The Lord’s Expectations (HC9)
Repentance and Obedience to his commands
Trust in his words
The Human Reality (HC 9)
Consequence of disobedience (HC10-11)
Our Hope and Call (HC 12)
The Heidelberg Catechism has been talking about human sinfulness the past few weeks and this morning we want to ask the Question: What does God expect of humanity? I have chosen Jeremiah 7 as our passage for the day because it opens up with a wonderfully clear set of expectations God had for the people of Judah. For those unfamiliar with the prophetic books, Jeremiah was one of the prophets God sent to the southern kingdom of Judah during the reigns of the last 5 kings before the Babylonians sack Jerusalem and take the country into exile.
As a prophet, Jeremiah exercised his ministry for 20-40 years. His work was difficult, he was hated and even thrown in a cistern and left to die. Yet he faithfully brought God’s words to the people of Judah and ensured that the Lord’s expectations were clearly known. In our passage this morning, Jeremiah is standing at one of the gates to the temple proclaiming God’s message. The location where Jeremiah preaches from is important because a temple gate would ensure that everyone coming to worship would hear and be given the chance to reflect upon their life and actions. Were they truly ready to worship? Was sincerity a part of their walk of faith? How about repentance and humility?
All of these were part of God’s expectations of the worshipping community. Listen to the opening words, you would have heard if you had been walking into the temple that day: 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 (Jer. 7:3). God expected a people of repentance and obedience, a people who worshipped not just when they walked onto the temple grounds, but a people who worshipped in every aspect of their life from their family relationship to their business deals to their compassionate care for the needy. God wanted a people who loved him and loved their neighbor. (Luke 10:27 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”)
At the core of the idea of “reforming your ways” is the concept of doing good, acting appropriately, living into God’s expectations and purpose for your life. God’s concept of reformation has more to do with living into his original intent for your life. It has to do with fashioning your behavior, thoughts and desires upon God’s plans and decrees for how life is supposed to be lived. And that begins with trusting in God’s words not deceptive phrases.
God expects humanity to believe him. He expects that when people come to worship, their liturgical worship is an outflow of a life that is already trusting in him and his words. The psalmist instructs us Trust in [God] at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge (Psa. 62:8). Trust is to be found not in things or ideas, but in the person of God alone. When the bible talks about trust, it is speaking about a strong, firm and deep conviction and confidence in God, primarily that he can be counted on and that his words are true. Psa. 115:9-11 calls the house of Israel… house of Aaron…You who fear him, trust in the Lord— he is their help and shield. Trust isn’t about knowledge, though that is part of it. Trust is deeper than that; it goes to the root of welding belief and knowledge.
Let me try and illustrate. If I were an expert in precious metals and you recognized my expertise, and I came to you today and told you that the government was broke, the U.S. dollar would become worthless and gold and silver were going to skyrocket in a few months and now was the time to buy gold and silver bullion, you would have three choices. 1) You could both think I was mistaken in my understanding of the markets and refuse to listen, or 2) you might agree with my recommendations but for some reason choose not to act or 3) you would go out and buy all the gold and silver coins you could find. Which one is a display of trust? The last one. Only the person who acts on my gold and silver recommendation would truly trust me, the other two, as evidenced by their actions don’t really believe the government is broke and the dollar is becoming worthless. Failure to act, regardless of the reason is really a display of distrust and unbelief.
When we come to the issue of trusting God, the same is true. God wants the life of his people to conform in word and deed to the teachings and directions he gives. That’s why he calls the people to deal with each other justly…do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood…and do not follow other gods (Jer 7:5-6). These commands are not new to the people. All of these had existed for centuries; in fact every one of them was given at Sinai as part of the Mosaic covenant. Exodus 23:2, 6 command the people “do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd…Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.” Ex. 22:21 reminds the people that they were aliens once and therefore they must “… not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” In fact 74 times in the books of the Law, God gives instructions about the alien, fatherless and widow in order to ensure they are provided for, not oppressed and incorporated into the people without any prejudice or harm. And we all know that God has strong statements about murdering the innocent and even stronger ones for idolatry. In fact both of these two expectations of God are enshrined in the Ten Commandments.
God’s expectations are very clear and if they are followed, he promises then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever (Jer. 7:7). Their life and security is tied to obeying God and living up to his expectations. At stake is really the issue of trust. Do they trust God enough to conform their life to his words?
Does that story sound familiar to anyone? It should. Isn’t that the story that unfolded in Genesis 2-3? At the beginning God had one simple expectation of Adam and Eve, you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die (Gen. 2:17). Their life was tied up in obedience to God, trusting him and his word to such an extent that they were willing to conform their life to his expectations.
For that first couple, God didn’t expect the impossible. On the contrary he created them with the ability to believe him or not believe, to obey or disobey and they chose disobedience. Instead of believing God and his word, they bought into the lies of the serpent, into his deceptive words that twisted and distorted God’s design. The catechism states it this way, God created human beings with the ability to keep the law. They, however, tempted by the devil, in deliberate disobedience, robbed themselves and all their descendants of these gifts (HC9).
The human reality of Genesis 3, the disobedience to God set in motion a perpetual reality that continues to this day. And as we see in our passage from Jeremiah, the human reality begun in Genesis continues even in light of God’s express desires and expectations. The land of Judah, instead of obeying God and trusting him is trusting in lies. Their first lie is believing that God wouldn’t destroy the temple of the Lord no matter how much sin they were involved in.
The false prophets had developed a theology that said the temple and Jerusalem were so important to God that he would never abandon them. That is what the words “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord…We are safe” (Jer 7:4, 10) mean. They were so focused on a theology of a Promised Land that they had missed the very condition of the promise – to obey God. False prophets had arisen from all over declaring that no nation could stand against Judah and men like Hananiah were declaring that Nebuchadnezzar would be broken within 2 years and never defeat Jerusalem (Jer 28:11). They had developed a version of eternal security that allowed them to do whatever because God would never judge the land or allow the Holy city to fall. What an aberration to think that God would allow those who (Jer. 7:9-10) “‘steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, [to] 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?”
That reality cannot exist. God is merciful and just. But his mercy can never eradicate his justice. In his justice, he demands that sin, committed against his supreme majesty, be punished with the supreme penalty – eternal punishment of body and soul (HC11). Like Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God sees the sin of the people in Judah. He is very aware of their disbelief and he even tells them, I have been watching! (Jer 7:11). The truth is that God has sin and rebellion. He hates disbelief and he is terribly angry about the sin we are born with as well as the sins we personally commit…(HC10).
And that was true of Jeremiah’s day just as it was true of Adam’s and is still true of today. God has expectations and he has made them very clear. In fact, our passage says, “I spoke to you again and again but you did not listen, I called to you but you did not answer (Jer 7:13). And the same is true in our day; Jesus declares (Rev. 3:20) Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
God is merciful, he sees our sin, but he doesn’t give up, he calls to us, just as he called to Judah and when they refused to believe him and place their trust in him, allowing their life to be conformed to his word, then they opened themselves up to the consequences of their sin: Judgment. And oh that judgment is fierce and difficult. Here is how God describes his judgment: 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…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 fathers. I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your brothers, the people of Ephraim” (Jer 7:12, 14-15).
Can you imagine? God tells them to remember Shiloh, that place where Samuel routinely made his circuit and worshipped the Lord, but also the place where the sons of Eli perpetrated their wickedness. Their debauchery and dishonoring of the sacrifices of worship and we know that God allowed the ark to be captured from there, the sons of Eli to be killed, Eli himself to die on the same day with them and ultimately for the Assyrians to come through and sack the area and leave it a barren waste. God’s judgment is not a pretty picture, it is total and complete. Graphic and torturous and it involves a complete separation from his presence, a casting out and shutting the door.
Sin has always offended God this way. In the garden, he cast the first couple out from his presence and smitten them with death, hard labor and sweaty work. In the nation of Israel and Judah, sin brought invasions, oppressions, and exiles until such a time as the people repents and verse 20 tells us 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 fruit of the ground, and it will burn and not be quenched. Such is the judgment of God upon all who fail to live up to his expectations and refuse to submit to his authority.
And that situation still remains for God still expects his people to live a life in conformity to His Law. He still expects us to care for the orphans and oppressed. He still expects us to keep the commandments. He still expects us to love him with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. He still expects all of that and a failure to live up to his expectations brings the same wrath and judgment. Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:41-46,
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
And what is amazing is the righteous are defined as those who do the exact opposite of all the cursed. The righteous are those who fulfill the law, who love the needy, who keep the commands of God and fulfill his expectations. But since none of us can do this all the time, the question remains, “Is there any hope?”
And thanks be to God, there is. We do not live in the time of Jeremiah any longer. There is a savior and his name is Jesus Christ and he came and suffered the punishment and wrath of God for our disobedience. We are all a lot like the people of Jeremiah’s day. We fail to trust God completely and whole-heartedly all the time and because of that we deserve to suffer God’s judgment for snubbing our noses at him and calling him a liar. But Jesus came, fully God and fully man, in order to suffer God’s wrath in our place.
He came, Is. 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Is. 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Instead of us having to undergo the complete casting away that Jeremiah speaks about as the punishment of sin, Jesus underwent it in our stead. Cast from god’s presence as he called, “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?” In fact, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor. 5:21).
In that statement, Paul completely upends the erroneous theology of eternal security that people of Jeremiah and so many others believe. We are not safe and secure to sin grievously and continuously claiming that God doesn’t care, quite the contrary, our Jesus suffered in our place so that our lives would be transformed and changed, that we might be the righteousness of God. That our lives would conform to his law of love and that no longer would we live lives of sinful debauchery.
People of God, go forth and live a life in conformity to the image of Christ that dwells within you. That is why Jesus died and rose for you and that is what God expects from all who call on his name. Let me conclude with these words,
Therefore in view of God’s mercies, offer your bodies as living sacrifices to God (doing, saying and being all that God wants for you – holiness, perfection, without stain or wrinkly or blemish), this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world (the hypocrisy, disobedience, idolatry) but be transformed by the renewing of you mind (Romans 12:1-2).