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Jeremiah is often known as a prophet of ‘doom and gloom.’ Yet, in the middle of a passage denouncing the sins of Israel and warning of coming judgement, we find this gem of encouragement:
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-4).
These two verses are like a manifesto concerning both the true source of fulfilment in life and God’s agenda for bringing us into that place.
The source of true Fulfilment
This passage begins by identifying three areas in which we naturally tend to place our confidence: wisdom, power and riches. We almost instinctively look up to those whom we perceive as being successful in these areas; and, the higher we are able to rise in their success rankings, the more we think that we have ‘arrived.’ But wisdom is elusive (it always leads to yet more questions); power is transient (even the mightiest eventually fall); riches, even while they still last, will either leave the heart disappointed or longing for more. And, though we could name many other areas of possible human achievement, all are as transient as life itself.
As Solomon, who had wisdom, power and riches in abundance finally complained as he neared the end of his life: “Meaningless! Meaningless! … Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 NIV)
Finding God’s Heart
There is only one way that we can transcend the transience of life; and that is by finding the source and purpose of our life in one who is not subject to death and decay. Solomon also saw this, and concluded:
This is the end of the matter. All has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it is good, or whether it is evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
But Solomon’s relationship with God was deficient. In his earlier years he had sought God and seen a wonderful vision of the redemptive and restorative power of God, as expressed in his wonderful ‘Song of Songs.’ But he had neglected his own relationship with God in his pursuit of self-fulfilment, forging treaties by marrying foreign wives and building shrines to their gods (1 Kings 11:4-13). And, with so many wives to satisfy, it is sadly very doubtful if much of his original love for them could had survived. So he became fixated on the judgemental aspect of God’s character and lost sight of His true heart and purpose for our lives.
But Jeremiah, though surrounded by corruption and at times in dark despair, kept his heart open to God; and even at such a time was able to receive this wonderful revelation of the character and purpose of God:
But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-4).
God’s agenda for our lives has three stages, exemplified in the three characteristics of lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness cited above. These are acceptance, repentance and transformation.
The first thing God wants us to know is that, regardless of what we have done, He still loves and accepts us just as we are.
God’s dealings with man are always marked by loving kindness. Even when Adam had just kicked off the whole sad history of human rebelliousness, one of God’s first acts was to help him make a better suit of clothes (Genesis 3:21).
We make the mistake of thinking that God is ‘out to get us’ when we have done wrong and think we have to put it right somehow before we dare come to him. But God calls us to come just as we are and promises not to turn us away (John 6:37). (The truth is that we could never put it right anyway – see Isaiah 64:6 & Luke 17:10.)
Jesus’ ministry typified this.
When the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. But you go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:11-13)
These words of Jesus lead us on to the next important step. God will judge sin. However, his judgement is not directed at us: but at our sins. He wants to separate us from them so that we can be freed from their consequences.
There is an immense difference between God and Satan in this respect. The name, ‘Satan,’ means ‘the Accuser.’ His purpose is to condemn us: to make us feel so utterly unacceptable and worthless that we will lose hope and never turn to God. But God’s purpose is redemptive. He wants us to see our sin the way He sees it, so that we will truly desire to change. And when we do, He is there to make it possible.
But ‘Justice,’ as the old saying goes, ‘must not only be done: it must be seen to be done.’ When Jesus died on the cross a transaction took place. He took on himself the consequences of all the sins we have ever committed. (We cannot even really begin to imagine what this must have been like – an agony greater than all the agonies that anyone has ever suffered as a consequence of sin. The flogging and the nails would have been nothing in comparison.)
For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The result is that God’s righteousness becomes part of our nature too, and we are transformed. We are set free from the power of sin in our lives through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit and enabled to live lives of love that will go on to impact even the society in which we live.
Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far off, even as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.”
With many other words he testified, and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized. There were added that day about three thousand souls.
They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer. Fear came on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. (Acts 2:38-47)