Jeremiah, Friday Night Genesis – Friday, April 4, 2014
This month we are looking at the picture of God in the book of Jere...
changed. This is, after all, why we are spending all these months looking at the
picture of God in the Bible at Friday Nig...
stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—
safe to do all these detestable things? Has th...
Jeremiah, “it will get worse if you carry on the way you are!” But all he got for his
trouble was some serious abuse. So N...
means my family also has every opportunity to be secure and prosperous. I, of
course, came here voluntarily. Had I been dr...
Jeremiah the strength and understanding that he needed to face and go through
his situation. He knew His God and knew the ...
Jeremiah the strength and understanding that he needed to face and go through
his situation. He knew His God and knew the ...
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Jeremiah

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Jeremiah

  1. 1. Jeremiah, Friday Night Genesis – Friday, April 4, 2014 This month we are looking at the picture of God in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is another one of the “major prophets” in the Old Testament. He lived some time after Isaiah and based on information at the beginning of the book we can estimate that he ministered from around 626 BC to approximately 586 BC. This period is covered by 2 Kings chapters 22-25 and 2 Chronicles chapters 34- 36. Jeremiah lived and worked in Jerusalem through all three invasions by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon: in 605, 597 and the final destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Somehow he survived it all – both the mistreatment by his own people and the three invasions by Nebuchadnezzar. The handful of people that remained after the final destruction of Jerusalem ignored his council and sought safety in Egypt. They dragged hapless Jeremiah to Egypt with them, and there we lose all track of him. There has been some suggestion that it was Jeremiah who hid the Ark of the Covenant to prevent it from falling into Babylonian hands. To the best of our knowledge the Ark has not been seen since, although there have been a number of claims over the years, including a claim by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that they actually have it in their possession. If you have ever had illusions that following God, being His messenger and standing up for Him will somehow ensure a comfortable, easy life for you – the book of Jeremiah is a cautionary tale. If anything, standing up for God seems to have painted a huge target on Jeremiah, and it might as well have had a little note to go with it that said “kick me”. So why did Jeremiah steadfastly continue to minister despite all the abuse which made it into a serious health hazard? Jeremiah’s life and his message reveal something very important to us about how God works in our lives, and this we will explore in greater detail tonight. The messages Jeremiah brings and the reason he brings them is not much different than Isaiah. In fact, by the time we are done going through the prophets you will pretty much be sick and tired of what sounds like a broken record. The Jews and the Israelites have gone after various and sundry “gods” they have ignored God and his laws and their societies are corrupt and breaking down from the inside, and their nations brutalized by foreign invaders. It really is so simple: we become like that which we worship and admire. As youngsters we may become quite fond of a hero that we have come across. We will follow this role model, observe what they do and what they say, how they dress and we look to emulate that. This carries on into adulthood, maybe not in such obvious ways, but it carries over none the less. We become like the god or gods which we worship and admire. God indicates this in Jeremiah 2:5 “This is what the LORD says: “What fault did your ancestors find in me,that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idolsand became worthless themselves.” This is why the apostle Paul says that it is by beholding Christ that we become
  2. 2. changed. This is, after all, why we are spending all these months looking at the picture of God in the Bible at Friday Night Genesis. I don’t need to tell you how you should or shouldn’t act. I certainly have no authority to do so. But if we see in God characteristics that we find noble and appealing, we will endeavor to look at Him closely and attempt to emulate Him. It really is that simple! So where did this spiritual promiscuity get the Jews? God continues in chapter 2: “Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols.Be appalled at this, you heavens,and shudder with great horror,” declares the LORD.“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me,the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns,broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth? Why then has he become plunder? Lions have roared;they have growled at him. They have laid waste his land;his towns are burned and deserted. Also, the men of Memphis and Tahpanheshave cracked your skull.Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the LORD your Godwhen he led you in the way? Now why go to Egyptto drink water from the Nile? And why go to Assyriato drink water from the Euphrates?Your wickedness will punish you;your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your Godand have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.(Jeremiah 2:11-19) Did you notice that in verse 17 – you have brought this on yourselves by your actions? This will be repeated a few times in Jeremiah. You reap what you sow is not a New Testament concept. It is a law of nature and it is clearly spelled out for us right here in Jeremiah. Until the Jews had a serious change in their hearts and minds, merely escaping from Jerusalem to Egypt or Assyria in search of peace was not going to do very much for them, since unrepentant, they would perpetuate the same problem regardless of where they were. But the even bigger problem that God had was the state of complete denial among the Jews. Listen to what God says in chapter 7 “Stand at the gate of the LORD’s house and there proclaim this message: “‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. 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. 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!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 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, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and
  3. 3. stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”— safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 7:2-11) Does that not sound like what God said at the beginning of Isaiah when he asked them why they bring sacrifices and offerings to his temple, yet the streets are full of injustice and blood? The Jews still believed that since they had the temple and they were fulfilling the prescribed form of worship that they would be spared any consequences. As if God is some sort of simpleton who only cares that the form is adhered to and it didn’t matter if they really meant it or paid any attention to what He actually said. What was in their hearts didn’t matter. They have given God what they thought he wanted and so He was now somehow obliged to bless them and protect them. But it did matter. Because of that God goes in for some commando parenting, so that they would once and for all understand that life has inherent consequences and merely showing up at church every week and going through the motions was not going to mitigate the consequences of what happened the rest of the week, of the illness that was inside their hearts. And so He continues: “Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. While you were doing all these things, declares the LORD, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors. I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’ “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you. Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes to offer to the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to arouse my anger. But am I the one they are provoking? declares the LORD. Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame? (Jeremiah 7:12-19) And so Nebuchadnezzar came once. Rather than slash and burn, he had a conquer and integrate policy. He came around 605 BC and conquered Judah. He left most of the people in place, taking away the elite of Jewish society and the promising princes like Daniel and his friends. They were educated and integrated into the Babylonian royal court. Meanwhile, back in Judah, Jeremiah was having a whole lot of trouble. He foretold the invasion, but there were plenty of people who themselves claimed to be prophets who contradicted him. That won’t happen – after all this is where the temple of the Lord is! When it did happen, they did have to eat some humble pie, but did not stop. This wasn’t so bad, and besides, it will be short term. Keep calm and carry on! “Not so!” shouted
  4. 4. Jeremiah, “it will get worse if you carry on the way you are!” But all he got for his trouble was some serious abuse. So Nebuchadnezzar came again in 597 BC and this time he carried off most of the nation with him, leaving only a handful of administrators and peasants to work the land. And still they contradicted Jeremiah and said that this was only short term, it will only last a couple - three years. Wherever you are, get comfortable, says Jeremiah, you’ll be there for 70 years. In the face of such denial and defiance God, through Nebuchadnezzar, had to go all the way. In 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar came one final time and razed Jerusalem to the ground, temple and all. To get them to take the situation seriously, God had to uproot the Jews, annihilate anything familiar, anything that they trusted as their security. With only the clothes on their backs, heading for Babylon they were now stripped of everything they had been hiding behind. They were completely broken and only now some of them may be open to suggestions as to how to rebuild their lives. Even the magnificent temple of the Lord, which they thought God would never give up, was now lying in ruins. And maybe, just maybe, they would come to realize that the temple, the altar, the sacrifices and the ceremonies were not as important to God as they once thought. What was important to God was their hearts. The message was – get comfortable, this is going to take a while, not the 2 or 3 years as some are saying. Now that they were awakened from their imaginary world of imaginary “gods”, and were fully tuned into reality, God starts with very practical advice. “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7) Settle down wherever you are, and begin building for long term. Pray for the places where you are so that you would prosper along with them. I’m sure there was a good deal of pride to swallow to comply with that one. I have been asked on a few occasions if I find it offensive when people belt out “God bless America”. Since I grew up and have part of my heritage in Serbia, a country that America quite ruthlessly bombed not so long ago, I can understand why they ask the question. The bottom line is I chose America as the place where I wanted to live, to work, to raise a family and be a part of that community. So why on earth would I have a problem with asking God to bless the country in which I have chosen to make my home? If America is prosperous and secure it
  5. 5. means my family also has every opportunity to be secure and prosperous. I, of course, came here voluntarily. Had I been dragged here against my will, it would probably be very different. But God was asking the Jews to consider their new location as their new homes. It makes good logical sense to wish prosperity for the community we are a part of, but oh how much pride we have to swallow to do so when our community has been foisted upon us by force. We are much more likely to earnestly wish that they would sit on a tack rather than to wish them peace and prosperity. But God was working on their hearts, and had them exactly where He needed them to effect the necessary changes. Up until now they had turned to Him, not as one turns to a trusted friend, but merely looking for a miracle, looking for God to dig them out of a mess that they created. They were looking for God to mitigate the consequences of their actions so that they could carry on as usual with impunity. That’s all they wanted God for – that powerful magic box in the temple that would change their circumstances and make their lives comfortable again. Having destroyed everything familiar and replanting them to start from scratch far away from home, God was saying to them: I am not going to change your situation. What I am going to do is to change you within your situation. I want for you the good things of life, but they just cannot happen until your hearts have been changed. It cannot happen while you are ignoring me and my laws. It is because I want to get you to a sustainable good situation that I am doing this. Listen to this: “This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:10-14) Isn’t that beautiful? God wasn’t mad. He had a plan, a plan to prosper the Jews to give them hope and a future. And that meant that He first had to allow them to experience the full gravity of the situation that they themselves had created. Once fully immersed in that situation, He set about changing them, rather than their circumstances. Only once that was accomplished could He change their circumstances. Only with healed hearts could they have the bright future that God planned for them. And what of poor Jeremiah? He was God’s messenger, yet he seemed to live in a perpetually bad situation. It never got better for him. Abused by his own people, he survived three invasions, only to be dragged off to Egypt against his will and die there in anonymity. God never even changed his situation. But God gave
  6. 6. Jeremiah the strength and understanding that he needed to face and go through his situation. He knew His God and knew the bigger picture. Life in this world is temporary. Our lives are ultimately in God’s hands. Jeremiah placed his life into God’s hands, and God used him mightily – we still benefit from his ministry to this day! Because he placed his life into God’s hands, Jeremiah had in his heart a peace that passes understanding, which allowed him to face a cruel world around him without fear or desperation. Jeremiah was working and counting on that which is of eternal value. So what was God’s ultimate goal here? “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.It will not be like the covenantI made with their ancestors when I took them by the handto lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant,though I was a husband tothem,” declares the LORD.“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israelafter that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their mindsand write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor,or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me,from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickednessand will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34) God was aiming for a complete transformation. A transformation of the relationship between God and his people from one where He was just a deity that they kept happy through sacrifices because He might be convenient to have around - to a relationship of close friendship and partnership. A transformation in the way they related to the law, moving it from something that they had to be constantly reminded of, to doing right because it was the natural and right thing to do. It was a transformation of hearts and minds that is more valuable than any change in circumstances. Ultimately, however, it is that change of hearts and minds that makes heaven, the ultimate change in circumstances, a pleasant and sustainable possibility. For eternity in heaven to work all the inhabitants need to have the right attitude: to look and trust to God for guidance on how to live their lives and organize their society. The only thing we get to take to heaven is our characters. In view of this reality, it is a whole lot more important to God to change us than to change our temporary circumstances in this world. Our circumstances may or may not change, but what we can count on is that God will change us within our circumstances. To give us a hope and an eternal future, God will allow us to get to know and trust Him in all circumstances, and teach us to distinguish between what is temporary and what is eternal. For many that is a huge paradigm shift, but it is a paradigm that can bring peace in the face of the greatest adversities, just as it did with Jeremiah.
  7. 7. Jeremiah the strength and understanding that he needed to face and go through his situation. He knew His God and knew the bigger picture. Life in this world is temporary. Our lives are ultimately in God’s hands. Jeremiah placed his life into God’s hands, and God used him mightily – we still benefit from his ministry to this day! Because he placed his life into God’s hands, Jeremiah had in his heart a peace that passes understanding, which allowed him to face a cruel world around him without fear or desperation. Jeremiah was working and counting on that which is of eternal value. So what was God’s ultimate goal here? “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.It will not be like the covenantI made with their ancestors when I took them by the handto lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant,though I was a husband tothem,” declares the LORD.“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israelafter that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their mindsand write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor,or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me,from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickednessand will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34) God was aiming for a complete transformation. A transformation of the relationship between God and his people from one where He was just a deity that they kept happy through sacrifices because He might be convenient to have around - to a relationship of close friendship and partnership. A transformation in the way they related to the law, moving it from something that they had to be constantly reminded of, to doing right because it was the natural and right thing to do. It was a transformation of hearts and minds that is more valuable than any change in circumstances. Ultimately, however, it is that change of hearts and minds that makes heaven, the ultimate change in circumstances, a pleasant and sustainable possibility. For eternity in heaven to work all the inhabitants need to have the right attitude: to look and trust to God for guidance on how to live their lives and organize their society. The only thing we get to take to heaven is our characters. In view of this reality, it is a whole lot more important to God to change us than to change our temporary circumstances in this world. Our circumstances may or may not change, but what we can count on is that God will change us within our circumstances. To give us a hope and an eternal future, God will allow us to get to know and trust Him in all circumstances, and teach us to distinguish between what is temporary and what is eternal. For many that is a huge paradigm shift, but it is a paradigm that can bring peace in the face of the greatest adversities, just as it did with Jeremiah.

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