.” 

You are not your own.

I do not belong to me.

The life I live is borrowed. I’m just a steward of it.

My life belongs to the Lord.

And if you are a Christian, yours does, too.

We might make some decisions along the way, but the Lord directs our steps.

So back to our original question: How powerful are idols?

They are powerful to birdbrains and blockheads. They have just as much power in our lives as we give them. They were powerful enough to take down the entire nation of Judah and catapult them into exile. But the idols didn’t do that themselves. They are just like scarecrows in a melon patch. Worthless, powerless, and senseless.

Do not fear them! As the apostle John says, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

The LORD, on the other hand, is incomparably valuable, incomprehensibly powerful, and incredibly wise. Fear Him alone.

Make the Lord your portion. Trust in Him with your whole heart.

Give Him your whole life. It doesn’t belong to you anyway.

And fear Him alone.


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Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "The Word of the LORD Came to Me" - Jeremiah 1:1-19
02. "I Bring Charges Against You" - Jeremiah 2:1-3:5
03. "Return to Me" - Jeremiah 3:6-4:4
04. “Oh My Anguish, My Anguish!” - Jeremiah 4:6-5:31
05. "Ask for the Ancient Paths" - Jeremiah 6:1-30
06. “This Is the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD!” - Jeremiah 7:1-8:3
07. "Is There No Balm in Gilead?" - Jeremiah 8:4-9:22
08. "Boast About This" - Jeremiah 9:23-24