Grace, wisdom, and peace in Christ be yours in His name, Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Does it really matter what we believe? Does doctrine matter? Isn’t it good enough that we are sincere? God is a God of love, He wouldn’t really condemn anyone, except the really bad people, right? Is that what the Bible teaches us? These are the questions we are going to answer as we explore the events recorded for us in the book of Jeremiah today.
Once again, the children of Israel had walked away from God’s Word, and God’s Law. Once again they had replaced God’s Law, which God had given to protect them, with their own law, which allowed them to do whatever they wanted. Once again they had, over time, gradually destroyed God’s Word, by removing those things from it that they deemed politically incorrect.
There was money to be made and power to achieve. God’s Word was in the way, so once again God’s people had slowly thrown out this verse and that chapter, this law and that command, until all of God’s Word became offensive to them. We’ve seen this before in Israel. This is not the first time. It won’t be the last.
God’s patience had come to its limit. God is angry, but even in His anger, He is still giving them another chance to apologize and all would be forgotten. God sends Jeremiah to the people with a message. That message is this, ‘Apologize to God, and change the way your think and act. If you don’t, God will bring destruction and punishment upon you. You have abused God’s good graces for far too long. Apologize before it is too late. Return to the God who loves you!’
Yet another chance. All they had to do was come back to God and His Word. Instead they threatened Jeremiah. They tell Jeremiah that he is a traitor and he deserves death. They had gone so far from God’s Word that they now found it offensive to hear. It angered them instead of comforted them. It angered them so much they were ready to kill Jeremiah.
Jeremiah’s response to them was simple. He said, ‘God sent me to say what God sent me to say. If you kill me you will only make it worse on yourself.’ At this time wiser heads prevailed when it came to Jeremiah’s life, and he was not executed but they did not return to God’s Word and God’s Law. They continued to do what they wanted to do. Their desire for their own pleasure, dreams and power was more important than God’s plan for their future.
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Does it matter what we believe? As long as we’re happy, isn’t that enough? No.
God eventually punished them, just as He will all who abandon what He teaches. To better understand that I’d like to share a story with you. One that I believe will help you better understand why it really does matter what we believe.
A young boy and his father had driven into town to run some errands. This boy was just at that age when he want to do everything he could to make daddy proud. You know what I mean. They want to help work on the tractor, or help around the house. They just want to be with dad and be just like dad. He was a good boy.
They were returning home and just as the car pulled into the driveway, the father said, “I should have filled up the tank. We’re nearly empty. Next time we go into town I’ll have to fill it up first thing or we might not get to where we’re going.”
By the time he had said this the car was in the drive and the engine was turned off. The father got out of the car and walked into the house with a bag of things he needed for some project they were going to work on later. The father was a little preoccupied with what still needed to get done that day and did not notice that his son had not gotten out of the car.
The boy was thinking. He liked to make his daddy proud. He liked to do projects with his daddy. His little mind was spinning and those little gears were turning, as he tried to come up with a plan. Then the light went on. He unbuckled his seat belt and climbed out of the car and pushed the car door closed.
Right there next to the car was a big black garden hose. It looked just like the hose at the gas station. On the end of that hose was a nozzle. It looked so much like the one at the gas station. His idea became a plan. He was going to make his daddy so proud. He popped open the gas door on the car. He put that garden hose nozzle into the pipe, and with the biggest grin on his face he filled that tank up right to the very top. He was going to make his daddy so proud. He even took extra special care to get in every drop he could. Then he closed the fuel door and put the hose away.
He thought about running in to tell his dad what he had done, but then he thought, “I’m going to let it be a surprise! Daddy will be so surprised, and so proud of me!” He walked into the house and said nothing. Though he did have a big proud grin on his face, which he was having trouble hiding.
Later that day his dad had to return to town to run a few more errands and pick up some additional odds and ends for the project he was working on. He called to his boy and said, “Get in the car son. Let’s head into town.”
The boy couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear. He was so excited. He knew his daddy would be so proud. They got into the car. They both put on their seat belts. The father put the key into the ignition and turned it on. The fuel gauge needle went right up to full, and then right past it to “really full.” The engine turned over, but it never did start. Daddy was sure surprised. Maybe not so proud.
What was the problem? The boy did everything right. He really, sincerely, wanted to make his daddy proud. He really, sincerely, wanted to do the right thing. He really, sincerely, was thinking only the best thoughts. So what went wrong? He was sincere. The problem was he was sincerely wrong.
The hose looked like the real thing, but it wasn’t. The nozzle looked like the real thing, but it wasn’t. His desire was to do the right thing, but that wasn’t right either. Just because it looks good, and the intentions are good, doesn’t make the actions good. It would require a lot of work to fix that mess.
Just because someone is sincere in their faith doesn’t mean their faith is the right faith. Just because someone wants their actions to be the right actions, doesn’t mean they are right. Right and wrong are clearly defined for us in God’s Word. God has gone into intricate detail to tell us about Him, about the salvation He gave to us, about how He wants us to know and worship Him. You can go to the book of Exodus and read for chapter after chapter, as God tells Moses how to build the Tabernacle (their church), how to build the furniture inside, how to conduct the worship service.
God also went into great detail to explain what did, and what did not, please Him. God knows what He wants from us and He has told that to us. Who are we to tell God He is wrong? That would be just like the little boy saying to his dad, “Water is better than gas. You just don’t know.” Does a little boy, even with the best of intentions, know more than his father? Do we, as God’s children, know more than God our heavenly Father, about life, salvation, and what is truly best for our lives?
Now we can assume that the daddy in our story was a loving dad. A frustrated dad, but loving. He knew his son’s desire to be helpful, and even though it took a lot of extra time and work, he really couldn’t be too upset. It was a moment to take the time to teach. To teach about what is the right thing to do, and the wrong thing to do. God is like that with us. When we act out of ignorance, He forgives. He is patent and kind and loving.
However, what if that little boy filled the tank with water again, and again, and again? What if the daddy tells him time after time, do not do what is wrong, and the boy continues to do it anyway? Then the situation changes, doesn’t it. Now the boy will need to be punished. The law is clear. Do not put water in the gas tank. If the law is broken you will be punished.
God’s Law is clear. We do know what is right, and what is wrong. God is patient. God is loving. Still there is a limit to such patience. Simple common sense says there must be a limit. When a person purposefully continues to do those things which they have been clearly taught are wrong, can we expect God to just put up with it, because they are sincere? Do we have the right to point up at God, like a little boy pointing at his daddy, and say, “You are wrong! I know what is best.” That is exactly what we are doing when we choose to do things that we have been told not to do.
There are two paths before us. The right one and the wrong one. This is true for our nation, our community, our church, and us as individuals. How will we act? Which path will we choose? Jesus said, “The path that lead to Heaven is the narrow path.1” and “Wide is the path that leads to destruction.2”
In our world it may be a sad truth, but it remains the truth. The majority of the people do not walk the narrow road Jesus taught about. Yet you, you who know the truth, walk that way. Take the road less traveled. It does make all the difference. The difference is a path to Heaven or a path to Hell.
God has given us directions and a map to get home. It is called His Holy Word. May His Holy Spirit dwell and abide is us always and keep in us a hunger and a desire to taste that Word, and the promises it contains every day of our lives.
In Jesus’ name.