The Second Sunday in Lent
February 27-28, 2010
Text: Jeremiah 26:8-15
Dear Friends in Christ,
One of the sad realities of today’s church is that people are more likely to know about the Robert Redford character Jeremiah Johnson than are likely to know about Jeremiah in the Bible. Sadly, in American Lutheranism, knowledge of the Old Testament is pretty limited. There is often a bit a familiarity with Genesis. And likewise with Exodus, though here it is often theology according to Charleton Heston rather than Bible. There are some significant differences, by the way. But after the account of the Exodus, the knowledge of our people is very hit and miss, and sometimes inaccurate. For example, how many of you know that God spoke the Ten Commandments from the top of Mount Sinai to all of Israel, before Moses ever went up the mountain or there were tablets stone? Look it up in Exodus and see that what I am saying is correct. Most people know a few of the names, but very little about what they actually did or why they are important. Nor do they know where these things fit together.
The last two of the major writing prophets were contemporaries. They were Jeremiah and Ezekial. It is possible that they never met each other. We know that they didn’t meet during the time when both were active as prophets. With the death of King Josiah in 609 B.C. Judah lost its independence. It became a vassal kingdom. What this means is that they still had their own king but he was rather like a governor serving under another more powerful king. At first they were under the control of the Egyptians. But in short order they came under the thumb of Babylon’s new king Nebucudnezzar. It was in about 597 that the first exiles were taken to Babylon. Jeremiah had been a prophet for some time, at this point. Ezekial would be among those first exiles. He would become a prophet in Babylon. Jeremiah would remain in Jerusalem.
Jeremiah’s ministry reached its climax during the reign the last king of Judah. When Pharaoh Necho took control of Jerusalem he made King Jehoiakim, son of Josiah, his vassal. Would rule from 609 until 597. His son Jehoiachin would surrender Jerusalem to Babylon. He was removed after a three month reign and taken to Babylon. There he would remain for the rest of life, forty or fifty years. Much of that time he was actually in the king’s court, rather than being imprisoned. Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, the youngest son of Josiah, was made king in his place. He would rule about ten years. It is this period, from 597 B.C. through 586 B.C., that was the most active in Jeremiah’s ministry.
Jeremiah was a prophet of God’s wrath. He was there to explain events as they were
unfolding. He there to tell the people to accept God’s judgement. This was the way to survive. God’s judgement was that the temple would be destroyed. Many people in Jerusalem believed that God would never allow this. It didn’t make sense. Why would God destroy His own temple? Jeremiah compared the temple to Shilo. Shilo was final location of the tabernacle. The tabernacle was supposed to be periodically relocated from place to place in Israel. But soon, it was set up permanently in one place. That place was called Shilo. But because of the sins of the sons of the high priest Eli, the tabernacle was abandoned. And the whole town that had built up around it became a ghost town. For about a hundred years, the Old Testament liturgy was not fully celebrated, because there was no place for it. Only with the construction of the temple by Solomon was the sacrificial system fully restored. Now Solomon’s temple would also be destroyed. Why? Because of the sins of idolatry. Because the king and the people worshiped false gods. In fact they had set up a statue of the Canaanite god Baal in the temple.
The people of Judah were in violation of the First Commandment. The command literally is to have no other gods before the face of Yahweh. In other words, the First Commandment prohibits the mixing of the worship of the true God with worship of false gods. It is first and foremost, a liturgical command. Jeremiah was predicting the destruction of the temple because they were mixing their worship. God would not tolerate such a desecration of His house.
Jeremiah was also explaining the path of survival. The nation would survive. But only by the submission to God’s righteous judgement. Zedekiah would not submit. He revolted against Babylon. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 586 B.C. More people were carted off to Babylon in exile. Zedekiah himself was made to watch the execution of all his children and then his eyes were put out. He would end his days in a dungeon. Jeremiah was imprisoned by Zedekiah, but was released when the city fell. He was determined to end his days living among the ruins of Jerusalem. But even this was denied him. Jeremiah was kidnaped by a group of survivors and carted off to Egypt where he would die. Jeremiah’s life is perhaps the saddest of all the prophets.
What should we learn from Jeremiah? God does not tolerate sin. He does not wink at it. Particularly grievous to God is the sin of idolatry - the worship of false gods. And the worst form of this is the mixing of true worship with false worship. God would be more merciful to a Canaanite who worshiped Baal because he didn’t know better, than He would be toward a Judean who had the true worship of God and rejected it. At least the Canaanite didn’t mix the worship of Baal with the worship of Yahweh.
Jeremiah also teaches us that God does not abandon His people. He might punish them. But there is always a way to survive. That survival starts with repentance. It starts with the recognition that we have sinned. It includes submission to God’s judgements. If we are punished for our sins, we must see this as just and accept it. For the repentant any such judgements will always be temporary. There will be forgiveness and restoration. About sixty years after the temple was destroyed - seventy years after the first exiles were taken - Zerubabal and the High Priest Joshua oversaw the laying of the foundation of the second temple - the temple that would stand through the time of Christ. Babylon was a place of exile, but it was also a place of protection for the Jewish people. They survived and were restored. For us also. In Christ, in repentance, in forgiveness, we survive and are restored to God’s presence. We are again able to praise His name before His face. There may be a time of punishment. But for God’s people that punishment is not God’s final word. His final word is one of restoration. This too was part of the message that Jeremiah preached to the people of Judah.