Jeremiah 3

Sermon preached on 25th November 2012

Repent and believe the gospel!

English: King Josiah by Julius Schnoor von Car...

English: King Josiah by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What was the Old Testament prophet like?  Although they occasionally did strange things they were not eccentrics.    They were men (or women) of their culture and time, often educated people of standing in their community.   Their work was to interpret God’s word to their generation and call the people back to God. 

Jesus described the work of the prophets in Luke 13,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” [Luke 13:34]

If the people had listened to the message of the prophets then God would have protected them by gathering them like a mother hen gathers her brood under her wing.   The tragedy was that more often than not the message was rejected … ultimately with terrible consequences.

Jesus stood in this prophetic tradition and called the people back to God:

The time has come,” he said, “The Kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news.”  [Mark 1:14,15]

The people of Jesus day were spiritually in a very similar place to the people of Jeremiah’s day.   Jesus called his generation “an evil and adulterous generation,” [Matt 12:39]; a “faithless generation,” [Mark 9:19]; and a “generation of vipers,” [Matt 23:33].  Jesus was not trying to win a popularity contest – having said which he was very popular with the ordinary people.  But he knew the need was for true repentance and turning to God in faith.

Jeremiah had described his generation in similar terms and, likewise, called them to repentance (or to return):

Return, faithless Israel,” declares the LORD, “I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,” declares the LORD. [Jeremiah 3:12]

To understand Jeremiah 3 we need to know more of the historical context.  In v6 we are told this prophecy was in the reign of King Josiah.  Josiah was a good king.  During his reign the Book of the Law was discovered (2Kings 22:8).  Most scholars agree that it was Deuteronomy or at least part of Deuteronomy which was found.  As Deuteronomy was read out to Josiah he became greatly alarmed because much of Deuteronomy talks about the consequences of forsaking God.  So Josiah initiated a spiritual reformation. Many of the idols on the high places were destroyed; worship according to the Torah and festivals such as Passover were re-established.  Jeremiah was a young man at the time and we can imagine how encouraged he must have been by Josiah’s policies.  Imagine … instead of arguing about women bishops, the Church of England, the Queen and David Cameron all got together and decided it was time for spiritual reformation and, for example, called for a national day of repentance.  Imagine how encouraged we would be!

However there was a problem.  Jeremiah realized that although Josiah’s reforms were a step in the right direction there was no heart repentance among the people.   After Josiah died the people quickly reverted back to their idolatry.  So we read,

“Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense ” declares the LORD. [Jeremiah 3:10]

Their repentance was counterfeit and this is what Jeremiah was up against.  So what is true repentance?

1.       True repentance results in a changed life

Have you not just called to me: ‘My Father, my friend from my youth, will you always be angry?  Will your wrath continue forever?  This is how you talk but you do all the evil you can.” [Jeremiah 3:4-5]

The people went along with Josiah’s reforms because they respected him, but because it wasn’t real heart repentance, or real faith in God, it didn’t change their lives.  They talked the talk – they called God “My Father” (– incidentally this is one of the few chapters in the Old Testament which refer to the Fatherhood of God –) but they didn’t walk the walk – they continued to do all the evil they could.  Saying, “Our Father who art in heaven” on its own isn’t enough.

True repentance means we will be genuinely affected and sorrowful before God for our actual sins, like David when he committed adultery:

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” [Psalm 51:4]

Our sorrow is not just because we have been found out, or because other people disapprove, but because we come to see our sins as God sees them!  This is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.

True repentance leads to a changed life.  John the Baptist called the people to,

 “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” [Matt 3:8]

The people in Josiah’s day were happy to go along with the religious reforms but generally speaking there was no fruit in keeping with repentance.   The reforms for most were just an outward religious show.  They were a people who had a form of religion but denied the power.  The fact is that religion can be just a work of the flesh and can be used as a cloak to cover even the most grotesque of sins!  Religion may appease the conscience a little but God sees the heart and calls us to true repentance from our sin.  Jesus said to the people in his day,

“This people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” [Mark 7:6]

Their repentance wasn’t real; it was only lip service and an outward show of religiosity.

2.       True repentance is wholehearted

“Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretence.” [Jeremiah 3:10]

Judah did not return to God with all her heart.  There was a response but it was not wholehearted. True repentance involves a wholehearted response to God.   It is a complete turning from sin to God.  It is putting Christ first in every area and giving Him our heart completely.  The psalmist said,

“Blessed are those … who seek him with their whole heart.” [Psalm 119:2]

If our repentance isn’t wholehearted we still have a divided heart.  Spiritually, it’s like being married and having lots of affairs at the same time.  That sort of marriage isn’t going to last very long!

Half-hearted repentance is like coming to God on our terms rather than on His terms.  It’s like the robber who decided the following code of practice: I will not kill anyone unless I have to; I will rob only at night; I will not wear a mask; I will rob only seven months out of the year; I will only rob from the rich to give to the poor.  He felt he was a good thief!   However when he was caught and tried in the court he was judged by a rather different set of standards!  We will not be judged by our standards but by God’s standards, and we can only truly repent when we come to recognize His standards and how far we have fallen from them.

3.       True repentance involves confession of sin

“Only acknowledge your guilt – you have rebelled against the LORD your God.” [Jeremiah 3:13]

In true repentance we willingly confess our sin to God.

Imagine God to be like a rich Prince who wants to give all his subjects a new set of clothes.   Yet we look at our own clothes and think they are good enough, so we refuse.  In true repentance we confess that our ‘clothes’ are shabby and realize that even our own ‘clothes of righteousness’ are insufficient before a holy God.

Isaiah said, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a filthy rag.” [Isaiah 64:6]

What we need to realize is that God isn’t holding a stick over our heads threatening us with terrible judgment unless we repent.  He is holding out his love; He’s holding out a new set of clothes, the righteousness found in Christ alone.   God is longing for us to confess so He can cloth us with Christ.  He does this because He is kind,

Surely you know that God is kind, because he is trying to lead you to repentance. [Romans 2:4 GNB]

But a lot of people don’t realize that God is kind!

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [1Jn 1:9]

4.       True repentance involves a changed heart

“Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” [Jeremiah 3:22]

True repentance is a gift from God and brings spiritual regeneration.    In chapter 24 Jeremiah says,

“I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.”   [Jeremiah 24:7]

Turning over a new leaf is insufficient; New Year’s resolutions are insufficient; we need a new heart!  Jeremiah described the sinful state of the human heart,

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?” [Jeremiah 17:9]

The root problem with our politics, our economy and with just about everything else, isn’t the system – there are advantages of a capitalist system, and there are advantages of a socialist system, as well as faults in both: our main problem is our corruption by sin.  Sin beyond human cure, so we need God, and we need a new heart.  Jesus called this the new birth.  Jesus was surprised Nicodemus didn’t know about these things; as a teacher in Israel he should have done, from passages like Jeremiah 24 [see John 3].   Why don’t people these days know about these things?  Because, by and large, the Church doesn’t preach them!

True repentance is spiritual heart surgery, as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts, convicting us, leading us to repentance, which releases us and sets us free from the sin which has bound us, giving us a new heart so we can put our faith and trust in Christ.

This is the gospel: repent and believe the good news!

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One Response to Jeremiah 3

  1. Pingback: Little Sins « HodgePodge

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