Expository Sermon on Jeremiah 17
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 9/3/2022
©2022 by Maylan Schurch
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Please open your Bibles to the book of Jeremiah, chapter 15.
Last week one of our church members told me that the book of Jeremiah isn’t a very comfortable one to spend a lot of time in. And I agree.
But when you think about it, there are some similarities between Jeremiah’s time and our time. Those were perilous times, and so are these.
I don’t know about you, but these days I don’t feel quite as safe as I used to. Part of this, I know, is that because of social media and increasing coverage, we know a lot more about what’s going on than we used to.
Shelley and I are subscribed to one of those social media apps called “Nextdoor,” in our case “Nextdoor Carriagewood.” The instant anything happens out of the ordinary in our neighborhood, somebody posts about it on the app.
And some of these news items are rather disturbing. For example, one of the neighbors noticed a car parked near the ATM I use. In the car – on one of our recent hot days – were two people wearing hoodies. They were evidently checking out the people getting cash from the ATM, some of the folks who responded to the post said that sometimes watchers like these will actually drive after someone and rob them of the cash they’ve just withdrawn. Actually, even before I heard this bit of news, I always look carefully around as I am getting my cash.
And that is only a minor kind of peril. There are a lot worse things going on, here locally and all over the world, and they all bring a deeper sense of peril to our daily lives.
As many of you know, this year I’ve been challenging you to read the Bible through to discover more about the heart of God, and challenging myself to preach on a Bible passage that comes along somewhere during that week’s reading. Well, today’s sermon is based on the reading range of a couple of weeks ago. And I discovered something so fascinating and helpful that I decided to carry it over to this Sabbath.
I’ve called this sermon “Finding God’s Heart – Peril Prescription.” Because at that time in the history of God’s people, they were indeed in really grave peril. One reason they were in great peril was that their ugly sinfulness had caused God to become frighteningly angry at them. Like any parent’s heart, God’s heart can be both deeply hurt and frightened for His children.
And He had good reason to be disturbed.
Jeremiah 15:1 – 4 [NKJV] Then the LORD said to me, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me, My mind would not be favorable toward this people. Cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth. And it shall be, if they say to you, ‘Where should we go?’ then you shall tell them, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Such as are for death, to death; And such as are for the sword, to the sword; And such as are for the famine, to the famine; And such as are for the captivity, to the captivity.” ’ “And I will appoint over them four forms of destruction,” says the LORD: “the sword to slay, the dogs to drag, the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. I will hand them over to trouble, to all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, for what he did in Jerusalem.
So this is mostly King Manasseh’s fault. What did he do? Put a marker here in Jeremiah for a moment and turn back to 2 Chronicles chapter 33.
2 Chronicles 33:1 – 9: Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. But he did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; he raised up altars for the Baals, and made wooden images; and he worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. He also built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “In Jerusalem shall My name be forever.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. Also he caused his sons to pass through the fire in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom; he practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger. He even set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever; and I will not again remove the foot of Israel from the land which I have appointed for your fathers—only if they are careful to do all that I have commanded them, according to the whole law and the statutes and the ordinances by the hand of Moses.” So Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel.
And that is pretty bad. No wonder God’s people are in peril. If the Jewish nation is sinning even more than the heathen nations sinned, this is true danger.
But what does this have to do with us? You and I are living in the “perilous times” that Paul talked about in 2 Timothy 3. But can Jeremiah, from his own perilous time, give us any help? For example, can anything Jeremiah says – or anything God says through Jeremiah – give me courage I need the next time I go to the ATM machine?
Or the next time I travel Highway 900 from Renton to Issaquah? Just this week we learned that an evidently mentally disturbed man prowls around at a couple of major intersections on that busy route, and he sometimes darts out in front of cars, and sometimes throws rocks and bottles at the windows. That’s peril of a different kind than the ATM peril, but it’s still potentially dangerous.
Well, I believe that, even in Judah’s hair-raising peril, when God seems to be almost beside Himself with frustration, even at that point, God shows He has a prescription for this peril.
We find this prescription over in Jeremiah 17. This was very surprising to me as I was reading through these chapters. Yet I believe that this prescription is just as important for us as God knew it would be for any Jewish person who took that prescription. But it’s not a prescription I would have thought of putting right here. Let’s find out what it is.
As Jeremiah 17 opens, we find God still speaking ominously about where the Jewish nation is. Notice the strong grip their sins have on them.
Jeremiah 17:1 – 10: “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; With the point of a diamond it is engraved On the tablet of their heart, And on the horns of your altars, While their children remember Their altars and their wooden images By the green trees on the high hills. O My mountain in the field, I will give as plunder your wealth, all your treasures, And your high places of sin within all your borders. And you, even yourself, Shall let go of your heritage which I gave you; And I will cause you to serve your enemies In the land which you do not know; For you have kindled a fire in My anger which shall burn forever.” Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.
Okay. That is some pretty heavy talk from God. While I don’t think there’s much of a chance that anybody in this room is as deeply mired in idolatry as the nation of Judah was at that time, God’s emotions about the danger His people are in should remind us to remember just how seriously God takes these matters.
But now, here comes what I think is tremendously surprising here in chapter 17. Look down at verse 19.
Verses 19 – 20: Thus the LORD said to me: “Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, by which the kings of Judah come in and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem; and say to them, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates.
As I was reading this last week, my ears perked up and I got alert. After all of God’s “disappointed” talk, what is He going to say now? What message is so important that it’s going to be announced at all of the Jerusalem gates? In Bible times, the gates were often where people gathered to hear court cases. That way anybody coming in or out of the city could pause and listen if they wanted to. Gates were public gathering places, where you got important information out.
What God is going to say to these people through Jeremiah is a prescription. At first glance, it’s an unusual prescription, mainly because it doesn’t exactly seem to fit here. If you or I were to write up a prescription for the people – something God wanted them to hear to change their minds and their practices – we might put it quite a bit differently.
But notice God’s prescription:
Verses 21 – 22: Thus says the LORD: “Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; nor carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.
Isn’t that interesting? Thanks to corrupt old King Manasseh, the whole nation is worshiping other gods, and subjecting themselves and even their families to the ugly, sensual, selfish wickedness which goes along with that worship.
So why does God suddenly introduce the Sabbath commandment? Is the Sabbath really a prescription which could help them in their troubles? And is it a prescription which can help us in times of peril that we might be going through today?
And notice something else about the verses we just read. You’d think that God would begin by saying something like this: “You people need a change of heart. You need to ask Me to send My Holy Spirit so that your hearts will change, and you will be able to mature into people who can keep the Sabbath the way it should be kept.”
But that’s not how God introduces His Sabbath prescription. He prescribes action first. He starts by saying, “Don’t carry burdens out of your houses on the Sabbath. Don’t carry them through the city gates. Don’t do any work.” And then, finally, He says, “Hallow the Sabbath.”
In other words, God starts His prescription by prescribing actions. And only then does He mention the heart-change. It’s as though the action will help lead to the heart-change. Jesus suggested the same thing, in John 7:17: “If any man wills to do His will, he shall know if the doctrine is from God.” Act first, and then you’ll understand.
And a little later, God repeats His prescription, and gives promises about what will happen to the people if they follow through on it. Look down at verse 24.
Verses 24 – 26: “And it shall be, if you heed Me carefully,” says the LORD, “to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever. And they shall come from the cities of Judah and from the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin and from the lowland, from the mountains and from the South, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, bringing sacrifices of praise to the house of the LORD.
Of course, the blessings that you and I will experience if we keep the Sabbath today are different ones. But maybe not so much. Notice that God says that if His people heed Him “carefully,” – and then He repeats what He said about not carrying burdens through the gates on the Sabbath and keeping the Sabbath holy – if the people follow through on this, then they are giving permission for God to be in charge. And this is always a good thing, no matter what era in Earth’s history it is.
Okay. That was then, this is now. What we do with this? How can we put this prescription to work this coming week, in our neighborhoods, at our workplaces, in our schools—and at our ATMs and down along Highway 900?
I think we need to remember just how universal this Sabbath prescription is. Back there in Jerusalem, the Sabbath prescription was for everybody – for rulers and ordinary people, for anybody who went in and out of the city gates.
And the Fourth Commandment itself says that the Sabbath wasn’t just for the Jews but for the “stranger within your gates.”
But is the Sabbath prescription just as universal today? Of course it is. Way back on Day Seven of creation, long before there was any kind of earthly peril, back there when Adam and Eve still had perfect minds and sinless hearts, God created the world in six days, and then prioritized Sabbath rest. He Himself rested on the seventh day, and not only that, but blessed it and made it holy.
And if you are a descendent of Adam and Eve, the Sabbath is still a therapeutic prescription for you.
And I believe that God is saying the same thing to us that He said to the people in Jeremiah’s time. I think He’s saying, “Don’t simply mentally agree with the Sabbath. Don’t simply say that it is a good idea, that it makes sense.”
No, I think that God is saying the same thing to us that he did to the people of Jeremiah’s time: “Act on the Sabbath truth. Do Sabbath things. And don’t do non-Sabbath things.
God says, “Leave your work laptop closed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday night. Remember that I Myself rested on this day. Act this out. Do this so people in your neighborhood will know that there’s some reason why you don’t go to your job, or mow your lawn, or work on your house, or pull weeds, on this day. Because they’re members of the human race too—and the Sabbath is for them as well.”
Every Sabbath morning, when you dress up in nicer-than-normal clothing and go out and get into your car and drive away, your neighbors sense that you are doing something out of the ordinary on that day.
So why is the Sabbath important? Once a week, the Sabbath brings us under God’s guidance. Human beings did not invent the Sabbath – God did. Following King Manasseh’s lead, the people of Judah went off the rails, and worshipped the sun and the moon and the gods who represented them. They acted out the worship of those gods.
But the Sabbath belongs to the Lord. As the bright Sabbath sun-band wraps around the planet, that day becomes God’s day, whether people know it or not.
The Sabbath also urges us to choose whether to bring God and his plans and ideas into our lives. Back there in Jerusalem, after they heard what Jeremiah had to say, anybody who stopped bearing a burden on the Sabbath, or stopped working on the Sabbath, would be making it very clear whose they were, and whose side they were on.
Another thing the Sabbath does is to remind us of God’s creation. The imaginary “other gods,” or the impossible evolutionary processes, did not create us. We are not sustained by other gods. And we are not living where there is no Divinity, period. We are not clinging desperately to this planet’s crust, waiting to die.
No, we were created, and are sustained, by the God who provides not only life and intelligence, but also the many resources which keep us alive and enhance our lives.
You see, these very hours which we are living through on this Sabbath day, give us permission to relax into the Now. The non-Sabbath-keeper hasn’t sensed that permission. People who don’t understand all that the Sabbath means are tempted to keep nervously glancing ahead into next week, trying to leverage today’s passing moments to make more money, provide their family more security, or just basically survive.
But people who understand the Sabbath know that God will take care of us. One of my Christian parents’ favorite songs was,
Be not dismayed whate’er betide
God will take care of you
Beneath His wings of love abide
God will take care of you
God will take care of you
Through every day, o’er all the way
He will take care of you
God will take care of you
My parents knew that song, and they lived that song. And God gives us the Sabbath to teach us this very same truth—He will take care of us. No matter what we’re facing, He will get us through it. When we honor His Sabbath, we’re forsaking any other god or idol, and we’re pledging allegiance to Him.
And by understanding what the Sabbath truly means, we are able to have an incredibly firm grasp of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, about how God cares for us far more than sparrows, and therefore we don’t have to worry about tomorrow, if we follow in His footsteps.
It’s like a prescription medication you’d get at a pharmacy. Normally the bottle comes with a detailed instruction sheet. And if I read and follow those instructions, I should be fine.
And I believe that if you and I put God’s specific Sabbath prescriptions into use, this will powerfully deepen our spiritual health. And it will be an antidote to the peril of these last days. The Sabbath of Eden will remind us week after week that one day soon Jesus will return and take us home.
How about you? Can you see just how powerful a prescription the Sabbath was for the perils of Jeremiah’s time? And can you see how powerfully this same Sabbath, created and commanded by this same God, can soothe our hearts tomorrow and Monday and onward?