This time let's turn in our bibles to Jeremiah Chapter 11 as Pastor Skip comes to continue leading us through the word of God, chapter by chapter, verse by verse.
I love it when Chuck plans the menu like that, don't you, for Thanksgiving dinner. Jeremiah Chapter 11, if you would turn there this evening. There was a young boy who was slated to take a geography test the following day. He knew he had to study. He wanted to pass the test. Through the evening he decided to write down a little prayer based upon the familiar prayer, now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. But this little boy said, now I sit me down to study, I pray the Lord I won't go nutty. If I should fail to learn this junk, I pray the test I will not flunk. Now I lay me down to rest, I pray I pass tomorrow's test. But if I should die before I wake, that's one less test I'll have to take.
Nobody likes tests, but we all have to take them from time to time. That's why parents will often tell their children son, daughter, listen carefully to the teacher because you're going to take a test. And you want to make sure that you pass the test with flying colors. Listening is key and that's exactly where the nation of Judah failed, was in listening. That they might obey the words of the covenant that God gave.
When God called the children of Israel and delivered them from Egypt and took Moses on Mount Sinai and gave him the Decalogue, the 10 words, the 10 Commandments. They were commandments whereby man could flourish in a relationship with God and a relationship with his fellow man. So the first four commandments had all to do with how we relate to our God. The last six, brother to brother, man to man, woman to woman, person to person, how we relate with each other.
Those first two commandments set the pace, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength was the idea. You will have no other gods before me was the commandment. God was to be number one, He was the Lord. No other gods were to be before Him.
And then the second commandment, not to have any graven images, nothing that would represent God because nothing cast could fully embody all the characteristics of God. Well by the time Jeremiah was a small boy, King Manasseh was on the throne. And he was the most wicked King Judah ever saw. None came to the point that Manasseh had come to. And already by the time Jeremiah was just a little kid growing up he would see the shrines and the idolatry that Manasseh spread throughout the land.
But then refreshment came. Josiah, the eight-year-old boy became king. And he grew. And he had wise counselors around him. And Josiah decided he would break down all of the idols, all of the shrines, and stop the idolatry. And, for a period of time, there was a renewal, sort of a revival.
Josiah, when Hilkiah read the book of the law, he rent his garments. And he made a commitment, a covenant, that he would keep the law of God, that he would follow God with all of his heart. Now that was his own personal revival and his own personal commitment. But he said that promise and made that covenant in the hearing of the people.
In fact, over in Second Kings Chapter 23 we read, "And the people stood to the covenant." They stood to the covenant. In other words, they said they were a part of it. We start reading that and we get very encouraged until we discover that King Josiah could bring change and renewal to the heartland. He could change the spiritual landscape of the heartland that is the nation. But he couldn't change the hearts themselves. People's hearts, eventually, weren't in it.
And so when King Josiah died in a battle, Jeremiah was still around. He had been prophesying But Jehoahaz came to the throne. It was a very short-lived reign. He was deposed by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt, who put in his place another King by the name of Aliakim, who had his name changed to Jehoiakim.
Eventually Nebuchadnezzar would come, depose him off the throne, take that man to Babylon, and put somebody else in his place, Jehoiachin. It was a very evil time after Josiah left the throne and some of the setting of Chapter 11 and 12 have to do with that reign as the kingdom went on after the revival, renewal, and subsequent downfall of the nation.
So in Verse 1, the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, "Hear the words of this covenant and speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem." You could sum up Chapter 11 by three words, deliverance, disobedience, disaster. One has to do with the past. The other has to do with the present. And the third has to do with the future.
In the past, God delivered them. In the past, they were slaves in Egypt. God with a mighty hand delivered them from the hand of the Egyptians. And He made a covenant with them. And in the first part of this chapter, God reminds them of the covenant that was made after they were delivered from the hand of Egypt.
But then came disobedience. And they were presently living in disobedience before God. Oh yes, it was a renewal. Oh yes, it was in part a revival. But again, the hearts really didn't change.
And so God predicts their future, disaster will come upon the land. The Babylonians are coming. Nothing will stop them. So deliverance in the past disobedience in the present, disaster is coming in the future. Now the book of the covenant had been found. Hilkiah found it. It was brought before Josiah, the King, he heard it.
In that covenant were stipulations, blessings and cursings. There's three chapters that would be profitable to look at on your own in the light of these chapters, Deuteronomy Chapters 28, 29, and 30. The stipulations of the covenant are giving. In other words, if you do this, I will do that. If you don't do this, then I'm going to do that. I'll bless you under certain circumstances. I'll curse you under other circumstances.
And so the commandment hear the words of this covenant and speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. So Jeremiah, review the contract with them. Go over the covenant, spell it out so they know for certain why these things are coming upon them. And say to them, thus says the Lord God of Israel. Cursed is the man who does not obey the words of this covenant.
That is nothing new. Those were the terms of the covenant already agreed upon. As I mentioned in Deuteronomy, those three chapters. God says if you diligently hear my voice and obey it, these are the blessings that you can expect. But if you disregard the covenant, disregard my voice, disobey these dictates, these are the curses that will come upon you.
So he tells them, cursed is the man who does not obey the words of the covenant, which I commanded your fathers in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt from the iron furnace saying, obey my voice. And do according to all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God. That I may establish the oath which I have sworn to your fathers to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is this day.
And I answered and said Amen. That's what it is in the Hebrew, it says so be it. In the Hebrew language, it's "amain." Jeremiah heard it and said, Amen.
Now you notice that the land of Israel, it's called in this verse, a land flowing with milk and honey. That's a phrase we encounter in the Old Testament some 20 different times. It's a beautiful description of the productivity of the land. The pastures would be so good and they were so good. That goats and cows could feed and become healthy. That bees could make honey. So it speaks of prosperity, blessing, productivity. A land that is flowing with milk and honey.
Which brings us to a principle, really. God promises to bless our life with the ability to produce, the ability to be productive. The ability, you might say, to cooperate with natural law that God has put in place so that we might be blessed.
However, it's not as if God just says, OK, open your mouth and I'm going to put in it milk and honey. No, I've given you the land, it's productive. It'll take in rain from heaven. But you still have to go out there and till the land. You've got to work the land. I've set up natural law in the biosphere that allows you to be blessed. But it was still a land, though productive, they had to cooperate with God and work it.
God blessed them with the ability to take from that very productive land, his blessings. It wasn't a handout, it was a cooperation. You remember that Jesus in the New Testament on the Sermon on the Mount said take no thought for your life. Don't worry about tomorrow, what you're going to eat, what you're going to drink. Or about your body, what you're going to put on. And he says consider the fowls, the birds, of the air. They don't spin, they don't toil, they don't work, they don't worry. They don't gather into barns. But your Heavenly Father feeds them.
It's a beautiful, beautiful analogy. Have you ever seen a worried bird? Can you remember the last time you saw a little bird with its claws around its beak, frustrated and sweating how it's going to pay rent on the nest for that month?
Doesn't happen. You hear birds singing, making melody at ease.
Well here's the point, if God does that for those bird-brain creatures, God's going to do it for you, his child. Now at the same time, birds don't point their beak Heavenward and expect God to drop the worm in. There's even an old saying, the early bird catches the worm. They're out there, foraging, working, searching. God would take them into a land flowing with milk and honey, but the milk and honey was theirs for the taking as they went out, worked the land, tilled it, and cooperated with God's blessing.
Now I love Jeremiah's response. He's given a difficult task. He has to preach a very hard message. And his response is, amen. So be it Lord, I'll do it, yes sir.
That is the only proper response that you can give to the Lord. Everything else would be a contradiction. It cannot be like Peter, who, while he was on the housetop of Simon the Tanner in Joppa. And he saw the vision, you remember the story in the book of Acts of that sheet let down from heaven. And all of those unkosher beasts that were on them and the Lord said, Peter rise, kill, and eat.
And good old Peter said, not so, Lord. Hey, you can't say that to the Lord. You can say it to your friend, you can say it, no way friend, or no way dude, buddy boy. But you can't say that to the Lord.
If he is the Lord, then the response must be as the prophet Isaiah, amen, so be it, you're the boss, yes sir. Corrie ten Boom used to say don't bother to give God instructions, just report for duty. I like that.
You see, in the midst of a cursed nation, God pronounces a curse on them, they were disobedient is a blessed man. Who said yes to the Lord, no not like the rest of the nation. He was a blessed exception. And the Lord said to me, verse 6, proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem saying hear the words of this covenant and do them.
Jeremiah's ministry was not just to the city of Jerusalem. He was, as it were, an itinerant preacher, called to go to the cities, plural, of Judah. So you can picture him, going from street to street, town to town, and giving them this message. Listen and obey, as it says here. Hear the words of this covenant and do them.
Hearing God's word, hearing God's truth, is one of the keys for building up our spiritual life. Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God. However, you can listen to truth either passively or actively. It's possible to just hear, just to listen, but it's in a passive manner.
Some people will say, well, I can watch that television show. I'd never do anything that that television show would suggest. It's a passive arrangement. Some people listen to the Bible that way. They listen, they hear, but it's like I never do what's actually in it. I'm just engaged at the level of passive listening.
The only way we're to listen to God's word is actively, hearing the words and then doing them. Be doers of the word James said, not hear is only lest you deceive yourselves. On one occasion Jesus said to his disciples, take heed what you hear. Very important principle that we learn to filter out what is going to go into the ear gate. Take heed what you hear.
But on another occasion, He said, "take heed how you hear," how you're listening. "He that has an ear to hear, let him hear." The idea is an active cooperation. And so it says in the book of Hebrews, "We should give the more earnest heed to the things that we have heard, lest we drift away from them."
I heard an interesting story about the late President Franklin Roosevelt. He got tired of White House protocol. He got tired of those stuffy dinners at the White House where he'd have to stand in a line and smile and shake hands and greet people who could care less what he said, they just wanted to shake his hand. So one night at a dinner party at the White House, Roosevelt decided to try something to see if people were listening to him.
After the dinner, he stood in his tuxedo, flashed that big smile, put out his hand, shook people's hands, and then he said this to the people who were in line. He said, I killed my grandmother today. Now he didn't, he just wanted to see what people would say. So as they came by and he said, I killed my grandmother today. Most of them said, how lovely Mr. President. Or keep up the good work, Mr. President.
He said it was only one foreign diplomat who was really listening to his words. And so when he said, I killed my grandmother today. He bent in and he softly said, I'm sure she had it coming to her, Mr. President.
Well, let's not listen mechanically, passively, but actively. Hear, says Jeremiah, the words of this covenant and do them. For I earnestly exhorted your fathers in the day that I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, until this day, rising early and exhorting saying, obey my voice. Yet, they did not obey or incline their ear. But everyone followed the dictates of his evil heart.
Therefore, I will bring upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but which they have not done. God had given them his Revelation. They abandoned his Revelation, divine Revelation, and leaned on human imagination. They went from Revelation to imagination. This is what I mean.
Every time a person says, well, my view of God is, or I picture God as, where they begin with themselves and their imagining what God ought to be in their minds. In effect, they are creating God in their image. They're beginning as God because they are now imagining and picturing God to be a certain way following the dictates of their own heart.
God said, I spelled out the covenant plainly, I sent my representatives, my prophets, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Isaiah, now Jeremiah. All of those spokespeople that they would not obey.
By the way that is how idolatry is born. Whenever we move away from revelation and lean on imagination an idol is created. That's why we place such an emphasis on going through the word, it's the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible. That's been the foundation of this church from the beginning. The whole counsel of God. So that we can rely upon how God reveals himself in his word.
And the Lord said to me, a conspiracy has been found among the men of Judah and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. A conspiracy, God calls it. They had gotten together. And together they were resisting God's call to have them repent. And together they were entertaining the words of the false prophets who were saying peace, peace, when there is no peace.
They had replaced Revelation with their own prophets, giving them a false message. They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers who refused to hear my words. And they have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant, which I made with their fathers.
So the conspiracy wasn't just the southern kingdom and the environs of Jerusalem, but the northern 10 tribes, as well. They had already fallen, you remember, to the Syrians. But now, soon, 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, will take this city and destroy it because of the conspiracy, the hardness, the recalcitrant heart of the people. They've turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers.
Verse 11, therefore thus says the Lord behold, I will surely bring calamity on them, which they will not be able to escape. And though they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they offer incense, but they will not save them at all in their time of trouble. The reforms of Josiah brought a measure of hope. No doubt, Jeremiah thought, oh, finally there's going to be repentance. It's going to pervade the land, a national turning back to God. But it was short lived. And they did revert back to the practice of their forefathers.
You see, that renewal, that revival during the time served to be only a veneer, a covering. What Paul says to Timothy, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.
What was stupid on the part of the men and women of Judah is that they once called upon God during that short period of reform. Now they're calling upon the false gods that can't do anything. Now God is saying he wouldn't listen to their prayers. But he's saying the false gods couldn't listen to their prayers.
Because they're not real. They're speaking into the air. They don't exist.
And so he says, the gods to whom they offer incense, but they will not save them at all in their time of trouble. How frustrating, during a tragedy, to have a God that cannot hear, cannot answer, cannot help, cannot grab a hold of your life to sustain you. You know how frustrating it is when you're trying to get a hold of someone and nobody is on the other end of the phone. Or you hear the recording, I'm sorry you've reached a number that is no longer in service or is disconnected.
And so they're praying to these false gods, Baal, Astrid, Molech, and others. Praying wholeheartedly to them. And the best they're getting is, I'm sorry, this line is no longer-- They don't exist. It was futile.
So God promises the captivity. He's going to do it. No turning back. 70 years they will be in Babylon to let his truth of the covenant that they broke sink in.
For according to the number of your cities where your gods, Oh Judah, and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem, you have set up altars to that shameful thing. Altars to burn incense to Baal. As many streets as were in Jerusalem, they had shrines to gods and goddesses.
If you go to Israel today and you make your way through the old city, the old walled city, not only is it densely compacted together, as the Psalmist described it. But there are passageways and streets everywhere. It's just a maze of these streets and passage ways together. God is saying for every street is a god.
Now you remember when Paul the Apostle went to Athens. And it says his spirit was provoked, grieved within him, because of the idols of that city. It was said that Athens had about 25,000 gods for every main street, every artery in Athens. That it was easier in Athens to find a god than a man. They were everywhere.
And it grieved Paul as he saw it. Well here's Jeremiah seeing the holy city, God's city, the place where the temple was. A place that should not house that kind of idolatry. And it's everywhere, on every street. A shameful thing alters to bail.
So look what God says to him in verse 14, so do not pray for this people or lift up a cry or a prayer for them for I will not hear them in the time that they cry out to me because of their trouble. Wow. Those are hard words. And I've got to tell you something, they're hard even for God to speak. Because God's nature is love, is compassion, is grace, and is mercy.
It broke God's heart to have to say this. To have to tell them, you can pray to me, but I will not listen to them. And Jeremiah, when you pray for them, I'm not going to listen to you either. I have made a determined decision to bring judgment upon them.
The Bible in the New Testament describes a condition of heart called a reprobate mind. It seems to indicate that a person can be passed the ability to feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit at all.
I remember pastor Chuck had a poem when he would speak about that passage. There is a time we know not when the line we know no where that marks the destiny of man, betwixt sorrow and despair. There is a line though by man unseen, once it has been crossed, even God and all his love has sworn that all is lost.
The men of Judah had crossed that line. Judgment was rolling down the road at them like a huge avalanche. What is my beloved to do in my house, verse 15. Having done lewd deeds with many. And the Holy Flesh is passed from you. When you do evil, then you rejoice.
I've got to tell you that's a difficult verse to translate. In fact, most translators have long paragraphs and commentaries as to the meaning of that verse. A lot of them don't know what it means. The Septuagint version of this verse, I think, clears it up. Here's the rendering.
What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done vile deeds? Can vows and sacrificial flesh avert your doom? Can you then exult?
You see, some were coming to the temple with this consecrated meat, the sacrificial meat, consecrating it to God. Making the sacrifice. Thinking that the ritual would be enough to avert judgment. And it wasn't. And that, I believe, is the meaning of that text.
The Lord called your name, green olive tree, lovely and of good fruit. With the noise of a great tumult he has kindled fire on it. And its branches are broken. For the Lord of Hosts, who planted you has pronounced doom against you. For the evil of this house, the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done against themselves to provoke me to anger in offering incense to Baal.
Here is the picture of judgment. It's like lightning falling from heaven, fire from heaven, consuming a green, live, olive tree. Breaking it, burning it, consuming it. It's a picture of judgment that was coming. The olive tree, common all over the Middle East, a symbol of prosperity, but also a symbol of the nation of Israel as seen in Romans Chapter 11.
Paul speaks about we, being the wild olive branches, are grafted into the natural branches. Oil was one of the most important commodities in that land. Olive oil lit the lamps, provided fuel, provided anointing oil, medicine, so many uses. So God predicts the falling of the fire of judgment upon this fruitful tree, once fruitful tree, once so blessed and nurtured by God, would now be rejected because of their sin.
Now Jeremiah, in the next several verses on into Chapter 12, utters his prayers. These are known as Jeremiah's confessions. Jeremiah's confessions are utterances where he prays before God because of some inner turmoil, or outer turmoil, that he's experiencing, you'll see. Now the Lord gave me knowledge of it and I know it, for you showed me their doings.
But I was like a docile lamb. In Hebrew that refers to a pet lamb. Because in those days, they didn't have Doberman Pinschers or Airdales, or German Shepherds, or Golden Retrievers. Their pets were little sheep, for the most part, little lambs, a family pet, a docile lamb brought to the slaughter.
"And I did not know that they had devised schemes against me saying let us destroy the tree with its fruit. Let us cut him off from the land of the living that his name may be remembered no more."
The Lord told Jeremiah about the plot of some who wanted to kill him. There's a lot of people who didn't like this preacher, because they didn't like the preaching of Jeremiah. They thought, let's get rid of him. Let's do him in.
Every now and then you hear of a pastor getting a nasty letter, or dirty looks, or people storming out in the middle of a sermon. But these are death threats. You would think, oh come on, no one in the ministry gets death threats.
Well, I remember one Sunday morning when there was a commotion in our foyer several years ago in Albuquerque. So I went to my ushers afterwards, I said, hey, I noticed that it looked like a fight in the foyer. Who won? They said we won. I said well, what happened. He said well a guy came in and he pulled a gun out. And he said, where's that preacher? And Jessie, this big, huge football player just jumped on the guy, tackled him, drug him out, called the police and took care of it.
Sometimes the preaching was just too tough for these people of Jeremiah's time to hear. Now it's interesting from where this plot originated. Notice it says, but you, Lord of Hosts, who judge righteously testing the mind and the heart. Let me see your vengeance on them, for to you I have revealed my cause.
Therefore, thus says the Lord, concerning the men of Anathof. That's where Jeremiah came from. That's his hometown. Who seek your life saying, do not prophesy in the name of the Lord, lest you die by our hand. Therefore, thus says the Lord of Hosts, behold I will punish them.
Now one of the things that I love about Jeremiah is that when he uncovers the plot, he doesn't lose sight of God. , Oh he's disturbed by it, no doubt, no question. Yet, he prays. He does the right thing. He brings it before the Lord. He uses the experience as fuel for his prayer life.
Fact, some of the greatest prayers, psalms, hymns, and songs have been written by those in the deepest distress. Whether it's the Psalms of David, or some of the great hymns of the church, or this prayer by Jeremiah. Some of the greatest expressions of worship and devotion come from the deepest valleys of affliction.
But it was the men of Anathoth. So God says, behold I will punish them. The young men shall die by the sword. Their sons and their daughters shall die by famine. And there shall be no remnant of them for I will bring catastrophe on the men of Anathoth. Even the year of their punishment, which means a determined time.
Now, Anathoth, a little village five miles northeast of Jerusalem. It was a Levitical town. It was a town where priests lived. It was a town you may remember that Abby Athar, the priest, came from during the time of King David. So it was a well known, renowned, Levitical town.
Now here's the irony, you would think that of all places in Judah, Anathoth, the place where you would expect righteousness and justice and the openness to God's prophetic message. That of all places, they would be the first to hear. No, the death threat against Jeremiah came from his own town, his hometown, the priestly town.
Why is that? Well, remember back beginning in Chapter 7, the temple discourses? Jeremiah was at the gate of the temple. Not only his people were entering, but as priests were officiating, who were going through their rituals keeping them for the people. And Jeremiah said don't trust in these lying vanities saying the temple of the Lord are these.
I'm sure that irritated some of the priests who thought, hey, this is my job. This is my calling. This is what I do, this ritual. But they completely misunderstood the point that Jeremiah was getting to. That it's all about the heart, not the art of worship.
So a death threat against them. Perhaps the priest who trusted in the ritual. So God goes on to say because they rejected him, God singled them out for destruction. Jesus said to whom much is given, much shall be required.
And that fits here, doesn't it? God had given them priests and a legacy and a history. And yet, they disregarded it.
They didn't want to hear Jeremiah's preaching. They wanted to kill him. "So much is required, judgment shall fall first upon the house of God." Also, I can't help but imagine that Jeremiah must have had brothers and sisters in that town.
You know, it's always hard to share the gospel, to be a witness, in your own hometown. Jesus found that out in Nazareth. Your family is often the hardest to witness to, have you discovered that?
I love this story about a fifth century monk named Simeon Stylites. He decided that the only way to be a Saint is to live on top of a pillar, no joke. It is said that for a period of 30 years he lived a top a broad pillar in the deserts of Egypt 60 feet off the ground. And so he was renowned for being a holy recluse.
A man who observed this by the name of Anatole, saw this Simeon up on his pillar, said I want to do that. I want to be holy. He didn't have a pillar, however. So he went home and decided to improvise and put a chair on top of this kitchen table. And he put a simple white robe on and sat on this chair on top of the table, his little mini pillar at home. Thinking I'm going to spend the rest of my life in holy contemplation.
Well, it worked for a few hours, until his family came home. And thought he was nuts. And they told him so. They ridiculed Anatole for doing this. So he gave it up, put the chair away, took the garment off, went back to life as usual. And wrote in his journal. He said, I now discover how difficult it is to be a Saint while living at home with your family. And now I know why Simeon and Jerome headed out for the desert.
But that's where God calls us to be a witness, to live amongst our family. Not anybody can go away from society and be a recluse. It's where the rubber meets the road. In our culture, with our family, at work, among our neighbors. That's where he got the persecution.
Jeremiah 12 continues this prayer of Jeremiah. The plot to assassinate him shook him up and led to his prayer here. Jeremiah is bothered by something. And he'll explain, very frankly, to God what he's bothered about. He seems to be bothered by what he perceives to be a lack of justice. The wicked are against him. They plotted against him. He says, this isn't fair.
We want fairness for everybody else. We want grace and mercy usually for ourselves. We want justice for other people.
Let's say you're driving down the road and you go 25 miles over the speed limit and you pass by a police officer. And he looks at you and just waves and smiles. Will you go home and feel bad that you didn't get a ticket? Will you toss and turn that night and say that's wrong. It's not fair. It's not just. And then go to the police station the next day and turn yourself in and say officer I went 25 miles over the speed limit. And I couldn't sleep last night. You owe me a ticket.
You won't feel bad at all if you don't get a ticket. But if you are not breaking the law and you get a ticket, you'll be upset. Even if you do break the law and get a ticket, you'll be upset. Bottom line, you don't want the ticket.
And so we say we want a fair life, but often we want justice for everyone else, mercy and grace for ourselves. But, righteous are you, oh Lord, when I plead with you. Yet, let me talk with you about your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously? You have planted them, yes. They have taken root. They grow, yes. They bear fruit. You are near in their mouth, but far from their mind.
He's thinking of the men of Anathoth who have plotted against his life. That's the thought he has in his mind in this prayer. But you, Oh Lord, know me. You have seen me. You have tested my heart toward you. Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter. And prepare them for the day of slaughter. How long will the land mourn? The herbs of every field withered. The beasts and the birds are consumed for the wickedness of those who dwell there. Because they said, he will not see our final end.
Now we laugh at that prayer a little bit. Except we've prayed it a time or two. Lord, I look around and life isn't fair. I don't see an equity in it. I see wicked prospering, that's what Jeremiah says he sees. Thinking of the men of Anathoth. Thinking of, here I am serving you. By the way, by this time Jeremiah had faithfully served the Lord 18 years. And you can imagine what he's thinking.
Lord, why is it that your biggest fan gets the ticket? And these other guys get the new car. They seem to be blessed. They seem to be prospering. It shook him up. It bothered him. How long will the land mourn, he asked. Because they say he will not see our final land.
Now this prayer sounds a lot like the prayer of Asap in Psalm 73. In that Psalm, Asap, again, a very honest man in his prayer before God, says truly God is good to Israel. And as such has had a contrite heart. But as for me, my feet nearly slipped. My steps, I almost lost it, he says. Because of the same exact occurrence. The wicked were prospering. And he said the righteous were not.
Whenever we face a situation like this, where we say, my theology doesn't square with my experience. I know your good. I trust that you're good. You always do right. I believe that. But as I look around at life, what I say I believe, Lord, seems not to square with what I'm experiencing. The wicked are prospering.
Philosophers and theologians, for thousands of years, have struggled with this issue. It is known as theodicy. And here is basically stated, how can an all powerful, all loving God allow evil to exist? If God is all loving and all powerful at the same time, surely he can't allow evil to co-exist. It must mean, say the critics, one of two things. Either God is not all loving or God is not all powerful.
So here's the struggle, Lord, you're always right. I know that. I trust you. But I'm having a trouble, having problems with this. The Gallup Organization did a test group and they said, if you could ask God one question. If you had a private audience with God, what would it be? Number one question on that list, why do you allow evil to exist?
So Jeremiah is not alone. And the expectation is that virtue ought to be rewarded. Faithfulness ought to be rewarded. Wickedness ought to be punished immediately. That's the problem.
Now, God answers the problem. But he doesn't answer it in the way Jeremiah anticipated. It wasn't what he expected. Lord, I have a problem with evil. What do you say? Look at what God says. "If you have run with the footmen and they have wearied you, then how would you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace in which you trusted they wearied you, then how will you do in the flood plain or the thickets of the Jordan?"
In April and May, when the Jordan overflows its banks and its muddy, and there are thickets in the area. And at one time there were far more, many more thickets, much more vegetation than there is now, which made it almost impassable, hard, difficult to navigate. If with the footman you couldn't contend, how are you going to run with the horsemen, the horses? And if on level ground you weren't unable to handle it, how will you do when it's much more difficult?
In other words, Jeremiah, hunker down, buddy boy. You ain't seen nothing yet. If you think this is bad, hold on. It's going to get a lot worse. Now that's not what he expected to hear. Lord, I have a problem with evil. Well, hold on, trust, because things are going to get a lot harder than they are.
Jeremiah, if you can't trust me during a time of peace, relatively speaking, how are you going to trust me when the Babylonians come in? Or when you stand in front of those in Jerusalem who will ridicule you, if the men of Anathoth, the footmen, are shaking you up right now, buddy boy. Imagine when the priests and the leadership of the city of Jerusalem come down on you and put you in a pit. It's going to get a lot worse.
So often we pray for a lighter load. When God wants to give us a stronger back. Admit it, I'll admit it, when I go through a trial my one concern is how can I get out of this? When my chief concern should be what can I get out of this?
Remember James said, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God. He gives liberally, freely. He abradeth not." That is in the context of fiery trials. We ought to pause every trial that comes our way. Every difficult experience, and not say, Lord, how can I get out of this? But Lord, what can I get out of this? What are you trying to teach me? How are you trying to make me more mature so that I can run with the horses and in the thickets?
Listen, life doesn't get any easier as you go on. Even serving the Lord can be difficult. It's joyous, it's exciting, I wouldn't trade it for the world. But it can be difficult at the same time. It gets tougher.
A principle that has always warmed my heart is one that is found in Psalm 84. And in that psalm, which is the pilgrim psalm, as they were making their way to Jerusalem for one of the three annual feasts, it says of those traveling worshippers. It says who, when they pass through the valley of Bacah, they make it a spring. "Bacah" in Hebrew means "barren, wilderness, dry."
They go through the area of the Dead Sea and it's hot, and it's dry on the way to Jerusalem, up that long, steep cliff, that hill. They turn their experience of dryness into a place of refreshment.
Here's the key, I believe, one of the secrets. It's not when we get delivered out of the trial, but in the midst of the trial to tap into a refreshment of the presence of God in that place. Jacob was in that barren wilderness, running from his brother, in a godforsaken place, he thought.
Until he had a dream one night. And in that godforsaken place, he had a vision of angels. And he woke up the next day and he said, surely God is in this place. And I knew it not. I know it now, but yesterday, last night, I knew it not. Not God was in this place, God is in this place. They make it a stream, a place of refreshment.
So might look at it this way. Pain is inevitable. Misery is optional. You're going to have pain. You can be miserable, if that's what you choose. So Jeremiah, hold on man, for even your brothers, verse 6. The house of your Father, even they have dealt treacherously with you, yes, they have called a multitude after you, do not believe them even though they speak smooth words to you.
Now here's God's lament, Jeremiah lamented, he cried. Now God weeps. He laments over the destruction of his land. And as we read these verses there are seven figures of speech that God gives. I have forsaken my house, that's one. I have left my heritage, that's two. I have given the dearly beloved of my soul, that's three.
To the hand of her enemies, can you hear the heartbreak of God in those verses? God didn't want to do that, it was the beloved of his soul. My heritage is to me like a lion, there's another one. In the forest it cries out against me, therefore I have hated it. My heritage is to me like a speckled vulture. The vultures all around are against her. Come, assemble all the beasts of the field. Bring them to devour.
Now in the aviary world, the world of birds, when an offspring is speckled, or brightly colored, off-colored, The other birds are against it. They'll peck at it. They'll irritate it, bother it. And so just like a speckled vulture, the other ones are against it is the idea.
Come and assemble all the beasts of the field, bring them to devour. So God is going to make his people irregular so that the Babylonians will overtake them. Many rulers have destroyed my vineyard, there is another analogy, or figure of speech for his people. They have trodden my portion, there is another one.
Under foot they have made my pleasant portion the desolate wilderness. They have made a desolate. Desolate it mourns to me. The whole land is made desolate because no one takes it to heart.
The plunderers have come on all the desolate heights in the wilderness for the sword of the Lord shall devour. From one end of the land to the other end of the land no flesh shall have peace. They have sown wheat, but reaped thorns. They have put themselves to pain, but do not profit. But be ashamed of your harvest because of the fierce anger of the Lord.
So how does God deal with the problem of evil? First of all, He tells Jeremiah, get used to it. We live in a pain filled world, Jeremiah. There is evil all around us. Number two, He says, these people deserve the evil. There was a covenant. It was spelled out. I must be faithful to the covenant. I promise blessings, I promise curses.
And so they deserve it. God enumerates the things that they had done to deserve it. Now there's a third reason and you'll see it in a moment. Thus says the Lord against all my evil neighbors who touch the inheritance, which I have caused my people Israel to inherit. Behold, I will pluck them out of their land and pluck out the house of Judah from among them.
And it shall be, after I have plucked them out that I will return and have compassion on them and bring them back. Every one to his heritage and every one to his land. That is, I'm going to punish the punishers, those who come against my people. I'll bring my people back to their land. But against all my evil neighbors who touch the inheritance, which I have caused my people Israel to inherit. I will pluck them out of their land.
And so here is the third way God deals with the problem of evil. Jeremiah, it ain't over till it's over. And it's not over yet. I will punish the evil doers. I will punish those who are unjust, eventually. I am a good God. You can count on me. I will bring judgment eventually on, He says, my evil neighbors.
People have chosen to deal with the problem of evil in a number of different ways. Number one, atheism. There is no God, says the atheist. Because we live in an evil world that proves, says the atheist, there is no God. If there was a God, as you say, who is all knowing, all loving, all powerful, evil wouldn't exist. Evil exists, therefore, there is no God.
Of course you have a problem with that argument because as soon as you talk about these ultimate realities of good and evil. And you take God out of the equation, then you have those values existing no more. How do you call something good or evil? That's relative now. If there is no ultimate good to say this is good and this is evil. You take God out of the equation, what you call evil I might say is good. It's all relative.
Then, there's the agnostic. The agnostic will say, well, there may be a God, I just don't know it for sure. I am a-gnosis, without knowledge. That's what the word means, agnostic, I'm without knowledge. The Latin equivalent, interestingly enough, of agnostic is ignoramus. Means the same thing. Someone who lacks the knowledge.
I don't know if you want to remind every agnostic of that. You might not get far in the witnessing conversation. A genuine agnostic is commendable. Now I don't find too many genuine agnostics. But a genuine agnostic is in exploratory mode. They are looking for answers to find if there is God because they know if they are wrong they could be unhappy now and cut off for all of eternity. A lot of people however, just say they're agnostics. And they're not really honest. They just don't want to deal with it.
A third way that people deal with the problem of evil is deism. Deism, d e i s m. Deism says there is a God who wound up the universe and then stepped back like the giant clock maker. And back in the 60s with the God is dead theology. That came from the deist camp.
And basically, this group says there is a God. He wound up the universe. He stepped back. He's not in charge. He'd like to fix things, but He's unable.
A book was put out years ago by Rabbi Harold Kushner called when bad things happen to good people. Kushner was and is a deist. He said, God would love to give justice to people, but He is unable today. And then in the book he encourages us to forgive God. How blasphemous can you get. Forgive poor God who would like to make things right, but He can't.
Another way that people deal with the problem of evil is false theology. Yes, there is evil, yes there is sickness. But if you're a Christian, hallelujah. You don't have to ever be sick. You just have to claim your healing and walk in health and prosperity. That type of belief will only breed guilt. When you do apply your faith, and God in his sovereignty may not allow what you have claimed to occur.
It's not the best way to deal with the problem of evil. The best way is the plain, simple, biblical way. Yes, there is evil. Yes it does exist because we live in a fallen world. And there is a number of reasons why there is the existence of evil. But God is real. And God is love. And eventually, underscored eventually, God will totally deal with the problem of evil in the final judgment.
Until then, He is a God of mercy. He is a God of grace. He is patient. He has given us free choice. But one day all evil will be eradicated. And it shall be, if they will learn carefully, the ways of my people. Now they refers to the other nations, the Gentile nations. This is beautiful.
If they will learn, carefully, the ways of my people to swear by my name as the Lord lives, as they taught my people to swear by Baal. Then they shall be established in the midst of my people. But if they do not obey I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation, says the Lord. Here God extends to the other nations the chance to change their gods. Just like those nations taught Israel to worship the false gods of Baal, Asherith, Molech, etc.
God is giving them a chance to change their false gods for the worship of the true God. And God, amazingly, will be graceful. You know, God loves to restore. He loves to take that which is broken. He loves to take those people, that some wouldn't give a second chance to, and He loves to restore, and make whole, and see them used again.
When Johnny Newton was seven years of age his mother died. It shattered his life. Johnny's mother taught him about the Bible from a young age, but her death caused a tailspin in his life. He ran away from home, eventually. And as an early teenager, a young teenager, he joined the British Navy. He always wanted to be a seaman.
And so he was there, out at sea, sailing. Became an alcoholic, angry at God, ran from God. He eventually went AWOL from the British Navy, went aboard a slave ship. Joined up with the Portuguese slave trade. He boasted that he could cuss, that he could swear for two hours straight, and not repeat himself once. That was his boast.
A drunk, cussing, sailor. Reduced to the level of an animal, he became, eventually, a slave to those things himself. A series of bad things happened. He was rescued from almost drowning. On his way back to England, on a boat, recalling the words that his mother taught him and the promises of God, he wrote a song.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found. I was blind but now I see. Written by John Newton, a runaway slave who experienced God's grace and mercy. He went on to become the chaplain of the parliament in London.
God used him to influence many and how we love that song. Heavenly Father, how we love Your amazing grace. You extended it so often to this nation. And now you extend it to those nations that even caused your people so much trouble and failure. Thank you, Lord, for your amazing grace in our lives. How you've taken us from the bottom. You've redeemed us. You put a new song in our mouth. How amazing that is.
Father, I pray in closing for anyone listening, either by radio or in this place, who has not given their life yet to Jesus Christ. That tonight would be that night of surrender. Not just passively listening, but actively agreeing. Standing, so to speak, to the covenant The covenant made by Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for us. And receive your son into their hearts. In Jesus' name, amen.
Shall we stand. God's covenant. God has given a new covenant to us through Jesus Christ. As Jesus took the cup that represented the old covenant, God's covenant in making the nation of Israel, bringing them out of Egypt. When He took the cup and gave it to the disciples, He said this is a new covenant. It's in my blood, shed for the remission of sins.
And God has promised that if we would keep the new covenant by believing in Jesus Christ, that we would not perish, but have everlasting life. But again, it is a covenant that God has made that is necessary for us to keep that covenant if we are to know everlasting life. To break that covenant is to bring destruction upon our selves.
Tonight, God offers to us a covenant of His love, His love to us that is always there. And He has made the provisions whereby we can accept and receive that covenant. And if you haven't yet entered into that covenant relationship with God, I would encourage that you do it tonight. The pastors are down here at the front to pray for you.
As soon as we're dismissed, I would encourage you to come on forward and just really make that covenant with God tonight. Accept it, Lord, I accept the covenant. I receive Jesus Christ as my Savior, as my Lord. I will walk, Lord, in that new covenant with you. And what a glorious, glorious, future God has prepared for those who will enter into a covenant relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.
(SINGING) Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found. Was blind, but now I see. Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. T'is grace that brought me safe thus far. And grace will lead me home. When we've been there ten zillion years, bright shining as the son. We'd know last days to sing God's praise, then when we first begun. God bless you.
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