Wednesday, when we were going over our prayer requests, I mentioned our need of revival. I immediately heard a few “amens” and some other heads were nodded – we need “revival.” “Revival” is a good, old-fashioned religious word, but I’m not sure if it is still in vogue – still fashionable. Are you aware that it is foreign to the Word of God – “Revival” is not to be found in the Bible. We find a few revival’s but not the actual word. And even though the word “revive” is Biblical, it is not at all common. The best known verse with the word comes from the obscure book of Habakkuk 3:2 – “O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, REVIVE thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.” From the other six verses using this word, we have the Psalmist’s – “Wilt thou not REVIVE us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?” THIS is what I meant when I said, “We need revival,” and I hope it was to this you said, “Amen.” But our text this evening, obviously, isn’t coming from Habakkuk or the Psalms.
Jeremiah served God during the days of a revival in Israel – but he also served in the years that followed. The blessings of that revival were not as blessed as he hoped – or as we might think. What good was produced was short-lived and then it was twisted into something quite negative. In order to see the full picture, we have to go back through the first six chapters of this book.
In my estimation, Jeremiah is one of the most helpful of all God’s Old Testament prophets. He was…. as some might put it… “real.” We see the man’s flaws and his victories; we see him suffering and we see him thriving. And as such we see a man much like ourselves.
For example, Jeremiah was as prone to Christian mediocrity as the rest of us – as I am. Jeremiah was born in obscurity rather than in the lights and glitter. He was not one of the elite – like perhaps Isaiah was. His birth was not like that of baby Jesus with angelic announcements and visits from dignitaries. His home town of Anathoth was not exactly a household name, like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. It was more comparable to Post Falls than Seattle, Hollywood or Las Vegas. “Can any good thing come out of Anathoth? “ Yes, indeed, the best things can sometimes be found in the insignificant places.
Jeremiah was born into a Old Testament “Christian” family. That in itself may tend toward insignificance and mediocrity. There is usually no weaker Christian than a second generation Christian. There are wonderful exceptions, but that is a general rule. The sons of Gideon were wicked. The sons of Samuel were not as noble as their father. Most of the sons of David are not worth comparing to their father – including Solomon. Rarely have I found the son of a Christian as faithful and spiritual as his father. Oh, how I wish that this were not as true as it is, but it is. And how I praise God for the exceptions, because they are rare.
Jeremiah was the son of a priest – Hilkiah. Jeremiah was a PK, a preacher’s kid, always under a microscope, studied by the saints. As a child he lived in a glass house, with all the dangers of that sort of life. He was naturally prone to mindlessly going through the motions of Israel’s religion – it was expected. That was the way that he was brought up; that was his habit. Perhaps just like you. He was a child of God, but he wasn’t as dedicated to the priesthood as was his father. But the Lord brought him out of those spiritual doldrums – He was revived by God’s grace. He was commissioned and commanded to serve the Lord in ways his father never dreamed. Jeremiah had arguments against his service, but the Lord overcame them all. And there was that irresistible call to the office of prophet. The Lord had foreordained and predestinated this man to his position. Please don’t hate those words – “foreordained” and “predestinated;” they are undeniable Biblical – and Biblically undeniable. “Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”
“Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.” From the end of chapter 1 to the end of chapter 6 God’s prophet is hidden behind his message. And that is precisely where all prophets are supposed to be. The name of “Jeremiah” is not mentioned again until chapter 7 and verse 1.
It is important in this case to know a little more of the background of Israel.
My Bible gives an approximate date for this revelation from the Lord. Not all my Bibles do this, but several say that Jeremiah 7 took place in the year 600 B.C. Add to that – Jeremiah 1:2 told us that Jeremiah prophesied in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon. The date which my Bible gives for the call of Jeremiah was 629 B.C, and chapter 4 mentions 612 B.C. If these are accurate, it means that Jeremiah was in God’s service for about 30 years before chapter 7.
He was born in last decade of the worst King that Judah ever had to that point. II Kings 20 tells us that good King Hezekiah died and Manasseh, his son, began to reign. Did I say that second generation Christians are not as spiritually strong as their parents. That second generation may not be Christian at all. II Kings 21:1-2, 9 – “Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. Manasseh seduced (Israel) to do more evil than did the nations whom the Lord destroyed…”
Manasseh was a thoroughly bad man who created a totally corrupt government ruling for half a century. He encouraged pagan worship, which included sexual orgies. He imported wizards and sorcerers who enslaved the people in superstitions – not unlike today. He turned the maidens of Judah into cult prostitutes. He filled Jerusalem with the blood of those who opposed his sin and his reign. He even sacrificed his own son to an idol god. And during all this, the glorious temple which Solomon built was turned into moldy religious museum. The Bible believers and Jehovah worshipers were on the run in Judah.
And it was in this kind of society that Jeremiah’s ministry began. No worse environment in which to raise a child can be imagined. No day and age ever needed a prophet any more than that day and age. Yet how similar that day was to the day in which we live. I’m sure that there were little pockets of righteous people here and there. But they were rare and certainly a very silent minority. Maybe Anathoth was such a place, with their collection of priests and Levites.
Eventually Manasseh died, and the righteous in the land were hoping for a reprieve, some respite. But a torrent of sin is basically impossible to turn back. Once the avalanche begins to roll down the mountain it cannot be stopped by anything but God. Amon, Manasseh’s son, took throne when he twenty-two, but he followed his father’s steps. Wickedness still reigned. BUT some of nation had enough, and after two years Amon was murdered by his own servant’s. I’m sure those murderers were as wicked as their master – after all murder is still murder. If they had been righteous men they would have been with Jeremiah seeking God’s intervention and not plotting their own. But this shows us that even sinners get tired of sin. Anyway, the Amon died and his young son was put on the throne when he was just eight-years-old. That boy became one of the most illustrious of all Judah’s kings – “Josiah” by name.
Then began one of the most remarkable periods in Hebrew history – “Revival.” Josiah bore the character of his great grandfather Hezekiah, not that of his father or grandfather. He made many wonderful decisions, one of which was the repair of the Temple. II Kings 22 describes the discovery of a book within that dusty old edifice. It was the Old Testament Pentateuch, maybe the Psalms and perhaps some of the early history books. With Josiah’s tender heart, the power of the Word of God, and some good teachers and counselors, like Jeremiah, Israel was filled with the evidence of Holy Spirit revival.
Chapters 2-6 contain some of Jeremiah’s early prophecies, which helped produce the revival.
Jeremiah whipped out the sword of Lord, doing some hacking; he smote them hip and thigh. 2:13 – “My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” 2:22 – “Though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord God.” Jeremiah called the people of Israel “donkey’s in heat” in 2:24; not exactly a high compliment. He said that they were beyond correction and chastisement – 2:30. They had spiritual lovers everywhere – that is, they were idolaters.
There are some memorable texts in these chapters, some preaching texts. There is a revival message in 4:3, 8 – “For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.” “For this gird you with sackcloth, lament and howl: for the fierce anger of the LORD is not turned back from us.” Look at the image of the 20th Century in 4:30 – “And when thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do? hough thou clothest thyself with crimson, though thou deckest thee with ornaments of gold, though thou rentest thy face with painting, in vain shalt thou make thyself fair; thy lovers will despise thee, they will seek thy life.” Listen to the message of 5:6; 5:25, 30-31 – “Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities: every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased.” Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you. A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof? What a message there is in 6:16 – “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.”
Slowly by God’s grace, Jeremiah was able to win a few ears, here and there – but they were very few. But when the Word of God was found in temple and the new king Josiah began to read, the prophecies of Jeremiah began to take on a new divine power. Jeremiah was in the middle of a real life revival – a national revival, because the truth of God found a home in the heart of the king.
And that is where our text comes in.
The fallow ground actually was being broken up, and the seed of God’s word was being planted. There is no doubt about the revival of righteousness in the heart of the young king. He wanted the Temple restored, cleansed and utilized because his heart cried out for house of the Lord. You see, a person’s life is really only as good as his worship. A person’s life is not measured by revenue, but by reverence. It is not measured by worth, but by worship. That is why the temple was so important to those spiritually-revived people. It was architectural proof of the significance of the Lord in Israel. Everyday life cris-crossed the temple courtyards. The meaning of life was established there; VALUES were created there. If worship is corrupt and secular then life will be corrupt and secular. That is the problem with America today.
Jeremiah was not a spectator when the temple worship was being reestablished. He had seen it when it had been a dump. But once again the songs of Zion rang out between its walls. And there was even a slogan shouted up and down the streets of Jerusalem: “The Temple of the Lord…” Like pink ribbons scattered across society, the Jews had “Temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”
But here is where the Lord revealed to Jeremiah a potential problem. The reform was working; the king’s commands were being implemented. Conspicuous crime was being put to an end; superstition was sent packing. Idolatrous worship was banned; morality and chastity were becoming the norm. Everyone was echoing the slogan, “Just say ‘No.'” But getting rid of evil outward actions, doesn’t make society good. Getting rid of the Devil, doesn’t make a person an angel. Eliminating a few bad habits doesn’t make a person a saint. And it didn’t take Jeremiah long to see that most of Judah was only returning to Christianity mediocrity. Josiah’s salvation and revival were genuine, but not so for most everyone else.
And this was the beginning of Jeremiah’s long life of trouble. The effects of his ministry went down hill after the revival began and began to fade. People were thinking that the prophet should be patting them on their backs. They had cleaned out the soothsayers and religious prostitutes. Shouldn’t that old fundamentalist be satisfied?
“The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple…. the Temple.” Doesn’t that sound a lot like today’s phrase, “I’ve been born again, again, again, again.” There have never been so many people who claim to have been born again…… Mega-churches across the country are declaring thousands, if not millions, of converts. But many of those people look just like the old idolaters without their idols. Or maybe it’s more like – “I’m a fundamentalist now. I’m a Landmarker. I’m a man of doctrine.” But there was Jeremiah, like John the Baptist, saying, “Stop talking and bring forth fruit mete for repentance.”
Revival does not consist in going back to old Christian religiosity. It is going on for Christ, living holy lives like He did. Look at verses 9-10 – “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these…. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?” I believe that the Lord cares whether or not we believe the Bible about the Lord’s imminent return. And He teaches us to trust in His sovereignty. We must believe that God is a triune being and the Holy Spirit is a divine person. It is proper to believe that Christ started His church during His earthly ministry and promised to protect it and maintain it until the end. But He is not satisfied with us merely chanting, “the Lord’s Church; the Church of Christ; the Lord’s church.” Religious lips and words are only important when they are a part of sanctified lives and service.
What is the point? Jeremiah is essentially saying, “Weddings are easy, but marriages are arduous!” Josiah’s reform was like a wedding, but Jeremiah’s concern was with the rest of the marriage. And it’s still the problem the prophet of God faces today – superficial, church going, meaningless Christianity. Stop redundantly shouting, “The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord.” How about worshiping the God of that Temple and actually serving Him according to his Word. How about loving the God of that Temple. That is how revival is seen.