SERIES: 24 Jeremiah - 2005
MESSAGE: A Hard Message to Preach
SPEAKER: Skip Heitzig
SCRIPTURE: Jeremiah 3-4

As we open tonight, there is a very important debate going on. And you'll be able to catch it later on. That's the great thing about either TiVo or most news networks. They play it over and over again.

So I think, though, we have to open up and pray for the debate and pray for the outcome of this election. And I hope-- by the way, can I see a show of hands. How many are registered to vote? Raise your hands. Good for you, that's great.

Well, let's pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for the opportunity to take place or to take part in elections, and the freedom to voice our concerns and our objections, our desires as a nation, as a free people. But Lord, we're watching, like Jeremiah watched, a nation turning their back on you, even though they have been warned over and over again, individually, corporately, just the fact that our coins and national public institutions so often bear scripture or the name of God, as groups are seeking to erase them.

We pray, Father, that you just extend your mercy to this nation of ours, that you would pour out a revival. I pray, Lord, that you'd shake up your church to the days in which we live, that we would take an active role in prayer, as well as in participation.

And so Father, we pray tonight for the debate. We pray, Lord, that your hand would direct the King's heart, as your words says-- bring wisdom and bring righteousness, Lord, to this nation as a result of these elections, in Jesus' name, Amen.

There's a few different stages. I'm going to give you two stages that we generally go through in terms of our own journeys of growth in following God.

The first stage is salvation. We're convinced that we need hope, we need help, we need to be washed from our sins. And when we come to that first stage, we receive Christ as the only solution for our sinful condition.

What usually follows is excitement, because we never knew it would be like this. Oh, we've seen fanatics before, but we never knew we could get so excited about a simple trust and walk with Christ. But we're awfully excited.

And as we grow, as we learn, something happens. We reach a point where it's not enough. And this is good.

We're not content to just take in, just receive. We now want to learn enough to give out.

We start experiencing what Jesus said, it's more blessed to give than to receive, which brings us to the second stage. If the first one is salvation, the second stage is service.

We become like Isaiah or like Jeremiah, the 20-year-old. And we're excited that, if God worked in us, what would happen if God started working through us, if we became an instrument of his, a tool, whose life could God affect through us?

Now it's a little bit intimidating to us, like it was for Jeremiah, but look what God said in Chapter 1, and I'm bringing this to remembrance, "The word of the Lord came to me, saying," Verse 5, "before I formed you in the womb, I knew you before you were born. I sanctified you and I ordained you as a prophet to the nations."

Nothing is more fulfilling than doing what God called you to do, be it a prophet to the nations or washing dishes. If God has called you to do it, it's great. If God didn't call you to do it, it's frustrating.

One of my favorite movies is Chariots of Fire. And my favorite line in the movie is when this Olympic runner, Eric Liddell's sister comes to him and is trying to tell him he needs to leave everything and go to China. But he's been running so much, training for the Olympics, that she feels he's unspiritual. Carnal, carnal Christian. You're into you're running instead of going to church.

And they take a long walk and he says, Jenny, I know God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.

I love that. I feel God's pleasure when I run because I'm fast. He made me fast.

So he knew that God made him to be a missionary, but he also knew God made him fast to be an athlete. And he was coming into that arena of being fulfilled in what God wanted him to do just then.

Well, Jeremiah was called to be a prophet. There was a sense of inward pleasure, divine pleasure, you might say. At the same time, there was a sense of personal pressure.

Divine pleasure versus inward pressure. The pressure is that it was a difficult message. He loved these people. His heart was broken for them. He was sad that he was preaching his heart out and people were so blase and not listening and saying, oh, whatever.

And it broke his heart. Hence, he is called the prophet of the broken heart, or the weeping prophet.

In fact, it got to Jeremiah so much that he wanted to quit the ministry. He handed in his resignation one day. He said, God, I quit. I'm never going to speak a word in your name ever again.

But right after that, Jeremiah says, but his word was in me like a fire in my bones and I couldn't keep it in.

There was another guy who tried to quit. His name was Jonah. Jonah's reason was the opposite. Jeremiah wanted to quit because he loved the people, and he knew that God was going to judge them and it broke his heart.

Jonah hated his audience, wanted to see him post toasties. And God loved him and wanted to forgive him, and that was enough to make, he thought, Jonah to quit. God has interesting ways of getting a hold of us and convincing him otherwise. And he sent an interesting chauffeur, you might say, to deposit him on the land-- barf him on the land, quite literally. And then he went out and he did what he was told to do.

Jeremiah was a little hesitant because of his age, really, his inexperience. He says, Lord, I'm just a youth in these following verses. And God says, don't say I'm just a youth, I'm going to put my words in your mouth.

And tonight, we read in Chapter 3 the second message delivered by the prophet Jeremiah, delivered with passion, delivered with boldness, delivered with fervor. But it was difficult.

A man was visiting a job site one day. And there were three stonemasons, all doing the same job. And so the man said, what are you doing. He said it privately to one fellow. The guy said, I'm just chipping stones.

After a little while, he found another guy doing the same job. He said, what are you doing. He said, I'm making a wall.

He went to the third guy and said, what are you doing. He said, I'm building a cathedral. They were all doing the same job. One was chipping stones, one was building a cathedral.

If you were to ask Jonah, what are you doing, Jonah, out here preaching to the Ninevites. I'm chipping stones. I'm doing what God wants me to do. But there was real not fervor in his life to do it.

Jeremiah, what are you doing? I'm building a cathedral. Great emotion and pathos are in these chapters.

In chapter 3, I'm taking you down to verse 6 because we alluded to the first five verses as part of the last message. And I'm not going to read all verses in two chapters, but I'm going to be summing it up and applying it.

The Lord said-- oh, by the way, I'm hoping that in advance for your homework, you're reading the next two chapters. So by the time we get together, it's familiar to you already. Just a thought.

"The Lord said also to me in the days of Josiah the King, have you seen what backsliding Israel has done. She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree and there played the harlot.

And I said, after she had done all of these things, return to me, but she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce.

Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. So it came to pass through her casual harlotry that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. Yet for all this, her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, says the Lord."

I'll never forget what my history teacher in college the first day of class told me-- probably what he may have told you or she may have told you if you took the same American history course that I took-- those that fail to learn from history are doomed to relive it, he said.

Well, that was the problem. You had two kingdoms. 12 tribes were split up, 10 in the north, two in the south. The 10 in the north had already been taken captive by the Assyrians in 722 BC.

The two tribes in the south observed this, they were scared for their lives. But in seeing their northern neighbors being flushed out of their land and taken captive to a foreign country, you would think that that would be enough of a wake-up call for them to say, I am going to turn to God, I saw what happened to the 10 northern tribes.

But they failed to learn from their history. So they were doomed to relive it in 586 BC when the Babylonians would take them captive for 70 years.

And so God says that those in Judah were worse than those in the 10 northern tribes of Israel because the ones in the south saw but did not observe, did not tie together or connect the dots in their observation.

There is a scripture that comes to us in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, that says, "The things that were written before were written for our learning," Paul said. That means the Old Testament. He's referring to what we're reading-- Jeremiah, Isaiah, Psalms, all of it. Those things that were written before were written for our learning, that we, through the patience and the comfort of the scriptures, might have hope.

So all of the Old Testament, even though the Bible is the most popular book in the world, it is probably the least read, certainly the least practiced. So all of these things were written. And the south saw the north face the judgment of God, but they failed to learn from it enough to change their own ways.

I was brought up in a family of four boys, no girls at all, just for boys. You have to pity my mom for this, she was surrounded. I was the youngest of the four boys, which means I had plenty of time and plenty of experiences to look at my brothers' behaviors and learn from it.

So you'd think that after seeing Jim and Rick and Bob go through what they went through, that I would be able to observe and go, oh, I get it, I'm going to do that, that gets you in trouble. Well, I'm going to do things differently when I hit their age.

But wouldn't you know it, I was even worse than Judah. Judah had an older sister, I had three older brothers. But by the time I became a teenager, I put their rebellion-- well, it was tame compared to my rebellion. I didn't learn.

Well, I did learn, but I had to learn, as my dad said, the hard way. And I learned a couple of things-- I learned that to disobey is not wise, and to pretend to be something you're not is even worse.

And notice what God says here in that verse, verse 10, "They did not turn to me with their whole heart, but in pretense," says the Lord.

I wanted a guitar so bad when I was 15 years old. I had an acoustic guitar, I wanted an electric guitar. I wanted to be a rock star.

And there was a great guitar for $29 over at the Kmart, or something like that, up in where we were living. And I wanted it very badly. It was cheap-- Teisco Del Rey it was called, the worst guitar you could ever get.

Now it's a collector's item. But I asked my dad if I could get it for being a rock star. And he said, tell you what, if you pull out all the weeds in the acre and a half piece of property we have, when I get back from Hawaii with your mother for our 25th anniversary, I'll buy you the guitar. I said, deal.

When I went out there to pull the weeds, I started pulling them one by one. And I recognized very quickly that this is going to take a long, long, long, long, long time to do it one by one. It's going to take a lot longer than I wanted to put into this.

So I went in the garage, I think I told you the story, I took the lawnmower and I lowered it to its lower level and I went out into the dirt with rocks and I mowed the weeds in an acre and a half of yard out in Apple Valley.

When they came back from Hawaii, I had raked them all up, it looked like I did the trick. They were so thrilled. Oh, you did a good job, bought me the guitar.

Couple weeks later, those weeds started growing up just a little bit, and the tops of them looked very frayed and cut up. And my dad said, Skip I want to talk to you. Remember the deal we had. Yeah? Did you do what I asked? Uh huh. He said, are you telling me the truth? Uh uh. I didn't think you were because I looked at the lawnmower, I have to get a new one.

You completely trashed the blade. So I said something, I didn't learn my lessons in life, and I was worse in that I pretended to be something I wasn't. That was the sin of Judah that God is referring to in these verses.

"Now the Lord said to me, backsliding Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous. Judah, go and proclaim these words towards the north and say, return backsliding Israel, says the Lord, and I will not cause my anger to fall on you, for I am merciful, says the Lord. And I will not remain angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord your God and have scattered your charms to alien deities under every green tree and you have not obeyed my voice, says the Lord."

There's two things God tells him to do-- confess and repent. Confess, only acknowledge your sin, say that you did it. Oh, we hate that. It's not my fault, I'm a product of my environment. It's her fault, it's his fault. God says just come clean, say that you did it, confess.

The second thing he tells him to do is return or repent-- change. Those two things God requires.

In Proverbs 28, we are told, "whoever covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses them and forsakes them will find mercy." If you make an excuse for your failures, your shortcomings, your sins, you'll find no peace.

When you come clean and you say, I did it, I was wrong-- the three hardest words in the English language to say, I was wrong. Try it with your wives, husbands. Try it with your husbands, wives. Try it with your kids, sometime, to say, I was wrong. Instead of you are always this way, I was wrong.

Something to notice, God is saying this to his people, it's not heathen's, he's not speaking to Babylon, he's not speaking to Assyria, he's not speaking to any foreign gentile pagan superpower, but his people, who claim to follow him.

So think of the New Testament, think of the church at Ephesus that Jesus came to and said something similar. You do this, you do that, you have lots of great works, but you've left your first love. Therefore, remember from where you have fallen, repent, and redo. Remember, repent, redo.

Remember, turn and do your first works over again. That's essentially the message God is telling this group of people, only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord and scattered your charms. And in verse 14, "Return O backsliding children, saith the Lord."

I was reading about a woman who had an interesting condition. It wasn't an emotional condition, though when I describe it, it'll sound like it. But it was a physiological condition. She hadn't cried, she hadn't shed a tear for 18 years.

It wasn't that there was something emotionally wrong with her. She had a rare disease doctors called Sjogren's syndrome, that the antibodies that she produced attacked the lachrymal glands, the lachrymal ducts. And these antibodies regarded them as some foreign organism and shut them down so that she was unable to cry.

Here is a nation of people who hadn't mourned their sin because their heart became calloused, hardened. It became difficult over time to admit they were wrong and to turn. And here's the thing, when God brings conviction of sin, it's important that, at that point, at that moment, at that time of revelation, we go, oh Lord, forgive me, I'm sorry, help me to turn from that.

Otherwise, a callous is formed over our hearts, and we can hear messages from the Holy Spirit, and we blow it off. Our heart isn't sensitized any longer. So that's why you have in this chapter, this constant appeal-- return, return, change, come clean, repent.

"Return O backsliding children, says the Lord, for I am married to you. I will take you one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. I will give you shepherds according to my heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. And it shall come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the Lord, that they will say no more.

The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, it shall not come to mind nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it, nor shall it be made any more. At that time, Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem.

They shall walk no more after the stubbornness of their evil heart. In those days, the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the North to the land that I have given as an inheritance to your fathers."

In these verses, we are putting on binoculars and we are looking past the present into the future. And this is what it's like-- so much of the book of Jeremiah is like a cloudy day, it's pretty heavy talk, lots of judgment talk. But every now and then, the clouds part and the sunbeams break through. It's like, ah, that feels good-- on such a cloudy day to have a little bit of sunshine. And you will find these gems, these rays of light breaking through where God gives us the binoculars, and we're looking past the judgment phase of the coming invasion of Babylon into the future.

Notice the repeated phrase, in that day, at that time, in that day. In what day? In the day that Israel repents. In the day that there is a restoration and a restitution.

And by the way, let me just sum up what the prophets tell you, be it Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, et cetera, Micah, Hosea, that there is coming a day in the future when there will be a national restoration of Israel, a restitution of all things. Righteousness will pervade the land. There will be a unity between a broken kingdom, north and south. There won't be 10 and two, there will be the people of God, the 12 tribes gathered together.

There will be an influx of gentile nations that will come into Israel and flow into Mount Zion. And there will be peaceful governments and righteous governments. All of these look forward to the millennial reign, the 1,000-year reign of Christ on the earth. And we have a little bit of peek there.

But one thing I do want you to notice is that in verse 14 and verse 15, there are two important principles. The first principle is with the covenant of God. Notice he says, return O backsliding children, for I am married to you.

The Lord prefers a relational covenant, not a religious covenant with his people. God is not into ritual outward religion, as much as the relational. Here's why God says, I am your husband, I'm married to you, Israel.

Now we can make a huge theological distinction tonight between Israel being the wife of Jehovah, and the church not being the wife but the promised bride of Christ, engaged but not married, and go to a whole theological thing. That isn't the issue. The issue is the principle that God desires a relational covenant with us, not a religious one.

One of the things I love about God-- he is not religious. I love that about him, because I don't like religion, it's divided people for generations. And so I love to blow people's minds. They say, you're religious, aren't you. I go, no.

Well, aren't you a pastor? Yeah. Well, you're religious. No, I don't even like religion. Really? Well, neither do I.

Let's talk. I go, I'd love to talk. Well, let me tell you about Jesus. I don't want to talk about religion. Neither do I. I want to talk about a person, somebody who wants a relationship with you.

And so God much more prefers a relational covenant versus this religious covenant.

The second thing, notice in verse 15 is, "I will give you shepherds according to my heart who will feed you with knowledge and understanding." God cares for his people by giving caregivers to his people. God cares for his people by giving caregivers to his people.

Remember in Ephesians 4, there's a list of gifts, but there's a list of gifted people. And Paul says, God gives them to the church. Those people-- the evangelists, pastors, teachers, all of these different Christian workers and gifts-- are gifts that God gives to the church. He cares for his people by giving caregivers, so that we're well-rounded, so that we're matured.

Now if I could take you down to verse 19, "but I said, how can I put you among the children and give you a pleasant land, a beautiful heritage of the host of nations. And I said--" this is the Lord speaking-- "you shall call me my Father and not turn away from me. Surely as a wife treacherously departs from her husband, so you have dealt treacherously with me, O House of Israel, says the Lord."

Notice that God promises that one day they will personalize the fatherhood of God, saying, you shall call me my Father. Now this is an important truth. Throughout the Old Testament, God is never seen as an individual Jew's personal father, but rather a national father.

In other words, Moses was never called my son by God, but my servant. David was never called my son, but my servant. But Israel as a nation was called my son. Moses went to Pharaoh and said, behold, thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, the children of Israel my first born. In Jeremiah 31, God says, "I will be a father to Israel the nation."

Now this was so important to the Jews that the devout Jew never could say the name of God. That's why we don't know what the name of God is. We just know there are consonants, there are, in Hebrew, a tetragrammaton, four letters of the Hebrew alphabet. And we don't know how it's pronounced because for years it was ineffable, it was unpronounceable.

The pious Jew would come to the name of God and would bow his head and simply say, Hashem, which means the name. The name-- meaning, I'm not going to say God's name, I'm going to say it to you, the name, and you'll know what I mean.

So we don't know if it's Jehovah or Yahowah or Yahovah or Jehowah or a Yaveh Yaweh-- we don't know, because it was so sacred. You could never personalize God as your Father.

Now we come to the New Testament and we start reading the gospels, and Jesus starts talking about my Father. And he uses the term 70 times, then he authorizes you and I to say that.

See, there's this huge constitutional change between the Father of the nation and your Father personally, because of a relationship with the son. See, Jesus says, when you pray, say our Father in Heaven. But then later on, he'll say, I'm going to my Father and your Father.

And he teaches them and authorizes them to make God personally their Father by the relationship with the son. So that's a huge change, and I thought I'd point that out by these verses.

Verse 22, "Return you backsliding children--" there it is again-- "and I will heal your backslidings. Indeed, we do come to you for you are the Lord, our God. Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills and from the multitude of the mountains."

Did you notice something here? Did you notice that the first part of verse 22 is God saying return, then it would seem that the second part of verse 22 to the end of the chapter is a prayer. Here's the question? Who's praying it.

Let's look at it. "Indeed, we do come to you, for you are the Lord, our God." That's not God speaking, that's somebody else. "Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills and from the multitude of the mountains." Truly in the Lord, our God, is the salvation of Israel, for shame has devoured the labor of our fathers from our youth. Their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters, we lie down in our shame, and our reproach covers us, for we have sinned against the Lord, we and our fathers, from our youth, even to this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, our God."

Who is praying? Nobody is going to say?


Jeremiah, it could. Could it be anybody else?

Here's three suggestions. Some commentators-- and some taters are more common than others-- you've heard me say that before. Some commentators will say this refers to the future when Israel repents, which will come during the tribulation period. 144,000 Jews are saved, they get brought into the kingdom age. That's national repentance, that's what Paul wrote about in Romans, chapter 10 and 11, all Israel shall be saved.

So they're saying, this is a future prayer. This is the prayer of the nation that will repent. That's what they're going to say.

Others say, and I looked at that and I thought, that sounds like Jeremiah's praying, that's God saying, return to me. So Jeremiah said, look, I'll be your prophet and I'll also be a representative of the nation, like a priest. I'm going to pray this prayer on behalf of my people. We've really blown it, God, forgive us.

Third option, this is the people of Jeremiah's day praying this. But it's mere words without a change of heart, a change of lifestyle. That could be it, because they are indicted for that throughout the book. It could be that they heard this message. They heard Jeremiah saying this, and they went, wow, yeah, mm-hmm, that's right. Oh, we're bad. Oh, we're sorry, God. And it was a mere emotion that lasted just a moment. They went right back out and didn't change.

Now we'll get over to chapter 7, where they will be-- I'm going to give it away a little bit. "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these." That's their mantra-- we're going to church, we go to the temple. And they prayed, and it could even be that this was their prayer at the time, but there was no change of heart.

You remember, when Nathan the prophet walked into King David and told him a little story about a rich man and a poor man. And the rich man had a whole bunch of sheep, and the poor man had only one little lamb, and that's all he had. And the rich guy took the poor guy's lamb, and you know that story.

And David said, well, the guy should be killed for that. So the prophet pointed his bony, prophetic finger at him and said, you are the man. What could he say, except, oh.

You are the man, David. You are the one that took another man's wife when God had allowed you to have several. He accommodated you through your whole life and blessed you. And this wasn't enough for you?

Now the thing about David is there had not been a change at all in him until he got found out. Then all of a sudden, it's like, I've sinned. And I'm not doubting his repentance, but he was sure holding out a long, long time, and it wasn't until he got busted. And it could be that the people felt even guilty and touched emotionally and shed tears, but didn't change.

A 13-year-old girl, a Girl Scout, 13 years of age, Emily Brinton, was asked, how in the world she could be so successful at selling those 11,200 boxes of Girl Scout cookies she sold in one season. And she said, you got to look people in the eye and make them feel guilty. It worked.

It could be that Jeremiah, with weeping eyes, tearful, doleful eyes, looking over the nation, they felt so guilty and they prayed this. But you will see, it's superficial. Because in the next chapter, judgment is promised, and it really bugs Jeremiah.

"If you will return, O Israel, says the Lord, return to me. And if you will put away your abominations out of my sight, then you shall not be moved." You see what he's saying? If you really repent, then do it. And if you really do it, then you're not going to be taken captive into Babylon. You're going to stay right here, you won't be moved. You'll stay in your land, you'll stay in your city.

"And you shall swear the Lord lives in truth, in judgment, in righteousness." They were saying, the Lord lives. But it wasn't in truth. it wasn't in righteousness.

There is a spiritual language among Christians. And when you're first a brand new Christian, you pick up on it and you're a little uncomfortable with it, at least I was. The first time I heard somebody go, praise the Lord, I just thought, that's goofy. That's honestly what I said, I said, I can't say that stuff.

Praise God, hallelujah, glory to God, thank you, Jesus. They'd always say it, it would bug me at first. And then as time went on, it started bugging me even more when it was said with no thought.

I love to truly praise the Lord, but to just throw it up-- praise God, praise God, praise God, like cool, neat, praise God-- with no real thought to it, without being in truth, in judgment, in righteousness.

Christianese is easily learned. If you want a short class afterwards, I can teach you 10 lines in Christianese. You can be comfortable in any group anywhere you go. I can even tell you that there are certain groups of Christians, places that their language changes a little, I could tell you all the phrases. That's the danger.

If you go to Israel and you go to the Mount of Olives, the little kid selling the 100 postcards for $1, they size you up to determine, is this a Christian group, is this a Jewish group, is this a non-religious group. And if you're a Christian group, they'll say, praise the Lord, brother. And they have postcards of holy sites-- brother, brother, praise the Lord, Jesus is Lord, I love Jesus, 100 postcards, $1.

It's just language, and that's the language they were singing. Psalm 51, David says, "Lord, you desire truth in the inward parts." Verse 3 for this says, "the Lord to the men of Judah in Jerusalem, break up your fallow ground and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and take away the foreskins of your heart, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest my fury come forth like fire and burn so that no one can quench it because of your evil doings."

Fallow ground was hardened topsoil, and that the end of the winter time, as the spring was just breaking forth, the farmers would go out there and till up that top hardened soil because of the yoreh and the malkosh, the early and the latter rains had dried. Now the rains were gone, and the soil was crusty.

And underneath the soil there were weeds, roots. There were thorns, there were stones. And the idea of tilling it up, plowing it up, making it ready to bring forth a harvest.

Speaking spiritually of our hearts, our lives, break up that hardened topsoil. When I'm out of fellowship with God's people, when I'm out of fellowship with the Lord, my heart can easily get crusty because all around me is a world view opposed to God. All I have to do is turn on any radio station, any television station, any media outlet, talk to any person almost in any public place, and I'm not going to hear values that are biblical, so I am bombarded with a worldly viewpoint, constantly.

So when I get into fellowship and I read the word and I pray and I'm around other believers, it helps to keep my heart tenderized before the Lord, break up the fallow ground, get ready for a harvest, circumcise yourselves to the Lord and take away the foreskins of your hearts.

Now you know that the Jews, some of them trusted circumcision a lot like some people today-- Christians-- trust baptism. I've been circumcised. In fact, the old rabbis used to say, circumcision will deliver a Jewish man from Gehenna, and that it will deliver the nation of Israel from Gehenna.

All we have to do is go through the ritual of this circumcision of the male at eight days old, just like a lot of people trust, well, I've been baptized, baptized when I was a baby. Do you remember it? No, but I was told I was baptized. Did you repent then? What? How could I, I was a kid. That's my point.

So they went through the ritual. God doesn't want the ritual, isn't interested in the religion, wants a relationship, they were trusting in the ritual. God says, circumcise the heart, the real you, the inward part.

In verse 6, "set up a standard towards Zion, take refuge, do not delay. I will bring disaster from the north and great destruction." He's promising the Babylonians are going to come in, they're approaching 586 BC, it's going to happen.

The lion has come up from his thicket-- a reference to King Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. "The destroyer of nations is on his way, and he has gone forth from his place to make your land desolate."

Look at verse 10, Jeremiah says, "then I said, O Lord God, surely you have greatly deceived this people in Jerusalem, saying, you shall have peace, whereas the sword reaches to the heart."

He's bummed out. He thought that if he could pray this little prayer of repentance, if indeed that was him in the previous chapter, or if a few people around him felt remorseful or the people prayed this emotional prayer, that God would say, OK, I won't do it. But God is saying, your doom is sealed, there is no turning back. Judgment is coming, get ready for it.

Now this so bothered Jeremiah, not knowing the hearts of all the people and the full reason of God bringing this judgment as to restore them back to their land that he just says, oh, Lord, you deceived us. I thought that you were going to bring peace. But the repentance wasn't deep enough, it wasn't real.

Look at verse 19, "O my soul, my soul, I am pained in my very heart. My heart makes a noise in me. I cannot hold my peace because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war." This is Jeremiah's deep, heartfelt complaint.

Verse 22, God says, "My people are foolish, they have not known me, they are silly children, they have no understanding." Reasons for the coming judgment.

Verse 23, "I beheld the earth and indeed it was without form and void. And the heavens, they had no light. I beheld the mountains, indeed they trembled, and all the hills moved back and forth."

Now does that sound at all related to something? Without form and void, where does that come from? Genesis. In the beginning, the earth was without form and void. Now this is not a reference to creation, it's a reference to cremation, not individually at death. The world will be burned with fire, the Bible says.

Remember, Peter says, God made a promise that after the flood he'd never destroy the world again with water-- with water. He will destroy the world again with fire.

And Revelation 20, the coming of Christ, all the mountains flee from their place, everybody flees from the wrath of the land. The mountains are shaken, the heavens are shaken, the sun doesn't give its light, and the tribulation period will be very reminiscent of these words that are spoken here as God brings judgment during that time.

In verse 27, "for thus, says the Lord, the whole land shall be desolate, yet I will not make a full end. For this shall the earth mourn and the heavens above be black because I have spoken. I have purposed, and I will not relent, nor will I turn back from it. The whole city shall flee from the noise of the horseman and the bowman. They shall go into the thickets and climb upon the rocks. Every city shall be forsaken, not a man shall dwell in it."

Now did you notice in verse 27-- and if you didn't, I'm going to make you notice this phrase-- "the whole land should be desolate, yet I will not make a full end."

He's going to bring judgment upon Israel. He's going to take them, allow them to go into captivity 70 years. But it's not the end, they will return.

We have a seeming contradiction. I love seeming contradictions. I love them because there are no contradictions in the Bible, only seeming contradictions.

The seeming contradiction is that, on one hand, God says to Abraham, I'm giving you this land for you and your descendants as an everlasting covenant, forever and ever and ever and ever. And did I say, ever and ever. He makes that clear.

Then you get over to the writings of Moses and God says, if you keep messing up, I'm going to drive you out of your land. You go, oh we have a problem here. God can't make up his mind.

It helps when you understand the nature of a covenant in the Bible. There's two different kinds of covenants. A conditional covenant versus an unconditional covenant. A conditional covenant means you make a deal, but I've got a part and God's got a part. And so the covenant is God does something, but I have to do something to maintain the covenant, otherwise it's broken.

The conditional covenant, there may be some human co-operation. But basically, it is a declaration of God where he says, I'm going to do this-- period. OK.

In the Garden of Eden, God makes a covenant with Adam and Eve. The Edenic Covenant, theologians call it, because of the Garden of Eden. It's a conditional covenant. Obey me, get to stay. You disobey me, you take that tree, you're out of here. They took the fruit, they were out of there. Conditional covenant, condition was broken.

You get to the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants, that's an unconditional covenant. I'm giving you this land to you and your descendants forever.

You come to Mount Sinai, God makes a covenant of the law with the children of Israel. What kind of covenant is that? It's conditional. If you do this, I'll do that. If you don't do that, I'll do that or I won't do that.

So in the conditional covenant, God says, if you obey me, you're stay in the land. If you disobey me, I'm taking you captive.

So what God does in fulfilling both covenants is, when they disobey, he kicks them out of the land, but he won't make a full end. When they learn their lesson-- oh, and they will-- they'll get spanked and they'll go, I'm sorry, we really do repent now. Got to go, it's time to come back. And he'll bring them back.

So listen carefully-- the land of Israel, that piece of real estate over there, is part of an unconditional covenant to an ethnic people group called Jews. It's unconditional. Their tenure in the land is conditional.

But God, even though he will punish and even though he will discipline, he will bring them back. And he has done that time and time again. And they're back in the land today. So God says, I won't make a full end.

And it helps as you merge both these covenants together, you go, oh, oh, I get it. God is going to punish, but he'll bring them back.

Verse 30, let's close this off and we'll have the Lord's Supper. "And when you are plundered, what will you do? Though you clothe yourself with crimson, though you adorn yourself with ornaments of gold, though you enlarge your eyes with paint, in vain you will make yourself fair. Your lovers will despise you, they will seek your life. For I have heard a voice as of a woman in labor, the anguish as of her who brings forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion bewailing herself who spreads her hands saying, woe is me now for my soul is weary because of my murderers."

The message is clear. God is saying to this people, return, be renewed. But if your renewal is merely outward, no matter what you do outwardly, like a woman who would dress up to attract her lovers, you will be left desolate. You can't do anything to win my favor on your own except acknowledge and repent. Because all of your works, all of your alliances with other countries, won't help.

Now under King Josiah-- remember him from last week? He was eight years old when he became king. He was 21 years old when Jeremiah started his ministry. Jeremiah was, oh, about 20 years of age. So you these two just post-teenage boys running the nation. Doing a good job of it, too, by the way, because they loved God, and God kept them.

There was a spiritual renewal and revival that happened. Hilkiah found the law, Shaphan of the scribe read it. There was this tearing of the robe, sackcloth, and ashes, this mini-revival and renewal. But it didn't last long in the hearts of the general population. They kept going through the rituals.

And it reminds me of a story. Everything reminds a preacher of a story, right? True story, by the way.

Husband and wife, newly retired, cashed in all their stocks and bonds and bought the best motorhome their money could buy. And what they loved about it is the cruise control that it had. They never had a car with cruise control. And this RV was famous for its cruise control. It was one of the selling points.

They bought it, they were thrilled. And they started their vacation up the California coast.

The man drove for a while, had a great time, loved being behind the wheel. Started getting tired, said to his wife, it's your turn to drive, I'm going to take a nap. True story.

He went back fell asleep. She got behind the wheel, long stretch of highway, put it on cruise control. Thought this is great, enjoyed that long stretch of the highway.

Then after about an hour, as they were going down the highway, she decided to get up and go in the back and use the restroom. That's what she told the CHP after the accident.

You see, it said cruise control. But somehow in her mind, cruise control was like automatic pilot to her. So she put it on automatic pilot, thinking, I can go back and use the restroom, we'll still be on the road.

They had an accident. They're both OK. But here's the lesson. A lot of people think it's all about, yeah, I shed a few tears one time and I raised my hand and I uttered this little prayer, and now my life's in cruise control. I just put it on auto pilot.

Listen, to grow in Christ takes deliberation and cooperation. Deliberate steps to grow, deliberate will to fellowship with God's people, to read his word daily, to tell others about him, to grow in Christ, because you don't grow automatically.

In fact, we've told you, I think, before that being a Christian is like riding a bicycle uphill. The moment you stop pedaling, you start backsliding. Keep pedaling, stay on it, it's not in your own strength.

I'm not saying you've got to work, work, work. God will give you the power. If God calls you to do it, you'll do it you'll be fine. but cooperation and deliberation.

Let's pray, "Heavenly Father, you tell your people, your people to return. You tell your people to acknowledge their sin. And so Father, here we-- your body, this church, we come before you tonight.

And as we're about to take these elements that speak of the broken body and the shed blood of our Savior, we can hear your spirit telling us in some area of our life, return to me, come back to me, place me as number one, learn of me, cooperate with me.

And I pray, Lord, that we would, and be pleasing in your sight. In Jesus' name, amen.

Now we're going to pass these elements out and hold onto them until we all have them, and we'll take them together.


A Hard Message to Preach - Jeremiah 3-4 |
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