Jeremiah 6:29-30, Matthew 5:48, Romans 3:22-23

Measuring Up to God’s Standard

According to the dictionary, “When you refine something, you make it better. Whether it’s sugar or an essay, refining it requires fixing its flaws. You may think you created a masterpiece on the first try. But there’s always room to refine. More than just working out the kinks, refining something means you’re going to fine tune it, hone it to perfection, and make it more precise. In scientific terms, to refine something means to reduce it down to a pure state.” If there is always room for further refinement we might say that making something perfect will be impossible. We might make something better but can we ever really make it perfect?

This seems to be true in the refining process of people. Jeremiah speaks of refining people as if they were metal in Jeremiah 6:29-30. He writes, “The bellows blow fiercely; the lead is consumed by the fire; in vain the refining goes on, for the wicked are not removed.  Rejected silver they are called, for the Lord has rejected them.” It’s impossible for man to “refine” himself to the perfect standard that God demands according to Jesus’ comment in Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Paul addresses man’s inability to attain to perfection also in Romans 3:23 when he says, “All have fallen short of the glory of God.”

In our own religious efforts we attempt at times to refine ourselves. I think we know we will never be perfect but we can go from “lead” to “silver” maybe even if we fall short of “pure gold.” When the disciples heard Jesus’ exchange with the rich young ruler who was unable or unwilling to give up everything he had to follow Jesus, the disciples were confused. They understood that exchange with the rich young ruler to be a call to perfection. If we’re honest with ourselves, like the Apostles were at that moment, we know we’ll never achieve perfection. We’ve already failed too many times! In Luke 18:26-27, he tells us, “Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus said, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’” No, the refining process will never make us perfect. Refinement won’t make us perfect.  Rehabilitation won’t make us perfect! Only trusting in Christ can we measure up to God’s standard. In Romans 3:22, Paul explains this truth. He answers the question, “how can we achieve the high standard of perfection of righteousness?” He says it is “…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

Jeremiah 6:27-28, Job 6:27-28, Luke 18:9-14, Job 13:15, 23:10, 1 Peter 1:7

Testing our Metal

The prophets served an important role in the history of Israel. They applied God’s law to His people in much the same way Jesus did to the religious leaders of His day. The Scribes and the Pharisees had redefined the law in such a way that they could claim to have kept it. Jesus repeatedly convicted them, pointing out how far short they actually fell from a truly righteous observance of the law. In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet explains how God had called him to convict the nation as well. In Jeremiah 6:27-28 God says to Jeremiah, “I have made you a tester of metals among my people, that you may know and test their ways. They are all stubbornly rebellious, going about with slanders; they are bronze and iron; all of them act corruptly.” This is where the phrase “testing our metal” comes from.

This is a blanket indictment of mankind as a whole. When I read the prophets, I have the tendency to think God is speaking to the children of Israel only. I see how corrupt they had become over the years and how they worshiped the gods of the peoples around them and bowed down to their idols. But, not me! They are really bad, but not me! They have allowed the world to “corrupt” them. But not me! I’m so glad I’m not like them! But this makes me like the Pharisee from the parable in Luke 18. Wikipedia talks about that parable this way: “In Luke 18:9-14, a Pharisee, obsessed by his own virtue, is contrasted with a tax collector who humbly asks God for mercy. This parable demonstrates the need to pray humbly.” Wikipedia’s take on that parable is the grossest understatement imaginable, but I’ve heard that parable preached like that and have even used it that way myself. This take divorces the reality of life in the world with our “religious” life at church or in this case, the temple. The manner in which we pray is just a symptom, it’s not the disease. Just as a boil is a symptom of leprosy, our prayer life is something that arises out of who we are inside and how we see ourselves. It’s about the very fabric of our being. It’s about the substance we are made of. It’s about our “metal.”

Job’s metal was tested. The test was to see if he trusted (believed in the goodness of) God, even though his situations tempted him to doubt God’s love and goodness. In Job 13:15 he says, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” It’s about our faith. Is it in ourselves or is it in Christ? Is it our righteousness we are trusting in or is it His? Job’s confidence is in God’s ultimate goodness not in his own. Job’s trials were a test of his faith, not a test of his righteousness. In Job 23:10, Job is convinced of this and says, “When He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Peter acknowledges the same kind of metal testing of our faith in God’s goodness. He talks about how the tests of life, trials and pains and losses, test our metal. In 1 Peter 1:7, he says that trials come so that your “faith” can be tested which is “greater worth than gold.” Religion calls us to trust in our own righteousness. Jesus calls us to trust in His.

Jeremiah 6:26, Mark 1:40-45

Unclean! Unclean!

I’ve said before that repentance isn’t necessarily admitting that we’ve done something wrong. It might involve that at some point but the true essence of repentance is my understanding and acknowledging the reality of a sinful heart. It’s more like acknowledging that I’m indeed a sinner rather than confessing to any particular sin. It’s the difference between acknowledging boils and sores on my body and admitting that I’m a leper. That is why leprosy in the Bible is often an image for sin and sinfulness. Lepers were outcasts from society and would often be dressed in sack cloth and covered in ashes because that would help salve the itching.

John Barnett wrote a description of leprosy in an article I found on the internet at www.christianity.com. He says, “Leprosy was the scourge of the ancient world. Nothing evoked more fear, more dread, or more revulsion than the sight of these walking dead. That is what a leper was called, a walking dead man. The smell of his decaying flesh would announce his coming long before the tattered scraps of his clothing would be seen, or his raspy ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ announcement he was required to declare, could be heard. The stumbling shuffle of toeless feet, the wandering of sightless eyes and the moan of a cheek less mouth, all pointed to Leprosy, this unseen attacker that slowly destroyed human bodies, and made the individual an untouchable to society.”

There is no doubt in my mind that this is exactly what Jeremiah was referring to in Jeremiah 6:26. He cries out, “O daughter of my people, put on sackcloth, and roll in ashes; make mourning as for an only son, most bitter lamentation, for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us.” If they would only truly see themselves the way they actually were, there would be hope. Jeremiah, like all the prophets, called people to repent. That was the key message of Jesus to religious people as well. He wanted them to stop trusting rituals and regulations and admit that all the religion in the world couldn’t help them. Using the law that the religious leaders claimed to obey, Jesus redefined adultery as lusting in the heart. He redefined murder as hating or holding bitterness and animosity towards others. He wanted them to understand that the law was meant to help them see their sinful condition.  When the leper came to Jesus in Mark 1:40-45, acknowledging his condition, Jesus touched this untouchable and “Immediately the leprosy left him.” It’s the same for you and me today. Religion and the Law cannot make us clean! But Jesus can.

Daniel 2:21, Jeremiah 6:24-25, John 11:25-26

Don’t Hang On

God controls the affairs of nations. Kings and rulers are in His hands. God raised up Obama to be our President when He did. God raised up Trump to be President also. These are affairs that are essentially out of our hands to a large extent. God raises people up to rule in various ways. In America, it’s through the voting system. That’s one reason it’s so important for us to cast our vote when we get the chance. Because of the Magna Carta as well as the Declaration of Independence, we have the privilege of making our voice heard in our votes. We can work at moving our fellow citizens to our opinion, arguing issues, and explaining platforms, etc. But in the end, when it’s all said and done, it’s God who raises up and brings down.  Daniel 2:21 says, “He (God) removes Kings, and sets up Kings.” We each have a responsibility to be involved but with hundreds of millions of people, only God can choreograph the moves that can bring about a desired result. I know, we think people do, but I’m convinced we are wrong!

Jeremiah had informed the people of Judah that God had raised up a nation that will conquer them and take them away as slaves and even burn the Temple. What would be the proper response to such news? Well, God would like to see repentance from dead self-reliance and return to trusting Him. That of course begins with the realization of our personal hopelessness in the situation and acknowledging God’s sovereignty. In Jeremiah 6:24-25, he explains how God wants Israel to respond. He writes, “We have heard the report of it; our hands fall helpless; anguish has taken hold of us, pain as of a woman in labor. Go not out into the field, nor walk on the road, for the enemy has a sword; terror is on every side.” But Israel insisted on holding on to their own efforts.

Repentance is not expressing sorrow for a particular sin. It’s the understanding of our true condition before God. Truly, “our hands fall helpless” in the face of life’s sufferings and sorrows, sicknesses and death. We cannot help ourselves in any way. I like what Kansas said in the song “Dust in the Wind.” They sing, “…Don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky…It slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy…” Remember that the curses of Genesis 3 involved much pain in childbirth, much frustration in raising a crop amidst a world filled with thorns and thistles, animosity between people which was immediately apparent with Cain and Abel, and death as the byproduct of failing to trust God.  Be sure that the enemy has a sword.  But Jesus came to reverse the curse for us. That’s why He wore a crown of thorns. He said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Great question for us all to ponder! As God exhorted Israel to trust Him in the face of annihilation, so too, does Jesus call us to trust Him as well.

Jeremiah 6:22-23, Romans 5:8

What Does God Want?

Man proposes, but God disposes! The pride of life is that pull on man to trust in himself and his own efforts. We are “self-made” people! We like to accomplish things and manage our affairs. I love to have a check list for the day because when I get to check things off, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. And of course we do need to perform if we want to get paid. We need to perform if we want to keep our relationships healthy. We need to perform if we want to stay healthy physically. There are some things we seem to be able to control. Yet when we think about it, even those things are dependent on things that are out of our control. I knew a man in Michigan that I’d meet at the YMCA running track. He ran 3 miles a day every day for years. He died of a heart attack at 64! What’s up with that? We all know people who were excellent workers but lost their jobs because of layoffs or buyouts, etc. We all know people whose spouses left them even though they were great partners. Well, I suppose it all leads us to realize that we really don’t control a lot of things in our lives.

The Israelites thought they had things under control too. They thought they managed or manipulated or maneuvered things in the world to fit their needs. They thought the treaties they had entered into with other nations would protect them and keep them safe. But only God oversees the affairs of nations and kings and rulers. God speaks to them in Jeremiah 6:22-23. He says, “Thus says the Lord: Behold, a people is coming from the north country, a great nation is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth. They lay hold on bow and javelin; they are cruel and have no mercy; the sound of them is like the roaring sea; they ride on horses, set in array as a man for battle, against you, O daughter of Zion!”

According to Jeremiah, God loves us with an everlasting love. The world at large is harsh and it is “cruel and has no mercy.” But God’s mercy and loving-kindness last forever. We actually have very little control over the affairs of our lives. He is sovereign over all the affairs of mankind as a whole. The Kings and rulers are in His hands. He raises them up and He brings them down. He is also sovereign over our personal affairs as well.  We are daily dependent upon God for even the very air that we breathe. The theme of the entire Bible is God’s love for us. Its climactic conclusion is seen on Calvary. “God demonstrates His love for us in this, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God lives! God loves! We can trust Him and that’s all He wants from us.

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