Open Your Bible
Jeremiah 3:6-25, Jeremiah 4:1-31, Jeremiah 5:1-13, 2 Kings 23:15-20, Ephesians 1:3-14
I work out at a small gym located on the corner of a busy street in Nashville. Joe, the owner, is a former body-builder with a bald head and more muscles than I could grow in a lifetime. Every Monday and Wednesday, he puts us through the standard suffering: jumping jacks, push-ups, lunges, weighted squats, bicep curls, body movements made impossible with the aid of resistance bands. When my sweat turns to tears and I groan and complain and curse, Joe looks at me and shrugs.
“I’m sorry,” he says, then announces the next set.
I know an empty apology when I hear it. If Joe were really sorry about my pain, he wouldn’t go on inflicting it—well, unless it were for my good in the long run; I do pay him for the “suffering,” after all. And that’s just the thing. Real apologies aren’t just words—they are words of genuine feeling married to new actions. Apply that on a cosmic, spiritual level, and that’s where we find the Israelites in Jeremiah chapters 4 through 5. The people are unrepentant, unwilling to marry their words with genuine feeling or change. And the Lord, in his mercy, can no longer stand idly by while they sin themselves into destruction.
Countless times over the course of this passage, I hear God’s heart in the words He uses to try and woo back the people He loves: Return to me. I long to make you My sons. I will not be angry forever. Return, I will heal. Through Jeremiah, the Lord is telling His people that the way they live their lives matters. At one point in this passage, He calls them to “remove the foreskin of [their] hearts” (Jeremiah 4:4). It’s a harsh word picture, no doubt, but one that reminds us that an outward sign like circumcision means nothing if not paired with an inner heart that values holiness, purity, and connection to God. When I verbally acknowledge that I have lied, but keep lying, I am not truly repentant. Real repentance is accompanied by a change in heart and behavior—a desire to turn away from sin and turn back to God.
Jeremiah would foretell what Jesus accomplished on the cross, the prophet’s words fully realized through the actions of the promised Messiah. Thank goodness we have Jesus’s accomplishments, because the truth is, despite our best efforts, we are unfaithful and will continue to fail in our own strength. But “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:7–8).
Through Jeremiah, the Lord called the Israelites to look through the streets of Jerusalem, to search for a single person who acts justly, yet they couldn’t find a single one. On a good day, my life is full of folly, selfishness, and vanity. I’m sure if I had been alive in Jeremiah’s day, I would’ve been as unrepentant as the Israelites, “who made their faces harder than rock, and… refused to return” (Jeremiah 5:3).
But there is good news for me, for each one of us: in Christ Jesus, we have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,” and “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when [we] heard the word of truth, the gospel of [our] salvation… when [we] believed” (Ephesians 1:3,13). This does not change, even when we fail, even when we struggle to match our words to our actions. Jesus, who loves us, is forgiving and does not run out of invitations for us to return to Him. What God is looking to find in us is not perfect faithfulness—only Jesus can be perfectly faithful. What God is looking for in you and in me is a heart that longs to seek Him. By His Spirit, may we turn to Him.