Jeremiah’s time was eerily similar to ours. God’s people had turned away from him. They’d turned to idolatry and fornication. They were imitating the worldly, pagan practices surrounding them. They were mistreating one another, cheating one another. The politicians cared nothing for God’s truth. Even the priests and shepherds abandoned God at his word.
In 1:13 Jeremiah uses a striking metaphor to describe this apostasy. God’s people have turned away from him, the truth, the living fountain of water. In his place, they have fashioned their own cisterns. In other words, they have forsaken the true God, and they had tried to replace him with worldly, idolatrous satisfaction.
God’s people (old covenant Judah) were both a church a nation. Like old covenant Judah, the church today in many cases has turned away from God. We’ve become worldly. We worship entertainment. We think premarital sex is just fine. We keep quiet about abortion and same-sex marriage. We think there are other ways to God except by Jesus Christ. In other words, we are living and thinking like the pagans around us — just as ancient Judah did.
Our nation has turned away from God. Of course, no modern nation is the people of God in the way that ancient Israel was. However, our own United States was founded mostly by Christians, and certainly on Christian principles. But like Judah of old, our nation has turned its back on God and his truth.
The book of Jeremiah is almost painful to read. If you want to read some of the most agonizing parts of the Bible, read the first part of Jeremiah. Some people have the idea that God lacks emotions (that’s he’s not “passible”). I don’t think they understand or truly believe the book of Jeremiah. God describes how his heart is broken because his tender bride, the Jews, have committed adultery on him. But he also calls them his children. He tells Judah, “I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me” (3:19). But they turned away from their Father, and they quit following him. So God warned that a fierce civilization (Babylon) was coming to besiege the city, and rampage, and take captives back to their own land. It’s all very harrowing reading.
In the middle of all of this tragic apostasy, God the Father gives his children a way back, a way out. It’s in 6:16: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”
This Father’s Day, I want to stress three important facts from this verse. It will help us to be better fathers, it will help our children to be better children, and it will help our church to be a better church. It will help our nation to be a better nation, if only we would hear.
Stop and Look Around
First, “[s]tand by the roads, and look.” The Jews were walking, they were traveling, but they had lost their way. God told him to quit walking. He told him to stand and look.
Have you ever noticed that when you are busy doing wrong, Satan has a vested interest in keeping you busy. He has a great incentive to keep you and me from slowing down and thinking. And today we have text messages and Facebook and our iPod playlist to keep us busy every waking hour. These days it is literally possible to keep yourself from thinking about God and his word and truth every single minute you are awake. And that’s precisely what many people do. They instinctively know that if they slow down, if they are quiet, if they muse with their own hearts, they might think about God and how they’ve turned her back on him. So they stay busy, not thinking about God.
But God tells us to stand — not walk or run, but stand and look. Look at where you are. Look at the road you’ve taken. Would you like to know why you are where you are today? Because you took a road to get there. If you’re not where you should be, you need to get off that road, and get back on the right road.
Let me give you some examples of this, based right on what Jeremiah says. Check out 6:10c, “[T]he word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it.”
God’s word an object of scorn? Can you imagine it? But we live in those days. Who wants to talk about living a holy life before the Lord when pornography is so pervasive? When prescription drugs are so available? When filthy movies play at almost every theater every week (and, of course, at home on premium cable)? When abortion is birth control’s backup plan? When nobody cares about prayer meetings? When more and more people want the government to pay for their groceries and healthcare and prophylactics?
The time comes in the history of certain cultures and civilizations that they depart so much from God but they don’t even know how far they’ve gone. In 1:15 Jeremiah says, “Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush.” He didn’t say they didn’t blush; he said they didn’t know how to blush.
Have you ever considered how rare blushing is in our culture? Blush is defined as “the red color that spreads over your face when you are ashamed, embarrassed, confused, etc.” Blushing happens when a sensitive, embarrassing topic comes up that we don’t want to think or talk about. Years ago young women (some men too) would blush when people discussed sexual intercourse or pregnancy. They really blushed when people talked about shameful sins like homosexuality or cross-dressing or sadomasochism or incest. But few people blush today. They do not blush because they are quite comfortable talking and hearing about detestable sins. They are callous about the sins that anger and sadden God. They are blissfully brazen faced.
Therefore, when they hear what the Bible says, they are really stunned. They can’t believe that the Bible would forbid what they take for granted. Obviously, then, the Bible must be wrong.
If they stood, and stopped, and considered, they’d know they were on the wrong road. They’d see the ripped-up marriages. The millions of children from broken families who barely see their mom or dad. Young single men who don’t care about supporting a wife or children. Young single women who care more about a career than about bearing children and caring for a husband. If they looked, they’d see the self-centeredness and the lack of real, lasting friendships. They’d see they are on the wrong road.
Only Two Ways
Then, after they stand and look they (and we) should:
Second, “ask for the ancient paths.” The Bible doesn’t teach that all old ways are good ways. After all, the first evil way is very, very old: the Garden of Eden. Don’t think that all the old ways are the best ways. This is a big problem as we age. We think the “good old days” were better than they really were. We romanticize the past.
When Jeremiah talks about the ancient paths, however, he means the paths that all the Jews should have known about, the paths that started their very nation, the covenant paths of God and his Word. Solomon was likely talking about the same thing: “Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set” (Prov. 22:28). A landmark established property boundaries. It was sacred. It marked out the land that a man and his family owned. To move a landmark was to steal (Dt. 19:14).
The last few generations we’ve lived in a time that is obsessed with change. “Make it new” is the theme of modernism. We don’t make products that will last for many years. We make cheap products that will break very soon so that very soon we can buy new, shiny ones. Understand that this isn’t just because people want cheap products. It’s because they want new products all the time. They are in love with change.
Change can be good. If we’re sinning, we need to repent; we need to turn around; we need to change. There’s nothing wrong with improvement. But all change is not improvement.
I was reading C. S.Lewis this week, and I encountered one of his famous statements: “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” Our culture above all else wants to be progressive. But too often we’re progressing in the wrong direction. That’s not progress; that’s regress. Progress means getting off at road and getting back on the right road. And, according to Jeremiah, the right road is the ancient road of God’s ways.
What is that ancient road? It’s loving and honoring and serving and obeying God. It means not trying to imitate the surrounding sinful culture. There’s an antithesis, a radical difference, between God’s ways and the world’s ways. God’s way means glorious, committed sex within marriage. The world’s way means all consensual sex is permissible (even desirable). God’s way means pouring your life out for other people. The world’s way means putting yourself first at all costs. God’s ways for husbands means leading and cherishing and sacrificing for your wife and children. The world’s way means letting your wife lead and ignoring her and her needs. God’s way for wives means loving and submitting to their husbands and training children (as God gives them). The world’s way is to create your own life apart from your husband and children. God’s way for children means honoring and obeying their parents. The world’s way means getting your own way. God’s way means you get satisfaction and joy by loving and trusting him. The world’s way means you get satisfaction from chemicals or images on machines (“gaming”).
There are only two ways. Only God’s way is the right way.
Ours is a day of multiculturalism and moral relativism. It’s rude to say that one spiritual or cultural way is better than another. The multiculturalists don’t really believe this (let’s call them “boutique multiculturalists”). They would never say that a racist or sexist culture is equal to an egalitarian culture. The college freshman relativist who says, “Who am I to judge somebody else’s morality?” gets religion whenever somebody steals his iPod. He finally is forced to admit that there’s a right way and a wrong way.
There are the old biblical paths and the new worldly paths. Find the old paths.
The Good Old Way
Third, the old paths are “where the good way is … walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” Now think about this. The old paths aren’t just the right paths. They are the paths that are best for us. They’re the paths that end up in joy and peace and satisfaction and hope. In other words, God’s way is meant to bring us delight.
The Devil launched his Big Lie in the Garden and Eden by trying to convince Eve that God didn’t have her best interests at heart. “The reason God won’t let you eat of one tree is because he’s keeping something good from you.” In other words, God’s ways will keep us bored and unhappy, while Satan’s rebellion is pure fun. This is a destructive lie. All the heartache and anguish in the world has come about because people believe that lie. Drug and alcohol and porn and gaming addictions, and broken marriages and friendships, and venereal diseases, and poverty, and war, and anxiety, and sadness are all the result of believing and acting on Satan’s lie.
But if you want to find rest for your souls, walk in the old path.
I conclude with an exhortation this Father’s Day. Fathers, don’t be shy about leading your children in the good, old way. That’s literally what Jeremiah calls it — the Good Old Way. Be brave in your family. Take your stand with Joshua:
And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:15)
The culture wants you to think if you do this, you’re “imposing your views” on your family. That’s precisely the wrong way to look at it. Instead, if you refuse to lead in the Good Old Way, you’re leading your family away from joy and delight and blessing; you’re leading them into ruin and judgment.
Finally: our godly fathers who went before walked in the Good Old Way. They worked hard and prayed and gave money and sacrificed so that we would stay on that road. We owe it first to the Lord, but also to them, our forefathers, to stay on the Good Old Way. They have committed a trust to us. They knew about prayer and about reading the Word and about strong marriages and godly children and a Bible-preaching, Gospel church and a society that knew about God’s moral law and tried to uphold it. We dare not betray them. We dare not betray our Lord most of all. Let’s live in the Good Old Way.