“Return, faithless people” (Jeremiah 3:22)

 ↓Audio link to the sermon:(1st worship recording)
(If you can’t listen on your iPhone, please update your iOS)

Today’s message is my third sermon on the book of Jeremiah. The theme of my previous sermon was “Where is the Lord?” (from Jeremiah 2:6) God had given his people many trials and difficulties as an opportunity to repent. Likewise, in our lives, difficult times can be opportunities for us to repent or change our direction. These are times for us to ask, “Where is the Lord?” We should stop to remember how God has been gracious to us. He is the God who rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. We need to remember that God has that same love and grace towards us, and he wants us to trust him.

Today, we will look at Jeremiah chapter 3. In this chapter, Jeremiah urges the people of Israel to repent. The starting point for repenting and returning to God is to first realize God’s love. So now, let’s read the passage, Jeremiah chapter 3.

Starting with verse 6: “During the reign of King Josiah, the Lord said to me, ‘Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.’” God describes the northern kingdom of Israel as an unfaithful wife. There was not even one king there who obeyed God. The northern kingdom had strayed away from God, worshipped idols, and was punished by God as a result. Around the year 721 BC, Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and carried its people to Assyria as captives.

Earlier, I mentioned King Josiah, who carried out religious reforms in the southern kingdom of Judah. He called the people of Judah to live according to God’s ways again. The words in today’s passage were spoken during the time of King Josiah. So, did the people really repent? God questions their sincerity.

We shall see the answer in this passage. Let’s read verses 7 and 8. “I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it.” Here God is speaking of the two kingdoms: faithless Israel in the north and unfaithful Judah in the south. Judah should have learned from the mistakes of Israel. Instead Judah did her own idol worship, without any fear of God. Verse 10 says, “In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense.” God says that Judah was only pretending to follow Him. Apart from King Josiah, the nation itself did not really repent. Verse 9 says, “Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood.” In other words, God condemns Judah for worshipping idols and not learning from Israel’s punishment.

But though he points out sin, God still wants people to repent and return to him. This is exactly the story of the Prodigal Son, in which the father still loves his misbehaving son and wants him to come home. In verses 12 and 13, God asks Jeremiah to send a message to northern Israel, asking them to return to him: “‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful . . . I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt”. As for southern Judah, this kingdom only appeared to change on the outside. After the reign of Josiah, Judah returned to idol worship. Because of this, God said that even Israel was more righteous than Judah.

In verses 14 to 18 then shows God forgiving his people and bringing them back to Zion, which is another name for Jerusalem or Israel. In verse 14, God says, “Return, faithless people, for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion.” God intends to restore his people through a small remnant of Israelites who lost their country and were taken as captives. This is very much like us today, who encounter Christ, repent, and are given new life. The Bible even describes Christ as the future husband of the Church.

Moving on to verse 15: “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” God giving his people new shepherds reflects the change of era from Old Testament to New Testament. Verse 16 says, “. . . people will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made.” People of the New Testament will no longer live by the pattern of the Old Testament. They will live in a new way.

The passage on goes to say that Jerusalem will be called the throne of God. It is a prophecy of how God will make Zion the center of his kingdom and his presence during the end times. During that time, nations will no longer follow the stubbornness of evil hearts; Judah and Israel will reunite and return to their land. They will experience God’s presence in a new way, like never before. The people of Israel who were torn apart will be made whole again. And they will return to their God. This is what Jeremiah prophesies.

In verse 22, God says, “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” Today’s passage, which urges God’s people to repent, also uses the word “return” many times. Indeed, Judah and Israel will both return to God. There, they will find forgiveness and healing. May we, too, always realize God’s love again and return to Him. May we not let our mistakes stop us, and may we not condemn ourselves or other people, but simply return to God. Let us just pray again, as verse 23 says, “Yes, we will come to you, for you are the Lord our God.” That is our confession of faith.

(If you can’t hear from the bar above, click the blue button)