Tears were streaming down the old man’s checks as he carefully picked his way through the ruins which had once been the capital city of a nation God called His own. The prophet had seen this devastation all before, in visions, and he had wept then. At first he had hoped that the people would listen, would repent and turn back to the true worship of God, but as the years rolled by and they stubbornly refused to listen, he knew the vision would become reality.

Now the rubble was still smouldering, tiny wisps of smoke hovering over piles of wood and brick that just days earlier had been the homes of Jerusalem’s inhabitants. On the summit of Mount Zion, where for 400 years the magnificent temple of God had stood, the pride and glory of the Israelite nation, there was now nothing but charred, smouldering ruins. The only life visible in this once proud city were the scavenger birds going about their grizzly business.

Nebuchandnezzar’s troops had been thorough. Not a house was left standing, the walls of the city, once the boast of kings and the security of the people, were nothing but a pile of rubble. Jerusalem, the capital of God’s people for nine generations was dead, destroyed.

As the prophet Jeremiah picked his way among the debris, he felt grief rolling over him that could not be named in words.

“How deserted lies the city once so full of people,” he cried in his lamentations, “All our enemies have opened their mouths against us, we have suffered terror, ruin and destruction. Streams of tears flow from my eyes because my people are destroyed. My eyes will flow unceasingly, without relief!” (Lam. 1:1; 3:46-49 NIV)

For over forty years Jeremiah had walked these streets, preaching, warning, entreating the people to return to a real relationship with the true God. For forty years he was predicting this destruction that would come if they insisted on turning their backs on the only One who could protect them. But they wouldn’t listen. Instead they mocked Jeremiah, God’s messenger, they whipped him, they put him in stocks, they threw him into a muddy pit, they put him in prison, they accused him of treason and plotted to kill him. Even his own brother, members of his own family (Jer. 12:6) betrayed him and the men of his home town of Anathoth threatened him, demanding, “Do not prophecy any more in the name of the Lord or you will die by our hands.” (Jer.11:21)

The story and message of Jeremiah is a thought provoking study with much meaning for our day. Today I would like to look at some of his messages for I believe they are very relevant to our time.

Jeremiah received his call from God while still a young man living in his father’s house and training for the priesthood. King Josiah was on the throne. Now King Josiah was a king who loved and served God. He did everything in his power to encourage the people of his kingdom to serve God. Unfortunately, his Grandfather, king Manasseh and his father, King Amon, had been very wicked kings. Of Mannasseh the Bible writes, “He followed the detestable practices of the nations which the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He erected altars to Baals, he built towers to the goddess Asherah, He worshipped the starry heavens. He even built foreign altars and images right in God’s temple. He practiced child sacrifice, witchcraft, sorcery, consulted mediums and persecuted those who tried to stay true to God.
Yet despite his immense evil, Manasseh repented of his sins, and God in His great mercy, (the God who receives everyone who comes to him with a broken and contrite heart), forgave him and accepted him. Manasseh tried to undo the evil he had done, he got rid of the foreign altars in the temple as well as all the altars he had built around Jerusalem. The people however, continued the idol worshipping rituals, only now they said they were doing them for God (2 Cor. 33:17)
This reminds us of Israel's great fall in the wilderness, when they built a golden calf and declared, "tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord". (Ex. 32:5) But the LORD did not see it as a feastival to HIM at all.

The evil of false worship had taken hold of the people. Calling it "worshipping the Lord" makes it all the more deceptive.

When Manasseh died his son Amon became king. King Amon wasn’t impressed with his father’s conversion at all and went all out to bring back the sensual, diabolical heathen worship. His wickedness disgusted the people to the extent that they had him assassinated and put eight year old Josiah on the throne.

Josiah tried to get rid of false worship. He traveled throughout Judea destroying the grooves and alters where heathen ceremonies were held. He cleaned and repaired God’s temple and restored the temple ceremonies. For the first time in many years, Judea was again celebrating the Passover Feast. Did you know that from the time of Josiah, right up to the fall of Jerusalem the people zealously kept the Passover and other temple feasts. They were, they thought, worshiping God. So what was wrong? Why was Jeremiah called to give such a message of soon coming doom to a people who apparently were again worshiping the true God?

The problem was, that even though the nations idolatry became less obvious, like in most instances where religion is legislated, there was no change of heart in the people. They flocked to the temple for it’s services because it was the politically correct thing to do, but in their lives they still participated in all sorts of things that were contrary to God’s ways.

After Josiah’s death, false worship was practiced more openly again. His sons, though they didn’t actively promote idol worship, didn’t do anything about it either.

A leading theme in the book of Jeremiah is to make a clear distinction between true and false worship of God. That is why this book is so relevant to our day. We know that the last great conflict, before Jesus comes again and the world is destroyed will be over worship. The end time issues are over worship. Will we worship the dragon, the beast, the image of the beast, or will we worship the God who created heave and earth? (see Rev. 13,14)

In the years prior to the fall of Jerusalem, God sent His faithful servant, Jeremiah, to proclaim the word of the Lord.

People stop in their tracks as he warned them: “For the sake of your lives, take care that you do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day! (17:21) “Do not carry burdens.. on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers:” (17:22)
“If you do not listen to me, to keep the Sabbath day holy,.. then will God kindle a fire in the gates, it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched. (17:27)

What happened? “They did not listen or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck, that they might not hear and receive instruction.” (17:23).

“Amend your ways and your doings!... Do not trust in deceptive words... For wrath shall be poured out on this place... it will burn and not be quenched.” (7:3,20)
Jeremiah’s fervent call, shakes a few but mainly irritates the rest.

“We’ve heard that before,” say the unbelieving sort, tired of listening to what they think is the prophet’s incessantly negative preaching.

Yes, they had heard it before, for Jeremiah was not the first prophet sent with warning messages. God had been calling the people to back to Himself for years.

The message:

Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separates himself from me, and sets up his idols in his heart, and then goes to a prophet seeking My counsel..I will set My face against him. Ez. 14:6-8
Repent! Turn away from all your offenses, then sin will not be your downfall...get a new heart and a new spirit, for why will you die, O house of Israel." Ez. 18:30-31

The message was repeated by many prophets yet the people of Judah didn’t seem to see any clear distinction between their worship of the real God and their worship of false gods. They thought of God as someone who demanded certain activities, someone who needed to be pleased or appeased and who would then bless them with protection, good crops and good fortune. With this philosophy of God, it seemed to make good sense to them to cover all bases.

Sure, they would participate in the Passover feasts, which continued even after Josiah’s death. They would bring a spotless lamb for a sacrifice, they would participate in the ceremonies of the temple to please Jehovah God. Then they would go home and burn a little incense to Astroth, engage in a sunrise ceremony to honor the sun god, and at the full moon engage in the sensuous, diabolical rituals of Chemish, the moon god.

In their minds they were not really revolting against God, they were still giving Him worship. 2 Cor. 33:17 indicates that they offered sacrifices on their pagan shrines in the name of the Lord God. So why not get the best of all worship types and cultures, besides some of these other so called gods had some pretty exciting, emotionally stimulating programs that made the temple services seem pretty dull.

It will be the same in the end time crises, most people will not see the difference between worshipping the true God and worshipping false gods.

The real problem in the nation of Judah was that they had forgotten who and what God really was. Moses had told them plainly in Deuteronomy 6:4-6. “Hear oh Israel: The Lord our God is One God, Love the Lord your God with ALL YOUR HEART, with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your HEARTS.

This is new covenant language! God did not give His chosen people a faulty covenant they could not possibly keep. He gave them the everlasting covenant. God’s commandments were always meant to be written on the hearts of God’s people. God has always wanted a relationship built on love.

The type of worship God wants must come from the heart, He wants us to love and serve Him only, with all our hearts. He wants us to obey Him because His commandments are written in our hearts. The importance of worship from the heart is mentioned again and again in the book of Jeremiah.

Listen how God picture the scene through he words of Jeremiah:

(Paraphrases taken from Jer. 2-3) The Word of the Lord... I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me..I rescued you from Egypt, I provided for you in the wilderness and brought you into a fertile land to eat it’s fruit and rich produce. But My people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols....They have forsaken Me the spring of living water...Return to me, faithless people, for I am your husband.... How gladly would I give you a desirable land the most beautiful inheritance of any nation,
But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you are unfaithful to me... You have lived as a prostitute with many lovers...You have the brazen look of a prostitute, completely unashamed of what you are doing.
And then they call out to Me in the time of their distress, What is my beloved doing in my temple as she works out her evil schemes with many? (11:14-15) You say, 'I am innocent: God is not angry with me. Have you not just called to me: 'My Father, my friend from my youth, will you always be angry? why are you angry, surely you won’t punish us for such minor things?
Long ago you broke off your yoke, you tore up your wedding vows, your covenant with Me, and said, “I will not serve You!
And indeed, in every green groove you acted the prostitute. How can you say, “I am innocent” God is not angry with me.” Therefore I will pass judgment because you say “I have not sinned.”

God portrays himself and his people as husband and wife. He dearly loves his wife. But she pays him only as much attention as she feels is her duty and then runs around with other men. When the husband confronts her, she asks in astonishment, “Why are you upset? I haven’t done anything wrong?” The husband then pleads with her to be faithful to him alone, but she won’t listen. So he tells her the only thing left is to give her a divorce and warns her of the total disgrace her false lovers will heap on her.

Now we see why the first covenant turned out to be faulty. Not because God gave His people a faulty covenant but because Israel refused to have a heart relationship with God! She broke her marriage vows- her covenant with God.

The message in Jeremiah is clear. God wants his people to worship him with all their hearts. He doesn’t want them to go through a ritual of worship and then run off in worldly pursuits and forget about Him. He doesn’t want them trusting in a building, or in a church membership and thinking that these will guarantee them salvation. He wants His people to trust in Him and have a personal, committed, relationship with Him, which includes a whole lifestyle change because God’s laws become engraved on our hearts.

This is what the Lord says, “If you will seek me, you will find me when you seek Me with all your heart (29:13) and I will give you a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord, You will be my people, I will be your God for you shall return to Me with all your heart (24:7) and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will be different then the first covenant.... the one they broke, even though I was a husband to her…I will put my law in their inward parts and write them on their hearts and I will be their God and they shall be my people. (31:31-33)
God was saying, “Let’s start all over. Even though the relationship between Me and My people, our marriage, ended in divorce, now that you are willing to give me your heart, we’ll write up a new marriage vow or covenant, and this time we will have a heart relationship.

But Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, only in pretence, declared the Lord. (3:10) These people come near me with their mouth, they honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is made up only of forms and ceremonies,.” (Is. 29:13)

The people, during Jeremiah’s time were engaging in various pagan ceremonies brought in from the pagan worship of the nations around them and yet they still clung to the concept of a chosen people, the favored of heaven.

Can’t you hear the pain in God’s words, as He is rejected by the ones He loves. And poor, deceived Judah, they thought they were worshipping God, but in reality they had forsaken God, they were headed straight for judgment and destruction and they didn’t even know it. They refused to know and acknowledge it.

Chapter 7--

This is the Word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah: Hear what the Lord says to all you people who come through the gate of the house of the Lord to worhip Him: Reform your ways and your actions and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, no harm will come to us. Do you think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely and burn incense to Baal and walk after other gods whom you do not know and then come into my house, that bears my name and say we are saved it doesn’t matter if we do these abominations? Has this house, that bears my name, become a den of robbers? Go to the place in Shiloh where the first sanctuary for my name was placed, and see what happened to it because fo the wickedness of my people. I called to you again and again but you did not listen, I called you but you did not answer. Therefore what I did to the sanctuary in Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my name, the temple you trust in.“

The temple of the Lord with it’s sacrificial ceremonies can not save a person who is wilfully pursuing a life contrary to God’s will.

“How can you say, We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us? The scribes wrote it in vain. The wise men are ashamed, they are deceived, for they have rejected the word of the Lord.” (8:8,9) “They try to heal the hurt of the daughter of my people a little by saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” (8:11)

These people were not out and out heathen. No, they were still going through the forms of worshiping God. They thought they were wise in matters of God’s word. Just because they brought in a few fun things like burning incense to the “Queen of heaven”, and other extra activities surely didn’t mean they weren’t worshiping God? Or did it?

False security breeding doctrines were (and still are) one of the biggest issues God’s messengers had to preach against. A false security was being preached by many false prophets in Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s day. The temple was there. The ceremonies of the temple system, instead of leading a people to repentance and renewal, lent itself to a deceptive sense of safety apart from heart commitment. The outcome of this was to create, in the thinking of the people, an attitude that all responsibility rested on God. They spoke of “the burden of the Lord.” This phrase, “Massa Yahweh,” (23:33) indicates a state of mind. We would say “It’s up to God”
In a sense they had offered their sacrifice and now God must vindicate Himself by saving them. The burden rested upon Him.

“As for the prophet, and the priest, and the people who say, ‘It’s up to God’, I will punish them. . .for you have perverted the words of the living God.” (23:38-39)

They were finding comfort and security in the temple, any sense of shortcoming or sin were dismissed as being irrelevant, and they seemed in totally denial of any threatening danger, even though the evidence was staring them in the face. “Nothing can happen to us,” they said; “there stands our temple.” (23:17, 7:4) Jeremiah tried to rouse them from their lethargy, bluntly he tore down this defence and stripped away the hypocrisy. “Amend your ways and your doings,” he cried. (7:3)

The usual response in those days (and today) is summarized from 5:12 through chapter 6.

God loves us too much to punish us. "No evil will come upon us. We will not see sword nor famine. These doomsday prophets are just a bunch of wind. ” (5:13)
Jeremiah answers them with a message from God, saying that God would make His words in his mouth a fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.” (5:14)
A mighty nation shall attack the land. (5:15)

“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.” (5:21)

But the people are stubborn and rebellious. They listen instead to their false teachers. Wicked men, expert at defrauding others. Jeremiah exclaims, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and my people love to have it so.” (5:30-31)

It’s coming,” warns Jeremiah. “Blow the trumpet! Evil looms ahead, the Babylonians are coming!”

But the people do not listen to the weeping prophet. The false prophets oppose him, and the priests cry, “peace, peace” when there is no peace.

There is no malice on Jeremiah’s part. He wants them to take heed, to come back under God’s protection and gentle care. Again he cries:
“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your soul” (6:16)

The response is negative. “We will not walk in it.”
In other words, they have a new modernized religion. Go back to the old ways? Don’t be absurd. The new is so much more suited to their tastes.

“This is a nation that has not obeyed the Lord its God or responded to correction. TRUTH has perished,” therefore the Lord has rejected and abandoned this generation (7:28)”

The people in Judah thought that bring sacrifices to the temple was enough to gain God’s favor, they were not interested in repenting and changing their lifestyles.. Do we as Christians fall into the same error. Do we say the sacrifice has been offered, the penalty for our sins has been paid, we can now follow the selfish inclinations of our hearts and do what we want and still be assured of salvation?

Let’s turn to the book of Revelation and see what another prophet says about God’s people just before the final destruction of the world.

Revelation 3:14 “These are the Words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness….I know your ways, you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either hot or cold! But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out. You are saying “I’m rich, I have done well well!” I don’t need anything more. When actually you are pitifully wretched, poor, blind and naked. Yet you are totally unaware of it! Come to Me and by purified gold, (the pure faith) that you may have true riches, and white garments to wear (a justified and sanctified life) to cover your shame, and eye salve (spiritual discernment) that you may see. As many as I love I correct and discipline, shake off your complacency and repent. See! I’m standing at your heart’s door, knocking. If you listen and open the door, I will come in and dwell with you.”

The message of Jeremiah and Revelation are identical--directed to different time periods, different cultures, different people-- but still identical. Destruction is looming just ahead, yet God’s people rest in false security, believing that token worship is good enough, while God is pleading-- begging them to give Him their whole hearts-- to serve and worship Him with all their love, strength and mind.

The evidence is all around us that we are on the threshold of something big. The talks and plans of war, the rising violence and crime, the powerful political growth of combined religious activists, the emergence of the United States as the world superpower going out to exterminate evil (however it defines evil) in the world, a host of natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, tornadoes etc.) The shaky economy. The Lord is coming! We hear the footsteps of an approaching God, as He comes to put an end to sin and this world of iniquity. We know it is coming, yet are we going to make the fatal mistake of assuming that at the last God will deliver us without any special co-operation on our part?

That’s exactly what the people in Jeremiah’s day thought.
God allowed a famine to sweep over their land to try and get their attention.
The leaders called for a day of fasting and prayer. People came from all over to the temple in Jerusalem, with their burnt offerings, to entreat God for rain. (14:12) “You oh Lord,” they prayed, “are in our midst, and we are called by Your name; do not leave us!” (14:9) They were having an encouraging worship serve. So called prophets were telling them that they would not suffer famine for God would give them lasting peace (14:13)--when suddenly Jeremiah came walking in.

With eyes that pierced their souls, he spoke, “THIS IS WHAT THE LORD SAYS, ‘MY PEOPLE GREATLY LOVE TO WANDER, THEY WILL NOT RESTRAIN THEIR FEET FROM EVIL, THEREFORE I CAN NO LONGER ACCEPT THEM. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry, though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings I will not accept them. They will be destroyed with the sword, famine and plague (14:10-13)

What would we think if a congregation was having a “praise and prayer” service, with the leaders encouraging the people that they are to boldly believe that they are saved and all is well, and suddenly someone comes in with the above message?

What would they think if that person continued by saying, “The prophets who have been speaking to you are prophesying lies in God’s name. They prophesy to you a false vision, a worthless thing, after the deceit of their heart…who say no evil is coming in this land.” (14:14)

In the gospels as well as in Revelation we are told that in the last days there will be many false prophets and false teachers, deceiving if possible the very elect. At a time when the destiny of every person is about to be fixed forever, the false watchmen are raising the cry “All is well, rest in peace” But the day of God is rapidly approaching. Its footsteps are so muffled that it does not arouse the world from their round of pleasure, discussions, cares and daily activities. But remember what the Bible says. “When they cry peace and safety sudden destruction comes on them and they shall not escape. (1 Thess. 5:3)

Jeremiah says “The prophets all practice deceit, they dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. Peace, peace they say when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their sinful conduct? No, they have no shame, so they will fall among the fallen,” (6:14-15)

These people wanted God to save them from trouble but they were unwilling to acknowledge that they had a problem. Much less to repent of their sins and change their ways. So God could not help them.

Revelation makes it clear that this message is also the message to the last church. Six time in the messages to the seven churches we read the word “REPENT”. Repent and do your first works…If you do not repent I will remove your lamp stand from its place…Repent otherwise I will soon come and fight against them with the sword of my mouth…I have given her time to repent, they will suffer intensely unless they repent of her ways…Remember what you have received and heard; obey it and repent so I will not come on you like a thief. And finally in the message to Laodicea, God says, because you are neither hot nor cold I will spit you out, but first He calls us to be earnest and repent and open our hearts to Christ. If we do this He will come in and dwell with us and we will be victorious Christians. Here again we see that true worship consists of opening our hearts to God and allowing Him into every detail of our lives.

The people in Judah thought that bringing sacrifices to the temple was enough to gain God’s favor, they were not interested in repenting and opening their hearts to God’s influence. Do we as Christians sometimes fall into the same error. Do we say “The sacrifice has been offered, the penalty for our sins has been paid we can now follow the selfish inclinations of our hears, for we are not under any old law like those Jews were. We are assured of salvation and obedience to the law has nothing to do with salvation.

In the Jewish economy sin was not forgiven by good works, but by the death of an innocent lamb that pointed forward to Christ’s death. In the Christian era sin is not forgiven by good works, but by the death of the innocent lamb of God who died for us. Yet too often we look at Christ’s sacrifice for us on Calvary in just the same light as the people of Judah looked to their sacrificial system. They saw their sacrifices as something necessary to appease an angry God and once appeased it really didn’t matter how one lived. Do we only see that Christ’s death fulfilled the requirement for sin’s punishment and fell we are free to live as we want and still be assured of God’s favor.

Christ’s death on the cross was the most generous thing God could ever do for us. By it He is offering us life where before there was only death. As Isaiah elegantly writes, “He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. …He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, with His strips we are healed. (Is. 53)

How do we relate to such love-- to such a sacrifice? Do we glibly say, He paid for my sins, it doesn’t matter if I keep on sinning. Or do we come to Him with a broken, contrite heart, repenting of our sins, surrendering ourselves fully and completely to Him. Asking Him into our hearts and lives to work His works through us. What God really wants is a heart and life fully committed to Him.

What about us, will we listen to the false teachers who say just believe in the sacrifice, it is not important to forsake sin, surrender the life to Christ, and obey God’s commandments, in a heart relationship with Him. Will we listen to false teachers who say it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you have a loving feeling about it. Will we listen to those who try to negate God's call to remember to keep holy the Sabbath, which God created and sanctified for mankind.
Or will we chose to be wholly on the side of the Lord. Walking with Him in all His ways — including the Sabbath.

We don’t want to be lukewarm Christians just going through the forms of worship but not having a vital personal relationship with Christ. We all need to shake off our complacency, and with the Holy Spirits convicting power, we need to search our hearts for all the sinful things we have stashed in the dark corners, and come to Christ in humility, with sincere repentance. He will forgive and cleanse all who do so. In Revelation 3:12 Christ says he will come into our hearts and dwell with us if we just open the door to Him. As he dwells with us the light of His Character will fill our lives with goodness and truth.

Christ is coming soon, and while this is a terrible day of darkness for those whose hearts are not right with God, it will be the most glorious day for those who have entered into a true covenant relationship with Him.

Let every lamp be burning bright,
The darkest hour is nearing.
The darkest hour of earth’s long night
Before the Lord’s appearing
Though thousands calmly slumber on
The last great message spurning
We’ll rest our living faith upon His promise of returning.