Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Jeremiah is characterized as the weeping prophet for good reason, torn as he was between proclaiming the message God insisted his people hear and respond to even as they insisted on hearing a conciliatory, “uplifting” message. They expected pronouncements of peace and prosperity while God was seeking an acknowledgement of sin and subsequent repentance. A spiritual condition much like that which is prevalent in our society today. Even as we look to blame Washington, Harvard, Wall Street and Hollywood; who do indeed share in the blame for our present condition. (Not merely mirroring society as it is but nudging it in the direction they want it to go.)
Jeremiah lived in a day when many of those involved in organized religion were being far less than what they were called to be while soothing their conscience by chanting, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” As if the mere existence of God’s temple in their midst automatically conferred a certain level of righteousness on them, whether they strived to be righteous or not. God’s judgement on that refrain and their attitudes being, “…you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.” Jeremiah 7:1-8 (Isaiah describing this same issue in the people he addressed, claiming they were, “…wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight.”; as they called, “…evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Is. 53:20,21Proverbs pointing out that, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 14:12
Jeremiah rightly pointed out that the real problem his nation faced wasn’t found so much in external threats like Babylon, pagan religions, corrupt government, etc., but that those issues were present in their lives as symptoms of the real problem. Hypocrisy. In the temple and throughout the populace. Their “preachers” assuring them of an anticipated protection they could expect to receive as a result of their “possession” of the Lord’s Temple (Jeremiah 7:14), preaching a peace that was superficial (Jeremiah 6:13,14), proclaiming their own version of “I have a dream” that wasn’t pertinent or realistic. (Jeremiah 23:25)
And of course, the people loved it. Only Jeremiah seemed to understand that pious platitudes and accommodating promises weren’t what the people needed to hear. (But it did keep the pews full.) Rather characterizing their sin-inflicted wounds as being “healed slightly” by such words. (Jeremiah 8:11 – KJ)
But the fact of the matter is, their problems – as ours – weren’t emanating from the pulpit only, there was plenty of hypocrisy emanating from the pews as well. Jeremiah pointedly saying, “The prophets prophesy falsely … and my people love to have it so.” Jeremiah 5:31 Preferring a “church” that comforts the afflicted, not one that challenges the comfortable – making them feel afflicted; actually expecting to be comforted in their sin rather than being delivered from it.
They had ritual without righteousness, went through the right motions without right motives, at times offering costly sacrifice while avoiding the cost of genuine obedience. Like us, they often, “…claim(ed) to know God, but by their actions deny him.” Titus 1;16 We sometimes impulsively teaching that it’s all about grace, all about mercy, which certainly is an integral part of the gospel; leaving out, however, that grace is only applied to our lives when we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and repent of our sin – allowing him to be our Savior. God having done everything necessary for all men to be saved, but not automatically saving all men. Author Adam Hamilton reminding us that, “Many Christians have lost the sense of reverence, respect, and awe when gathering for worship. In our focus on friendship and intimacy with God, and our emphasis on the grace and acceptance of God, we sometimes forget that “ our God is a consuming fire…”1 (See Hebrews 10:26-31)
Too many preachers think it’s their job to make people happy – and keeping attendance up – rather than leading them to holiness. When that happens, people too often leave the church after experiencing an intense worship service to live willfully and ignorantly in sin. (Jeremiah 7:8-10) Worship, at times, becoming more entertainment than preparation for hearing – and responding to – the gospel and its expectations. Worship without obedience being dealt with by Amos when he speaks for God, writing “I hate… I despise… I cannot stand… I will not accept… I will have no regard … I will not listen…”; until we practice justice and live righteously – as defined by God! Amos 5:21-25 (Which reminds me of Jesus’ words and actions when he cleared the temple – with a whip – of the false preachers and practitioners of his day. See Mark 11; 15-18)
The deceptive gospels of happiness and prosperity taught from some pulpits today lead many people to accept the tremendously costly sacrifice of Jesus as if it were something to be acquired rather cheaply. Not being fully aware of the role our sin played in his death and therefore, not able to fully appreciate the salvation we’ve gained through his sacrifice.
Claiming him as our Savior is relatively easy. Allowing Him to be our Lord – not so much. His Lordship meaning we should be willing and even eager to do anything even hinted at by him, submitting all we are and hope to become to his will and leading. Jesus responding to the confused and conflicted people of his day by asserting, “…wisdom is proved right by her actions.” Matthew 11;192
1From Adam Hamilton’s Moses – In The Footsteps of The Reluctant Prophet, Abingdon Press
2This article inspired in part by an essay appearing in the Sullivan Times by John Moyer
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Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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