We’re familiar with the term Mystery Religions. These are secretive, spiritual practices that claim divine knowledge that can only be attained through diligence in occult or magic arts. They require years of apprenticeship to advance from one level of mastery to another. Those who reach the highest ranks are revered for their wisdom and power. Having dabbled in one of these in my early years, all I can say is that they require a lot of work. Of course, as true Christians, we should also know that all the effort put forth in achieving whatever these religious sects proclaim as the end game is all for nought. They don’t take a practitioner to the highest of heavenly heights; rather, they lead straight to hell.
Jeremiah confronted the people of Judah who were engaged in worshiping other gods that required sacrificial offerings in their abominable practices. The prophet described this in Jeremiah 7:18:
“The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.”
The Queen of Heaven was one of many pagan gods that Yahweh denounced. Yet the people went through an elaborate ritual to honor her. They spent time and money making food sacrifices and offered libations that were nothing but a waste. What these efforts did do was to cause people’s hearts to be redirected toward falsehoods that would profit them nothing.
As an aside, the Queen of Heaven is one of many pagan entities that the Catholic Church has honored. Near where I lived at one time was a Catholic cemetery named Queen of Heaven. Knowingly or unknowingly, those in the Catholic faith were placing their trust in a false god. By burying their dead in this cemetery, they may have hoped for relief in their misplaced understanding of the fate of their deceased loved ones. Perhaps they thought that somehow they could lessen the time spent in the unbiblical place of purgatory by those who had passed. When people go down the road of following pagan gods, it can lead to many dark, ungodly places.
The worship of other gods caused the hearts of the people of Judah to stray far from where they should have been. Such reverence causes an interesting effect. Think about the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Now, considered what God said in Jeremiah 7:8-10:
“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?”
Going after other gods caused them to commit transgressions directly against the Ten Commandments. Rather than leading people into righteous living, the worship of pagan gods led them into deeper transgressions.
Of course, because Yahweh is the One true God, following any spiritual entity other than Him brought consequences. Jeremiah and the other prophets proclaimed this error night and day, but to no avail. Eventually, God got completely fed up. His people had effectively crossed the Rubicon and could not come back. (To cross the Rubicon is to take an irrevocable step that commits one to a specific course: https://www.thoughtco.com/meaning-cross-the-rubicon-117548.) God instructed the prophet in Jeremiah 7:16:
“As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.”
They were so far gone in the hardness of their hearts that they were beyond saving. In New Testament terms, they had grieved the Holy Spirit with the unpardonable sin.
The Lord lamented how easy it was to please Him. The Mystery Religions with all that they entailed were complicated and worthless. In speaking of how God instructed His people from the beginning when He delivered them from bondage in Egypt, he didn’t make it hard. He summarized in Jeremiah 7:23:
“But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ “
Look at the simplicity of what God requires. There’s nothing complicated or intricate that one must do to come to Him and receive the favor of His blessings. Obey Him. Follow His commands. Boom! Done. But apparently we humans like things to be complex. Perhaps we think they have to be that way in order for them to have value.
I remember in my brief stint in college when I got into drugs and Eastern religions. One of the things that came to mind from my youth was that the Christianity of Jesus was much too simple. The Gospel wasn’t elaborate enough in my convoluted thinking. Surely we had to put forth intense effort and extensive study to reach higher planes of existence. As it turned out, the Jesus I didn’t know was standing in my backyard all that time waiting for me to go out to discover He was there.
What God asks of us to truly become His is indeed very simple. Ultimately whether in an Old Testament believer or one in New Testament times, the Lord wants our believing loyalty. First and foremost this means following no other God but the One of the Bible. Our hearts must be pure toward Him. Once we get that sorted out, then obeying His voice and following His commands follows easily enough.
I think this is where truly acknowledging our sinful state must come in. Only when we realize that we can’t save ourselves – that we’re in need of a Savior – then we can come humbly to the throne of grace and mercy in repentance asking for forgiveness. If we do this, knowing that only in Christ Jesus does the pardon for our sins come, then we can determine to set our hearts on the Lord and follow Him alone, trusting only in Him.
The realization that it is only Jesus who saves us – none other! – is the game changer. Why look elsewhere? Why trust anyone or anything else?
God wants to bless us. It’s an integral part of His nature. When we obey His voice and walk in His commands, it makes it easy for Him to do what is His very character: the giving of Himself to us. Why would we do anything that would get in the way of this demonstration of His love?