Talking About It Again And Again And Again: The biggest subject in Jeremiah is that God’s people had wandered off after idols.
- Jeremiah 2:5, 11, 13.
- v. 5, 11 – Following worthless idols.
- Back in Israel’s day the idols were usually literal idols. Figures of wood or clay formed into the image of a “deity” that they would worship.
- I think we have idols today – they just don’t tend to be blocks of wood that we bow down to.
- They’re more likely to be technologically advanced and pricey, but at the end of the day anything that we make as the focus of our love and life could be called an idol for us.
- What’s the big deal with idolatry?
- The two analogies that God most often uses in the Old Testament to express His relationship with Israel are parent-child and husband-wife.
- That moves idolatry out of the realm of a ruined business relationship and over into something personal.
- God is “emotionally invested” in this drama. God loves us like a child or a spouse.
- That means that our idolatry feels like a divorce to Him. It feels like a prodigal child. That’s why it’s such a big deal and provokes so strong a reaction from Him.
- v. 13 – It’s comprised of two sins:
a. Forsaking the spring of living water.
- God is the real deal. He’s the One through whom living water flow. That means He has what will satisfy our souls and quench our spiritual thirst.
b. Making your own cisterns.
- “Cistern” is a word we don’t use much in America. A cistern is a waterproof container designed to hold water or a dug-out area designed to hold rain (like a small water-holding reservoir).
- The interesting and sad thing about what God is saying here is (a) that they’ve deliberately walked away from a place that was gushing forth (it’s a spring) with good, clean water, and (b) that they’re using cisterns in its place, which have no perpetual source of water. Even worse, those cisterns aren’t even waterproof to adequately hold water.
- When you look at what they’ve given up and what they’ve replaced it with, it’s a fool’s bargain.
- The amazing thing in Jeremiah is that this subject is brought up in 45 or the 52 chapters. And those aren’t incidental mentions – often idolatry is the main subject of the entire chapter.
- Again and again, God complains that Israel has wandered off into idolatry. Again and again, God threatens them with punishment. Again and again, God wonders why they have walked away from Him after all He’s done for them.
- You can tell a lot about a person by the subjects that keep coming up in conversation with them. I knew an older woman once where the conversation always came back around to how attractive she’d been when she was younger. From that, I knew what she really valued. Around our house, there’s lots of talk about the NFL, so you know we love our football.
- This is the subject that God keeps bringing up, so it tells us a lot about His heart. He is deeply bothered by Israel’s pursuit of other gods.
- Given what we just said about living waters and broken and cisterns, a major question that we need to answer is why would Israel be so quick and persistent in pursuing idols?
Why Make That Trade? We want to have comfort and control without conviction.
- Most folks want God in their lives, or at least some version of Him.
- There’s a reason that every culture has shared a belief in God. There’s a reason why even people who haven’t darkened the door of a church in decades will still usually claim some form of belief in God.
- We want some kind of God in our lives because there are big issues that are beyond us. We need to deal with issues like:
a. How do I deal with problems that are bigger than I am?
b. What do I think about life after death?
c. Is there ultimately someone in charge of this universe?
- Because of those and many other reasons we are reluctant to just forsake the idea of God even if we may not like what the God of the Bible requires of us.
- So it’s an easy slide over to a God that gives us what we want without demanding what we don’t want to give.
What do we want? Comfort and control.
- We get comfort from believing that there is a God out there who can help us.
- We get comfort from believing that there is a God out there who is watching out for us.
- It is a frightening thought that we are ultimately alone and there is no one to turn to for help.
- A similar thought is our desire for control.
- We want to believe that someone is in charge of the universe.
- We want to believe that evil will ultimately be judged.
- We want to believe that in the midst of the chaos around us that someone is calling the shots.
- It’s a frightening thought that there is no one in charge of everything that’s going on around us.
- I remember listening to Peggy Noonan talk about her early days in the Reagan White House. She said it was crazy with trying to figure out what’s going on. She said there was an uneasy realization at one point in the transition: she’d always presumed that there was someone somewhere who knew what was going on in the world and was taking care of everything. Her uneasiness arose from the realization that they were now those people who were supposed to know what all was going on and talking care of it.
- What do we want to avoid? Conviction.
- So you have those intrinsic reasons to want to have some sort of God in your life. But there’s a problem with most Gods: they have demands.
- The God of Israel is a demanding God.
- He has expectations for their obedience. He laid out in great detail both the benefits of their covenant but also the expectations for their behavior.
- Probably the biggest issue is sin and the need to repent of it.
- Not surprisingly, many of us don’t really want to be told of our sin or convicted of it. Many of us don’t want to have to put aside our sin and choose another path.
- In all this, we choose a God who fits what we want, who gives us what we need without asking anything we don’t want to give.
- This is the easiest transition to make. When you look back at how much of Israel’s existence was spent in disobedience, it’s easy to see that this is a downhill move.
- Jesus said the gate is narrow. That is to say, ultimately few will want to truly pursue God and all that entails.
How Does That Happen?
- This is not everything there is to say about idols, but this is a pretty good summary of the starting point of the problem.
1. Pastors preach what people want to hear.
- Jeremiah 5:30-31.
- God says in v. 30 that a “horrible and shocking thing” has happened. When God says something is horrible and shocking, you’d better pay attention, because that’s a bold statement.
- What does God see as so bad? That the prophets and priests are preaching lies, that they are ruling by their own rules, and that the people love that arrangement.
- The first question this raises for me is: why would a religious leader deliberately preach a lie?
- I think the answer is that no one stands up in front of their congregation and thinks, “Today I’m going to lie to them!”
- It happens more as we see truths we find inconvenient, so we create ways to avoid them.
- It happens more as we ignore parts of the Bible that seem a little dated to us.
- It happens more as we ask our culture first what’s true and then determine our religious truth.
- I don’t think it’s a matter of them thinking that they’re preaching a lie. I think it’s a matter of them having slowly moved further from God in a thousand small ways to the point where they don’t realize they are in the wrong.
- I think of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. I don’t think most of them thought, “I really know He’s the Son of God, but I’m going to oppose Him anyway.” I think most of them had fully justified and codified their beliefs in their head and genuinely believed that He was an enemy of God who had to be destroyed.
- Another piece of this was that the religious leaders ruled by their own authority.
- That is, they did what they thought was right and put themselves in positions of power.
- Power is a seductive mistress. And as I’ve said before, many congregations like to put their pastor on a pedestal and the pastor likes the view from up there.
- And finally, the verse says that the people liked it.
- This wasn’t done over the objection of anyone (but God).
2. Pastors don’t treat sin seriously.
- Jeremiah 6:14.
- The first point we just discussed led to a failure to take sin seriously.
- As v. 14 notes, the religious leaders spoke to the people as if their sinning was no big deal. They told them that everything was at peace when God in fact was furious.
3. The people lose their awareness of what is sinful.
- Jeremiah 6:15.
- After pastors don’t treat sin seriously, it doesn’t take very long before the people don’t either.
- I think for most of us it’s a downhill road to minimizing our sin. We don’t need much encouragement to go in that direction. In fact, I would argue that we probably need constant reinforcement of the reality of sin or we will inevitably lower our standards.
- Here God complains that Israel is not the least bit shamed.
- Shame is a thing that is spoken of almost entirely in a negative way today, but I would argue it serves an essential purpose.
- Jerry Sandusky shouldn’t justify his questionable actions. He should feel shame at them. The guys on Wall Street who crashed the world’s financial markets with their risky bets, took a taxpayer bailout to clean it up, and then gave themselves massive bonuses for their quarterly profits should feel shame.
- Shame serves an essential purpose on the road to repentance.
- God goes on and makes a colorful and sad follow-up statement: the people had forgotten how to blush.
- First of all, what a great turn of phrase!
- Second of all, how much does that apply to us today? They had lost their ability to be embarrassed, to be ashamed, to feel the need for modesty.
- There is often a progression in sin, where it starts out hidden and tentative and heavy but ends up open and bold and light. The sin itself hasn’t changed, nor the guilt it brings before God. We’ve just gotten used to it.
- Going back to the larger point of this sermon, this makes the path to idols easy and quick. We no longer have thought for what’s truly right or an awareness of what’s wrong, so why not pursue what we want from a god?
- We need to examine our lives and ask whether we’ve taken God as He really is – the parts we like and the parts we don’t. We need to ask whether we’ve taken the Bible as it really is – the parts we like and the parts we don’t.
- Have we said to God, “You are the true God and I will follow you even if it brings conviction of sin, even if it means changes in my life.”
- Israel repeatedly fell into idol worship. It seems to be just about the easiest thing to do. Will you fall too?
- Do you want God to convict you of your sin so you can change? Are you annoyed or thankful when God tells of something you need to change? Do you hate the sin in your life or have you made your peace with it?