The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
February 13, 2022
This Is What the LORD Says!
This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I think we would all agree that we live in some very challenging times. With inflation at 7.5%— a 40 year high, with supply chain problems, with computer chip shortages and with the volatility of the stock market there is a great deal of economic uncertainty. The political unrest and the political divisions in our country don’t show any signs of improving. We are now in yet another year of the COVID pandemic and frustrations are openly boiling over. Add to all of that the financial hardships, the rising rate of crime and the anxiety over what comes “next” and it’s not surprising that many people are experiencing a good deal of personal turmoil in their lives.
When faced with all of these challenges where do we go? What do we do in order to get through them? To be even more specific— whom can you trust to help you get through whatever it is you are facing in your life? Do you trust yourself? Do you trust the “experts”? Do you trust the Lord? In the end there are only two options: Either we can trust in human abilities, or we can trust in the Lord!
One might think that when you address that question to the children of God, when you address that question to Christians, the answer would be obvious. Unfortunately, as Jeremiah points out here in our text for today that is not always the case. Today, let’s see how this Old Testament prophet reminds us New Testament children of God that when it comes to the matter of trust our goal is to focus on Jeremiah’s words— This Is What the LORD Says!
The prophet Jeremiah lived at the time when the wildfire known as the Babylonian Empire was bearing down on Judah and Jerusalem. The Lord God had warned His people that because of their unfaithfulness to Him and because of their unfaithfulness to the covenant that He had established with them He was going to allow the Babylonian army to sweep over Judah and Jerusalem like a tsunami.
How did God’s people react? Where did God’s people turn for deliverance? Whom did God’s people trust to help them? Did they put on sackcloth and ashes and turn to the Lord in repentance? No they did not. God’s people turned to Assyria and to Egypt for help. Did it work? Was their trust well-placed? Hardly. The Assyrians fell to the Babylonians in 612 B.C. Seven years later the Babylonians crushed the Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish. The people of Judah and the people of Jerusalem learned from bitter firsthand experience exactly what Jeremiah was talking about when he said to them, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.’”
Now we could sit here today, shake our heads, lament over the stubbornness of God’s people in the days of Jeremiah— and as a result miss out on what the Lord is saying to us in these words. Or we could take a long hard look at ourselves and use these words to ask ourselves questions such as: In whom do I trust? To whom do I turn for help in times of trouble? Is it myself? If so, we wouldn’t be alone. There are many people today— and sad to say perhaps even many Christians today— who look to themselves to get themselves through difficult times. People might say, “I’m smart enough, I’m strong enough, I’ve got enough money, I’ve got enough friends to get myself through whatever difficulties I encounter in my life.” Then a volcano unexpectedly erupts in their life and overwhelms them with a tsunami of uncontrollable problems such as: illness and age, heartbreak and failure and the most uncontrollable tsunami of all— death. That’s when the person who “trusts in man,” that’s when the person who “depends on flesh for his strength,” that’s when the person “whose heart turns away from the LORD” comes to the realization that in reality they were “cursed.” In reality they were like a “bush in the wasteland.” In reality they were like someone who chose to “dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.”
Imagine how hopeless and how depressing and how fatalistic our lives would be— if that is where the prophet Jeremiah ended! Praise God, my friends, that God the Holy Spirit led the prophet Jeremiah to assure us, “This is what the LORD says…But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the streams. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
There are two things I want to draw your attention to in this portion of our text. First, notice how these inspired words do not promise us that no one who “trusts in the LORD,” no one whose “confidence is in him” will ever experience a “heat wave” or a “drought” in their life. Most of us here today have firsthand experience with the pains and the sorrows, the difficulties and the hardships that are part and parcel of being sinful human beings living in a sin-filled world. We are not “exempt” from any and all the difficulties of this life simply because we are Christians. In fact, as Jesus made clear in our Gospel lesson for today (Luke 6:17-26) our “connection” to Jesus, our faith in who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us and for the world (Pointing to the cross) brings even more hardships and even more difficulties into our lives. The key difference between us and everyone who does not believe and trust in Jesus as their Savior is: How do we deal with these difficulties? Who do we trust to bring us through these hardships?
The second point I want to draw your attention to from this portion of our text is how beautifully these words of Jeremiah dovetail with our psalm for today, Psalm One. The person who “trusts in the LORD,” the person whose “delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2) that person is “blessed.” Yes we are “blessed,” my friends! We are “blessed” in ways the unbelieving world will never be able to comprehend! We are “blessed” every time we turn to God’s holy inspired Word with a heart that humbly trusts, “This is what the LORD says….”
When Satan tries to torment us with our sins, when Satan tries to overwhelm us with guilt we turn to the Bible and listen to what the Lord says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11,12). When someone looks down on us and tries to convince us that we are worthless or unlovable or unsavable we turn to the Bible and listen to what the Lord says, “For God so loved the world (and yes, that includes you and me!) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him (Pointing to the cross) shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). When we are facing difficulty after difficulty and trouble after trouble in our life we turn to the Bible and listen to what the Lord says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). When we look around in the world and see the prosperity of people who outwardly live and talk and act like unbelievers, we turn to the Bible and listen to what the Lord says, “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny” (Psalm 73:16, 17). When people try to confuse us and mislead us and deceive us into thinking that it doesn’t make any difference what a person believes because “all roads lead to heaven,” we turn to the Bible and listen to what the Lord says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). When we are coming to the end of our journey here on this earth, when someone we love has died, we turn to the Bible and listen to what the Lord says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25, 26). When we humbly listen to what the Lord says, then we are indeed “blessed.” Then as Jeremiah pictures here in our text we will be “like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Even though by the grace and power of God alone we are indeed Christians, we are still sinful people living in a sin-filled world. That reality all but guarantees that we will face difficulties and hardships, pains and sorrows that could easily overwhelm us. The question is: When that happens, where will we turn? In whom will we put our trust? My prayer is that whenever we find ourselves in that situation we will lift up our eyes to the cross (Pointing to the cross) and listen— listen to what the Lord says!
To God be the glory!