In verse 8 of Jeremiah Chapter 7, he continues his condemnation of the men of Judah for believing lies, “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.” The lie his addressing is again the one mentioned and repeated three times in verse 4, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”  As Ryken observes, “The first thing to understand about Jeremiah’s message is that it was delivered to a religiously observant people. Jeremiah was preaching to people who were on their way to the temple to offer sacrifices to God. The people he told to mend their ways were devout. They were ‘churchgoers.’ They wore their Passover best and had their scrolls tucked under their arms.”[1] It seemed at this time that the building had taken the place of God in their lives. As long as they participated in the activities of the Temple, they considered themselves right with God. They believed that the temple itself would keep them safe, going to church would be enough!

Ryken summarizes it well, “The problem was that God’s people thought God’s promise about the temple gave them the freedom to be immoral. The temple had become a superstition. They assumed that as long as they fulfilled their religious obligations, they could do whatever they wanted with the rest of their lives.” The deceptive words of the priests and other leaders of Judah might be compared to selling indulgences. Fall in line with the religious practices of the group, bring your sacrifices, pay your tithes, show up for meetings and you need not worry about how you live. This is the same thing that Martin Luther raved against when Tetzel came to Germany selling plenary indulgences in the Pope’s name to raise funds to build Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. You can buy an “indulgence” that will exempt you or your loved ones from the consequences of any sin.

This kind of religion is more of a business proposition. If I do this, God will respond in a certain way. This is so much of what our world is based on. We all live in the world of agreements and contracts that are satisfied through deeds to do and duties to keep. But God is never satisfied with our external performance. He wants our hearts. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel speak about the New Covenant where God will remove our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh. This is the message of the Gospel. We need new hearts because our hearts are deceitful. Jeremiah will tell us later in the book that they are deceitful above all things. But God offers a new clean, true, tender, and warm heart. Paul tells us that as we come to faith in Jesus, all things will become new. This is especially true concerning the heart.

[1] Ryken, Philip Graham. 2001. Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.