Perhaps When the People Hearby Ed de la Cour on August 7, 2011
August 7, 2011 Jeremiah 36: 1 - 3 "Perhaps When The People Hear"
One of the greatest areas where we American Christians fail is our firm belief that America is such a blessed nation that we will never suffer judgment at the hand of God. Throughout our history, we have known blessing upon blessing -- even though our country was severely tested in a great civil war. But that was a very long time ago. Today we think we are being carried forward on the strength of all those past victories. What slavery, greed, racism, Nazism, and communism failed to do, we are accomplishing all by ourselves by ignoring the warnings contained in God's Word. God's many prophets have spoken on His behalf about the plain facts of our current national situation, but we will not listen.
The sad and tragic truth is that we have not taken God seriously. Oh, we will show up at church from time to time in order to give lip service to our faith, but we have simply and steadfastly refused to change our ways. As a rule, we have chosen to live for ourselves and not live for the Savior who, on the cross, paid the debt for our sin and rebellion. We speak religiously out of one side of our mouths but our lives are lived very differently. As a people, we are living in a painfully serious moment right now. We desperately need to listen to what God is saying to our nation and respond to Him.
I have been reading devotionally in several places in the Bible this past year, but I have to say that my attention has been arrested by the prophet Jeremiah as it has never been before. I’ve read the book at other times, but this time, my heart has been struck by the timeliness of God’s Word directed to me and to us. As we move through our lives day by day, we don’t seem to have found many compelling reasons to take God’s Word personally or seriously or deeply. My prayer is that today will be different.
It’s easy for us to criticize and call this politics, but Jeremiah was speaking the Word of God to his nation and to the political powers that ruled that nation. If you are thinking this will be only a political message, then I would encourage you instead to take this personally, not politically, and respond to it as if God were speaking directly to you and not to millions of other people out there.
If you are driving on the road later today and you notice oncoming traffic blinking their high beams in your direction, you know as well as I that signal is a warning. You have to interpret that signal, don’t you? Perhaps those drivers are warning you of an accident just ahead. Or, maybe there is a speed trap. In any case, what you do next will say a great deal about how seriously you receive warnings. I believe God has been giving us very similar warning signals for many years. Most people have not only ignored them, they are driving just as fast and living just as recklessly as ever before.
What happened during the course of Jeremiah’s prophecy is that God, even at this eleventh hour, offered His people opportunity after opportunity to repent, one more last chance to change their minds and their behavior, one more moment to move in a different direction as a nation. This small portion we just read represents this one last attempt on the part of God to move His people toward repentance, toward righteousness, and away from impending judgment.
Jeremiah had about a forty year ministry, beginning during the reign of King Josiah. But now, we have arrived at the tragic end of Judah’s history as a nation. The Lord moved yet one more time to plead with His people. At the risk of being repetitious, God asked Jeremiah to write down once more every word from God he had received since he began his ministry in the days of King Josiah. Jeremiah dictated the Words God gave him to his scribe Baruch and they produced a lengthy scroll that was to be read to Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, who was now the king of Judah.
The pertinent and key word in verse 3 is, “perhaps.” Perhaps the people of God will turn and change their ways. Perhaps, maybe, if only the people of God, the people who populate the churches, who sit in the pews, perhaps they will listen, perhaps they will heed, maybe they will take to heart the gracious offer God is presenting to them. Perhaps – not that God-haters would change their minds, but perhaps those who are known far and wide to be followers of God, those who are called by His name, those who are supposed to know His ways and be well acquainted with His Word – perhaps they will turn away from their wicked ways and repent.
God is seeking to show mercy here, isn’t He? While there will certainly be consequences if their behavior does not change, it is as though God was hoping against hope that they would repent. This reminds me of Exodus 34: 6 - 7, where the Lord declared: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” Contrary to what many people think, God is not driving around the universe looking for people to whack. The truth is that God is looking for people to forgive! In Jeremiah, we are seeing God doing what God has always done: God seeks to show mercy.
Again, in Ezekiel 18: 32, God says, “‘For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone,’declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” People laughed at this, but God didn’t laugh when Osama bin Laden died. God doesn’t laugh when Navy SEALs die when their helicopter is shot down. God doesn’t laugh when a driver with too much to drink dies at the wheel of his car. God wants to save, He wants to show mercy. If only we would listen to Him, turn away from our sin and wickedness and receive His forgiveness.
If people listen to what God is saying, they will know that nothing good is heading our way. God says a disaster is coming, and I believe He should know. Verse 3 goes on to show that God has planned to “inflict” disaster on His own people, not because He delights in disaster, but because His people have turned their backs on God. He used words like “inflict disaster” to demonstrate that those who heard this were living in complete denial. They showed no fear of God. There is no realization in our community today that would indicate God is to be honored or obeyed.
If we turn our attention just a paragraph or so earlier, Jeremiah 35: 17, there the Lord made this strong statement: “‘Listen! I am going to bring on Judah and on everyone living in Jerusalem every disaster I pronounced against them. I spoke to them, but they did not listen; I called to them, but they did not answer.’” We have all seen parents trying to make their children behave. They speak over and over, sometimes they yell, but the kids still do what they want to do. “I’m warning you! I’m going to count to three... one... two... I really mean it this time.” It doesn’t take long for the child to learn there are no consequences for rebellious behavior. The children have learned to whine but not to obey. The kids will complain but they will not do what they are told. The inconsistency of parental behavior produces bad behavior in their children. But God is not like us. God is not a dysfunctional parent. That may come as a great surprise to us who live every day in the midst of societal and cultural dysfunction.
I saw a news article this week about a lake in Texas that was drying up because of the great drought they are having there. What little water was left in the lake had turned red. A pastor preached a sermon that this is a sign of the end. Whether it is a sign of the end is not the point. The call of God to you and me is to repent and to turn away from our predisposition to ignore God and to continue to live in wickedness. Because there is no fear of God in the land, the media laughed at the pastor. But do you honestly expect those who have no love for God to endorse an invitation to repair our relationship with God? The call to prayer that went out across the nation for yesterday in Houston was laughed at in the press while others decried the event as completely inappropriate; but, again, that is not the point. The point is not whether people laugh or become angry, the point is turn to God. The point is repent of your sin, because disaster is coming.
God said, I spoke; no one listened. I called; no one answered. We heard the phone ring and we saw who was on caller ID. There is no reply from a smug and self-satisfied America. There is no response from a Cape Cod that is taken up with our own busy lives. God is not just looking for someone to pick up the phone. Look again at verse 3: “Perhaps... each of them will turn from his wicked way; then I will forgive their wickedness and sin.” God is not looking for a token response where two or three, or a few stragglers decide late in the game to surrender and come over to God’s side. He is seeking you, all of you, to turn our lives over to Him. God was looking for Judah as a nation to come back to Him. He is seeking a great response from our town, from Cape Cod, and from our nation – not to mention you and me.
That is the way God works. The repentance of God’s people always precedes their forgiveness. When we come to grips with the fact that this is not just more of the same, but that we are living in a time that is historically unlike anything we’ve seen before. Unless we take a stand in our own homes and in or own hearts, our nation will not survive and neither will we.
So Jeremiah dictated and Baruch transcribed. It must have taken a very long time to finish the scroll. Finally, in verse 8, Baruch read the completed scroll in the presence of the people in the Lord’s temple. Then the scroll was delivered to the king and it was read in the king’s presence. As the scroll was being read to the king, after every three or four columns were read, the king took a knife, cut the columns off and threw the Word of God into the fire to be consumed by the flames.
I think I might know why the king burned the scroll. He wasn’t bothered by the Word of God. It didn’t apply to him; he had gone to church that Sunday! Just like him, we present an appearance of moral one-upmanship rather than a tear-stained face of repentance. We’re bothered by world events. We’re bothered by raising the debt limit. This world bothers us politically, but we are not broken in our hearts.
God understands that we are hard to reach. He instructed Jeremiah to take yet another scroll and to replicate everything he had written the first time. How many chances shall we expect? Maybe the king thought that if he burned the inconvenient truth, he could make it disappear. A lot of us think that if we ignore the Word of God, it will go away. If we run away, God will never find us. That is a foolish strategy. Maybe you can burn the Word. Maybe you can trash God’s Word. Maybe you can try to erase the Word of God from the face of the earth. You can run but you cannot hide from God. God’s Word is eternal. God’s Word is everlasting. God’s Word cannot be destroyed and it will be fulfilled.
What God offered Jerusalem through the ministry of Jeremiah, God is offering to you and me today. You read the news and you know that all over this world people are experiencing unprecedented misery. Whole nations are on the verge of economic collapse. Even our own nation has, for the first time in its history, found its economic house under scrutiny. Millions of Americans are out of work and unable to pay their bills or feed their families. Hundreds of thousands cannot pay their mortgages. Home foreclosures are on the verge of skyrocketing in a way we’ve never seen before. Families are in distress and people are acting out their frustrations with beatings and abuses, with drugs and alcohol. Are you going to laugh like this king laughed when God is asking you to turn to Him and to turn away from your allegiance to your own ways?
God is making an offer to forgive us today. God is always looking for people to forgive and you look like you could use a double dose of God’s love this morning! You, all of Cape Cod, and all of America stand on the brink of a disaster. If there ever was an eleventh hour, this is it. When Noah built the ark and the animals came to find safety within it at God’s direction, the people who stood around laughed. The door of the ark stayed open and the invitation to receive salvation was extended. But one day, God closed the door, the rains came, and the flood was released. Don’t be on the outside looking in when that day arrives on Cape Cod.
Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr.
First Baptist Church of Pocasset
298 Barlows Landing Road
Post Office Box 1080
Pocasset, MA 02559
Church Office: 508-563-3164