Matthew 15:7–9; Jeremiah 2:1–13
Matthew Lesson #086
July 26, 2015
“Father, we’re thankful that You have given us Your Word and that too often we take it lightly, we are used to it, we recognize that we have such access to it, and in this generation the Word of God is more available to us in America than it’s been available to any people at any time in history, and yet there is more ignorance of it even by your people. There is an ignorance, we treat it lightly, we take You for granted, and Father, we recognize that there is no hope, there is no life apart from that which we learn from Your Word and that which we take and apply in our lives.
Father, we pray we might be challenged by Your Word, recognizing, unlike the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, that this is the ultimate authority in our life, and that we need to align our thinking, our lives, every dimension of our life to Your Word; therefore, there’s nothing more important than knowing it and understanding it.
Father we pray that You might challenge us with what we study today. In Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bible with me to Matthew 15, which I began last Sunday morning focusing on the real challenge that’s here that again Jesus runs into with His confrontation with the Pharisees.
That is the grace of God vs. human religion.
We’ve often heard it said that Christianity is not a religion—Christianity is a relationship [with God]. Christianity stands over against every world religion and philosophy in that we understand that any kind of relationship with God has to be based not upon human effort, not based on human morality, not based on human ritual, but based upon the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
In the New Testament period and the Church Age following, we look back to the Cross. In the Old Testament they looked forward to the Cross, so that salvation throughout the ages is always based ultimately on faith, trust in God and His provision of salvation or redemption through a perfect sacrifice.
In the Old Testament that was not as clear as in the New Testament. They looked forward to that, but there was a lot more clarity to that promise and to the prophecies than a lot of people today are willing to recognize.
In the New Testament of course, we have clarity because Jesus has come. He’s died on the Cross. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. So that it’s not based on works of righteousness which we have done, Titus 3:5. It’s not based on works, Ephesians 2:8–9. It is a free gift of God. And that is so hard for a lot of people to understand.
But ultimately the failure isn’t just a failure of not understanding grace. It is the refusal to submit to the authority of God. It is a refusal to accept God to be Who the Bible says that He is and to substitute for God some other authority. That is what is at the root of all religion and all religious systems.
That is what we saw last week as we began the study of this confrontation in Matthew 15.
What I want to do this morning is to probe a little bit more into the Old Testament background to this type of mentality, but we’ll start with a review to take us up to where we ended up last time, and then go back into a significant Old Testament passage.
So what we saw last time is that the disciples had crossed over to Gennesaret, which is on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and it is there that Jesus heals a large number of people who are brought to Him. He’s conducting His ministry there.
This continues to really irritate the Pharisees, especially those who are up in the area of Galilee. At this time it’s near Passover, and as they have rejected Jesus and claim that He is empowered by Satan, the people are still flocking to Him.
The people are flocking to Him not because they’re necessarily accepting Him as Messiah. They’re flocking to Him like many people flock to the government because they get free food, and they get free healing, free medical care.
So that’s their purpose for going to Jesus, and it doesn’t have anything to do with any sort of spiritual integrity on their part.
Here’s a map that shows us the location of Gennesaret up here on the northwest coast.
We saw at the end of Chapter 14, the episode where the disciples had left by over at Bethsaida to come across the northern area of the Sea of Galilee, got hit by a storm, and in the middle of the night Jesus came walking to them on water, demonstrating that He is the One Who’s in control of His creation.
Then as we saw last time, there’s this group of scribes and Pharisees that come down from Jerusalem.
The local Pharisees, those in the area of Galilee, have apparently appealed since they seem to be incapable of influencing the masses to stay away from Jesus. Now they want to call in the leadership from Jerusalem.
This brings this confrontation—I pointed out on this map last time that they would have walked around Samaria as they walked north to confront Jesus.
The confrontation is around the issue of the transgression of what they believe is God’s Word.
Let’s just review a couple of points:
1. First of all Jesus is still in that vicinity. He’s been healing the masses.
2. Now, the opposition of the Pharisees has intensified so that they’ve brought in the leadership from Jerusalem.
3. And the challenge is in verse 2. They say, “Why are your disciples transgressing the tradition of the elders?”
Now this is the important issue: Their ultimate authority is the oral law.
In Judaism there is the view that God gave Moses the written Law, The Torah, but also during those 40 days up on Mount Sinai, He gave him a second set of commands that were not written down called the “oral law.”
In actuality that oral law, as I pointed out last time, is really a collection of various commands that were established after the return of the Jews from Babylon. They set these up as a secondary set of mandates that functioned like a fence around the 613 commandments of the original Mosaic Law.
It had become elevated during this period of about 250 BC to the time of Christ, to a level of authority that superseded the authority of the written Word.
Now this oral law is known as the Halakhah, and the Halakhah was the ultimate authority so much so that numerous rabbis had made statements that if there is a contradiction between the Torah and the Halakhah, the Halakhah took precedence. The oral law therefore, this tradition of the fathers, was used to interpret the Bible.
This is no different from what happens in any religious system whether it’s Judaism or whether it’s what happened in Christianity after the beginnings of what has come to be known as the Roman Catholic Church.
Depending upon what you’re using as your criteria, the Roman Catholic Church begins somewhere around AD 600. And what happens within the Roman Catholic Church, as well as Eastern Orthodoxy, is that the traditions of the teaching of the church fathers is set up as the authoritative interpretation of the Bible.
So what happens is that people from those traditions quit reading the Bible, just as the Jews quit reading the Torah, and they spend their time studying what’s written about the Torah, and what’s written about the New Testament rather than reading the original document.
What happens is that tradition (for any time you set up another authority alongside the Bible, it’s not just the Bible—it’s the Bible plus tradition), and that tradition dominates the Bible.
So it replaces the Bible. Man’s heart is always inclined towards idolatry and towards a rejection of the exclusive authority of God. That’s why we so often emphasize the sufficiency of Scripture.
The very phrase, “the sufficiency of Scripture” emphasizes that the Word of God alone is sufficient, is enough, is adequate to solve any and every problem that we face in life.
We need to go to the Word of God in order to understand the framework for addressing the problems and the challenges of life.
What happened with the Pharisees was they set up the Halakhah as a second authority and it, as I pointed out last time, was so much that it consumed the thinking of the Pharisees related to washings and cleansings and all of these various rituals.
When they see the disciples eating without washing their hands, it’s not a matter of hygiene—it’s a matter of their ritual cleansing—that they accuse Jesus of apostasy basically by claiming that His disciples don’t wash their hands. Therefore, you’re guilty of this heinous sin, and they are spiritually unclean.
Jesus in a very sophisticated way responded to that by pointing out that they were the ones who truly transgressed the Torah, the Law, by making the tradition of the elders superior in authority to the tradition of the Law.
Jesus is exposing them for having rationalized away from the Law to some other system of authority.
This is what’s happened not only within Roman Catholic theology in setting up tradition over the Bible and in Eastern Orthodoxy, but then we got into the Enlightment and Post-Enlightment era that comes after the Protestant Reformation.
What happens is people set science, they set psychology, they set sociology today over against the Bible. So the Bible is no longer sufficient.
In the last 50 or 60 years, this has become a major issue within evangelicalism: those who claim to believe in “sola scriptura,” the Latin for “Scripture alone.” First of all you had some of this before WWII, but especially coming out of the Second World War.
You had people who were assimilating a view of Creation to some form of evolution. And even today they are assimilating a view of creation to some form of evolution. Even today there are more and more evangelicals that reject a literal six consecutive 24-hour day Creation and replace it with something that accommodates to any form of old age dating of the earth.
Yet if we stick with the Bible on the basis of strict exegesis, the earth is relatively young. The creation of the earth doesn’t need to be billions and billions of years old. It is a relatively young earth, and we have to stick with what the Bible says. It’s the Bible alone.
When it comes to psychology, this is another area of great inroads in the church up until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Really up until the WWII period, it was the pastor who was the doctor of the soul. It is the pastor who, through the teaching of God’s Word, enables people to understand God’s solution to man’s problems.
You do not need to have a degree in counseling or a degree in psychology in order to help people deal with the problems in their life. The problems in their life ultimately are grounded in sin, and we have to learn to think in terms of what the Bible says about man’s problems—that it’s sin based.
It’s not environment based. It’s not genetically based. There may be other factors, but the real issues are volition. The real issue is—are we willing to trust God and God alone to handle the circumstances and situations of our life?
In psychology we reject the sufficiency of Scripture and the sufficiency of grace. Think about this logically. If God isn’t powerful enough to create the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, then God isn’t powerful enough to solve your problems because you don’t have a Creator God that’s truly omnipotent.
But if you have a biblical God that is truly omnipotent, and if He can create the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that is in them, and if He can part the Red Sea, if He can feed the multitudes, then God clearly can handle any and every problem that we face in life.
Then we move from that to sociology. In the last 40 years we’ve seen a huge development of the role of sociology in understanding missions, the role of missions in the church and understanding just the dynamics and leadership of the local church.
Sociology has dominated literature and philosophy known as the “church growth movement” that came out of the late 1960s. If you trace the thinking in what has come to be known as the “church growth movement,” it can be traced back to a couple of professors at Fuller Theological Seminary and their World’s Missions Department in the 1960s.
But what’s important to understand in terms of what gave birth to that at Fuller was that Fuller Seminary was founded and named for Charles Fuller, who was a well-known evangelist, radio evangelist in the late 40s and 50s. Originally it was founded with an extremely orthodox doctrinal statement.
But by the late 50s to early 60s, they took inerrancy (the view that the Bible is without error in the original documents, in the original autographs), they took inerrancy out of their doctrinal statement so that it read that “we believe the Bible is authoritative in all areas of faith and practice.”
Well that sounds good as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. It claims that the Bible is only the Word of God and authoritative in areas related to faith and practice, but not in terms of science, not in terms of understanding the history and the origin of the earth or the origin or mankind. It’s not sufficient in the area of ancient history. It’s not inerrant in many other areas that it addresses. It’s only inerrant and authoritative in areas related to faith and practice.
So it’s limited.
In fact, recently a view has been generated called “limited inerrancy” which is another way today of getting away from biblical authority and the sufficiency of Scripture. This is the problem that Jesus is addressing with the Pharisees. This always gives root to religion.
So when Fuller shifted in their definition, their understanding of inerrancy and infallibility, it opened up the door to where the Bible is no longer enough—we’re not going to be able to really solve our problems. We can’t solve problems on the mission field, we can’t solve problems in terms of planting and developing churches by the Word of God alone. We have to look at all of this other sociological input in order to be able to really establish churches.
Of course, the Apostle Paul knew nothing of any of this. Neither did Peter! So obviously they were short changed by God because they needed Freud, and they needed Herbert Spencer, and they needed all these demographic studies in order to be really successful.
No wonder Christianity didn’t have much of an impact for 1900 years—we didn’t have modern science, modern psychology, and modern sociology!
This strikes to the issue of the heart of man, which is what Jesus gets to in this section—that the real problem is a heart problem. We are corrupt. We are defiled, and man must learn to live on the basis of trusting in God and God alone for everything. We can’t rely on our own efforts and our own works, but this is what religion always does. It tried to input our own efforts. We always try to help God out.
We have passages as I pointed out last time, Isaiah 64:6 where Isaiah, speaking of all of Israel including himself (and remember this is a time when Israel is very much involved in the ritual processes of the law. In fact, Isaiah indicts Israel several times because they’re bringing all of these sacrifices, but their heart is not obedient to God).
Isaiah says that “all of our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”
This is mirrored in the New Testament in Titus 3:5, that it’s “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.”
And then in Matthew 15:7 we see Jesus address them in an extremely politically incorrect manner. Jesus is not concerned about offending anybody.
We have to be careful with this. I’ve known some people who’ve said, “Well, Jesus didn’t worry about offending anybody, so neither am I,” and they’re just downright offensive to everybody.
Jesus was not offending because He wanted to offend people.
He was proclaiming the truth and that offended people. It was not how He said it, it was what He said that offended people.
That’s what we always have to be careful of: that we deal with people on the basis of grace, and that we deal with people on the basis of kindness. If they’re going to get mad at us and become offended, it needs to be clearly on the basis of what the Word of God says and not because we have inappropriately handled the situation by the way we have done things.
Jesus just called them hypocrites. This indictment of them as a hypocrite, is someone who is saying one thing—that they are devoted to God, but they’re actually doing something else—they’re putting on a mask to disguise what they’re actually doing. The term HUPOKRITES comes out of Greek drama. So He calls them that because that’s what they’re doing.
Then He cites an indictment that comes out of Isaiah. Isaiah wrote around 700 BC, and what I want to point out in our class this morning is that this is not unique to that particular generation. It was a trend that we see repeated over and over again in the life of Israel in the Old Testament.
What this demonstrates—and I thought about titling this message “We Learn from History that We Learn Nothing from History”—is that Israel continued to repeat the same patterns because they did not learn from their own history, either personally or nationally.
They continued to make the same errors. They continued to disobey God. They continued to choose paths of idolatry (which anytime we disobey God, that is a path of idolatry).
Anytime we choose another authority, whether it’s reason, whether it’s experience, whether it’s tradition—anytime we focus on another authority other than God, that is idolatry.
Idolatry is not restricted to just worshipping something we’ve constructed out of wood, stone, or metal. It is worshipping any other authority or setting up any other authority over God.
So He indicts this generation.
Quoting from Isaiah 29:13, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
He’s saying Israel did this in 700 BC. He’s saying that Israel did this. We’ll see in Jeremiah that they were doing this around 600 BC. He said they’re doing it again at the time of Christ.
This is the same thing we do both personally and nationally today: we reject the authority of God, and we replace it with our own authority. We need to start with our own examination of our own heart to begin with, and then we look at it nationally. There are a lot of implications from this that I want to look at.
So this is a quote from Isaiah 29:13, 14, “Therefore the Lord said: Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths.” They’re just giving it lip service.
One of the problems we have today in evangelicalism as a whole, and among many Christians, many of us individually, is that we know the right things to say. We know what the right answers are. We know what the Bible verses are, but internally, we are not walking closely by means of the Holy Spirit.
We’re not walking in close fellowship with God, and we always have a tendency, whether you’re looking at Old Testament Israel or whether you’re looking at Church Age believers in any generation, we have a tendency to be selective hearers when it comes to the Word of God.
We have a tendency to choose that which we want to apply and emphasize, and we carefully and skillfully ignore that which is not as easy for us to apply.
So Isaiah indicted, or the Lord indicted to Israel, that they were just giving Him lip service, and he says, “but they’ve removed their hearts far from Me.”
That’s what Jesus is going to point out to the Pharisees— that their hearts are not obedient to the Lord.
The term “heart” focuses on the center of their being, their soul. We’re to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our might, with all our strength, with everything in our being. They’re not doing that.
He says they “have removed their hearts far from Me and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.”
In other words, even in the generation of Isaiah, they have elevated the tradition of man over the Word of God,
Therefore, God says in verse 14, “I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish.”
That’s human viewpoint wisdom—not the wisdom of Solomon, but the wisdom that the culture thought was right, the politically correct viewpoints that dominated their idolatrous culture.
He says, “the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”
There will be judgment that is coming. That is what Isaiah was announcing.
Now a passage I want to look at today, to develop more of a background to this whole concept is in Jeremiah 2. Turn with me to Jeremiah 2, and we’re going to look at verses 1 through 13. We’re going to see from this that human religion is ultimately self-destructive.
It is self-destructive to the individual and in the collective, it is self-destructive to a religious group. It’s self-destructive to a nation—that when we live our lives apart from the exclusive dependence on the authority of God and His Word, it is a recipe for disaster.
We may not experience that disaster in a week or in two weeks or a year or two years. It may take a decade or two for things to come together, and then we wake up one day and we say, “How in the world did we get where we are today?”
It is the accumulation of numerous bad decisions based on the idea that somehow our understanding is superior to God’s understanding, and we don’t really have to depend upon God exclusively.
This is the same indictment that Isaiah brought against Israel, but this is about a hundred years later than the indictment that Jeremiah brings against Israel.
We see this at the beginning in the first three verses. Jeremiah reminds the people of Jerusalem. We have two statements here.
In verse 2 God tells Jeremiah, “Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying,” and then we get verses 2 and 3.
Then in verse 4 he gets a second message, “Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel.”
So the first two verses are addressed to Jerusalem, but it’s not really just Jerusalem. It’s focusing on the people of Jerusalem as the heart of Israel at that time. Then in the second stage of the indictment, it expands and is addressed to the house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel.
He wants to make sure that nobody’s got any wiggle room to say, “See, that doesn’t apply to me.” It all applies.
He starts off in the first part of the indictment, “Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, Thus says the Lord.’ ”
In the second verse he says, “Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: I remember you.’ ”
What He’s doing here is He’s saying, “I want you to remember the way you were when I brought you out of Egypt. Even though you were disobedient at times, and even though at critical times you failed to trust Me.”
Generally they followed the Lord, they kept following. They had the pillar of fire at night and the cloud during the day. And they continued to follow the Lord towards the destination of the Promise Land.
Now like most of us, there was a lot of disobedience. For some of them there was a lot more disobedience than we find in our lives. But nevertheless, generally they were following the Lord. Yahweh is saying to them, “I remember you: The kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal.”
He’s using a marriage analogy that, “We were in that honeymoon period. Even though we had some problems, you were following Me. You rebelled a few times, but you weren’t into idolatry, you just disobeyed a few times. And not only that, but you were separated to Me.”
The New King James says, “Holiness to the Lord.” Actually, it’s probably better translated as the New American Standard translates, “You were holy to the Lord.”
“Holy to the Lord” means they were set apart to God. They were God’s chosen people, and God was distinctively protecting them and providing for them in the wilderness. He was providing for them with the manna that came every day. He was providing for them in that their clothes and their shoes lasted for 40 years. Didn’t have much of a fashion industry in those times.
God sustained them, sustained their clothes, their shoes for that period of time, demonstrating that He was and is absolutely sufficient to take care of whatever our problems are.
Logistical problems—it’s not difficult. You have problems with finances—God can take care of that. You have problems with health—God can take care of that. You have problems with your house—God can take care of that. God takes care of us and sustains us.
God sustained them in the wilderness. Israel was set apart to the Lord. He called them the “first fruits of His increase.” They were the beginning, as He was calling that nation out to a distinct role.
Then He says, “All that devour him will offend.”
Now notice that in the translation, they have correctly put “at him” in lowercase to indicate that it’s not a reference to God, it’s a reference to Israel. The “they” refers to those who are in opposition to Israel. They seek to destroy Israel. “All that devour him,” that is those who seek to destroy Israel.
We’re reminded of the Amalekites that came out against Israel. Moses stood there, and Aaron and Hur held his arms up, because as long as his arms were held up, then Israel won the battle. But as soon as he became fatigued and his arms began to drop, then the Amalekites would win. So these two men came on each side, propped his arms up, and Israel was given the victory.
Israel was given the victory over the enemies. God said that “whoever came against you, whatever the nations were that came against you, I destroyed them and disaster would come upon them. I, He is saying, I protected you during that time. I was your God, and you followed Me.”
Now we come to Jeremiah 2:4–8. God is reminding them that during this time He dealt justly with Israel.
This is the next stage indicated by the break in verse 4, “Hear the word of Yahweh” —hear the message of Yahweh— “O house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel,” referencing the fact that the twelve tribes are from Jacob, and Israel is the name that God gave to Jacob. So this is inclusive of all the twelve tribes.
Verse 5, “Thus says the Lord: ‘What injustice have your fathers found in Me, that they have gone far from Me, have followed idols, and have become idolaters?’ ”
What’s interesting in this is I want you to pay attention to the strategy that God is using. He doesn’t come right out and just list a series of indictments against Israel and tell them what their faults and flaws are. He asks them through questions.
He wants them to not just hear what they have done, but to reflect on what they have done and come to the conclusions on their own as to how they have departed away from God.
I think it’s important that Jesus uses that same technique quite a bit. I think it’s important that we master that—especially when we’re talking to unbelievers.
I find that for some believers, they’re so much in a hurry to tell unbelievers what the problem is that they short-circuit the thought process on the part of the unbeliever.
Often they engage in more of a confrontational evangelism than truly coming to a point where it helps the person come to an understanding of the truth, and to think through the issues on their own.
I recently became aware through an article that came out in Christianity Today in January 2013 of an individual who has one of the most remarkable testimonies that I have read in many, many years—and a testimony that to me demonstrates the sufficiency of God’s Word.
Her testimony is one that demonstrates that God truly does change people, and that if people are willing to completely submit to God’s authority in their life, then God can handle any sort of problem, any sort of situation that they bring to Him.
This is the story of a woman whose name is Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. In her late twenties, she was a Marxist, lesbian activist who was elevated to a position of an English professor at The University of Syracuse, and she was one of the foremost radical feminist in academia at that time. She was often sought after.
One of the scary things that she mentions in the book—it’s not a focal point of her testimony—is how she was often approached and recruited by other universities, because during that time in the 90s, major universities were hiring people with that profile: Marxists, leftists, socialists, radicals, lesbians, homosexuals—to populate their academic departments in those schools—and how overt this was and still is today.
In fact, this is not something that just sort of happened. This was something that intentionally developed in academia over the last twenty or thirty years. I’ve seen this in the lives of a number of students that have gone off to university—that they are targeted for being Christians. That is intentional by the university, by academia, to destroy the Christian thinking of these young students that come to them.
She just hated Christianity, according to her testimony. She thought Christians were the dumbest, most thoughtless, anti-intellectual people there could be, and she was writing a book attacking evangelicals because of some things that Pat Robertson had said.
She’s in the middle of this, and she realizes that to really understand these evangelicals, she probably ought to read the Bible. So in the midst of her debating with herself as to whether or not she’s going to read the Bible or when she’s going to read the Bible, she wrote an article that was just a full bore assault on Christianity that came out in the local Syracuse paper.
She says she had two boxes by her desk. She had one where she put all the hate mail and one where she put all of the letters that praised her, and that those are pretty much filled up. One day she got a letter from a pastor, and this is such an example of how we should do things. (Too often people just get mad and they just go off on somebody that they disagree with.)
All this pastor did was this: he didn’t focus on the Bible; he didn’t focus on the gospel; he didn’t blast her with some sort of drive-by evangelism. He wrote her a very nice, calm, respectful letter. He said, “I’m really interested in what you said in your article, and I would just like to come to understand your thinking on these various points and would like for you to answer some of these questions for me:
“How did you come to these interpretations of Christianity?”
“What was your basis for that?”
“Have you ever believed in God?”
He just listed a series of questions which she lists in the article that she wrote in Christianity Today, as well as in her book called, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.
She took that letter, and she said, “Well, it’s not hate mail, and it’s not positive, I’m not sure what to do with it.” Then she put it on her desk, and it would just sit there. A couple of times a day she would come back to it and try to decide what to do with it.
Several times she said she threw it in the trash, and then she’d dig it out by the end of the day. But those questions were not confrontational. It was just getting her to think through the presuppositional foundation for what she was saying in that article.
As a result of that—and the pastor had put his information in there, the phone contact at the local church, it was written on the church letterhead—and she ended up calling him. He was an older pastor in his 70s and his wife, and they just said, “Well, why don’t you come over for dinner, and we can talk about these things.”
They didn’t talk really about the Bible at all that night. They didn’t give her the gospel. They didn’t take out their “gospel gun” and shoot her five or six times.
They just got to know her.
This took a couple of years. They got to be friends. She would invite them over. They got to know her radicalism. I mean she said at the time, she had a butch flat-top-type haircut, looked really radical, and unfortunately a lot of Christians would just immediately be put off by her appearance.
But it was the fact that that methodology of just asking questions and not rushing in to indict someone because “how can you believe what you believe?”—and that’s too often the attitude that too many people have.
God is asking those kinds of questions, and it’s important to develop that methodology to get people to think about what it is that they believe and what it is they are doing.
So God says, “What injustice have your fathers found in Me?”
“Why are you treating Me like this? What have I done that you think is unjust that is a real basis for leaving Me? Why have you left Me? Why are you becoming idolaters? Let’s think about this. You think about this.”
God goes on to say, “Neither did they say, ‘Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, who led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and the shadow of death, through a land that no one crossed and where no one dwelt?’ ”
What’s the focal point of these questions? It’s their history. It’s their background. It’s their origin; the origin not of the people of Israel—that goes back to Abraham—but of the nation of Israel. They are ignorant of their history. They are either denying it, or they are ignoring it, or they are suppressing their own origins. Origins are important.
God is saying they did not ask these questions. They’re not going back to their own identity, learning who they are and discovering that they came into existence through the miraculous power of God.
He lists the things that He had done for them; taking them out of the land of Egypt, taking them through the wilderness, and describing the harshness of the wilderness.
Some of us who went to Israel this last November and went through Makhtesh Ramon from Mitzpe Ramon all the way across to the area south of the Dead Sea saw what a horribly barren and dry wasteland the Negev is, the wilderness is, where God was taking Israel.
Jeremiah 2:7: and then He reminds them of what He did for them—that He brought them into a bountiful country to eat its fruit and its goodness. That’s the sufficiency of God. He provides for us.
Now it wasn’t given to them. They had to take the land, they had to—I mean—it wasn’t given to them where they didn’t have any responsibility or any kind of work. They had to conquer the inhabitants. They had to plant. They had to work the land, but it was a land that was productive, and if they were obedient to God, God gave them the increase.
He said, “but when you entered, you defiled My land.”
See, that’s the issue in Matthew 15: the issue of being spiritually defiled or spiritually corrupt. Religion says that the way to handle that is through my own efforts and my own works. For the Pharisees, it was through ritual. For a lot of people they just construct their own morality, and then they think they’re moral.
Rosaria tells a story about how she, as a lesbian activist, that they have their own moral code, and they believe they are moral because they live up to this code of morality. So there is a self-righteousness there that is not unlike any other religious system.
The individual has to come to grips with what the Word of God says in terms of the fact that we are all sinners, and that the ultimate standard is the Word of God—not our own idea of morality or our own traditions.
This is what happened with Israel. They departed from God, and they worshipped other gods, and this defiled or corrupted the land. So it would need to be cleansed or washed.
Jeremiah 2:8: Then God indicts the priests, and He says, “The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ ”
Their spiritual leaders were not confronting them with their spiritual failures. They went along with them. We’ve studied in the book of Judges how one of the Levitical priests is just as corrupt and just as bad as any of the Canaanites.
So “the priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ And those who handle the law did not know Me.’”
You see, you bring this forward a few hundred years, and that’s the Pharisees and the scribes confronting Jesus. They handled the Law, but they don’t know God. They’re, in fact, mishandling the Law and misinterpreting the Law and coming up with a higher authority.
So it says, “The rulers also transgressed against Me.”
The indictment of the rulers, the judges in the book of Judges and later indictments against various kings, the prophets, the false prophets came along and they prophesied by Baal, and they walked after things that do not profit.
This is exactly what happens in our lives. We substitute that which gives no sustenance for that which can only sustain us. We substitute that which gives us personal pleasure for a moment for that which will sustain us and give us true happiness that lasts forever.
This is where God is taking them—you’re walking after things that don’t profit.
“Therefore,” God says in Jeremiah 2:9, “I will bring charges against you.”
An interesting word that’s used in Hebrew here is the verb riyb, and we would translate that “an indictment.” There’s a lot of literature about this particular word—that God through the prophets, and the prophets functioned like a defense attorney or prosecutor for God, and He’s indicting them for failing to obey the Law.
He says, I’m going to bring charges against you and against your children’s children. I will bring charges, in other words, I’m going to bring this indictment and this judgement, and it’s not going to affect just you, but it is also going to affect your children. Then He gives them some evidence.
He says, “I want you to go out and think about all these pagan nations all around you who don’t know Me. Do they depart from their gods?” No. “But you have departed from my God.”
That’s the point of verses 10 and 11.
“For pass beyond the coasts of Cyprus and see, send to Kedar and consider diligently, and see if there has been such a thing.”
Has any pagan nation ever turned away from their gods?
That’s Jeremiah 2:11, “Has a nation changed its gods, which are not gods? But My people have changed their Glory for what does not profit.”
This is what happens with us as individuals: we pursue things that have no eternal value. We put our focus and our life on pursuing things that are not evil in and of themselves, but we build them into a level of importance and significance in our lives that we think that life exists in terms of how I succeed in school. Or, life is made up of how I succeed in business; life is determined by my social standing, or my material possessions and having the things that I enjoy. Not that those things are wrong in and of themselves, but that’s not the source of life.
This is what God says, “Be astonished, O heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid; Be very desolate.” Judgment is coming.
Then He says in verse 13, “For My people have committed two evils”—this is the indictment.
The first evil is that they have forsaken God. They have turned away from Him. They have sought life from some other sources. They have sought meaning from some other source.
“They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters.”
How many times do we see this idea in Scripture—that God provides life? He is the Source of life. In John we read that when we trust God, Jesus says out of our belly will flow living water. Our sustenance is in God. He is the Source of genuine life.
They forsake Him and turn to something else for life.
Jeremiah 2:13, Then He uses the illustration they have “hewn for themselves cisterns.”
They’ve rejected God as the Source of water, which stands for life, and they’ve hewn out their own cisterns. They’re developing their own system of happiness, their own system of meaning in life, their own system of values.
“They have rejected Me, and they now have these broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Their life is now going to be meaningless.
So what do we have to do? We see an application here, both personally and nationally.
Personally this often happens with people as they seek life from something other than a relationship with God. They have God as part of their life on Sunday morning or maybe different times during the week, but God is not the sole sufficient source of real life and real happiness, and so they look elsewhere.
We see an interesting comment by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, as he’s addressing the issue of a failure to examine themselves to the Corinthians at the Lord’s Table.
Often I use this and talk about this because this is a recognition also of confession of sin. But the word that he uses here for “examine yourself” goes far beyond just confession of sin.
It’s the Greek word DOKIMAZO, which is, let a man look to see what in his life has God’s approval.
In looking at your life to see what has God’s approval, you’re going to see whether there’s sin that needs to be confessed, but the ultimate focal point is on something positive, not something negative, to see what is there of value to God in terms of what God has produced in your life.
There has to be this self-evaluation that goes on day in and day out in terms of our spiritual life. Are we truly seeking to find life from God? Are we drinking of that fountain of living waters, that sufficient Scripture, or are we seeking life from some other source?
In Isaiah in the first chapter he indicts his generation, and he’s focusing on the fact that it’s not external observance, it’s not sacrifices and offerings that counts, it’s having your heart towards God.
He says, “Bring no more future sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.”
They are doing a right thing for the wrong reasons, and God is saying you need to do the right things for the rights reasons. It’s a heart issue.
“Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear.”
See, just because we’re going through the motions doesn’t mean we’re in a right relationship with God. There has to be something more.
He says, “Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves.”
Here’s the command. There needs to be cleansing. He’s addressing them as believers, but they’re disobedient believers. They’re carnal believers, and the solution for our problems, our sins, starts with cleansing. We have to be cleansed of sin.
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.”
See, confession is the beginning. We can’t confess and then go back like a dog to its vomit right away. We have to abide in Christ, walk by the Spirit, continue in obedience.
There needs to be a thoughtful evaluation of our own lives when we’re going through confession that… we have to admit our sins to God, and we’re instantly forgiven, but it doesn’t stop there. It goes beyond that to an evaluation to move in the direction of this radical dependence on the sufficiency of God’s grace. That involves more than simply just confessing sin.
It involves “putting away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil.”
That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t sin at times, but they’re moving from a position where their whole life is characterized by walking according to the sin nature. Their whole life is characterized by idolatry to moving in the direction of obedience to God. Even though that involves failure at times, they can easily recover.
Then we skip down to verse 18 and God says, “Come now, and let us reason together, though your sins are like scarlet…”
This is often used as a salvation verse, but this is used really to call Israel back to fellowship with God – “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”
When we confess our sins, God cleanses us and forgives us of our sins and cleanses us of all unrighteousness.
“Your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
We have to recover spiritually when we fail, but recovery through confession of sin, restoration of fellowship, is not the same as ongoing fellowship. It’s not the same as walking by the spirit. It’s not the same as abiding in Christ. That’s what we do after we confess sin.
We have to go forward. If we just go right back to sin, and we continue that lifestyle, we’re just like a spiritual yo-yo. We’re in and out of fellowship day in and day out, and we’re not going anywhere. We are, as the Scripture says, to walk by the Spirit.
We’re not to pursue these broken cisterns, which is what too many people are doing. They’re looking to something other than Christ as the source of their happiness and the source of their stability and the source for the meaning for everything in their life.
That’s what Jesus is confronting the Pharisees over.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study these things, to be reminded that You are the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them. You are our Source of sufficiency. You’ve provided everything for us. You’re our source of happiness, stability, meaning in life, that as we pursue, whatever we pursue in life, whether it’s career, whether it’s relationships, whether it has to do with just enjoying Your creation, developing hobbies—that all of this needs to be done under the umbrella of a dependence on Your sufficient grace, that Your grace is what binds everything together in our lives.
It’s our walk with You that pulls it all together and gives true genuine meaning to our life and prepares us for that which comes and prepares us for our future role in the Kingdom.
Father, we pray that You would challenge anyone who’s listening who has never trusted in Christ as Savior, that the issue for salvation isn’t what we do, it’s not a walk of obedience—it is simply believing, believing that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins. Trust in Him and Him alone as the source of salvation. He paid the penalty for sin, He died for our sins, and all we do is simply trust in Him alone, and at that instant we have eternal life.
Now Father, we pray that You’d challenge us with what we studied this morning. In Christ’s name. Amen.”