Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you heard the news? It’s spreading throughout the city! The officials have arrested the prophet, Jeremiah. That Jeremiah has been preaching his message of hate again. He has circulated his disinformation throughout the Temple, and his extremist language is simply unacceptable. His fringe views are divisive and do not represent the views of our respected religious experts. He dares to claim that God will destroy our Temple and City if we do not repent. Well, the officials of Jerusalem had him arrested and charged with treason. Our priests and prophets are calling for the death sentence.
Throughout history, God has sent preachers and prophets to proclaim his Word to people and nations. Yet, by and large, God’s message has been greeted with rejection and violent anger. God’s prophets have often stood alone. They were routinely accused of promoting lies and misinformation by the establishment. Many were killed. The way of God has never been popular. Even when God himself became man to deliver his own message, even then, he was rejected by men and crucified. This morning our texts invite us to reflect upon Christianity’s unpopularity. Why is Christianity rejected by most, and how can that bring us comfort?
The Call to Repent Rebukes Sin
God sent the prophet Jeremiah into a high traffic area of the Temple where the priests, the state-funded prophets, and all people could hear him. God had a thing or two he wanted to say and did not want anyone to miss this sermon. They certainly heard what Jeremiah said, but their response was hostile. All they heard, with gathering rage, was someone who claimed to be a prophet of Lord threatening God’s house and David’s city with destruction. It was treason and blasphemy. Immediately, they recognized that what this prophet has to say is a significant threat to what they believe and their political power. They didn’t want to listen to the Word of God because they were more concerned about their way of life. So they think that to preserve their city and way of life, this guy needs to be silenced.
God’s Word is challenged and ridiculed wherever it confronts the established ideology. Christianity confronts many ideologies in Canada. In Canada, traditional Christian values are increasingly seen as repressive, intolerant, bigoted, or even labelled as hate. Why is there such resistance to God’s message? Well, first, we need to know the content of this message. The prophet Jeremiah is not announcing anything new. He preaches an ancient message. Since it’s old, many assume it’s out of date. God sends his prophets and preachers to humanity. Although its application may differ from time to time and from place to place, the fundamental proclamation has always been the same. It’s the same message that Jesus brings to Jerusalem. It’s the same message that is still preached throughout the world. Melanchthon provides an excellent summary for us: “For the sum of the proclamation of the Gospel is to denounce sin, to offer the forgiveness of sins and righteousness for Christ’s sake, to grant the Holy Spirit and eternal life, and to lead us as regenerated men to do good” (AP XII:29).
You see, that’s what Jeremiah was doing, that’s what Jesus was doing, and that’s what preachers throughout the world must be doing: denouncing sin and offering forgiveness for Christ’s sake. Calling out people and nations for their wickedness is part of what God wants for all times and places. Jeremiah calls to the people, “Now, therefore, mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you” (Je 26:13).
To denounce and rebuke people for their sins is never an easy task. By nature, we humans never like to be told when we are doing wrong and that we need to get back on the right path. Telling people that what they cherish – their beliefs, and their practices, maybe even their whole lives – are wrong and evil, and they need to change, is a stern message. Telling those in the establishment that they’re a bunch of hypocrites is dangerous. The same type of persecution that Jeremiah faced can easily happen in Canada. People will defend their false gods. The Epistle reading describes such “enemies of the cross” (Php 3:18). “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (v. 19).
People end up in Hell because, despite God’s persistent warnings, they utterly refuse to mend their ways and obey the voice of the Lord. The majority have continued and will always reject God because they enjoy their sin. They love sin because it gives some small reward. Sin is like a fishing hook. The hook is the reward (the pleasure, praise, perception of power or the temporary removal of pain) that keeps them returning. They will do whatever pleases them, and they have no desire to give that up.
But that is why sin needs to be denounced. Even as God’s people, we need the Lord’s loving rebuke and His call for repentance and change in our lives. Sin still clings to us. Even a cursory glance at the Ten Commandments will show you how much you fall short. Did you notice that Jeremiah was speaking to God’s people? The message was not for an unbelieving world that needed reforming, but the people there in the House of God! Today you are in the house of God. God is calling you to mend your ways and obey his voice. Remember that Jeremiah’s warning is about the Temple of the Lord. If the Lord could destroy and withdraw his presence from the Temple, why couldn’t he do the same to St. Peter’s? Do you want St. Peter’s to last another 110 years? Mend your ways. Or would you instead go on loving your sin? How often do you respond to the call to return to the Lord? Do you listen and turn from your evil ways? Jesus weeps over Jerusalem because the people were not willing to come to him. Will Jesus be weeping over you? Mend your ways and obey the voice of the Lord.
The Call to Repent Gives us Hope
God is calling you to mend your ways, which is a reason to have hope. The story of Jerusalem is also the story of God’s dealing with humanity. It’s the story of sin, rebellion, stubbornness, idolatry, rejection of the Word and the prophets who preach it. But it’s also the story of God’s grace, God’s undeserved kindness, toward sinful humanity. God promises to relent of the disaster he has pronounced against you. That’s his heart’s desire. God sends his preachers with words that wounded us, but he does that to make us whole again.
Like Jeremiah, Jesus of Nazareth was innocent of the charges brought against him. Indeed, he was innocent of all charges. Jesus Christ was without sin. Like Jeremiah, Jesus was sent to denounce sin and offer forgiveness. Yet, like Jeremiah, Jerusalem rejected him. That rejection drove our Lord to tears of lament. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Lk 13:34). He cries over His city. He mourns over what the establishment has done to the people. He grieves over their unbelief, their reliance on worldly power, their rejection of the Word and the prophets who spoke it.
Whenever Jerusalem killed a prophet, every time Jerusalem shut her ears to the Word, it was Christ Himself they rejected. “How often I would have gathered you.” For centuries, he appealed to them through priest and prophet, Torah and scribe, calling to his children, but they were unwilling. They would not repent. They would not trust him. They would not abandon their idolatries and adulteries. They would not live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God; They would not receive the One who had come to save them. They said, “You must die,” and die he did.
Left on our own, we “were not willing” too. Left to our own, we were not willing to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus on the way of death and resurrection. We were not willing. Yet, the Son of God was rejected by men and died. For us. For all. For you. God promises to relent of the disaster he has pronounced against you because he did not relent of the disaster pronounced against his Son. Jesus cried over a city that wanted Him dead, over a world that considers Him a stranger, an alien, a nuisance, an imposter, a fraud. He spreads his arms wide to embrace every sinner who repents and forgive every sin. His death is the only death that can save you from disaster.
You see, Christianity is never going to be popular. We will always be viewed as a fringe minority with unacceptable views. Christ, our Lord, promises that the world will hate us because he was hated by the world (John 15:18). We have seen that the main reason why people reject Christianity is that God calls them to repent and amend their ways and heed his Word. Instead, most people would rather serve their own wants and desires. Most love their sin and want to enjoy it. But this call to repentance is what gives us hope. God himself pleads with you sitting here today: repent. Christ suffered and died upon the cross to offer you forgiveness. Amend your ways. Listen to the voice of the Lord. Repent and be forgiven.
Then, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.