Deliver Us From: Homemade Religion
I love homemade apple pie. I love homemade bread. I love homemade chicken soup. But one thing that should never be homemade is our religion.
This should go without saying, yet I think it is important to note because this is a temptation that every Christian faces. Every Christian faces the temptation to worship a god of their own creation. We want to worship a god we can understand. We want a god whose behaviour is predictable. And if we are honest with ourselves, we want a god who is a lot like us--only bigger and better.
I once heard a great definition of idolatry: "Idolatry is imagining God to be something that He is not". To commit idolatry, of course, is to break the 2nd Commandment (Ex. 20:4). Committing idolatry, I'm afraid, is something we are prone to do. We are prone to worship a god of our own understanding.
How do we overcome this tendency? We do so by committing ourselves to worshipping the God of the Bible.
I love how our hymn puts it, "How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! What more can He say than to you He hath said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?" The question, of course, is rhetorical. All that we need to know about God, all that we need for our relationship with Him, is found in the Bible. This is what theologians call the "sufficiency of Scripture".
There is no need for clever innovation when it comes to knowing God and following Him. God's revelation in the Bible is sufficient so that there is no need for self-generated beliefs. There is no need for homemade religion.
As we turn to Jeremiah chapter 2, however, what we find is homemade religion. The Jewish people had created a type of Judaism that suited them and tried to pass it off as the real thing. Notice that the rebuke that comes from the Lord is not directed at the surrounding nations and their plethora of pagan religions. The Lord's rebuke, we read in verse 2, is for "the ears of Jerusalem".
And even though God is addressing the Hebrew people as a whole, He specifically indicts the religious leaders of the day in verse 8. It is not as if the people of Israel had totally abandoned the covenant, the trouble was that they attempted to reshape it to suit their desires. The trouble was not that the priests had abandoned the law, but that they attempted to interpret and apply the law apart from the One who authored it. "Those who handle the law did not know Me", says the Lord in verse 8.
Listen to what the Lord says in verse 13, "My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water."
Let us observe again that the recipients of this rebuke are called "My people". And let us remember that, in the Old Testament, God does not speak about any other nation in these terms. The Hebrew people were the special recipients of God's grace.
If I were to pause at these two words "My people", I pray that it would be imminently clear why this passage also applies to us. In the new covenant, all of those who call upon the name of Jesus for their salvation gain this special designation from God: "My people".
And what we learn in Jeremiah is that God's people are not beyond reproach. God's people are capable of making a travesty out of Christianity. We are capable of perverting biblical Christianity to such a degree that what are left with is something totally unlike what God has intended for us.
We know there is no such thing as a perfect church, yet we also know that the God of the Bible is in the habit of holding His people accountable. We are not free to invent our own particular version of Christianity. If we do, we make ourselves vulnerable to the judgment of God.
In this particular passage, the judgment of God is that "(His) people have committed two evils", and the first evil is that "they have forsaken (God), the fountain of living waters".
What does God mean, "His people have forsaken Him"? Have the people physically left God? No. Every indication is that the people were still attending public worship. Every indication is that the priests were still handling the law, and that the prophets were still prophesying (2:8). In what manner then, had Israel forsaken God? I suspect it was like an earlier time when God said about Israel, "These people draw near with their words and honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me"(Isa. 29:13).
We have gathered here this morning as God's people. We have declared God's praises with our lips, but the question still remains: What is the condition of our heart? Have we submitted our heart to God?
"And how do we submit our hearts to God?", you ask. To draw near to God with your heart requires submission to His Word. The priests of Israel were reading and teaching the Scriptures. The people of Israel were attending public worship and were listening to the Scriptures being taught. But they forsook the Lord in that they were unwilling to let God dictate the terms of the covenant. They were unwilling to submit to commands that were instituted by God for their own good (Deut. 10:13).
This message is repeated by Jesus who says, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments"(Jn. 14:15). In other words, "If your heart has not forsaken Me, you will do what I say".
Homemade religion is the result of not wanting to believe and do what Jesus says. My temptation is to exhort you all this morning to pick up your Bibles and read! My temptation is to emphasize the importance of meditating on the Scriptures. But none of this will profit you unless you are prepared to submit to what you read. For the devil is a greater scholar than you; and he knows the Scripture better than any minister. Yet, what makes the devil so evil is that he knows what God requires and still refuses to submit to it.
To invent your own particular version of religion, God says, is to "commit two evils". It was bad enough that the people forsook God, but what added to their sin was the fact that they also tried to replace Him with something inferior.
In verse 11, God says, "My people have exchanged their glory"--with the word, "glory", God is referring to Himself. God is saying, "My people have exchanged (Me) for that which does not profit." And again, in verse 13, "They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water."
Before we examine the nature of the sin addressed here, notice first, the assumption that human beings are thirsty. The thirst metaphor is a common one in the Bible. The Bible tells us that we are all thirsty. And what ultimately matters is where we turn in order to quench our thirst.
The people of Israel had access to a perpetual fountain in the Lord. And with the Lord as their portion, they would never thirst again. Yet, in an act of supreme foolishness, they forsook the Lord--their perpetual fountain--and they dug cisterns for themselves.
Cisterns, of course, are dry until water is imported. And what can happen is that the consumption of water from a cistern can exceed the water intake, causing the cistern to become dry. It was just a few months ago when Allie and I, and her parents, enjoyed a week at the cottage. We drank water, washed dishes, showered, and did all the things we would do as if we were at home. That is, until we ran out of water. My mother and aunt followed us at the cottage and they bemoaned the fact that they were without water for most of the week. Surely a cistern is greatly inferior to a perpetual water source.
And the only thing inferior to a cistern is a broken cistern. This is how God describes the action of His people. The problem was not that they relied on an adequate structure that was merely inferior, the problem was that they relied on an utterly inadequate structure. Their faith was in a religion of their own making. And their homemade religion did not hold water.
The rebuke of Jeremiah 2:13 is addressed to God's people, and so it is a warning for us. It is a warning to us to keep us from adding or subtracting from the perfect foundation God has laid for us in His Word.
If God likens Himself to a perpetual stream, and if God is revealed to us in the Bible, then our thirst, if it is rightly directed, should be for the Bible. This is why the apostle Peter tells us, "like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the Word"(1Pet. 2:2). This is why the psalmist writes, "How sweet are Thy words to taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!"(Ps. 119:103).
Homemade religion will not quench our thirst and its doctrines will not nourish our souls. If you are to be truly satisfied, you must come to Jesus Christ. And when you come to Him, do not worship Him according to your imagination or invention.
I implore you: worship the Christ of the Bible; follow the Christ of the Bible; love the Christ of the Bible. Drink the living water He provides and you will be eternally satisfied. Amen.