NOW COMES THE NEW MAN
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, 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 doings, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers for ever. Jeremiah 7:3-7
Jeremiah uses the strongest possible language with his people on this occasion. There are many ‘doubles’ that Scripture uses for emphasis, like when Jesus says “truly, truly,” or when St. John writes in Revelation, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great,” but there are very few “triples” as we have here where Jeremiah tells his hearers: Don’t trust in these deceptive words: This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.
Not only is the language strong but so is the message. The prophet is telling the people, in effect, not to trust in the objective means of grace that God provided to impart life and salvation to them, because they will do them no good. It would be as if a pastor were to tell his flock today: don’t believe that the Word and Sacraments forgive your sins and grant you peace with God. Very strong language indeed!
But why the tirade? Had God ceased to be compassionate; had His mercy and promises come to an end? Not at all dear Christians! Jeremiah used such heavy-duty words because his people were overtaken by sin. They thought they could have their cake and eat it too. They thought that since God’s mercy was greater than man’s sin that they could enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, and inherit eternal life as well. They would have flatly rejected St. James who says that: faith without works is dead.
Why such language? Because Jeremiah was speaking to the part of them that St. Paul calls the Flesh, and fear is the only language that Flesh understands. Jeremiah knew that Flesh is narcissistic, fully in love with itself and cares for no one else at all. He knew that it cannot be changed, reformed or improved, and that contrary to the world’s Creed, it can never ‘progress,’ which is why social manipulators are always frustrated in their quest to improve the world – their theories may be flawless, but the material they have to work with is not.
Why such strong language? Because this is how the Old Adam always deals with grace. He mistakes kindness for weakness. He is a taker who gives nothing in return. He feels entitled and is a firm believer in the redistribution of wealth, God’s and man’s alike. This was the condition of the church 650 years before the birth of the Savior, not of just a few – you can always find false sons within the church’s pale – but the whole nation was corrupt from top to bottom. The lusty worship of the fertility goddesses, and the vain worship of Nature were imported into the holy temple of God, which they thought of as their Lucky Charm. As long as it stood they thought they could do whatever they pleased and that God would not let anything bad happen to them. Sin was no longer condemned there, but excused and justified instead – even as it is today in so many places that call themselves church. The strong oppressed the helpless, injustice was the order of the day, and the shedding of innocent blood was legendary, even as it is today in America and the world over.
That’s why Jeremiah preached as he did, because Flesh is entirely corrupt; so twisted that even God Himself does not try to straighten it out – but instead, by holy baptism, He drowns the Old Man so that a New Man, Christ in us, might arise to serve Him in righteousness and purity forever, and the New Man is nothing like the Old! He believes that Jesus is the thrice holy temple of the Lord who was “destroyed” on the tree of the cross to answer for our sins, whose truly innocent blood was shed for us, and who was raised again on the third day for our justification. He knows that “Jesus is Lord,” and by the power of the Holy Spirit confesses the same in the church, and in the world as such profession is called for. He knows the Day of Visitation when he sees it. He recognizes it not only in the Lord’s incarnation, death and resurrection, but he identifies it in the Word and the Sacraments today. The New Man comes to the temple of the Lord not to justify his sins, but to confess them, and to be relieved from their burden. He comes to have flesh and blood fellowship with Christ in the Sacrament; to worship God in spirit and in truth; to pray, praise and give thanks; to rejoice and to sing; and to have the joy of salvation restored within him. He comes, too, to learn the Word of God, and to be strengthened and encouraged to turn from sin each day; and to exercise the gifts the Spirit has bestowed on each of us in our baptism. Many of the ones Paul mentions in First Corinthians such as miraculous healings, speaking in tongues and the interpreting of them were for the apostolic age only, but others are alive and well, and to be used by God’s people until the end of the age, gifts such as wisdom, knowledge, faith and the ability to discern the true from the false.
In his life and within the confines of his vocation the New Man does all these things. He never abuses God’s grace or takes His gifts for granted. He finds no pleasure in sin, but finds all his hope and joy in the Great Day of Visitation when Christ will come again. Amen.
~Rev. Dean Kavouras