When Darkness Is Called Light, And Light, DarknessErwin W. Lutzer | October 13, 2013
Selected highlights from this sermon
Morally and religiously, our culture has traded light for darkness. When this occurred in the Judah, God overtly files for divorce in the book of Jeremiah. Judah was unfaithful, and she had run off after other gods. She had lied to herself, believing that the consequences of rebellion were manageable and that idolatry led to freedom. So they chose new paths over ancient paths.
In a time of inverted values, we can have hope. God is still seeking for those who will turn to Him in repentance. Let us weep for the sins of our nation, even as we reach out to the lost.
It was the prophet Isaiah who said, “Woe to those who call darkness light, and light darkness.” The prophet Jeremiah would have certainly agreed. We’re living in a time of inverted values where light is darkness and darkness is light.
A number of years ago in the legislature in Kansas, a man by the name of Joe Wright prayed a prayer. Now everybody in the Senate was expecting the usual platitudes that don’t mean anything, but he tried to shed some light on our nation. And in part this is what he prayed: “We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism. We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternate lifestyle. We’ve exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed time honored values of our forefathers and we have called it enlightenment.”
Well, you can understand that the reaction was immediate. Some walked out of the Senate immediately, and later on he received many phone calls, most of which by the way, were overwhelmingly in favor of his prayer. But the opposition continued for weeks after that prayer in the Senate, trying to shed some light on a nation that calls light darkness and darkness light. And we see this today morally. I mean we can refer to what is happening as a result of same-sex marriage and that legislation. Now, of course, boys can enter into girls’ washrooms if they are transgender. And if the girls complain, they have no argument because all of the rights belong to the transgender people and not to them.
And then the governor of California signed a law that says that now in California children can have more than two parents. They can have three or four, or whatever. The total destruction of the family is called progress. We are actually moving down a very progressive way, and a progressive road. Light is being called darkness and darkness is being called light.
We could look at this religiously, and what we find is because of a misinterpretation of the separation of church and state, as a nation now we have said that all public expressions of Christianity in the so-called public sphere are to be criminalized. So freedom of speech is constantly being marginalized and challenged, and we call that progress.
Now if you are thinking that this message is only going to be reiterating the sins of our nation, I want to let you know that there is also going to be hope. Most assuredly, as we’ve begun this series of messages on the book of Jeremiah, hope will be given. And I certainly don’t want to give the impression, as some people have, that all Christians do is condemn people, and that’s all that you really are able to do as if that is Christianity.
Last week I found myself at an airport two hours longer than I intended because the plane was late, so I struck up a conversation with a woman there, and of course, immediately within three or four questions, I was talking to her about God and religion and all those things. She said, “Long ago I gave up on Christianity because in my church it was obeying a list of rules, and if you didn’t obey those rules you went to hell.” And I smiled at her and I said, “Can you imagine if that’s your view of Christianity, how in the world can that be good news when the Gospel is some very good news? If that is Christianity, your church has misled you.”
So we are going to be able to offer hope and forgiveness and help, but we have to paint the picture as it exists before we can do that. We have to see the darkness before we come to the light, and certainly no prophet enables us to see that darkness as well as Jeremiah. It is a difficult book. It’s difficult because in chapter after chapter God is angry at sin, and God is judging His people, but the parallels between that and today are really endless and very applicable.
Now if you’ve already felt offended, and I’m scarcely into the message, I want you to hang on because at the end of the day we’ll have something to say to you that might be very helpful and transforming, no matter what your response to this message has been so far.
I certainly hope that you were here last time because this happens to be the second in a series of messages entitled The Church in Babylon, and we’re really not in Babylon yet in this series. That’s coming up in a number of different messages. But we already see the influence of Babylon in the nation of Judah, and the book of Jeremiah opens with the call of Jeremiah and all that we covered last time. But then it goes on to speak about the fact that God is filing for divorce.
God files for divorce with the people of Judah. You know, he says in chapter 2, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me in the wilderness in a land not sown.” Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruits of His harvest, and so he talks about the time when He courted the nation, and now the nation has left Him, and God says, “I’m about to divorce you.” Now to find out whether or not God goes through with the divorce or not, you are going to have to wait till the end of the message.
But God did divorce the Northern Kingdom. I explained last time that after the time of Solomon you have the Northern Kingdom, which is called Israel. That’s confusing for us today, isn’t it, because today we call the entire land Israel? But that was Israel. The capital was Samaria, and the Southern Kingdom was called Judah, and the capital, of course, was Jerusalem. So you’ll notice in chapter 3 the Lord says in verse 8, “She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel (God is talking about Judah now), I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore.”
So what God is saying is, “I sent Assyria that captured the Northern Kingdom (721), and all of the Jews were taken captive to Assyria, and you didn’t learn. And now you are doing the very same thing so I am filing for divorce with you as well.” And the Lord talks about that and says, “I will contend with you.”
We’re not going to go into all the evidence as to why God had a right to divorce His people except to say that He said, “There was a time when I was taking care of you. I was with you there in Egypt. I led you across the Red Sea and now you’ve turned to other gods.”
I know that America is not Israel, but sometimes there are interesting parallels. It is true that in our history as a country, the Judeo-Christian influence was huge, and now we’ve turned away from all of that, consciously so, as this message will point out.
Now here’s what I’d like to do (and thank you for giving me permission to do it, though as I frequently say, I do it whether I have your permission or not) is to give you four lies that a nation gladly believes in the process of turning light into darkness and darkness into light. Nations cast about saying, “I want these lies. Where can I find them?” Well, I’ve isolated four of them, and we’re only going to look at a few verses from the book of Jeremiah. Obviously I’m not going to be going through verse-by-verse or chapter-by-chapter. You can read that on your own.
But here are the lies. Number one, the consequences of our rebellion can be managed. It isn’t that serious if we leave the Lord because we can handle whatever happens as a result of our rebellion. They said, “We can handle it politically.” God says, “You see, Babylon is going to come and he’s going to destroy all of you,” and eventually that happens. That’s why this series is so important. We are going to weep with Jeremiah when that happens, but you’ll notice what the Lord says in Jeremiah 2:17. “You have brought this upon yourself,” God says, “by forsaking the Lord your God, and now what do you gain by going to Egypt?” And later on He says “going to Assyria.” Assyria was a world power but it was diminishing so the folks at Judah thought, “We can actually become allies with Assyria against Babylon or Egypt. They’ll help us.” So they turned to politics to deliver them.
Now I have to say that politics is very important. I was in Washington about two weeks ago and one of our Congressmen said this to a few of us. He said, “You know, you expect us to enact righteous laws, and value-driven laws here in Washington. How can we do that unless you send us people with those kinds of values?” And I thought, “You know, he really has a point here.” Wow! Yes, how can we expect righteousness and righteous laws to come from Washington in light of who we send to Washington?” Politics is important but it isn’t all-important. When God wants to judge a nation, no political party can keep off that judgment. That’s what God is saying here as He tells the people, “You think you can handle it by depending on another country.”
So they thought that they could handle the consequences of their disobedience politically, but also individually. You’ll notice he says in verse 22, “Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me.” They thought, “We can take care of our sin by some home remedies. All that we need to do is to look at it externally and think to ourselves, ‘We can take care of our own consciences. We can take care of the stain that is in our hearts. We can do all that on our own because we know that we can wash our own hearts with the water that is, figuratively speaking, within our own hearts.’”
And today, of course, we have many different ways that people try to handle their sin and mitigate the consequences, whether it’s through drugs or alcohol, or whether it’s through pleasure. In some way or another the consequences of our individual disobedience are masked and we want to believe the lie that sin isn’t nearly as serious in its consequences as God clearly says it is. Lie number one – we can handle the consequences.
Lie number two – if we follow our rebellious desires, if we leave the living God, we achieve freedom. In fact, that’s what it says in Jeremiah 2:31. “And you, oh generation, behold the Word of the Lord. Have I been a wilderness to Israel, or a land of thick darkness? Why then do my people say, ‘We are free; we won’t come unto you anymore’?” We don’t need God. We need freedom. And so they thought to themselves that it was freedom, but was it really freedom? No! It was a kind of bondage that you don’t notice at the beginning, but as you go along that road you discover that all of the results begin to come in. For example, in chapter 2, and I’m actually now backing up to verse 25, it says, “Keep your feet from going unshod and your throat from thirst. But you have said, ‘It is hopeless, for I have loved foreigners (that is, foreign gods) and will go after them.’” The problem is that now these foreign gods drive them. They become heavy users. They discover that these foreign gods promise like a god but in the end they pay like the devil, and they discover that they are deceived.
So the idea is that we cast off God’s restraint. As it says in Psalm 2, “Let us cast aside our restraints.” Well, you know what the next verse says in Psalm 2. It says, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh. The Lord shall have them in derision,” and today we are being told that the real path to freedom is the path to do our own thing apart from God’s law, and the result is an addictive society.
And the people also said, “We can be free religiously. We don’t need God anymore.” Look at what it says there in verse 27. “They are saying to a tree, ‘You are my father,’ and to a stone, ‘You gave me birth,’ for they have turned their back to Me, and not their face.” That phrase in itself is worthy of an entire message. “But in the time of their trouble they say, ‘Arise and save us!’”
They’ll say, “We can rebel against God, but in the end when things are really bad, we’ll just cry up to God and we’ll expect Him to come through for us.” And God says, “No, not necessarily because you see, your heart still isn’t right. You think that the path to freedom is to be away from God and to do your thing, but the path to true freedom is to relate to the truth of God.”
“You shall know the truth,” Jesus said, “and the truth shall set you free.” There is nobody as free as a person who is not bound by his sin, and so God says to the people, “The path to freedom that you think exists leads to bondage.”
There’s a third lie, and for this we’re actually going to turn to Jeremiah 6, and that is that the new paths are better than the ancient paths. The ancient paths have to be left behind. By the way, there are so many great verses we are skipping here. In chapter 4 for example, it says in verse 2 and following that the Lord lives, and I’m now actually in verse 3. It says, “For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground.’” Do you know what that word means? It means the unplowed ground. God describes in Jeremiah the different ways that people have hard hearts.
So he is saying, “If you want good seed to fall into the soil, you are going to have to break up that unplowed ground that you have allowed to go to seed with weeds, but it does not bear the right fruit.”
What a lesson for us today, but you’ll notice in chapter 6 it says this, beginning at verse 16. Are you able to keep up with me? I keep giving you the references. I hope that you are. Chapter 6, verse 16 says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘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.’ But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ God says, “I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’ Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregations, what will happen to them. Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people.”
I wonder if our nation, the United States of America, hears these words. Last night I was meditating on this message, as I do every Saturday evening. It’s amazing how things come together on Saturday evening when you have to preach on Sunday. And it just dawned on me. I thought, “Where are those points in time when America was at the crossroads, when America had two roads that it could choose from, and at the crossroads it made the wrong choice?” A number came to me, and again, don’t be offended. Just accept the truth.
First of all, I think of 1973 when the Supreme Court said that abortion could be performed for any reason or no reason at all. I know that there are many to whom I am speaking here today (I’m sure there are – those of you mothers who have had an abortion), and I understand the grief and the anguish. I remember a young woman who said, “I don’t want to kill my baby but I get pressure from my boyfriend. I get pressure from my parents.” It’s a very, very complex thing, but when the Supreme Court said that preborn infants may be killed either in the womb and oftentimes outside the womb, can you even imagine what this has meant to our country in terms of the value of human life? And of course, we offer to all the forgiveness, the grace and the cleansing of Christ, but we were at a crossroads and we took the wrong path – not the ancient path, not the biblical path. We took a different path and the results are catastrophic.
I think of another time and that is somewhere along the line it was concluded in our public schools that there could be no reference to a creator, that science had to be taught as it is and has been in all atheistic countries where there can be no appeal to God whatever, that we just came from an amoeba, and somehow we all developed into who we are today, like an explosion in a print factory, and the result is a Webster’s dictionary. People were asked to believe that. So we came up through the animal kingdom, like the monkey said in the zoo, “Am I my keeper’s brother?” And the implications of coming through the animal kingdom are huge in terms of who we are, in terms of the uniqueness of human life, and so forth. It has to do with all kinds of issues in society, but we said, “We’re excluding God. We’re excluding the designer.” And then it was Carl Sagan who said, “Design yes, but designer no.” In other words, we’re going to do our own thing.
Something else happened when we were at the crossroads, and I don’t know exactly when this happened or why it happened because I’d have been alive during this period of time obviously. And as I look at this congregation I realize that some of you also would have been alive during that period of time. You can oftentimes tell by the color of your hair. And that is that political correctness is destroying us.
This week I was on the telephone with a woman who investigates textbooks, among other things, and she talked about this company that published a textbook in which she said that 37 pages were given to Islam, how Islam gave us peace and architecture and a great civilization. Christianity (13 pages) headlined “The Crusaders.” Christianity gave us the Crusades. Christianity did this and that. And there is a Muslim informer on the committee who said that he is going to make textbooks pro-Islamic, and if anyone disagrees with him he said, “I will call them Islam phobic, intolerant, and racist.” So that’s the way it is, so everybody bows down. Well, who wants to be intolerant and racist and Islam phobic?
Now if you are here today and a Muslim, or you are listening to this message, let me say that we are so glad that you are listening. And we are not painting all of Islam with the same brush. I’m simply telling you what someone told me this past week. We have become paralyzed, and Europe especially. I could go into that but we must hurry on.
So that’s a third time, and we were at the crossroads and we chose the wrong direction, the great sin of intolerance. You know, someone wrote these words. “If you can believe that there are no absolutes and believe that absolutely; if you can teach young minds that there are no objective truths, and yet you teach this truth objectively; if you can close your mind to the ideas of those who you consider to be close-minded; if you can refuse to tolerate anyone you choose to label intolerant; if you consider it immoral to stand against immorality; if you can make the judgment that judgmentalism is wrong and you can further make the judgment that others who judge things to be wrong are just too judgmental; if you can force others to conform to your idea of diversity….” Well, it goes on. The idea is that at the end of the line you really are p.c. – politically correct – paralyzed.
Then there’s a fourth point at which we chose the wrong path and that has to do with same-sex marriage, and for those of you who struggle with same-sex attraction, just hear me out. And that is, as a result, the destruction of marriage is well on its way, and that’s why a governor can sign a bill that says that you can have more than two parents. Boys, if they are transgender, can go into girls’ washrooms. What’s really going on there is a violent revolt against creation – femininity and masculinity.
And so we as a nation are changing the rules, and we are choosing the wrong path. God says very clearly, “Choose the ancient path.” That doesn’t mean that we should live in the past. You can learn from the past without living in the past, and God says that we as a nation must choose the right path, the ancient paths.
But they said, “We will not walk in it.” “Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet,” God says, but they said, “We will not pay attention, and now we shall all weep. Therefore, oh nation, oh congregation, what will happen to them? Behold I am bringing disaster upon this people because they have not paid attention to my words.”
The Bible is a smooth path for a very difficult journey, but that’s where we should go for wisdom. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” We must choose the ancient path, and if our nation doesn’t, we must individually and personally, and as a church choose the ancient paths.
Now, there’s a fifth lie and perhaps it’s the worst and the most sobering. It’s the lie that the loss of the presence of God is not fatal to worship. In other words, God’s presence can leave and we can go on worshiping.
You have to understand when you read the book of Jeremiah that Ezekiel was also written during this period of time. And Ezekiel was the one who saw the glory of God leave. I think the description is in the tenth chapter of Ezekiel where he says, “The glory of God went to the threshold of the tabernacle. Then the glory of God went to the outskirts of the city, and then beyond that the glory of God disappeared on the other side of the Mount of Olives.” The glory of God left but the people kept worshiping with or without the presence of God.
Isn’t this very interesting? Once again, your Bibles are open and it says this in Jeremiah 7:3: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words.” Parenthesis: next week’s message is on false prophets. It will probably be one of the most important in this series of messages because they are the ones who were giving the deceptive words. I’m even going to try to teach you how to detect a false prophet because they are everywhere. So “Do not trust in deceptive words.” And here they are. “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” I mean we’re worshipping in God’s house, so why won’t He deliver us?
God goes on to say, “You’re bringing all your sins and you are not dealing with them.” And the people said, “You know, we can go on with the ritual. We can still sing the right songs. We can go to temple. We can to go church. We can do all these things and still have God and still be religious whether His presence is there or not.”
You know, the most distinctive indication of the people of God is that His presence should be among us. When people come into Moody Church they should say, “Surely God is in this place.” May it never be said that His presence will leave us, but we can’t take it for granted, can we?
Now, why this love of darkness? Jesus said that men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. I told you that I was going to give you some hope because first of all, we paint the darkness, and then we paint the light.
First of all, please keep in mind that the reason for all of these chapters (and we’ve only touched a few verses) is because God is saying, “What do I need to say to you so that you’ll come back to Me?” Despite its harshness, what God is saying is, “Don’t you see how serious sin is? And you must turn to me.” That’s the whole point.
And you know that’s why I put off preaching this series for a long time because there’s something in Jeremiah that doesn’t really fit my nature in terms of wanting to preach. I’d much rather be preaching a very positive message, and there’s room for that and a time for that.
Now I began this message by saying that God filed for divorce against Judah. Did he fulfill it? No, he didn’t carry through with the divorce. All through these passages God keeps saying, “Come back to me because I’m your Master.” One translation says, “I’m your husband, and furthermore in the end, you are going to come back.”
Another reason why many of us believe that God is not yet finished with the Jewish people, and that there is going to be a time of great restoration is because Jeremiah describes some events (that have never happened) of when the people are brought back from the different parts of the world and they are in the land and they are worshipping Him. So God says, “I filed for divorce but I haven’t gone through with it because I do want to bring you back, and once again you will be My wife and I will be your Husband.”
You see, those of you who felt offended because I mentioned certain sins (and by the way, people who are addicted oftentimes are very, very easily offended because what you have is this synthesis between shame and feeling offended and conviction), remember this. The whole point is so that you might come to God and know how gracious and merciful He is, and how He is waiting for you to come to Him.
So that’s number one. Number two, we have to remember not just that God wants our hearts but that God sees a nation, and Jeremiah certainly saw his nation in his day, and God sees America today. God sees a nation, but God also sees individuals. He sees you as an individual. Don’t get lost in all of this “Look at what happened to America” without looking into your own soul. For example, here’s Jeremiah, and notice what he says in chapter 4, verse 19. Jeremiah is speaking. “My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.”
Listen to me carefully now. Look into my eyes if you are able to do that. You know what America really needs? It needs more people who will weep because of the sins of this nation. That’s what America really needs. (applause) I was hoping you were out there. For a while I thought maybe you weren’t.
We need people, but not only those who weep. We also need those who work because there are many places where God is doing wonderful things in America. Later on we’re going to talk about the Church in Babylon more specifically and show that in the midst of a nation that has lost its way, God oftentimes has not only reform movements but also ministries, and we could name many of them connected with The Moody Church. So it’s not as if we simply sit back and wait for the judgment. No, we are active. We are serving. We are representing God in a fallen world in what Augustine called “the city of man.” We pick up the pieces of this broken culture and we give hope and help to this culture.
So thank you for all those of you who are doing what you can. I wouldn’t be witnessing to as many people as I try to as I connect with people if I didn’t believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation, and is the only hope for every individual to be in God’s presence forever. I would not be devoting my life to spreading that message if I didn’t believe that God called us to this hour to represent Him as best as we can, and as I say repeatedly, in all the different vocations represented at the Moody Church.
Finally, this is most important now. Jesus is the end of Jeremiah’s search for one perfect man. Did you know (and you know, of course, today we’ve been looking at so many different passages but they’re all here) that in chapter 5 God says to Jeremiah, “If you can find one righteous man I won’t judge the whole country.”? Wow! Jeremiah begins to search. He says that first of all he went to the poor people. He said, “I couldn’t find any righteous person.” He couldn’t find any person who was perfect and righteous. He said, “I went to the rich. I thought surely there’d be some righteous among those who are upper middle class or higher middle class. He said, “I checked them out and I couldn’t find one.”
He said, “I scoured the city of Jerusalem. I went to the various neighborhoods. I’m looking for one righteous man.” He said he couldn’t find any. And you know, the same is true in America here. You can go down any street, any alley and into any home and you’ll not find one righteous person because the Bible says there is none righteous, no not one. Wow!
We’re all tainted with sin. But that’s the whole purpose and when we read a passage like that we should say, “Boy, aren’t we ever glad that now we can get to Jesus really fast because He is the perfect one, He is the perfect sacrifice. He needs God’s requirements so that judgment does not need to come to us, because if we trust Him as our representative, as our Savior, He becomes ours. The judgment of God in eternity doesn’t fall on us because it fell on Him. We believe on Him, and thank God, we have found the one righteous man who can deliver us. Anybody glad for that fact that we found the one righteous man? (applause) The great deliverer is Jesus.
Now for all of you who are listening, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey, D.L. Moody who founded this church said many interesting things, many true things, and many pithy things. But there’s one quote I want to leave with you and he said this. “It is possible for a man (and of course he’d include women in that) to be as vile as hell in one moment and be saved the next.” Conversion isn’t something that just happens over a period of time. Now, you know you may grow into an understanding, but the moment you believe you are saved, no matter what your past is, no matter what you’ve done, because the message of the Gospel is good news. It isn’t just “Keep these rules and if you don’t you’ll go to hell.” All of us in one way or another often break the rules, but Jesus Christ is our Savior, and because we believe in Him we are saved.
No matter who we are, no matter our background, no matter our past, Jesus can save anyone. He can save to the uttermost, the Bible says, all those who come unto God by Him because He died on our behalf. I say it again. A man can be as vile as hell in one moment and be saved the next because sometimes we even sing that song, you know, “The vilest of sinners who truly believes that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”
So that woman at the airport who was on her way to Montreal, before she left I gave her a copy of the Gospel of John, and explained to her that the Gospel is not what she thought it was, but we have a Savior to bring us into God’s presence to give us a personal relationship with Him. And no matter which direction our country goes, we ourselves can walk with God.
And if you agree with that, and I hope you do, would you bow your head in prayer? Now after that message that I’ve just preached, do you need to talk to God? Some of you have never trusted Christ as Savior. Why don’t you just say, “Okay, this moment I believe in Him as my righteousness, as my perfect sacrifice, as my Savior who kept all the laws in my behalf.” Believe and be saved. Would you right now believe and be saved?
And Father, we thank You that You are a holy God, and we thank You also that Jesus met our requirements of Your holiness, so we worship You because You are holy. And we ask today, Lord, that You might make us like Jeremiah to weep over the sins of our nation. Help us we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.