O LORD, the hope of Israel, All who forsake Thee will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, Because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD. Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved, For Thou art my praise.
One Way, or the Other
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Our Old Testament lesson is very short, this morning, and comes right to the point. Once again, Jeremiah is preaching to Jerusalem. He is announcing the judgment of God on Judah for their idolatry. He is speaking of how the judgment of God works. In these two short verses, there is both law and gospel. He lays out how God will deal with them, both the faithful and the unfaithful, all of those who trust in God and all of those who trust in idols. Clearly, there is an 'either/or' here. It is one way or the other. And that is our theme: One Way, or the Other
There are really only two approaches to God: faith - the Christian faith in the grace of God - and unbelief. In our world, people like to imagine a wide range of choices. There are hundreds of religions, and hundreds of gods. Who is to say which one is right, or if there is a convergence among them, so that even though they call their god by another name, it is still the same god as another religion's god? The answer is, God Himself.
In our text, God speaks through the Prophet and says that all who forsake the God who is the Hope of Israel will be put to shame. Those who turn away from Him will be written down, Jeremiah says. God is taking notes. Abandoning Him will not be overlooked or forgotten. He alone is the fountain of living water. Without Him there is no life and no hope.
In other words, it doesn't matter what people think. They can imagine that God is difficult to come to know. They can pretend that it is all the same from one God to another, and that all religions are roughly equivalent. God knows. Throughout history, He has worked through prophet and preacher to make the world aware of Him and to tell the world that He is unique, there is no other God, no . other one . like . Him . anywhere.
The Gospel marks God, and our religion, as unique. You can find countless deities with rules for living. Laws are easy to find. Every religion comes with its rules: rules to fit in, rules to achieve whatever sort of benefit or salvation you are seeking - or that this particular religion is offering, rules for peace of mind or rules for abundance of possessions. Deities law are a dime a dozen, and worth every penny of that. But our God, the one that actually exists, comes with the Gospel. He brings forgiveness, resurrection from the grave, and life everlasting - and He brings it as a gift of grace, due to His great love, and due to the death and resurrection of His only-begotten Son.
No other God comes with all of that. Very few come with any part of that. Karma has no comparison to sin and no answer to it like forgiveness. Re-incarnation doesn't hold a candle to resurrection because in reincarnation, you lose yourself. You don't know who you were, and you start all over again. In the resurrection, you rise, and you are you! And there is only one resurrection, not repeated, over and over again as one tries to climb the ladder of blessedness. When the Christian rises, it is to everlasting life, beyond sin, sickness, sorrow, or death. You don't climb the ladder of blessedness, you are given the top, perfect righteousness.
It is already yours! Now! It is the gift of God, not dependent on your works or behavior, but won by Christ on the cross and in the resurrection. It depends completely on Christ, and He has already done His part, and promised the blessings to us and to all who simply take Him at His Word, trust Him to do what He has promised, and, in short, believe. That grace and that salvation - or any salvation of that sort - is simply not available anywhere else. Our God is unique. But, of course, being that He alone actually exists, He would be unique among the Gods of this world.
When the prophet calls out "Heal me", his words remind us of the Gospel lesson today - the healing of the lepers. Jesus healed them, and they were, in fact, healed. It was just as the Prophet said. And, just as the prophet said, when the nine out of ten did not return to give thanks, they also were forsaking the fountain of living water. Only the one heard Jesus say, "Your faith has saved you." Jesus' words to the one man who returned echoed the prophet, because Jesus was not speaking of just the physical healing from the leprosy, and the healing the prophet was referring to was not just the healing of the body only, but salvation. Both Jesus and the prophet spoke of the same thing and used pretty much the same words.
What the prophet was saying in his own way, was, when God saves you, you are saved. There are no "if", "ands", or "buts" about it. There is nothing tentative or conditional about it. The prophet announced it and Jesus demonstrated it. Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved. Notice here, too, that it is one way or the other: it is the way of faith or the way of unbelief. It is the way of salvation and healing, or it is the way of shame. There is no middle ground. There is no almost or half-way or kinda-sorta-maybe. The unbelievers are written down, noted carefully, and finally put to shame. Those who believe are saved, and healed, and rejoice in God!
The result of that salvation is that He is our praise - we focus on Him and praise Him for His great grace. Just as the prophet wrote, Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved, for Thou art my Praise. The message of Jeremiah is just the same, here, as the message of the Apostle Paul, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. When God calls us to "rejoice always", He isn't asking for purposeless rejoicing, but calling us to rejoice in the healing and salvation that God has worked for us and pours out on us.
You should take note here, too, that the prophet says that the reason that those who are lost are lost - or ashamed - is unbelief. They have forsaken the fountain of living water. Just in case anyone is minded to be obtuse about it, the prophet even says, "even the Lord". He is the fountain of the water of life - and it bubbles up unto eternal life for all who partake by faith. But for those who turn away, either from once having believed, or simply refusing to come to faith, there is only shame - what Jesus referred to as "Weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Unbelievers frequently answer this proclamation of the truth with, "God couldn't send me to hell just because I didn't believe the right thing - because I had a different opinion!" God says, "Yes I can." The unbelievers turn away in anger because they do not understand. They do not understand the danger they face. They do not understand the nature and meaning of damnation. They do not understand what the gift of God in Christ Jesus is. They think it is something they can do quite nicely without, and they are wrong.
God cannot hold this "difference of opinion" against them? God has forgiven sin, their sin as much as anyone else's - at great cost. He did not just dismiss it, or ignore it, or brush it aside or sweep it under the rug. He punished it. He poured out His wrath and condemnation on sin - and all of it landed on His Son, not on us, the ones who sinned. He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin of His own, for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Those who reject His gift and the payment He made, who dismiss Him in His grace and compassion have walked away from the fountain of life - not from an 'opinion' or an 'idea', but from the living water of Christ, which He spoke of to the Samaritan woman at the well - John 4:10, Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."
Again, John tells us in chapter 7:37-38: Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'" John tells us that Jesus was speaking of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive. That is what the unbeliever rejects, and chooses shame and sorrow - perhaps unaware, certainly unbelievingly, but just as truly. It is finally one way, or the other.
Walking away from faith in Christ is to walk away from the living water and from salvation itself. It isn't any works, it is faith - or unbelief alone that marks the distinction. Faith does not save, it receives the gifts of God. God saves. God heals. God gives all the good and the blessing. If you turn your back on it, there is nothing but loss. Unbelief rejects the saving One and so rejects salvation itself. How sad.
We cannot talk anyone into faith. Only the Spirit can do that. But we can warn them. We can walk in a manner worthy of the gifts which we have been given, to reflect Christ and to confess Him. We can, like the prophet, speak a word of warning - but humbly, because, as the old adage so truly says in this case, there but for the grace of God, we go, too. And we can rejoice daily and give God praise and thanks for His goodness to us. Nothing shields us so well from the tempter's wiles as thanksgiving to God and praise for His great goodness and grace towards us.
The Apostle Paul wrote pretty much the same ideas, by God's inspiration, in Ephesians two: For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not on the basis of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared in advance for us, that we should walk in them. Sounds a little different, but not all that much when you think about it. Both were saying it is one way, or the other.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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