Sunday, May 15, 2022

“Return to Me” [Matt's Messages]

“Return to Me”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
May 15, 2022 :: Jeremiah 3:6-4:4

I’ve taken the title for this message from the first verse of chapter 4 where the LORD says through Jeremiah to the people of God, “Return to Me.”

 “Return to Me.”

It’s an invitation and a glorious one, and it’s the theme of this passage of Jeremiah.

In fact, at least four times, the LORD (Yahweh) invites His people to return to Him in this passage.

Which is quite remarkable because of what we heard last time in chapter 2 and the first part of chapter 3. Last time, the LORD was bringing a charge against His people. Remember this? 

They had sinned. They had fallen into idolatry which was spiritual adultery. He went so far as to call it spiritual harlotry, spiritual whoredom. They had forsaken the LORD and turned to other gods! Remember that?

We saw that it was shocking, stupid, and shameful. And it was the reason that the boiling pot of judgment was going to be poured out upon Judah.

So, here is the LORD’s next word on that: After He charges them with covenant breaking sin, He invites them to return to Him. “Return to Me.”

That gives us a glimpse of His heart, does it not?

The Hebrew word for “return” is “shuv.” It means to “turn” or “return” or “repent” or “come back.”

Jeremiah actually uses a form of “shuv” at least 15 times in this short section of the Scriptures. The most times it shows up in concentration in the whole Bible. So, if we’re going to learn about repentance, this is probably a really good place to do it!

What comes to your mind when I say the word, “Repentance?” If you are like me, you probably don’t say, “Yippee! That sounds like fun!” “I just love to repent! It’s like a party word! Whoo! ‘Repent!’”

No, we tend to think of the word as a “downer.” Maybe a harsh word. A finger-pointing word. “Repent!”

A painful word. And there’s a good reason for that. Repentance can be painful. We will see that it requires painful honesty and real change.

But here, repentance is a sweet invitation. 

It’s not a downer.
It’s not annoying. 
It’s not stifling.
It’s life-giving!

Because of the last part of our title, right? “ Me.”

It’s an invitation, not just to turn back from sin, but to turn to fellowship with the Lord. And there is nothing greater!  

So let’s back up to chapter 3, verse 6 and see how we get there.

Before we jump in, I’m going to ask you a tricky question. Are you ready? It’s kind of a tricky question! So maybe think about it a little bit before you answer.

In the Old Testament, which of the two kingdoms (North and South, Israel and Judah, which of the two kingdoms) was more wicked?

To answer that, think back once again to the Books of Kings (which we studied together in 2016 and 2017). In 1 Kings, there used to be one kingdom under David and then Solomon.

But then in 1 Kings chapter 12, it was split into two. North and South. Israel and Judah. And we did the thumbs up and the thumbs down for their kings.

How many “thumbs up” kings did the Northern Kingdom of Israel have? Big fat zero!

Did the Southern Kingdom have any “thumbs up” kings? Yes, it did! Kings like Hezekiah and this one right here in verse 6, Josiah. 

And this prophecy that we’re going to look at today was originally given during the reign of thumbs-up King Josiah somewhere between 627BC and 609BC, so it comes early in Jeremiah’s ministry.

Here’s the tricky question again: Which of the two kingdoms (North or South, Israel or Judah, which of the two kingdoms) was more wicked in the Old Testament?

The answer may surprise you.

Now, one more thing to note before we read: Remember that the Northern Kingdom had been sent into exile in 721BC. And Jeremiah chapter 3 comes somewhere between 627BC and 609BC. How much later is that? Around a hundred years, right? Between 94 and 112 years. About 100. Now, listen to the question that Yahweh asks Jeremiah. Chapter 3, verse 6.

“During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, ‘Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.” 

Do you get the picture? The LORD starts a conversation–it’s really more of a monologue–with Jeremiah. Jeremiah doesn’t really get to answer.

But the LORD asks him a question, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done?” 

That word translated “faithless” is a form of “shuv.”  It’s like, “Have you seen what that “turned-away” people of Israel has done?” The Old King James has “backsliding Israel.”

“Jeremiah, have you seen what that treacherous shuved Northern Kingdom has done?” What’s the answer to that one? “Well, no, not directly.” There hasn’t been a Northern Kingdom for a hundred years! It’s like saying, "Have you seen what President Warren Harding did?” Harding was president in 1922, one hundred years ago. None of us in this room were born then.

But Jeremiah certainly knew the story. He knew that the people of the Northern Kingdom were unfaithful to the LORD. They had prostituted themselves with other gods. They had shuved away. Now, listen to verse 7. It’s a doozey!

“I thought that after she had done all this she [Israel] would return to me [shuv to me] but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it.”

Two things there. First, it almost sounds like the LORD thought He had made a mistake. “I thought this would happen, but then it didn’t! What a miscalculation on my part.” 

It’s shocking language to get across His point. Remember, the LORD is picturing Himself like a jealous jilted husband. In the metaphor, the husband is married two wives, two sisters. (Which is not something that the LORD recommends, but it happened in this story when the Kingdom split into two.)

And in the metaphor, one of the wives, one of the sisters goes rogue and starts sleeping around.

And second thing, the other sister saw it. Who is that in this story? That’s Judah. That’s the southern kingdom that Josiah is king over and Jeremiah is prophesying to.

Judah saw how Israel acted...and did not learn anything from it. V.8

“I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries [off into exile at the hands of the Assyrians]. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel's immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,’ declares the LORD.”

So you see what happened? The prophet Ezekiel has as similar prophecy (though more graphic) in Ezekiel chapter 16.

The second sister, saw what happened to the first sister, and she didn’t think much of it. “In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me [shuv] with all her heart, but only in pretense,’ declares the LORD.”

Only in falsehood. Only a fake repentance. Only a pretend return.

I have four points of application this morning that all relate to repentance; that all describe what it means to truly return to the LORD, and here’s the first one:


Judah faked some repentance, but you can’t fool the LORD.

He knows our hearts. He knows that Judah saw how Israel had run around behind His back and had been severely punished for it. And how Judah just didn’t really seem to care.

“Oh, that? No biggie.”

Perhaps she was frightened temporarily by what she saw Israel get, and so she cleaned up her act a little bit, but it sure didn’t stick.

Perhaps He’s describing the reforms under Josiah! Josiah went through the nation taking down altars to foreign gods. Josiah read the Book of the Law that had been found in the temple, and started to make changes across the southern kingdom. But it was apparently only “skin deep.” Because look what Judah has gotten herself into!

Can you guess the answer now to the tricky question? V.11

“The LORD said to me, ‘Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.”

In the end, the southern kingdom was more wicked than the northern one. Why? Because they had the example of the northern one and ignored it! And just pretended to change.

How about you? Is your repentance real? Repentance is not just something we do at the beginning of the Christian life. It is also something we do (or should do!) every time we are freshly confronted with our sinfulness.

Martin Luther famously said that the Christian life is “a race of repentance.”

Have you learned from how anyone else is running? Do you look at the negative examples of the people around you, and take a clue? “Oh, when they fell into that sin, this was the consequence. I should take note of that.” Or do we just say, “Look at those dummies! They got caught!” “I’m glad I don’t do that.”

Get real. He knows. He can see. You can’t fool Him.

Now, this next verse is amazing. It’s the first of the four invitations, and look whom He is inviting! V.12. He says to Jeremiah, “Go, proclaim this message toward the north: ‘'Return, faithless Israel,' declares the LORD, 'I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,' declares the LORD, 'I will not be angry forever.”

Isn’t that something?! In verse 12, the LORD invites the northern kingdom which is scattered in exile to return to Him! “Return, faithless Israel.” 

Remember, “faithless” comes from “shuv” as well. In Hebrew this is, “Shuva, Meshuva!” "Turn back, O Turned Away!” “I know I sent you away, but you are still invited to return.”

Doesn’t this just reveal His heart?!

“'I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,' declares the LORD, 'I will not be angry forever.”

The word for “merciful” is “hasid” from “hesedthat word that means loving-kindness or loyal-love.

They have been faithless, but He is faithful. And if they repent, He will not be angry forever.

“Return to me.”

If you are listening to this message, then it is not too late for you to repent. It’s not too late. Some people think that they are too far gone. I talked to somebody this week who was afraid that he might be too far gone for God’s mercy.

But listen to His heart! “'I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,' declares the LORD, 'I will not be angry forever.” And how much more is that true on this side of the Cross? Where the just wrath of God was satisfied by the sacrifice of His Son?!

“Return to Me. It’s not too late. I will not be angry forever. Return to Me.”

But here’s the condition. V.13

“Only acknowledge your guilt–you have rebelled against the LORD your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me,'’ declares the LORD.”

You’ve got to get real. You must acknowledge your guilt. You must take a good honest look at your heart and confess what is really there.

And, yes, sometimes, that’s hard to do. Israel hated to admit to their pervasive idolatry. And we hate to admit when we have been chasing counterfeit gods, as well.

But you can’t truly come to Him unless you get real about what is keeping you away.

What is keeping you away? 

Get real. The Lord knows anyway. You can’t fool Him.

In verse 14, the LORD issues the second invitation, and He tells them why they ought to take Him on it. Look at this! Verse 14.

“‘Return, faithless people,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I am your husband. I will choose you–  one from a town and two from a clan–and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.”

Wait a second! I thought that He divorced her? 

Remember how the chapter started by asking if a husband should take a back a wife who married another man? That was against the Law of Moses. But Israel didn’t marry another man. She had just played the field. She had just “scattered her favors” which is worse, right...?

But Yahweh says that they are not divorced. Not really. Not ultimately. Not, at least, for those who repent and return.

Same picture. Same deal.

And the LORD says that He is going to bring them back as a remnant, one or two at time, all the way to Zion, and He’s going to give them better kings this time.

Shepherds after His own heart (like David at his best) who will lead them with knowledge and understanding.  

He says that this going to happen. When? Well, I’ve got bad news, and I’ve got good news. 

The bad news is that it won’t be for a long long time. Remember, Jeremiah is a prophecy of a tragedy. 40 years in the making. Israel has been in exile 100 years by now, and they are only come back in little tiny scattered amounts. Hardly enough to speak of in the whole rest of the Bible

But the good news is that when the Messiah comes in all of His fullness, all of these promises will be fully fulfilled, will truly come true. 

And you can tell that He’s talking about the Messiah’s Kingdom because He starts to use phrases like, “In those days.” Look at verse 16.

“In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘men will no longer say, 'The ark of the covenant of the LORD.' It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made. At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the LORD, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the LORD. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. In those days the house of Judah will join the house of Israel, and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your forefathers as an inheritance.”

Do you hear how He kicked it into another register?

You can tell that He’s looking down the corridor of time and prophesying what it will be like when the Kingdom truly comes.

It will be, in word, blessed!


To return to the LORD, you have to first get real, but then, get ready to be really blessed. When God’s people truly repent, they find that they get truly blessed. At least, when the Kingdom comes.

Then there will be (v.15), a shepherd after [God’s] own heart.

And His name will be Jesus! Jesus is the Best Shepherd, and He will lead us with knowledge and understanding (read John 10).

In those days, God’s people will have grown and grown and grown. Blessing!

And they will no longer say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.”

That’s a little strange, isn’t it? Why is that a good thing? Why would it be good for them to forget the Ark of the Covenant? 

I said to my family last night that I should have named this sermon, “Forgetters of the Lost Ark.”  

Why won’t there be Ark of the Covenant in the Kingdom? Because it won’t be necessary! It would be irrelevant. 

What did the Ark stand for? What was in it? The Law was in it, right? Where will the Law be in Kingdom? It will be in our hearts, right? That’s the New Covenant fulfilled! We won’t need the golden chest. The Law will be in our chests!

And the Ark served as the symbolic footstool of the Yahweh. It stood for His presence. Well, verse 17 says that they will call Jerusalem, “The Throne of Yahweh.” The whole city will be the throne! Not just right there in the Holy of Holies.

We cannot fathom the blessing that Jeremiah is writing about here, the blessing of repentance.

Imagine the unity! V.18 says that the nation will be reunited. Israel and Judah together again in the Land.

And verse 17 says it’s even better than that. Gentiles are going to come. “All nations will gather in Jerusalem.” The New Testament says that Gentiles get grafted into the people of God. Not just Israel and Judah, but Israel, and Judah and people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9)–even Pennsylvanians!

And here’s how good it gets...there will be no more sin. Verse 17 again. “No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to be sinless. I am so tired of living with my own sinful desires.

This is a picture of the total blessedness that is promised to all who will truly repent.

To all who will truly answer the invitation of the LORD to “Return to Me.”

The LORD wants to bless them, but, sadly, they do not yet really want that blessing. V.19

“‘I myself said, ‘'How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.' I thought you would call me 'Father' and not turn [shuv] away from following me. But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,’ declares the LORD.”

Again, the LORD is pictured as shaking His head at a miscalculation He made. “I thought you (Israel) would be like sons to me, and I would give you the Promised Land. All of that Abrahamic Promised Land. You could call me, ‘Dad.’”

But (switching figures of speech again), “You have been unfaithful to me.” Causing me grief.  

And so you have experienced grief. Verse 21.

“A cry is heard on the barren heights, the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel, because they have perverted their ways and have forgotten the LORD their God.”

Now, some scholars think that right here is a moment of repentance by the people of Israel. And that might be right. I think the Israel here is probably standing for all of Israel (Northern and Southern kingdom), probably more Judah at this point. 

Perhaps they are weeping and wailing because Josiah has torn down their sacred altars to foreign gods at all of the high places around the nation. And this is a little taste of repentance. That’s possible.

My read, however, is that they are probably crying their eyes out because they are mad that their gods gotten taken away. They are protesting the reforms of Josiah.

And the LORD is trying show them the way back. Verse 22. Third invitation. V.22

“‘Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.’”

That’s “‘Return [shuv], faithless [shuv] people; I will cure you of [shuv] backsliding.’”

He’s really giving them the “shuv,” isn’t He? 

I think He’s telling them that they need to take this seriously.


I think that Yahweh is putting the words out there that they need to say if they are going to truly repent. It’s like a script. So far, they haven’t been willing to say all of this.

This is what they should say. Verse 22.

‘Yes, we will come to you, for you are the LORD our God. Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception; surely in the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel [and no one else!]. From our youth shameful gods have consumed the fruits of our fathers' labor–their flocks and herds, their sons and daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our disgrace cover us. We have sinned against the LORD our God, both we and our fathers; from our youth till this day we have not obeyed the LORD our God.’”

That’s what they ought to say!

Notice the repetition of His name.

Yahweh Our God.
The LORD Our God.
The LORD Our God.
The LORD Our God.

We have been sinning against the LORD Our God!
What a terrible deal we have struck.
What a price we have paid.

These shameful gods have consumed the fruits of our father’s labor–their flocks and herds, their sons and daughters.

I think that hints at the unthinkable reality of child sacrifice.

Sin is shocking, and stupid, and shameful. And we must take it seriously. 

But we don’t have to stay stuck in it! The LORD invites us to repent. Chapter 4, verse 1.

“‘If you will return, O Israel, return to me,’ declares the LORD. ‘If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, 'As surely as the LORD lives,' then the nations will be blessed by him and in him they will glory.’”

Do you see how seriously the LORD says that we must take this?

Repentance is not a slight thing.

It requires us to make real change. Israel had to put away their detestable idols and chart a new and straight course.

And look at those 3 words, “truthful, just, and righteous.” Those are not playing around. Those are not just playacting. They are not fake or skin deep. This goes down into the heart. Repentance is a heart issue. V.3

“This is what the LORD says to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem: ‘Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns.”

Get down deep. Repentance has to go below the surface. And break up the hard ground of our stony hearts.

Did everybody see the roto-tilling job that Jon and his dad did out on the Ark Park yesterday? It looks really nice. There will be a lot more soft landings now that they have tilled up that hard ground. Thank you, Jon and Shane! The LORD wants us to do that to our hearts.

In verse 4, He uses another cutting word than plow. He uses the word “circumcise” which emphasized the cutting away of flesh to symbolize the cutting away of sin and the marking of someone as belonging the LORD. V.4

“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD [not physically, that was already true fo the Jewish men], circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done–burn with no one to quench it.”

His message is: get serious or get seriously burnt. At the heart level. Consecrate yourselves. Dedicate yourselves. Turn away from the idols or else.

Sadly, we know how this story ends. We know what they did with these words. They did not heed them.

Remember, Jeremiah a prophecy of a tragedy. We got that the first three verses. 

Next time, we’ll see what is coming to Judah because they will not answer this invitation.

And yet He holds it out to them, because it reveals His heart. And it reveals His heart to us today.

He is saying to you and me, “Return to me.”

“Return to me.”

Shuv.” “Come.”

Remember, the emphasis is on Him here.

“Return to me.”

#4. GET GOD.

If you and I repent, we don’t just get blessing. We get the Fount of every blessing!

“‘If you will return, O Israel, return to me,’ declares the LORD.” 

And verse 2, “Then the nations (not just Israel, not just Judah, but you me and me, as well, the nations) will be blessed BY HIM and IN HIM they will glory.

If we repent, we get God.

And there is nothing greater.


Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "The Word of the LORD Came to Me" - Jeremiah 1:1-19