I imagine it would be intensely difficult to be a physician at, say, a cancer clinic. Day after day, the doctor sits down with patient after patient, examining their symptoms, reading their MRIs and CAT scans. And time after time, that physician is left with the task of delivering unfortunate news that, yes, it is cancer, and then advising on all the significant measures that will have to be taken in order to hopefully ensure survival. Being the constant bearer of bad news would be difficult and, potentially, very discouraging work. A day off here and there would be far more than a welcome respite—it would be absolutely necessary.
Jeremiah 17 takes us into the work of a prophet of the Lord. It’s a collection of messages that the prophet gave over the course of his ministry, warning against the effects of sin. It’s amazing how timeless these messages are because Jeremiah could just as easily be preaching this in our pulpits this weekend.
He calls Judah away from idol-worship and the fear of man, and into the fear of the Lord (Jeremiah 17:1–8). Jeremiah illuminates the sin-sick depravity of Judah’s hearts and minds, and then shows them the beauty of God and the folly of those who turn from Him (vv.9–13). The prophet’s message concludes with a call to obedience in observing the Sabbath (vv.19–27), which the Lord introduced to Israel when He gave them the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8).
You can imagine how Jeremiah’s neighbors saw him. Perhaps at the very sight of him, they assumed bad news was coming their way. But his plea for them to turn to the Lord is honest and vulnerable. It is the cry of a leader trying to honor the ways of the Lord, even in the face of ridicule and rejection by the people he’s been called to (Jeremiah 17:14–18), which leads him to cry out to the Lord for rest and reprieve. The prophet’s experience here is one that encapsulates Lent well for us. This season is one of lament, repentance, petition, and a longing for rest; the cries issued within this passage can lead us into a fruitful pattern of prayer and reflection, if we’ll let them.
So what would it look like to fear and revere God over the opinion of other human beings? How might our lives change if we were to confess our idolatry, and instead set our sights and affection on the one true God? Are we willing to stop what we’re doing long enough to ask the Lord to test and search our hearts, to show us our waywardness? What would it look like to put all our hope and trust in Him and Him alone?
Relationship with God is the most incredible blessing we could ever receive. The pause and practice of a Sabbath honors the Lord and recalibrates our hearts toward Him. Judah had lost sight of what truly matters. Too busy with profiteering, they neglected things like repentance, contemplation, and rest. Perhaps we do this as well, only to find we are heartsick because we’ve grown distant from the Lord. It is necessary to stop and make room for Him in our lives. He is the Great Physician, and He alone can heal our hearts.
Written by Jeremy Writebol