I thought we’d take a break from our series in the gospel of Mark and have a bit of a change of pace.
The passage that caught my attention was Jeremiah the prophet’s Temple sermon in chapter 7:1-15. This is one of the most famous sermons in all the Bible, right up there with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus himself refers to it in Mark 11:17.
Jeremiah most likely preached this sermon around 608 BC (Jeremiah 26:1). So over 2,600 years ago. It’s an old one, but still has much to say.
Let’s begin with some –
Northern Israel was taken away into exile by the Assyrians some 114 years before this sermon, and so only the Southern kingdom of Judah is left. And politically things around Judah are unstable. Assyria has now fallen and Babylon and Egypt are vying for power. And Judah is caught right smack in the middle.
And Judah has gone downhill spiritually. They’re not being faithful to the covenant with God, including the leaders, the priests and the prophets. And on top of this they are living in denial. They thought, “Look, things are bad, but God won’t judge us because the Temple is here. This is the place where God dwells; where heaven and earth are connected. And it bears the Lord’s name. Why would God let his name be dishonored? No, God will protect Judah and Jerusalem.”
And so they would continue in their sin, and also go through the motions of the temple services and think that things are just fine.
And the prophets, or shall I say false prophets, reinforced all this by saying things like, “God will do nothing, no disaster will come upon us” – Jeremiah 5:12, and “peace, peace,” everything’s fine – Jeremiah 6:14.
Now let’s look at our passage –
1The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord.”
So this is God speaking through Jeremiah, not just Jeremiah’s opinions. God tells him to stand in a place where everyone can hear him, as the crowds gather to worship in the temple. The phrase, “all you men of Judah,” may indicate that this took place during an annual festival, when all Judah was expected to come. It would have been a huge crowd.
He starts his message with three key points and the first is repent.
3Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds
He is calling them to have a change of heart and mind that leads to a change in behavior. You’re doing one thing, which is wrong. And you stop that and begin to do something different, what is right. This is repentance.
And then Jeremiah gives his second point, which is a promise. Repent –
and I will let you dwell in this place.
This most likely means that God will let them continue to stay in the promised land. As we’ll see, exile is threatened at the end of this message (v. 15).
Then Jeremiah gives his third point, which is a warning against deception.
4Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’
Jeremiah is referring to their belief that they are safe as long as they have the temple of the Lord in their midst. And as long as they worship at the temple and go through the motions of the services, they’re fine.
Next, Jeremiah, just to make sure they get it, repeats his three key points. Again, first repent, and here he goes into some detail.
5For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds . . .
What does this mean? He gives four examples:
if you truly execute justice one with another . . .
This has to do with treating others fairly; giving justice and doing what is right. Not taking advantage of, or using your power to get your way.
6if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow . . .
These all have to do with taking advantage of the socially weak – immigrants, orphans and widows. We see the mistreatment of immigrants playing out right before our eyes by our government in the separating of children from their parents. But of course, here Jeremiah is speaking to the people of God, not the nations or the world. The message here is to us. We must not oppress the immigrant, the orphan or the widow. We can’t participate in this.
or shed innocent blood in this place . . .
This refers to murder or even judicial murder where justice is warped in favor of the powerful and the innocent are executed.
and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm . . .
They thought they could worship Yahweh and other gods, as they had need.
So this is what it means for them to repent. They’re doing these things, yet calling themselves the people of God, thinking they are fine.
Then there is, again a promise. Jeremiah is saying, if you amend your ways –
7then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
And also once again he gives a warning –
8Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.
They think they will be safe because of the temple. As he says later, they put their trust in the temple (v. 14). Because of the temple, they will be fine. Even though they are unfaithful to God by worshiping other gods. Even though they are unjust in their relationships with others. Jeremiah is saying, this is deception.
He then begins along a new track. He makes the point that the temple has become a den of thieves. And we have another list of wrong-doing, which comes from the 10 commandments.
9Will you steal? (the 8th commandment) murder? (the 6th commandment) commit adultery? (the 7th commandment) swear falsely? (the 9th commandment) make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known? (the 1st commandment, and this surely assumes the 2nd commandment as well.)
Will you do all these things –
10and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?
So they go through the temple services with no repentance, no remorse, no change from what he calls their “abominations.” And they think that simply going through the temple services will bring them salvation – “We are delivered.” You can see the hypocrisy and false worship here. Their hearts and their worship do not line up.
11Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.
A den of robbers is a place where criminals hide out to avoid being caught, and then go forth to do more crimes. And this is what the temple has become. They sin in all kinds of ways and then come to the temple and say, ‘we’re safe!’ And then they go out and continue to sin.
Jeremiah ends his message by warning them that this can’t continue. God’s judgment will come! And God is more than willing to destroy the temple as a part of this, even though it bears his name.
And he tells them, this wouldn’t be the first time.
12Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.
This is referring to what happened to the tabernacle that was established in Shiloh – only a few miles north of Jerusalem in the days of Eli and Samuel. God judged Eli and his house and a part of this was that the tabernacle there was destroyed by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4; Psalm 78:59-61).
13And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, 14therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh.
15And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.
In v. 15 God tells them that they will go into exile in Babylon, just as the Northern kingdom was taken away to Assyria before.
Notice the change of tone here. It sounds like judgment is inevitable. Perhaps this is to shock them; to wake them up from their deception. (Jeremiah says in chapter 26 that this sermon was given to lead them to repent and judgment was not certain – 26:4-6; 13.)
And then moving beyond our passage we have –
The rest of the story
Just after his sermon everyone surrounded him and said “You shall die!” (v. 8.) They said, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city . . .” (v. 11.) But some began to speak up for him, and he barely escaped with his life – Jeremiah 26.
And then a little over 20 years later, came the fulfillment, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the exile of the people – Jeremiah 52:13-14.
Well, what about you?
There are a number of things in this sermon that should challenge us. Do you have the kind of relationship with God that Jeremiah talks about? A right relationship with the Lord, so that there are no false gods – things like nationalism, wealth or power? So that you put your trust in these and look to them for protection? Or is God your God and you fully trust in him for all things?
Do you have the kind of relationship with others that Jeremiah talks about? Not just that you don’t wrong them – by murder, theft, adultery, or lying. But that positively you treat them right. You show concern for the weak and powerless, using your power to lift them up.
What are your false securities?
- You may say, “I go to church, I must be fine.” The Judeans went to temple services. They thought they were fine. They weren’t. They were judged.
- You may say, “I believe in God.” James tells us “demons believe” (1:19) but it does them no good, because “faith without works is dead” (1:17). Such is defective faith and can’t save.
- You may say, “I’ve been baptized.” 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 tells that the Israelites were baptized in the Red Sea. “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for the were overthrown in the wilderness” The did not receive the promises.
- You may say, “I’ve had an encounter with God.” 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 tells us that the ancient Israelites had many experiences with God, but they were judged and did not enter into the blessings of God.
- You may say, “I have Christian parents, I’ll be fine.” Ezekiel 18:10-13 teaches us that the child of a righteous parent who chooses to live in sin “shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.” For the soul that sins, dies, whether it is the parent or the child.
- You may say, “I used to walk with God, he won’t judge me.” Ezekiel 18:24 says, “But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.”
Don’t trust in any of these deceptive words. Nothing can take the place of a right relationship with God; a relationship of faith and obedience.
Finally, sin will destroy you! If we turn and repent it will not. Our God is gracious and full of mercy and we find grace through our Lord, Jesus. But if you continue in known, willful sin – it will kill you.
- James 1:15-16, talking about temptation says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters.
- 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
- Galatians 6:7-8 – “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
Just as Jeremiah said, so the New Testament teaches and so I put before you – “do not be deceived!” The message today is – sin will kill you.