Sobering Lessons from Teetotalers

An exposition of Jeremiah 35:1-19. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday evening, January 11, 2009.

When you boil it all down, what is the Christian life all about?  Okay, it is about living in relationship with the God who is, the Sovereign Lord of all things but what does that look like, what does it involve?  If you walk in the average Christian bookstore you might be more that a little overwhelmed and confused as you look through the various titles under the heading of “Christian Living.”  As you listen to sermons or talk with your friends you may be helped but then again you might be even more confused.  Is it about “being” or “doing”?  Is it about “relationship” or “ritual”?  Is it complex or is it simple?  Is it about rules or is it about love?  The older I get and the longer I’m around the Scripture the more convinced I am that we’ve really complicated things.  I find it easy to be incredulous about how the Jews complicated things with adding to the law of God.  How they took what God said and added hundreds of laws to clarify and guard the law God had given.  But the truth is we are just as bad.  We have a tendency to elevate our traditions to law status.  I love to read blogs and follow the comment threads.  Especially when dealing with doctrinal matters.  It is interesting to watch how often tradition rather than Scripture guides the discussion.  “We do it this way because Baptist has always thought thus and so.”  Well that’s good.  I am a Baptist and I am one by conviction but I want to know if there is a Scriptural basis for our doing it that way.  When I find summary statements in Scripture about what God requires of me I find it is usually simple and straightforward.  For instance, He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?   (Micah 6:8)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  (James 1:27)

Not complex.  Not complicated.  It’s not about jumping through hoops or scaling tall mountains.  It is about simple obedience.  This evening I want us to consider a passage that is straightforward and direct about what the Lord requires of His people.  In this text the sophisticated religious establishment in Jerusalem are taught a lesson by an unsophisticated band of nomads.  Our text is found in the 35th chapter of Jeremiah.

Text: Jeremiah 35:1-19
In verse two we come across a group of folks known as the Rechabites.  We find out later (35:6) that they are guided by principles laid out by Jonadab, son of Rechad.  This was a band of nomads who did not live in houses, they did not garden and they did not drink wine.  R.E.O White says, “…they worshipped God strictly after the manner of the pilgrim patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They believed crops, vineyards, houses, towns and cities tied men to one spot and so bred luxury, strife, possessions, materialism and all manner of soft, lazy extravagance.”  Phillip Ryken said, “[think the Rechabites] as a cross between the hippies of the 1960s and the Amish.  Perhaps with straw hats and tie-dyed robes.”

It is clear they were a counter-cultural group. Their lives were in stark contrast to the crowd in Jerusalem.

There are two things I want you to note as we walk through this unfolding drama.

I. First I want you to note a tee-totaling test.  (35:1-11)

The passage opens with God commanding Jeremiah to bring the Rechabites to Jerusalem for a party.  This happened during the days of Jehoiakim, which means this is 10 years prior to the events of chapter 34.  So again we see the book is not arranged chronologically but topically.

Jeremiah brought them to the temple had large pitchers of wine brought in and various glasses and then commanded them to drink wine.  In the Hebrew text the phrase “drink wine” is an imperative.  It is a command!

What I want you to see is that this is a test of their whole way of life. But look at their response – 35:6

Note further 35:7-11: They followed all of the commands of Jonadab. They, their wives, sons and daughters all of them, always. Keep in mind Jonadab has been dead for 250 years.

How many families do you know who can say we still do everything the way we were told by our great-great-great granddaddy back in 1758?

II. I want you to note the sobering lessons learned.  (35:12-19)
The Rechabites passed the test but it is Judah who learns the lesson. There is a great contrast between the people of Judah and the Rechabites. And that is the point of the passage. This is why the story is recounted.

Judah discovers the judgment of God is coming upon them because they do not listen and they do not obey.  It is that simple.

First there is a failure to listen – 35:12-15: Further the Rechabites obeyed while the people of God casually dismissed His commands – 35:16.

You do get the picture here don’t you?  The parent saying to the child you need to do this or that and the child says, “sure whatever.”  That is what Judah is doing to God.  “Yeah, sure whatever.”  In one ear and out the other.  They would not obey the Sovereign King of the Universe but the Rechabites, out of love and respect, never failed to obey the wishes of their beloved father.

As a result Judah came under judgment – 35:17: While the Rechabites were blessed beyond measure – 35:18-19.

So what is the point of all this?  What does this story from ancient Judah have to do with me and my living the Christian life?  It is this:

Thesis: Gospel living is a simple matter of hearing and obeying.

Whether you are a brand new Christian or a seasoned saint it is the same.  Hear God when He speaks and do what He says.  It is about listening and obeying.  Hearing and doing.  I’m not saying quit reading books or stop listening to sermons.  I’m not suggesting in any way that you do not need the church.  I am saying don’t loose the simplicity of the Christian life in all the trappings of Christianity.  Are you to grow in your understanding of the doctrines of the faith?  Absolutely!  Are you to grow in holiness every day being conformed more and more to the likeness of Christ?  Of course!  But how do you do that?  By hearing and obeying.  By letting God speak and you, by His grace, seeking to live accordingly.

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