This is a continuation of the series on Preaching the Book of Jeremiah with Pastor Paul Alexander. Listen to this segment after the 32:33 timestamp.
KH: We both believe that all of Scripture applies to all of life and to every culture. I’m wondering specifically, how does Jeremiah apply to a secular culture?
PA: A couple of direct ways. I think one, the idea in chapter 2 verse 13 that you’re digging out broken cisterns that can’t hold any water. If you don’t know what a cistern is that’s going to be a tough image to relate to, but it’s basically a reservoir. You’re digging out a reservoir to catch rain water so that you have a reservoir in a time of a draught. But if that reservoir has a crack in it, it’s going to lose all the water. This is what God is saying, you’re digging out wells or reservoirs for yourself to catch life-giving water for your soul, but they’re not working. I think that’s an image that can relate to a secular culture very easily today. We are trying to find life everywhere but where we can find it? We’re trying to find life specifically in following the dictates of our own hearts, of our own emotions, of our own feelings, of our own whims and assumptions about how we think life should work, about our own appetites, about our own sexuality, about our assumptions, about who we think God ought to be and what sins we think He should judge and what sins we think He shouldn’t judge. That stuff is all over Jeremiah.
We’re following our own sinful stubborn hearts by setting up ourselves and our own assumptions and appetites as gods. We’re breaking God’s commandments just like the Judahites were breaking God’s commands in those things. We’re following our own hearts. That’s really the spirit of the modern age. I’m going to follow my heart. I’m going to be true to myself and my own truth as I think about it. Yet Jeremiah 17:9 is still true that “The heart is deceitful above all else, desperately sick who can know it?” We think we know our hearts and we think we can follow them and we think they are going to give us solid direction. God is saying, “Look that’s the last thing you should be following. You should be following My word.”
Jeremiah 44:17 was so clear to me. This is another one of those places where they refused to listen to God’s word. That’s exactly what a secular culture is doing today. We have convinced ourselves God’s word is not true. God’s word doesn’t apply. God’s word cannot anticipate all of the difficulties and discoveries of modern life. We don’t need to listen to God’s word and that’s exactly the idea or the attitude or the ethos that was popular in Judah in Jeremiah 44. They said, “Look, we’re not going to break off serving our own gods. We’re going to keep on making our offerings to the queen of heaven, to a false god.” And then they say to Jeremiah point blank, “When we were making these little cakes in our kitchens to the queen of heaven we had plenty of food and prospered and saw no disaster.” Wait a minute! Do you remember what it was like in Egypt do you remember what it’s like to not have the true God as your God? They’ve forgotten all of their slavery to sin. They’re creating total alternate reality. It’s like they’re historical revisionists. In Jeremiah 44 they remember things wrongly. They have a totally different perspective than God has. They remember it differently and their own hearts are deceiving them about all those things.
Then of course, I think, Jeremiah speaks very clearly to our secular culture in the passages on judgement on the unbelieving nations. What we assume is, if the culture doesn’t believe in God or believe in Christ or believe in a triune God of judgment and mercy in Christ, then how can they be held accountable by that God? Well, look at the final six, seven, eight chapters of the book of Jeremiah and you’ll see there’s lots of cultures around Judah that don’t have any care or belief or knowledge of Scripture or Christ and yet God holds them accountable because He has written the law on their consciences and they’re suppressing it in unrighteousness. God does judge unbelieving cultures for their unbelief and for their lack of care about what God says about His moral standards and expectations of those cultures precisely because He’s written those things on their human nature. They’re made in God’s image and they know better and they have refused to obey Him. That’s why He judges them. In a culture of moral relativism in a culture of follow-your-heartism, Jeremiah is bracingly objective about what spiritual truth is and God’s expectations of us in relationship to His word, whether we have suppressed it, whether we have engaged it.