- Jeremiah 26:1-15;
- Matthew 24:1-14
Dear family of God,
The house opposite to the manse is for sale. A group of interested buyers to have a look. On their way back to the car, one remarked, “Look, you would live close to the Presbyterian Church; you could start attending church!” With disgust, the answer came, “Do you think I am one of those?” The whole group cracked up in laughter.
I watched this trough one of our windows. The first thought in my mind was, “Does the church deserve such scorn and derision?” Perhaps we do. For example, the Royal Commission on Child Abuse indeed made the church look bad. Who would entrust their children to church workers to abuse them endlessly? The cruel assault of people in authority over children in their care is deplorable; it inevitably brought disrepute to the Name of our Lord.
But contempt for Christ and his church is as old as the mountains. Our chapter from Jeremiah (26:1) is set in the time of King Jehoiakim. Let’s see what is recorded about this young king about at the end of the kingdom of Judah.
The perilous race down the hill
The rot really set in during the kingship of Manasseh, who ruled for 55 years. His son, Amon succeeded him and rule for only two years. We are now about in the final 50 years of Judah’s kingdom.
Josiah, his son, reformed the worship of God’s people back to the old days. He refurbished the temple, found the Book of the Law, restored the Passover. He was king for thirty-one years. The Bible says of him:
Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. (2 Kings 23:25)
Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, became King in 609 B.C. and reigned for only three years. He was evil and reintroduced idol worship. His brother, Jehoiakim, then became king. We are now in the last thirteen years of Judah.
Jehoiakim continued to drag the people deeper into sin. His son, Jehoiachin, was only eighteen when he became king, and he lasted only three months, before his uncle, Zedekiah, took over from him. He too could not wait to further lead the people into covenant-breaking.
Then came the end. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in 587 B.C.
During the time we just discussed, the kingdom of David shrunk to a dot on the landscape not bigger than our local municipal area.
Hatred for the truth of God’s Word
We go back to the first verse in Jeremiah 26. Jehoiakim just got on the throne. He hated the Word of God.
There was a prophet-friend of Jeremiah, named Uriah. He message was the same as that of Jeremiah. The king heard about this and wanted to put him to death. Uriah fled to Egypt, but the king sent a group of men to Egypt to capture him. They brought him back and struck him with the sword. His body was just “thrown” into the graveyard of the common. No state funeral for the messenger of the King of heaven!
Into the den of robbers
These were the circumstances under which the Lord commanded Jeremiah to go to the temple to proclaim God’s Word. What is recorded here in chapter 26 is a summary of the original sermon of chapter 7. Inside the temple, the usual offensive drivel of the false prophets continued. People brought their sacrifices, and put their money in the plate, but they remained in their sin.
Outside, however, stood God’s true prophet. He was on God’s mission:
Stand in the courtyard of the Lord’s house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the Lord. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. (Jeremiah 26:2)
That’s what true prophets of God do, they speak Gods words, nothing more and nothing less. They do not hold back, irrespective of who might be in the audience.
Jeremiah went with the anticipation God had put in his heart. Maybe the people will repent and turn back to God. O, this is what is driving all preachers of the Word of God. Maybe! We don’t know with whom God has an appointment today, so we preach the word with expectation. Perhaps!
Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways. Then I will relent and not inflict on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done. (Jeremiah 26:3, NIV)
The message is that of hope and restoration. If sinners repent, God will repent. Really? Will God repent? Can God change his mind? Yes, but let’s add some qualification: in essence, God changes his mind because He cannot change his mind. How does it work? He is God of the covenant. This covenant is an agreement on which God will not come back. What is the deal? He will punish the rebellious sinner, but He will show mercy to those who repent. This showing of grace does not mean that God changed his mind; it only means that He is not changing the terms of the agreement. Him giving forgiveness is not a new condition which catches Him unawares; it was part of the original stipulations.
Of what did they need to repent? This is the charge:
Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? (Jeremiah 7:9–11)
Jeremiah stands in the den of robbers, preaching to the rebels, proclaiming every word God commanded him to say. He continues:
While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. (Jeremiah 7:13–15, NIV)
Over and over again, God sent his true prophets to call his people to repentance. If we don’t know what our sin is, we don’t know what to repent of. But soothsaying prophets say nothing about sin. It’s all about peace and peace. Their security lied in the temple—for as long as the temple is standing, God will surely not abandon his people. So, they used the place as a spiritual bomb shelter. Is there a future for this kind of religion?
Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors. I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’
What happened in Shiloh? It was in the days of Eli and his godless sons, Hophni and Phinehas, before God called his true prophet, Samuel. The Philistines overran the place. The Ark was captured and Israel lived under the constant threat of the murderous Philistines. There was nothing left in terms of worship in Shiloh.
But the people hardened their hearts. They grabbed the prophet Jeremiah and wanted to kill him.
Truth hurts! When sin is exposed, the sinner hurts. It reveals the heart, as well as the true nature within where no one can see, but God. Yet, it is the closest point for redemption. When we stand defenceless before God, two things are possible: we either confess our sin and so be saved, or we clamp our jaws and explode in anger. We either fall on our knees, or we shoot the messenger.
This is exactly what the priests and the self-appointed prophets did.
“This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!” (Jeremiah 26:11)
Those with the death sentence pronounced over them, turned around and transferred their judgment upon the prophet of God. No repentance, no mercy. They came close, yet they lost the opportunity, not only for themselves but also for the people.
He who does not know history will repeat its mistakes
Some in the crowd recalled the history of Hezekiah when Micah was the prophet a hundred years or so earlier. The Assyrians were at the doorstep of Jerusalem. The message from the Lord was the same. What did the king do then? Hezekiah sought the face of the Lord in prayer:
“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.” (Isaiah 37:18–20, NIV)
Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! (Isaiah 37:36, NIV)
The choice: innocent blood or the truth?
After Jeremiah delivered his sermon, knowing they that could kill him like they killed Uriah, declared:
As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.” (Jeremiah 26:14–15, NIV)
Then 600 years into the future, our Lord found himself in the temple king Herod restored. It was a spectacular building. The worship, however, was dead. It once again became a den of robbers. Then, unexpectedly and mostly to the embarrassment of his disciples, Jesus walked out, never to return. He prophesied about it, and his prophecy was no different from Jeremiah’s prophecy.
“Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2, NIV)
And our Lord then gave his disciples this warning:
“Watch out that no one deceives you. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. (Matthew 24:4-5, 10–11)
The Jewish leaders could not stomach the teaching of Christ. They could not see themselves make a choice between truth and heresy. Their decision was innocent blood. They did not kill Christ, He gave Himself as the final sacrifice to bring sinners to God. He is the truth, the Way and the Life. He is the only way to God. When He comes again, he will give us the new Jerusalem, the city without a temple (Revelation 22:21), because God will dwell with the people. Jerusalem and the temple were turned into rubble by the Romans in 70 A.D.
Conclusion—the ongoing battle
In 1517, next week just over 500 years ago, Martin Luther exposed the heretical errors of the Roman Church. In 1521 he was summoned to stand trial before the officials of civil government and church. They sought his blood like the leaders sought the blood of Jeremiah. Once again, it was a choice between the truth and innocent blood. It was a choice between the true Word of God or the false teachings of Rome. When asked if a collection of books on the table was Luther’s and if he was ready to revoke their heresies, Luther requested more time for a proper answer. He got an extension until the next day at 4 p.m. Luther then said that he had prayed for long hours and consulted with friends. He came to this conclusion:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason… I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
By God’s grace, Luther eventually walked free. But what he started, spread like a wild-fire over the continent and all over the world. It was the beginning of the Reformation.
The people inspecting my neighbour’s house scorned the church of Christ. I pray for them, but their attitude is not new. Not before they know the truth about Christ and his Word, and understand repentance and forgiveness, they and others will oppose the Kingdom of God. May God give them grace. Amen.