The Temple Sermon
Main Idea: We should fear a fake faith.
- Sermon Introduction (7:3-4)
- Make It Right (7:5-7).
- Don’t Fool Yourself (7:8-15).
- Obey (7:21-26).
- Sermon Conclusion (7:30–8:3)
Few things are as disheartening as hypocrisy. When we find that someone is not who we thought they were, it is horribly discouraging. Being a minister for a few years, teaching preachers, and knowing a thousand or so of them, I have come to make the acquaintance of a few who were not who they appeared to be. They appeared gracious and kind, even good leaders. Yet in a dark place they were something different. A poseur whose identity was obscured by his giftedness—he was a fake hiding in plain sight. Ministerial hypocrisy is disheartening; the pulpit is often the last place you would expect to find shadows.
Jeremiah is standing in the temple, preaching. This in reality is not a record of the sermon; rather, it is a record of God’s telling him what to say. God is telling Jeremiah to preach, telling him what to preach (7:1-15), telling him not to pray because God’s anger is already kindled (7:16-20), and finally giving him the outcome of his audience’s disobedience and deafness to God—the horrible wrath of God that is coming (7:21–8:3) (Wright, Message of Jeremiah, 106–20).
Instead of focusing on the interaction between God and Jeremiah, let’s focus on the sermon itself. The sermon essentially has an introduction, three aspects, and a conclusion. The conclusion is a horrific prophecy as to what will happen to them if they do not obey the voice of God.
There are some who like nice, linear sermons with three points and a poem. This is not one of those. Jeremiah makes two bold statements about obedience in 7:5-15; then the rest of the exhortation is for obedience, and it’s sprinkled around other aspects of God’s judgment. More specifically, it is God’s lament that the people have not already obeyed God. Mixed into this we have a record of God’s conversation with Jeremiah. Let’s work our way through the sermon.
Jeremiah begins his sermon with a sermon in a sentence. He essentially gives his listeners the entire sermon right up front: change your ways and stop deceiving yourself. Then he develops the point of getting right in 7:5-7 and the point about not being self-deceived in 7:8-15. The introduction sets up the first point of his sermon, where he tells them to amend their ways.
Make It Right
The idea behind this word translated “correct” is not merely “change” but more “make something good or pleasant.” If my child does not speak nicely to her sibling, ultimately I am concerned about her heart. Immediately I am concerned that she do the right thing, that she start to encourage her sibling. I would simply say to my child, “Make it right.” This is the idea: take your stinky behavior and make it smell better.
He then gets specific. He does address their vertical relationship, “no longer . . . follow other gods,” but at this point he is really going after the horizontal relationships with other people. The root of the problem is that they were oppressing other people.
Oppression is real. We do this, even in subtle ways, when we are not meek (Matt 5:8). Meekness is the virtue of taking all our strength, all our energies, and using them in the service of God and others. This was the ultimate beatitude for Jesus. This is the place where he wanted his disciples to be. This virtue is the expression of all the other beatitudes, for meekness ultimately leads to mercy giving (Matt 5:7). The opposite of meekness is to use all our strength and all our resources on ourselves.
So God is telling them to look around and make things right. Stop abusing people. The application to us may be just exactly what the text says: We are oppressing someone financially. We are taking advantage of someone’s goodwill toward us. We oppress people by choosing not to forgive them when they hurt us; we have emotional leverage over them and will not extend to them the mercy God showed us. This could be the husband who takes advantage of his wife because she is long-suffering, so he works all the hours he wants, neglecting the family simply because he can get away with it.
Oppression is not just about social justice at large. In its broadest sense it is about not showing others what God showed us: mercy. Our inner monologue argues that they do not deserve that type of mercy. This is when Scripture should get in our heads so we recall that this is why it’s called mercy. We give what people do not deserve because God has given us more than we could ever deserve.
God is concerned that his people learn how to make it right with those who had no ability to defend themselves. But that was only half the problem.
Don’t Fool Yourself
The other major problem was that they honestly believed their allegiance to a place was going to save them. Jeremiah was told to say, “Do not trust deceitful words, chanting, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord’” (v. 4). The deceitful words were their own. They were the ones lying to themselves by putting false hope in their hearts.
He expands on this theme in verses 8-15. The indictment is provocative. Remember Jeremiah’s location: he was told to stand at the gate of the temple (v. 2). He was to say these things as people were entering! “Jeremiah accused the people of repeated violations of the Ten Commandments, specifically mentioning six of them (Eight, Six, Seven, Nine, One, and Two; see Exod 20:1–17; cf. Hos 4:2).”
It’s like the people thought God had provided them a universal insurance policy that covered everything. We tend to lean toward the same presumption when we have a theology of one-liners. These are sayings that are true but become reductionistic and therefore trite. For example, blending “God will supply all my needs” with “God will forgive all my sins” with “once saved, always saved” can produce a faith that suggests, as long as we keep supporting the institutional church, God is obligated to hook me up with the good life. We can act as though God is rich in love and low on demands.
The people of Judah were supporting the religious institution but were not holy. Their sin was terrible, but they did not even know how to blush. This is our problem as well. Supporting an institution can be a blanket that covers a fake faith. In fact, we have no license to sin, even if we think of ourselves as “good people” at heart.
Jeremiah ends this section reminding them what happened at Shiloh (vv. 12-15), the location of the tabernacle after Joshua crossed over into the promised land. Shiloh was eventually destroyed by the Philistines. The logic is, if God would not spare the place where the tabernacle rested, why would he spare the temple?
We tend to think that this angry God is so Old Testament. God did that then, but he would not do that now. He felt that way toward Israel, but he has calmed down quite a bit. He just likes us so much more than he did Israel. As his most recently born children, we are his favorites; he is growing softer and more reflective as he ages.
However, it’s not too hard to see examples of our sins in the Old Testament. The history of the church that Jesus established is a history of people who worship auxiliary institutions instead of worshiping Jesus. This worship of the tangential puts us in what we think is an enviable position: We get all the benefits of the kingdom even if our hearts are not fully obedient to the King. But when Jesus established the way of the kingdom (Matt 5–7), it was all about the heart, and it still is. Yes, the church is eternal, but we have no immunity from God’s discipline.
God has established the church as an eternal institution. The gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matt 16:18). Yet the expressions of the church in local bodies may experience the favor of God or incur his discipline. We often don’t think of the church this way. The church that sins corporately is not immune from God’s discipline. All you have to do is look at the earliest expressions of local bodies of believers to whom John writes in Revelation 2 and 3. They were a part of Christ’s bride, yet he told them,
Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:5)
So repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (Rev 2:16)
Remember, then, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. If you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come upon you. (Rev 3:3)
This sounds like it could come out of the mouth of Jeremiah! Yet these are the hard words of Jesus himself. Jesus loves his bride, and he holds her accountable in the same way God held Israel accountable. Jesus said it most strongly this way: “As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be zealous and repent” (Rev 3:19).
Let’s be clear: if you love the institution of the church, you do not have a license to sin. God will discipline both the individual and the church that lives in sin. This is why he ultimately calls us to a heart of obedience.
God wants a heart of obedience. What we are about to read is going to seem tough—remarkably so. Yet remember that where there is warning, there is hope. Judah has the opportunity to get right and get real. They can make it right and stop lying to themselves. That would be a heart of obedience. Without this obedience God’s character obligates him to punish them.
In fact, his wrath is so set that he tells Jeremiah not to intercede on their behalf (vv. 16-17). He will punish them. But what have they done that is so egregious? The list is long. They were abusing one another (vv. 5-6), they were worshiping Baal (v. 8), and they were worshiping the queen of heaven (v. 18), but that was not the real issue. The real issue was a heart of disobedience. Simply put, they were not listening to God. In verses 23-26 God says, “They didn’t listen or pay attention. . . . My people wouldn’t listen to me or pay attention but became obstinate.” Earlier, in verse 13, Jeremiah used similar language: “I have spoken to you time and time again but you wouldn’t listen, and I have called to you, but you wouldn’t answer.” The root of all this sin was that they did not listen to God.
There is more in Scripture about listening than we have time to express here. The first sin was when Adam and Eve listened to someone other than God. The history of Israel is replete with people who knew what to do but did not do it; they did not listen to God. Jesus warned against having the ability to hear but not listening (Matt 13:9). In that same passage in Matthew, he quoted the prophet Isaiah by saying, “You will listen and listen, but never understand; you will look and look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown callous; their ears are hard of hearing” (Matt 13:14-15). The problem was not with their ability to hear but their willingness to hear. Jesus then goes on to tell a story about a soil that was so hard, like a heart that cannot hear, and it therefore rejected the word. This is the archetype of someone who will not hear: hard soil that rejects the word.
When our hearts are hard against God, there is no hope. When we have a soft heart, we listen to his Word, we long for his Word; we love him, and therefore we want to know what he says to us.
This leads Jeremiah to his conclusion: God is going to punish Israel.
The consequence of disobedience is God’s wrath. God’s anger burns against Judah because they have ignored repeated warnings. This is not the child who slips up. This is the child who is openly defiant, does horrible things, but then shows up at church, kisses you on the cheek, and wonders why you have any problem with this at all. Their attitude is, What’s wrong with you?
God has had enough. So a tragic end is prophesied. The conclusion to his sermon (7:30–8:3) could be summed up in the words of 7:29:
Raise up a dirge on the barren heights, for the Lord has rejected and abandoned the generation under his wrath.
During the time of the judges, we have recorded one of the most famous stories of the Bible, the story of Samson. He had everything a man could want. He was powerful with his personality, he was cunning, and he had seemingly unlimited strength. Every boy growing up in church has fantasized about what he would do with unlimited strength. Samson had it all.
He eventually got the girl he wanted, and it cost him everything. Not everything in the sense that he died the next day. Far worse than that! His enemies bound him, mocked him, tortured him, and enslaved him. His slow, agonizing fall was as unhurried and sluggish as his rise was meteoric. He rose fast; he fell slow.
His death began famously when he told Delilah the secret of his strength. She cut his hair, and the next day the enemy came to take him out. Here some of the most tragic words in the whole Bible are recorded. Samson rose to fight, “But he did not know that the Lord had left him” (Judg 16:20). He had everything but God.
The problem with organizations (movements, institutions, or churches) is when they are effective. When they are well managed and doing fine, it is tempting to perceive that the success lies in their leaders or their resources. When a church—or something created by a church, such as a school—thinks it is the end in itself, the favor of God may depart from it.
You might think this is a scary passage, and you would be right. This was recorded so that we might fear God. No one is exempt from loving Jesus. The potential for us to love organizations and fail to be holy is real. Israel was victim of this idea, the early church was, and we are. No one is immune. Fearing God means fearing a fake faith. So, how is your faith?
Reflect and Discuss
- Where was this sermon delivered? Why is that significant?
- How is it possible to have a fake faith?
- What New Testament passages challenge us to have a real faith?
- Was Jesus concerned about a true faith?
- What does Jeremiah call the words of the false prophets (7:4)?
- What is the significance of Shiloh to Jeremiah’s sermon (vv. 12-15)?
- In its simplest form, what does God really want from his people (v. 13)? If God has not changed, how does that impact decisions we are making right now?
- What do the letters to the churches in Revelation 2–3 teach us about the consistency of God’s feeling toward sin in the body?
- What are we to think of challenging verses such as Jeremiah 7:29? Is there any application to us today?
- What does the life of Samson teach us about fearing God and walking in his Spirit?