Jeremiah 7:1-3, Romans 3:19-20

Ways and Deeds

In Chapter 7 of Jeremiah, God instructs Jeremiah regarding the message he is to deliver to the people of Judah.  God directs Jeremiah to the entrance of the House of the Lord, the Temple, where he is to call Israel to change their ways. The first three verses explain Jeremiah’s commission. It says, “The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD.’ Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.’”

Many sermons on this passage (and I’ve preached a few!) use it as an exhortation to rededicate ourselves to living more righteous lives and obeying the laws and commandments of God. If becoming personally more righteous ourselves is our goal, we’re doomed to failure. We must not forget the part of the Law that involves the sacrificial system. That system is designed for sinners! It involves trusting God’s ways in light of our failure under the law. But Judah didn’t acknowledge their sinfulness and their need for blood sacrifices. Instead they trusted in worldly resources to resolve their problems. They thought mobilizing a bigger army, or entering into treaties with the other nations around them and aligning with other religions would protect them from the Babylonian invaders. The “ways and deeds” involved trusting in the flesh (worldly solutions) to save them in their time of need. It’s easy to do that.

But God promised to save them if they changed their “ways and deeds.” God wanted them to first acknowledge their sinfulness. That was the ordained purpose of the law. Paul explained that in Romans 3:19-20. He says, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” God wanted them to recognize their failures under the law and trust Him to rescue them from their fate according to His promises. It’s similar today! God doesn’t call us to try harder to keep the law but to recognize our radical failure under the law and trust God to rescue us from our fate through His promised redeemer. The ultimate purpose of Jeremiah is to tell us how God will graciously save all sinners in spite of their disobedience, through the Messiah and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 30–33). The call is to trust God’s promise of redemption from our fate through personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 50:4-6, Matthew 11:28

Ears to hear

The Prophets are usually thought of as being those who “forth tell” God’s truth. Forth-telling is usually associated with instructions regarding man’s responsibility under the Law of Moses. It most often contains an element of condemnation for his hearers’ failure to live up to God’s standards. The Prophet is the “in your face” preacher who exposes your sinfulness and calls for you to change your ways.  The other aspect of an Old Testament Prophet seems to be the foretelling of judgment that will fall upon the wretched sinners for their forsaking God’s ways. The judgments are severe and devastating and sometimes very specific.  Also, they will speak with great authority using phrases like, “thus says the Lord.”

But it seems that in the later chapters of Isaiah we see a different and new element coming with the promise of the Messiah. We make most sense of these passages by seeing that they are messianic. They speak of the coming of the last “Word” from God heard in the proclamations of the Messiah and the struggle he will have with the acceptance of his message. Look at a couple verses from Isaiah 50:4-6. It says, “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.”

In this passage we see that God instructed this prophet to say something very different. He doesn’t say “thus saith the Lord.” Instead he suggests that God had given him the “tongue” of an encourager and up-lifter of broken hearts. God didn’t give him the words, but gave him the tongue of the one who knows what words to use to sustain the weary. God has made his ears teachable and he can’t get enough of this wonderful message that he is blessed with sharing with others. Jesus is this prophet who does not bring the word from God but is the “Word” of God. It was the forth-telling and foretelling prophets that used a cat of nine tails on his back. It was the self-appointed spokesmen from God that slapped his face and pulled out his beard and spit in his face. But the Living Word of God, Jesus, never changed his message: “Come to me all you who are weary and burned out on religion and I will give you rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28)

 

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.

© Chuck Larsen 2011. Powered by WordPress.