Be Appalled!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Jeremiah 2:11-13
In looking at the astonishment called for in verses 12-13, we notice that it is based upon the idea of idolatry. Therefore, a correct concept of idolatry is paramount for our understanding of this text. Moreover, I hope that once we have covered this passage, we can state and understand the alternative.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23)
Clearly, Romans 1:21-23 parallels Jeremiah 2:11. It is in Paul’s letter to the Roman’s that we understand that such an exchange of glory is something that all men do, and ultimately it is from this that all men are under sin (Romans 3:23). When modern evangelicals witness, Romans 3:23 is the ubiquitous verse, but I dare say that many of them have very little understanding of what it means to fall short of the glory of God. But if this is our natural state and the basis of our indwelling sin, then we need to delve into the depths of diagnosis. When the darkness is at its deepest, we see the light of the gospel brightest.

If we are to commit idolatry, we would first need to create an idol. What would be the process of creation? A few things come to mind:
  • Designing the idol,
  • Obtaining supplies (contributions), and
  • Constructing the idol.

Imagine we have created the idol. If we focus on this idol, what are we honoring?

  • Our creative intellect in its design,
  • Our wealth in its valuable composition, and
  • Our dexterity and skill in its construction.

When we fashion images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles, what is the big deal? Let us look at Genesis 1, where God fashions something in his own image.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
When God fashions man his own image, what is God honoring? Is it man? If God designed man, made the dirt, breathed into him, and molded him, then what is God honoring? Himself! Understanding this, do we now look at each other and bow down in worship? Do we sing melodies of our greatness? What are we to do? Out of God’s overflow of joy and love that he has in himself in the Trinity, he created man to reflect that glory. The reflection of that glory is where we are allowed to share in the joy that God has for himself. In the garden, we fell. Paul describes our minds since the fall as natural: “To set the mind on the flesh is death…For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:6,7). What is on great display here is the fact that left to itself, the heart is in haughty rebellion against God. We love those things which God detests and loathe those things which God loves, chiefly God Himself.

What are the consequences of this sin? This tragic exchange is expounded upon in Jeremiah 2. We see our great error. We have committed two evils:
  1. We have forsaken God, the fountain of living waters, and
  2. We have hewed cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

We will first deal with the second evil. In our idolatry, we have hewed cisterns. Cisterns are reservoirs of stagnant water. Go home tonight and set out a glass of water on your counter for one week. I doubt that you would want to drink that water. It is not fresh or cool. Moreover, these cisterns leak. The water that they provide us is temporal. Those who enjoy the book of Ecclesiastes will understand this. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25). The practical example is to look at the difficult times in your lives. Remember the three little pigs? What happened to the house made of straw and the house made of sticks? The wolf was able to invade their houses. There is very little safety in a frail refuge. Now, imagine that you are one of the little pigs in the house of straw on the bad side of town. Moreover, imagine that you have a family with several little piglets. Will your family sit around playing board games and sharing in great conversation? I think the tendency would be to always be afraid of the wolves that want to and can to tear down your house and eat you and your family. There is no safety, no joy, and no hope. Whatever safety, joy, or hope that you seemingly have is only temporary.

Now, we will deal with the first evil. Forsaking God, the fountain of living waters, is directly related to our creation of cisterns. The cisterns that we have created, as horrible as they are, will look even worse in the light of what is freely available. What is the marketability of spring water today? If you tell people that the water is from a mountain stream, it is a selling point. Why? As the water flows, it stirs itself, bubbling. It is refreshing. Near flowing water, you see lush vegetation. How awful is it that this is available and wanting nothing to do with it, we create cisterns (poorly)? Additionally, it is not just that we want nothing to do with the stream, but it is the fact that we hate it.

Having somewhat diagnosed our condition, what is the hope? Let us end on two passages.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:1-6)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:1-12)

Abide in Christ. A good Christian man has said that whenever he prays, it is rare for him not to have a passage from Scripture in mind, and whenever he is reading the Scriptures, it is rare for him not to be praying.