The Wound of My Peopleby Ed de la Cour on August 19, 2012
Jeremiah 8: 11 - 13 "THE WOUND OF MY PEOPLE"
Not long ago, I posted a scripture to my Facebook page to which a good friend responded saying the passage applied to Israel, not to us. Trust me, I know our country is not the twenty-first century equivalent to Israel or Judah, but I also know this is God’s Word and what it says is for everyone to read and for everyone to take to heart. God speaks through His Word. On some level, every portion of the Word of God is going to apply to my life and to your life. Even an Old Testament book like Leviticus, which is probably the most culturally distant book in the Bible, can teach us about how the Lord God protects and guards His holiness. Don’t make excuses as to why you can ignore what God is clearly saying.
In our Men’s Ministry, we’ve been studying the Gospel of Mark and we noted last week when Jesus cleared the temple, He quoted a tiny phrase from Jeremiah 7: 11, that the house of God had “become a den of robbers.” Listen: << Jeremiah 7: 9 - 14 >> Isn’t it amazing how God can take just a fragment of a sentence seemingly out of context and apply those few words with laser-like accuracy to a particular situation of life? Whenever we justify our behavior, whenever we think we are safe from God’s judgment because we trust in Christ, God will apply some portion of His Word to us, just as Jesus applied this word to those people.
In Jeremiah 7, I want to call your attention to verse 13. We are fond of saying whatever is going to happen, whatever God wills, whatever He wants to happen, that is what will happen. There’s not much you and I can do about it. I don’t know how you were trained, or what Bible you read, but clearly, such thinking is not Biblical. This is fatalism and is much more characteristic of Islam than of Jesus. You believe, whatever will be, will be. God puts the lie to the concept by telling His people, “I spoke... you did not listen; I called... you did not answer.” If the future course of events were set in stone, your answer or your response to God’s invitation,
would not matter at all. But here we see clearly your response does matter. When God calls, when God invites, it is your responsibility and mine to answer the call.
When God called, time after time, after time, Judah failed to respond. As the prophet of God, Jeremiah was sent to relay to them the message God had for them << Jeremiah 7: 27 - 28 >>. When you did not respond to your parents, you were in trouble, weren’t you? When we were kids, out and about in the neighborhood, my Dad used to whistle for us to come home for dinner. If we failed to respond, we were in deep trouble. We were disciplined in some way, and sometimes seriously so. It is a tragedy when you already know the message you are bringing will fall upon deaf ears and hard hearts, because people believed the lie that says it doesn’t matter if they respond. When any person or any nation refuses to respond to God, judgment and wrath follow inevitably.
Now, please turn to Jeremiah 9: 12 - 14 << v. >>. Why has our land been ruined? We are often asked why our nation seems to be decreasing, diminishing in influence, decreasing in economic and military power, and dwindling in spiritual power as well. It’s not simply because we had a stock market crash and ran out of money. One of the sad commonalities between the contemporary American church and temple worship in ancient Judah is, like them, we also have settled for half measures. They did just enough to get by, but their hearts weren’t in their expressions of devotion. Like ancient Judah, we also possess a wilful unwillingness to see any personal responsibility for the community where we live. We figure the problems are just too big and we are too small to matter.
We use church as means of making us feel good. If we allowed the Word of God and the Spirit of God to convict us and to assign changes in our lives, then we would change and our communities would actually be better places to live. Plus, and to me this is the most important argument against this way of thinking, God placed us here to make a difference and to minister to the lost and broken. We have no business allowing cultural disintegration to paralyze us.
I have no idea if America will see the kind of military threat Judah faced, one that would wipe out our ability to defend ourselves. While that is a possibility, I do believe we are facing the disintegration of our society from within. I do not need to present a laundry list of all our problems and moral failures. I can refer simply to people I know and love. I can describe the great pain I see in their lives today. I look around at the relational breakdowns, foreclosures, unemployment, the inability to deal with the level of stress unique to our day experienced by millions. Within the last few weeks, three Christian friends called to say between them, three of their adult children and at least one other family member are divorcing. Another friend called to say his son stands accused of a very serious crime. It is true, each person makes his own decisions, but as a culture, can’t you see – we in well over our heads! We no longer possess the ability to come up for air. If we took seriously the call of God to holiness, I do not believe we would be seeing so many divorces, such a high level of domestic violence and felony arrests in the body of Christ.
Jeremiah posed the question as to why things are the way they are. Why are we declining, for example. Anyone who reads the Bible can answer the question. Anyone who studies the scriptures, who takes the message to heart, is wise enough and taught sufficiently enough to speak with authority on the subject. We are decreasing because we have turned away from God. Our straying is not recent; it did not just begin a few years ago. Our national sins are historically generational and they reach back well before we were born. Our treatment of slaves, of native peoples, our use of Manifest Destiny to force our way across the continent, the ego-driven sense of American superiority on the national and international stage all fed into these attitudes. Didn’t you read The Ugly American when you were in school?
Our culture worships and focuses on the gods at whose altar our culture worships: workaholism, addictions of every kind, sex, greed, the desire for happiness, and the shameless promotion of self. The results are an increasingly scattered and fragmented society, filled with broken relationships and on an unprecedented scale. The violence we are seeing in our communities is only the beginning of our being pursued with the sword. There will be war, and whether or not it is international in scope is irrelevant. The truth is, we will experience it.
You may reject my understanding of these chapters by saying here in America we do not worship Baal. You’re right, I do not know of any gods currently being worshiped on Cape Cod by that exact name. However, the word “Baal” is translated as “Lord,” so Baal can be any god, the definition of which is not Biblical. In Israel and Judah, many people worshiped the God of the Bible and Baal interchangeably. They believed they were just being religious, worshiping the Lord.
Idolatry does not have to mean drooling demon worshipers. Idolatry is anyone or anything you believe, or you act as though, that thing, that idea, that person, is more important to you than an intimate relationship with the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. That idea, person, or thing would be your Baal, your lord, and that is your idol.
You know when something is mentioned more than once in Scripture, we will pay particular attention and consider it of greater importance. In these early chapters in Jeremiah, I saw repeatedly this one particular thought which began to resonate in my mind as I read. I saw it repeated three times in as many chapters. In Jeremiah 6: 14, 8: 11, and 8: 22, Jeremiah speaks, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” I keep thinking, we take a cynical view of many things today, believing they are not as serious as we previously thought. The American revolutionary Patrick Henry quoted that phrase in one of his speeches. He was saying then what I am saying now: there really is no peace. We are in a deadly serious moment as a culture. We are much more concerned with insignificant things than we are in the holiness of God. We have grown more cynical and world weary as a culture and as a church. Increasingly, we see everything as relative and every action as falling into some grey area.
In Jeremiah 8: 22, the prophet asks, “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” The question stunned me. Why is there no healing? I realized he wasn’t speaking merely of healing from specific diseases as much as he was speaking of the lives of people are broken, wounded, and festering – and they are neither healed nor are they seeking to be healed. Why are families continually falling apart with such destructive intensity? Why are the stressors of life today so deeply and keenly felt? Given the level of distress, why is there so little crying out to God? Why is it so hard to get Christians to meet for prayer, to step away from their lives for an hour to seek the face of God? The incurable wound is a non-healing wound. Its root is the infection of a wicked heart habitually turning away from God. Jeremiah 17: 9 speaks of the deceitfulness – and the incurability of – the human heart. This unhealed wound manifests itself in violence, rebellion, and self-centeredness. In Jeremiah 7: 26, the Lord calls those who will not listen or respond to God, who suffer from this condition, “stiff-necked.”
We can hardly expect people who have no moral compass to behave in the same way as those who share our values. If we possess Biblical values, we don’t need to shout them – we need to live them. We need to exemplify godliness. Instead, there is precious little shame in us as we think about our behavior, no motivation for us to change our actions or our attitudes, or modify our conduct. There is no need to repent and change – many of us believe those are extremist viewpoints and verge on hate speech.
Those three women died in a hail of bullets in Dorchester last week are a graphic reminder of how violence is growing and shaping the way we respond. Boston’s only answer to violence is to beg people not to act on their anger. We have learned to hide in plain sight and to pretend this is not our problem.
Out national unemployment rate is over 8% and the economic recovery we are supposed to be experiencing is the weakest of any of the ten recessions we’ve had since World War 2. Our culture feels badly about it, but it hasn’t stopped killing 1.2 million babies in the womb each year with alarming aplomb.
Some folks are greatly disturbed by such statistics and news items. As churches, we allow ourselves instead to be caught up in internet petitions, boycotts, and the like. Those are the weapons of this world. They were not intended nor were they designed to take on the principalities and powers responsible for the corruption of our communities.
The prophet cried out, “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” Maybe because we never saw the wound as all that serious. Maybe because, like Neville Chamberlain, we are more interested in having peace in our time. Maybe because we’d rather have fun than engage in the hard work of transforming our own lives with a view to transforming the communities around us. We complain about how tired we are after a long day at work. Granted, work is tiring and we ought to be tired. But God says we cannot have it both ways. We can’t know His blessing and also hope to take the easy way out. A lot of us want God’s blessing but we’d rather pass on allowing ourselves to be confronted by the Holy Spirit about the way we are living our lives.
Leonard Ravenhill, an American preacher and evangelist, once said, “I can give you one simple reason why we don't have revival in America. Because we're content to live without it. We're not seeking God - we're seeking miracles, we're seeking big crusades, we're seeking blessings. In Numbers 11, Moses said to God, “You're asking me to carry a burden I can't handle. Do something or kill me!” Do you love America enough to say, "God, send revival or kill me?” Do you think it's time we changed Patrick Henry's prayer from, “Give me liberty or give me death,” to “Give me revival or let me die?”
Why is there no healing for the wound of my people? Whenever I read Jeremiah, the Lord stirs my heart with the sense He is speaking to me. He is speaking to me about my country, not I think the USA is a 21st century equivalent to Judah. He is saying to us He called; we haven’t responded. As a person, and as a culture, as a society, we turned away in steadfast stubbornness. Any person and any country can turn its back on God. But equally, any person and any country can make that commitment to turn back to God. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will stir more of us to engage with Him so we may be of use in the hard work of seeing Jesus change our community.
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