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:


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


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:


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: 


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


Thanks for posting this message.
It was just the reminder I needed this morming.

Thanks for telling me! That makes my day.