CRACK OR CRACKDOWN TIME
Lord, keep me from empty religious works.
Read JEREMIAH 7:1–20
False Religion Worthless
7 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:
“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. 3 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” 5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
9 “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.
12 “‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. 14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors. 15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’
16 “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you. 17 Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes to offer to the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to arouse my anger. 19 But am I the one they are provoking? declares the Lord. Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?
20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: My anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place—on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the crops of your land—and it will burn and not be quenched.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (Jas. 1:22). As the likely pastor of the church in Jerusalem, James fully understands the upshot of this passage as well as our temptation to lapse into dead religious works.
Here, Jeremiah is speaking out to those who are actually walking into the temple. The key issues again are choice, the avoidance of hypocrisy, plus an understanding of realities and priorities. The choice is the same, reinforced by the series of “ifs” in verses 5 and 6. If they repent and “really change” their ways, then they can make it through the still-open crack in the door to the “good way.” If not, then they face God’s crackdown. To live a life of open hostility to God’s clearly revealed will and then walk into the temple as if they own the place is (to say the least) hypocritical. It appears that Jesus has been reading this passage before issuing his own comments about the temple of his day also being a “den of robbers” (11). It is reassuring sometimes, when we encounter Old Testament passages like this, to remember that Jesus thought they were worth reading and applying!
Jeremiah’s listeners are convinced of the value of religious ceremony and ritual, conformity to which would force God to bless them. But the prophets in unison declare that the temple and the whole sacrificial system have meaning only in the context of a heartfelt relationship with God and a sincere adherence to his covenant. This doesn’t mean the system is bad, but rather that without such a context religious activity is a waste of time. If we don’t share God’s concerns for justice, righteousness and the needs of the poor, then clearly we don’t really know him. Anyone—whether in Judah or in today’s church—who thinks that religion and lifestyle are separate entities that can be kept in separate compartments is sadly mistaken.
Followers of Jesus today are “God’s temple”; “God’s Spirit dwells” in them. Does my life and my lifestyle reflect that reality?
Lord, I fully understand that there is no substitute for a day-to-day walk as an obedient sheep following Jesus, that Great Shepherd of the sheep (Heb. 13:20).
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