We’ve been talking about the vision that God is leading us towards as this local community of believers here at the Alliance Church. And we've talked about how this vision isn’t something brand new, but rather is timeless and rooted in Scripture. We talked about how we are to be motivated by God’s love, because God is motivated by love. We then talked and asked the question, “What should our response to God’s love be,” or in other words, “What should God’s love motivate us to do?”
That’s when we explored Jesus’ teaching on prayer and his two greatest commandments. Both start off with worship to God, “Hallowed be thy name,” and “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” We talked about how David in Psalm 103 says, to worship God with everything in us, so to love him is to lift his name up in worship.
Then we examined the second part of Jesus’ teaching on prayer and the second greatest commandment and we found that both dealt with need and how God is a need meeter. And because he is a need meeter and we are supposed to be like him, we are to be people who locate the need around us that God is working on and be tools of his, to meet those needs.
Finally, last week we talked about how, in all of this we are to be people who, like Jesus, point to life. And that life is the life that God has made them to be apart of. Not the life that we live, but the life that he has created them to live.
Today we’re going to finish this phase of talking about God’s vision for us with diving into the twelfth chapter of the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah chapter 12 is a chapter I know I’ve read. I know I’ve gone through it, but it’s been years since that happened. But even though I’ve read through it, I know that I’ve never been led to dive deep into it. But as I’ve sacked God how we are to finish this phase of talking about his vision for us, it fits perfectly.
As we open up to the book of Jeremiah chapter 12 verse 1, we have to understand the life that Jeremiah had. He was the son of a priest and he was called by God into the line of a prophet. Now for most people when they hear the title prophet, they think, some guy that told about the future. In reality, future predictions were a very small part of the job description. In fact, the main part of a prophet’s job was to call people out on things they were doing wrong. A prophet was to tell people that they were in rebellion against God, telling them to repent, or God would bring on judgment.
Talk about not wanting to go into work on Monday. Jeremiah was beaten, threatened often, thrown in the stocks, put on trial, forced to run for his life, publicly humiliated by a false prophet and thrown into a broken cistern, for those of you who don’t know those were used for toilets. Ah, yes, the life of a prophet, good times. Why did all this happen? Because people don’t like to hear the words the prophets had for them, because it says that we aren’t doing what God wants and we have to change. Guess what, we don’t tend to like hearing that. And that’s where God has led us today. Ready?
Let’s take a look at what God has for us in the book of Jeremiah chapter 12 verse 1. Let’s Read.
“You are always righteous, Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts. Yet you know me, Lord; you see me and test my thoughts about you. Drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter! How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished. Moreover, the people are saying, ‘He will not see what happens to us.’”
Jeremiah starts off with a plea that echoes those in the book of Psalms. I know I’ve said something similar. Have you ever just asked the question, “Why does it seem like the people who are following God, are not having as good of life as those who aren’t?” Sometimes we ask God, “Why are the people who are doing bad seem like they’re prospering and I’m over perspiring because I’m trying to follow you?”
Ever felt that way? Ever ask God those types of questions? Well, I think that God has a sense a humor and a little of playful sarcasm, a little facetiousness to himself. Because in the next verse God responds with, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?”
God’s basically telling Jeremiah, you think that’s bad just wait. If you can’t handle this little bit, how are you going to handle the hard stuff. God’s calling Jeremiah’s complaints simple and easy situations. Then in verse 6 God says, “Your relatives, members of your own family—even they have betrayed you; they have raised a loud cry against you. Do not trust them, though they speak well of you.”
It’s almost like God’s saying, “It’s worse than you think. Even the people that you think are righteous are talking bad behind your back.”
That’s when God goes on to talk about the nation of Israel, the ones that are supposed to be the Righteous ones that Jeremiah is talking about. In verse 8, God says that his people are like lions who are in the forest, talking about how they’re wild and act ferociously toward him. In verse 9 God called the people birds of prey who surround and attack. He says of his people in verse 10, that they are like shepherds who have no regard for his boundaries, but instead destroy the vineyard he has set up.
Finally God goes on to say, that they are trying to plant seeds for the future, but they’re only going to get thorns.
In other words, Jeremiah asked God about the wicked people that surrounded him and why do they prosper, but God takes it even further and tells Jeremiah, look, it’s worse off that you think. The wicked and bad people infest everything and their even the people that you called good and righteous.
In fact if we jump over to chapter 13 verse 1, God really gives Jeremiah a graphic image of how bad it is. Chapter 13 verse 1 says this,
“This is what the Lord said to me: “Go and buy a linen belt and put it around your waist, but do not let it touch water.” So I bought a belt, as the Lord directed, and put it around my waist. Then the word of the Lord came to me a second time: “Take the belt you bought and are wearing around your waist, and go now to Perath and hide it there in a crevice in the rocks.”
Who you know what a linen belt is? It’s a loin cloth or in a more modern terminology, it’s underwear. Yes, God told Jeremiah go grab a pair of underwear and I’m going to show you what the people that you think are Righteous and good are really like. So Jeremiah goes and gets the underwear and takes it almost 1,000 miles to Perath, which is the Euphrates River. The Bible says,
“So I went and hid it at Perath, as the Lord told me. Many days later the Lord said to me, “Go now to Perath and get the belt I told you to hide there.” So I went to Perath and dug up the belt and took it from the place where I had hidden it, but now it was ruined and completely useless. Then the word of the Lord came to me: This is what the Lord says: ‘In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt—completely useless! For as a belt is bound around the waist, so I bound all the people of Israel and all the people of Judah to me,’ declares the Lord,‘to be my people for my renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.’”
God’s telling Jeremiah, just like you wear underwear, and have it close to you in a very intimate way. That’s how my people are supposed to be with me. They are supposed to be near me, like underwear is to you. But instead they are like that underwear you hold in your hand, they have been completely soiled by this world.
Jeremiah was trying to get God to wake up to the wicked and bad people that Jeremiah saw around himself, but God wanted him to understand that it went further than Jeremiah could see. God could see the wickedness that Jeremiah couldn’t. It wasn't only with the nations that surrounded Israel, it wasn’t just with the ruler of Israel. The reality was that it had penetrated every aspect of God’s people and they had all become soiled.
Here’s the thing, we can be just like prophet Jeremiah. We can see all around us the wickedness and evil that is in the world. We can see other nations, we can see our leadership and point our fingers at them and say, God why do you let them prosper. But here’s the reality, God wants us to wake up to the wickedness that surrounds our own life and realize there’s just as much surrounding us as there is out there.
In Matthew 7:3 Jesus says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
Basically Jesus is saying, start at home. Talk to God about our own brokenness, our own dealings of wickedness. The problems that surround us. Because they’re there, we just might be like the prophet Jeremiah and oblivious to them. We might have rose colored glasses on and we can’t see that the vision of God isn’t being carried out in our own lives. And we need to come to a place where we are willing to acknowledge and confront the brokenness within ourselves first, because only then will we get onto the vision that God has for us.
An author by the name of Henri Nowen wrote this, “Only in the context of grace can we face our sin, only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature.”
In the presence of God, we can face the problems, the sins and the struggles in our own life, because through God’s love he sent Jesus to meet our need for a Savior. God deeply desire to bring us back into a right relationship, back into his vision. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are in a place where there is no judgment for our mistakes, no condemnation for our sins. That place is a place of healing, mercy, forgiveness and grace. And when we recognize that, we can be authentic with people, we can show them the real us, the one that struggles, the one that makes mistakes, because we are forgiven. We can begin to live the vision that God has for us, because we have become people who recognizing that all we have, is what God has done for us.
So the love that is given to us, can motivate us. The worship we give back can truly lift God up. The needs that surrounded us, we can participate in meeting them, because we understand that our own need has been located and met. And then we can point people back to the life that God has for them, because we have truly experienced that life.
See, with the prophet Jeremiah, he wanted God to strike the people down, because of their evil, because of their wickedness, but God wanted Jeremiah to wake up to the reality that surrounded him. No one was safe from God’s judgment, because everyone didn’t meet his standard of what good really was. But God also wanted Jeremiah to realize that he wanted everyone to be saved, he wanted everyone to know the love and life of God.
He tells Jeremiah in verses 14-17 that he desires that all people turn to him and enter into his life. To find themselves righteous, not by their own deeds, but by his. He says of the nations that surround them that if they would turn to him, that they would be saved. God says of Israel, that if they would turn to him, they would be saved. And God was telling Jeremiah, that his work, that his vision, was about restoring people, not destroying them.
And we are called into that same restoration work. We are called to be people who are motivated by love. God was revealing how much he was hurt by Israel turning their backs on him. He called them his heritage, the beloved of his soul, his house and his vineyard.
In turn, God wants us to care as deeply as he does for the people around us. For those wicked people that we complain about. God wants us to be people who lift him up in worship, because that’s what he says his people are supposed to do in verse 11 of chapter 13. We are to be people who show other’s what worshiping God is like, in a real and authentic way.
We are to realize that they are lost and are in need. They are in need physically, but also spiritually. Jeremiah was a prophet, and that meant he was sent to people to help them realize their spiritual need, we too are called into the lives of the people that God surrounds us with, to speak into their spiritual needs as well and meet their physical needs.
And finally, we are to be like the prophet Jeremiah, and point them back to life. Jeremiah had to learn that the wickedness surrounded him everywhere. That it wasn’t confined to a certain aspect of society, a certain people group, a certain nation. He had to learn that he was there to point people back to God, that was his job as a prophet and that’s our job as God’s people.
Because in all of this have you realized that if we call ourselves Christian, if we say that we are children of God and have been saved by Jesus, then we are closer to God than the Israelites were? We are closer to God than the underwear? We have God living inside of us and that same God who was trying to get Jeremiah to realize his job and the need that surrounded him, is the same God that lives inside us who’s crying out for us to get our eyes off what we think is going on and start looking at this world through the eyes of the God who is fighting for the hearts, minds and souls of the people.
And we might be sitting here thinking, that that is a fight for the young. Jeremiah was around 85 years old when he died, and God never told him to stop. This isn’t an age thing, this is a people of God thing. A people of God who are willing to stand up and love, like he loves us. A people who will lift him up in worship, the way he should be. A people that will open their eyes to the need that surrounds us and see him at work. And a people who will get on board with pointing people back to the life he has for them.
The question is, would you rather live in a country club church, where you get fed. Or do you want to be apart of a hospital church, where we come together as a body of believers to work with God in restoring people back to his vision?
My challenge to you this week is simple, wrestle with God. Come to terms with the wickedness that isn’t just out there, but that comes from our own lives. Have your heart break for the things that break God’s and be apart of a church that is a hospital and not a country club.