Jeremiah 7:1-7 (ESV)
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord.  Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.  Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’
 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another,  if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm,  then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
Jeremiah has been giving the message from God to the city of Jerusalem that judgement is coming despite what their prophets and priests have been telling them. But the people are intransigent and they refuse to repent (6:17). Now God sends Jeremiah to the centre of the problem, the temple. It is the centre of the problem because it is priests and prophets, the religious leaders, who have been counselling the people that God is not angry at Judah and all is well. It is the centre of the problem because the temple is the centre for the worship of God and the sins of the people are the sins of those who are active in the temple. It is those who go through the forms of worship who are the problem. It is those who offer sacrifice for sin without any plans to change and without any hearts of repentance.
Judgement, as Peter reminds us, must begin in the house of the Lord (I Peter 4:17). The worship, as Jesus (quoting Isaiah) pointed out to the religious leaders of his day, has the right words, but those words come from hearts that are far away from God (Matthew 15:8-9). The problem in Israel lies at the place where people are certain everything is fine. If judgement is coming it certainly is in spite of the worship in the temple, not because of it, is how they would reason. And they were wrong. Judgement is indeed coming because of the worship in the temple.
Could we be wrong too? It is so easy to lash out at the wicked people all around us. It is so convenient to have a government that we are allowed to criticize for its godlessness. It is so easy to blame Hollywood and the school system and various movements in the culture that are idolatrous and immoral. And it is really easy to blame those of a more liberal theological bent. But the words of Jesus should ring in our ears whenever we start thinking about the moral decay and slide in our culture.
Matthew 5:13 – “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
The world is an idolatrous place and people are responsible for their own behaviour. But Jesus is clear here that the Christian community is a preservative in the culture/world. Our presence is to be that which will keep the society from rotting away into complete godlessness. The church needs to be at least aware of the fact that the moral decay all around us accelerates if the salt is absent or ineffective.
The problem with Israel was the temple worshippers. The problem with the covenant people of God today may very well be the covenant people of God.
It is not for us to mourn the moral and ethical state of the culture and world in which we live. It is for us to examine ourselves to make sure that we are living such godly lives among the pagans that even though they accuse us of wrong doing they will have nothing evil to say about us on the day of God’s visitation (I Peter 2:9-12).
The church of Jesus Christ needs to stand at the gates of its places of worship and see if it needs to amend its ways. We need to be at least not as arrogant as the worshippers Jeremiah encountered and pray with David “search me O God and see if there be any way in me”.