Today's Little Lift
by Jim Bullington
There is a reason why Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet! There is a reason why the shorter of his two books is called Lamentations [Weepings]! Our study today will examine a passage from the book of Jeremiah and just how relevant his preaching was and still is!
Here is the setting – Jerusalem was awash with sin and deception. At the head of the list of the deceivers were the priests and prophets! Their lust and pride had eaten them up! This was behind God’s decision to bring Jerusalem (as it currently existed) to a quick end. His promises of peace and prosperity had not been unconditional promises. Yet, this was the way they were being taken by Jeremiah’s contemporaries. In fact, almost every Old Testament prophet was called upon to declare a single message, i.e., “God’s promises are not unconditional; if you do not repent, you will pay the price!”
Jeremiah came with this message: “O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, That you may be saved. How long shall your evil thoughts lodge within you?” (Jeremiah 4.14). Our emphasis as well as that of Jeremiah was upon the washing of the heart. Their outward acts of obedience and penitence were simply inadequate to procure God’s favor; in fact, it was just the opposite! “Your ways and your doings Have procured these things [destruction] for you. This is your wickedness, Because it is bitter, Because it reaches to your heart.” (Jeremiah 4.18).
Those who thought that the Old Testament was a law which required mere outward obedience were wrong, dead wrong! God has always required obedience from the heart! That is why Jeremiah charged the inhabitants of Jerusalem to wash their hearts. This is also why God declared their wickedness was bitter and would result in destruction, i.e. “…it reaches to your heart.” God’s utter disgust in cold formalism is reflected in this quote: “I have seen your adulteries And your lustful neighings, The lewdness of your harlotry, Your abominations on the hills in the fields. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! Will you still not be made clean?” (Jeremiah 13.27).
Somehow many of us have come to believe a lie about the Old Testament. It is the same lie that many who lived in that era swallowed. It was the lie that Jesus confronted when He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23.25-28).
Not to appear trite, but the prophets could well have said, “It’s the heart stupid!” Time and time again the dull of hearing refused to hear. Hundreds of times the call went out, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4.8). Jesus emphatically reinforced these truths when He said, “Are you also still without understanding [stupid]? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Matthew 15.13-20). “Wash your heart!”
1. How would one go about washing his heart?
2. How many rituals would one have to perform to make up for the lack of a pure heart?
3. Did Jesus literally mean that nothing entering the mouth was inherently sinful? If that is not what He meant, what would He have to have said to mean it?
4. What did Jesus mean when He said the things that come from the heart defile the man?
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