A LOST GENERATION: WHAT WILL OUR RESPONSE BE?

One of the great temptations in the Christian life is to know what to do and then ignore it. Hypocrisy is always a present danger. We’re not talking about never making mistakes or falling short. Hypocrisy is an attitude of false security and an indifference toward behaving in an ethical and moral manner. Hypocrisy is fostered when there is a sense of spiritual entitlement rather than a heart of gratitude and appreciation because we are God’s children. This is reflected in our behavior. Here in Jeremiah 7, and the first three verses of chapter eight we have a change in the literary genre. We move to a narrative section of the book from the poetic, which we have seen in the first six chapters. This section is actually one of Jeremiah’s temple sermons. Jeremiah is challenging the people of his day to respond to God’s message of warning. Here we find in this warning message three movements that are designed to teach us the manner in which God is trying to create change in our lives. 

THE FIRST MOVEMENT IN TRYING TO CREATE CHANGE IN OUR ACTIONS IS A CALL FOR REFORMATION

We are constantly in a process of challenge to grow and live a godly life. God is looking for the fruit or evidence of a changed heart. The means that healthy change comes by listening to God’s word, and responding to His directions in obeying what He says. God’s covenant is ethical and moral in nature. The ethical and moral aspects are there to facilitate healthy relationships, and how we relate to God and each other. One of the great misconceptions today is that because we are living under God’s grace that God’s moral law is no longer relevant. That is the farthest thing from the truth. God’s moral and ethical requirements are always our responsibility to live out. What the New Covenant did was bring about a transformed heart and an empowerment to actually be able to follow in God’s ways.

A. The message begins by a call to fulfill covenant obligations.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:

‘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.

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.[i]

This was a call to repent, change their thinking and their actions. They were being reminded of their covenant obligations with God. The land was the blessing promised if they complied in obedience to God’s commandments. However, disobedience would ultimately bring exile. Moses explained that to his generation in the book of Leviticus.

If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over.

You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.

I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you.

I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings.

I myself will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled.

I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins.

Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths.[ii]

Notice that the blessings of the covenant was conditioned upon their fulfilling their obligations. Jeremiah was warning them that they were living in violation of their covenant responsibilities and God was about to act out His judgment upon them.

B. A sense of false security.

Here they were living with a false sense of security. God, in their minds, would never destroy the temple. “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 (Jeremiah 7:4)!’

What was Jeremiah getting at? Tremper Longman reminds us the significance of the Temple for the Jewish people.

The temple, of course, was the primary symbol of God’s presence with his people. …It appears that they were taking solace in the superficial trappings of religion. …They then wrongly reasoned that God would let nothing happen to his earthly residence. So they took solace in the presence of the temple. …we see that this presumption is based on a misunderstanding of God’s connection with the temple. 1 Kings 8, the dedication sermon of Solomon, makes it clear that orthodox Israelite faith did not believe that God lived in this structure.[iii]

The problem was that the people were not trusting in God per see, but in the trappings of their faith. Theirs was an external outward religion, but their actions revealed the true conditions of their hearts and this is what God was addressing through his prophet, Jeremiah. One of the things we fail to remember about God is that He is dangerous.

C. S. Lewis captures this thought in his book, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.’ When the children accidently stumble into Narnia, they encounter Mr. and Mrs. Beaver who are explaining to them about Aslan [the Christ figure in the story]. Lucy becomes very nervous about meeting this lion and asks, if he is safe; ‘“‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’

The Old Testament taught that God was transcendent, beyond us and that He is holy, without any moral impurities. There is a sense of distance from God that is demonstrated in the idea that only one person could go into God’s presence, once a year after confessing his sins and the sins of the people, on the day of Atonement. When people came into God’s presence without the proper preparation it was dangerous. We realize that when we remember the story of the capture of the ark, symbolizing the presence of God, where judgment fell on the Philistine cities. They then send it back to the Israelites, but when it arrives at the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh we read what happens.

But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them.

And the people of Beth Shemesh asked, ‘Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?’[iv]     

C. Treating people in a right manner.

What moral issues was God concerned about?                     

If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 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 you own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave you ancestors for ever and ever.[v]

God is revealing that the way we treat each other is critical. We should not oppress or abuse each other. When we fail, we need to confess our sins and seek reconciliation. When we do that there is grace. We then are not building our lives on a false sense of security. Here we see the indifference these people had in their actions. They were practicing a ritualistic or form of godliness, while trusting in false gods.

But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 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?

Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.[vi]

THE SECOND MOVEMENT IN TRYING TO CREATE CHANGE IN OUR ACTIONS IS A CALL FOR REFLECTION

We need to learn from the past events of history and other people’s lives in order not to repeat their mistakes and suffer the consequences of that kind of folly. Here Jeremiah reminds them of their history as a people.

A. Learning from the past.

If we don’t learn from the mistakes of history, we’ll repeat them. Here God points them back in order to help them in their present moment.

‘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.

While you were doing all these things, declares the LORD, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not answer.[vii]

What God is saying is that they didn’t listen and respond. They didn’t repent and amend their ways. They continued to perpetuate their sins. Look at how God dealt with their forefathers who thought that they were fine.

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.

I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.[viii]

What is God saying to them and to us? Beware that we are not building our lives on false securities and hopes. True faith is seen in how we treat each other and how we look to God. Shiloh was a place of worship earlier in Israel’s history that was destroyed because of their slide into idolatry. Walter Brueggemann points out the utter shock of what Jeremiah is saying.

The people of Jerusalem could not imagine their own precious system to be in jeopardy like Shiloh. Nor can we imagine that our own system – industrial, military, economic, political – might be in the same jeopardy as Shiloh and Jerusalem.[ix]

Could we have imagined how quickly our society would fracture before our eyes prior to Covid? How long can a culture that embraces death sustain life? But what may be more relevant to us who are followers of Jesus is the question, are we reflecting the values of Jesus? Are we trying to prop up a dying system that neglects those for whom Christ came to reach, the least, the lost and the marginalized? Jeremiah’s generation was on the ropes. They were, as we are, about to discover a terminal generation. They refused to hear the truth about their condition and found solace in what was about to be destroyed. Their way of life as they knew it was about to change dramatically.

B. Don’t waste your breath.

The situation was so bad, and the hearts of the people so hardened, that God told Jeremiah not to waste his prayers. They were beyond reason and willingness to repent. “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 (Jeremiah 7:16)”.

What an indictment against the state of the people

…possibly the passage is intended to emphasize that the possibility of repentance was so remote that prayer would no longer avail. Persistent idolatry could only bring upon Judah, as a consequence, the curses of the covenant.[x]

The condition of our hearts lend itself to either blessing or judgment in our lives.

C. Judgment awaited the nation.

Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?

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.

But am I the one they are provoking? declares the LORD. Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame.[xi]

What we see described is that everyone one from the youngest to the oldest were participating in idolatry and was leading to their own harm. Sin had totally permeated their culture. There was nothing left to salvage. This is certainly a warning to us, that if we persistently refuse to repent from our sins, that all that is left is judgment.

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 trees of the field and on the crops of your land -and it will burn and not be quenched.[xii]

Our sins affects all those around us, from the livestock to the environment. We can see from the next remark that God was giving them over to their sin. “‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves (Jeremiah 7:21)!” Tremper Longman explains the significance of this remark.

The oracle begins with an interesting admonition that requires a knowledge of the sacrificial system to understand. Of the three main sacrifices, burnt offering, grain offering, and peace offering, only the burnt offerings were totally dedicated to God and beyond any human consumption. It was an atonement sacrifice (see Lev. 1) and, though the skin was removed, the entire animal was burned on the altar. In this verse, God says that God’s people may just as well eat the burnt offering, since it is doing them no good, thanks to their sin and lack of repentance.[xiii]

For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you.

But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.[xiv]

The condition of our heart determines whether we will listen to God, trust Him and obey what He is saying; or reject His counsel and do our own thing. When we disobey God’s counsel we move backward rather than forward in our lives.  

THE FINAL MOVEMENT IN TRYING TO CREATE CHANGE IS THE RESPONSE TO REJECTION

When God speaks into our lives, the ‘ball is in our court.’ God is calling for a response. To ignore, neglect, or just plain reject what God is saying will lead to our own hurt.

From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets.

But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors.

When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer.

Therefore say to them, ‘This is the nation that has not obeyed the LORD its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.[xv]

A lack of obedient response to God’s message leads to a lack of truth. ‘Truth has perished.’ What happens is that we begin to believe another narrative, a false one, which leads to our own destruction. If we think that this message is simply for that hour, we are mistaken. Listen to Paul’s words to the church at Thessalonica speaking about the end.

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.[xvi]

I need to remind us that the truth is found in the person of Jesus (cf. John 14:6) and His kingdom’s message.When we reject Jesus and His message we are left under the condemnation of the sin that is defiling and destroying lives all around us. Then we come to the most tragic verse in our text.

‘Cut off your hair and throw it away; take up a lament on the barren heights, for the LORD has rejected and abandoned this generation that is under his wrath.[xvii]

No more chilling words can be spoken. A lost generation. A generation that would not listen to God and therefore truth perished and vanished from their lips. People were simply embracing, and perpetrating lies. All that was left in that moment was for the judgment to come. How many generations have been lost. We can look back over human history and see terrible human carnage. We read of a lost generation at the time of the flood in Genesis 6. Then we see the generation that came out of Egypt and wandered in the wilderness dying off over 40 years. That was a lost generation. It was their children that saw God’s promised land. We see it in the Assyrian and here in the generation that entered the Babylonian captivity. We see it over and over again throughout human history as many ancient people’s no longer exist. Think of the human carnage over the two world wars in the last century. Will our generation become a lost one as well? Will we arise, living out the truth of God’s word. Will our hearts be open to hearing and responding to His message in our generation? Jeremiah lived in a terminal generation. Listen to God’s words of judgment upon them.

The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the LORD. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it.[xviii]

This was not just the words of Jeremiah, consider what God showed his contemporary, Ezekiel, even while he was in captivity in Babylon.

And he said to me, ‘Son of man, do you see that they are doing – the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.’[xix]

What Ezekiel saw was the spiritual leaders worshiping idols in the temple.

So I went in and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and unclean animals and all the idols of Israel.

In front of them stood seventy elders of Israel, and Jaazaniah son of Shaphan was standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising.

 He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east.[xx]

Jeremiah continues to hear God’s charge against these people. They were destroying their children, therefore the only outcome of a culture of death is death itself.

They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire – something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.

So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room.

Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away.

I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate.

At that time, declares the LORD, the bones of the kings and officials of Judah, the bones of the priests and prophets, and the bones of the people of Jerusalem will be removed from their graves.

They will be exposed to the sun and the moon and all the stars of the heavens, which they have loved and served and which they have followed and consulted and worshiped. They will not be gathered up or buried, but will be like dung lying on the ground.

Wherever I banish them, all the survivors of this evil nation will prefer death to life, declares the LORD Almighty.[xxi]

Here at the end we find the most distressing picture. Not only are the dead left unburied, but the buried are dug up and dishonored. Brueggemann describes the significance of what Jeremiah is describing.

Life becomes barbaric, and all structures of plausibility are discredited. …Not only will there be death, but even the dead who previously have been honored and laid in their tombs will be dislodged. Not only will forms of civility in the present and future be dysfunctional, but past acts of civility will be nullified. Present wretchedness will nullify past decency.[xxii]

When we reject what God has to say, we end up with nothing to build hope upon. What is God saying to us through the prophet Jeremiah? God is looking for a transforming life, where we are becoming more like Jesus. As we witness the culture around us dying, our only hope is to bring a message of hope, life, and love to those who will listen to the gospel. So, what can be done? Rather than wallow in despair, a great place to face our culture and our lives is with prayer and a presentation of hope in the message of God’s redeeming love found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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[i]     Jeremiah 7:1-3, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.

[ii]     Leviticus 26:27-34.

[iii]    Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 71-72.

[iv]    1 Samuel 6:19-20.

[v]     Jeremiah 7:5-7.

[vi]    Jeremiah 7:8-11.

[vii]   Jeremiah 7:12-13.

[viii]   Jeremiah 7:14-15.

[ix]    Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 81.

[x]     John Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 284.

[xi]    Jeremiah 7:17-19.

[xii]   Jeremiah 7:20.

[xiii]   Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, 76.

[xiv]   Jeremiah 7:22-24.

[xv]   Jeremiah 7:25-28.

[xvi]   2 Thessalonians 2:8-10.

[xvii] Jeremiah 7:29.

[xviii] Jeremiah 7:30.

[xix]   Ezekiel 8:6.

[xx]   Ezekiel 8:10-11, 16.

[xxi]   Jeremiah 7:31-8:3.

[xxii] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, 83-84.

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