18/3/01 10.45 a.m. Jeremiah 32

A Rabbi, a Vicar and a Methodist minister went fishing one day. They patiently sat on the river bank waiting for a bite, and after a few hours the Rabbi stood up and said, "I don't think we are to get anywhere here so I'm going to cross the river and try up stream". The Methodist minister pointed out that the nearest bridge was 3 miles away. "No problem" replied the Rabbi who knelt down and prayed for a few seconds, then he stood up and walked across the water! The Vicar started packing away his fishing equipment and shouted to the Rabbi to wait for him. The Vicar knelt down said a quick prayer and walked across the river to join the Rabbi.

The Methodist minister thought to himself if they can do it so can I. "Wait for me" he called, "There's no point in me staying here on my own" The Methodist minister knelt down and said a prayer stood up and walked to the river bank. He took one step out into the river then vanished beneath the surface. On the other bank the Vicar turned to the Rabbi "Don't you think we should have told him about the stepping stones"? ( Copyright 1999 Gibson Productions ).

There are times in our lives when God calls us to step out in faith and do something that appears to defy common sense. This was certainly the case in today's Bible passage, Jeremiah 32. We will look at this under four headings : A Poor Prophet? (Profit - gettit ?) verses 1-5; A Good Investment ? verses 6-16; Paying the Price verses 17-35; and A Certain Return verses 36-44.

A Poor Prophet ? verses 1-5;

We read that in verse 1 that it was the 'tenth year of Zedekiah . . . eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar.' This was 587 B.C., the siege of Jerusalem had begun in 588. The war, starvation and plague resulted in Jerusalem beings destroyed by the Babylonians the following year (see 52:12-13). This siege had arisen because Zedekiah, the King of Judah, had ignored Jeremiah and conspired with Egypt against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Jeremiah had prophesied that God would use Babylon to judge Judah, the Southern kingdom of God's people.

This was an umpopular message for King Zedekiah who wanted to hear that, despite the siege and the lack of apparent hope God would miraculously intervene. There were false prophets about who said what was easy, rather than what was true and from God. Shemaiah is one example in Chapter 29: 31f. Jeremiah knew that Babylon would be used by God as an agent of judgement because the Jews had disobeyed God ( 32:23,32-35 ). There was still a chance for Zedekiah to listen to Jeremiah and surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, but he didn't. Instead he confined Jeremiah to the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace. Jeremiah's words would have seemed like treason, going against the king. Some would have considered them blasphemous by saying that God would abandon his people to the Babylonians.

This is a reminder to us that there is always a side of God's words that will be uncomfortable to people. For example, the holiness of God and his abhorrence of sin; and the need for his followers to show that they have truly received His deliverance by obeying Him. There is no grace without obedience. No crown without a cross.

There has always been people who claim to follow God yet think that this will make everything easy and popular. 2 Timothy 4: 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Those who teach God's word should beware of falling into the trap of watering it down to make it acceptable to people. Those who are taught God's word should also be suspicious when the hardships of following Christ are ignored or glossed over.

A Poor Prophet ? verses 1-5; and...

A Good Investment ? verses 6-16;

In Chapters 30f Jeremiah had declared that after God's people had been exiled to Babylon they would return to Jerusalem. He was confident that God would restore his people's fortunes in time.

God warned Jeremiah that his uncle was on his way from his home town of Anathoth ( v.6 ). The uncle wanted to sell his land there which would have been considered worthless because it had been captured by the Babylonians. Jeremiah was the nearest relative and, according to Hebrew Law ( Leviticus 25:25 -28 ) had the duty to buy it. Jeremiah's relatives would have heard of his pronouncements about the invasion by Babylon and the glorious future that God has for his people. Jeremiah's uncle Hanamel was challenging him to 'put his money where his mouth is'. To show that he truly believed the words he was saying. Jeremiah does this by paying 17 shekels of silver for the land, verse 9. This was a lot of money to pay for a worthless piece of land, especially when it could have been used to buy increasingly expensive goods in a besieged town. Jeremiah shows that he has a long term belief in the future of Judah by putting the deeds in clay jars to preserve them.

Everyone else was looking to the short-term, to immediate gain and concerns, but Jeremiah is there for the long haul.

Some of you will know of Katy Hill who was a presenter 'Blue Peter' and now presents 'Live and Kicking' on Saturday mornings. She is the daughter of a Vicar and was recently married. She did not have sex before she was married and was quizzed about this by an incredulous interviewer.

The ways of Jesus go against what the world believes. We live in a world which says grab what you can, life is all about what I can get out of it now. This goes against the teaching of Jesus.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

It has been said, you can't take it with you when you go, but you can send something on ahead ! We are to invest in what is important. Not in personal gain or pleasure but in obedience to God's revealed will. There will be times when obedience to God's will may seem ridiculous to others, even to ourselves, but we can be sure that there is a reason for this which is that God has got the best interests of ourselves and others at heart.

Like Jeremiah our words and actions have to go together, even when things are difficult. Unfortunately there are some Christians who give up when things become tough. If a church is not growing or has not worship which is considered lively enough or doesn't meet some other personally perceived needs then they try another one, often flitting from one church to another. Others have personal difficulties and retreat from public worship, even though this could be a source of great encouragement and strength to them.

We are to invest in our eternal future with God.

A Poor Prophet ? verses 1-5; A Good Investment ? verses 6-16; and...

Paying the Price verses 17-35;

The story is told of four scholars who were arguing over the beauty and accuracy of various Bible translations. One scholar argued for the King James Version, citing its beautiful, eloquent old English. The second scholar advocated for the American Standard Bible. He cited its literalism, the way it moved a reader from passage to passage with confident feelings of accuracy from the original texts. The third scholar said he preferred the translation by Moffatt. He praised its quaint, penetrating use of words, the turn of a phrase that captured the attention of the reader.

After giving thought to each of the lengthy and impassioned arguments presented, the fourth scholar said, "Frankly, I have always preferred my mother's translation." Knowing that his mother was not a Bible translator, nor a scholar, the other three chuckled and said, "No, seriously....." The man stood his ground. "I stand by my claim," he said. "My mother translated each page of the Bible into life. And it was the most convincing translation I have ever seen." Copyright 1999 Gibson Productions

We could have a whole sermon on this prayer of Jeremiah. It tells us about God : That He is powerful and sovereign; Loving; Seeing everything; Performing miracles to deliver His people; Generous in giving the promised land to His chosen people. But there is the other side of the coin. The need for God's people to respond to God's grace in worship and obedience, and the judgement that will befall them if they do not.

We read of the sin of God's people from verse 29 the people provoked me to anger by burning incense on the roofs to Baal and by pouring out drink offerings to other gods.

30 "The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth; indeed, the people of Israel have done nothing but provoke me with what their hands have made, declares the LORD. 31 From the day it was built until now, this city has so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove it from my sight. 32 The people of Israel and Judah have provoked me by all the evil they have done - they, their kings and officials, their priests and prophets, the men of Judah and the people of Jerusalem. 33 They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline. 34 They set up their abominable idols in the house that bears my Name and defiled it. 35 They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.

The people of God went through the ritual of worshipping God, yet it did not affect their lives. They followed other gods and rejected the ways of God. They paid the price. The Northern kingdom of Israel had gone. Jerusalm would be destroyed, and the Southern kingdom of Judah ceased to exist for about fifty years while God's people's were scattered. Some were taken to Babylon, others fled to Egypt.

There is a price to be paid for failing to worship and obey God. Perhaps we are paying the price here in the West where churches are declining, teenage pregnancies increasing, family violence and breakdown growing, sexual promiscuity widespread, and increasing unhappiness despite material wealth and improved health.

Bishop Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria recently said, 'Now you find in the Western world there is a lot of preoccupation on how to do things right. How to be politically correct. How not to offend your neighbours in what you say. How not to confront your neighbour with the claims of Jesus Christ. Now in my own context there is no such thing. You proclaim Jesus Christ to all and sundry and let them make their own decision about whether to accept Christ or not. So there is no question about being politically correct in my country, in my tradition, in my culture. We just go out there and proclaim Christ who was crucified, and the Lord has been blessing that tremendously.'

A Poor Prophet ? verses 1-5; A Good Investment ? verses 6-16; Paying the Price verses 17-35; and

A Certain Return verses 36-44.

Jeremiah prophesied that God's people would eventually return to Judah. This would result in them living there in security ( v.37 ), being devoted to God ( v.39f. ), this would be rooted in a new, everlasting covenant ( v.40 ). There would be prosperity so that fields would become valuable and be sold again ( v. 42ff. ).

In 539, forty-eight years after the overthrow of Jerusalem, Cyrus, the Persian leader, marched against and defeated Babylon. He issued the decree that permitted Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4). Many Jews chose to remain in Babylon, perhaps showing where their loyalties lay. But, nearly fifty years after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, some Jews returned in fufilment of the words of Jeremiah.

These forty-eight years would seem a long time before the Jews returned to Jerusalem. When they did there was a lot of hard work that was needed to restore it to its former glory.

It is now over 2000 years since the birth of Jesus. He promised that he would return to take his followers to be with him and God the Father in eternity. This may seem like a long time to us.

2 Peter 3 8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

We do not know when Jesus will return. But we can have confidence that he will carry out what he has promised, and that we can look forward to this with a confident hope.

In the meantime we are called to show that we are citizens of heaven by living for God, and not for ourselves.