Thank you to Paul and to Sarah for helping lead us in music tonight and for those who are in the TV room helping with the livestream. We appreciate all the efforts there to allow us to have this sort of a worship service over livestream.
We’re going to look in our Bibles tonight at Jeremiah chapter 9, and we’re going to look at verses 23 and 24 together tonight. And when I was in my teens, I had a couple of different jobs, but whether it was packing bolts and screws or selling shoes, the thing that nobody really wanted to do was to take inventory, was to take a count of the things that we already had. Taking inventory is time consuming. It’s tedious. And it doesn’t seem to accomplish anything tangible. It would be easier to stay busy doing anything else other than taking inventory. But taking inventory is very important; it’s essential for running a good business.
Well it’s also important for us to take inventory of our lives as well, to examine our habits and our desires; to look at our priorities in light of God’s Word and in light of what we say we believe. How does the love of God and our hope in Christ impact our lives? It’s good for us to take inventory. And yet, nobody really finds it easy to do. It’s easier to stay busy and to distract ourselves with noises or with our screens or really almost anything else rather than doing the hard business of self-examination and repentance and living by faith and not by sight. Well these verses in Jeremiah chapter 9 are like a spotlight. They’re a spotlight from God’s Word on exposing how we understand ourselves, while at the same time revealing to us what is more important than anything else. And so let’s pray that God would do what work of exposing ourselves and revealing what is more important than anything else as we study His Word tonight. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You that Your Word is living and active; it’s sharper than any two-edged sword, cutting to the division of bone and marrow, soul and spirit. We thank You that we have access to Your Word, that You have revealed Yourself to us, and You have revealed Your ways to us in grace in Christ. And so we ask that by Your Spirit You would open Your Word to us tonight; open our hearts, our minds, and help us to apply Your Word to live lives to bring You glory. Speak Lord, for Your servants listen. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Jeremiah chapter 9, verses 23 and 24, says this:
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’”
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.
Examine What We Boast In
We can tell a lot about ourselves by the content of our boasting. The word “boast” there in these verses is based on the same word from which we get the word “hallelujah” or “praise” except it’s a reflexive form of the word so it’s talking about “self-praise” or “boasting” or “glorying” as some translations may have it.
We’ve been enjoying, at our house, some classic games and sports documentaries over the last few weeks. We’ve been seeing a lot of Michael Jordan and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and I’ve loved it. And one story that came out in one of those documentaries, Keven McHale was telling about Larry Bird. And Larry Bird was a known trashtalker, but in one game against the Phoenix Suns, they were down by a couple of points with just a couple of seconds left, and coming out of a timeout, Larry Bird said to the Phoenix bench, “I’m going to pop here to the 3-point line, shoot a three, and end the game and go home.” And after the timeout, that’s exactly what Larry did. He popped to the 3-point line, caught the ball, and shot it. And as it was in the air, he started running to the locker room and looked at the Phoenix bench and said, “What did I tell ya?” And his teammates loved it, of course! That was classic bragging, classic boasting. Don’t try that one in your driveway!
That’s one form of boasting. But that’s not all that this verse is talking about. It’s not just bragging in the classic sense of the word. No, some of the things we boast and glory in can be identified by the logos on our clothes or our cars. It could be our grades on our report card, a job title, or the letters before or after our name. It may be the things that we post on social media; how we spend our time and our money. It could even be our worries and our anxieties or the ways that we view other people and treat them. That can expose what we find to be most valuable in our lives.
And as far as categories go, it’s hard to do much better or to be more comprehensive than what we find here in verse 23. It speaks of wisdom, might and riches. And this verse is not saying that there is anything wrong in those things in and of themselves. After all, verse 23 does not say, “Let not the wise man be wise” or “Let not the mighty man be mighty” or “Let not the rich man be rich.” No, it’s a warning to us about letting those things define us or capture our affections. We’re all prone to let one or all of these things become the focus of our attention and our efforts. But the problem with boasting in man’s wisdom, might and riches is that man’s wisdom is limited, his might is relative, and his riches don’t last. In other words, man’s wisdom, might and riches are fleeting and they are fickle. And the people in Jeremiah’s day in Judah, the ones to whom Jeremiah was preaching and teaching, they were getting an up close encounter with the harsh reality of the fleeting nature of these things.
And if you were to look back at verse 12 of chapter 9, we read these questions: “Who is the man so wise that he can understand this? To whom has the mouth of the LORD spoken that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness so that no one passes through?” You see what’s going on there is their political strategies, their military strength, could not prevent the collapse of their nation and the loss of everything that they held dear to the hand of Nebuchadnezzer and the armies of Babylon. It was all taken away and they couldn’t really understand why that was happening to them. But they knew that they could not stand up to Nebuchadnezzer and to Babylon.
Now by the way, Nebuchadnezzer and Babylon weren’t immune to the fickleness of wisdom, might and riches either. If you remember in Daniel chapter 5 when Daniel reads the writing on the wall and he says that “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.” He says that to the king of Babylon. And we’re told that very night that the Persians came in and took the kingdom away from Babylon. It was all gone as well; just like that.
And don’t we have to admit that our own wisdom, strength and riches have been weighed in the balances by this coronavirus pandemic and they have been found wanting? After all, our best medical knowledge cannot prevent an outbreak like this, and there’s no template in place for how to deal with it. I loved what Ligon said last week when he said that “A tiny microbe from a bat in Wuhan has brought the entire world to its knees.” Everything has come to a halt from something that small. And our economy has taken a staggering hit and all of it seems to have happened over night. “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom. Let not the mighty man boast in his might. Let not the rich man boast in his riches.”
And as we consider all that’s been going on around us, some of us have not been devastated. In fact, several people have told me this has been a blessing for them. They’ve seen God’s hand of blessing in this time. And yet all of us have been forced to give up certain things that we are accustomed to. There have been no honors forums, there have been no sports trophies, and the luxuries in life have taken a backseat to the things that are essential. So it’s a good time for us to ask ourselves, “What are the things in which we boast?” and “What do those things say about our identity, about our priorities, about our hearts?” Our boasting, the things that we celebrate, say a lot about us.
Remember What God Delights In
And we also need to ask the question, “Do the things that we celebrate match the things that God celebrates?” And if you look back at verse 24, verse 24 is one of several places in the Bible that tell us explicitly the things in which God delights. Here we read, “I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness, for in these things I delight.” But those three things – steadfast love, justice, righteousness – they stand in direct contrast to the way of life in Judah at the time of Jeremiah’s preaching. Just glancing back over chapter 9, we find that Jeremiah is grieved; he mourns because of the adultery and the lying, the injustice and the idolatry that is taking place in the land at this time. And he will even say later on in the book of Jeremiah that these are the things which the Lord hates. And so Jeremiah’s message is one that he’s calling the people to turn from those things, to repent from those things, because God wants His people to do the things in which He delights. He wants us to delight in and to practice steadfast love, justice, and righteousness.
Some of you may be familiar with the Scripture memory program called “Fighter Verses.” It was developed out of John Piper’s ministry and you can find it online or on your phone. But the program gives you a verse or two each week for memory. And the verse for this week is Romans chapter 12 verse 9. And it starts out in some translations like this, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” Let love be without hypocrisy. And that word “hypocrisy” is a theater word. It referred to the masks that actors wore when they were playing a part. And as I thought over that verse this week, it’s striking to me that in Jesus’ ministry the thing which He most often exposed in His hearers and among the scribes and the pharisees was their hypocrisy; that they were wearing masks. They were pretending one thing but they were doing another.
I read a story this week from Spurgeon’s ministry and there was a man who was converted under Spurgeon’s preaching and became a regular attender, a regular member of his church, but this man’s wife was more favorable to the established church, the state church, and it irritated her that her husband was going to hear Spurgeon preach. And yet her curiosity got the better of her one night and after her husband left for church to go hear Spurgeon preach, she disguised herself – she wore a thick veil and a thick shawl – and sneaked her way into the balcony at that church. And as she was entering into the sanctuary, Spurgeon announced his text for the night. And it was this. “Come in, thou wife of Jeroboam. Why feignest thou thyself to be another, for I am sent to thee with heavy tidings.” His passage that night was about the wife of Jeroboam who went to the prophet but disguised herself and yet could not disguise herself before God. She was unmasked before the prophet, before God. And this woman felt that she had been unmasked as she sneaked into church that evening.
Well, all of us to a certain extent, wear masks of some sort or the other. But Jesus never did. Jesus never wore a mask. There was no hint of hypocrisy with Jesus, and that is what made Him both compelling and controversial. Because Jesus, He was who He appeared to be, and He did not live for approval ratings. No, Jesus extended grace and mercy to the undeserving. He did good to the poor and to the weak and the oppressed. And He lived an upright life, fully above all reproach, and He is the only person who we can say that about without any qualification whatsoever. That’s because He is the one in the flesh who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness. He is the one who delights in those things of which Jeremiah 9:24 speaks. That’s because God, God both delights and practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness. There is no inconsistency, no incongruity whatsoever with God.
And those three words, they should be sweet to our ears because we long to see steadfast love, justice, righteousness in our culture, in the world around us. We long to see those things in our own lives, in our actions, and in our hearts. And yet if we’re honest, sadly those things are all too often missing from our lives. I wonder how much of the way we treat our family or other church members, our neighbors or even our enemies, how much of the way we treat them would be described as steadfast love. Would we say that our attitude and our posture toward the poor, the prejudiced, the immigrant, the orphan and the widow is a pursuit of justice? And do our words, do the things we watch, the things we eat and the things we drink, would our actions and the heart motivations behind our actions be characterized and described as righteousness? Of course there will be some aspects of those things if we are following after Christ and living according to His Word. But of course we all fall short, don’t we?
I was reading a quote this week that really struck me. It was in an Old Testament commentary and this is what it said. It says, “Part of the reason the Old Testament is so long and so full of people like us, making a mess of things, is to get it into our thick heads that we are not as clever as we like to think we are, not as strong as we would like to think we are, not as powerful, not as consistent, not as selfless, not as farsighted, not as able, not as anything as we would like to think we are. We are always just a couple of bad decisions, a couple of thoughtless sentences, a couple of rash choices away from disaster.” You see what he’s saying? He’s saying that on the one hand we’re not as wise, mighty and rich as we would think, and on the other hand we’re not as loving and just and righteous as we would like to think. And we’ve come to a time in our lives, perhaps it’s a once in a lifetime type situation, that it is an opportunity for us to take an inventory of our lives and to examine what we boast in, to remember what God delights in, and to commit ourselves to what matters more than anything else.
Commit to What Matters
I heard this week someone say that this is not a pause, this pandemic, it’s not a pause button but it’s a reset. It’s a chance for us to reset. It’s a chance for us to, it’s a chance for all of us to get back to what is the most important thing of all. And what is that most important thing of all? It’s knowing God. “Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me,” says the Lord. There is nothing more important in this life an in eternity than to know God, and not just to know about Him, not just to be familiar with His ways or to be associated and to participate in church circles, but to know Him, to trust Him completely, to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. To be in an active and living relationship with our God and our Creator, listening to Him, speaking to Him, enjoying Him, enjoying our heavenly Father. That’s what it means to know God.
And He has revealed Himself to us. He has revealed Himself to us in what He has made, He has revealed Himself to us in His Word, the Bible, and He has revealed Himself to us most fully in His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the steadfast love, justice, and righteousness of God. He is the one who paid the penalty that we deserve on the cross by His death. He took the justice that we deserve, and because of His resurrection, all those who trust in Him receive as a gift the righteousness that is required for us to come to God. Jesus did all of that, and He did all of that out of love – a love that stretches back into eternity, a love that will never let us go. We love Him because He first loved us. We know Him because He first knows us and He calls us into a relationship with Him.
Times like they were experiencing in Jeremiah’s day, they were a chance to repent, to turn to God for the first time perhaps, or to get back to making Him first priority. Well what we’re going through now is a moment; it’s a moment to turn to God for the first time perhaps. And you can do that. You can do what right now, tonight. Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. That invitation is for you tonight – to turn and to find Him, to know Him, perhaps for the first time. But it may be a time for us to remember that our only boast and our greatest delight is to know the Lord.
Sometimes I will listen to an online recording of the Hebrew Old Testament, and it’s read by a Jewish man, and it’s really quite moving to listen to him read through the Old Testament in Hebrew. But every time that he comes to the word “Yahweh” or “the LORD” – as we have three times in our passage tonight – he says the word “Adonai.” He replaces it with the word, “Adonai.” And he does that because it’s a Jewish tradition out of reverence for God’s name not to say that the name that is written in the Bible. And actually that has come down somewhat into our own translation. And I find that every time I hear him say that, it’s both at the same time frustrating and heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking because God has revealed Himself to us in His Word; He’s revealed Himself to us that we might know Him and know Him personally and call upon His name. That is the greatest blessing that we have in the Gospel.
Application: Comfort from Knowing God
So I want us to close with four applications tonight of the difference that this makes for us right now to know God. Four things – comfort, humility, guidance and hope. One is, there’s comfort. You see, when man’s wisdom fails and his might falters and when his riches fade away as they did in Jeremiah’s day, as they do in our day and as they all will completely one day, ultimately, when they fail and falter and fade away, we know that the LORD, Yahweh, I AM THAT I AM, He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. He is unfailing, unfaltering and unfading, and you can depend upon Him always. He will not leave you or forsake you. He gives grace in the wilderness. That is the comfort that we have from knowing God – that He will not leave us or forsake us.
Application: Humility from Knowing God
And there’s also humility. There’s humility because all boasting stops before God. He and He alone knows all things and He can do all things. And God owns everything. And so everything that we have, whether it’s wisdom or might or riches, they come from His hand. And without Him, we can do nothing. And so as we come before the Lord and we respond to His Word, as we respond to His acts of providence going on around us, we are to humble ourselves in the knowledge of God, knowing that we are absolutely needy and helpless without Him, that we are to trust in Him completely. Our faith is in Him and not in ourselves. And as we trust Him and know Him, we look to Him in humility to provide all that we need and we respond with gratitude and contentment with what He provides for us. That’s humility; the humility of knowing God.
Application: Guidance from Knowing God
And then there’s guidance. Comfort, humility, guidance. You know, we’ve been told in these last several weeks the things that we cannot do. And several of our activities have been eliminated, but we haven’t heard as much about what we are supposed to do, what we are to do. Well, chapter 9:23-24 tell us what to do, because now and always we are to practice steadfast love, justice and righteousness, for in these things the Lord delights. Now that may mean for us that we look for new ways, different ways, have our eyes open in practical and simple and perhaps creative ways to demonstrate steadfast love, justice and righteousness within our homes and to our neighbors in this time. And that’s what God calls us to do.
Application: Hope from Knowing God
And then finally, there’s hope. Jesus says in John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Knowing God, trusting in Jesus Christ, means everlasting life. It means a life that cannot be touched by destruction or by disease or by virus. Knowing God means a life that is the enjoyment of God’s steadfast love, justice and righteousness, in perfection for all of eternity. That’s hope. That’s the hope of knowing God.
In Philippians chapter 3, the apostle Paul, he takes an inventory of his own life and all that he had to boast about, he listed it out – heritage, training, accomplishments. And do you know what he says about those things as he takes an inventory on his past? He says, “I count all those things as loss. I count them as rubbish.” This is why he could do that – for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord. “I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom, but I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection.” That’s the one that Scripture proclaims to us. He is our only confidence and He is worthy of all of our boasting.
Let’s do that, and pray to Him. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You for Your love, Your faithfulness, Your justice, Your goodness, Your righteousness. We thank You that You have revealed Yourself to us that we might know You and walk with You, both now and forever. I pray, Father, if in this time it exposes some inadequacies in our own worldviews, in our own systems of thought, that You would turn us in repentance and by Your grace receive those who are far away, perhaps for the first time that You would make an unbeliever to have faith, to give them new life, to give them the comfort, the humility, the guidance, the hope that comes from the knowledge of Christ. We pray for those that have been walking with You for a long time and maybe have gone away or wandered, that You would bring back the wanderer. And pray for those that are clinging to You in faith, that You would strengthen their faith, that they would cling to You more closely, and that You would show them the blessing that You have stored up for us in Christ Jesus. And we pray all of this in Jesus’ name, amen.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.