Before I Formed You, I Knew You (Jeremiah)

Before I Formed You, I Knew You (Jeremiah)

August 2, 2020

Jeremiah was a PK, a priest’s kid. He grew up watching his father Hilkiah perform all the priestly duties at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin.   

As the son of a priest, Jeremiah was used to seeing people bring their sacrificial offerings out of a sense of duty and obligation only to return home with no apparent change in their hearts or lifestyle.  

Because he was born into a priestly family, he was expected to become a priest.

What Jeremiah did not expect was for God to call him to be a prophet, a much different role. 

Jeremiah left the Benjamin territory and directed his message to those in Jerusalem, Judah, and the surrounding areas.  

Typically, what Jeremiah had to say as a prophet wasn’t well received. Such is the life of a prophet.

For Jeremiah, his words would eventually result in his exile and his death.

Jeremiah’s call is unique and select: “The word of the Lord came to (Jeremiah) saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (1:5)

Jeremiah understood that God had a purpose for his life even before he was conceived. He believed he had a calling from God to fulfill.  

Much like the Apostle Paul 700 years later, Jeremiah believed that his life was not his own and that he must be obedient to God’s calling, even though he felt inadequate for the task.

God assured him that he would give him the words to say. Jeremiah said that God reached out and touched his mouth and said, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (10-11)

For the next forty years, this was Jeremiah’s life.

Is Jeremiah unique? 

Is he the only person God knows before conception? Did God know you even before you were conceived? Does God have a purpose for your life?

Can God have a purpose for us, and we not live it?

2 Peter 3:9 says that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  

That seems clear. 

Part of God’s purpose for all of us is to come to repentance. Does that happen for everyone?  

Obviously, not.

So it’s clear that we don’t always live out the purpose God has for us.  

That is clear when we read Jeremiah because Jeremiah’s life is spent trying to convince the people of Judah and Jerusalem to live out God’s purpose for their lives.

His prophetic ministry began in the thirteenth year of the reign of King Jehoiakim.

Jeremiah began his ministry by preaching strong messages to Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Judah, the Southern Kingdom.  

He compares their unfaithfulness to God to that of an unfaithful wife.

Listen to God’s words to Jeremiah: “(Israel) has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought after she had done all this she would return to me, but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries” (3:6b-8).

He goes on to say that Judah was just as wicked and did not return either.  

Interestingly, in Malachi, the prophet says that the Lord hates divorce, but here, Jeremiah says that the Lord gave Israel her divorce papers. It’s a metaphor.

God was saying, “If you don’t want anything to do with Me, if you don’t want to be in a covenant relationship with Me, then I will release you.”

God is not going to make us be in a relationship with Him if that is not something we desire.

But look at the message God gave to Jeremiah in the last half of chapter 3.  

Verse 14 says: “Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.”

Even after God had given Israel their divorce papers, which was something they wanted, not something God wanted, God’s message continued to be an inviting message of reconciliation. 

God continued to say, “If you come back, I’ll be your God. I will lead you. I’ll take care of you.”  

Jeremiah’s message is echoed in Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep.  

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:3-7)

The problem was that Israel and Judah would not repent. They would not come back to him. That is a significant problem with us. 

If we are headed in the wrong direction and refuse to turn around and move toward God, our relationship with God is compromised.

Jeremiah laid it out plainly. 

He warned Israel that there were severe consequences of breaking their covenant with God through idolatry and injustice.

Jeremiah predicted that the empire of Babylon would come as God’s servant to bring judgment on Judah. 

They would destroy Jerusalem and take the people into exile.  

Jeremiah described in great detail what life would be like as their city was laid to ruin. Families would be separated. Harvests and food would be devoured. Vineyards would be destroyed. Children would be taken away. Fortified cities would be compromised. The land would be made desolate.  

But in their defense, the people offered up that they were religious people. They went to the temple—the Lord’s house to worship. How could these things happen when they were temple-going people?

Jeremiah was quick to point out that it had to do with their actions. He said that God was not interested nor impressed with empty expressions.

They would say things like, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” But unless these expressions come from the heart and backed up by actions, they didn’t mean anything to God.

All of our “Paise the Lords,” “Hallelujahs,” “God is Good, All the Time,” whatever we say to indicate that we are lifting up the name of Jesus, God wants to see our words backed up by our actions.  

What kind of actions? 

Jeremiah said, “If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless, or the widow or do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers forever and ever.” (7:5-7)

Jeremiah warned the people about going to the temple without allowing themselves to be subjected to God’s standards.  

He wanted them to know that they needed to examine their hearts to see where they needed to make changes and draw closer to God.  

Instead, these people were just using the temple and their religious rituals to justify their values. That’s a strong inditement that we all need to think about. 

Jeremiah asked the question, “Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! Declares the Lord.” (7:11)

Perhaps you recall that Jesus was upset with how the temple was being used in his day. Like Jeremiah, he had issues with the religious people because they were giving lip service to God while taking advantage of the poor right in the temple courts.

Jesus went through the temple courts and overturned the money changers’ tables and ran out all the people that were making a profit off the poor who came to worship. They were selling them animals for sacrifice at inflated prices.  

Jesus said, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.'” (Matthew 21:13) These are words from the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.

It is a great temptation for us just to be happy that we have people in the worship service regardless of their motives. We always feel good when the church house is full of people.

But God’s looking for people who come and leave with changed hearts. God’s looking for a church that is zealous in living a life of obedience and commitment.  

The people’s temple attendance record did not appease Jeremiah.  

We are always touting our attendance records, as that is the gold standard of how well the church is doing. 

God’s keeping a different tally. God’s counting changed hearts and changed lifestyles.

Finally, Jeremiah’s warnings became specific. He told them that a nation was coming to destroy them. It was Babylon.  He said exile would happen for many people and that it would last 70 years.  

That’s a precise prediction. He told them the Babylonians would pay for their evil, but disaster was looming for them. However, it wasn’t too late to avoid it if they would turn from their evil ways and practices. 

When people don’t like the message, they often shoot the messenger. For his message, Jeremiah was threatened with death.  

Then it happened.  

After more than two decades of preaching, warning, at times walking around with some dramatic displays to get people’s attention, like wearing a yoke around his neck to demonstrate the yoke of oppression that Babylon was going to place upon them, Babylon, under the King Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed Jerusalem.

Jeremiah was there to witness it all.

In the first half of the book of Jeremiah, the prophet warns the people that if they do not turn to God, their lives will be uprooted and torn down, destroyed, and overthrown. 

That is what happened.   

In the last part of the book, Jeremiah’s message tells the people how they can rebuild and replant their lives.   

Jeremiah becomes a voice of hope, a voice of how God wishes to restore them to their land.  

It took an exile and suffering for the Hebrew people to come to understand that God was with them. 

God never changes. While that is true, what does change is our circumstances. What does change is our understanding and our interpretation of God.

We can see the interpretation of God evolving throughout the Bible. For example, one of the shifts we can see here in Jeremiah 31. 

Once the people are in exile, they no longer have temple worship to bring them together. The rituals of sacrifice no longer define their religion, and they can no longer define their worship corporately.

What a timely message for us. The Pandemic hit, and for the first time in 155 years, this church could not gather for worship for an extended period. Nor could any church.  

We were exiled from the worship center. All of us have had to listen to God in new and different ways. What have you learned about God?

The people learned that God wasn’t just in the temple, and they learned that God was with them in the exile. They also learned that the sacrificial system was not the only way to worship God.

Sometimes we get hung up on our modes of worship because that’s how we’ve always worshipped God, but there are many ways to worship God.

 It’s not the worship mode that’s most important; it’s the result of worship that God is interested in. 

Before the exile, Jeremiah had preached to them as a nation and not as individuals. Ever since Moses led them out of Egypt, Israel, and then Judah, the Southern Kingdom had been preached to as a group. They either prospered or suffered as a nation.

Now Jeremiah says this: “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the house and Israel and the house of Judah with the offspring of men and of animals.  Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord. In those days people will no longer say, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ Instead, everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—his own teeth will be set on edge. (31:27-30)

While it is true that the sins of others affect us and our sin affects others even generations from us, Jeremiah challenged the ancient doctrine that we should be punished for the sins of our ancestors. He believed that we are each person is responsible for our his/her conduct.  

So when they were in exile, Jeremiah wanted each person to come to terms with what it meant to establish a right relationship with God.

None of us are getting into heaven on our fathers’ coattails, mother’s, husband’s, or wive’s. 

We will all stand alone before the throne of God.  

For Jeremiah, the relationship between a person and God is the essential element in a genuine religious experience, and while our external forms of worship are necessary, they are meaningless if they do not contribute toward a person’s mind and heart. https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/o/old-testament-of-the-bible/summary-and-analysis/jeremiah

So Jeremiah says, “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.” I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. (31:30-34)

We know that Jesus established this New Covenant with us. We celebrate that New Covenant every time we break bread and share the Lord’s meal. 

The bread represents the body of Christ given for us. The drink, represents his blood shed for us, the forgiveness of our sins.  

This morning, is God’s law written upon your mind and your heart?  

That would be the law of love. It could only be written there if Jesus wrote it there himself.  

Just as God knew Jeremiah in the womb, God knew you, and God has always desired that you come to Him and allow Him to use you, to set you apart for his work. Regardless of what job you do, be it a teacher, construction worker, sales, customer service, finance, or health care. It doesn’t matter. God wants his word written on your heart to share His love with others and live an abundant life.