The Unpopular Message (By Les Kovacs)
Text: Jeremiah 1-3
Observe: The prophet Jeremiah is called by God to speak to the people of Judah, and the surrounding nations, during the reign of King Josiah through to the reign of King Zedekiah. God tells him that He had a plan for him from before he was born and set him apart for this specific task. At first Jeremiah is reluctant, saying he is too young and doesn’t know what to say, but God commands him to go and says He will put the words into Jeremiah’s mouth. His message is not a popular one, but God tells him not to be afraid because He is with him and will not allow Jeremiah to be overcome. So, faithfully for over 40 years, he travels far and wide, continually calling out the sin and hypocrisy of the people, priests and kings. Ultimately, Jeremiah prophecies that because of their defiance and immorality, God’s punishment will lead them to exile in Babylon.
In Jerusalem, Jeremiah reminds the Israelites that they were the beloved people of God, and how he brought them out of bondage and gave them a land that was not their own as an inheritance in fulfillment of His promise to Jacob. Everything that God had ever done was for the good of His chosen people. Yet, over time the people turned away from God and worshipped other idols. They adopted many of the detestable practices and rituals of the people who had lived in the land before. They came to rely on their own strength, developed their own wisdom, and followed their own ways. God says that they committed two sins: they had forsaken Him, the spring of living water; and dug their own broken cisterns.
In times of difficulty, the people would call out “Come and save us!”, but always they would fall back on the false idols that they had created with their own hands, worshipping inanimate objects instead of the Living God. And even when they did worship their God and Creator, it was always with empty words and meaningless motions. They would cry out that they were innocent, yet continue to offer sacrifices to other idols, and living like a donkey chasing after wild cravings.
The Lord, through Jeremiah, compared them to prostitutes for their brazen ways, instead of being virtuous wives to God, the faithful husband. By their immorality, they had defiled the good land and home that God had provided them. Yet, through all of this rebellion, God in His mercy continued to call them back, and wanted to teach them His ways. But, always the people would backslide into immorality.
Interpret: This is a theme that is played out over and over again in scripture. Out of His great love God, gives His beloved chosen people everything they need for a good life. He saves them from bondage; gives them a fertile land to live in; and blesses them with His excellent laws to live in a right relationship with Him. But, it’s never enough. They wander in their own ways, not recognizing their error which leads away from God and into sin. They begin to think that it was by their own work that they had become successful. They began to worship idols created by human hands and adopted practises that were evil and immoral. No matter how often God disciplined His wayward children and called them back to Himself, they would soon forget Him and turn back to sin. They would talk the talk but their hearts were never in it, and so they were not able to walk the walk. They brought their own destruction down on their heads.
Application: In these verses, we see the consequences of disobedience to God’s will. When we follow the ways of the world, we get caught up in the illusion of success: the chasing after money, power, sex, and celebrity. They become the idols we worship. We begin to think that our successes are the result of our own efforts, and if anyone else is struggling, that’s obviously their doing and their own problem. We begin to see ourselves as central to our existence. We do what’s good for us or whatever feels good to us. Our own rules become our guide. Jeremiah reminds us that disobedience to God will leads only to misery and destruction.
Yet even in this message of warning to the wayward people of God there is an expressed hope for the future. (Jeremiah 1:10), “See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Although God will uproot and destroy what is evil, He will also plant and build up that which is good and righteous.
If we really want the things that are important and lasting, Jesus tells us to follow Him. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, (John 14:6). His good and perfect will for us (Romans 12:2) is transformative. It is in Him that we find the abundant life (John 10;10) that we so desperately desire and seek.
Questions: How often have we gone our own way, only to find that what we had sought after was just a fleeting pleasure? How often have we gone along with the world’s view of success only to find a growing emptiness? What must be torn down in our lives before God can build us back up again? Are we willing to see Jeremiah’s unpopular message as a hope for the future?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for Your unfailing faithfulness and mercy despite our striving after worldly things. Help us to recognize those things which draw us away from You and give us the courage and patience to allow them to be torn down. Give us hearts to seek and love you. Give us wisdom and faith to allow You to transform us into the people you created us to be. Help us bend our will to Yours. In the mighty and merciful name of Jesus, Amen.
Song: “Give Us Clean Hands” ; Chris Tomlin
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.