Monday, October 03, 2022

You Are Invited to Celebration Weekend 2022

Dear Church Family,

Our church was founded in 1892, so that means that this year, in 2022, our congregation has turned 130 years old. That’s a lot of candles on the birthday cake!

And this year, we have set aside an entire weekend to celebrate our 130th anniversary with some super special events, Saturday October 8th and Sunday October 9th. I want to tell you more about those events and how you and your family can participate.

My friend, Greg Strand, is coming all the way from the EFCA National Office in Minneapolis to be our special guest speaker for this celebration! Greg is the director of theology and credentialing for the EFCA, and many of our folks have sat under his teaching at Stay Sharp, our district theology conference, for the last 15 years. 

We’ve asked Greg to bring a “taste of Stay Sharp” to us at Lanse Free Church with two special anniversary seminars. On Saturday evening October 8th from 6:30-8:30, Greg is going to teach on theology. His Saturday seminar is entitled, “We Believe in One God: An Introduction to Trinitarian Theology.” So if you are wondering what we believe about Who God is as Father, Son, and Spirit and what God is up to in the world that He has made, then we’d love to see you at that seminar. It’s free, and there is no registration. Just come!

Then on Sunday morning, Greg will be back to teach us about church history. His seminar on Sunday October 9th will start at 8:30 and go to 9:30, and the topic is, “From Where Did the EFCA Come: A Brief History of the Evangelical Free Church of America.” I think it will be neat to see the connections between our church’s history and our association of churches’ history. Because we go back almost to the beginning with our Swedish roots! Again, it’s totally free, and there is no registration–unless you need childcare. We will arrange childcare for the history seminar on Sunday morning, if you let me know you need help with that by Monday October 3rd. But aside from that, there is no registration. Just come!

But wait, there’s more! On Celebration Sunday, we are going to praise God together for 130 years of His faithfulness to us. And the Celebration Choir is going to sing a special song. The choir is rehearsing on Thursday night October 6th at 7pm, and Amy Jo would love for you to participate. Anyone in the church! See Amy Jo if you have any questions, or just show up for the rehearsal. The song is easy and beautiful and was an old Swedish hymn that fits with our church history.

Also during church, Greg Strand is going to preach for us from God’s Word. And then afterward we’re going to take our annual church family photo. And this year, we get to have it inside once again! 

And then we’re going to cap everything off with a Fellowship Dinner that is being planned by the Hospitality Team. And this is the one thing we really need people to help with right now, we need to get a good idea of how many people are coming and what they are planning to bring. So if you haven’t already turned in a green RSVP sheet for the Hospitality Team, we need you to do that or go to that link in your email and sign up online so that we know how many to prepare for.

And if you are part of our new youth group (grades 7 through 12), you are invited on Sunday evening for a special pizza party at 6:30 where Greg is going to talk about “Why Theology Is Important” for youth! And parents of our youth are invited to listen in and eat pizza, as well.

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to have this anniversary celebration of all of the things the Lord has done in our midst for the last 130 years. May He get all the glory.

See you at church!

-Pastor Matt

Sunday, October 02, 2022

“Woe to the Shepherds” [Matt's Messages]

“Woe to the Shepherds”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
October 2, 2022 :: Jeremiah 21:1-23:8

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the LORD.”

Those are some scary words.  You don’t want the LORD to say to you, “Woe.” It means that you are in big trouble with Him. These shepherds were in dire straights. They were on dangerous ground.

Jeremiah delivers to them this word of “woe.” “‘Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,’ declares the LORD.” I do not want to be in their shoes.


Who are these bad shepherds? He’s not talking about literal shepherds, sheep-herders, like the ones that came to see baby Jesus. “Shepherd” here is a metaphor for the kings of the nation of Judah.

While Jeremiah has prophesied against the whole nation of Judah as they have forsaken their covenant with Yahweh, he has also focused on the bad leaders that have taken Judah down these wrong paths. Bad shepherds.

Prophets, priests, and kings.

Last time, we learned about the bad priest Passhur son of Immer. Next time, we’ll find out more about the bad prophets in chapter 23. But today in chapters 21 and 22, the LORD speaks directly to the evil failures of the last several kings of Judah.

We learned back in April that Jeremiah prophesied, before the exile, during the reigns of the last five kings of Judah. Extra credit if you can name them! Chapter 1 actually only names 3 of them, probably because 2 of them only reigned for 3 months each.

But their names were:

Josiah
Jehoahaz
Jehoiakim
Jehoiachin
Zedekiah

They all actually had more than one name, but these were their royal names.

Now, do you remember thumbs up and thumbs down for the kings? There were no thumbs up kings for the northern kingdom of Israel. But there were some thumbs-up kings for the southern kingdom of Judah. How about these five guys? Does anybody remember their score card?

Well, let me give you a little hint. This sermon is entitled, “Woe to the Shepherds” meaning the kings of Judah.

Josiah is actually a thumbs up. He was actually two thumbs up. Josiah discovered the Book of the Law and tried to reform Judah according to it.

But how about these other guys? 

Jehoahaz?
Jehoiakim?
Jehoiachin?
Zedekiah?

All thumbs down. And that’s what these few chapters are about. They are like an autopsy, a post-mortem examination of what went wrong with these kings. So that we can learn from their failures. 

I’ve only got two points to make this morning, of application, and here’s the first one. It’s pretty simple:

#1. DON’T BE LIKE THE BAD SHEPHERDS.

Don’t fall into the traps that got them the word “Woe” spoken over them by the LORD. Don’t be like the bad shepherds. So, let’s see what they did wrong. In chapter 21, we actually flash forward to the ending. We start with the last king to sit on the throne in Judah, King Zedekiah. His personal name was Mattaniah. And he ruled from 597 to 586 BC.

And this chapter appears to take place around 588 BC. Just about 2 years before the end of his reign and the end of the nation of Judah itself. And guess what Zedekiah is doing in 588BC?

He’s asking the Prophet Jeremiah for help. Look with me at chapter 21, verse 1.

“The word came to Jeremiah from the LORD when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur son of Malkijah and the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah. They said: ‘Inquire now of the LORD for us because Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is attacking us. Perhaps the LORD will perform wonders for us as in times past so that he will withdraw from us’” (vv.1-2).

Stop there for a second. Do you get the picture? Do you get the time frame? This is some time later than the events we’ve been studying the last few weeks in chapters 18, 19, and 20. (Remember this book jumps around chronologically.)

It’s probably been several years, maybe more than a decade since then. This Passhur is not the same Passhur as last week’s. Different dads. And this Zephaniah is not the prophet but a priest. And this Passhur and Zephaniah are sent by King Zedekiah to ask the prophet Jeremiah if he would ask the LORD to do a miracle and save Jerusalem from Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. 

By the way, this is the first time that he has been actually named so far in the this book. And it’s because he’s at the city gates. And they are under siege. Zedekiah had sworn loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar but made an secret alliance with Egypt and then betrayed Nebuchadnezzar and then rebelled against him, and it has not gone well for him.  Nebuchadnezzar is knocking on his door.

And Zedekiah is looking for a way out, and he thought of Jeremiah. It turns out that he loves to ask Jeremiah for advice. He just never takes it. But this time, he asks for Jeremiah for prayers. He asks him to inquire to see if the LORD might have another miracle up his sleeve. Like He used to.

There was a time not, too far back, when his ancestor King Hezekiah prayed, and the LORD performed a wonder–killing an entire attacking army in one night. Zedekiah asks if maybe the LORD would do that again?

And Jeremiah sends back this answer, “No.” No. It is too late. The clay was too hard, and it is now time to smash. V.3

“But Jeremiah answered them, ‘Tell Zedekiah, 'This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am about to turn against you the weapons of war that are in your hands, which you are using to fight the king of Babylon and the Babylonians who are outside the wall besieging you. And I will gather them inside this city. I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in anger and fury and great wrath. I will strike down those who live in this city–both men and animals–and they will die of a terrible plague. After that, declares the LORD, I will hand over Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the people in this city who survive the plague, sword and famine, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to their enemies who seek their lives. He will put them to the sword; he will show them no mercy or pity or compassion'” (vv.3-7). Stop there.

“It’s worse than you think, Zedekiah. Not only am I not going to fight for you, I’m going to fight against you. And you yourself are going to die.”  

Woe to the Shepherd, Zedekiah.

Jeremiah does have some advice, however, for the people of Judah. Verse 8. “‘Furthermore, tell the people, 'This is what the LORD says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. [Sound familiar?] Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; he will escape with his life. I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the LORD. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.'”

Your only chance is to survive is surrender. Boy, did Pashhur and Zephaniah hate that advice! We’ll see how they reacted when we get up to chapters 37 and 38! They thought that this was treason. But it was actually just good sense and faithfulness! Because the LORD had decided that Jerusalem was going up in flames. 

And that’s exactly what happened. And we can’t really comprehend what that was like. Read the Book of Lamentations.

But the question is why. Why did Yahweh respond to Zedekiah in this way? Look at verse 11.

“‘Moreover, say to the royal house of Judah [say to Zedekiah], 'Hear the word of the LORD;
O house of David, this is what the LORD says: 'Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done–burn with no one to quench it. I am against you, Jerusalem, you who live above this valley on the rocky plateau, declares the LORD–you who say, ‘Who can come against us? Who can enter our refuge?’ I will punish you as your deeds deserve, declares the LORD. I will kindle a fire in your forests that will consume everything around you.'”

Zedekiah failed to administer justice every morning. He had one job! "Keep the covenant! Lead the people to worship the LORD alone and follow His commandments. You’re the king! If you see someone is robbed, then rescue them from the hand of their oppressor. Administer justice every morning. That’s what you were supposed to do. And, Zedekiah, you were not doing it. 

Instead, you were trusting in how Jerusalem was situated so well for natural defense. And you were trusting in all of the wrong things. Like having the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of LORD." V.13

“Who can come against us? Who can enter our refuge?’”  We’re sitting pretty! Not if the LORD is against you, you aren’t. “I will kindle a fire in your forests that will consume everything around you.” So, woe to you, Shepherd Zedekiah. 

Now, in chapter 22, it jumps back again, in time. It jumps from Zedekiah the last king of Judah to just after the last good king of Judah. Josiah and then goes down from there through the others.

Look at chapter 22. Verse 1.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there: 'Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, you who sit on David's throne–you, your officials and your people who come through these gates.”

Now, just think about that for a second. How dangerous is this?!

The LORD tells Jeremiah not just to go to the Potter’s House or the Linen Belt Store or even to the Temple complex, but he sends Jeremiah down to the palace of the king of Judah and puts a fiery message in his mouth! This is a dangerous mission, but Jeremiah obeys. 

What message does he deliver to the Shepherds of Judah? What does God want to say to them? Verse 3.

“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. [That’s so important. It’s so basic, but it’s so important. ‘Do what is just and right.’] Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David's throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin'” (vv.3-5).

Do you see what the LORD cares about? Do you see how much He cares about justice? “Do what is just and right.”

Because that’s Who the LORD is, right? Remember chapter 9? “[L]et him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," (Jer. 9:24 NIVO).

This is the LORD’s vision of leadership. It’s someone who does what just and right and watches out for the little guy. 

“Do no wrong or violence to the alien” meaning the immigrant. “The fatherless or the widow.” That’s the vulnerable. Those who don’t have many rights or money or power. “And do not shed innocent blood.”

The LORD loves justice and righteousness. And it was the king’s job to administer it. And if they did, then wonder of wonders, there would be blessing! But if they didn’t (and they didn’t), their palace would become a ruin. V.6

“For this is what the LORD says about the palace of the king of Judah: ‘Though you are like Gilead to me, like the summit of Lebanon [beautiful forest places like central Pennsylvania], I will surely make you like a desert, like towns not inhabited. I will send destroyers against you, each man with his weapons, and they will cut up your fine cedar beams and throw them into the fire” (vv.6-7).  Did you ever think about that?

Remember that palace that Solomon built for himself out of the cedars of Lebanon? I read about it in my morning Bible reading this week (1 Kings 7). It was this beautiful house built of cedar. Imagine what it looked like! Imagine what it smelled like. Not just a cedar-lined closet, but a cedar-built palace.

And the LORD said, that he was going to turn that fine house into firewood. V.8

“‘People from many nations will pass by this [burning] city and will ask one another, 'Why has the LORD done such a thing to this great city?' And the answer will be: 'Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and have worshiped and served other gods.'”

They only had one job, but they refused to do it. They only had to be faithful to one Lord, but they were unfaithful. They only had to administer justice, but they loved crookedness.

And now he gets personal. He proclaims woe on King Jehoahaz, also known as King Shallum, son of Josiah. Look at verse 10.

“Do not weep for the dead king or mourn his loss [meaning Josiah, who was killed in battle in 609 BC. Don’t weep for him]; rather, weep bitterly for him who is exiled, because he will never return nor see his native land again. For this is what the LORD says about Shallum son of Josiah, who succeeded his father as king of Judah but has gone from this place: ‘He will never return. He will die in the place where they have led him captive; he will not see this land again.’”

Josiah’s son, Shallum, also known as Jehoahaz, was only king for 3 months before Nebuchadnezzar carted him off into exile (2 Kings 23:29-35).

And Jeremiah says that he is to be pitied more than his dead father. How come? Because his father died a two-thumbs-up-king. And Shallum was a two-thumbs down king, and exile was his judgment.

And then his brother took over. Elliakim, or more commonly known as King Jehoiakim. And who verse 13 is all about.

“‘Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor [basically slavery]. He says, 'I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.' So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. [Improving on what Solomon had made with even more cedar and vermillion. This is the palace that Zedekiah was living in in chapter 21.] Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the LORD. But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.’

Therefore this is what the LORD says about Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah: ‘They will not mourn for him: 'Alas, my brother! Alas, my sister!' [Same Hebrew word for “Woe.”] They will not mourn for him: 'Alas, my master! Alas, his splendor!' He will have the burial of a donkey–dragged away and thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem.’” (vv.13-19).

Jehoiakim ruled for 11 years. And he was basically Jeremiah’s enemy. We will read a lot more about him over the next several months.  Jehoikakim wasn’t anything like his father Josiah. He was two thumbs down. And nobody[!] mourned when he died. Think about the whole former British Empire mourned the passing of Queen Elizabeth last month. Nobody mourned the death of King Jehoiakim.

Partially because of how different he was from his father. Look more closely at what his father did right. It really shows us what a king was supposed to be like.

What God really cares about. And how He wants you and me to live today. 

Look back up at verse 15. All Jehoiakim cared about was luxury. 

“Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? [Is that’s what’s important? Doesn’t the LORD take care of our needs?] Did not your father [Josiah] have food and drink? He did what was right and just [sounds like verse 3], so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the LORD.”

These are important words. This is what it looks like to know God. If you truly know God, then you will love people. You will be committed to what right and just. And you will look out for the poor and the needy.

How are we doing at that? Are we committed to justice? Are we committed to the poor?

We can all have different ways of working towards justice and showing compassion. But we all need to be committed to it, at heart and with our hands and feet and wallets, if we call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ. “Is that not what it means to know me?”

It’s not just that we pray or read our Bibles, but we live out our faith.

I love that our EFCA Statement Faith directly addresses this in Article #8. It says, “God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed.” 

Because that’s the heart of God. That’s what it means to know Him.

Or here’s how the Prophet Micah said it, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic. 6:8 NIVO) We walk humbly with our God by acting justly and loving mercy. By doing what is just and right and defending the cause of the poor and needy.

God says, “Is that not what it means to know me?”

Do you know God? We show it by how we treat the poor and needy.

How we treat the asylum-seeking migrants at our borders.
How we treat the innocent unborn in our wombs.

Don’t be like Jehoiakim!

He wasn’t interested in knowing the LORD. He was only interested in how nice his house was. And so the LORD was against him. Woe to you, Shepherd Jehoiakim!

And woe to your son. Jeconiah or “Coniah” for short. Or his royal name, “King Jehoiachin.” 

That’s the next king to be mentioned by name. He was also thumbs down. The last four king were all thumbs down. And everybody suffered. V.20

“Go up to Lebanon and cry out, let your voice be heard in Bashan, cry out from Abarim, for all your allies are crushed. I warned you when you felt secure, but you said, 'I will not listen!' This has been your way from your youth; you have not obeyed me. The wind will drive all your shepherds away, and your allies will go into exile. Then you will be ashamed and disgraced because of all your wickedness. You who live in [quote-unquote] 'Lebanon,' who are nestled in cedar buildings, how you will groan when pangs come upon you, pain like that of a woman in labor!

‘As surely as I live,’ declares the LORD, ‘even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off. I will hand you over to those who seek your life, those you fear–to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to the Babylonians. I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country, where neither of you was born, and there you both will die. You will never come back to the land you long to return to’” (vv.20-27).

Just like his uncle Shallum (or Jehoahaz), King Jehoiachin will only reign for three months and then be sent off into exile to die there (2 Kings 24:15). Probably in 597 BC at the same time that the Prophet Ezekiel was exiled, too. Uprooted, never to return. V.28

“Is this man Jehoiachin a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants? [Rejected from the potter’s house.] Why will he and his children be hurled out, cast into a land they do not know? O land, land, land, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the LORD says: ‘Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.’”

What a sad sad thing.

Jehoiachin actually had seven sons! But not one of them would sit on the throne in Judah. Instead, Nebuchadnezzar would make his uncle Mattaniah a puppet king which brings us back to Zedekiah. And we already saw what happened to him.

Woe to you, Shepherd Jehoiachin. A despised and broken pot, an object no one wants. How come? Why? Again, why? Chapter 23.

“‘Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the LORD. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: ‘Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,’ declares the LORD.”

Do not be like the bad shepherds.

However, Jeremiah has also good news for us today. This next part is actually the best and brightest paragraph in the whole book of Jeremiah so far! Jeremiah has for us today a word of hope.

And that is that there is another Shepherd coming. And this Shepherd is a Good Shepherd!

#2. PUT YOUR HOPE IN THE GOOD SHEPHERD.

After all of that doom and gloom and darkness, verse 3 just beams with light! The LORD says, “‘I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,’ declares the LORD.”

Yahweh says, “I’ve had some bad shepherds who did a terrible job with the flock.

So I’m now going to come and shepherd the flock myself! I’m going to grab the flock from all the places where it’s been scattered and bring them back to the green grass and the still waters of my pasture. And they will be fruitful and increase in number. That’s Genesis language! Things are going to return to the way they were meant to be!

My flock will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing.”

Doesn’t that sound good? When I was studying verses 3 through 8 of chapter 23, I just kept writing in the margin of my notes, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” That’s what we need! 

A day when we are not afraid or terrified.
A day when nobody is lost.
A day when everything is the way is was meant to be in the beginning and even better.

And what we need for that day to come is a Good Shepherd. And that’s exactly what Yahweh is promising here. Verse 5.

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land [there it is again–justice!]. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness” (vv.5-6).

In Hebrew that is, “Yahweh Tsidkenu.” It’s very close to Zedekiah’s name in Hebrew which is “Tsidqiyah.” Both are based on the word for righteousness or justice.

But unlike Zedekiah, this king will live up to his name!

He’s also going to come from the line of David. He’ll be a righteous branch. A new growth that shoots up out of the seemingly dead stump of Jesse (to use Isaiah’s language (chapter 11)).

And He will save His people. Do you know His name? I sure hope you do.

He’s talking about King Jesus. King Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

He’s everything these bad shepherds were supposed to be but were not. And His salvation rescue will be even better than the salvation rescue of the Exodus. Verse 7.

“‘So then, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when people will no longer say, 'As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,' but they will say, 'As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.'  Then they will live in their own land” (vv.7-8).

This is the Shepherd that we need (see Ezekiel 34 for more on this theme)! Put your hope in Him.

Interestingly, King Jesus is a descendent of these woeful kings. He is actually related to King Jehoiachin from the end of chapter 22. The one that had seven kids but none of them would be king.

Jehoiachin had a grandson named Zerubbabel. And he never was the king, but he got to come back from exile and help rebuild. He was the governor of Judah for a while. And the Gospel of Matthew (1:12) tells us that he was the great-great-great-great-great (and so forth) grandfather King Jesus. So that, though he died in exile, the Righteous Branch would shoot out of his stump. And be given to God’s people forever.

I love to think about what His kingdom will be like, don’t you?

Verse 5 says that He will “reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” That’s the language of chapter 21, verse 12 and chapter 22 verse 3 and verse 15. He will have the heart of God! Ge will love justice and righteousness. And He will love and serve the vulnerable, the oppressed.

There will be no ending to the blessing of His kingdom!

King Jesus said that He is the Good Shepherd, and He has come that we may “have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10 NIVO).

Put your hope in Him.

***

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
10. "Conspiracy" - Jeremiah 11:1-12:17
11. “My People For My Renown” - Jeremiah 13:1-27
12. "I Can No Longer Show Compassion" - Jeremiah 14:1-15:21
13. "I Have Withdrawn My Blessing, My Love and My Pity" - Jeremiah 16:1-21
14. "I the LORD Search the Heart" - Jeremiah 17:1-27
15. "Go Down to the Potter's House" - Jeremiah 18:1-19:15
16. “Insult and Reproach All Day Long” - Jeremiah 20:1-18

Sunday, September 25, 2022

“Insult and Reproach All Day Long” [Matt's Messages]

“Insult and Reproach All Day Long”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
September 25, 2022 :: Jeremiah 20:1-18 

Rock bottom.

In Jeremiah chapter 20, the Prophet Jeremiah hits what I think was for him “rock bottom.”

For the last several months, we have seen how hard it was for Jeremiah to faithfully live out his calling as a faithful prophet of the LORD.

We have heard his anguish over the trials and sins of his people.

We have heard of conspiracies that had been mounted against him by his neighbors.

We have heard him preach the same hard message over and over again to people who do not want to listen to it.

We have seen him live as the odd the man out, forbidden to go to weddings and funerals or to even have a family himself.

We have seen him have to do weird symbolic actions that only emphasize more his strangeness and the painfulness of his message.

Like last week, when he was sent down to the potter’s house, twice. Once to watch soft pottery be reshaped while there was still time–though Judah was not going to take the warning. 

And a second time to buy a new “buqbuq” (a hardened clay jar) and take it to the dump field of pottery shards and smash it into a thousands pieces to say that the nation of Judah was soon to be smashed in judgment as well. 

And then when he got back from the smashing, he stood in the temple courts and repeated it all again.

And that got him into trouble. That got Jeremiah into hot water with the temple authorities, which we’ll see in just a second.

And after that trouble, Jeremiah prays the last of the deep personal prayers of this book, and it’s the deepest. It’s the saddest. It’s the lowest. 

It’s the rock bottom.

Because Jeremiah is super-depressed at what his life has become. By being faithful to the LORD, Jeremiah’s life has become intensely bitter. It’s painful. It’s depressing. It’s gloomy. It’s agonizing. It’s absolutely no fun.

Jeremiah says in verse 8, “So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long.”

That’s our cheery title for today, “Insult and Reproach All Day Long.” Are you ready for that? Doesn’t sound like fun, does it? Not a pretty picture! But, often, an accurate one. Being faithful to the LORD will often mean pain.

That was true in the 7th century BC, and it is true today in the 21st century AD. Being faithful is often painful. In this age, we while wait for the Kingdom to come, being faithful is often painful. And Jeremiah 20 can help us to prepare for that. And help us to endure that. And help us pray when it’s like that, when we hit rock bottom.


So, first, let’s see what kind of trouble Jeremiah got himself into. Chapter 20, verse 1.

“When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the chief officer in the temple of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the LORD's temple.” 

Do you get the picture?

Jeremiah smashed that jar in chapter 19 and said, “This is what the LORD Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter's jar is smashed and cannot be repaired” (Jer. 19:11 NIVO).

And Pashhur said, “Oh, no you don’t. That’s enough! That’s treason, and that’s speaking out against the Temple of the LORD. That’s blasphemy!” Pashhur was apparently in charge of temple security, and when he heard what Jeremiah said, in the temple courts, he had to take action. So he had Jeremiah beaten and put in the stocks.

We’re not sure what Israelite stocks were like. They might have been like the wooden things where you stick your head and your hands and they throw moldy food at you and shame you. Or it might have been a little prison confinement of some kind. All we know was that his freedom was taken away from him and that he was beaten. Probably 39 lashes.

We don’t know when this was. Probably late in his ministry. Jeremiah had probably been preaching like this for decades now. Maybe three decades. Maybe going on four by this time.

The clay was hardened. And here Jeremiah is enduring a beating and an imprisonment.

This is not just threats or conspiracies. This is actual violence. This is actual persecution. These are real wounds on his back. And the shame they were trying to put on him was enormous.

“Insult and reproach all day long.” All night long! Why? Just because he was being faithful!

Jeremiah was saying things they didn’t want to hear.

Being faithful is often painful.

Do you believe that? Are you ready for that? What do you do when this becomes your life as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ? What do you do when it’s insults and reproach all day long?

I’ve got three points of application of this morning from chapter 20, and here’s the first one:

#1. PREACH THE TRUTH.

When it’s insults and reproach all day long because you are preaching the truth of the LORD, keep preaching the truth of the LORD!I don’t know about you, but I would be tempted to shut my mouth the next day if got released from the stocks. But that’s not what Jeremiah did. Verse 3.

“The next day, when Pashhur released him from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, ‘The LORD's name for you is not Pashhur, but Magor-Missabib. For this is what the LORD says: 'I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will hand all Judah over to the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword. I will hand over to their enemies all the wealth of this city–all its products, all its valuables and all the treasures of the kings of Judah. They will take it away as plunder and carry it off to Babylon. And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into exile to Babylon. There you will die and be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have prophesied lies.'”

Jeremiah does not trim the truth. He is not intimidated by Pashhur and shut down by his persecution. Instead he preaches the truth. He changes Pashhur’s name to “Magor-Missabib” which means “Terror on Every Side.” And he explains that that’s exactly what Pashhur should expect to happen to him and his friends. Terror on every side.

And for the first time in this book, he names who the terrible invader from the north will be–it will be Babylon. And Pashhur will be exiled to Babylon and die there. Because he has been saying, “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace. “It’ll be fine,” when it will not be fine. “Everything will turn out okay,” when everything was not going to turn out okay. They were going to be uprooted. And that is the truth.

Preach the truth.

I don’t mean that you have to be a preacher. Only some of us are supposed to be preachers. But we all should be truth-tellers, and not back off on telling the truth, just because it hurts when we do. Passhur wanted to shut Jeremiah up, and Jeremiah refused to shut up.

Now, of course, we need to speak the truth in love. That’s a non-negotiable for followers of Jesus, too. Always with love. But also, always with truth.

In what areas of life are you tempted to trim the truth or even to tell a lie just to get the pain to go away?

If I were Jeremiah, I would be so tempted to slink away nursing my wounds or even to change my tune, and say, “Peace peace” where there was no peace. But that would be a lie. It would be unfaithful to the LORD. But it would get them off of our backs. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much any more. Because this being faithful sure is painful!

In verses 7 through 10, we get a picture of just how painful it was for Jeremiah. He felt, in fact, tricked and trapped. Verse 7. Here’s that last and saddest prayer:

“O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long.”

Those are strong words, aren’t they?

I think that Jeremiah is, again, going too far. He’s saying more than he should say. He seems to be accusing God of doing something wrong. That word for “deceived” could be translated “enticed” or “seduced” or “lured.” And that’s over-speaking which can be dangerous.

But the point is that that’s how he feels! He feels pushed into this painful place. Inveigled. He didn’t choose it. He wouldn’t have chosen it if he knew what it would actually feel like a few decades in. He’s not just beaten and imprisoned, he’s mocked and ridiculed. He’s a laughingstock.

Have you ever had anyone laugh at you? Have you ever been the butt of the joke? It’s like that all of the time for Jeremiah. Especially because he has been saying that judgment is coming for decades. Sometimes with props! Like linen belts and broken pottery, and that doesn’t win you any friends, and the judgment hasn’t yet materialized.

So, Jeremiah feels like quitting. But he can’t. Quitting is not an option for this prophet. Verse 9.

“But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”

When you look at that picture on the front of the bulletin, it looks like a wonderful thing that “His word is in my heart like a fire.” How nice! But it was actually a terrible feeling! If Jeremiah tried to keep silent, then the fire would just build up inside of him. Scorched on the inside. If he spoke, the fire would come out, and the beatings would begin. They would shoot the messenger!

But if he tried to hold it in, it would burn inside of him. He couldn’t quit. He shouldn’t quit. It was the truth! He should preach the truth. But he couldn’t quit. So he felt tricked and trapped. And persecuted. Look at verse 10.

“I hear many whispering, ‘Terror on every side! Report him! Let's report him!’ All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, ‘Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him.’”

You see how they threw those words back into his face. “Terror on every side.”

“You keep saying that, Jeremiah, ‘Magor-Missabib.’ Oooh, I’m so scared.” They are laughing at him. They are calling him “Chicken Little.” And they are just looking for him to slip up, and then they can take him down for good.

Do you see how much this hurts? What do you do when it’s insults and reproach all the day?

Well, yes, you keep preaching the truth no matter what. Stay faithful. But, it’s also clear here that you pray your heart out, too. That’s point number two.

#2. PRAY YOUR HEART OUT.

Take it to the Lord in prayer. Yes, Jeremiah goes too far, but He goes to the LORD with it. Yes, he’ll need to repent of saying the LORD deceived him, but not of saying that he felt tricked and trapped. The LORD wants to hear that. See, it’s right here in your Bible to show us that we can pray like this and not be turned into toast.

Don’t be afraid to pray your pain. Don’t be afraid to get real and raw in your prayers to the LORD. He can take it. Don’t think that you have get all calm and peaceful before you go and pray. Take your whole hot-messy self into your prayers. Especially when you hurting.

The fact that there are all of these painful psalms of lament in the Bible should give us a clue that God wants us to pray our hearts out, pray out guts out to Him.

When was the last time that you told the Lord how you actually feel? Don’t be afraid to pray your pain. Especially when the world comes after you for being faithful to your Lord.

Today, there are Christians being persecuted for their faith all over the globe, and we need to pray for them. We need to pray that they stay faithful to the gospel message when their government or their neighbors put pressure on them. And we need to pray that they will pray and pour out their hearts to the Lord Who hears every single one.

And pray that they will pray with faith and even joy. That’s what Jeremiah does in verses 11 through 13. These verses come almost as a shock after the last few! Look at verse 11.

“But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten.  O LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the LORD! Give praise to the LORD! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.”

When it’s insult and reproach all day long, pray your heart out. And not just pray your pain, but pray your praise! I don’t know if Jeremiah actually felt any joy at this point. It sure doesn’t seem like it. We’ll see that especially in verse 14. But Jeremiah did have faith. He knew what was true. Even at rock bottom, he knew that the LORD was present, powerful, and prevailing. Do you see that? Verse 11.

“But the LORD is with me...” Jeremiah knew, even if he couldn’t feel it, that the LORD was present. He had promised that to Jeremiah from the very beginning and even before (1:5-8). 

In the very first chapter, the LORD had said to Jeremiah, “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land–against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 1:17-19 NIVO).

All of these decades in, and Jeremiah knows that it’s still true. The LORD is with him. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. It sure does! But it does mean that all is not lost no matter how it feels.

Do you need to hear that this morning? I’ll bet you do. Say that in your heart right now, “But the LORD is with me.” He is present, and He is powerful. Jeremiah says that He is with him, “like a mighty warrior.” He is so strong. He is almighty.  He has the power to bring about change. Like we saw last week, the LORD is the potter. He is able to bring justice and make things right again in the world. And one day He will. Jeremiah knows it! Look at verse 11 again.

“LORD is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten.”

The LORD will most assuredly bring justice. Jeremiah knows that the LORD will prevail. It hasn’t happened yet. Jeremiah still has to ask for it to happen. That’s verse 12.

“O LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.” Bring that justice You promised!

Jeremiah knows that it’s coming, but it’s so hard to wait. Do you see how he’s praying his heart out? Snd how he encourages his heart to sing even when he doesn’t feel like it? Sometimes the most important thing to do when you hit rock bottom is to sing up to the skies. Verse 13.

“Sing to the LORD! Give praise to the LORD! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.” Jeremiah knows in his heart that the LORD is present, powerful, and will prevail. 

When Jeremiah hit rock bottom, he found the Rock at the bottom. And he prayed his heart out to Him. This is how you pray when it’s insults and reproach all day long. You pray your pain, and you pray your praise.

And then you pray your pain some more. I wish we could stop at verse 13. I’d love to end on a high note. But that’s not what like is often like, is it? Especially when you’re at rock bottom.

All of verses 11 through 13 is true, but it doesn’t actually change how Jeremiah feels. The pain doesn’t just slip away, so now he lives on a higher plane that the pain can’t touch. That’s not how it works.

Jeremiah is still depressed. His situation has not changed. He still has just endured a beating and a shameful night in the pillory. He is still preaching that judgment is coming, and it still has not come. They are still making fun of him. He is still alone. He is still faithful, and it is still painful. He is still depressed. And so he continues to pray his heart out to the LORD. V.14

“Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! [I hate my birthday.] Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, ‘A child is born to you–a son!’ [No cigar for that guy.] May that man be like the towns the LORD overthrew without pity [Sodom and Gommorah]. May he hear wailing in the morning, a battle cry at noon. For he did not kill me in the womb, with my mother as my grave, her womb enlarged forever. Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?”

It still hurts. He’s still at rock bottom. He’s coming close again to going too far. If you cursed your parents or the LORD, that was a capital offense in Israel at this time. So he curses his birthday and the guy who brought the news. 

But he’s really just praying his pain out! He’s really just expressing how bad it feels to be him right now. And the LORD wants us to pray like this when we feel like this. 

There will be times when you feel like this. In fact, if there are no times when you feel like this, then you might be doing it wrong. Often being faithful is painful, so if you are never in pain, are you living in faith?

When I read verse 18, you know who I think of? “Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?”

Why? This sounds like Job (see chp 3). And it sounds like King David (Ps 22, 31). And it sounds like something that King Jesus said on the Cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46 NIVO)

Jeremiah is not the only man of sorrows in the Bible, is he? Jesus came out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow to the end of his days hanging on a cross bearing our shame. And He knew why. Intellectually, He knew why. But He was feeling the question with all of depth of his human soul. And it meant all of the difference to you and me. His sorrow led to our salvation.

As the prophet Isaiah predicted, Jesus was “...despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:3-6 NIVO). 

His sorrow led to our salvation. For all who put their trust in Him. 

And you know what Jesus did when He felt this way? When he received insult and reproach all the day long? When Jesus hit rock bottom? He kept going. He persevered in faithfulness. That’s our last point.

#3. PERSEVERE NO MATTER WHAT.

Here’s what I want to point out about the end of Jeremiah chapter 20. Jeremiah keeps on going. He feels this way, and it’s unresolved. It continues to feel hopeless. He hits rock bottom, but he doesn’t quit. He never quits. 

There’s a Jeremiah 21 and 22 and 23 and 24 and 52! He just keeps on going. He just keeps on preaching the truth even though Judah never repents. He just keeps on praying his heart out to the LORD even though Jerusalem will be smashed and uprooted, and he himself will die in obscurity, probably a refugee in Egypt. 

Jeremiah keeps on persevering in faithfulness for forty years. The word of the LORD keep burning as a fire in his bones, and he keeps letting it out. And he keeps on trusting in what he knows but cannot yet see. The LORD is present, powerful, and will prevail. He is the Rock at rock bottom.

So Jeremiah can still stay faithful. Even though it still stays painful.

And so can you and I. 

Persevere no matter what.


***

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
10. "Conspiracy" - Jeremiah 11:1-12:17
11. “My People For My Renown” - Jeremiah 13:1-27
12. "I Can No Longer Show Compassion" - Jeremiah 14:1-15:21
13. "I Have Withdrawn My Blessing, My Love and My Pity" - Jeremiah 16:1-21
14. "I the LORD Search the Heart" - Jeremiah 17:1-27
15. "Go Down to the Potter's House" - Jeremiah 18:1-19:15

Sunday, September 18, 2022

“Go Down to the Potter’s House” [Matt's Messages]

“Go Down to the Potter’s House”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
September 18, 2022 :: Jeremiah 18:1-19:15 

It’s time for another prophetic field trip.

Actually, in chapters 18 and 19, the LORD sends Jeremiah on two different prophetic field trips.

We’ve seen in the last few months how weird it was to be a prophet like Jeremiah in the Old Testament. How weird and often painful it was because of how different he was called to be and how painful his message was to deliver and receive.

Like the time Jeremiah was sent to buy a linen belt and then travel 700 miles roundtrip to bury the belt and then travel 700 miles roundtrip back to unbury the belt and then parade it around town just to make a prophetic point about how the nation of Judah was ruined.

Well, this time, Jeremiah is not sent to the clothing store, but to the pottery barn, to the workshop of the craftsman there. 


Chapter 18 verse 1. “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message.’”

“Go Down to the Potter’s House.” I wonder what we’re going to learn there. In this first field trip, in chapter 18, Jeremiah is not called to do anything except watch the work of this potter and learn a lesson from it about Who God is.

Now, a potter, a craftsman who makes pottery out of clay, was not an unusual thing in those days. It was common and normal.

You and I often have to go to a special event like an arts festival to see someone make pottery with their hands. But back in Jeremiah’s day, this was the main way you could get items to hold things like a jar or a cup or a bowl. You didn’t buy them at Target. You went to the home of a craftsman who made them by hand out of clay.

It took special skill, but everybody had seen someone do it. And Yahweh now sends Jeremiah (we’re not exactly sure what year, probably early in his ministry) to visit a potter’s house, watch him do his work, and wait for the LORD’s message. And that’s exactly what he does. V.3

“So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

Now, from what I understand, this wheel is actually two round stones with a vertical post up the middle of both of them. And the potter used his feet to move the bottom stone around in a circle which moved the top stone where he put his wet clay and shaped it and formed it, as the top-stone, “the potter’s wheel,” turned on it. Can you see it in your mind?

The clay is wet. It is moldable, shapable, pliant. And the potter has something nice that he intends to make out of it. But, something goes wrong in the process. Verse 4 says, “the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands...”

The word for “marred” is the same word as he used in chapter in 13 to describe how the linen belt was “ruined.” It was defective, malformed, spoiled. It had gone bad. It was not right.

And how did that affect the potter?

Did it stop him? Did it foil him? Was that the end of his day? Was that the end of his career? Was he forced to just finish the pot with that glaring problem sticking out there unfixed?

No. Verse 4 says rather nonchalantly, “...so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

Well, right then and there, Jeremiah saw what he was supposed to prophesy. V.5 “Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?’ declares the LORD. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

All of a sudden the picture becomes focused. There is a deep symbolism going on. The clay stands for the people of Israel. And potter is the LORD Himself.

Wow! That could go in a lot of different directions! In fact, it does in different parts of the Bible. This is not the only time when the LORD is likened to a potter and people are likened to pottery.

In the second chapter of the Bible, in Genesis 2, it says that the LORD God “formed” a man from the dust of the ground. And that word “formed” is the same word as in verse 4. God was acting like a potter when He made the first man. And it just goes from there. Throughout the Bible the LORD is likened to a potter and people are likened to pottery.

And different parts of the Bible emphasize different parts of that analogy. But all of them put us in our place and place Him in His. He is the potter. We are the clay.

We are not equals. 
We are not rivals.
We are in His hands.

If it makes you feel kind of small to think of yourself as clay and Him as the potter, then you’re reading it right. V.6 again. “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?’ declares the LORD. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

This emphasizes the power of God.
It emphasizes the position of God.
It emphasizes the sovereignty of God.
It emphasizes the freedom of God.

The power and freedom of God to bring about justice.

Because you know what justice is? 

Justice is fixing what is broken in the world.
Justice is making things right again.
Justice is doing what is right and fixing what is un-right in our broken world.

Like when that potter saw how the pot was going wrong while it was still wet in his hands, and he pushed it down and bunched it all up and started again.

“...shaping it as seemed best to him.”

I have three points this morning, and they are all about the LORD and His relationship to justice, doing what is right and fixing what is wrong. Here’s the first one:

#1. THE LORD IS ABLE TO BRING JUSTICE.

Because He is the potter.

In verses 7 through 10, the LORD presents a couple of case studies to show us what He means by saying that He’s like a potter. He emphasizes that He’s free to change direction based on the situation. Look at verse 7.

“If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.”

See what He’s saying there? Does that language sound familiar?

“Uprooted?” That’s the title of our whole sermon series on Jeremiah.

In the very first chapter, the LORD put these words in Jeremiah’s mouth, “See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer. 1:10 NIVO).

And the LORD says that if he announced that a nation or a kingdom (that’s Israel, Judah, or even a foreign pagan nation in these days!) were to repent of its evil, then He would be free as the potter to pull back His judgment.

And we know that He did that in the Old Testament. Remember the Prophecy of Jonah? “Forty days and Nineveh will be overturned!” And then Nineveh repented, and the LORD relented. He didn’t change. They did! And that meant everything was fixed, so the potter could take the clay in a different direction.

But the opposite is also true. Verse 9. “And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.”

Like if the clay has a mind of its own, so to speak, and starts to become an evilly defective pot, then the potter is free and able to smash it down and start all over again.

And the clay cannot object. “Hey, wait! Hey, wait! Wait! You said that you were going to plant us and build us up! You gave us the covenant! You made us promises! You gave us the ten commandments. You gave us the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD. You said you were going to make a certain kind of pot out of us. You can’t change your plan now. We are the clay, and we demand our rights!”

That’s not how it works. If they go wrong, the LORD is able to bring justice. He is able to fix things, as He sees best. And He certainly sees best.

So this is a warning. Judah should not presume on anything. Instead, they should repent while they still can. Verse 11.

“Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, 'This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.'”

That word translated “devising” in verse 11 is the same word as “shaping” or “forming” from verse 4.

The potter is forming up a disaster to strike the people of Judah as a judgment on their wicked ways. He is able to bring to justice. And He’s warning them to repent while they still have time. While the clay is still wet.

And that’s true for you and me today, as well. We should repent while we still can. Have you turned from your sins and put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? If you have not, I challenge you to do so right here and right now. Because the LORD is able to bring justice, and you and I, on our own, will not survive His justice.

And do not think He won’t. Do not presume upon His mercy. Do not think that you have some kind of an inside track that goes around repentance. And do not think you that you will argue your way out of this. You and I are just clay. We are not the potter. We do not have a say. V.11 again.

“So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.”

While the clay is still wet. 

I love how it says, “each one of you.” The nation may go one direction, but the individual person can still go the LORD’s way. And even if we have repented of our sins and trusted in Jesus as our Savior, He is still calling us to keep repenting and keep reforming our ways and our actions. By faith, we are called to cooperate with His re-shaping work in our lives. In what ways are you repenting these days?

Sadly, the people of Judah were committed to their evil ways and refused to repent Look at what they said after the LORD called them to Himself. Verse 12.

“But they will reply, 'It's no use. We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart.' [The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?(Jer. 17:9)] Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘Inquire among the nations: Who has ever heard anything like this? A most horrible thing has been done by Virgin Israel. Does the snow of Lebanon ever vanish from its rocky slopes? [No.] Do its cool waters from distant sources ever cease to flow? [No. That would be weird and unnatural.] Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways and in the ancient paths. They made them walk in bypaths and on roads not built up.”

He’s pointing out how illogical and ridiculous Judah’s sin is. The clay has gone bad. But the Potter is able to fix it. He is able to bring justice. Verse 16.

“Their land will be laid waste, an object of lasting scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will shake their heads. Like a wind from the east, I will scatter them before their enemies; I will show them my back and not my face in the day of their disaster’” (vv.16-17).

How scary is that?


"The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26 NIVO).

That was the plan! That was what was on the potter’s wheel from the beginning. But now, He says, “I will show them my back and not my face...” Repent while you still can.

I’ve been talking recently about my wrestling with gluttony. But my wife has put her finger on a different (v.15) “worthless idol” which has been causing me to stumble in recent days, and that’s the idol of productivity.

I love to get things done. I love to produce things. To be productive. And that’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with getting things done or wanting to get things one or enjoying getting things done. And yet it still can become an idol, can’t it? Productivity can become a false god that you begin to bow down to and worship. 

When getting things done is everything.
When not getting things done ruins everything.
When you take it out on others when you aren’t productive.

These are signs that productivity has become an idol.

It’s been hard for me during this season of our church’s life when we don’t have that many programs any more. We used to have something for everyone, and three programs for some people! 

But that’s not what the Lord has called us to right now as a church. And I’m having to learn to rest and wait and watch Him do His work in His way and His timing.

What idols are you wrestling with right now? What changes are you allowing the Potter to make in your life right now as He desires to re-shape you?

In verse 18, the people of Judah decide they are tired of hearing Jeremiah’s message and conspire to harm him. V.18

“They said, ‘Come, let's make plans against Jeremiah; for the teaching of the law by the priest will not be lost, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. So come, let's attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.’”

Again, the defective clay presumes that they can get away with whatever they want.

“Obviously, the LORD is not going to take away all of the priests or the sages or the prophets just because we get rid of Jeremiah. Of course not! Let’s get him in trouble with the law. Let’s attack him with our mouths and disregard him with our ears.”

And, man, does that hurt Jeremiah. All of this is just compounding his pain. He’s not just doing weird things or being the odd man out. He is being attacked left and right. By the very people he’s trying to help! So, Jeremiah takes it to the LORD in prayer. And what he prays, once again, sounds a lot like a psalm.

It’s a song about justice. Verse 19.

“Listen to me, O LORD; hear what my accusers are saying! Should good be repaid with evil? [No!] Yet they have dug a pit for me. Remember that I stood before you and spoke in their behalf to turn your wrath away from them. [So go ahead.] So give their children over to famine; hand them over to the power of the sword. Let their wives be made childless and widows; let their men be put to death, their young men slain by the sword in battle. Let a cry be heard from their houses when you suddenly bring invaders against them, for they have dug a pit to capture me and have hidden snares for my feet. But you know, O LORD, all their plots to kill me. Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.”

Ok. Let me ask you. Is that a good prayer? We’ve seen that Jeremiah can go too far.

How about this one? Is this a good prayer? Should we pray like it ourselves?

Well, there’s a lot that’s good about this prayer. For one, Jeremiah does not hold his heart back. He tells the LORD exactly what he’s feeling and thinking. He acknowledges the pain and the injustice that he feels. “You know, O LORD!”

And it’s also good that he doesn’t say, “Watch this, LORD. I’m going to get those guys. Hold my beer. Here goes my vengeance.” Jeremiah does not go in for vigilante justice. He doesn’t take things into his own hands. He takes this request for justice to the One Who can do something about it and will do the right thing about it. He goes to the potter who is able to bring justice. To fix what is broken.

And that’s what’s especially good about this prayer. This is a prayer for justice. Let’s make it point number two.

Point number one was: The LORD is able to bring to justice.

Point number two is:

#2. THE LORD HAS BEEN ASKED TO BRING JUSTICE.

If justice is fixing what is broken in this world, then Jeremiah is saying, “These actions of my accusers are what is broken in this world, Lord. Please fix it!”

This is a cry for justice, and that is good and right. Jeremiah has been pouring out his life for his neighbors, and what he has gotten is just evil in return. So, here he is deciding to go ahead and change what he’s asking for. “Go ahead, Lord, bring the disasters that you said were on the way. Bring them down on their heads.”

It’s not wrong to pray for justice to be done. In fact, it’s good and right. There are many psalms that sound like this, and they give us a example of how to pray for justice (see Psalm 140 for example).

And there are New Testament prayers kind of like this, too. For example in the Book of Revelation, the souls of the martyrs that are under the altar pray, “‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed” (Rev. 6:10-11 NIVO). It is good and right to pray for justice.

But there is also something better.

And Jesus showed us the way to that. When He was attacked, He prayed, “Father, forgive them...” (Luke 23:34).

And He taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. So this is a good prayer, but there is an even better way to pray, perhaps on top of it. Ask the Lord, if they will not repent, to bring justice on your enemies, but keep praying that they will repent. Keep praying that they will find what you have found–mercy.

And whatever you do, do not repay evil for evil. Remember what we learned in 1 Peter. Return beatings with blessings.

Remember what Paul said in Romans 12. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19-13:1 NIVO). That’s the way of the Christian.

But, yes, also cry out to the LORD for justice. Because we know that He is able to bring justice, and that He will certainly do so!

And that’s our last point, point number three.

#3. THE LORD WILL ASSUREDLY BRING JUSTICE.

The LORD is able.
The LORD has been asked.
And the LORD will most assuredly bring justice. That’s Who He is.

He is the potter.

And that brings us to Jeremiah chapter 19, and his second prophetic field trip down to the potter’s house. Look at verse 1.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. There proclaim the words I tell you, and say...” 

Stop there for a second.

This is another occasion. Might have been soon after the first, but my guess is that it was much later. The first one was when the clay was wet and was probably earlier in his ministry. From the sounds of what happens in chapter 19, this is later. This closer to the end of Jeremiah’s forty years of being a broken record about a broken covenant.

Jeremiah is sent to a potter’s house again. This time to buy a finished jar. This one is hard, it’s been fired, and maybe has a nice glaze over it. It’s set to go.  It’s ready to be used.

The Hebrew for “clay jar” is “baqbuq.” And it’s probably named for what it sounds like. When the liquid is poured out, it goes, “baqbuq, baqbuq, baqbuq, baqbuq.”

And Jeremiah is not to go alone this time. He’s to bring a bunch of leaders with him. I’m sure they did not want to go. I don’t know how he talked them into it. But the LORD wants witnesses for what he’s about to say with this baqbuq.

So Jeremiah drags them out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom. Later called “Gehenna.” Modern day Wadi ar-Rababi on the western and southern end of Jerusalem. To the gate called the Potsherd Gate. In other words, the town dump. This is where they put the shards of pots that are ruined and unusable. A great big pile of broken pottery. 

And Jeremiah brings them out to that spot with his baqbuq. And, in my mind, it’s full of liquid. Maybe wine. Maybe water. And he begins to preach. And you know by now what he’s going to say. Verse 3.

“Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods [They’ve Canaanized the land of Judah! (CJH Wright)]; they have burned sacrifices in it to gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal–something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. [It’s unthinkable!] So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call this place Topheth [place of fire] or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter [Not only did you slaughter the innocents in this place, but you will be slaughtered there, too]. In this place I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem” (vv.3-7). Stop there for second.

The word for “ruin” in Hebrew here is “baqaq.” And it means to empty or spoil or run out. It sounds a lot like the word for clay jar, “baqbuq.”

Some scholars think and I would not be surprised to find out that at this moment in his message, Jeremiah poured out the liquid from this jar, dramatically symbolizing the judgment that was going to be poured out on Judah.

“I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who seek their lives, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. I will devastate this city and make it an object of scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another's flesh during the stress of the siege imposed on them by the enemies who seek their lives.' (vv.7-9).

And that all happened. Read the Book of Lamentations. All of that was going to happen.

Babylon was coming.
The siege was coming.
Exile was coming.
They were going to be uprooted.

And then the LORD said (v.10):

“Then break the jar while those who go with you are watching [just imagine!], and say to them, 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter's jar is smashed and cannot be repaired. They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. This is what I will do to this place and to those who live here, declares the LORD. I will make this city like Topheth. [The whole place will become the Dump.] The houses in Jerusalem and those of the kings of Judah will be defiled like this place, Topheth–all the houses where they burned incense on the roofs to all the starry hosts and poured out drink offerings to other gods.' 

Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of the LORD's temple and said to all the people, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Listen! I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.'”

Those words are going to get Jeremiah into big trouble. We’ll read about it, Lord-willing, next week in chapter 20. There will be fallout and Jeremiah may hit a new bottom with how it makes him feel. But everything he says as he smashes that clay jar from the potter’s house is absolutely true.

The LORD will most assuredly bring justice.

Judah has done all of those things and refused to repent of them. They have become set in their ways like hardened clay. And the potter here will throw them out on the potsherd pile of history. And that will be right. That is justice.

And so, yes, that’s scary. But it’s also wonderful. Isn’t it? Isn’t it wonderful to know that God will always do what is right? Isn’t it wonderful to know that God will bring justice and fix everything?

I don’t know about you, but I think there is a lot of injustice in this world right now. Am I right? Things are not as they should be. Think about everything that is wrong right now in the world, and not just physical evil like earthquakes and famines and things like that.

Think about unjust wars.
Think about racism.
Think about child abuse.
Think about fraud, about robbery.
Think about domestic violence.
Think about abortion on demand.
Think about human trafficking.

Think about how you have been wronged by others. And right now the best of justice is just approximation at best. There is so much injustice in the world.

But the the LORD is a perfect potter. He is able to bring justice. He is free and sovereign and wise and in a position to make things right. And He has been asked to bring justice. And we continue to ask Him to bring justice. It’s right to do so. And He has promised that He will bring perfect justice.

He will right every wrong.
He will balance every scale.
He will fix every thing that is broken.

Which includes bringing the smash on the things that need smashed. Read the Book of Revelation!

So, yes, this is a call to repent because justice is surely coming. But it’s also a call to rest because justice is surely coming. That’s how we can love our enemies. Because we know that vengeance is the Lord’s and He will repay! Nobody gets away with anything. 

If it seems like your enemy is getting away with it, don’t worry. They won’t. You can rest. Leave it in the Lord’s hands. Pray for justice. Work towards justice. But don’t take justice into your own hands. Love your enemies!

Because the LORD will most assuredly bring the smash to things that need smashed. Just wait.
 
And also rejoice. This truth is worth rejoicing in because we know that God will bring ultimate justice to our broken world. And we know that because we saw what Jesus did for us on the Cross.

In case you’re worried because you know how many injustices you have caused your own self. The Lord Jesus was smashed in your place. The Lord Jesus was shattered in my place. At the Cross, Jesus took on Himself the just wrath of God that you and I deserved.

The potter became clay. And He allowed Himself to be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5 NIVO).

Rejoice!


***

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
10. "Conspiracy" - Jeremiah 11:1-12:17
11. “My People For My Renown” - Jeremiah 13:1-27
12. "I Can No Longer Show Compassion" - Jeremiah 14:1-15:21
13. "I Have Withdrawn My Blessing, My Love and My Pity" - Jeremiah 16:1-21

Sunday, September 11, 2022

[Matt's Messages] “I the LORD Search the Heart”

“I the LORD Search the Heart”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
September 11, 2022 :: Jeremiah 17:1-27 

I don’t understand me.

I often don’t understand the workings of my own human heart.

How about you? Do you understand you?

I lie to myself, frequently. And then believe the lies!
I cheat myself.
I trick myself.
I deceive myself.

The last two weeks, we’ve asked the question, “What lies do you want to believe?” Because our own hearts often feed those lies to ourselves!

Sometimes, I find myself doing something bad, and I know I’m doing it. And I know that I chose to do it, but I don’t really understand how I got there. 

I’m not blaming anyone else. I’m blaming me. But I don’t understand just how I did it. And I don’t really understand why I did it either.

This is true of lots of areas in my life, but I’ve been recently sharing about my struggles with gluttony.  Sometimes I find that I have eaten that extra plateful after all. I woke up that morning intent on being disciplined with my eating and resisting the temptation towards gluttonous overeating. And then sometime after supper, I find myself uncomfortable and extra sleepy and wondering what happened. What came over me? What hit me? Well, it was ME that hit me. How did I do that? Why did I do that?


Jeremiah 17:9 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible and for good reason. In that verse, Jeremiah scratches his head over the mystery of the human heart. Look at it with me. Jeremiah 17:9.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

I don’t know about you, but I resonate with that verse. The heart (the core of the human being) is deceitful above all things–there are fewer things that are more tortuous, more mysterious, more crooked in the world than the human the heart.

And it’s “beyond cure.” That is to say that you and I cannot fix it.

I can’t fix your heart. I can’t even fix my own heart. I can’t even understand my own heart, much less fix it! “Who,” Jeremiah says, “can understand [the human heart]?”

I feel you, Jeremiah! I feel you.  And I think the Apostle Paul did, too! Even though he was a Christian and a leader in God’s church, remember what Paul said in Romans chapter 7?

“I [Paul] do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom. 7:15 NIVO)

So we’re in good company if we can’t understand our own hearts, even as Christians who have experienced the new birth. Paul and Jeremiah, and you and I say, “Who can understand our hearts?”

But! That’s not just a rhetorical question. Because Jeremiah didn’t stop there. He went on to answer his own question in verse 10.

“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”

The LORD searches the heart. 

And the LORD understands what He sees there. He is not mystified. The LORD is not baffled by the “search results” when he accessed our hearts. The LORD is not bewildered by what He sees when He looks intently into our minds.

Remember the story of David? “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”  And He’s not confused by what He sees there.

“I the LORD (Yahweh) search the heart and examine the mind.”

The word translated “mind” there is literally “kidneys.” He’s saying that the LORD has x-Ray vision. He sees into the deepest recesses of the human’s insides where we do all of our thinking and feeling and choosing. What is hidden to others is plain to the LORD.

And He uses that perfect knowledge to administer perfect justice.  "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve."

Uh oh. That’s probably bad news! Because there is no fooling this God!

I might fool everyone else.
I might fool myself.
But the LORD will not be fooled.

And that’s why verses 9 and 10 are in Jeremiah 17.

Because the LORD directed Jeremiah to write a chapter here that’s a little more like something Solomon might write. This chapter is more like what we often called “Wisdom Literature” like you find in Proverbs or in some of the Psalms.

The LORD inspired the prophet Jeremiah to paint a vivid word picture of two different pathways. Two options for living. And to paint a vivid prophetic word picture of the two different outcomes that come from living out the two different options. The two ways to live. The two ways (and only two ways) for our hearts to be directed.

And, therefore, He doesn’t want us to think we can get away with anything. Because the LORD Himself searches our hearts. He knows what’s going on.

Sadly, the direction of Judah’s heart has already been irrevocably decided. Let’s turn now to verse 1. Jeremiah 17:1

“Judah's sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of their hearts and on the horns of their altars. Even their children remember their altars and Asherah poles beside the spreading trees and on the high hills. My mountain in the land and your wealth and all your treasures I will give away as plunder, together with your high places, because of sin throughout your country. Through your own fault you will lose the inheritance I gave you. I will enslave you to your enemies in a land you do not know, for you have kindled my anger, and it will burn forever.”

We are now one third of the way through the Prophecy of Jeremiah, so these words are probably no surprise to us. Jeremiah was a broken record about a broken covenant.

Judah’s heart was hard, and the direction of the nation was set in stone. Engraved. Inscribed. Like the ten commandments! And ingrained. Even the children knew the drill. 

And judgment was coming. Inevitably. It was engraved, as well. As we saw the last two weeks, the LORD could no longer show compassion and was withdrawing His blessing, His love and His pity from this people. They were going to be uprooted and hurled into exile. 

At some moment, they had crossed the point of no return. But I believe that this book was compiled, in large part, for the people who came after this. It wasn’t just written for the people of Judah that Jeremiah was preaching to. It was also written down for the Jews who were in exile trying to understand what had happened to them to get them there and to make choices while they were there and then down the road. And it’s written for you and me to make our choices today, as well.

So, in verses 5 through 8, Jeremiah makes the two ultimate choices as crystal clear as he possibly can.

And what he writes sounds a lot like a psalm!

In fact, it sounds a lot like the first psalm in the Psalter! Psalm 1.

I’m pretty sure that Jeremiah knew Psalm 1 and was riffing on it in his chapter 17.

I’m going to read the whole thing to you because I want to load the whole thing into your mind, but I want to ask you to read with me verses 7 and 8. They are our “Hide the Word” memory verses for this Fall. Misty has them on the back of your bulletin if you don’t have the old NIV in front of you.

Follow along as I read verses 5 and 6, and then read 7 and 8 with me.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’”

I have three very simple points of application this morning from this text, and they actually feel too simple for such a beautiful passage as this one.

But we don’t focus on my words here anyway. We focus on God’s Words.

But here the outline:

Trust. 
Pray.
Obey.

Here’s the first point broadened out a little bit:

#1. TRUST IN THE LORD WITH ALL YOUR HEART.

Sounds like a proverb, doesn’t it?

Jeremiah paints a vivid word picture of the two different kinds of people–the cursed and the blessed.

Now, let me ask you a trick question as we begin to look at this more closely.

Which of these two kinds of people have faith?

Which of them put their faith in someone?
Which of them exercise trust?

It’s a trick question because the answer is BOTH. Everybody has faith. Everybody is trusting somebody. The question is WHO are we trusting.

Solomon (I mean Jeremiah) starts with the those who are cursed in verse 5.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD.”

So this kind of person is a trusting person (as we all are), but they have turned away from the LORD and are trusting in themselves and in what they can do. Or, perhaps, in other humans and what they can do. Regardless, they are trusting in man and turning from the LORD in their hearts.

And, remember, the LORD searches the heart.

They might look good on the outside. They might come to church. They might be fine upstanding citizens in the eyes of their neighbors. They might talk a good game. They might talk about the LORD all the time. They might have even fooled themselves.

But the LORD searches their hearts. And, inside, the people are trusting themselves and turning from Him. And here’s what their lives will end up looking like:

The desert. “He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.” 

That’s a picture of being cursed. Your life is shriveled, desiccated, and dying. You’re all alone and dried up. You’re weak and sad and thirsty. And even when good things are on offer, you don’t get them. “He will not see prosperity when it comes.” Deprived, lacking, empty.

Now, like all good wisdom literature, it’s not saying that the person who chooses to trust themselves never experiences any prosperity of any kind.

The Bible tells us that for a time the wicked do “prosper.”  Read Psalm 73. But it’s short-lived and not spiritual and not ultimate. That road leads to desert-like death.

But the other road leads to life. And what beautiful life! V.7 again. “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD [Yahweh], whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

I know which one I want to be! And I know which one I want our church to be! I want us to be blessed.

Now, notice that this blessing does not mean that we escape all hardship. Oh, I wish! See in verse 8 that the heat still comes. Maybe a desert wind. A sirocco blows in. And verse 8 says that there may be a drought. Jeremiah and the other faithful remnant of Judah (there were believers then!) all had to go through the droughts and deprivations leading up to the Fall of Jerusalem. Many of the faithful had to be carted off to Babylon–like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Or as we know them: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

But! Those who trust in the LORD whose confidence is Him, ultimately have nothing to fear!

Drought? Okay. I’ll send my roots down deep into this stream right here. I’m not scared of anything, and I’ll bear fruit under any circumstance.  

Oh, man, I want to live like that! Don’t you? Blessed!

And we can. Because Jeremiah says that this blessing comes to those who trust in the LORD and put their confidence in Him. Their reliance. It’s that simple. Trust in the LORD with all your heart.

I don’t want to be some dried up bush in the wasteland. I want to be a tree planted by the water popping off fruit left and right. And the way to get there is to transfer my trust from myself and any other mere human being and put it all on the LORD.

But I’ve got to really do it and not try to fake it. Because the LORD knows the truth, even when I don’t. Verse 9 again:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? ‘I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.’”

He knows which of these paths we are really on. We might try to fool ourselves. I think that’s the point of verse 11.

“Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay is the man who gains riches by unjust means. When his life is half gone, they will desert him, and in the end he will prove to be a fool.”

That’s someone who thinks that they can get ahead by trusting in themselves and doing things their way. Stealing others eggs, so to speak, and passing them off as your own. But the wealth that comes from that is not real and will not last.

The LORD searches the heart. He sees where you got those eggs. And He will bring justice.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart.

Now, is that easy or is that hard?

It’s simple. But it’s not always easy. So that leads us to point number two:

#2. PRAY TO THE LORD WITH ALL OF YOUR HEART.

In verses 12 through 18, Jeremiah gives us another one of his heartfelt prayers.

We often call them his confessions or even his protests because he gets so real and raw with the LORD. They are a lot like the psalms, especially the psalms of lament. This one begins with praise. Verse 12.

“A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary. O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.”

He begins by praising God for Who He is. He’s the God on the Throne symbolized by the ark of the covenant in the temple in Jerusalem, the footstool of His throne.

The LORD is the only hope of Israel. He’s the spring of living water.

We should trust in Him!

Because, and here’s that other option once again, those who turn away from the LORD will be written in the dust. They will be a bush in the wasteland.

The LORD is where the life is!

And so Jeremiah turns to Him asks Him for help. Verse 14.

“Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise. They keep saying to me, ‘Where is the word of the LORD? Let it now be fulfilled!’”

Jeremiah is (as he often was) under attack. His detractors hate his message and mock him for it. Taunting. “You keep saying that judgment is coming. But where is it? I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. 40 years you’ve been a broken record about a broken covenant. Where is the judgment? I don’t see.”

So Jeremiah says, “I need help here, LORD. Help me to stay faithful. I feel so sick. Please heal me.”


But he knew that the LORD knew his heart. V.16

“I have not run away from being your shepherd; you know I have not desired the day of despair. What passes my lips is open before you. [The LORD searches the heart.] Do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster. Let my persecutors be put to shame, but keep me from shame; let them be terrified, but keep me from terror. Bring on them the day of disaster; destroy them with double destruction” (vv.16-18).

He’s asking for justice.

Jeremiah knew that LORD searches his heart, and he knew that the LORD would find faithfulness there. Not perfection. Sometimes he got way off course. Remember chapter 15? Jeremiah’s own heart would sometimes lead him astray.

But the LORD searches the heart, and he would find that Jeremiah had not shrunk from his prophetic task. He had not desired for the nation to go into exile, but he had faithfully preached the word to them for forty years.

I want to be like that! I want to get to the end of a forty year stretch of shepherding ministry and be able to pray to the LORD and say, “What passes my lips is before you.”

Jeremiah chose the right path. The one that leads the blessing.

And yet it was a painful path. The heat came. The droughts came.

But so did the fruit.

And so the Jeremiah PRAYS with his whole heart that LORD would keep him on the right path, that he would keep trusting in the LORD (v.17), “You are my refuge in the day of disaster. Help me!”

This is a model for our prayer life. You and I should run to the LORD when we are under attack and take refuge in Him. When was the last time you prayed like this? These are the words I’m going to take with me and pray on Tuesday on my prayer retreat. I love how real and how raw they are.

Pray to the LORD with all of your heart.

And number three and last: 

#3. OBEY THE LORD WITH ALL YOUR HEART.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart.
Pray to the LORD with all your heart.
Obey the LORD with all your heart.

That’s the point of this last section of Jeremiah 17.

It feels, at first, a little out of place. And that’s especially because we don’t realize how important the Sabbath was supposed to be for the Old Testament believers. Look at verse 19.

“This is what the LORD said to me: ‘Go and stand at the gate of the people, through which the kings of Judah go in and out; stand also at all the other gates of Jerusalem. Say to them, 'Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and all people of Judah and everyone living in Jerusalem who come through these gates. 

This is what the LORD says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem. Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers.

Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline. But if you are careful to obey me [there’s our word “obey”], declares the LORD, and bring no load through the gates of this city on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy by not doing any work on it, then kings who sit on David's throne will come through the gates of this city with their officials. They and their officials will come riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by the men of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, and this city will be inhabited forever.

People will come from the towns of Judah and the villages around Jerusalem, from the territory of Benjamin and the western foothills, from the hill country and the Negev, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings, incense and thank offerings to the house of the LORD.

But if you do not obey me to keep the Sabbath day holy by not carrying any load as you come through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will consume her fortresses.’”

Do you get the picture?

Jeremiah was to stand at the gate of the people and tell them to obey the fourth commandment...or else.

It’s another way of saying the same thing as the two poetic pictures of verses 5 through 8.

Because when they would break the fourth commandment, they would be putting their trust in man and depending on flesh for its strength, and their hearts would be turning away from the LORD.

Think about the fourth commandment. We get all caught up the dos and don’ts of it. Especially because it doesn’t directly apply to us today in the same way. It’s very foreign to us. (Study Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.) 

But the Sabbath command was a command to rest and trust in the LORD. To not trust in what you can do through your work. Or what you can get your workers, even your animals, to do for you. But to take a full day off of work to indicate your complete reliance on the LORD. To say that you know where all of your goodness comes from. It is not, ultimately, from the strength of your arm, but from His.

So that when Judah would break the fourth commandment and stream into Jerusalem to do business on the Sabbath[!], they would be saying that they didn’t really trust the LORD.

They might say they were. Because our hearts are deceitful above all things and beyond cure.

But the LORD searches the heart, and He knows. He knows that as they obeyed the Sabbath command, they would be demonstrating their trust in Him and putting their confidence in Him. And they would be blessed.

Do you see how this works? If you want to know if you trust the Lord, there is a simple test that can tell you a lot. Obey Him.

If you trust, you will obey. If you trust the LORD, you will be obey Him. And if you consistently choose to NOT obey Him, you have to ask the question whether or not you trust Him in the first place.

Are you obeying Him? Is there a clear command of Scripture that you know that you are disobeying?

Judah put their fingers in their ears and would not listen to Yahweh. V.23 says, “They did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline.” And therefore they would be a bush in the wastelands. Uprooted into exile. Which will give the land a chance to rest again like it should have all along.  

But you and I don’t have to follow Judah’s path. We can choose the path of faith and obedience. And that path leads to blessing.

And here’s why we can do that: Because of the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood. Because Jesus died and came back to life again, those who put their faith and trust in Him have something else inscribed on the tablets of their hearts.

It’s jumping ahead, but listen to the promise of Jeremiah 31:

“‘The time is coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the LORD. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’” (Jer. 31:31-34 NIVO)

When Jeremiah said in verse 9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things...who can understand it” he immediately answered the question, “The LORD does.” “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind.” 

So when he also says, the heart is “beyond cure,” he doesn’t mean that absolutely nobody can cure it. There is One who can. You and I can’t fix our hearts, but the Lord Jesus Christ most certainly can and does through the power of His blood applied by His Spirit giving us new hearts and a new ability to trust and obey Him.

Have you come to put your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ? If not, I invite you to do so right now. Because, at the Cross, Jesus took on the judgment that you and I deserved. He absorbed the reward for our misdeeds. And He gives us the reward that He deserves for His perfect obedience.

The Father searched His Son’s heart and found no deceit. Not one little bit. So that our hearts can be made new.

I’ve been listening recently to a Christian band that’s new to me called “We The Kingdom.” The worship team is working on introducing one of their songs this fall for us to all sing. And they have a song called “SOS” which I think gets at this idea of not understanding ourselves because of our own deceitful hearts. But that, regardless, no matter what, the LORD can save us from our own sinful hearts.

The lyrics say:

“Why do I do the things
I don't wanna do
I don't wanna do
Oh, when all they do is hurt me?

I'm reaching out, one last plea
Is hope all gone? Somebody save me
I'm reaching out, one last plea
Is hope all gone? Somebody please save me

SOS, I'm lost at sea
Is hope all gone? Somebody save me"


And Jesus Christ said, “Yes. Trust in me.”

I don’t understand me.

But I’m glad that the LORD does.

And I’m even more glad that He saves me.


***

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
10. "Conspiracy" - Jeremiah 11:1-12:17
11. “My People For My Renown” - Jeremiah 13:1-27
12. "I Can No Longer Show Compassion" - Jeremiah 14:1-15:21