Covered: 2 Kings 17-23, Jeremiah 1-3,25,29
Not Covered: Jer 4-24,26-28, Psalms 74, 79
Scripture Memory: Develop World Vision – Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19-20
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23
Your heart defines and determines who you are, how you think, and what you do. The people of Judah had a heart problem, and God sent them a prophet to warn them about it. The prophet’s name was Jeremiah, and I want to spend some time talking about who he was, and what God called him to do. We will also see how the Lord is calling us, like Jeremiah, to have a heart for the nations – a world vision.
Jeremiah was only about seventeen years old when God called him. He preached faithfully to the people of Judah, in and around Jerusalem, for forty years. He was one of Judah’s greatest prophets during the nation’s darkest days. God sent Jeremiah to tell Judah to turn away from their unrepentant sin, or He was prepared to remove them from their land at the hands of a pagan king. What was their great sin? Apostasy (falling away from God), Idolatry (worshiping false idols), perverted worship, and moral decay. (Sounds a little like our world today!) In response to Jeremiah’s sermons, he only experienced sadness at the hands of his people; opposition, beatings, isolation, and imprisonment. No matter how hard he tried, the people would not listen to him. Jeremiah loved Judah, but he loved God much more. Even though it was difficult for him to deliver a consistent message of judgment to his own people, he was obedient to what God told him to do and say. We too must obey God, even when it is difficult. We must recognize that God’s will is more important than our desires, and trust that God, in His infinite wisdom and perfect plan, will bring about the best for His children (Rom 8:28).
Jeremiah’s ministry began after King Josiah’s extensive religious reform, triggered by the discovery of the book of the law found in the temple by one of his priests. King Josiah saw that the people fell short of God’s requirements for holy living, and he took serious measures to get the nation back on track. Unfortunately, Josiah’s successors did not follow in his footsteps and led the people back into idolatry. The nation of Israel, just like many nations today, had stopped putting God first and had replaced Him with false gods, those that would not make them feel guilty or convict them of sin. According to Kyle Idelman, in his book, gods at war, he states that idolatry isn’t “an issue”- it is “the issue.” It’s the trunk of the tree, and all other problems are just branches. Some of the gods at war(idols) he mentions are food, sex, entertainment, success, money, achievement, romance, family, and the god of me. Because everything flows from the heart, your heart is the frontline for the gods at war. Kyle talks about how twentieth-century psychology popularized behavior modification to deal with our issues. It is a system based on a quick fix methodology. An example would be that if you have a gambling problem, then stay away from the casino. If your weight has spiraled out of control, then join a gym and get on a diet. All these things can be a positive action, but we would just be dealing with our behavior. The problem isn’t our behavior, but our heart. The gods of war know the heart is the battlefield. It’s where the war is won.
However, the heart of our God is loving and patient. He wants to have a relationship with us, not an outward relationship of religious formalities. Jeremiah shared this message of God’s love with the people in Judah in hopes that they would turn back to Him. Jeremiah talked about the heart and repentance more than any other Old Testament prophet. He tried to make the people understand that their hearts had become so hardened by their sin that they no longer believed God, nor did they fear Him. Jeremiah used the word heart sixty-six times in this book to try to get his message across to his people. Jeremiah 17:9 says, The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
While God is longsuffering and warns continuously of sin’s consequences, He will nevertheless punish His children if they do not repent of sin and return to Him for forgiveness and restoration. In Jeremiah 23:5-6, we see a prophecy of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ who would provide salvation for His people. We see God’s redemptive thread weaving through the pages of Scripture despite the people’s rebellion.
After forty years of preaching, Jeremiah did not once see any success in changing or softening the hearts and minds of the stubborn, idolatrous people. In our results-oriented world today, I think many of us would have quit long before forty years had passed. Also, God had forbidden Jeremiah to marry or have children (Jeremiah 16:2), and his friends had turned their backs on him. He must have felt very lonely! Jeremiah became discouraged, worn out, and even doubting God (Jeremiah 15:18). Jeremiah was known as “the weeping prophet” since his prophecy, and his life were full of tragedy and heartbreak. However, God gives Jeremiah a message that is a lesson for all believers. We must remember this verse when we feel alone, useless, discouraged, and our faith is wavering. In Jeremiah 15:19, the Lord says: If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them. God was telling Jeremiah to “Come back to Me, and I will restore to you the joy of your salvation.” This is like what David asked of the Lord in Psalm 51:12 after his sin with Bathsheba.
Jeremiah was called by God to speak an unpopular, convicting message to the people of Judah. The message caused him great distress, as well as making him hated by his own people. God says that His truth sounds like “foolishness’ to those who are lost, but to believers, it is the very words of life (1 Corinthians 1:18) He also says that the time will come when people will not tolerate the truth (2 Timothy 4:3-4). The people of Judah certainly did not want to hear the truth or the warning of God’s judgment against them. Sadly, the same thing is true of our world today. Many people don’t want to hear the truth, or they want to adjust the truth (God’s Word) to fit their life.
We are given two Bible verses this week that should help us have a heart for our nation as Jeremiah did, and help us develop a world vision.
Jesus tells us in Acts 1:8 – But you will receive my power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
Jesus also gives us the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Every believer has an important, God-given role to play in helping fulfill these commands of Christ. We must persevere in proclaiming truth to rescue some from the terrible judgment that will inevitably come. At The Chapel, our mission is to help people meet, know, and follow Jesus. We need to continually look for ways to share the Gospel. We need to have an awareness of the people who are around us and look for ways to build relationships that will lead to sharing Christ. We need to pray that God will do greater things than we can ever imagine. We must make disciples; discipleship should be our lifestyle. People with a world vision think more about the world, culture, and languages than they do about the tiny place that they live. They understand that the Gospel is not just for them, but for all people. They are committed to getting it to the rest of the world. The Chapel has sent and is continuing to send many from our church body into the world to share the Gospel. As a church family can we support them in many ways through financial gifts, prayer, words of encouragement, etc. I also pray that we will be like Isaiah when he heard the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And he said, Here I am Lord! Send Me! I pray we are obedient whether He tells us to go across the street, to another town, state, or country to share His redeeming love.
Just like Jeremiah did not give up trying to share the truth with the people of Judah, we must understand that “the task” is not done. We must have a heart for the nations – a world vision! There are still billions in the world that have not heard of or proclaimed the name of Jesus!
Written by: Julie O’Neal
Photo Credit: Norman Strickland