Sermon on Jeremiah 17:5-8
Text: This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD. 6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. 8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Some people have a green thumb and others do not. This is just a fact of life. There are some people whose household plants and gardens are always green and lush. Their gardens always seem to produce a large crop. These people have a green thumb. On the other hand, there are people who could probably kill an artificial plant. No matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to grow anything. Yet, whether you have a green thumb or not, we all know that there are certain things that plants need to grow. They need sunlight and water. Without either of these two, a plant will quickly die. Jeremiah looks at two different types of people and compares them to plants in different situations. Let us look at THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TWO PLANTS. We will, first of all, look at 1. The Source Of Their Strength and then, 2. Their Outlook On Life.
In these four verses, Jeremiah describes every human being, who has ever lived or will ever live on this earth. Every single person fits into one of these two categories. The two categories are those who believe and those who do not. Jeremiah tells us about those who do not believe in verse 5, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD.” The Lord himself says that any person who trusts in himself or even another human being is cursed, that is, he is condemned.
The people that Jeremiah was speaking to needed to hear this. The Babylonian armies were approaching their nation. The people of Judah turned to Egypt for help. They sought an alliance with Pharaoh, hoping he would come to their rescue with the Egyptian armies. The Lord is taking the people of Judah to task for doing so. Rather than relying on the Lord for their help and deliverance, they were relying on human strength to help them through this crisis at hand. They would soon find out how trustworthy it is to rely on human help.
This is also true in the world around us. Many people forsake knowing God. Instead, they rely in human things, such as wealth, good health, a network of family and friends. They trust in these things to help them through any crisis, whatever it might be. Those who do not trust in the Lord have to look elsewhere for help. This is one of the two categories of mankind.
The second category is found in verse 7, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.” Rather than looking to human beings, this person trusts in the Lord. This is what Judah should have done when Babylon was approaching. The Lord had helped them so many other times in the past. He promised to be with them. If a person took the Lord at his word and trusted in him, he would be blessed.
We are blessed when we trust in the Lord. Trusting in the Lord means believing everything he says to us. It means you take him at his word. This is not always pleasant. That is because, first of all, it means that we have to accept some rather unflattering things about ourselves. It means that we have to realize that we have not lived up to God’s perfect standards. It means hearing statements like we find in Galatians 5:19-21, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you . . . that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Just in case our sinful pride thinks that none of those statements apply to us, we hear Paul in Romans 3:22&23, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All includes you and me. Later in Romans (6:23), we read, “The wages of sin is death.” Our wages, our earnings for our sinful acts, thoughts and words is death, that is an eternal separation from God’s love. We are all deserving of God’s punishment. While this is not pleasant to hear, we know that it is true.
Trust in the Lord goes further than that. Even the person who does not believe has to realize that they have done things that were wrong. Trust in the Lord means that you believe that he had done something about your sins. It means knowing that God sent his Son into the world to pay for our sins. It sees the forgiveness of sins that is offered to all who believe in him. When, in faith, we hear Jesus say, “It is finished,” we know that all of the pains of hell that we deserved were felt by Jesus. It means that Jesus’ holiness is given to us. Now God sees us as his holy children. Because we trust in the Lord, we are most certainly blessed. Our source of hope is in the Lord.
If you had two identical plants, and set them side by side in the sunlight, but only watered one of them, you know what would happen to the other plant. It would soon shrivel up and die. Plants need the water to grow and produce. In our text, the unbeliever and believer are compared to plants, one that is dried up and one that is lush and green.
Jeremiah described the unbeliever with the picture, “That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.” (Verse 6) The person who does not trust in the Lord, but places his confidence in something else, is like a little bush in the desert, barely getting by. The plants in the desert are small and, if it is dry for too long, they will die. This is the case with the person who places their trust elsewhere. A person may seem to be getting along just fine. In reality, however, they are just getting by.
What happens when their source of strength is gone? What happens when the wealth that they had saved up is all gone? When a person who has been trusting in himself suddenly loses his health, where is their strength? A person’s friends and relatives might be helpful, but only to an extent. Often all they can offer is a shoulder to cry on. Even the best of friends can be fickle and not be there when they are needed the most. Their source of strength can be here one day and gone the next.
What happens to a person who trusted in these things? Their source of strength is gone. They become like a tumbleweed, going about wherever the wind blows them. Their strength is sapped and they have no hope.
Perhaps, you can think of people who don’t believe and they never seem to have any troubles. Does this description in Jeremiah fit them? Indeed, it does! Although they might seem to have all the things of this life, look what happens at the grave. Then, everything that was accumulated shows its true worth. All he has will pass away, and all that remains for him is the solitary, parched, salty wilderness of eternal despair and destruction. Such is the end for someone who trusts in themselves.
This is not the case for the one who believes in the Lord. Listen to the striking difference in our text, “They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Rather than being a small bush in the desert, struggling to survive, the believer is described as a tree with full green leaves. It has a constant source of nourishment. The waters that are spoken of are God’s constant love for his people. The believer can count on it. One would also note that this tree was planted there. It didn’t get there by itself. Someone purposefully took the tree and planted it by the stream. So also the believer was purposely put near the love of God to receive his nourishment. The believer did not choose to be planted there. Rather, God chose the believer and he did the planting. Again, this shows the reason a Christian can be strong is not from himself, but because of God’s love.
Jeremiah says, “It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought.” (Verse 8) Ordinarily, even the best of streams dry up in an extended drought. However, for the believer, he doesn’t need to worry about that. God’s love is constant. It does not fade. God always loves us. He has promised to always be with us. So, just as a tree does not need to worry about a drought, if it is planted near a stream of water, the Christian need not worry in the case of trial and trouble. God has told us that everything happens for our benefit. We may not be able to see the good in the bad at the time it happens. We may not be able to see how we benefitted from this or that bad thing. However, God has told us that he loves us and that he will take care of us.
Because of these assurances, we have a different outlook on life than the unbeliever. We have a constant source of strength. The unbeliever does not have the assurance that we do. When bad things happen to us, they need not destroy us. We may hurt for a while, but we need not crumble. We can stand firm and say that, what happens to us is in accordance with God’s will. He knows what is best for us and that certain knowledge gives us comfort even in the worst of times. The believer has a different outlook on life, because he knows he is firmly planted in God’s love.
Yet, why does God allow adversity to come into our lives? Jesus gives us the answer in John 15:2, “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” God allows these things to come into our lives to remind us where our source of strength is to be. Sometimes, our sinful natures like to look elsewhere. God wants us to be fruitful trees, bringing forth the fruit of good works, which is our response of love to the constant love God has shown us. Because of this knowledge, the Christian looks at life differently.
Plants depend on different things to live and grow. The plant that is carefully attended by the grower will be healthy and strong. So also we Christians are strong because of the constant attention of our heavenly Father. He has shown his love by sending Jesus into the world because of our sins. His Holy Spirit created the faith in our hearts that accepts the gift of the forgiveness of sins. He has shown his love by providing for us. May we continue to trust in him throughout our lives, whatever the circumstances. May we show our different outlook on life to others, when the good and the bad times come. May we grow in God’s love and produce the fruit of thanksgiving. Amen.
St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches ©2019 All rights reserved.