Jeremiah 26:8-9 “But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets, and all the people seized him and said, ‘You must die! Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?’ And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.”
The people to whom Jeremiah preached God’s law objected that the prophet was wrong to preach it to them. They were living in denial about their sins. What they needed was an honest diagnosis. That is what Jeremiah had just given them. He scatters a list of their sins across his book: oppressing the poor, having the innocent put to death and seizing their possessions, fraud and dishonesty, illicit and perverted sex, mixing the worship of the true God with false religions. All of these were symptoms of the core problem the Lord sent Jeremiah to confront on this day: “You do not listen to me and follow my law… and you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets…” (26:4-5).
The symptoms haven’t changed all that much, have they? You hear that even Christians fail to practice proper sexual values often enough. Whether TV and the internet are major contributors to the problem or merely reflect it, the problem still lies with us. Materialism makes us willing to walk all over other people for the sake of a buck, and it has been doing so for at least a century in our country. I once read an article by one of the fathers of our church, August Pieper, in which he complains that people in our country seem to assume that the purpose of life is to make as much money as you can. The article was from the 1910’s. According to one survey, the average person lies about twice each day. Over half of those seeking jobs lie on their resumes. Yet people of every political bent raise red flags about “fake news,” as though it is something we shouldn’t expect. The day is coming when no one will be able to trust anyone anymore.
These are all still symptoms of ears that don’t want to listen to God and hearts that don’t trust him. The people to whom Jeremiah preached would not have denied many of the things Jeremiah accused them of. Yes, they thought differently about sex than their prudish ancestors. Yes, they were more open minded and tolerant about religion and didn’t see anything wrong with participating in the ceremonies at other places of worship. They didn’t have anything against poor people, but business was business, and you didn’t expect them to take a loss for such a bunch of no-names, did you? They wouldn’t deny that they did these things. They just didn’t see what was wrong with them.
That’s why they objected to Jeremiah’s prognosis. “Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and ruined?” Shiloh was the place where God had lived with his people about 400 years earlier. There he took up a special, gracious presence with them. About 400 years before Jeremiah, God abandoned that place.
You don’t want God to cut off his gracious presence and blessing like that. It is a foretaste of hell. When we embrace our sins, defend them, and will not repent, eventually God says, “If you don’t want me and my ways, then go your own. But don’t expect me to come along. I will leave you alone, just as you asked.”
When we live in denial about the reality of our sins and the seriousness of their consequences, we are choosing to live in a fantasy world with an illusion of personal goodness and eternal security. When God’s law shatters those illusions of goodness, it hurts. But then we are ready to receive the real thing.
Not everything about Jeremiah’s message that day was negative. “Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: ‘The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you’” (vs. 12-13).
The Lord did not want to abandon these people, destroy their city, or lose them eternally. He does not want to drive us further away. He wants to wake his people up. Tough love isn’t a modern invention of Christian psychotherapy or the recovery movement. God was practicing it with his Old Testament people in 600 B.C.
That is because the Lord wanted to relent and see his people prosper. He still does. He takes no morbid pleasure in seeing people suffer. He won’t promise us cross-free life. Sometimes we need our burdens, and he doesn’t want us to mistake earth for heaven. But he does want us to know the peace and security of his forgiving grace. As forgiven people he wants us to find his abundant supply. As people of faith he wants us to trust his angelic protection. He doesn’t want us to miss the benefits that come to those whose hurts have been healed by his love.
Sometimes the doctor warns, “This is going to hurt,” before he proceeds to address my problem. But I usually feel better after I go to him. A few moments of pain lead to long term relief. We feel better when God has cut us deeply with his law so that his healing grace can penetrate deeply into our souls and fortify our faith. God give us ears that hear and hearts that believe, even when his message hurts.