Fighting Temptation: Refusing to Change

Jeremiah 26:8-15 8When Jeremiah had finished saying everything the Lord had commanded him to say to all the people, then the priests, the prophets, and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! 9Why do you prophesy in the name of the Lord that this house will be like Shiloh and that this city will be desolate with no one living here?” All the people crowded around Jeremiah in the House of the Lord.

10When the officials of Judah heard about these things, they came up from the king’s house to the House of the Lord and sat in the entrance of the New Gate of the Lord’s house.

11Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has been prophesying against this city, as you heard with your own ears.”

12Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and to all the people, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the things that you have heard. 13Now reform your ways and your actions, and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring about the disaster he has pronounced against you. 14But as for me, look, I am in your hands. Do with me whatever seems good and right in your eyes. 15But you can be certain of this. If you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live here, for it is true that the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”

A young man was talking to an elderly gentleman and said, “Wow! You’ve seen a lot of change in your lifetime!”

The elderly man replied, “Yep! And I was against every one of them!”

Does that describe you?

The prophet Jeremiah told the people they needed to change. God told Jeremiah to preach this message: “If you do not listen to me … then I will make … this house like Shiloh and this city a curse among all nations” (Jeremiah 7:5,6).

Throughout the history of their nation, God had warned the people, chastised them and repeatedly called them to repentance. They paid no attention. They kept doing their own thing. They were comfortable in their sin. They were complacent in their idolatry.

The Lord called Jeremiah his “iron” prophet (Jeremiah 1:8). He had to preach a hard message of repentance to people’s hearts that had become cemented to their sin over the years and hardened the idolatry in their hearts over the generations. The preacher would have a congregation that refused to soften. They were a church that rejected their pastor. God used Jeremiah to keep hammering his message of repentance into their stony hearts with prophecy after prophecy. He would pound on them with repeated warnings of judgment.

Jeremiah stands in the high traffic area of the temple where “the priests, the prophets and all the people” will hear him (Jeremiah 26:7). No one was to miss this message.

The crowds are listening. Not so they can repent and believe. They listen so they can gain evidence against Jeremiah. They seize him and shout, “He must die!” (Jeremiah 26:8)

The crowd quickly becomes a mob. Their eyes are too filled with fury to see the need to change. Their hearts are too hardened to repent. Their ears are too plugged with self-righteousness to believe.

Shiloh was the location where the Ark of the Covenant and tabernacle had been placed. It was the center for Israelite worship from Joshua through the time of the Judges. When Israel refused to renounce their idolatry and repent of their wickedness, God used the Philistines to capture the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 4). Without the Ark of the Covenant, Shiloh lost its significance.

The people are incensed that Jeremiah is threatening that Solomon’s Temple will be destroyed and Jerusalem will be as barren as Shiloh. The priests and prophets demand that Jeremiah be executed for blasphemy and treason. The priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has been prophesying against this city” (Jeremiah 26:11).

Their angry actions are recounted by Jesus centuries later: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her” (Luke 13:34)!

The Lord’s faithful prophet remains unfazed by their threat of death. He answers the mob, “Look, I am in your hands. Do with me whatever seems good and right in your eyes”. He is more concerned with them, “Now reform your ways and your actions, and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring about the disaster he has pronounced against you” (Jeremiah 26:13-14).

These words portray the heartache that God was going through in sending his prophet to his people. That heartache is portrayed in the words that Jeremiah says, “the Lord will relent.” The Hebrew word for “relent” also means to comfort oneself or to change one’s mind. God was uncomfortable that the Israelites were so comfortable with their sins.

God didn’t want to threaten them with becoming like Shiloh. They should have known better than to behave the way they were. All he wanted was for them to change. Then he would change his mind and not bring on them the disaster they had earned. But, if he had to, he had to.

It’s like when you were clowning around in the back of the station wagon with your siblings. Your dad yelled, “If you kids don’t knock it off, I’m going to pull this car over right now!” When you didn’t knock it off … he actually did it! Still today, you remember that day. You don’t ever want to relive that time along the side of the road.

Jeremiah’s words hit close to home, don’t they? Jesus comes not only to save us from Satan, but to also save us from ourselves – from our sinful nature, our rebellious inclinations, our destructive desires. We have all become too comfortable with our sins. We cling too tightly to the pleasures of this world. We know our behavior is wrong, but we lash out at the pastor or parent who dares to chastise us for that wrong behavior.

St. Paul wrote these words to the Philippians, but he could just have easily written them about us: “Their end is destruction, their god is their appetite, and their glory is in their shame. They are thinking only about earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).

We must admit something when we hear Jesus say, “How often I have wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Luke 13:34)! Those chicks who won’t stay under the hen’s wings? That’s not just the Israelites to whom Jeremiah preached. That’s not just the Pharisees to whom Jesus preached. That’s me. That’s you.

We run away from Jesus. We don’t want to repent. We refuse to change. We are too tied to the sins we enjoy so much. We think too much about earthly things. We lash out at anyone who tells us that we are doing wrong, speaking wrong, desiring wrong, believing wrong, living wrong.

We don’t want God’s discipline.

We would rather condemn the prophet who condemns our sinful nature.

We would rather change churches than stay in a church where the pastor’s message hits too close to home.

We would rather leave Jesus altogether rather than leave our sin we love so much.

We would rather have God relent than we ever repent.

We refuse to change.

The residents of Jerusalem told Jeremiah, “Go away. Leave us alone. Or we’ll kill you.”

The Pharisees told Jesus, “Go away. Leave us alone. Herod wants to kill you.”

When we are wallowing in our sin, we are telling Jesus, “Go away. Leave us alone. Don’t kill our fun.”

But what kind of God do you want? Do you really want a God who will leave you alone? Or do you want a God who will do everything to save you?

Jeremiah would not go away. He was sent to people who refused to listen or change, and who constantly threatened him with death. But when the prophet’s ministry began, the Lord declared, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (Jeremiah 1:8).

Jesus would not go away. He was sent to the Pharisees who refused to listen. He was sent to you and me who refuse to change. He came to those who put him to death.

Jesus did not come to save his own skin. He came to save yours. He didn’t come to avoid temptation and death, but to face it head on. Not just the temptation and death that is in our world, but the temptation and death that is in you. He wasn’t afraid to confront people with their sins. He boldly pointed out their sin, called them to repent, forgave their guilty consciences and then told them to change. “Go and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).

Jeremiah preached, “Now reform your ways and your actions, and obey the Lord your God.” Jesus preaches the same thing to you. Reform your ways. Change your actions. Obey the Lord. Relent of your sin. God will relent of his judgment. Give up your sins. God gives those sins to his Son. God changes your eternal destination. This changes the way you live your daily life.

Jesus is the hen who calls you under his wings. Accept his invitation. Turn from danger and crawl under his safety. Let him be your refuge.

Jesus is not the God we want. He is the God we need!

He is the God who changes us from denizens of hell into citizens of heaven. He transforms our lowly, sin-filled bodies so that they become like his glorious, resurrected body (Philippians 3:20-21).

Like Jerusalem was laid waste, so Jesus was laid waste. Like the temple, Jesus was destroyed. Unlike the temple, Jesus was raised again in three days (John 2:19). For our hardened hearts, he was hammered to the cross. Jeremiah was the weeping prophet, crying over Jerusalem. Jesus wept, not just for Jerusalem, but for all of humanity – for all of us.

The terrible destruction that was preached to us was turned away. But if it did not follow us, where did it go? It went to the cross. It landed on Christ.

Jesus does not meet us on our terms or on our turf. We meet him on his terms and on his turf. He doesn’t relent to our will. We repent and relent to his will and Word. He doesn’t change to fit our culture. He suffers and dies, is destroyed and raised again, to rescue us from our culture.

History tells the story of an attempted assassination of the first Queen Elizabeth. A woman who sought to kill the queen hid herself in the queen's bedroom, awaiting that moment when she would be able to stab the queen to death. Without great understanding of palace protocol, the woman didn't realize it was the duty of the queen’s attendants to carefully search the rooms before her majesty was permitted to retire.

Found hidden among the furniture, the would-be assassin was disarmed and brought before the queen for punishment. Realizing the hopelessness of her situation, the woman fell to her knees and begged the queen to have compassion on her, to spare her life.

To make a long story short, an incredible thing happened as the queen, having considered the situation most carefully, eventually looked her enemy in the face and said, “I do pardon you ... out of my grace.” That could very well be the end of the story.

It isn’t.

To the amazement of everyone, the queen kept her enemy on at court as a servant and, from that moment on, the would-be-assassin became Elizabeth’s most faithful and devoted attendant.

In many ways, that servant’s story is our story. Through our thoughts, words and actions, we refuse to relent, repent and change our ways. We were so vehement in our hatred of Jesus that we lied about him, mocked him, and called for the crucifixion of the King of heaven and earth. But where Elizabeth’s servant failed in her attempt at murder, we succeeded.

Our King’s grace is so great that he still forgives, pardons and saves those who repent and relent.

This changes us. How can it not?! Amen.