Friday, 13 February 2015

'Blessings in their proper time (Jeremiah 30-33)

One time, when I was a pastor in Richhill, a woman rang to ask if her brother could speak in our church.  It was short notice and I knew nothing about him.  I should have known about him, because she had given me a video of him preaching, but I had not watched it.

I said that he could give his testimony, rather than preach, and when I meet him I told him to keep it to about seven minutes.

He started off well, telling us how God had rescued him from alcoholism.  That was good.  But as he continued my suspicions about him grew.  He ended his testimony by saying that since he had become a Christian he had not even had a cold since he had come to faith.  That sounded a little too ‘health and wealth’ for me.  I was glad that I had not given him longer to talk.

The next morning I decided to watch the video I had of this man preaching.  There he was in a little church in Uganda.  He happened to be wearing the same suit that he wore in Richhill.  He looked at the small congregation of people and declared, ‘I have an anointing, and because of this anointing what I say will come to be.  I don’t care whether you have Aids or TB, tomorrow you will be well.’

I was appalled by the false hope that he gave those dear people.  The next morning there would be people who would wake up assuming that they were well, while they were still sick.  Perhaps some of them would foolishly stop taking their medication.  Some would later wonder what they had done wrong that resulted in not receiving the healing he promised them.

The primary problem in that speaker is that he did not know what time we are in.  Let me explain.

As we read Jeremiah we should keep three periods of time in mind.  Firstly, there is the time between Jeremiah speaking and the first coming of Jesus (horizon one).  Then, there is the time between Jesus’ first coming and his return (horizon two).  Finally, there is the eternal reality that starts with Jesus’ return (horizon three).  What we will see is that the prophecies in these chapters point to blessings that are experienced, in different ways, in each of these periods of time.

These four chapters of Jerimiah (30-34) are referred to as ‘The Book of Consolation’.  They look forward to future blessing.  We are going to look at three of these blessings, in the light of our three horizons.

1. 'I will heal your wounds' (30:17)

When the Babylonians came and conquered Judah and Jerusalem there was much death and injury. There would have been many wounded and grieving people.  But God promises a future time when 'I will restore to you your health and heal your wounds' (30:17).  See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth.  Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labour; a great throng will return’ (31:8). '... I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security' (33:6).  How does this prophecy find its fulfilment in our three horizons?

Firstly, during horizon one, a future generation returned to Judah and Jerusalem from exile in Babylon.  We see that in books like Ezra and Nehemiah.

This talk of the healing of wounds surely brings our thoughts to the coming of Jesus and the ministry he has entrusted to the church.  Jesus was a healer.  Jesus commissioned the church to pray for people’s healing.  The apostle Paul talks of gifts of healings (1 Corinthians 12:9).  James instructed the elders to pray over those who were sick that they may be healed (James 5:14-15).

But we know that faithful people still get sick and die.  Sometimes God answers our prayers by saying ‘no’.  The healings that we see now are really just the first-fruits of the time to come.  When Jesus returns (horizon three), 'there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Rev. 21:4).  The preacher in Richhill was teaching as if all the blessings of the age to come were to be experienced now.

2. 'David their king' (30:9)

In these chapters there is repeated mention of a descendent of David who will be established as their king.  ‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land' (33:15).

However, this promise was not fulfilled in horizon one.  When the exiles returned from Babylon, they were not given a king in the line of David—they were ruled by a series of governors.  The returned exiles are left waiting for future events that will bring this prophecy to fulfilment.

Then, Jesus comes (horizon two), born in Bethlehem (because he was a descendant of David), and called ‘Son of David.’  But while his rule has been inaugurated it has yet fully consummated.  Even though we live in a world that ignores Jesus, his teaching and his offer of salvation, we await that time when every knee will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Isaiah 45:23 and Philippians 2:10).  The fullness of the promise is found with horizon three.

3. 'A new covenant' (31:31)

There are lovely pictures of God in these chapters.  God is a husband who woos his faithless bride, a father who goes searching for his rebellious son, a shepherd who gathers his flock and a mother who weeps for her children.

We are told that God is motivated by compassion, 'I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them' (33:26), '... I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more' (31:34), 'I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me' (33:8).  Not only does God promise to forgive his people, he promises to transform them: even though they had prostituted themselves with foreign gods, he will call them 'Virgin Israel' (31:4).

There is talk of a new covenant.  Before he sent the people into exile, he ignored their cries because he knew that they were insincere.  Now we read the people saying, literally, ‘cause me to turn and I will turn, for you are the Lord my God’ (31:18).  God does cause people to truly repent, and he always responds to genuine repentance.

This talk of a new covenant brings our minds to the ministry of Jesus (horizon two).  During the first Lord’s Supper, Jesus took the cup and declared, ‘this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many’ (Mark 14:24).  This covenant involves the power to change, ‘I will put my law in their mind and write it on their hearts … they will know me, from the least to the greatest … For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more’ (31:33-34).           

In our church’s statement of faith we declare that those who are truly born again are kept by the power of God.  The true Christian may fall, fail and backslide at times, but God ensures that they ultimately remain in the faith.  One of the strongest arguments for this doctrine, called ‘the perseverance of the saints’, is found here in Jeremiah: 'I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me' (32:40).

Of course we still await horizon three.  For in this live we do battle with the world, the flesh and the devil.  We are tempted every hour.  It is as if we have an enemy within us, in the form of our sinful nature.  We know the pain of defeat and the sorrow of letting god down.  But when Jesus returns the battle will be over.  Our hearts will be made perfectly pure.  We will never have to listen to the lies of the devil again.  We will no longer be tempted.  We will no longer be able to sin.  We will enjoy a life of perfect moral purity.  Come, Lord Jesus!


'Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see' (Hebrews 11:1).  Faith looks forward, in joyful anticipation, of what is to come.

Jeremiah has been put in prison because the king, Zedekiah, does not like what he is saying.  Hanamel, Jeremiah’s cousin, comes to visit him in prison.

Hanamel wants Jeremiah’s help.  He has run into financial problems and wants Jeremiah to buy a field off him.  As a near relative Jeremiah has an obligation to do this.  But this is not a good deal for Jeremiah.  Jeremiah is in prison, and may never get to enjoy the field.  At the time of asking the Babylonians are at the edge of Jerusalem, and have probably trampled all over that field.  This field is a worthless asset.     

But God tells Jeremiah to go ahead and buy the field.  Jeremiah was then to place the deeds of that field in a clay jar.  These deeds were to be a symbol of hope.  They were about to go into exile, but these deeds were not useless, for a future generation would return and the landed would be traded again.  These deeds are a promise that there will be a brighter future.

As we live in horizon two (between the first and second coming of Jesus) we know that the best has yet to come.  We are a people of the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’.  We live in the beautiful light that shines from the ministry of Jesus.  We enjoy the gift of his indwelling-presence.  Yet even those who have passed on in the faith, who are in paradise with Jesus, eagerly await his return, when they will see the arrival of the new creation, and find themselves clothed in their resurrection bodies.

As we look forward let us never forget that the greatest blessing of the coming age will be the uninhibited fellowship with God.  Now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part, then I shall be fully known (1 Corinthian 13:12).  Then we will live in a city that does not need a sun—for the glory of God gives it light (21:23).  Now, as we live in joyful anticipation, we are to get ready for that future by learning to love and enjoy God more and more!    

No comments: