Here is what I said today when I preached in chapel on Jeremiah 6:10-21 (I didn't take the whole passage though, as you will see). While I'm on the subject, Jeremiah - what a book! We should hear more preaching from it than we do.
I wonder what we would hear if we could hear what was really being meant when we say the things we do here in chapel in response to God’s word?
When we pray what we pray
When we sing and promise God our obedience and trust
When we confess our sin to him and say we want to turn away from it.
If we could hear behind the words being said to what was actually meant, would the two be the same?
Jeremiah 6: 16-19 is a little bit like being able to do that.
What Jeremiah has given us here in these three verses is a bit like the liturgy for an anti-worship service, or a sort of mock covenant renewal service. It follows the same sort of pattern as genuine covenant renewals like the one at the end of the book of Joshua.
So, in vs. 16 the LORD invites Israel to seek after the ancient path - to walk down the road of faithfulness to him which their ancestors had, to walk the good way of the covenant, the way of rest and life. And this is the bit were in a real covenant renewal service the people would respond positively, pledging faith and obedience to the LORD. Only this time we hear what their real response is – ‘we will not walk in it’. Judah is offered the chance to live the Torah-driven life and she shakes her head and says ‘I’d rather go this way thanks’.
The pattern is repeated in vs. 17, only this time the LORD recounts how he gave them watchmen, the prophets, telling them to heed to sound of the trumpet – the impending judgment. Again the response is ‘we will not’ – Judah places her fingers in her ears.
And so now God calls witnesses, like in any covenant renewal service, only this time the witnesses are not being called to hold Judah to her promises, like in Joshua. The witnesses in the ‘mock renewal service’ are called to observe that God is just in bringing terrible terrible calamity on Judah. Vs. 19, the judgment is simply the LORD bringing the consequences, the fruit of Judah’s own evil on their own heads. Completely just since Judah has ignored the warning words of the LORD and rejected the gracious gift of the law (torah).
Of course if you were to ask the average resident of Jerusalem as he left the temple on a Saturday morning if he trusted and obeyed the LORD he probably would’ve answered with a vigorous yes, maybe slightly offended that you would ask such a question. The people in Jeremiah’s day were facing impending judgment by and large in sweet self-satisfied oblivion. They loved the temple (see Ch. 7), they were very particular and grand in their offering of sacrifices (see vs. 20).
And yet the version of the gospel they had been sold and gladly swallowed was (vs. 14) a toned down version that declared ‘peace peace’ when there was no peace, so that the warning-rebuking wounds made by the LORD were treated with a band aid of cheap grace. That’s why below the surface Judah and Jerusalem stank with the rotten smell of idolatry, greed, injustice, all the things Jeremiah puts his finger on elsewhere. Jeremiah’s mock-covenant renewal service is really there to strip away that veneer of faithfulness and show where Judah really stood in relation to the LORD, how she was really responding to the word of the LORD.
And the verdict is that she has rejected the law and ignored the prophets. That’s why our reading kicked off with those desperate words in 10.
All of which shows that it is possible to be so spiritually deaf that we don’t realise we are rejecting the gospel. It is possible to have so cheapened grace, so neglected repentance,
so smoothed over the cracks of our sin, that we think we are OK with the LORD, when in reality all the time we’re saying ‘we will not walk’ ‘we will not pay attention’.
College life means we are in constant contact with the sort of invitation the LORD makes in vs. 16 – the invitation to repent, to return to the ways of the LORD, to take Jesus’ yoke and find rest in him.
College life means we are in constant contact with the sort of warning talked about in vs. 17. The trumpet is constantly sounding in our ears because we’re constantly reading and thinking about God’s word. Few people are better aware of the danger of judgment than in this room I imagine.
And yet the danger is that we can be simply going through the motions like Judah. It looks on one level like we’re trusting in the LORD’s grace, taking our sin seriously, obeying his word, but in lots of places in our lives we look to the same old idols to give us identity, pleasure, escape, importance, and slavishly give them our love and obedience.
The danger is that familiarity breeds contempt and we become hard of hearing if not yet deaf to the LORD’s words of promise and warning. The danger is that like Judah, Jeremiah’s mock-service words better explains the response of our hearts than the words that come out of our lips.
So what should we do if we find that’s what is happening to us?
Don’t blame it on the liturgy.
This is the ‘How can I be expected to mean the same thing every day?’ attitude. And we can use that false antithesis between regularity and authenticity to excuse what is a problem with our heart’s responding to God’s word. Instead, repent and ask the LORD to unblock your ears.
Don’t blame it on repentance-fatigue.
This is the ‘Great, another thing to correct in my (delete as appropriate) theology/home life/ marriage/ study practices!’ attitude. If you’re heart is like mine then you can quickly move from that sort of legitimate feeling of having so much to sort out to absolving yourself from responsibility to apply anything. Instead repent and ask the LORD to dig you a new pair of ears.
Don’t think being a good listener is a solo pursuit.
It’s our joint responsibility isn’t it, to keep one another open to the correction and challenge of God’s word? It’s our joint responsibility to keep one another daily depending on the LORD’s grace isn’t it? We need to repent and ask the LORD to open our ears and write his law on our hearts.