Tozer asks, ‘Can a man become a believer in Christ and be no better than he was before?’ He then answers, ‘Salvation … includes an actual change in the life of the believer … more than a surface change … a transformation as deep as the roots of his human life.’
Jeremiah speaks to a people who were simply going through the motions. They thought of themselves as being God’s people, but God made no discernible difference to the way they lived. Theirs was not saving faith.
This morning, we are going to see that God warns those who are simply going through the motions that he will judge them, unless they truly repent, and that true repentance is a life-transforming gift from God.
Introduction (chapter 1)
Four miles to the north-east of Jerusalem lay the town of Anathoth. There lived a man in his late teens called Jeremiah. The word of the Lord came to him during the thirteenth year of king Josiah of Judah (627 B.C.).
Where are we, at this point, in the unfolding story in the Old Testament? Well, we are after the creation and fall; the promise has been given to Abraham (which included a people who would possess a land); this people have experienced slavery and deliverance from Egypt; they have wondered in the wilderness and been brought into the Promised Land; in the Promised Land, they continued to rebel against God, so he divided the kingdom in two; they kept on rebelling, so the northern kingdom (Israel) was conquered by the Assyrians, and its people taking into exile. Jeremiah is from the southern kingdom (Judah).
At the end of chapter one, God gives Jeremiah two pictures: one of an almond tree and the other of a boiling pot. The almond tree is the first tree to bud. When they saw the almond tree budding they knew that spring was coming. In the same way, when Jeremiah delivers God’s word to the people of Judah, they need to realise that God is about to act. There is the boiling pot facing away from the north; if the people of Judah do not turn back to God its contents will be poured out. God is warning them that the Babylonians will conquer Jerusalem, the capital of Judah.
The faithless spouse (2:1-3:5)
At the beginning of chapter two, Jeremiah is sent to Jerusalem. But his message begins with Israel (the northern kingdom). Israel had been conquered and scattered, because they had gone from being an enamoured bride to an adulteress wife.
You see, God had rescued his people from Egypt, and this had caused the people of Israel to delight in God. But their love had not lasted beyond the honeymoon. Soon they were chasing after the gods of the local fertility cults. We might be reminded of Jesus' words, in the book of Revelation, to the church at Ephesus: 'but I have this against you, that you abandoned the love you had at first' (Rev. 2:4).
They had committed two evils: 'They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn out cisterns for themselves; broken cisterns that hold no water' (2:13). How foolish!
We are designed to seek meaning in life. The desire for pleasure is not necessarily wrong, but Jesus said that he is the living water that is to satisfy our spiritual thirst (John 4:10-14). Only in him can we experience true peace with God.
I had a teacher who used to see us eating junk and declare that, 'you are what you eat.' God declares, 'you become what you worship.' So, if you worship at the temple of materialism, if you praise the idol of popularity, and if you pay homage to image, then you will become as fickle and shallow as the celebrities who act as the priests for those gods.
The need to turn (3:6-4:4)
While God had judged the northern kingdom of Israel, sending the Assyrians to conquer and scatter them, God still calls them to repent. 'I will not look on you with anger, for I am merciful,' declares the Lord (3:12).
This teaching on repentance centres on the need for a new heart. Do you find yourself continually being tripped up by the same temptations? Then, ask God to do a work in your heart; ask him to give you an increased distaste for sin and a renewed passion to honour God through obedience. We need to acknowledge our guilt (3:13) and have God heal our unfaithfulness (3:22).
The hymn-writer, Robert Robinson, pleaded, ‘Come thou fount of every blessing ... Bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.’
Warning of judgement (4:5-31)
Despite witnessing God's judgement, on the northern kingdom of Israel, the people of Judah had not learned anything. Indeed, now they were worse than Israel (3:11). It is interesting that these words were spoken during the reign of King Josiah. Josiah was a great king. He had sought to reform the religion of his day, but the people had not followed him. God now addresses Judah with a warning of judgement: disaster will come from the north!
Jeremiah feels anguish about the fact that his people are going to face judgement (4:19). It is right that we should agonise over the fact that many of our loved ones stubbornly resist God’s call to repentance and faith. Moses wanted to be cursed, rather than have his people punished for their idolatry (Exodus 32:30-32). The apostle Paul experienced unceasing anguish, when he saw his people reject the Saviour (Romans 9:1-2). Jesus lamented over the lost people of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37). Ezekiel tells us that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but would rather they repent and live (Ezekiel 33:11).
The quest for a righteous person (5:1-31)
At the beginning of chapter five, God tells Jeremiah to go into Jerusalem to see if he can find one person in who does justice and seeks truth, so that he may pardon the whole city.
This search for one righteous person might remind us of Abraham pleading with God over the wicked city of Sodom. Abraham was shown that God was willing to spare that whole city for the sake of ten righteous people living there. God is always slow to anger, and he is patient before he brings judgement.
This scene, in Jeremiah, points forward to Jesus - a whole people being spared judgement if one righteous man can be found. We have been spared judgement because of one righteous man. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but we are saved because of Jesus, our righteous Saviour.
The consequences of not repenting (6:1-30)
Finally, in chapter six, we see the consequences of the people's refusal to repent.
They had no compassion towards those in need (6:7). They took no pleasure in the word of God (6:10). They were greedy and corrupt (6:13). They heard God's warning but refused to change their ways (6:16). They went through the motions of worship, they went to the temple, but their hearts were not right with God (6:20).
So, the coming judgement is inevitable. They perish because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved.
What do these chapters of the Bible tells us about God? They tell us that we must take his word seriously, that he takes our human rebellion and sin seriously; that we face a coming judgement if we refuse to turn to him; that he demands to be valued above everything else in his creation; that he is the only one who can give our lives true meaning; that he alone satisfy our spiritual thirst; that he mercifully calls people to repent; that he is willing to forgive and turn back his anger; that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but would rather they repent and live; and, that he has sent a righteous Saviour, that we can experience his salvation.
God calls us to repent, but what does true repentance look like? According to these chapters, repentance involves taking pleasure in God’s word, and taking its instruction seriously; repentance involves finding your purpose and passion centred on God; repentance involves having compassion towards the needy; repentance turns its back on greed and dishonesty; and, repentance is ultimately a gift of the God who gives us a new heart and inclines us to follow his ways. You can’t be born again and not repent. It is not being able to name the hour you prayed ‘the sinner’s prayer’ that proves you are a Christian, what proves you are a Christian is the fruit of God’s Spirit being produced in your life.
So, if you are born again, you have been saved from going through the motions. You have been changed from within, and you are being changed from within. So, keep on drinking from the only well that brings eternal satisfaction. Let the Holy Spirit produce his fruit within you. Let God’s word dwell richly in you. Be thankful that he sent his righteous Saviour for you!