Be horribly afraid

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Jeremiah 2

What could be so bad that it warrants this warning?  A scientist morphing into an insect?  An alien monster rampaging through a spaceship?  What dread terror might have birthed the saying: “Be horribly afraid”?

Answer:  The refusal of God’s abundant grace.  According to God, that is the horror of horrors!

This striking imperative – “Be horribly afraid” – occurs in the book that follows Isaiah – Jeremiah.  And, incredibly, it’s addressed to the heavens:

“Pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing.  Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit.  Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD.  For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”  (Jeremiah 2:9-13)

Here’s the picture.  When God’s people exchange their Glory (i.e. Christ) for foreign gods, it’s a bit like walking past an overflowing Fountain and, instead, sinking your shovel into dry ground.  You forsake Living Waters (i.e. the Spirit) and dig for mud.  You exchange fullness of life for emptiness and death.

And the LORD says: “Be horrified!”

I don’t know what you consider to be a ‘nightmare scenario’, but this is God’s.  He is appalled that people would refuse the Fountain of Life that is His Son and instead prefer broken cisterns.  How can we spurn Christ in favour of false saviours that will not satisfy?  The LORD’s question echoes against a desolate heavens.  There can be no answer.  The angels are astonished and horribly afraid.

Here we have a profound definition of sin. At bottom, sin is not a failure to act or give or pray or perform.  It’s not about doing wrong or even neglecting what’s right.  First and foremost, sin is a failure to receive. It’s our refusal to drink from the Fountain of Living Waters.

Some refuse to drink from Christ and dig at the broken cistern of greed.  Some slake their thirsts with lust.  And some sink a murky well of moral self-righteousness.  But the primary sin – the sin underlying every other sin – is the forsaking of Christ.  And we see its horror when we realise that He is a Fountain of Living Waters!

The LORD’s picture here is haunting: we are thirsty souls, chasing satisfaction in all the wrong places.  And when the cisterns run dry we’re left with a mouthful of mud.  At those times we may feel foolish enough to confess our stupidity.  But Jeremiah 2 tells us we haven’t come to the heart of the problem yet.

Every evil we have ever committed has been twofold.  We may end up hating our broken cisterns (but usually only once they’ve failed us).  Yet the first evil is to spurn the love of Jesus.  We have despised His overflowing grace and prized ditch-water instead.

And yet – be astonished O earth at this – He still offers His Living Waters today.  That is the kind of LORD He is.  He continues to overflow for appalling sinners.

In John chapter 4 the LORD Jesus stands by a literal well.  He speaks with a woman who, figuratively, has dug many broken cisterns in her life.  She has gone through 5 marriages and is on her 6th partner when Jesus meets her.  She is a prime example of ‘looking for love in all the wrong places.’  So how will the LORD of Jeremiah 2 approach her?  Does He stand over her in judgement and make her “horribly afraid”?  No, He stands with her and offers the Living Waters yet again.  As you hear His words to this woman, know that He makes the same offer to you today:

Jesus answered and said unto her, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water”.  The woman saith unto him, “Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?”…  Jesus answered and said unto her, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:  But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life”.  (John 4:10-14).

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