We are going to walk with the prophet Jeremiah, whose words are so current, it's as if he is speaking to us today. God's words is never out of sync with human nature. Because we humans never change, nor does His Word.
We witness in Jeremiah a prelude to a catastrophe. Jeremiah is sent to warn Judah of the future. An unrepentant Judah will be trampled under a frightful army; a repentant Judah will remain free to worship and serve God and its capital, Jerusalem, will continue to send up the sweet aroma of sacrifice.
It's the people's choice.
God is extremely precise in what He requires of them to do to avert His judgment. He is specific in His accusations against His people. He calls out their attitudes and their resulting behaviors, and how these are violating His law and insulting His nature. God displays anguish and anger. He pleads through His prophet for His people to return to Him.
This nation of God's, so blessed and so dearly cared for, is now hardened by sinful behavior and an attitude of, "Who needs God?" The church serves the people's interests only, and its priests do not tell the people the truth of their sin, for they no longer prioritize God's Word over the culture. The nation's leaders are corrupt and care not a wit for the poor, the oppressed, or the broken. In fact, their very leadership is creating a very abusive society, where everyday people mattered not at all.
Judah or America? Hard to tell, huh?
So, let's begin. Jeremiah is called by God when he was in the womb. His complaint that he is too young is met by God's assurance that He will put His words into his mouth. In a sense, Jeremiah is right: without God's guidance and words, he is a child. God's words/Word is sufficient; it accomplishes its mission to fully inform the audience of God's heart.
God's Word is still all we need to understand God's heart. We have purpose here on earth; God knew us as we were being knit together in our mother's womb. But His Word is what guides and shapes our hearts and thoughts.
God gives Jeremiah a vision, and asks him, "What do you see?" (1:11) God is asking Jeremiah to have a clarity of vision, an accurate description of what he witnesses and a faithful recording of it.
Do we really see what is going on right now? Do we have clarity of vision, an accurate description of what we witness and do we faithfully relay what we see?
The people of Judah went to their priests and prophets for information; these people will be excoriated by God as being every bit as much of the problem as the people's reprobate behavior.
We go to social media for our information; our information is filled with passionate and misinformed opinions and lots of anecdotal evidence, and is every bit as much of the problem as our citizens' reprobate behavior.
God has every right to call out across the cosmos: "Game over!" No warning. No time for repentance. But that is not the kind of God we serve:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-10)
It is His love that compels Him to warn His people of not only their transgressions but of His awaiting mercy, if they are turn from their wicked ways:
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts. (Psalm 103:17-18)
So, with His people in Judah, sinful from the top of the society to the bottom, He outlines exactly the evils that are being committed by His people. He will send Jeremiah to tell the people and He will protect Jeremiah as he speaks His words:
I will pronounce judgment
on my people for all their evil—
for deserting me and burning incense to other gods.
Yes, they worship idols made with their own hands!
Get up and prepare for action.
Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say.
Do not be afraid of them,
or I will make you look foolish in front of them.
For see, today I have made you strong
like a fortified city that cannot be captured,
like an iron pillar or a bronze wall.
You will stand against the whole land—
the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah.
They will fight you, but they will fail.
For I am with you, and I will take care of you.
I, the Lord, have spoken! (1:16-19)
God says that He is "watching, and I will certainly carry out all my plans." (1:12)
God is watching. I draw great comfort from that but also a sense of impending doom. God doesn't just sit idly by, like an indulgent parent, and watch His children run amok. He also doesn't just sit there, lightning bolts in hand, ready at the drop of a hat to smite His own.
He watches, warns and waits, with His Word being sent out. In America, despite many of its churches having been co-opted by the culture, there are many where the Gospel is central and it is being preached without apology: that Jesus bore the wrath for our sins on the cross; that He died, was buried and resurrected and that new life in Him is available to those who humble themselves before God.
But did Judah listen? Are we listening? Or, are we, like Judah, too involved with our gods to notice God's warnings and hear His call to repent and return?
Are we, who want to really follow Jesus, too afraid if we step out and call a sin a sin that we will be left out in the cultural cold? What does God tell Jeremiah that he will be? "Strong."
God calls him a "fortified city"; an "iron pillar" and a "bronze wall." Not only that, God will provide the words for Jeremiah to speak.
Jesus promises the same to us:
The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. (Rev. 3:12)
Jesus wants us to rest on His provision as we speak out:
On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matt. 10:18-20)
One final thought: What exactly does the word "repent" mean?
It comes from the Hebrew word, naham, which means to "repent, comfort." Vine's Dictionary is instructive here: "Scholars assert several views in trying to ascertain the meaning of naham by connecting the world of a change of the heart or disposition, a change of mind, a change of purpose, an an emphasis upon the change of one's conduct." (Vine's, 201)
A change. Not any old change, but a change emanating from deep within the mind and heart. A change that shows the warning has been listened to and acted upon. A change that shows that the current course of action was no longer satisfactory to God and a change was merited.
A change of heart.
A change of mind.
A change of purpose.
A change of conduct.
Repenting is not changing for the sake of change, or to try a newer, faddish idea, whim or program. It is a change coming from a heart that has become tender to the voice of God and His Word, and is being replaced with His heart:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)
Will Judah repent? Jeremiah starts out hopeful.
Will we repent? I am not so hopeful anymore.