Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Jeremiah 7-10 'Am I beautiful?'

Joel Osteen is pastor of America's largest Protestant church.  On one occasion he was speaking on the Oprah show about his 'I am' sermon.  This sermon encouraged listeners to chant positive statements about themselves.  So Oprah invited him to lead her audience in a series of positive declarations.  Osteen gets them to stand and repeat after him: 'I am strong', 'I am secure', 'I am victorious', 'I am disciplined', 'I am beautiful' and 'I am looking forward to my future.’

You can see why Osteen is so popular.  No one is going to object to being told that they are beautiful.  But, are we beautiful?  Does Osteen’s gospel of self-esteem square with the message of the Bible?  Let’s compare Osteen’s message with Jeremiah’s message!

  1.  A message that does not call people to repentance is not the gospel (7)

The people of Judah had separated worshipping God from obedience to God.  Their religion was superstition and their assurance was false.  They chanted 'this is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord' (7:4).  They believe that because the temple is in their city, God will never let disaster come to that place.  Such assurance is false-assurance.

What's your assurance based on?  Is it based on the fact that you prayed a prayer of commitment many years ago at a religious meeting?  Is it based on the fact that you attend church?  These are not reliable guides as to whether you are a Christian or not.  It is possible to be convinced that you are a Christian when you are not!  Being born again involves a life of ongoing repentance.  I didn’t hear Osteen warning people that they need to repent and believe.  Similarly, a message that tells people they are good without God is a false-gospel—that’s our second point.
2.   A message that tells people that are good without God is a false-gospel (8)

These people, who had separated worship from obedience, were not willing to face up to their guilt.  'None of them repent of their wickedness, saying, "What have I done?"' (8:6b). Instead, they listened to false-prophets who declared, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace (8:11).  Judgement was on its way but these false-prophets told them all was well.

We have the job of telling people something that they do not want to hear.  Jeremiah warns the people of Judah of a coming judgement.  Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in the Bible.  Our message is not ‘peace, peace, when there is no peace.’  We have to tell people that they are not good without God.  We have to tell people that a life-transforming relationship with Jesus is the only way to know peace with God.
3. A message that doesn’t transform people is not the gospel (9)

Jeremiah is deeply upset by the spiritual state of his people.  However he doesn't simply sit in smug judgement over them.  He weeps for them:  'Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!  I would weep day and night for the slain of my people' (9:1).  Jesus wept over the people of Jerusalem.  Paul wept for unbelieving Jews.  We grieve that our family and friends refuse to love Jesus and experience life in his name.
It is not that the people Jeremiah was speaking to were not religious.  He is preaching to them as the go in and out of the temple.  They were church-goers.  But Jeremiah knew that they were not right with God.  How did he know this?  He knew it because their claim to belong to God made no impact of how they lived.  Last week we saw that Tozer claimed that a person cannot be a true believer in Christ if they are no better than they were before they encountered Christ.  ‘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.’

One of the evidences that they had not been born again was their dishonesty.  'They make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies' (9:3a).  'For every one of them is a deceiver; and every friend a slanderer' (9:4b).  'They have taught their tongues to lie' (9:5) '... in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,’ declares the Lord (9:6).  Remember that the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth and the devil is called the father of lies.  Who do we please when we act with integrity?  Who do we please when we act deceitfully?  Christianity is incompatible with living a lie!
4. A message that doesn’t challenge our idols is not the gospel (10)

Finally, in chapter ten, Jeremiah points out that the ultimate problem with these deluded, disobedient and deceitful people was idolatry.  An idol is anything that stops us from turning to God in repentance and faith, and enjoying a full-hearted relationship with him. 
Wealth can be an idol, as it was for the rich young ruler.  Bitterness can be an idol, for Jesus warns that we will not be forgiven if we are unwilling to forgive.  Image can be an idol—many young people think they are too cool to be a Jesus-freak.  Fear can be an idol—for many people don’t want to go against the flow.  Family can be an idol—remember that Jesus taught that we are to put him above every other relationship.

Of course one of the problems with idols is that they do not deliver what they promise us.  They can’t satisfy because they have no real power.  'Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk' (5a).  'But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King' (10a).  It is only in him that we can experience life in all its fullness.
Can you see the difference between what Joel Osteen preaches and what Jeremiah preaches?  Osteen wants everyone to believe that they are essentially good, that they are beautiful and that they should look forward to their future.  Jeremiah warned a people without God that they were corrupt, that they needed to turn to God in repentance and tells them of a coming judgement.  Jeremiah’s message points ahead to the ministry of Jesus.  For Jesus spoke of hell, warned people that they needed to repent and believe, and that their faith would be proved false if it did not result in fruit.
A Christian leader was enquiring about a primary school for their child.  They asked one of the staff about the school’s ethos.  The teacher said that the school aimed to boost each child’s self-esteem.  This made the Christian leader question if the school was the right place for their child.  You see, the gospel of self-esteem is very different from the gospel.  The gospel says that we are not good without God.  The gospel tells us that our hearts are deceitful above all things.  The gospel points to our moral corruption and filth.  Am I beautiful?  Not without God!

That’s not to say you have no value.  We are different than all else in creation, for we are made in the image of God.  God so loved this world of wicked image-bearers that he gave his Son so that anyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  His cross dealt with our sin.  His blood can make the foulest clean.  He covers our wickedness and his Spirit gradually transforms us into his actual likeness.  Am I beautiful? In Christ you are a masterpiece!

So let ‘not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me; that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord (9:23-24).  Words that are echoed by Paul, when he was writing to the Corinthians, ‘let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’


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