Well, good evening. I hear the video is really cool. I'm not sure, but I heard as much. And who knows, someday maybe we'll see it if we get that right back there.
Jeremiah, chapter 1. Tonight, would you open your Bibles there. And let's have a word of prayer. We'll settle in, and we'll go through this together.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for your faithfulness to us. Your mercies are new every morning. And we've experienced them so far this week, every single morning. You've been kind and gracious and merciful to us. And Lord, you placed a hunger within us to know you.
We are creatures made and meant for eternity. And so, as we study your word through the prophet Jeremiah, and we glean lessons, we discover that these aren't far off lessons from a past bygone era. But these things, as Paul said, were written for our admonition, for our learning. Help us, Lord, to understand what these lessons are.
In Jesus' name. Amen.
I just got off an airplane a couple of hours ago. I've been in North Carolina, Monday, Tuesday, and this morning. And there's a three-hour time difference. So I got up at 3 o'clock your time this morning, which is 6 o'clock their time. And so my head's sort of-- I don't know what time zone I'm in, exactly. I think I passed myself coming back on the airplane.
But I was out there at the Billy Graham Training Center called The Cove, which I do every year. I've done it for about 15 years. And we studied the book of Jonah together. There was four sessions, and there's four chapters in the book. So we did it.
Now, I spent a lot of time in the airport going out there, because the plane was delayed. They put us in one flight from Cincinnati to Asheville. We took off late. In the air, halfway there, they turned the plane around because of technical difficulties. Landed back in Cincinnati, put us on another airplane, got into Asheville late, and was barely able to walk onto the podium and speak that night. But we made it.
So I heard lots of things this time, in airplanes in airports, that I'd heard before, but I didn't pay any attention to them. And I also discovered that my fellow passengers didn't pay much attention to them as well. It's those same announcements they give on the airplane, that you know, but if you were to say it, you probably couldn't say it. But you know you should be listening. But you know what to do, and you just forget about it. And now they're saying, would you please give me your undivided attention. That's what the guy said. So I gave him my undivided attention. And he said what I had heard so many times before.
[IMPERSONATING FLIGHT ATTENDANT] In case of a lack of oxygen pressure, a mask will fall down from ahead of you. Place it over your nose and throat, and breathe evenly. [RETURNING TO NORMAL TONE OF VOICE] And then place your mask first, and then assist the person next to you, et cetera, et cetera.
I noticed though, a lot of people, by that time were reading books, looking around, looking at magazines, talking to one another. The message was going out, but they really weren't listening. Well, that was the prophet Jeremiah's ministry, so to speak. He was called to a very difficult task, to speak to a nation that did not want to hear. And there even comes a point in his ministry where he wants to quit.
Incidentally, we've been studying the book of Jonah the last few days in North Carolina. Jonah quit the ministry even before he began it. God told him to go to Nineveh. He goes, I'm going to Tarsus. I'm taking a Princess Cruise the opposite direction. When he was really down in the mouth, God got his attention, and he went in obedience. But he wanted to quit.
Jeremiah also came to a very difficult point in his life, where he wanted to quit the ministry. But he said, the word of the Lord was in my heart, burning like a fire. And so he had to do what God told him to do.
Jeremiah has been called the weeping prophet. I look at him as the tender warrior. He was tough and tender. He gave a very difficult message, messages of judgment, to a nation that didn't want to hear. A message of judgment to a nation that was going downhill, and would ultimately be taken captive. They did not want to hear that message, and Jeremiah was highly unpopular. But he had a great mix of being fearless and bold, at the same time touching the feelings of the very people he was speaking to.
So, even though we haven't even begun in chapter 1, verse 1, turn over to chapter nine for just a moment. And you'll get a glimpse into the kind of person we're dealing with. Jeremiah, chapter 9. Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears. That I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people. Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place for wayfaring men. That I might leave my people and go from them. For they are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men.
It's actually a great mix to have the quality of being tough and yet tender at the same time, especially if you're going to speak a hard message to people. Somebody once said, you have no right to preach on hell until you've wept because of it. Jeremiah was of that ilk, of that sort, tender, but tough. It was Stuart Briscoe that said, every pastor should have the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child, and the hide of a rhinoceros. Well, every prophet should have that as well, and Jeremiah had it. But here we see him weeping over the sins of his people.
Jeremiah presided at the funeral of his nation. He knew it was coming; they didn't. False prophets were coming and saying, it's going to be OK. Jeremiah knew better. And he had the dismal task of doing the funeral of his own nation.
Actually, when I read Jeremiah, when I look at his life-- and there's lots of personal literature written about him in his book, a lot of it's unveiled --he reminds me of Jesus. In fact, he reminded a lot of people of Jesus. For when Jesus at Caesarea of Philippi asks his disciples, who do men say that I, the son of man, am? And they gave a list of different ones. Some say you are John the Baptist. Some say you are Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. No doubt it's because Jesus' style of ministry reminded them of Jeremiah, what they knew about him, historically. Tough but tender.
So on one hand, Jesus would utter denunciatory judgments. Woe unto you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites. He let them have it. On the other hand, he would be so tender. To the woman caught in adultery, woman, where are your accusers? Sir, I have none, she said. Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more. To the paralytic who was let down through the rooftop by his buddies, Jesus saw him on the floor and said, be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven. Jesus forgave his sins, and he healed him. Or the man at the Pool of Bethesda in John, chapter 5. After Jesus healed him and they excommunicated him from the synagogue in the temple, it says Jesus found him and drew him in to fellowship.
But the ultimate, I think, the ultimate thing that reminds me of Jeremiah in the life of Jesus is when Jesus stood over Jerusalem, much like Jeremiah, and he wept over Jerusalem. He saw the city spread out before him, and he said, oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I would have gathered you as a mother hen gathers her chicks. But you were not willing. Therefore, your enemies will cast a bank around you and destroy you. And Jesus wept, literally. He sobbed convulsively, is the Greek language. So like Jeremiah, the tender warrior, Jesus Christ. And that's why people were reminded of Jeremiah as they saw the ministry of Jesus.
Well, in Jeremiah chapter 1, we begin. The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were at an Anathoth in the land of Benjamin. Let me tell you a little bit about this guy. We know who his dad was. He is mentioned here. We know where he lived. It's mentioned here. Three miles north of Jerusalem. A Levitical enclave. It's where priests hung out. Why did they hang out there? Well, they wanted a place away, but they had to be within walking distance to the temple. That's where they worked.
When Jeremiah was born, the guy who was on the throne of Judah was named Manasseh. And King Manasseh, the Bible tells us, was the most wicked King ever, that he exceeded all of the wickedness of all those other kings who were before him, and none was as wicked as Manasseh. But then, eventually, Manasseh died. And his son Amon came to the throne, and he wasn't much better. Amon was assassinated. And so this guy mentioned here in verse 2, Josiah, came to the throne. To whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon, the King of Judah, in the 13th year of his reign.
Now, get this. Josiah, when he became king, was eight years old. Imagine the leader of your country being eight years old, reigning over you. OK. Manasseh, when he hit the throne, was 12. And he acted like it. He ruined the country. But when Josiah came to the throne at eight years old, what saved him was godly counselors, godly advisors.
One of his counselors was named Hilkiah. Now to be honest with you, I don't know if that Hilkiah is the same Hilkiah as we read here, the Father of Jeremiah. But it could have been. And if it was, Hilkiah was the one who found a copy of the law. And he brought it to the King. And as they read it before the scribes, and all those who were in the temple, they realized how far they had fallen from God's ideal. And it brought revival. It brought renewal to the land under King Josiah, a great revival. He broke down the high places. He forbade the false worship in the land.
Now, it was in the 13th year of this king that Jeremiah began his ministry, Which would mean that King Josiah, by this time, was about 21 years of age. How old was Jeremiah? Between 20 and 25 years of age. So think of it, the political leader of your country in his 20s, the spiritual leader in your country in his 20s. I think that's cool. You know, so often we talk about, [MIMICKING CONSTERNATION] these kids today. But they're the leaders of tomorrow. [RETURNING TO NORMAL TONE] I say, let's make them the leaders of today. Let's not push it off. And let's challenge them to become our leaders. Let's pass things on to the next generation, and mentor them and equip them. 20 years of age, and 21 years of age.
It came also in the days of Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, the King of Judah until the end of the 11th year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, the King of Judah, until the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month. Now that's just a lot of hogwash to a lot of us until you know the background.
Here's basically what it's saying. This guy Jeremiah hit the scene when he was in his 20s, between age 20 and 25, and he ministered until he was age 60 or 65, which was the year 586 BCE, when Jerusalem was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. So he had a good, long ministry and impact for his nation.
No, actually Jeremiah ministered under the reign of five kings. Only three are mentioned, but five altogether. Two of them are hardly worth mentioning, because one was on the throne for three months, barely got the throne warm, and the other was on the throne three months and 10 days.
And I could go into the historical intrigue, but I don't know how interesting it would be to you. But the Egyptians deported one, the Babylonians deported two. The last one, Zedekiah, was put there by King Nebuchadnezzar as a vassal king. And when Nebuchadnezzar came into Jerusalem and wiped Jerusalem out in 586 BC, he took this King Zedekiah, who had rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, and he killed Zedekiah's sons in front of his eyes. And then he blinded King Zedekiah, so that the last visible memory he would have would be the death of his sons.
But there was a prophet in the land, Jeremiah, or as they say in Hebrew, "yare-me-ow-oh." It's easier to say Jeremiah, huh? Then, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Look at that. Let that sink in. Before you were born, I sanctified you, and I ordained you a prophet to the nations. Now God takes responsibility here for forming the prophet in the womb of his mother.
I'm glad Jeremiah was born. I'm glad Jeremiah's mom didn't believe in abortion. I'm glad that Jeremiah's mom had a biblical world view, and saw mankind as God's crowning, ultimate creation, where he formed us in the womb, that we're not here by accident.
There was a teacher in his class who wanted to show the faultiness of human reasoning. And so he gave this postulation to his class. He said, how would you advise a mother, pregnant with her fifth child, based upon the following facts. The husband has had syphilis. She has had tuberculosis. The first child was born blind. The second child died. The third child was born deaf. The fourth child had tuberculosis. The mother is considering an abortion. Would you advise her to have one?
Most of the students in the class agreed, under the circumstances, she should have an abortion. Then the teacher said, congratulations, you've just killed one of the greatest composers ever, Ludwig van Beethoven. That was his family history. But the world is all the better for the music that he produced.
Jeremiah, before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. You see, no matter what our culture says, the Bible plainly states, by adding all of the scriptures together, that upon conception, human life begins. at the formation of the zygote, when the sperm and the egg come together. And there is that reproduction that takes place at the cellular level, before we even reach our 60 trillion cell limit. And that that zygote will eventually become an embryo, and then a fetus, and then the trillions of cells in our body. The 100,000 miles of nerve endings, the 60,000 miles of vessels in our body, the 250 bones, and all the ligaments, et cetera.
A special creation by God. What a powerful text. Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I sanctified you, or set you apart as my own. I ordained you a prophet to the nations. In other words, Jeremiah, before you were ever a twinkle in your parents' eye, I knew all about you. And I had, and have, a plan for your life. How exciting.
Have you ever thought about the plan God has for your life, personally? I'm sure you have. I hope you have. I look at it as an adventure. Where is the Lord going to take me now? What's going to happen now? Now, you make plans for your life. And you think, I know what's going to happen tomorrow, and in a year. I've got it all plotted out. Oh really?
You're dealing with God. He happens to be sovereign. And God has editing rights over your life, you know. Oh, you have the script planned out. You've got the movie already ended, man. You've written it down. He has editing rights. But his plan is awfully exciting, though there's going to be bumps in the road, and potholes, and bends and turns. I say, sit back and enjoy the scenery.
I mean, look at it this way. Your destination is already taken care of, right? You're going to heaven. OK, anything between here and there is a piece of cake if you think about your destination. So hang on, and go for a ride.
Then I said-- here's Jeremiah's rebuttal --ah, Lord, God. Behold. I cannot speak, for I am a youth. Now come on, he's in his 20s. I'd say he's a candidate to be on staff. I'd put a guy like that on staff. But what he's talking about is, I lack the experience that is required for the job.
Have you noticed, in the Bible, that when God calls men and women to do a work for him, that so often there is a realization that they are inadequate. And those are the very ones God uses. You know, it's always a bad sign when somebody is overconfident. They think they have all the gifts necessary. And they just wonder why God could be so foolish as to pass over them. Come on, God, I've been waiting for a long time. You obviously see how special and important I am. How come you don't use me?
No, when I read the Bible, I find a guy like Moses. Who, when God called him, had every excuse in the book why he couldn't go to the Pharaoh. They're not going to listen to me. Pharaoh's not going to listen to me. The people of Israel aren't going to listen to me. I can't speak. I stutter. Send Aaron.
To Paul the Apostle, who said, I am less than the least of all the Saints, this grace was given to me. To Solomon, who said, I am but a child, when he became King. And here, the prophet says, oh, God, behold. I cannot speak, for I am a youth.
There is a principle. It's a principle that marks my life. It is actually my life verse. Here it is. God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, the weak things of the world to confound and put to shame those things that are mighty. So, if you think you're strong, and you're confident, and you're gifted, no wonder God has passed you over. It's when you realize, I am weak in my own strength-- I need his strength, or it can't be done --that God goes, ah, you're usable.
It's not a matter of ability. It is a matter of availability. Your part is the availability. Let God take care of the ability. Just say, here I am, Lord. Send me. Well the Lord said to him, do not say, I am a youth. For you shall go to all whom I send you. And whatever I command you, you shall speak. Paul writes to Timothy, and he says, let no man look down on you because you are young. Or in the familiar King James, let no man despise thy youth.
I love when I see young people-- and I speak relatively now, because I know all of you are young people, right? Good. You're all young people. But younger young people-- when they say, you know, I just want to serve the Lord. I don't know what it is, but I want him to use me. And it bothers me when I see some older saints look down on them because, oh, they're so young. What do they have to offer? They have lots to offer. They have zeal. They can be challenged, mentored, and turned loose.
And you know, I look at history, and I-- OK, I see a 20-year-old prophet, and a 21-year-old King. That's a youth movement. I look back to the time of the disciples. That was a youth movement. These guys were young kids following Jesus. Don't think that they had gray in their beards. They didn't. They were young. I look at Youth for Christ. That's what challenged and molded Dr. Billy Graham to become what he is.
And so God says, hey, I'm going to call you. I'm going to enable you. I'll put my words in your mouth. And then he says, whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you.
People's faces can be intimidating. Now, a speaker looks over a sea of faces. And faces are different. You can assume certain things, by the look on people's faces, that may or may not be true. People who study this will say that there's two kinds of faces. Ready? A yes face, and a no face. It's just the body language that says, no, you're not accepted, or yes, you are. And some of it is part of your emotional makeup, and some of it's just part of your makeup, physically. You can't change it.
I'm a yes person, but I recognize, sometimes, I can have a no face. That is, I recognize that I've got a crease in my brow, that my mouth kind of curls down low, I've got a big nose. And I can look at people, and just listen. It looks like I'm stern. And I'm not. I'm just listening. I've got one of those faces.
And so, it's important that you don't focus on how they look, but on what God is saying to them. And that's what God's going to say to him. Don't focus on the look, the eye, but on the ear, what they're supposed to hear from me, through you. Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, behold, I have put my words in your mouth. And see, I have set you over kingdoms, and over nations and kingdoms to root out, to pull down, to destroy, to throw down, to build, and to plant.
Now, some of you remember another prophet named Isaiah. When God called him, he said, woe is me, because I am undone. I'm a man of unclean lips. I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the Lord. And at that point, one of the Seraphim in this vision he saw took coals off of the altar and touched the lips of the prophet with them to cleanse his lips.
Now, that was a cleansing. This is a commissioning. The touching of the lips was as if to say, it's not about you, Jerry, Maya. It's about me empowering you. I'm going to touch your lips. I'm going to give you the power to say what you need to say. And so the Lord put forth his hand, touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
How is the scripture inspired? Is it that the very words of the scripture are inspired, or is it just the general concepts of the scripture that are inspired? That's a question that a lot of people not only ask, but debate over. The Bible says, in the New Testament, all scripture is inspired by God, or given by inspiration of God. Literally, it's God breathed, "theopneustos," breathed out by the breath of God.
In reading that, some who are on the liberal end of biblical scholarship say, well, when it says the Bible is inspired, what it means is it's sort of like a good novel, or a good movie, or a good song. It's inspirational. On the level of great human inspiration. That's called natural inspiration.
Others will take it a step further and say, well, no, it's got to be more than that. We believe that this is the word of God at least in concept. So they believe in what we call concept inspiration. The concepts, but not the words, are inspired. In other words, God gave to John-- excuse me, to Paul, the concept of divine love. But then Paul, in his own words, wrote 1 Corinthians 13.
What are we to do with that? We're to throw it out. That's what we're to do with it. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, even down to the very words. How do we know? Jesus said, not one jot, not one tittle will pass from the law till all is fulfilled. That's the crossing of the t, the dotting of the i. It's all going to be fulfilled. It's fulfilled and it's inspired down to the very words themselves.
There was an instance where the Sadducees came to Jesus and wanted to argue. And Jesus told them something that should sort of seal the deal for us when it comes to the very words being inspired. The Sadducees, who didn't believe in a Resurrection, thought they trapped Jesus over in Matthew chapter 22. They said, Jesus, we've got a question for you. You know, Moses said in the law that if a guy marries a gal, and and he dies, and they don't have kids, that his brother is supposed to marry his wife and raise up children for his dead brother. Well, we know this family, they had seven boys. And the oldest married this gal, and he died. And then brother number two married her, and he died. And number three-- all seven of them married the same gal, and they all died. Now, wouldn't you be a little suspicious at that point? Wouldn't you wonder what she's putting in the coffee every morning?
But he went along with it. And he listened to it. And so, then they thought they had him. They had him trapped. They said, OK, in the Resurrection, whose wife will she be?
And I love Jesus' answer. He said, you are ignorant, not knowing the scriptures. He said, haven't you read-- and he quotes the law of Moses, and how God made the male and female, et cetera. He said, in the Resurrection, there is neither marriage nor is there a giving in marriage, but everyone is like the angels.
But concerning the Resurrection, God said, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore, he's not the God of the dead, but of the living. I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, present tense. Not, I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That's his point. He's using the present tense, even though, listen carefully Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been dead for hundreds of years.
So Jesus said, didn't you read what the Bible says? The Bible said, and this was written after those guys had died, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore, he is the God of the dead-- of the living, not of the dead. In other words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still alive. There is a Resurrection. There is a future plan, and the soul is immortal. And Jesus based his whole argument on the verb tense of an Old Testament text.
So here again, Jeremiah is told by God, I put my words in your mouth. And he's going to speak the very words that God told him to speak. I've sent you this day over nations, and over kingdoms. And he tells them what he's going to do. And what a hard ministry. And I've heard of some hard ministries. And I've encountered a few. But here's-- his ministry, to go to a nation and to root out, to pull down, to destroy, to throw down. And he had to do that before he could build and plant.
Sometimes systems can become so corrupt, the only thing you can do is start over. You've got to root out the old way of thinking, the old paradigms. It becomes dead and rotten and corrupt. And God is saying this to his people. Jeremiah, I want you to build. But before you build, you've got to pull down. You've got to You've got to uproot. And that was his ministry to the nation.
Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Jeremiah what do you see? And he said, I see a branch of an almond tree. And the Lord said to me, you have seen well. You've got good eyesight, buddy boy. For I am ready to perform my word.
And the word came to me as the Lord came to me a second time, saying, what do you see? And I said, I see a boiling pot, and it's facing away from the north. The Lord said to me, out of the north, calamity shall break forth on all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling all the families of the kingdoms of the north says the Lord. They shall come, and each one set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem against all its walls, all around, and against all the cities of Judah I will utter my judgments against them concerning all their wickedness, because they have forsaken me, burned incense to other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.
By the way, in the book of Jeremiah, you will encounter 21 different illustrations of judgment that are going to come upon this people. In his vision, he sees an almond tree. Now the root for almond is, in Hebrew, "shaked." And it literally means to wake up. And so, the almond tree in Israel was called the awakening tree, because it's the first tree to blossom in the wintertime. It comes out in January over in Israel. It's the first one to awaken, thus, it's the first blossom. And it's called the awakening tree.
And then notice what God says. You have seen well, for I am ready to perform my word. God was going to send a wake-up call to the nation of Israel. And he was awakening them for judgment. He was going to see his word performed.
Sort of like an alarm clock. Nobody really likes an alarm clock. We have them. We tolerate them. But nobody likes to be woken up out of a dead sleep. Try it sometime. Just take away the alarm clock, and go into your wife, or your husband in the morning, and turn the light on bright and go, good morning. And check out the look on their mug. Not a happy camper.
We don't like to be awoken. God was going to awaken them through judgment. Second vision, a cauldron. A boiling pot facing all the way toward Jerusalem from Babylon. God would pour forth his judgment. He would send hordes, armies. And they would, three times, surround the city. And the third time, 586 BC, they would capture it.
So he's given these word pictures to the prophet of what they would see coming in the future. Why? Because of their idolatry. He says that in the verses we read. Verse 17, therefore prepare yourself and arise. And speak to them all that I command you. Do not be dismayed before their faces. I imagine Jeremiah had to look out on a lot of grumps as he gave the word of God to them. They weren't yes faces; they were no faces.
And so again, God had to say, don't be dismayed. I'm going to put my words in your mouth. It's a heavy message. For behold, I have made you this day a fortified city, and an iron pillar and bronze walls against the whole land, against the Kings of Judah, against its princes, against its priests, against the people of the land. And they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you. For I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.
Whatever God requires from you, God will deliver to you. Whatever God calls you to do, he will give you the tools to do it. So rather than saying, I don't want to do that kind of ministry, say, Lord, if that's what you've called me to do, then I'm going to look for the tools, gifts, talents, equipment, to pull it off, or it's not going to be pretty. But that's the attitude to have. If God calls you to do it, God will give you the ability to do it. So I'm going to give you this temperament. I'm going to put my words in your mouth. I'm going to set this up for you over nations. I'm going to let you be in the courts of the kings of these nations that you're going to prophesy against.
But here's the real clincher. I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you. Now in chapter 2, we get into the first message. And God gives it to him, and then he proclaims it. Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me saying, go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, thus says the Lord.
Now, what you are going to read in this chapter and in the upcoming chapters, is God is going to review a list of the ways the children of Israel-- Judah, the southern kingdom, Jerusalem, and its environs --have backslidden. It's a frequently used word in the book of Jeremiah, to backslide, to go backwards. It's used at least 16 times. Some translations have it more. God tells them about their backsliding.
Now here's the thing about backsliding. If you're not moving forward, you're moving backward. See, following the Lord Jesus Christ is sort of like riding a bicycle uphill. The moment you stop, you don't stay there, you go backwards. And so we're called to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ. Onward and upward.
The Lord says, go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord, here's the message, I remember you the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal when you went after me in the wilderness in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness to the Lord. The first fruits of his increase, all that devour, him will offend. Disaster will come upon them, says the Lord.
God is remembering, and asking them to remember, the springtime of their love together. He's looking back to the wilderness. He's remembering the time when they were in Egypt and God delivered them with a mighty hand, opened the Red Sea, miracle after miracle. There they were in the desert, totally dependent upon God.
If God doesn't send manna, we're toast. If God didn't bring water out of the rock, we're toast. This is paraphrased a little bit. If God didn't take care of us, we're dead meat. If God doesn't send meat, we're dead meat. And they trusted him. And he provided for them.
And it was like this young love relationship, like a young girl and a young man dating, and they just couldn't get enough of each other. They'd be out in the wilderness-- can you believe it? Manna came again today. And the Lord gave water out of a rock. And he's providing every day. Now yes, they complained. But compared to where they were now, it was beautiful.
They sought him. They trusted him. They followed the pillar of fire by night, and the pillar of cloud by day. Just a walk of faith. God says he misses that. And perhaps, with some of us, God is looking back to a time in your life that he misses.
Jesus wrote a postcard to a church that was only 60 years old, and it was the Church of Ephesus. From the moment it was founded by Paul the Apostle, to the time Jesus wrote a letter, it was just about-- they had celebrated their 60th anniversary as a church. And it was dead. Jesus said, there's a lot of good things you do. You Work hard. You're very busy. You've got a lot of committees, and a lot of people doing a lot of stuff. But one thing that bothers me, you've left your first love.
And Jesus said, repent. Remember from where you have fallen. Repent, and do those first works again. Or else, I will remove the candlestick from its place. The first love is the love of betrothal. It's the love-- well, you see it in a young couple. He calls her all the time. She can't get enough of him. He'll drive across the universe to see her for 10 minutes, and drive back, because it's her. He opens the car door for her. He buys flowers for her.
Sometimes I look at couples in a counseling session, and I hear them, after a period of time they've been married now, and the language is very different. They're looking at each other like, how did I get saddled with you? And if I have done the wedding, I ask them, what happened? Where did you go astray? What happened to the young man that I remember, who called every day? What happened to the young lady who was so thankful to God for this guy?
He doesn't open the car door anymore for her, except maybe trying to slam it on her leg as she gets in. Where are the flowers? He's saving up for the funeral. What has happened to this couple? I'll tell you what has happened. Not a blow up, not a blowout, a slow leak. A slow leak. A slow erosion process over time.
Jesus said, you've left your first love. God is telling this people, I remember what it was like. It's not like that anymore. Now, keep something in mind. These guys are still very religious. Yes, they're off doing their little idol thing around the country. But the temple was very popular at this time, as we'll see.
Israel-- verse 3 --was holiness to the Lord. The first fruits of his increase, all that devour, will offend. Disaster will come upon them, says the Lord. Hear the word of the Lord, oh House of Jacob. Now Jeremiah gives the message. And all the families of the house of Israel, thus says the Lord, what injustice have your fathers found in me that they've gone far from me, have followed idols, have become idolaters? Neither did they say, where is the Lord who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, who led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and the shadow of death, through a land that no one crossed, and where no one dwelt.
I brought you out into a bountiful country to eat its fruit, its goodness. But when you entered, you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, where is the Lord? And those who handled the law did not know me. The rulers also transgressed against me. The prophets prophesied by bale. And they walked after things that do not profit.
Our country is filled with spiritual leaders, as was Israel at that time, and Judah. Spiritual leaders abound. But it is distressing to find the amount of biblical illiteracy, not just among the average church member, but among the clergy. I know clergyman who can't find books and portions of scripture. Where is that? That's not a good sign.
Years ago, I had a venerable, wonderful gentleman, by the name of J Vernon McGee, speak at my church in Albuquerque. And he was 80 years old at the time. And Dr. J Vernon McGee has been on the radio ever since I can remember. I woke up to him every day. I listened to him. And it was just that great southern voice.
And so we were talking, and I was interviewing him for a radio show one time. And I said, Dr. McGee, you've been around the country. And have you discovered that lots of pastors preach through the Bible. He said no, it's very rare to find people teaching all of the Bible. He said, the average congregation can't handle it.
And I said, why is it? Why is it that the average pastor doesn't know his Bible, and study, and teach the Bible? And this is what he said. [WITH A PRONOUNCED SOUTHERN ACCENT] Because there's lots of lazy preachers. [RETURNING TO NORMAL TONE] And that's just how he said it, too. He said [WITH SOUTHERN ACCENT] They're lazy. [RETURNING TO NORMAL TONE] He says, it takes a lot of work to read, and to study, and to dig, and to get the history and the language to feed people the word of God.
But even the priests weren't asking where the Lord is. Even the leadership wasn't interested in seeking God. Jesus indicted the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes of his day for much the same thing.
Therefore-- verse 9 --I will bring, yet, charges against you, says the Lord. Against your children's children I will bring charges, for pass beyond the coast of Cyprus and see. Sent to Kedar, that's Northern Africa, Arabia, et cetera, and consider diligently and see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, which are not gods, but my people have changed their glory.
I like this. God says, hey, you guys take a field trip, and go out to all of these idolatrous Gentile nations that you are so enamored with, and see if you can find one nation in this Gentile circle that surrounds you, And see if anybody has forsaken their gods, and exchanged that for a different worship system, if they've had a mass conversion from their idolatry, and changed the worship system of the false gods to the true and living God. He said, you can't find it. He says, but my people have done it. In other words, I'm looking at pagan nations who are more devoted to their false gods than my own people Israel and Judah are to the true and living God.
Now, I did hear about an interesting thing in India this last couple of years. There is a caste system that is outlawed, but still tacitly understood and agreed upon in that country. The lowest caste is called the Dalits, the untouchables. And a ruling came up in the courts in India where the Dalits could choose a new religion. If they chose to forsake Hinduism, or if they choose to follow Islam or Christianity, they would get together, convene, and choose a new religious system. And so you saw all of these various religions in India sort of pitching their goods, and selling their religion on these people. Now, it didn't really go over the way they thought it would go over. But it was interesting that it was going to be a public thing done, nationally, in court, and agreed upon. But it still didn't work. They're still back where they started in the false idolatry of Hinduism.
So after this field trip, God challenges them. And he says-- verse 12 --be astonished, oh heavens, at this. And be horribly afraid. Be very desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
In Israel, there's two ways to get water. One is from a stream, a river. That's called living water. It's alive. It's flowing. It has a source, and it's-- you go down to the Jordan River, for instance. Any stream that was flowing was known as living water. The second way to get rain-- to get water, is through rainfall. And there's two rainy seasons: the early rain, and the latter rain. The "yoreh," early winter, and the "malkosh," late winter, early spring.
Because a lot of these places don't have the living water, they depend on rainfall, they dig, out of the rock, cisterns, which are basically holes in the rock. And then they plaster them up. They collect the rainfall. And if you ever go to Masada, you see some of the largest cisterns, where it holds thousands upon thousands of gallons of water that would last them through the dry periods. They take the buckets out of the cistern, and it keeps them watered throughout the year.
Well, here's the tragedy. God is providing them living water, flowing water, a source, a spring, a stream. And they've forsaken that. I don't want that. And they've dug for themselves-- this is their own worship system, their idolatry --for satisfaction-- the picture is of a cistern that was dug, but it can't hold water. Now this is what it means. Imagine spending months digging a hole out of solid bedrock. You plaster it. You get it all set up. You look at the rain clouds. The rain clouds are coming. And it rains all day, all night, all week. And you expect to go down there after the rain and see the cistern filled with water. You go down, there's no water in it. And then you examine it closely, and you see the fissure in the rock. It's cracked. It's imperfect. You didn't see it when you were digging it, and you plastered, hoping that it would keep away those imperfections. But now the fissure's grown bigger, and the water's escaped. How frustrating. No refreshment. You get the picture? They've forsaken the refreshment of God, and they've turned to things that cannot satisfy. They're broken cisterns that can hold no water.
What does that represent? I think it represents everything in life, but God, that we look for for satisfaction. It was idolatry, God said. But you know what an idol is? An idol is simply placing anything before God. To a lot of people, themselves are the idol. They live for themself. They serve themself. It's all about myself. If you look to anything else for satisfaction, you're going to be frustrated and miserable. The American population, for years, have been trying to drink out of broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Now, this reminds me about a guy in the Bible named Solomon, who had the wherewithal, the money, to dig any cistern, anywhere he felt like. And so he tried everything: wealth, buildings, building pools, plants, gardens, wine, music. And after every episode, he wrote those famous words, vanity, vanity, all is vanity. It's chasing after the wind.
NBC did a special some time ago called The Mystery of Happiness: Who Has It & How To Get It. Who has it, and how to get it. They asked people, what would make you happy? Want to hear some of the answers? One person said, $100 million would make me happy. Another lady said, just more ready cash would make me happy. One guy said, a castle would make him happy. Somebody else said, my own private island. And then one young guy finally said, a whole bunch of chicks.
Hey, before you go down any of those roads, and dig into any of those cisterns, you should read Solomon, who had the wherewithal, time, and money to pursue those things. And read what he said at the end. He finally, after being burnt out with life, this is what he said. Here's his advice to young people. Seek now your creator in the days of your youth, while there is time before you get old. That was his advice.
And that is what God is telling, through Jeremiah, these people have committed two evils. Is Israel a servant? Is he a home-born slave? Why is he plundered? The young lions roared at him, and growled. They made his land waste, and his cities burn. And so, in poetic fashion, God lists what they have done. And turning away from the innocent love and relationship with God to these idols.
So in verse 19, beginning on with that, is this whole polemic against idolatry. Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will reprove you. Know therefore and see it, that it is evil and bitter thing that you have forsaken the Lord your God, and the fear of me is not in you, says the Lord of Hosts.
Go down to verse 26. As the thief is ashamed when he is found out, so is the house of Israel ashamed in their Kings, and their Princes, their priests, and their prophets saying to a tree, you are my Father. And to a stone, you gave birth to me. For they have turned their backs to me, and not their face. But in their time of trouble, they say, arise and save us. But where are your gods that you have made for yourselves? Let them arise if they can save you in the time of your trouble, according to the number of your cities are your gods, oh Judah.
I have watched in astonishment when I traveled to Asia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, to see people kneel down in front of trees and worship them, talk to them, weep at them. Cutting themselves, painting themselves, crawling on their knees, taking long pilgrimages, washing in the rivers, calling out to these gods, you're my Father. Now, we look at that and say, well that's animism, that's Paganism. That's in Asia. You know, your forefathers, if you're from Europe, were just as superstitious. They believed that the trees were gods as well.
Let's set up a scenario. Let's say you're from where I come from: Austria, Germany. And there's my forefathers out there. They're two guys walking through the forest. Let's call one Hans, and one Franz, shall we? Just for the illustration. And as they're walking through the forest, Hans says to Franz, [WITH THICK ACCENT] Hey, Franz. I bought a new house. And Franz goes, oh, that is good. And Hans goes, yeah, the house is really good. Good deal, too.
[RETURNING TO NORMAL VOICE] And so they're happy. They rejoice. And then, they look at each other, and they go [GASPING]. And they walk over to the tree, and they start pounding on the tree, because my forefathers believed the gods were in the trees, were the trees, and would be jealous if they found out about any human happiness. Hence, the old saying, knock on wood. It comes from the Pagan tradition passed on, by my forefathers and yours, from Europe. They're my fathers. They watch over me. But they are not too happy if I'm happy. So knock on wood, because you would drive the spirits away from the trees into another tree. Well, anyway, they were doing this kind of stuff, maybe not quite like that, here.
Let's finish up the chapter. And then we'll end it.
In verse 31, oh, generation, see the word of the Lord. Have I been a wilderness to Israel, or a land of darkness? Why do my people say, we are lords? We will come no more to you. Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number. Why do you beautify your way to seek love? Therefore, you have also taught the wicked women your ways. Also on your skirts is found the blood of the lives of the poor innocents. I have not found it by secret search, but plainly, on all these things.
Yet you say, because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me. Behold, I will plead my case against you, because you say I have not sinned. Why do you gad about so much to change your way? And you shall be ashamed of Egypt as you were ashamed of Assyria. Indeed, you will go forth from him with your hands on your head, for the Lord has rejected your trusted allies, and you will not prosper by them.
Here's the picture. He's speaking in this tender analogy of betrothal, dating. A husband and a wife; a young couple in love. You've forsaken me. You've gone after other lovers, Egypt and Assyria. You're trusting in them. You're making alliances with them. Have I been a wilderness to you? No, God is saying, I've been a stronghold to you.
And the thought, by the way, will continue into chapter three, all the way down to verse 5, as God asks them those same questions. Oh, we have just a few minutes to look at a few verses. They say-- and we'll cover it more next week --if a man divorces his wife, and goes from him, and becomes another man's, may he return to her again? That's out of Deuteronomy 24. Would not that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the harlot with many lovers, yet return to me, says the Lord. Lift up your eyes to desolate heights and see where have you not lain with men? By the road, you have sat for them like an Arabian in the wilderness, and you have polluted the land with your harlotries.
The Bible speaks about spiritual adultery. For the children of Israel to turn away from God and serve Baal, Ashtaroth, Molech, and these other false gods and goddesses, was tantamount to a husband and wife in a relationship of adultery. God wanted an intimate relationship with them. For them to seek another God, after all he had done for them, would be like a wife or a husband turning from his or her spouse and going out with other lovers. And so that's why you read this metaphor, this analogy, throughout this book.
And here's a question as we close. How seriously do you take backsliding? Because, if I'm reading Jeremiah correctly, and the amount of times he mentions it, God takes that very seriously. He calls his people to a celebration in joy and intimacy and accountability. But eventually, like Ephesus, like is the nature of man, we start cooling off. The fire dies away. We leave our first love. We don't love quite the same way. And then we look at young Christians who are on fire, and we relegate that to oh, they're so young, so inexperienced. Wait till they get stagnant like me. They'll be better off. And God's saying, but I remember what it used to be like. And it can be like that again.
A lot of people look at Jeremiah in parallel to the United States of America. They see a nation that was raised up. God made it great. Israel would say, in God we trust. But then, as the years went on, they didn't trust in God. And God calls Jeremiah to give the funeral eulogy to this nation. They are about to go into captivity.
And many people see a parallel path with the United States of America. One nation under God, our forefathers believing in God, prayer in the schools, to what it has become today. You can get condoms in schools. You can't put up Ten Commandments. You can do almost any activity in a public school except pray. The Pledge of Allegiance is being attacked. We are trying to rule God out of our nation completely and altogether.
And so people have asked me, Skip, do you think God is going to judge America? My answer is, he's already done it. What I mean is, if I'm reading the book of Romans correct, the first step in God judging is giving that nation over to what it wants, letting it go. If that's what you want, you can have it all. And he gives them over to their own desires, and eventually to a reprobate mind. So it could be that we're awaiting another great revival, another blip in the radar screen, that sends us soaring. Or it could be that we are watching our society, much like Jeremiah watched his.
I want to conclude tonight with something that comes from one of my favorite radio guys, named Paul Harvey. [IMPERSONATING PAUL HARVEY] Paul Harvey-- [RETURNING TO NORMAL VOICE] --who said, suppose, one day, our civilization were destroyed and our cities laid waste. Suppose in 20,000 years, an archaeologist from another time was poking around in the ruins of your city. If he should dig up just one penny, he would know much about us.
The coin, a blend of metals, would tell him that we were miners, and understood the science of metallurgy.
By the perfect circle shape on the coin, he would deduce that we understood geometry.
The wheat on the back of the penny would tell him that we were a great agricultural society, and that our fine crops were a major source of our wealth.
The date on the face of the coin would show him that we understood arithmetic. We had a calendar.
The portrait of Lincoln would mark us as artists who had an advanced culture.
The word, United States, would let him know that we were a federated group of local communities bound together by a strong central government.
The phrase e pluribus unum would tell him that we were scholars who knew foreign languages.
The word, liberty, on the face of the penny would let the archeologist know that our country sought to guarantee freedom for every man.
And finally, the phrase, in God we trust, would confirm that we had a moral law. It would let him know that we had grown strong and mighty with God leading.
And then, considering the penny, he would have to wonder, why did that civilization go astray?
Let's pray together. Heavenly Father, we pray for our nation. We are in very strategic times, with an election coming up. There's many issues at stake. We sense the gravity of it, the import of it all.
And yet, Lord, we have to confess that more than a political renewal or a moral renewal, what our country needs is spiritual revival. It needs the gospel. It needs men and women raised up who don't care what other people think, but will live obediently, fearlessly, and tenderly like Jeremiah, in the midst of their culture.
Raise us up, Lord. Send us out in the midst of this culture that once trusted in God. And may we, by our lives of trust, point others to you. In Jesus' name, Amen.