God's Story in Scripture • Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 41:01
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Have you ever had one of those embarrassing moments in a store or in public? You know, that moment when you hear that child that is absolutely losing his mind, yelling, screaming, stomping his feet. You feel for the parent. You’re frustrated by the disturbance?
Or, have you ever been the parent in that situation where your child is going crazy? Aside from an early death for the child, you have little other recourse than to lift up this child who now weighs 10 times his original weight and march him out of the store. This seems like the only way to save his life and your dignity.
Or maybe, like me, you’ve been that child.
When I was a little boy, I had a bad temper. The smallest offense or disappointment would set me off. One such event occurred in a grocery store with my mom. We happened to be walking down the cereal aisle. Of course, being about 3 feet tall, all of the unhealthy, but tasty cereals were right there for my coveting eyes to see and I wanted some. I was not going to leave the store with out them. So my mom and I began to argue. I said I wanted it. She said no. I got louder, she said no. In a fit of rage, I threw myself on the floor and began screaming at the top of my lungs.
Whether it was a stroke of genius or embarrassment, I don’t know, but my mom just started to walk away. There I was in the middle of the aisle, screaming loud enough for everyone in the store to hear. She just went on her way shopping. She shopped, I yelled. She would go to the end of the cereal aisle just to make sure I was ok. I screamed, she shopped. Eventually, I noticed that my screaming wasn’t accomplishing anything. In fact, I couldn’t see my mom. So there I was, teary-eyed, red-faced, standing in the middle of the cereal aisle. Silent.
As if on cue, my mom showed up at the end of the aisle and said “are you finished?” I guess I said yes. I ran to her and just continued shopping.
She didn’t have to carry me out of the store -but I do wonder sometimes if she would have liked to.
It certainly seems like there have been times when overseeing the nation of Judah for God was a bit like parenting an unruly child. Gentle discipline wouldn’t accomplish what needed to be accomplished, and so God would take more drastic measures.
We get a glimpse into this relationship between Judah and God in book of Jeremiah - as God’s patience runs out and his judgment steps in.
Turn in your Bibles to the book of Jeremiah as we consider the next book in our series of God’s Story in Scripture. Before we dive into the content, let’s look at an...
Overview of the book and it’s main character
Overview of the book and it’s main character
The book of Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible. It contains more words than any other book. It is also a book of great variety - as it contains poetic sermons, historical narratives, declarations, and prose instruction.
The first 45 chapters of the book generally deal with God’s plan to punish or discipline the people of Judah for their idolatry and rebellion. Mark Dever comments that these chapters largely “read like one long suit for a divorce” (Dever, 594).
In chapters 46-51, there are Oracles against other nations. These chapters refer to the coming judgment that the surrounding nations will face as God continues to use Babylon as his instrument of wrath on those nations. In an almost climactic manner, chapters 50 and 51 foretell the coming judgement on Babylon - even going so far as to predict the fact which people would overthrow Babylon.
The final chapter parallels 2 Kings 24-25 as it recounts the ultimate fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.
The book of Jeremiah reads a bit like an anthology or compilation of sermons, reflections and prophecies by Jeremiah. It is generally chronological, but not strictly so. There are times when some event are out of order because they fit more thematically together. For example, the fall of Jerusalem is talked about in two places - chapter 39 and chapter 52.
Jeremiah, who’s name means “whom Jehovah appoints” (Wiersbe) was likely born in the 640sBC - in the waning years of King Manasseh. If you remember from last week, Manasseh was Hezekiah’s son who was extremely rebellious to the Lord. He reigned for 55 years.
Jeremiah was called into ministry as a young man in the 13th year of Manasseh’s grandson Josiah’s reign, around 627BC. Josiah was one of Judah’s best kings and led a sort of revival in Jerusalem.
We don’t know exactly how old Jeremiah was when God called him, but he even found his youth as an obstacle to ministry.
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”
To which God responded...
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.”
God’s presence and His Word were such powerful forces in his that even in the wake of rising opposition, persecution and universal rejection of his message, Jeremiah could not help but speak the Word of the Lord.
For whenever I speak, I cry out, I proclaim, “Violence and destruction!” because the word of the Lord has become for me constant disgrace and derision. If I say, “I won’t mention Him or speak any longer in His name,” His message becomes a fire burning in my heart, shut up in my bones. I become tired of holding it in, and I cannot prevail.
Jeremiah’s speech was subject to the Lord, but so was his personal life. Jeremiah was forbidden from marrying (Jer. 16:1-9) as a sign that all of the joys of marriage would become mourning for the nation because of God’s coming judgment.
Jeremiah was not only a prophet for the people of Judah, but he had an international ministry as well. The oracles against the nations in in chapters 46-51 encompass part of that message. He also was sent to Egypt into exile himself and used that time to call people back to the Lord.
The book of Jeremiah is rich and deep and in someways depressing because of how it seems God has written-off the people of Judah because fo their unfaithfulness and also because of the difficult life that Jeremiah is called to live. There are many lessons that we can glean from the book, but this morning we are going to focus on just a few related to the judgment of God.
If we simply jump into the book and talk about judgment, I think we miss a bit of what has been happening in Israel and Judah for a few hundred years. You see God has been patiently and mercifully disciplining His people for their rebellion. His merciful actions have finally led to the place where Israel was exiled around 722BC and Judah is exiled during the ministry of Jeremiah in wave between 604 and 586BC. These exiles represent the judgment of God after years of patient discipline.
So the first thing we get to see in the book is that...
God judges His people
God judges His people
Early on in Jeremiah’s ministry he is called to point out to the people of Judah the charge that God is that the people had forsaken the Lord and proven themselves unfaithful to Him.
God tells Jeremiah
And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands.
In the next chapter, God speaks through Jeremiah regarding the cause of His judgment...
for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Even though God had proved himself faithful by bringing the people out of the land of Egypt and establishing them in the promised land, over time, the people failed to remember God. They forsook Him. They looked at the nations around them and observed their idols and fashioned “broken cisterns” or idols to worship. Rather than being the God who truly provides for their needs, these idols are fashioned by their own hands and do nothing. There is no spiritual sustenance. There is no life in them.
Not only were the people unfaithful to God, but there was no shame in their sinfulness.
Dever comments on this shamelessness, stating:
“They have become brazen in their sin. They have no shame. They have become so accustomed to prostituting themselves to other gods that they don’t even know how to blush” (3:3; 6:15; 7:19; 8:12; 12:13; 13:26)” (p. 596)
As a result of their ongoing rebellion and unfaithfulness, God is judging His people. God’s judgment of his people is not without good reason. He’s not being mean or cruel. He is being just.
One of the things that we learn about the judgment of God is that it can come from unexpected places. God is so sovereign over all things that He is able to use even sinful kingdoms and powers to accomplish His plan.
God used the Assyrian empire to destroy the northern Kingdom of Israel. During Jeremiah’s ministry, the Assyrian empire has been overtaken by the Babylonian empire. Now Babylon will be God’s instrument of judgement on the people of Judah.
So God judges his people. Secondly, Jeremiah communicates that...
God judges the nations
God judges the nations
In Jeremiah’s call, God communicates that he is to be a prophet to the nations (1:5). While his ministry primarily focused on the southern kingdom of Judah, God had him preach to other nations as well. In Chapters 46-51 Jeremiah communicates that God is judging the wickedness of these nations. He has oracles for Egypt, Philistia, Moab and several smaller nations.
In his messages to these nations, Jeremiah is communicating that not only is God angry with them, but He is going to use Babylon as His instrument of judgment.
While Babylon is used as God’s instrument of judgment, it will also be a recipient of God’s judgment. In chapters 50 and 51, Jeremiah communicates the coming judgment on Babylon, even going so far as to reference the who will come to bring God’s judgment - nearly a half century BEFORE it happens!
“Sharpen the arrows! Take up the shields! The Lord has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, because his purpose concerning Babylon is to destroy it, for that is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance for his temple.
I love how God can give this sort of insight to a prophet so that he can foretell some future events.
But even in all of this talk of judgment, there is a part of this that doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem fair that God would drive out the Israelites. It doesn’t seem fair that God would use a pagan kingdom to inflict his wrath on Judah or the surrounding nations. It doesn’t seem fair that God would then use another pagan nation to bring judgement on the kingdom that was God’s instrument of wrath.
It’s just not fair! - from our perspective.
And yet, when we look from God’s perspective, when we consider the fallenness of humanity - any judgment is fair.
Dever states, “Christians understand that getting what is fair means getting hell.” (p. 607). The just reward for our sinful rebellion is death and punishment.
One of the things that we have to keep in mind, that all nations and people groups need to be aware of, is that there will be a judgment. There will be a time when God will judge the deeds of all people. This is why we need to be faithful witnesses to share the Gospel - locally, regionally, and globally. Everyone will give an account.
However, another thing we get to see in Jeremiah is that...
God’s judgment is merciful
God’s judgment is merciful
If we go back to considering the idea of discipline, God has been disciplining his people for some time. He has patiently waited for them to respond. Jeremiah, early in his book, even communicates how willing God is to forgive.
Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, “ ‘Return, faithless Israel, declares the Lord. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the Lord; I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice, declares the Lord. Return, O faithless children, declares the Lord; for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.
They simply needed acknowledge their sin. They needed to confess that yes, they had sinned against the Lord. They had broken his trust, they had forsaken the covenant.
But they refused.
Not only did the people of the northern kingdom not repent, but the same is true for the south. Their obstinance dishonored God. So God sent them into exile at the hand of the Babylonians - and yet even in this exile, God demonstrated mercy.
God limited His judgement to 70 years.
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.
Now, I know that seems like a long time, but when you consider the rebellion that had been happening for centuries, this is merciful.
God even encouraged the people of Judah to make the most of their life in exile.
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
While that life might be happening in a foreign land, life is still happening. He gave them a hope for the sunset on this judgment, but also the command to flourish in the midst of it.
Think about this, as we’ve been largely confined to our homes, how often have we simply sought to grin and bear it rather than making the most of this time to make family memories or build healthy relationships or spend time with the Lord? We could long so much for this to be done and fail to realize what God is doing now.
It is clear that in God’s merciful judgment, he has a future plan for the people who are being judged.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
There is something more intimate and permanent that will mark God’s people. The rules, laws, sacrifices, codes - will all be internalized, will all be made new.
I think in many ways, this was looking forward to the day when Jesus Christ came to the earth. In fact, in a few minutes we are going to celebrate this new covenant as we participate in the Lord’s Supper. We will be celebrating the covenant that comes through Jesus - as he gave himself on the cross for us.
When God makes a judgment, He does what he seems is right and just. He completes what he sets out to do - for his glory and for our good. And yet in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, we see God’s just judgment fully poured out and His infinite mercy demonstrated. Jesus took our sin. Jesus took our punishment. Jesus took our judgment. For those who receive His free gift of eternal life, we gain the Holy Spirit breathing abundant life into us. Writing His laws on our hearts so that we might fully glorify Him.
So we’ve considered God’s judgment toward Judah and the nations and even the merciful nature of His judgment. So let’s consider...
God’s Judgment Applied Today
God’s Judgment Applied Today
My hope is that when God disciplines us, we would receive the discipline of the Lord. There are parts of the book of Jeremiah that almost sound like a parent correcting a child. Judah and the nations are like the obstinate child who digs his feet in and refuses to move. The judgment is more harsh for that child - as it was for Judah and the surrounding nations. We may not feel like the discipline of the Lord is fair - but if we were truly willing to yield to what God is doing, we might just get to see how loving and merciful and fair his discipline is.
Take time to slow down. Stop fighting the hand and the plan of the Lord. Ask Him what he wants you to learn, how he wants you to grow, who he wants you to serve. Rest in the knowledge that as a child of God, He is commited to you through the covenant sealed with the blood of His Son!
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Friend - if you’re not yet a Christian or a follower of Jesus, let me encourage you to receive the discipline of the Lord that Jesus paid on your behalf. Jeremiah called the Israelites to confess their sin - to acknowledge their sinfulness. In order to come to faith, we must do the same - we must admit that we have forsaken the expectations of God. Admit that you have sin and then turn and trust in what Jesus did for you. He took your wrath, he paid your debt. Will you receive Him.
Craigie, Peter C., The Old Testament: It’s Background, Growth, and Content (Abington, Nashville, 1987)
Dever, Mark, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made, (Crossway, Wheaton, 2006)
Longman III, Tremper; Raymond B. Dillard; An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd Ed. (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2006)
McConville, Gordon. Exploring the Old Testament: The Prophets. Vol. 4. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old Testament. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1993. Print.