Jeremiah 9:23-24 — Sunday Morning Sermon — 6/4/17

5 Jun

This morning we begin our sermon series on Behold Your God. Many of you have worked through the Week 1 devotional workbook already so you will be familiar with the title of today’s message. Our messages each week during this series will not just be a review of what you worked through in the week but will be picking up some aspect of what we studied during the week. For this morning, the passage I have selected is Jeremiah chapter 9, verses 23 and 24.  

23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

Now some of you know that Jeremiah is called the “weeping prophet.” His message is a difficult one to hear: Judah is going to be exiled to Babylon, the people of God are going to be removed from their land. Jeremiah has 52 chapters and most of them are very pessimistic. There are bright shining passages like chapter 29 and 31 and 33 and the passage we’re looking at today, but for the most part the message is grim.

And we can see that even in our present passage there is a negative undertone. The people of Judah have rebelled against God. We read in 2:13, “my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” The people of Judah did not see God as the great attraction. They left Him behind, even though He had done so much for them and was to them the source of living water. But people are worshipers. If we don’t turn to God we will turn to idols. Our souls will not stay empty, we will fill them with something. So the people of Judah dug for themselves deeply in the ways of the world. They tried to find living water on their own, but their cisterns were broken, so that any water they caught ran through the cracks and evaporated. They tried idol worship, they tried alliances with other nations, they tried sexual immorality, but Jeremiah said all these things only brought judgment and misery. God said to them in chapter 5 that He couldn’t find any among them that cared about doing the right thing. So God’s judgement was coming against this people. But the people were relying on the fact that they had God’s law. Chapter 8 tells us that they were hoping to be ok because they had been given God’s Word. But the Word is no good at all to us if it is not received by faith. So God tells them, no, your possession of the Word will not save you, because you have no fear of me, no faith in me, you do not obey me. So I am bringing judgment. God’s judgment is pronounced clearly and distinctly.  They will be exiled and many will die. The mourners of that day, often women who mourned for funerals and other sad events, would have no fear of losing their jobs, because there would be plenty to mourn about. Death will be everywhere because when people forsake God, the result is always death and destruction and mayhem and disorder.

And it is in this context that we come to today’s passage. It is a context not unlike America in 2017. For, in spite of being founded by people who in some cases acknowledged God and in other cases had a fully-formed biblical worldview, we as a people have forsaken the fountain of living water and hewed out cisterns of our own. We have as a nation largely rejected God. We haven’t entirely removed Him from our lives, just as Israel didn’t remove Him from their lives. The religious services went on in Israel, the feasts, all the rest. But the outward practice didn’t match the inward reality. It is the same for us. God is still mentioned in America. It looks good to post a Bible verse on Facebook. We can still handle a little bit of God in certain public events. Funerals and weddings still mostly happen in churches. But in America in 2017, God is not the great attraction. Truth be told, there have only been a few periods in American history where God was the great attraction. Church attendance in the Colonial era was often dreadful. And even in times when the Church was more visibly powerful in America, there were vast differences between its practices and biblical Christianity. But in our day, the outward coarseness of everyday life seems darker and more widespread. The appeal to sexuality is everywhere and is more obvious than ever before. There are not many statesmen in our day. It seems the phrase honorable politician is almost a contradiction in terms. Politicians of both parties appeal to the lowest forms of demonization, insult and mockery, so that one side of the aisle equates the other side with pure evil. Meanwhile, athletes and entertainers project a public image that is very often at odds with who they are in real life. We worship at the altar of science in our day, thinking if we can only quantify everything and use data to come up with solutions, everything will be better. But good science is always changing, always refining. We all know this is true just from one field: nutrition. Thirty years ago, science told us eggs were bad for us. Now, they’re good for us. Now I think this is the way science works. Old theories are corrected upon further review. So it would be awfully foolish to base your life on data that is constantly shifting if there is unchanging and always true truth somewhere out there to be found. We have forsaken the fountain of living water for our own cisterns, especially the cistern of personal identity. We have equated freedom with the ability to do whatever I want with no questions asked. But this is not freedom. It is bondage. I am not free if I just feed my desires. I am a slave. Freedom is not the ability to do what I want to do, it is the ability to do what I ought to do. Of course you are free to mess up your life, but you are not becoming free in doing so, you are just becoming a bigger slave of whatever idol has your heart.

And I think in the end this is the issue where we come closest to the people of Judah. They had the outward appearance of religious life, but their hearts were captured with other things. And our hearts are also captured by other things. God is not our great attraction. Making money is our great attraction. Buying new things is our great attraction. Sexuality is our great attraction. Being successful or being unique or drugs or being smart or tough or athletic. Our hearts are captured by other things. And one of the purposes of the Behold Your God study is that you would see that God is the great attraction and that you would return to Him. And when that happens, then you realize that every good and perfect gift is from above, and you can enjoy all the blessings of life without being mastered by created things rather than the Creator.

God has been telling the people of Judah about their sinful ways, but in 9:23-24, He points them to the way of life. He shows them what is really worthwhile. God rejects all the usual reasons for boasting – wisdom, might and riches. These are things that are universally admired in our culture. If you look at the most popular people in the world, they will possess one or more of these qualities. These things are not even wrong in and of themselves. God is saying, you may be rich or wise or powerful, but don’t boast in those things.

Why not boast in these things? I believe Ecclesiastes 9 gives us the reason, Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.

Time and chance happen to them all. Now we know God is sovereign, so when Ecclesiastes speaks of chance it is talking from our perspective. But that is reality, isn’t it? Our greatest grounds for boasting are all passing away. Wisdom will fade away. Riches will disappear. Strength will fail. For every single one of us. Warren Wiersbe says it so well, I have to quote him here . . .

“No amount of education, power, or wealth—three things the world today depends on and boasts about—can guarantee the blessing of God. God doesn’t delight in a nation’s learning, political influence, armies, or gross national product. He delights in a people who practice kindness, justice, and righteousness because they know and fear the Lord. God promises covenant blessings to those who obey Him, not to those who only submit to religious ceremonies.

God called the nation to lament because they would soon be going to their own funeral. Death was coming, and the politicians and false prophets wouldn’t be able to hinder it. Death is pictured as a thief who comes unhindered through the windows to steal precious lives. Bodies would fall “like cut grain behind the reaper” (v. 22, NIV).

The Jews boasted in the covenant sign of circumcision, but it was only in their flesh; the true spiritual circumcision had never reached their hearts. People today who depend on baptism and other church sacraments (ordinances), but who have never repented and trusted Christ, are in the same situation as the Jews in Jeremiah’s day; they think they’re a part of the divine covenant, but their confidence is a false one. Paul was a good example of this: he had to lose his religious righteousness in order to gain Christ!” (Phil. 3:1–11)

Have you ever thought about losing your religious righteousness and really seeking God? Has God ceased to be the Great Attraction to you? Has He ever been your Great Attraction? I think so much of what happens in churches today is proof that we have committed the sin of Jeremiah 2:13, we have forsaken God and hewed out cisterns of our own. Our focus is not on God and His person but on programs for children or facilities or cool music or stage productions or ministries to this group or that group or being family-oriented or having a great ministry for college students or being an intellectual church that reads lots of books or being the down home church everybody remembers from days gone by or being the ministry church or the evangelistic church or the missions church or the prayer church when really all we need to be is the God church, the Jesus church. To be sure, when we are focused on God as the great attraction, lots of the things I just mentioned will follow. We’ll have ministries and there will be friendship and fellowship and joy, but at the end of the day we won’t boast in wisdom, riches or might, but in this, that we understand and know the Lord the one who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth. And we’ll busy ourselves with the task of living a life by God’s grace of steadfast love, justice and righteousness, for these are the things in which God finds delight. And we want to please not ourselves, but God, because He is our Great Attraction. We are not the center of the universe, our church is not the center, America is not the center, pleasant experiences are not the center, God is the center. Until we return to Him, we will not have the living water we need to thrive in this world. Until we return to Him, we will always be trying to collect water in cracked holes we have dug for ourselves and it will always be temporary and never ultimately satisfying. Return to Me as your Great Attraction.

David’s words in Psalm 34 are a fitting end for us today . . .

Psalm 34:2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord;

let the humble hear and be glad.

   Oh, magnify the Lord with me,

and let us exalt his name together!

One of the big reasons the church exists is so that we can say to one another, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together!” We need people to come alongside us in the journey. Our calling is to constantly remind each other that God is the great attraction. He is better than ice cream or toys or steak or a raise or the beach or football or video games or crafts or books or anything else you can imagine. But notice in Psalm 34 it starts with the individual soul making its boast in the Lord. Is God your Great Attraction? If not, call on Him this morning. Why don’t you say, “I admit that You are not my great attraction right now, Lord, but I would like You to be.” God loves a humble heart. He will restore a humble heart. Why don’t you ask God to open your heart so that you can see Him as your Great Attraction? Why don’t you cast aside the idols of your heart that have been your Great Attraction up to this point? Will you do that today? The difference between a life-changing summer of knowing God and the same old, same old rut of your life is going to be determined for many of you by what you do with your heart in the next few moments. Come to Him. He is the Great Attraction.

 

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