Jeremiah 5 paints a pretty clear picture that evil doesn’t work out well. God is looking for someone, anyone, who is living a godly and holy life. “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her”. Did you notice what He says? Find ‘a’ man – not a group of men – not a church – but one person who does justice and seeks truth. Remember the familiar story of Sodom and Gomorrah where God wanted a few to spare the city? We have a sin problem and it is pervasive through all mankind.
We believe we can do whatever we want and God will be fine with it. He won’t. He isn’t. We will be punished for sin. History is full of examples, yet we just keep doing whatever we selfishly want and ignore what God has instructed us. “You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent”. We are a rebellious people that think we are in control. And when we are whacked to bring us back to reality, then we blame God.
“Why has the Lord our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours”. We get what we deserve, and when we push God aside and do our own thing, we will deal with the outcome of those decisions. That is true personally when we live selfishly and disobediently ourselves, but also as a nation. God is not mocked. We are a “foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not”. The outcome of that is punishment.
So what is the real problem? Jeremiah lays it out this way: “Do you not fear me? declares the Lord”. We have no fear of our Maker. We think we are in control and that we are steering the ship. That just isn’t the case. God alone is in control. He alone runs the universe. And unfortunately we have a “stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away”. That pretty well sums up our situation. We wrongly believe we can do what we want and get away with it, but that is absolutely a lie of the enemy. God reigns. We need to learn to fear Him and know Him and follow Him. That is when we experience the blessing of His love!
Jeremiah 4 calls out the plight of mankind, and it is a pretty serious situation. Sin has put us at odds with God, and Jeremiah has some strong words about the future. But he does offer out some hope if we get our act together. “If you return….if you remove…..if you swear” are how he begins this chapter. In other words, we have to do DO something to change the situation. We have to take action and put ourselves in a place where we get right with God and put off all the evil that we have put around us and in us.
God isn’t just going to tolerate our sin. There will be a price to pay, and it is severe and eternal. But we can come back to Him if we repent and return. There is a ‘then’ to those if statements Jeremiah starts with. When we return and put off the evil, “in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory”. God will take us back. He will receive us and bless us. We can come back and experience His glory. But we have to change. “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts”.
We have become hardened to the sin in our lives. We just accept it as normal and ok, but in God’s sight it is anything but ok. So “it is I who speak in judgment upon them….wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved”. We have to clean things up to make it right. We are in this predicament because we make choices – bad choices to sin. “She has rebelled against me….Your ways and your deeds have brought this upon you”. We can’t blame God for our situation, we have brought it upon ourselves.
So what are our options? We can continue in our sin and experience His judgment and miss all that He has for us. Or we can repent and come back to obedience to God. That means we have to make some major changes. “For my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding. They are ‘wise’ – in doing evil! But how to do good they know not”. We have to learn how to walk with God. We’ve stopped reading His Word and listening to His voice, and that has to change. We have to get into the Bible and spend time in relationship with God understanding what He desires. We have to walk in obedience. Are you investing in that? It is how we change this dynamic of being outside His blessing and move to His glory. Make time today to spend with God and His Word!
Jeremiah 3 has a pretty compelling picture of how we treat God. He compares it to divorce, where “his wife….goes from him and becomes another man’s wife”. Jeremiah calls the way we treat God as being a “whore with many lovers”. Pretty vivid description, isn’t it. But it is exactly how we treat God. We are committed to Him when we get our way and He is doing what we want and expect, but when something else gets our attention, or when our selfish desires lead us elsewhere, we are gone and “you refuse to be ashamed”. We don’t even think anything about it. We just push God aside.
Over exaggeration? I don’t think so. We chase things in our lives every day that get between us and God. We allow things to become idols in our lives that lead us to be like the people in Jeremiah’s time where he said “you have done all the evil that you could”. We let things into our homes, and our minds, that are not godly or righteous. We live in a “polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree”. And we don’t think anything of it. We make excuses and do what we want to the point that “you have not obeyed my voice”. God hasn’t stopped talking, we’ve just stopped listening!
The good news for us is that God still loves us. He wants us back. “Return….I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the Lord; I will not be angry forever….acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God…. no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart”. It’s called repentance and it is what God calls us to do to get back in right relationship with Him. If we will only repent, “I will heal your faithfulness” says God. He wants to restore us to Himself. He wants us back in right relationship. But we can’t get there without change. We can’t get there on our own.
One of the big problems is that “they have forgotten the Lord their God”. And because we forget God and His Truth – the direction He has given us for life and living in His Word – we just go off and do whatever we want. We let self take the wheel and sooner than later we are in the weeds way over our head and in deep trouble. “We have sinned against the Lord our God….and we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God”. That is what has to change. We must know His Word and listen to His voice, and then we need to trust and obey. We’ve been given the path to success – it is in His Book – but we often aren’t reading it, and putting it in place as the guide for life. That is where we miss the mark and go astray! We must spend time with God and in His Word. We can’t obey what we don’t know, but ignorance is not going to work as the excuse!
Jeremiah 2 has the prophet bringing God’s truth to the people. God is recalling just how they have moved away from Him. He tells Jeremiah to “Go and proclaim….what wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless”. Jeremiah is tasked with reminding the people that God didn’t move, they did. They turned away from Him and their current plight is their own doing. When we choose to move away from God and obedience to Him, we are setting ourselves up for disaster.
The problem is pretty clear. Jeremiah says it this way: “my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit…..they have forsaken me”. We can’t just turn away from God without consequences. The truth is that we need God. He doesn’t need us. But we sometimes go brain dead and begin to think that we are much more than we are and that somehow God needs us. That is certainly not the case at all, but in our humanness we forsake Him and put ourselves in His place.
We go from dumb to dumber, and wonder why what happens does. “Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the Lord your God….Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God”. It is actually pretty elementary. We forsake God – we get chastised and reproved. We will then experience the result of our evil. We don’t get away with it, not then, not now, not ever. We can’t ignore God and His commandments.
But our response is very predictable. We bring pain and suffering onto ourselves, and then we cry out to the very same God we just got done disobeying and ask for help. “But in the time of their trouble they say, Arise and save us”. How foolish can we be? We disobey God and then cry out for Him to save us. It won’t work. When we sin and do evil, God has to deal with us. He has to reprove our very bad choices. We’ll still run back to Him, but we need to realize that choices we make have consequences. We need to walk well with Him and avoid those sinful choices!
Jeremiah 1 is the beginning of Jeremiah’s story – a prophet who came on the scene during the 13th year of Josiah’s reign and lasted through the 11th year of Zedekiah’s rule. So he was around a while and had plenty of words from the Lord to pass along to the leaders of God’s people. But the first word he got from God applies to us all: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations”. Truer words have not been spoken. God made us in His own image, and as such, knows each of us intimately.
We may not have been created or appointed to be prophets, but we were created by God. And before we were even a twinkle in the eyes of our parents, God had it all figured out. He knew us – intimately one on one every little detail down to the number of hairs on our head and the length of our life. God knows us. And in Jeremiah’s case, God knew that he would try to run from his calling. “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” You ever run from God? It’s foolish, because He won’t ask us to do something He hasn’t equipped us for, and no one knows better than Him just how equipped we are.
God tells him that very clearly as He says “for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord”. Jeremiah was able, with God’s help, to do God’s work. That is true for all of us. When God calls us, He is able to use us. What God originates, God orchestrates. When we do things our way they may not work out, but when we follow God’s direction He will lead and make it come to pass. And in Jeremiah’s case, He went one step further: “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,”Behold, I have put my words in your mouth”. How’s that for a promise!
So what did God expect of Jeremiah. He said it pretty clearly when He says “dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you”. Jeremiah didn’t have to come up with what to say. He didn’t have to know the answers. He merely had to speak what God told Him. Often we make serving God harder than it needs to be. It begins with us just getting up and ‘dressing for work’ – we have to take action and be ready to do something. Then it is a matter of sharing God’s truth. We don’t have to invent that – He wrote an entire Book for us to use and follow. Are you dressed for the work of the kingdom? If not, arise. The time to serve is now!
Zephaniah 3 gives us a good picture of the very nature of God. The prophet makes it clear that “The Lord within her is righteous; he does no injustice; every morning he shows forth his justice; each dawn he does not fail; but the unjust knows no shame”. God is a God of justice. He does not ignore what we do or how we live. We will answer for our decisions and choices before Him. It is important that we don’t lose sight of that reality. God loves us, but He is a God we should fear because He is just. “Surely you will fear me; you will accept correction”.
Part of that justice will be correction. When we sin, we will be corrected. Maybe not immediately, but God must act. He cannot just ignore our actions. And He will bring us into obedience. There are no exceptions: “that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord“. Scripture tells us multiple places that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. We will come into submission to His power and judgment at some point. It will not be optional.
Yet while God is a God of justice, that is only one part of His nature. Zephaniah also points out that God is a God of love. “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing”. Can you see Him rejoicing over how you live today? Is He singing with gladness because of your obedience and walk with Him? God’s love will overwhelm us if we let it. He wants to exult us!
So what does your experience with God look like? Are you one who has experienced His love? He is always ready to come to us and express His goodness and love. Are you making time to walk with God and talk with Him? How is your quiet time going each day? God desires a relationship, not just for an hour on Sunday, but continually throughout the week and even during the day. He wants us to not only be aware of Him and to consider His righteousness, but to love Him and be in a place where He rejoices over us in gladness. What a joy that will be!
Zephaniah 2 continues the prophets warning of destruction that is to come. God is ticked, and He will take action. Zephaniah tells the people to “gather together….before the decree takes effect”. Many times in scripture God has a plan to destroy people, but that isn’t His desire. He loves us, and would rather find a way for us to work out the sin problem we have through repentance. So history shows that on some occasions, intercession has worked and God has listened to the plea of His people, or in some cases like Moses, the intercession of one person. That is what Zephaniah urges the people to do here. Get together…..
There is power in community, particularly when that group of people is focused on serving and living God’s way. Zephaniah tells them to do three things:
– “seek the Lord
– Seek righteousness
– Seek humility”
First we need to come to the Lord and recognize that He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. We need to get Him back in His rightful place as the Lord sitting on the throne of our lives. He comes first. He is central. He must be Lord.
Then we need to seek righteousness. We need to turn from our wicked and evil ways and follow God’s directions and plan for our life. We need to move to obedience. We tend to drift from that when self takes the wheel and we stop doing the things that God has commanded us. We do what we want, not what God has instructed us to do. The third directive Zephaniah gives is to seek humility. We need to put ourselves in right position in relationship to God. We are not the center of the universe, He is. We are not in charge, He is. We are servants to the Master.
Pride is a big problem for us. It is that selfish approach that we are in charge and will do what we want as we are above God. Big problem and very far from the truth. God does not take kindly to that self centered attitude – He can’t stand pride which is described in scripture as ‘thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought’. “This shall be their lot in return for their pride, because they taunted and boasted against the people of the Lord of hosts. The Lord will be awesome against them”. We need to put God first and keep Him there. When pride becomes our lifestyle, we’re going to go down. I for one, don’t want to see the Lord’s awesomeness in action against me. How about you?