The Temple of the Lord
The Jerusalem Temple was the most sacred place on earth for the Jewish people in the Old Testament. David began the collection of the materials that would be used in the construction of the Temple that would be built by Solomon (3700 tons gold and 35,000 tons silver). The frame was constructed of the fabled cedars of Lebanon; its stone was so expertly quarried that no tools were used in the final construction. And every inch of the Temple’s interior and furnishings was overlaid with gold. But Solomon’s Temple wasn't holy because of its expensive materials and lavish construction; it was holy because of was God’s Temple! When the Temple was dedicated, the glory of God filled it (2 Chron 5:13). This Temple reminded the Jews God was present among them; He was “the Holy One of Israel among you” (Isa. 12:6). The Temple was at the center of Jewish religious life-- it was where sacrifices were offered and the priests ministered.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Temple... it became real estate. A tour guide showing off the sights of Jerusalem might say, “The king lives over there, the high priest lives here and God lives on the big house on the hill.” The Jews were convinced that God would never allow barbarians at the gate to destroy Jerusalem because God's house was there and He'd never allow His property to be so devalued. After all, when did God save Jerusalem from the Assyrians under Sennacherib? It was when Hezekiah went to the Temple to show God the pagan’s threats! As long as the Jews had had the Temple of the Lord, they didn't need to fear the foreign invaders.
So it makes sense that when Jeremiah warns of the coming end of days for the Jewish nation, they pointed to the Temple as their salvation. Jeremiah preaches his most celebrated sermon on Jeremiah 7, the so-called “Temple Sermon.” He preached it at the Temple, and he preached it about the Temple. It wasn't his favorite sermon; in fact, it wasn't his sermon at all. It was God’s. Three times in the opening three verses of Jeremiah 7, he says this is “the word of the Lord.”
3 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” 5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. 9 “ ‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.
Judah was trusting in her religious heritage and religious forms. After all, they were the people of God and the people of the Temple. And yet, Jeremiah warns them of a coming destruction and calls them to repent. They refused to hear because they had their hands over their ears screaming, “The Temple of the Lord…” (7:5). They saw the their Temple religion as proof they were accepted by God. Sure, they lived like the pagans around them with their idols and their ethics (7:9). But they were safe in their Temple and free to continue their sin (7:10). Jeremiah twice calls this reliance on the Temple “deceptive words” (4, 8). His message is that you can't live like the pagans and escape the judgment on pagans. Pointing to the Temple of the Lord was not going to be enough. Why? Because God was not nearly as impressed by worship rites and rituals as the Jews wanted to believe (7:5-7). God could not be bought off by worship at the Temple of the Lord!
And that is the point for us as well-- God isn't nearly as impressed by our worship as we want to think. God isn't as fixated on what we do on Sundays as we are. He isn't as focused as we are on our by letter-of-the-law correctness in following patterns of worship that may or may not be implied by scripture. He isn't as moved as we are by our joyful enthusiasm and passionate praise. He isn't nearly as impressed as we are by our creativity and imagination in presenting our worship. Sure, all those things impress us, and some of those things lead us to choose one church over the other. And those are also the things we might point to as proof of our faithfulness. But that is the same kind of pride that caused Judah to point to the Temple!
When we base our identity (and thus our security) on what we do or don't do in our Sunday worship while not focusing so much on how we live daily before God, then we place ourselves squarely in the crosshairs of Jeremiah’s Temple sermon. Israel cried out to Jeremiah, “The Temple of the Lord…” We cry out, “I go to church, the right church, the church that worships right…” And if our lives don't reflect the things that God cares about the most, then pointing to how we do church will make about as much difference as the Temple made to the Jews. A generation before Jeremiah, Micah sums what God is really looking for, and it was nothing to do with the Temple, “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic 6:8).