04-21-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
Last week Pastor Fred talked about the way to really live—as opposed to “not-the-way.” Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life”—the only way to a relationship with God, the only way to an abundant, fulfilling, eternal life.
Fred said something else that made me stop and think. He said: “The way has always existed.”
I thought, “Wait a minute! If Jesus is the way, then what about all those people in the OT who lived before Jesus came? How could they find the way if he hadn’t yet come?”
But then I remembered that this Book is about God’s history with humankind—it’s “The Story” of his plan of redemption—meaning “to rescue or save” someone from their troubles.
Redemption is a bit like what happened in Boston this last week. The bombing at the marathon on Monday was only the beginning. On Friday people were terrorized again when more bombs and shooting and violence shut down the entire city. Law enforcement told everyone, “Stay inside. Don’t open your doors to anyone.” To protect themselves from the bad guys, everyone else was locked up. But late Friday after police and FBI finally captured the last suspect, people were out in the streets, rejoicing and applauding. They felt safe again.
The Bible says that the OT Law “locked up everything under the control of sin” so that “we were held in custody under the law.” (Gal 3:22-23) Sin and chaos terrorized everyone. But when faith came, the Bible says, we could be set free. We were rescued. We no longer needed to be locked up and controlled for our own safety. Instead, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Gal 5:1)
This is redemption, God’s story. And like Fred said, “It has always existed.” God’s way of redemption is seen from beginning to end, all through “The Story.” God’s plan to save you through Christ was in place even before the foundation of the world! (Eph 1:4) We see God’s way even in the OT.
We see it in the OT Law—the way for life and health and order in society. God said, “I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction… I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…” (Deut 30:15,19-20)
We see redemption in OT History—time and time again we read how God rescued his people from themselves. Example: They escaped from slavery in Egypt, came through the desert, entered the Promised Land, and drove out the wicked nations who worshiped false gods.
OT redemption hinted at the full redemption yet to come through Jesus Christ.
The temple and sacrifices, for instance, were merely a “copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (Heb 8:5); “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.” (Heb 10:1)
We see God’s plan again in the OT Prophets. In fact, I want to spend the time I have left looking at one of those passages, which talks about finding the way of God. You’ll find it in the prophet, Jeremiah, who was a priest who lived during some very difficult times in the nation of Judah.
Through the years, after reaching the Promised Land, the Hebrews had enjoyed God’s blessings. They had become prosperous and successful. As a result, they became comfortable and complacent—to the point where they relied more on themselves and their own ideas than on God.
In time their commitment to the Lord was diluted by other activities. They didn’t serve him with a whole heart, because their hearts were divided. They had become half-hearted.
Their worship became more ritual than meaningful encounter with the Almighty. They went through the motions. They would bring sacrifices and observe feasts, but it was nothing more than empty tradition.
The prophet Isaiah spoke for God, saying, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13)
As the people rebelled further against God, they worshiped false gods; they lived wicked, selfish lives. And Jeremiah made an impassioned plea to them:
This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jer 6:16 (NIV)
In many ways, Israel and Judah were like many others through the years since: People turn to God in desperate times; they cry out for help; and God rescues and restores them. Then, once they are following God, they do well. They work hard, and they prosper. They enjoy the fruits of their labors.
…and because they prosper, they become comfortable. Complacent. Self-confident. Smug.
That’s when things start to unravel. They get their priorities out of whack. They begin to chase after other activities. They are easily distracted. They detour off God’s way to explore new interests. They want to be like other nations around them. They are tempted by the things others do.
Eventually, whether they realize it or not, they have completely wandered away from God’s way. They have drifted away from God—they go “a-way” but not “God’s way.”
This is the condition of the nation when God calls Jeremiah to sound the alarm. “Wake up, people!” he says. “You need to get back on the right way! You need to return to your God! You need to repent and humble your hearts before the Lord.”
You find this theme all through the book of Jeremiah. He wanted the people to understand that they have a choice—and that making the wrong choice will lead to terrible consequences, but making the right choice will lead to benefits and blessings.
So he challenges those who had wandered from the way. It’s more than advice; he is begging them. It’s an admonition for them to change and get back on the right way.
His words, however, are good for anyone who has “lost their way”—for anyone who wants to “find their way.” These words are just as relevant to our lives and our times as they were to the Hebrews centuries ago in Bible days.
So let’s unpack this verse for our lives today.
Jeremiah told the people that they had come to a crossroads—a fork in the road, a junction where they can take a turn to go a different way than the road they’re on.
Coming to a crossroads means we have choices! We are not the victims of our circumstances. We can change.
If you think you are locked into the life you’ve been living, if you think you are stuck, unable to go a new direction, listen to Jeremiah. You are at a crossroads…
Some people are afraid of crossroads. They are afraid of being given a choice. It’s too much responsibility for them to handle. They would prefer to be the victim of their circumstances and blame somebody else. They bought the lie and think they can’t do anything about their situation: “I was born into the wrong family…at the wrong time…under difficult circumstances; I was born with certain weaknesses or flaws or personalities; I’m German (or Irish or Swedish…)”
No matter the problem, they think everything and everybody is against them!
- If it’s not their genetics that made them the way they are, it’s their dysfunctional environment.
- If it’s not their educational disadvantages that hold them back, it’s their loser boss. They are always the victim.
God says you have a choice. You don’t have to keep going the same way you’ve been going! You can change direction. You can go down a different road. You destiny is not predetermined. You can end up in a different place than where you were headed. God brings you to a crossroads.
Four things to do at the crossroads… Four things you can do to find the way…
1. Stand. Stop for a moment, consider, think about the options.
Did you ever have one of those high-speed moments when you’re cruising down the Interstate—some place where you’ve never been before and you miss your exit? You were in the thick of traffic, maybe in the wrong lane, and the exit just sneaked up on you before you realized it. And you went sailing past the exit. You couldn’t make the turn.
One of the problems of our modern society is that we seldom slow down. It’s like we are on a treadmill that just keeps going faster and faster: Pick up the pace! Do more! Keep spinning more plates! Make more widgets! Go farther!
We always seem in such a hurry. We race through life, always in a rush, consumed by activities. There’s always something more to do in our quest to have it all.
In the process, we’re distracted by a thousand voices. We are bombarded by TV and radio and Internet and texting. We are stretched and stressed by a whole range of competing priorities.
In the midst of all the activity and chaos, it’s hard to think deeply. It’s difficult to concentrate and reflect.
It’s hard to hear from God to make the best spiritual decision when we are so wrapped up in the rapid pace of ordinary affairs and regular routines of life—when God’s Word is squeezed out by worries, by responsibilities, by obligations, by the noise and clamor of society.
We need to slow down. Take a breath. Stop and ponder. “Stand,” Jeremiah says, “Stand and look.”
2. Look. When is the last time you opened your eyes to look? To see what God was up to?
We know what the President is up to. We know what North Korea is up to. We know what the Vikings are up to. We might even know what the wife is up to. But what is God up to? What is he doing? Where does he want to lead us next?
When we come to the crossroads, Jeremiah says, we should stop—so we can look. We need to check the map and look at the signs so we can see the way God has for us to take.
God wants to show you a new way! But you need to look! If you’ve been traveling down the wrong road, God has a better way to go. Something different than the way you’ve been going.
You don’t have to keep going the same direction. You can make a turn. If you’ve been spinning your wheels, if you’ve been stuck in the mud, if you’ve faced disappointment and hardship and trouble, if you’ve been struggling in your marriage, if your old sin nature keeps rising up, if you are trapped by some addiction or habit…look for God’s ways. Jeremiah says, Look; ask.
Stand and look. Open your eyes to see the things of God.
3. Ask. It’s not just our eyes we need to open! We also need to open our ears to hear what God is saying.
Are you too proud to ask for directions? Are you afraid people will laugh and make fun of you or point at you if you admit you can’t find the way? I wonder if this is why women tend to be more open to the things of God. Men have such a hard time stopping for directions, admitting that they need help
Pride often gets in the way of what God wants to do in us. Human nature influences us the wrong way. By nature, we’d rather end up in the wrong place than admit to someone that we’re lost. Pride shames us into keeping our mouths shut.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, conquer your pride and your human nature. Stand at the crossroads; look; ask for the ancient paths; ask for the good way.
Ancient paths. We live in a society that has abandoned its legacy, its spiritual heritage. Society today values trends (what’s trending); it values fads and fashions (latest thing); it values cool (tech toys, etc).
It’s no sin to wear nice clothes or to use the Bible app on your smart phone, but when we dismiss the “ancient paths”—just because they are not the latest—we lose out on what is most important!
A couple of years ago I was in St. Louis for my nephew’s wedding. I felt pretty confident getting around because I had Google Maps on my phone. It gave me step-by-step directions in an audible voice, telling me when to turn. But it couldn’t tell me about recent road construction or the turn that no longer existed. Google Maps couldn’t replace the local person who explained it to me (once I stopped).
Some things are so basic and foundational that they cannot be changed: Hot air balloons and airplanes have not displaced the law of gravity… You can find almost anything on Wikipedia but that hasn’t replaced education and study… WebMD has not made your doctor obsolete.
And new paths have not improved one whit on the ancient paths!
The Israelites knew about the old, reliable ways! They had learned them from Moses. Whenever they followed those ways, they enjoyed success. But they had gotten off track, and now Jeremiah and the other prophets were calling them back to ancient paths…
…the old, tried-and-true way of righteousness—God’s way to live. It’s “The Story”—the way of redemption; it’s Jesus, God’s answer for everyone who is going the wrong way.
4. Walk. There comes a time when you need to make a decision. You can’t just stand at the crossroads, waiting indefinitely. There comes a time when you need to step out in faith and walk.
So…what happens when you choose the right way?
“You will find rest for your souls…”
Centuries later, Jesus said the same thing: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matt 11:28-29
Our souls need rest—they are too burdened, too weary, too weighed down with “stuff,” too overburdened with care and anxiety.
Maybe you’re at a crossroads today. Maybe you’ve been going the wrong way. Maybe as a result you’ve had troubles, set-backs, disappointments, broken relationships.
When you come to the crossroads, you have a choice to make. You can continue going the same way—and you can expect to see more of the same results. But if you’re tired of the way things have been going, then maybe it’s time to go God’s way.
Stand. Look. Ask for the ancient paths; ask for the good way. Walk in it, and you will find rest for your soul.