RETURNING TO THE OLD PATHS Jeremiah 6:16
INTRO: I'm not sure if everybody knows this, but Churches of Christ proudly belong to a category called Restoration Churches. The idea is that we must not settle for church no matter how entertaining or interesting it is, if it is not biblical in nature. So we make an effort to get back to the Bible for our teachings and practices. One of our favourite Bible passages is Jer. 6:16. It says, Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ˜We will not walk in it” Lets look at this 1) in its original context and 2) in our culture today.
I. THE WEEPING PROPHET LIVED IN DIFFICULT AND DANGEROUS TIMES. It is
not simply cynical thinking but historical insight to says that God's people have had a bad reputation of going downhill. The majesty and transcendence of God seems to get lost in everyday living by those who don't make the effort. Not being able to figure out why God is doing something they turn to the world of learning or knowledge, the visible.
A. A good example of this is God’s wonderful care and miraculous actions that got
Israel out of Egyptian bondage. Instead of the trip taking about 2 years it took them 40 years. In the wilderness they complained about everything that God did which included providing different kinds of food and water gotten by miracles.
B. This lingered until they thought slavery in Egypt looked good to them. They took
God's discipline upon them as hateful rather than helpful.
C. Jeremiah lived in rather normal times, if these be the norm. He received his call
from God in the last year of Judah’s last good king- Josiah. 627BC., and was preaching to God's sinful people till after Jerusalem fell at the hands of Babylon in 587BC.
D. Some of the specific downward trends were:
1. God's people had strayed from his righteousness and relied on themselves
2. They had become materialistic and greedy for gain
3. They tried to substitute religious ritual for a heart for God
4. There was sexual impurity, moral corruption and treacherous unbelief
5. Religious apostasy happened in favour of idols
6. Social injustice stood large here
7. But nothing is greater than the leaders who were part of the problem. See a summary in Jeremiah 5:30.31
Jeremiah must have felt desperately lonely. He was so out of step with his fellow priests and prophets. While he cried out his urgent warnings, they crooned that everything was all right. They overlooked and ignored the sins and shameful conduct of God’s people. It’s so “human” to prefer our comfort and a secure income to our commitment to God. But in the end, it’s far better for us to keep company with the lonely Jeremiah.
8. Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient
paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls." But they said, “We will not walk in it."
a. The prophet's words then that God is issuing to His people is for them not to allow themselves to be lead astray by the false prophets and leaders of their day. They are to look back to men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and others who walked the path of obedience and holiness before the Lord and they are to seek that path for themselves.
b. “Remember the days of old, Consider the years of all generations. Ask your father, and he will inform you, Your elders, and they will tell you." Deut. 32:7
II. THESE DAYS WE ARE BOMBARDED WITH MANY DIFFERENT KINDS OF THREATS Because we live in an age of advancement, and since we are committed to getting back to the
Bible, we might jump to the conclusion that those who use praise groups, loud music, entertaining skits and hand clapping are those who have failed to heed Jeremiah's words.
A. And they may be! There are possible dangers in these things, especially when viewed by senior citizens, but these do not seem to be the "paths" that would bring destruction as predicted by the prophet.
B. Note this quote: "The phrase 'ask for the old paths' (6:16) is a favourite of people who oppose changes in the church and want to maintain a sterile and boring status quo. But 'the old ways' refer to God’s truth as revealed in His Word, not to methods of ministry. Note that Jeremiah gave two instructions: 'stand in the old ways' and 'walk in the good way.' We stand on His truth in order to make progress in His work. The old Youth for Christ slogan comes to mind: 'Geared to the times but anchored to the Rock.'”
C. I do believe that we can get on the wrong path by choosing to seek out the felt needs of others and building a church to suit those needs. If anything is clear it is that we must continue to be a counter-culture and not a church that is slave to the culture or world.
1. Let's admit it, we know very little about what a Sunday morning looked like in Troas, except it most assuredly was small group in a home and not an audience and speaker.
2. The problem Israel faced is a problem people have faced down through the ages. Let me illustrate: During World War II, during the Battle of the Bulge, there was a group of German soldiers who dressed themselves in the uniforms of the Allies. These German soldiers used American military vehicles and went through the German countryside changing the road signs. When the American troops came to the various crossroads, they were often fooled and lead off in the wrong direction. This deception by the Germans almost gave them the victory in this very decisive battle from the second world war. If we don't know where we are going it can be dangerous.
3. There is a stern reality to this teaching for us: The prophet commands
a. Stand- implies take time to think at this fork in your road
b. Look- spend time observing and assessing where each branch goes
c. Ask- "Where are the old paths?" Find someone who knows
d. Walk- Not enough to do the preliminaries if no intention of walking these old roads
e. Find- Here and only here is rest for one's soul. cf. Matt. 11:29
D. The most insidious threat we face right now is POSTMODERNISM. Bryce asked me to define postmodernism because he had become acquainted with it in university Bible Class.
It's most damaging tenet is the rejecting or dismissal of truth as absolute and universal. This is what the coward Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" Postmodernism pushes this to say that all truth is relative(elephant/mouse idea), unchanging and knowable and that language is capable of conveying absolute truth.
1. This is so powerful in its subtlety we could rationalize that the blood of Jesus WAS necessary for our sins, but not today. Some have removed BLOOD from their hymns.
2. We believe all that Acts 2 says is important, from the gospel being preached to the response of admission of being lost to the wording of repent and be baptized. A post modern view this can make hamburger out of it.
3. And remember, when an atheist says it is one thing, when the church starts down that road, it is another thing.
CONCLUSION: In 1966 the Uffizi Museum in Florence, Italy was inundated with water carrying half-million tons of silt at which time many of the beautiful masterpieces of art were feared lost or damaged forever. Much of the world was in shock. A team of 60 restorers and artisans came and began to work with different chemicals to try to find a way to use a chemical that would act as an antibiotic to somehow reduce the damage. After much experimentation they narrowed it down to one chemical, Squibbs, Nystatin, a stomach pill. But how do you apply a stomach pill to a painting? The brilliant people at the University of Florence found a way to make it soluble and the sprayed it on each painting. Slowly, the damage began to peal off. Each painting took about 2 years on average. Gradually, the colors looked real again, the eyes began to shine, and faces took on those original earthy tones. Here's the bonus, when they worked on an 18t century madonna, it peeled off to expose a 17th century madonna and continued until they reached the original, a 13th century madonna
The Old Paths of which Jeremiah spoke and applied to our lives is not easy. We know that from:
1) The words of Jesus about the better road to choose.
2) The difficult task of the restorers of the paintings
3) What the Bible says as opposed to what is said to be "easy." Beware of "Just accept Jesus into your heart." Ask, "Where is that in the Bible?" Watch out for "Close your eyes and say the "sinners' prayer" and you will have eternal life. Inquire, "Where is that found in the Bible?" The apostles knew there was one way, "to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life." "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."