Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. (Jeremiah 6:16)
There’s something about me and maps that scares my dear wife.
Well, to be specific, it’s the fact that I don’t much care for maps that makes my wife nervous.
I’ve always admired folks with an innate sense of direction, so I suppose my disdain for referring to maps while traveling is my own frail effort to pretend like I have a sense of direction. To be sure, my scoffing at maps usually comes at a price: we wander further off course “in the name of adventure” when all I’d have to do would be refer to a map.
Maybe one day I’ll learn my lesson.
Every day confronts you with choices. Every moment, in fact, is a choice: a choice between resembling the Lord Jesus Christ or looking like the unbelieving world. A choice to let your light shine for Christ – or to hide it under a bushel-basket. Our text this morning teaches that every moment of your journey is a choice; that you and I are called to choose God’s path; and that a knowledge of church history helps us make wise choices.
Choosing the ancient paths isn’t trendy. It often goes against the grain of society.
But if you return to God’s ancient paths, revealed in His Word, for your choices along the journey, you will find rest for your weary soul.
Jeremiah first instructs you and me that we stand at a crossroads – indeed, at every moment of our journey with Jesus, we’re at an intersection.
Consider all the decisions you make every day: what time to awaken, what (if anything) to eat for breakfast, what to wear, and so on. If you and I face so many decisions about the “less-important” aspects of life, do we not also face a multitude of spiritual choices throughout the day?
Of course there’s the matter of the overarching choices – the trajectory of your life. Will you worship the one true God through Jesus Christ our Lord? Will your heart and life seek His glory?
On a smaller scale, you face the moment-by-moment decisions that either move you closer to God or further away from Him. You can’t plan these choices, usually; they tend to come your way in the providence of God. For instance, you might not have expected to face a choice about how you treat a neighbor, but then that other driver pulls out in front of you, and suddenly you’re at a crossroads: to forgive, or to think vicious thoughts? And when you get to work, you see Tom in his new truck: to envy, or to be thankful you made it to work safely in the car God has given you?
As a family, you face choices: what TV shows to watch; whether or not to have devotions. As a church you and I face choices: what will we do to draw in more people? Will we accept women deacons? Elders? What about those old Reformers and Puritans – do their teachings have any bearing on us today?
Another step, another intersection.
Jeremiah then tells you and me that our choice is clear. We are to choose the best way – God’s way.
The prophet says you and I are to be selective and discerning in our Christian journeys; he employs such verbs as “stand,” “look” and “ask” concerning the proper route. In a world in which it’s easy to go with the flow of society and to indulge our emotions, you and I as followers of Christ are called to be prudent and investigative in our decisions. Usually, a little questioning reveals exactly which path you should take.
Jeremiah in particular exhorts you and me to ask for the “old paths” so that we might walk in them, and he offers several reasons why you should take those old paths. For one, they are old – literally in the Hebrew, as one commentator observed, “eternal.” This means they are ultimately God’s paths that He has laid out for you and me, His people, to follow. How much wiser and better it is to choose the eternal, true paths of God – as revealed in His Word and commandments – than to follow the dangerous and fleeting paths of men!
You are to ask for these ancient paths also because they are tried and true by the saints of old. Their antiquity only partially commends them; these ways also are commended by the blessing they have brought to God’s people through the centuries. Ask King David, for instance, about fighting God’s wars in God’s ways rather than fighting his own selfish battles. Or ask King Asa about the blessing of trusting in the Lord when the enemy seems overwhelming. These paths are renowned, because they lead to blessing.
You are to ask for the ancient paths because they are good. You and I bandy that word “good” about far too casually; recall that only God is good, and only His works, word and attributes are good. God has set His approval on the paths He has delineated in His Word (such as trusting Christ, forgiving others and walking in purity), and these paths alone are good for your soul.
And you are to ask for those old paths because they restore your soul, literally bringing rest to you in Jesus Christ. When you enquire of the old paths, you really are looking to Scripture. And when you look to Scripture, you are seeing the Jesus of Scripture, of whom the Word testifies and who testifies to you in his Word. No wonder these old paths – the Word of God – lead you to soul-rest: they reveal the One whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. They reveal Jesus, who paid the cost for your sins against God and who lived the righteous life you could not. They give you freedom, forgiveness and hope in the Savior. For you who struggle with your own guilt and sin, these old paths point you to the One who alone gives you rest from all your fears and labors.
If you’re still debating which path to choose in the moment-by-moment decisions along your Christian journey, Jeremiah thirdly encourages you to study your history.
Israel, we’re told in this text, refused to seek out the old paths revealed in God’s Word and to walk daily in those paths. Such, regrettably, is the bent of the sinful human heart. And sadly, you and I know the disappointing end to which Israel came as she suffered defeat, exile and spiritual perdition.
But then you must consider others who did walk in the old paths: David, Abraham, Joseph, Daniel. They weren’t perfect. But they sought the Lord and recognized that His way brought rest for their souls, for His way alone was the good way.
In a non-canonical vein, consider the Reformers, whom we celebrate this day. I’m particularly mindful of Martin Luther, who like you and me struggled with normal Christian battles with guilt, sin and even depression. The more Martin sought the “new paths,” or the dead-end paths that sinful men had trodden down through the years, the further lost he got in the darkness of this world. But when he turned back to the Old Paths, the ways of God revealed in Scripture and especially in Christ Jesus, Martin found rest for his weary soul. He found daily encouragement. He found joy, because he found the Lord who had procured his salvation for him by grace.
Thank the Lord for Godly examples!
I don’t much like maps. Each intersection on a trip is new to me, and I like seeing where we wind up (and if I can navigate us out of it!).
Yet while each intersection is new to me, it is not new to humanity. Men and women have traveled this way before, many times: their knowledge can direct me in the right way. If only I’d hear them.
You will face choice after choice as soon as you walk through those church doors into God’s world. Some choices will come unexpectedly; some will seem brand new – and unique – to you.
They’re not. Saints have been there before you. And they have looked to the Old Paths, the Scriptures, for their way. For how to find forgiveness. For how to be forgiving. For how to not grow weary in doing well. For making wise choices.
Why care about the Reformation? Because the Reformation points you and me back to the Old Paths. And when you and I walk consciously, moment-by-moment, in those paths, we are walking with our Savior: the One who gives you and me soul-rest throughout the storms of life.