Listen. Love. Learn. Lead. Live.
The author of our text is in a spiritual quagmire! Jeremiah is designated as a watchman who guards and guides the people of God. A watchman is one who guards, guides, and supervises. The role of the watchman is one of encouragement and quality control. They toe the line on the mission and vision. The watchman is one who holds the line between right and wrong, no matter whether others follow. To be sure Jeremiah was never able to sway the people’s opinions on what was right, but he lived his life in full obedience to God. He certainly feared God more than the people in power including the political and religious leaders who disagreed with him. He continued to warn the people of danger even when he was unpopular.
He was called to the role of a prophet who wept in prayer over God’s people. He preached a critical message for the people, set the standard for behavior, proclaimed the future hope for the people, and cast vision for the nation. And, as a result of his calling he suffered because of his faithfulness to God’s plan. His message was really simple. God’s got a plan. Humanity has a heart condition. And God wants to help us overcome the obstacles of our stubborn heart.
Across the pages of Jeremiah’s writing, we read all about the stubborn heart condition of God’s chosen people. Stubbornness makes our heart evil (malicious, spiteful, hateful), distorts our conduct and actions, creates a rebellious response, closes our hearing, distracts us from paying attention, sets traps for our neighbors, and moves us out of range of being with God.
In chapter three we read that when the people decided to return to the Lord, they did so only in pretense and were following the stubbornness of the evil hearts (Jer. 3.10,15). In chapter four Jeremiah calls the people to wash the evil from their heart, which is their own conduct and actions, in order to be saved (Jer. 4.4,14,18,19). In chapter five the people have stubborn and rebellious hearts (Jer. 5.23). In chapter seven the people have gone backwards because in their stubbornness they did not listen or pay attention (Jer. 7.24). In chapter nine the people have spoken cordially to each other but in their stubborn hearts set traps for their neighbors (Jer. 9.8,14,26). In chapter 11 the people followed the stubbornness of their hearts and did not listen or pay attention (Jer. 11.8,20). Chapter 12 states that the people’s hearts are far from God (Jer. 12.2). Chapter 13 says that the people refuse to listen (Jer. 13.10). Chapter 16 points out that each one has gone after the stubbornness of their own hearts (Jer. 16.12). Chapter 18 clearly points out that God’s people continue on their own chosen pathway believing no harm will come to them, and they refuse God’s plan (Jer. 18.12, 23.17). To be sure the pride, conceit, arrogance, and haughtiness of the heart will deceive us (Jer. 48.29, 49.16).
Across the pages of Jeremiah’s story, God has a plan! He has always had a plan, and it has never been altered. His heart has always been positioned to receive his people. Because the heart is deceitful, God searches our hearts, examines our mind, grades our conduct, and assesses our behavior (Jer. 11.20, 17.10, 20.12). God wants to be found by us (Jer. 29.13)! In fact God promised that he would send shepherds who would honor the Lord’s name, who lead his people with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3.17). God’s plan is to circumcise our hearts and minds to enable us to become unfailingly faithful (Jer. 24.7, 31.33). God’s desire is to enable us to be singleness of heart and action, always fearing God so that the family would receive a blessing (Jer. 32.29).
Let’s dig into the text line by line.
JEREMIAH 4.1-2: Sin must be removed from the heart otherwise it is not out of God’s sight for the secrets of the heart are always before him. You’ve heard that commercial, “What’s in your wallet?” God wants to know what’s in your heart, asking, “What’s the condition of your heart today?”
JEREMIAH 4:3-4: Sin makes our heart hard like untended ground. Our job is to tend the ground of our heart. There are several texts that reflect this same concern. When David sinned before God, he cried out to God to create within him a clean heart (dirty thoughts) and a renewed spirit (depleted, zapped of strength). Jesus taught on the parable of the soils in Gospels, he was talking about the condition of our hearts: pathway (walked on), rocks/stones (angry, bitter, selfish), thrones (defensive, gossip), and loose (freedom). God wants a circumcised heart that is teachable from the inside out. (Deut. 30.6, Jeremiah 4.4, Romans 2.29). The phrase “return b…w°v (shub) to me” appears in Jeremiah 111 times, the most frequent use in the bible. The phrase can be translated in several ways but consistently describes our responsibility in the work of repentance of turning away from evil and doing good.
JEREMIAH 4:5-18: Jeremiah wanted the people to understand the condition of their hearts before God so that they could reclaim the ground of their hearts for freedom. The enemy was coming to enslave them and carry them off into captivity. Jeremiah’s call was to give the warning call that God is trying to get their attention. The outward reform is not the true exercise of the inward repentance that is necessary. Love for God and neighbor begins in the heart not in the behavior, and behavior is not always a reflection of what is in the heart.
JEREMIAH 4:19-31: We are given the picture of a weeping prophet who takes no pleasure in preaching repentance, but repentance was required. God holds out the hope for a changed community beginning with each individual heart. Here is the hope! Although the community is ruined, God has a plan for restoration.
OUR RESPONSE: Now that we know that God holds us accountable for our stubborn heartedness. What should we do to get right with God?
Just like children’s story “Going on a Bear Hunt,” there are many obstacles that may get in our pathway. When we read Jeremiah, we can certainly discern that stubbornness is one major obstacle to God’s plan. But there are other obstacles in Jeremiah’s story that are more subtly discerned including the misuse of power, mixed messages from religious and political leaders, sinfulness at all levels of community, vain imagination in leadership, insincerity in repentance, and deceitful decision-making. No matter the obstacle, God’s plan remains the same. Jeremiah preached repentance in the same fashion as our “Confession of Faith.” Let’s review.
Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient (compliance, duty) church. WE COMPLY TO GOD’S PLAN. We have not done your will (wish, desire, decision, choice). WE CHOOSE TO OBEY GOD’S WILL. We have broken (failed to keep) your law. WE CONFESS OUR SINS. We have rebelled against (refused, recoiled, challenged, resisted, opposed) your love. WE COOPERATE WITH GOD’S LOVE. We have not loved (hated) our neighbors, and WE LEARN TO CHERISH OUR NEIGHBORS. We have not heard the cry of (turned a deaf ear to) the needy. WE TAKE TIME TO CARRY NEEDS OF THE POOR. Forgive us (pardon, absolve), we pray. WE RECEIVE FORGIVENESS. Free (unbind, loose the captive) us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. WE ACCEPT THE FREEDOM GIVEN TO US IN CHRIST JESUS.
To be sure whole-hearted devotion to God is required in our community experiences, our willful behaviors, our obedience to God’s word, our love for neighbor, our fellowship of friends, and our service to the poor. Let us open our stubborns hearts to become more like Jesus. Amen.