Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 15 2019 - Jeremiah 7:1-20 – Empty worship

Can you imagine the scene: Jeremiah standing at the gate into the temple berating those who were coming to worship? He tells them that the Lord is not happy with their superstitious worship. They are confident that since this is God's house, "the temple of the Lord", God will protect it from all harm and thereby keep them safe also. But Jeremiah points out that they are living in arrogant disregard for God's law. They are oppressing foreigners, exploiting the fatherless and widows and shedding innocent blood (vv.5-6). They have been stealing, committing adultery and perjury and offering worship to Baal and to the Queen of Heaven (vv.9,18). Their trust in the temple as if it were a religious talisman is "trusting in deceptive words that are worthless" (v.8). They have turned the temple of God into "a den of robbers" (v.11).

The Lord calls the worshipers in Jerusalem to go and take a look at Shiloh. Shiloh was situated in the northern kingdom of Israel. It was the place where the tabernacle was first set up after the conquest (Judges 18:1-10), and formed the centre of worship for God's people until David moved the tabernacle to Jerusalem. Shiloh had been a sacred site but, says the Lord through Jeremiah, go and look at it now. It has been utterly destroyed. The Lord calls those worshipping at Jerusalem to recognise that the same could easily happen to this temple and to Jerusalem if they continue to ignore God's word and to live in immorality and idolatry. Their conduct is not just provoking God's judgment, it is harming them (v.19).

When the Lord Jesus visited the temple in Jerusalem, he quoted Jeremiah 7:11, accusing the temple authorities of turning God's house into a den of robbers or thieves. He warned them that the clouds of God's judgment were gathering and that their temple would be destroyed – not one stone would be left on another. God takes no pleasure in empty worship where careful observance of external forms is not accompanied by a heart and life utterly devoted to God and his word.

What a contrast there is with the Lord Jesus Christ himself. He referred to himself as the temple for he was the one in whom the living God had made his dwelling among us. He was holy and his life was devoted to doing the will of his Father in heaven. His was a perfect obedience to the word of God. Yet this temple also was destroyed – it was destroyed by the concerted action of those who were the guardians of the temple in Jerusalem along with the Roman authorities. Yet this temple – the temple of his body – was also destroyed under the judgment of God. He bore the penalty for our sin and rebellion when he was nailed to that cross and left to die.

But Jesus had told the puzzled Jewish leaders, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days" (John 2:19, Mark 14:58). On the third day he rose again from the dead and lives for ever as the meeting place between humankind and God.

And now he calls us to learn of him and to follow him. He calls us to worship the living God not just in outward forms but in spirit and in truth. He calls us to devote our lives to him as living sacrifices, utterly given to pleasing God just as he devoted himself to doing the Father's will. He tells us that the path of obedience is the path of unimaginable blessing while the path of rebellion ends in hurt and in loss for ourselves.

Father God, keep us from thinking that your grace and goodness to us in the Lord Jesus means that we can live as we like and be assured of our acceptance with you – "Let us continue in sin that grace may abound." Rather, may your grace teach "us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." Make us like your Son and help us, by the character of our lives as well as the words we speak, to draw others to him.

Peter Misselbrook