There is no amount of religious camouflage that can make up for sin and unfaithfulness to the Lord.
HYMN: WHEN ALL THY MERCIES, O MY GOD
TEXT: Jeremiah 2:4-13,
In this second part of the lessons on the book of Jeremiah, we observe the unfolding of the ministry of Jeremiah to the nation of Judah. For about 40 years, Jeremiah served as God’s spokesperson to the kings and people of Judah (Southern Kingdom) during the reigns of Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. As alluded in the first lesson the task was not a mean one, but was characterized by opposition and fierce resistance from the people and kings who had sold their hearts to foreign gods, abomination, wicked and oppressive ways. It was a case of if “the people-would-heed-the-word-of-the- Lord”, then hope and restoration will be theirs from the Lord. It will avert the imminent judgement of God from the Babylonian empire. The response of Judah in the days of Jeremiah to the word of the Lord is very similar to what we observe today. Instead of repentance, there was an increase in sophisticated religious practices; instead of a return to righteous ways, people chose to trust in emblems of religion-the magnificent temple built by king Solomon.
Today, we pride ourselves in our “mega churches” of thousands of members and the accompanying huge offerings. These religious camouflages cannot serve as substitute for holiness.
The objectives of this study are:
- To know the sins of Judah in Jeremiah’s time
- To draw parallels of Judah’s sins and those of our times
- To identify the consequences of Judah’s sins
- To know the only remedy for sin
- To be like Jeremiah, the voice of hope for a dying world.
Q1. WHAT WERE THE SINS OF JUDAH?
Through Jeremiah the Lord asked rhetorically the nation of Judah, “what fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me?”. He went further and stated, “they followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves” (Jer. 2:5). One of the sins of Judah was that they left following after the God who saved them from Egypt and took them miraculously through the desert into the Promise land, and began to worship the gods of the surrounding nations. Because the gods were worthless idols, they also became worthless. Jeremiah further elaborates by stating the two sins of Judah of forsaking the “fountain of living water,” and taking on “broken cisterns that cannot hold water”. (Jer. 2:13). That is very typical of the baits the devil offers till this day. Sadly, many clamors for these baits only to find utter emptiness and disillusionment. Paul made a similar point about the state of those who fail to retain the knowledge of God in their hearts in Romans 1:28. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient”. Israel had experienced the glory and power of God in the 10 plagues in Egypt, culminating in the death of the first born of every Egyptian (Ex. 12:29-30), the provisions in the desert so that their sandals did not wear off (Deut. 29:5), the Red sea parted so they could cross on dry land (Ex. 14:21-22), ate food from heaven (Ex. 16:11- 15), water from the rock (Numbers 20:11), and many other miraculous signs. With all these, one would have expected the nation to hold firm to the lord. Rather they turned to idols which only brought misery and pain to their lives. Jeremiah challenged the people in Jer. 2:28 to present proof of the efficacy of the idols they have chosen to worship. Indeed, there were no proofs. They were indeed worthless idols.
In Jeremiah 2:8, we are told that the priests, leaders, and prophets, who ought to know better, tolerated the waywardness of the people. “The priests did not ask, “Where is the Lord?” Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols”. It is always a tragedy when leaders, in whatever sphere- business, politics, church, education etc. fail to carry out their functions properly. When a lecturer, for instance, passes a lady in an engineering design course in exchange for sex, he fails to grasp the full weight of his actions till a bridge designed by that same lady collapses, causing considerable loss of lives and property. Even if the people followed worthless idols, the priests, leaders and prophets ought to know better, being custodians of the law and commands of the Lord.
There was widespread display of wickedness in Judah, dishonest dealings, lies, adultery, promiscuous living, hardness of heart and failure to repent and show godly sorrow (Jer. 5:1-9). It was a situation where there was no restraint to sin. The poor were exploited by the rich and powerful. The sanctity of marriage was thrown overboard and such adultery was rife.
Q2. ARE THERE PARALLELS OF THE SINS OF JUDAH AND OUR PRESENT DAY?
Certainly, the sins of Judah parallel those of our present generation. The worthless gods of our times are money, sex and power, and those who have sold themselves to these are depraved in their hearts, thoughts, and lifestyle. Today, the greed for money has driven many into unimagined heinous crimes of drug dealings, child trafficking, pornography, murder, cheating etc. Sex is perverted through fornication, extramarital affairs (adultery), homosexual and lesbian relationships, etc. We are told in 1 John 2:15-17, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever”. Every believer who takes these words to heart will use money, sex and power to the glory of honor of the Lord. He/she understands that money, sex, and power are not the object of his/her pursuits and goal, but the Lord. In contrast, those who see these things as their ultimate goals are bound to be caught in the distortions of the devil and thereby miss eternity in the presence of the Lord.
As previously alluded, the political and religious leaders in Jeremiah’s time also got carried away with the sins of the people. The leaders lost the godly compass by which they could direct the lives of the people in the path of righteousness. It is very sad to observe the same in our time. Leadership is infectious and influential on people. Good leadership, particularly in the church, breeds a godly congregation, but bad and ungodly leadership remotes an ungodly congregation. Leaders set the tone for their congregations. They understand, for instance that when an individual brings huge sums of money to the “man of God”, he will want to know how it came about and will not wave a “hallelujah” over the proceeds of unrighteousness. How crucial in our times to have godly leaders in our churches and in our political spheres!
One other parallel is the widespread display of evil and wickedness. It reflects the signs of the last days. It cannot be better put than that spoken through Paul by the Holy Spirit: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away”. 2 Tim. 3:1-5. The believer should take particular heed to the command of the Lord to dissociate from such acts, for he has the seed of God’s righteousness in him.
Q3. WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF JUDAH’S SINS?
The consequences of Judah’s sins were described in many different ways throughout the book of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 2:15, the consequences are illustrated by a lion consuming the nation, the land being laid waste, and the towns burned and deserted. Jeremiah 4:4-6, speaks of God’s wrath coming on the nation like fire, and disaster from the north, which is Babylon. Jeremiah 4:23-31 further describes the devastation that will come on the nation. There are similar descriptions of the devastation from the Babylonian empire in Jeremiah 6:22-26 and many other verses and chapters of the book. Sin has dire consequences. The ultimate consequence of sin is death, eternal separation from God. “The soul who sins is the one who will die” Ezekiel 18:4b. One may live in a glamourous life from the proceeds of sin and wickedness, but there is no peace that accompanies that kind of life. We will be amazed to know the inner emptiness being experienced by many rich individuals who live ungodly lives. In eternity, such individuals will face the condemnation of God to hell, except they confess their sins, repent, turn from their wicked ways, and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matt. 16:26.
Q4. WHAT IS THE REMEDY FOR SIN?
Jeremiah offered only one remedy to avoid the judgement of God: “For thus saith the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings” Jer. 4:3-4. Circumcising their hearts meant that they cut off the old “skin of evil and wickedness”, and expose the “newness of a life of obedience to the Lord”. No religious camouflage will bring this about; not larger offerings; not more elaborate religious rituals; not more religious activities.
In our time, “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance… so Christ was sacrificed one to take away sins of many people… without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” Heb. 9:15, 28,22. While the remedy of sin by the blood of Christ is available to everyone, its realization comes only to those who repent of their sins and cling to this redemptive work of grace. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” Acts 2:38. Genuine repentance that emanates from godly sorrow for one’s sins and faith in the redemptive work of Christ on the cross is the only remedy for sin.
Q5. HOW CAN CHRISTIANS BE THE SPOKESPERSONS OF THE LORD?
A Christian is a spokesperson for the Lord when his/her lifestyle is modelled after Christ. With a lifestyle that is consistent with the teachings of the Lord, the believer is in the right place to speak of the saving grace of Christ which He accomplished through His death on the cross. “Therefore, seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” 2 Corin. 4:1-2. Our world is looking for believers whose message matches their actions and lifestyle.
Believers should be very prayerful, soliciting the help of the Holy Spirit, so as to know the right and appropriate word to give in different circumstances and for different people they come in contact with. There is no one ideal method or pattern of being a spokesperson for the Lord. We should rather be led by the Holy Spirit of God. As the believer is led by the Spirit of God, the message will be effective in making disciples for the Kingdom. Also, believers should endeavor to stand for the truth in their various congregations and be in a position to separate truth from error (Jer. 15:19).
DAILY LIVING APPLICATION
The message against sin and wickedness is not popular today. Some go to the extent of indicating that such messages are archaic and have no place in New Testament Christianity. Preference is given to messages on the grace of God which, as some allude, “is a blanket cover for all sins”, and the blessings of God in prospering His children. The consequence of this distortion of Scripture is that there is hardly any distinction between the believer and the unbeliever. It should not be so. In Jeremiah’s time, the nation of Judah strayed from the Lord to follow the practices of the heathen people they lived with. There was hardly any difference between the Jews and people of the land. Then God’s word came through Jeremiah, calling the people to repentance and to return to the true worship of God. The consequence of failing to do so was judgement from the Babylonian empire. A similar situation confronts us today. We must stay true to the Lord and repent of our sins, or else face the wrath of God.
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy”.
Monday: Strayed from the Lord.
Tuesday: Break up your fallow land.
Wednesday: Disaster when God’s remedy is rejected.
Thursday: The blood of Christ the only remedy for sin. Hebrews 9:11-15
Friday: Obedience is better than sacrifice.
1 Samuel 15:17-22
Saturday: Christ’s ambassadors.
2 Cor. 5:17-20