I think it's fair to say that most, if not all people, desire to experience good national leadership during the course of their lifetime. Jeremiah's life spanned the reign of multiple kings of Judah, but the events spoken of in Chapter 7 took place during the reign of a godly king. For a time, Josiah reigned as king in Judah. His reign began when he was eight, but when he was sixteen, he became a fully devoted follower of the Lord. In his 20's, he sought to eradicate idols from the land. He also ordered the remodeling of the temple. In the process of remodeling, the books of the Old Testament Law were rediscovered and Josiah encouraged the people to begin obeying the Lord's teaching again.
2 Chronicles 35 tells us about the completion of the work on the temple and the celebration of the Passover that took place at that time. The people were excited, and in a very celebratory mood. From all outside appearances, it would have seemed like a great revival was taking place among the people and that a renewed interest in walking with the Lord was taking place on a large scale. But the Lord knows people's hearts. He knows when we're faking. He knows when we're trying to craft an image that's the opposite of what's taking place in our hearts. It was into this context that the Lord spoke through Jeremiah to address the distant hearts of the people of Judah that were being disguised by their outward display.
1. Is there an area of my life that God wants amended?
I wonder what the experience was like when Jeremiah received a word from the Lord. There have been times in my life when it was clear to me that the Lord wanted me to say something to someone or to a group of people, but when I look at a passage like this, I imagine that there may have been an added layer to how the Lord was communicating these specific messages to and through Jeremiah.
Very clearly, Jeremiah understood that the Lord was telling him that the hearts of the people were far from Him. They were going through the outward motions of worship, but internally, they weren't truly walking by faith. Through Jeremiah, the Lord was reaching out to the people and encouraging them to amend, or change their ways. He was inviting them to genuinely trust Him, instead of trusting the vain promises of the false prophets who had been teaching the people that no calamity could come upon them because of the fact that the Lord's temple was located in their nation. But of course, the people didn't heed what Jeremiah shared and continued living their duplicitous lives.
I don't want to be that kind of person and I hope you don't either. Even though we profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, it would be a lie for us to pretend like the things of this world have no power to tempt us. You and I both wrestle with all manner of temptation and it would be a mistake to lie to each other, or lie to ourselves and pretend like we didn't. And sometimes, in our weaker moments, we give in to the things that tempt us. At times, we might even give the devil a foothold in our lives when our temptations become our addictions. But yet our desire is often to convey a picture perfect image on the outside, while inside, we're nurturing our secret idols.
It's into this kind of activity that our Lord speaks. And just as He encouraged the people of Jeremiah's time, He's also encouraging us to be willing to listen to His fatherly voice and amend our ways. To believe the good news of the gospel all over again. To stop giving idols a foothold in our lives, and to experience the renewal and refreshment our hearts crave which ultimately only Christ can supply.
The Lord calls us to repent of our false beliefs because false beliefs lead to ungodly behavior. He's inviting His people to trust Him again.
2. Do the deeds of my hands reflect the heart of Christ?
In the near future, my children, in rapid succession, will all become licensed drivers. They're excited about it. I'm cautiously excited for them. I remember the first Summer I had a license. I was driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, headed to a concert near Harrisburg with my sister. But sadly, my piece of junk car didn't make it. The car overheated and I spent a good portion of the day trying to nurse it along while antifreeze spewed out of the radiator. Observing my dilemma, a thoughtful elderly couple pulled over to help me. They kindly gave me a gallon of antifreeze they had in their car so I could refill what spilled out. That seemed to help for a while, but the car quit again. Thankfully, another family pulled over and offered to give us a ride to the next exit where I could find a payphone. They even started sharing the gospel with us, which I thought was awesome. They were pleased to learn that my sister and I were also believers.
I mention that because that was a day when I was in genuine need of compassion from strangers and I felt relieved when they offered it. Exercising compassion toward others is part of God's calling on our lives because it's evidence of the presence of Christ within us. We're called to reflect, or mirror His compassionate heart.
Through Jeremiah, the Lord was calling the people of the time to practice justice, show kindness toward transient foreigners, and look after widows and fatherless children. Many of the people thought the fact that they showed up at the temple and celebrated Passover was sufficient, but the truth is, the Lord isn't impressed by our ceremonies and pageants. He's looking for changed lives. He wants us to reflect the heart of His Son, forsake our idols, and serve one another just as He has graciously served us.
As followers of Christ, a passage of Scripture like this should encourage us to ask ourselves if the deeds of our hands reflect the compassionate heart of Jesus.
3. Am I consistently walking in the light?
Something that the Lord has been teaching me to value during the course of the years that I've known Him, is the blessing of genuine fellowship with Him. As I have come to know Him, He's fostered a desire within me to know Him even more, on a deeper level than before. A curious thing begins to happen to you when this becomes the pattern of your life. You begin to become very aware of His continual presence with you. He moves from the back of your mind to the forefront and you become quite mindful of His presence when you're tempted to go in a direction that is outside His will. Walking with Christ develops personal integrity. He transitions you from walking in darkness to walking in the light.
In the same respect, it becomes evident that a person has either an immature faith or no faith at all when walking in the light of Christ isn't much of a priority. Strangely enough, if you've ever watched a stereotypical mob movie, you've seen how this plays out. The mobsters commit murder, robbery, and adultery, then ask a priest to give them a blessing or a ritual to absolve them of their guilt. If anyone believes that approach actually works, I'd encourage them to read this passage from Jeremiah.
In this context, Jeremiah lists the secret sins the people of Judah were engaging in. Murder, robbery, dishonesty, adultery, and idolatry. These were being practiced in the activities of their hands and the desires of their hearts. But then they'd go to the temple, engage in ceremonious acts, declare themselves delivered, then rush right back into the life of sin they embraced before.
Please tell me that this isn't an apt description for us as well. Jesus cautioned us that our hearts can easily drift toward these things.
Could it be that some of us are still trying to pretend with God and one another? What hope do we have if we aren't truly walking in the light? The only hope we have is to fall on the mercy of Christ, seek His cleansing, and ask Him for the strength He supplies to walk with Him daily.
4. Am I trying to place my trust in something made by men?
It became clear that the people of Judah thought of the Lord as their escape card that would allow them to go in whatever direction they wanted to with their lives, without consequence. They had grown so used to God's blessings that they began taking them for granted. The Lord had established them as a nation, performed miracles in their midst, raised up prophets, priests, and kings for them, and decreed that His temple be built right in their midst. In time, the people of Jeremiah's day began thinking of themselves as special and unlikely to experience any form of divine discipline because of their lack of faith.
Instead of trusting in their Creator, they began placing their faith in the temple that was meant to point them to Him. Can you think of any examples in our lives where we may have done the very same thing? Is our ultimate hope in something made by man or is our greatest hope in Christ through whom all things were created? Do we trust the creation or the Creator?
In looking at a passage of Scripture like this, it becomes clear that the Lord desires a consistency and a genuineness in our faith. He wants our hearts to match the image we convey. He isn't interested in a show. He isn't interested in falsehood. He isn't interested in pretense. His desire is that we experience a genuine relationship with Him through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.
This world has enough fakers. This world has enough people expertly working to craft a fake image. Christ isn't calling us to go through the motions for a few short decades. He invites us to experience a real, transformative faith, that results in a new heart, a changed life, and a new family, not just a new group of people to pretend in front of.
© John Stange, 2018