Today’s selected reading continues in the Old Testament prophetic book of Jeremiah, and more specifically, is found in the seventeenth chapter of the book. A THRONE! AN ALTAR! A GATE! THE HEART! If you read this particular passage of Scripture you will notice four distinct realities present within it—the throne, the altar, the gate and the heart. When this passage opens, it opens with a powerful declaration concerning the heart of Judah and the heart of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Hear how this passage of Scripture opens—“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars; whilst their children remember their altars and their groves by the green trees upon the high hills” (Jeremiah 17:1-2). Within the first two verses of this chapter we encounter two of these realities—the heart and the altar—as the prophet describes the sin and transgression of the house of Judah. The prophet Jeremiah declared of the house of Judah that their sin is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond. The prophet goes on to speak and declare that their sin is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of their altars. How? How is the sin of Judah engraved upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of their altars? The prophet makes it very clear with with a pen of iron and with the point of a diamond their sin was graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of their altars. In these first two verses we come face to face with the reality of the heart and with the reality of the altar, and how the sin of Judah was graven upon both. How absolutely incredible and interesting it is to consider that when speaking of the sin and transgression of Judah, the prophet directly connected and linked it to both the heart and the altars. When speaking of the sin of Judah, the prophet Jeremiah did not separate from their heart, nor did he separate it from their altars, for the prophet knew that the true source of their sin was in the heart, and the true expression and manifestation of their sin was at the altars. Pause for a moment and consider that reality—the source of your sin is found within your heart, while the expression of your sin is found in your altars.
THE SOURCE OF YOUR SIN(S) IS FOUND WITHIN YOUR HEART, WHILE THE EXPRESSION OF YOUR SIN IS FOUND AT YOUR ALTARS! THE ORIGIN OF YOUR TRANSGRESSION IS FOUND WITHIN YOUR HEART, WHILE THE MANIFESTATION OF YOUR TRANSGRESSION IS FOUND IN YOUR ALTARS! The prophet Jeremiah directly connects the heart and the altar, for the prophet knew that it was absolutely impossible to separate the transgression of ones altar(s) from the condition of one’s heart. Please do not think for one moment that you can separate the transgression of your altar from the condition of your heart. Please do not think for one minute that you can separate the iniquity of your altar from the condition of your heart. Do not think that you can separate the idolatry of your altar from the condition of your heart. It was Jesus the Christ and Lord who emphatically declared that it was out of the abundance of the heart which the mouth speaks, thus indicating that the sin of our mouth is but the expression and manifestation of the sin in our heart. Moreover, it was the prophet Ezekiel who spoke to the elders of Israel concerning the idols which they had set up within their hearts, and how the idolatry which began within their heart was manifested, demonstrated and expressed through the altars in the land. In all reality, the landscape of the land—a landscape that was littered and saturated with altars and high places was but a picture of the landscape of the hearts of countless men and women in that generation. The landscape of Judah and Jerusalem was but a picture and manifestation of the landscape of the hearts of countless prophets and priests alike. The landscape of Judah and Jerusalem was but a picture and manifestation of the landscape of the hearts of princes, rulers and kings alike. Moreover, the landscape of the land of Judah was but a picture and expression of the landscape of the hearts of prophets and common person alike. If you were to walk throughout the breadth, the width and the depth of the land of Judah you would undoubtedly have encountered numerous altars, numerous high places, and numerous groves which completely littered the land—a definite picture of the hearts of many which were littered with idols and altars which they themselves had set up. One of the main truths we learn from the words of Jesus, as well as the words of Ezekiel is that all sin, all transgression, all iniquity, all idolatry, all immorality begins not with the outward demonstration and manifestation, but within the heart of a man or woman. Do not look to the landscape of Judah to understand the source and origin of idolatry and immorality, for you cannot and will not find it in that which can be seen or perceived with the natural senses.
The more I read and study this passage of Scripture, the more I can’t help but see the incredible connection and link between altars and the heart. If I’m being honest, we worship at the altars within our hearts long before we ever worship at the altars within the land. I feel it absolutely necessary and imperative to ask the question—first of myself, and next of you—regarding what altars have we set up within our hearts. What altars have you and I set up within the inner recesses of our heart that we worship in the secret place where no one is watching and where no one is aware? What altars and high places have we erected and set up within our hearts that has dictated the landscape of the land? What idols within your heart have dictated the landscape of your home? What idols within your heart have dictated the landscape of your marriage? What idols within your heart have dictated the landscape of your family? What idols within your heart have dictated and determined the landscape of your city and/or town? It is absolutely imperative that we understand the very real and the very powerful connection between the idols of the heart and the idols of the land, for there is neither distinction, nor is their separation between the two. I am convinced that one of our greatest dangers and one of our greatest troubles is when we attempt to separate the idols from the land from the idols within our heart. Tell me—what good is it if we destroy and tear down the idols of the land, yet we leave the idols within our heart completely, absolutely and utterly untouched? There are a great number of us who have merely focused on the idols which litter and dot the landscape of the land that we completely neglect the origin of those idols that are present within our heart. We spend a great deal of time focusing on the altars which litter and dot the landscape of our home without first or without simultaneously address and deal with the altars within our heart. There are a number of men and women who have become content leaving the altars within the landscape of their heart completely and totally untouched, while focusing only on the altars which are visible within the landscape of the land. You have worked on removing the idols, the altars and the high places present within your home, within your marriage, within your family and the like? Fantastic. Wonderful. Amazing. While that is good and wonderful I would strongly caution and encourage you to do more than just focus on the external manifestations and expressions of idolatry and iniquity within your life.
ALTARS HAVE ROOTS! IDOLS HAVE ROOTS! HIGH PLACES HAVE ROOTS! WHEN THE ROOTS OF IDOLS RUN DEEP WITHIN YOUR HEART! WHEN THE ROOTS OF ALTARS RUN DEEP WITHIN YOUR HEART! WHEN THE ROOTS OF HIGH PLACES RUN DEEP WITHIN YOUR HEART! I cannot escape the fact that this entire passage is about one central theme and one theme alone—the human heart. Jeremiah recognized and understood that all manner of sin, all manner of transgression, all manner of iniquity, all manner of immorality and idolatry are directly connected to one’s heart. Jeremiah declared that the transgression of Judah was written with a pen of iron, and with a point of a diamond, and that it was graven upon the table of their heart. With these words Jeremiah directly connects and links sin and transgression with the human heart, for Jeremiah neither sees, nor does he seek to make or draw a distinction between the two. If there is one thing we must recognize and understand concerning altars and high places, it’s that both have roots—roots that don’t extend into the earth beneath their physical location, but roots which extend into the hearts of those who worship before and worship at them. Altars are more than just a systematic organization of stone which the house of Judah built within the land, but those altars were trees which had roots which bore deep within the hearts of the inhabitants of the land. High places were more than just physical and geographical locations where the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem worshipped, but were trees which had roots which penetrated deep within the hearts, the minds and souls of those who worshipped before them. Even idols were more than images made of wood and stone, gold and silver, bronze and iron, for idols were themselves trees which bore roots that penetrated deep within the hearts and souls of men and women. As I am sitting here right now I can’t help but see a land completely littered and saturated with idols, and yet from those idols came forth roots which bore deep within the hearts of men. It’s almost as if each and every idol had roots which bore deep within the hearts of men and women, and tentacles which seemed to wrap themselves around the heart of that man or woman given over to them. Though idols and images were made of natural materials such as wood and stone, and overlaid with gold, iron, silver and bronze, they had unseen tentacles that burrowed themselves deep within the hearts of men, and tentacles which wrapped themselves tightly around the hearts of men and women. Each and every idol, each and every high place, each and every altar had roots which penetrated deep within the hearts of men and women—roots which run deep within the soil of whoredom and harlotry.
THE UNSEEN CONNECTION BETWEEN IDOLS OF THE LAND AND IDOLS OF THE HEART! THE UNSEEN CONNECTION BETWEEN THE ALTARS OF THE LAND AND THE ALTARS OF THE HEART! THE UNSEEN CONNECTION BETWEEN THE HIGH PLACES OF THE LAND AND THE HIGH PLACES OF THE HEART! I am firmly convinced that it is the idols within our heart that give strength to the idols within the land, and there were it not for the idols within our heart, there would be absolutely no space or room for idols within the land. It is the altars within our heart that give strength and place to the altars within the land which we oftentimes worship at. There is this unseen connection between the idols of the land and the idols within our heart, and it is absolutely impossible to separate the two. Far too often men and women have believed themselves to be able to destroy the idols of the land while choosing to allow the idols within their heart to remain. The problem with weeds is never what you see on the surface, but what you don’t see beneath the surface, for if you attempt to remove a weed based only on what you see on the surface level, you will never destroy the weed. In order for a weed to be completely and utterly destroyed, it must be destroyed at the very root system. The only way to truly destroy and get rid of a weed is to pull it out of the earth—root system and all. A similar reality is true of icebergs, for more often than not it is not the portion of the iceberg we see on the surface that is the most deadly and most dangerous. More often than not the part of the iceberg we see on the surface is only a small portion of the tremendous mass that iceberg really is. The titanic was not sunk by what was present and visible on the surface of the ocean but by what was unseen beneath the ocean. How many times have we tried chipping a way at the icebergs in our lives with hammers and icepicks on the surface while completely neglecting and ignoring that which is unseen beneath the ocean. Pause for a moment and consider this reality for a moment. Let’s say you begin at the top of the iceberg and begin working on destroy that iceberg from the top down. You hammer away at the substance of that iceberg day after day until you eventually become level with the waters of the ocean. All of a sudden you realize that there is so much more beneath the waters than there was above the waters. What’s more is that there is absolutely zero visibility beneath those waters, and you all of a sudden realize how futile and vain your work was in merely destroying that which was seen on the surface. I am convinced that life’s greatest work(s) are not seen, nor are they even performed and accomplished above the surface, but beneath the surface. It was beneath the waters of the flood the Lord destroyed all the wickedness of the earth. It was beneath the waters of the Red Sea the Lord destroyed the horses, the chariots and the army of Pharaoh and the land of Egypt.
LIVING LIFE BENEATH THE WATERS! I believe with all my heart the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is calling us—not upon the waters where we walk, but beneath the waters. The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is not calling us into the great unknown above the waters, but into the great unknown beneath the waters. I am convinced the Spirit of the sovereign Lord is calling us to live our lives beneath the waters, and to venture into those dark places beneath the waters. The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is calling us beneath the waters of the flood, for it is beneath the waters of the flood where the work of destroying wickedness takes place. Noah and his family were saved from the waters of the flood after the Lord shut them up in the ark, yet directly connected to their salvation was also the destruction of wickedness. We dare not separate, nor fail to see or recognize that the salvation of the saints and the destruction of wickedness are directly connected. The children of Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea on dry ground, and it was their passing through which was only part of their salvation. PASSING THROUGH THE WATERS IS ONLY PART OF SALVATION! MOVING UPON THE WATERS IS ONLY PART OF SALVATION! If you want to truly understand the full and complete work of salvation, you must venture beneath the waters—into the dark and murky places of the great unknown. It is there beneath the waters of the Red Sea where the Lord of hosts destroyed your adversaries, your enemies and your foes. It is there beneath the waters of the Red Sea where the Lord of hosts destroyed the wickedness that had so polluted and corrupted the earth. Have you ever stopped on the other side of the Red Sea to look at what the Lord did beneath the waters? Have you ever looked out of the window of the ark to the waters upon which you were floating to see the work that was being performed beneath those waters? Salvation is not only in being saved from the flood waters, but in the destruction of wickedness beneath the waters. The work of salvation is experienced above and upon the waters, but the work of salvation is not experienced in that place alone. We tend to think of the work of God as being saving Noah and his family from the waters of the flood, but the truth of the matter is that the flood wasn’t simply about saving a family of eight from the flood, but about destroying the wickedness beneath the flood. There was a work of salvation which was taking place above and upon the waters, but there was also a work of salvation taking place beneath the waters, as the Lord was destroying wickedness, rebellion and transgression. There was a work of salvation which was taking place on the other side of the Red Sea as the children of Israel passed through on dry ground, but there was another work that was taking place, and had taken place beneath the waters.
If we are truly willing to be honest with ourselves, we must admit that the Spirit of the Lord is not merely calling us to the work of salvation above and upon the waters, but the Spirit of the Lord is calling us to the work of salvation beneath the waters. There is a work that is taking place beneath the waters—a hidden and unseen work that we cannot see with our natural eyes. What’s interesting is that there is a clear distinction between these two experiences at the waters. When it came to the work at the waters of the Red Sea, the children of Israel were able to witness the work as it unfolded, and even witnessed the aftermath of the work as there was undoubtedly bodies, pieces of armor, perhaps even pieces of chariots, and the like which were strewn along the shore of the sea. The children of Israel were safely on the other side and looked upon the shore of the Red Sea and saw the aftermath of the destruction the Lord had wrought. When it came to the flood during Noah’s day, they could not see, nor were they even aware of the work that was taking place beneath the waters. There are times when the Lord allows us to stand on the shores of the Red Sea and see the aftermath of the work which took place beneath the waters, but there are other times when the Lord will not allow us to see the work that is taking place beneath the waters. We must never allow ourselves to get so caught up and consumed in the work that takes place above the waters that we neglect and even ignore the work that takes place beneath the waters. I am finding myself asking the Spirit of the Lord to perform a deep and powerful work beneath the waters in those areas that are unseen and invisible to the natural eye. The account of Noah isn’t merely about Noah and his family floating safely upon the waters of the flood within the ark, but about the destruction of wickedness beneath the waters. It’s imperative that we understand the flood did not come so Noah and his family could float upon the flood waters in an ark. The flood came because of the wickedness that had so consumed and had become so pervasive upon the earth, and the Lord’s desire to completely and thoroughly purge the earth of that wickedness. It was the wickedness of man—not the righteousness of Noah—that caused the waters of the flood to cover and consume the earth. While there was a great work that was taking place above the waters, the greater work was actually taking place beneath the waters as the wickedness of man was being destroyed and dealt with in the depths of the waters. More often than not, the greatest work takes place beneath the waters in the unseen and invisible realm rather than on the surface in what is seen. This does not diminish or even negate the work that takes place on the surface, but brings us to the place where we look beneath the waters.
I believe with all my heart the Spirit of the Lord is calling us into the depths of the waters, for it is in that place the true work of the Spirit takes place. Peter stepped out of the boat and walked upon the waters of the sea, yet I can’t help but wonder if the greatest work that took place in his life took place not when he was walking upon the waters, but when he cried out to the Lord from the midst of the waters. It is true that Peter removed his eyes from looking upon Jesus and as a result began to sink in the waters of the sea, but at least when he was sinking he knew enough to cry out to the Lord to save him. THE WORK OF SALVATION TOOK PLACE NOT WHEN PETER WALKED ON THE WATERS BUT WHEN PETER CRIED OUT AS HE BEGAN SINKING BENEATH THE WATERS! JONAH’S SALVATION TOOK PLACE NOT WHEN HE WAS THROWN FROM THE SHIP, BUT AS HE SANK INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA! Peter experienced the salvation of the Lord as he began sinking into the waters of the sea, and Jonah experienced the salvation of the Lord beneath the waters as the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. Peter may have began to sink beneath the waters of the sea, but it was from that place of sinking that salvation was experienced, for Peter cried out to the Lord to save him. Please do not think that I am instructing you to go out into a boat, attempt to walk on water, in order that you might begin to sink in the midst of them. Please do not think I am calling you to allow yourself to sink beneath the waters of the sea, or the waters of the ocean, or the waters of a lake. What I am attempting to speak and reveal to you is that it is oftentimes in the depths of the water—in those places beneath the waters—that we experience the true work of salvation. It is true Peter walked upon the waters, yet I do not believe that is the true significance of this particular encounter and account within his life. I believe what is the single greatest significance of Peter’s walking on water is that when he began to sink he knew enough to cry out of the Lord, and it was from that place of sinking and feeling as though he was going to drown the Lord stretched forth His hand and rescued him. It was beneath the waters of the flood the true work of the Lord was taking place, for it was beneath the waters of the flood the Lord was dealing with the wickedness of men. It was beneath the waters of the Red Sea the true work of the Lord was taking place, for it was beneath the waters of the Red Sea the Lord was destroying the enemies and adversaries of Israel. It was beneath the waters of the sea the true work of the Lord in Jonah’s life took place, for it was beneath the waters where the Lord prepared the fish to swallow Jonah—a picture that represented Jesus’ being in the heart of the earth for three days. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—are you willing to live your life beneath the waters? Are you willing to ask the Lord—not to take you out upon the waters, but to take you beneath the waters where the true work takes place?
As you continue reading this passage of Scripture in the prophetic book of Jeremiah, you will find these powerful words—“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The prophet Jeremiah declares that the heart is deceitful above all things, and was desperately wicked, and even asks who can know it. What we must understand is that the prophet doesn’t stop there, for the prophet goes on to declare of the Lord, “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reigns, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:10). Please don’t miss the significance and importance of this, for if there is one thing we must learn about this passage is that it all comes back to the heart. It is true that within this passage we find altars, we find a throne, and we find the gate, but even with all of this, we come back to the central theme of it all—the heart. At the end of the day—regardless of the altars build within the land, the throne upon which kings sit, and the gates through which men and women pass—everything comes back to the heart. Remember that it was Solomon who encouraged us to guard our heart, for the heart is the wellspring of life. Eventually Jeremiah would see the heart—not merely as something which is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, but also as something which the Lord could remove and replace. How wonderful and powerful is that thought—the thought that the Lord seeks to remove the old heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. We will discuss this in detail later on, but for now it is necessary that we understand the process of removing and replacing. There is a work that needs to be done beneath the surface—in that area, and in those areas where the eyes of men cannot see. It is in those secret and hidden places where the true work of God begins, for it is only the Lord of hosts who can see such places. Remember when Samuel thought that Jesse’s oldest son was the one to be anointed as king of Israel, yet the Lord declared unto him that man looks upon the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. In this passage we discover the Lord searches the heart—searches beneath the waters—and tries the reigns of the heart. Oh that the Lord would take us beneath the waters in order that He might show and reveal to us the tremendous work that takes place beneath the surface of the waters. Oh that the Spirit of the Lord would lead us on an underwater expedition and underwater excursion in order that we might see the work of the Lord beneath those waters. Oh that the Spirit of the Lord would take us beneath the waters to show us the enemies and adversaries He has drowned and destroyed, and the wickedness He has destroyed. Oh that the Spirit of the Lord would take us beneath the waters to show us that which is beneath the waters and has the greatest opportunity to destroy us. Are you ready for such an experience? Are you ready for such an encounter? Oh that we would allow the Spirit of the Lord to take us beneath the waters, and that we would live in the reality of the work of salvation above the waters, but also the work of salvation beneath the waters!