In Christ, Peace.   In the world,Trouble.       

A sermon on  Jeremiah> preached 24/6/90 - now slightly revised.
The words in italics were spoken by 'Jeremiah', an actor, Glyn Jones)

Every day we hear about the progress of the 'peace process' in Bosnia, the Middle East or N.Ireland.
Our hopes rise, but in spite of all the talk, the wars continue.
Nearly 60 years ago Neville Chamberlain cried, "Peace in our time!"
2000 years ago a far wiser man cried, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives." (Jn 1427)
And later he said, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
     In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world". (Jn 1633)

These words of Jesus bring much encouragement to us.
They have proved true in experience.
But have you noticed how easily we pass over what we don't like!
We like the promise of peace, we like joy, quick success, and an easy life.
But the second phrase is "In the world you will have trouble?"
And we don't like trouble!
It speaks of God's just judgement but we only like to experience his love!
It is rare to find a man with a zeal for responsible hard work,
the costly call, or the demanding obedience.
We must not live on a diet of selected bits of God's word - the nice bits -
     else we will surely succumb to error and deception.
Always read the context; and here the whole verse, not just the nice 1st part.
In Christ, Peace. AND In the world, Trouble.

May I ask how many of you have read all 52 chapters of Jeremiah in the last year?  (only one person out of about 200 raised their hand!)
Jeremiah is here - and so is the God of Jeremiah!  (enter a man dressed as Jeremiah)
So I hope you are not too embarrassed.

Why do we avoid a book like Jeremiah?
1) Too Long    2) Too Difficult  or    3) Too Depressing
Maybe we just don't like the message.
The people of Jerusalem did not like it either!
They turned their backs on the preaching of Jeremiah.

So let us go back to Jerusalem; it is 627 BC, what has been happening?
Manasseh had finished his long and most evil reign.
Josiah, his grandson, who had become king when only 8 years old, is now 21.
In the last few years Judah had seen a major clean up operation.
All the pillars, high places and Asherah, all the ecclesiastical bric-à-brac
      had been piled up in the Kidron valley and burnt.
Corruption in high places was ended.
Teams went throughout all the country burning idols. Such zealous reform!
It was Revival!
Here at last was an earnest godly king, whose court hummed with spiritual fervour.
What was God's view of all this?   It will probably surprise us.
We know, for the young prophet Jeremiah began to speak what God told him.

"From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land ...
I will pronounce my judgements on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me ..."  (Jer 113-16)

But God, do you really mean that?
With all this 'God-given' revival, and the impact of the Charismatic Movement?
'No,' they said, 'this can't be right. This isn't God speaking to us.'

But God who sees what men are blind to, said, "Your ways are not my ways and your thoughts are not mine."   (Is 558)
I see the greed and injustice, how the rich get richer and the poor poorer.
I see you make promises to your spouse and break them.
Your free and easy sex is an abomination.
And the 1 in 3 children who are born to unmarried parents show just how wide-spread fornication has become.
I have heard the cry of the 170,000 aborted babies you murder each year.

"My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water and dug their own cisterns,
(i.e. their own laws) broken cisterns that cannot hold water. ...
Although you wash yourself with soda and use an abundance of soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me."  (Jer 213-22)

"I gave unfaithful Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away ...
(the northern kingdom of Israel had been exiled under the Assyrians 100 years ago)
"her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; ...
she did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretence ..."  (Jer 36-11)

7 years went by, and the king's revival continued.
Now the temple was being cleaned.
Not just a little dusting - it was a 100% job.
Josiah was in earnest.
Hilkiah had found the Book of the Law.
The King not only read it, underlining the important parts,
      but he started putting it into practice.
It was God's word, all of it.
It was written to be obeyed, not just talked about!
They started to celebrate the Passover again.

Internationally there was a semblance of peace.
Necho in Egypt had no stomach for war.
For the first 20 years of his reign Ashurbanipal of Assyria had been at war,
     then he had retired to his library in Nineveh where he had been for over a decade.
He had unilaterally disbanded his brutally efficient war machine.
So Assyria was now militarily weak.
There was peace on all sides. Even the prophets were saying so - all except Jeremiah!

"Now I pronounce my judgements against (Judah). ...
Look! He advances like the clouds, his chariots come like a whirlwind ...
O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved. ...
A besieging army is coming from a distant land,
raising a war cry against the cities of Judah."  (Jer 412-17)

Others said that God will protect us; we are his people.
"No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine ..."   (Jer 512)

"They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.
'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace."  (Jer 811)

"'Should you not fear me?' declares the Lord,
'Should you not tremble in my presence?'"   (Jer 522)

(pause - selah)

"My grief is beyond healing, my heart is sick within me. ...
for the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded,
I mourn, and dismay has overtaken me.
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?"   (Jer 818-22 RSV)

We will leave Jeremiah and allow him the privacy and the time to weep alone before God.

We will go forward some 640 years to the same little city of Jerusalem.
There is a man riding a donkey. He is surrounded by a crowd who shout,
      "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
       Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! ..."   (Luke 1938)
But as he came to the Mt of Olives and looked down on Jerusalem he stopped;
      the crowd stopped, they suddenly went silent - Jesus was weeping!
Through his tears he said,
      "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace,
      but now it is hidden from your eyes."  (Luke 1942)

What does make for real lasting peace?
Certainly not successful Summits or Peace talks.
As my wife said recently,
"The treaties of men are motivated by fear and honoured when convenient!"

ONLY THE CROSS OF CHRIST CAN RECONCILE MAN WITH GOD.

And only reconciliation with God can bring real, lasting peace.

Jesus wept, just as Jeremiah wept, because the people did not know who could bring them this peace.
They stubbornly rejected Jesus as the Messiah, the Redeemer.
And their day of opportunity would soon be over.

In the last days we shall not experience peace and prosperity,
     but war, famine, disease, earthquakes, deception and distress.
The greed of man will ensure global warming and world-wide pollution.
There will be no lasting Middle-East peace, or world-wide revival.
A New World Order will be led by a satanic Beast and his false Prophet,
     who will persecute Christian believers as never before.
Babylon (world economics and trade) will collapse "in a single hour",
     as it is written, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great".
Many will be deceived, and the love of many will grow cold,
     (because of wickedness in the church. Their love is a flimsy conditional love; I will love you, if you love me)
Men will hate to hear "You must repent and be born again."
The need for the Cross of Christ will divide men, as it always has.
Islam or New Age (many roads to god) will hate the Christians.
But this persecution will be a most effective witness of the true gospel of Christ. It always has been!
Do you still want to see the gospel, preached throughout the world?!

But back to Jerusalem. Its 610 BC
Josiah was 39 and in his prime.
He had been reading of God's mighty deliverance from the slavery in Egypt.
2 years ago Nabopolassar of Babylon had rebelled against the Assyrians.
He had joined up with the Medes and captured Nineveh, the Assyrian capital.
They retreated to Haran and cried to Egypt for help.
Pharaoh Necho immediately set out to his aid.
But Josiah knew from God's word all about Egypt and he didn't want to be the meat in the sandwich!
Ignoring a warning, he went off to battle with his puny little army.
And he died a fool; but a fool for God!
Just like so many early Christians who faced the lions as fools for Christ.
Or like Wycliffe, Tyndale, Latimer, Ridley and many others
      who each faced the flames rather than compromise and enjoy an easy life.
      How different from the weak tolerance that carelessly seeks easy acceptance
            and the ‘anything goes' ecumenical folly that is so popular today.

600 years after Josiah came a far mightier man who would be crucified.
And what he did has always seemed foolish to men.
Only to a very few has the Cross been the very wisdom God.
For most it is either a tragedy of self-sacrifice or an event that can safely be ignored.
But it remains God's only way to win the victory over sin.
O, and by the way, Josiah also won - in a way.
His battle had delayed Necho so that he was too late to help Assyria.
By the time he reached Haran, they had already been defeated by Babylon.

It's now 605 BC.   4 years ago Egypt had made Jehoiakim king of Judah.
So we must return to Jeremiah.
(Jeremiah returns)
We had left him weeping over Jerusalem and the hardness of man's heart.
He yearned to know what God would do. Now he had heard!

"The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah
in the 4th year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah,
which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. ...
For 23 years ... the word of the Lord has come to me
and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened. ...
I will summon ... my servant Nebuchadnezzar. ...
I will completely destroy ... I will banish the sounds of joy. ...
(and you) will serve the king of Babylon 70 years."   (Jer 251-11)

Jehoiakim submitted to Nebuchadnezzar that year without any battle or siege.
Daniel, his 3 friends and many of the best men were taken to Babylon.
But Jehoiakim wasn't too worried, he was still king.
He even built himself a new palace in best cedar wood - at Government expense!
One winter evening he had listened to Jeremiah's scroll being read to him.
With measured contempt he chopped it up, burning each piece as it was read.
But the purposes of God are not changed because a king (or a president or Prime Minister) does not like what God says.
Jehoiakim didn't care what God thought. He never even stopped to ask!

Today in the U.K. who cares what God thinks?
We spend nearly £21,000 million on defence each year,
      and export £2,300 million of arms mainly to the Middle East and Third World
      so that we can help them prove who is the biggest and the best.
What does it matter what God thinks if £7,000 million is spent on advertising. -
      goods that we often don't need and cannot afford:
      so we have to borrow and the average household debt is £1,700 (not including mortgages).
What does God think about our careless consumerism?
About the £8,000 million that we in the EC spend on cosmetics each year when more than half the world earns less than £6/week.
God is not pleased when we pass laws that defy his 10 Commandments.
One day we will find out what God thinks, and by then it will probably be too late.

But it's 601 BC and Nebuchadnezzar is busy fighting Egypt.
This time both sides lose. They each sustain massive losses.
Nebuchadnezzar returns to Babylon to re-build his tattered army.
And Mr "Face-2-Ways" Jehoiakim decides to side with Egypt.
So he foolishly withholds his tribute payment to Babylon.
An angry Nebuchadnezzar comes and captures Jerusalem.
He takes all the gold and silver vessels from the temple
      also Ezekiel and a large number of slaves to toil at his brick works.
Jehoiakim dies during the siege; his body is just dumped outside the city walls, and his teenage son, Jehoichin surrenders.

Babylon considers Jehoichin too young, so makes his uncle Zedekiah king. But he is also evil.
Jeremiah is troubled, deeply troubled - in fact he is now in prison.
Not a nice comfortable modern jail with TV and all mod cons.
In those days you were lucky to come out alive!
But that is not what distresses Jeremiah.
It is not his personal circumstances, no.
His concern was that neither king nor people wanted to hear what God thought.
Ignore him, they said, he's a restrictor of freedom, a fun spoiler!

It is almost 40 years now since God had made Jeremiah his prophet.
40 long, lonely years of swimming against the tide.
God had warned him that his message would not be popular.
But God had also promised that he would rescue him - and he had.
True, he once had to flee the country for a while!
True, he had been thrown down a well so that he would starve to death!
True, he had currently been left to rot in prison!
But Yes, God had rescued him.
He had not been killed, he had been protected from all of Satan's wiles.
He had suffered, but he was still God's faithful prophet.
As another servant of God would later say,
"We have this treasure in jars of clay
    to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
    perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;
    struck down, but not destroyed.
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus,
    so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake,
    so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body."  (2 Co 48-11)

Jeremiah is in prison. It's 587 BC
Zedekiah had rebelled against Babylon, (he hadn't learned from Jehoiakim's folly)
    and Nebuchadnezzar had nearly succeeded in his 18 month siege.  (Jer 391,2)
In Jerusalem there is desperate hunger and growing despair.
Jeremiah; how can you be so unconcerned about your own discomfort?
Tell us. How can our hearts be at peace when the world is crumbling?
Not to mention all the injustice, the unemployment,
    sickness, abuse, and hardship in our deceived, materialistic society.
How can we be ready for the day when it will no longer be 'business as usual'?
    when the whole world economic 'pack of cards' will collapse,
    when the resulting distress will add to the famine, war, pollution, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes?
Jesus warned us that many Christians will be martyred and many other Christians will be deceived. (Math 244,9,11,24)
We need to know how to stand in such a day.  Jeremiah, what is the answer?
"I am about to hand over this city to the King of Babylon, and he will capture it. ...
Hanamel, your cousin, is going to come to you and say,
'Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.' "  (Jer 323-8)

What sort of answer is that?!
City and temple about to be destroyed and everyone exiled.
And you say buy a field in Anathoth just 3 miles north of the city with half the Babylonian army encamped on it?
But Jeremiah knew God. So he obeyed.
And in obeying he understood God's message.
His cousin duly came, the field was bought, paid for and witnessed.
Good old secretary Barach, who was still with him, wrote out the deed.
Barach was the man who had written the scroll the previous king had burnt.
Over a year's work destroyed in a few minutes; but he did not complain.
Jeremiah dictated another, and even longer scroll!
Barach was not a man who would leave him just because life was hard.
He took the deeds, sealed them in a jar and buried them - good and secure.
They are still there! Hidden somewhere in the rubble that lies under today's 'Old City' of Jerusalem.

Of course Jeremiah never saw them again --- that wasn't the point.
It was never intended to be a nice little retirement investment.
It was a sign, a parable.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.

"I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?
I am about to hand this city over to the Babylonians ... who will burn it. ...
The people have provoked me by all the evil they have done ...
They have turned their backs to me and not their faces. ...
But this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says:
'I will surely gather them from all the lands where I have banished them in my furious anger ...
I will bring them back ... they will be my people, and I will be their God.
I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me ...
I will make an everlasting covenant with them:
I will never stop doing good to them ...
Once more fields will be bought ...'"   (Jer 3226-43)

The exiles did return in the second year of Cyrus, in 537 BC.
They remained in Jerusalem for over 600 years, until they were exiled again in 70 AD
For it was with many tears that Jesus wept over Jerusalem, for they still did not know what makes for peace.
Peace with God, forgiveness and reconciliation through his own perfect sacrifice.
Do we know this real enduring peace?
Have we learned that the peace of God is far more than the absence of war?
Jerusalem, the city of peace, (Hebrew 'Salem' = peace, hence city of peace).
It is ironic that Jerusalem has been more fought over than any other city.
In fact it has changed hands 30 times since the days of Jeremiah.

Now the Jews have returned to their ancient capital a second time.
Currently about 65,000 Jews emigrate to Israel each year.
It is a sign.
God punishes; and God is always faithful to his covenant.
The same covenant he had graciously revealed to his weeping servant, Jeremiah.
For he had seen what his great forebear Abraham had seen: the day of Jesus Christ.
Not a general utopia and peace on earth.
Jeremiah had suffered too much to think like that.
He had learned the truth that a man 'reaps what he sows.'   (Gal 67)
Everyone who seeks the Lord with all his heart shall find him, and receive eternal life.
But all who do nothing, who see no need for the forgiveness of God,
    will reap the fruit of their wickedness; a just and eternal punishment.
This is a hard lesson. But it remains true.
Jeremiah had learned it in the school of suffering and tears.
He knew that sin pays a wage - death.  (Rom 623)
For 'The soul that sins shall surely die.'  (Ezek 184)
Or as Jesus said, 'He who does not believe is condemned already'.   (Jn 318)
God's punishment of sin is just, deserved and certain; whatever some well-meaning men may say.

Jeremiah had learned from experience that a believer is often called to walk a lonely and tearful road
    but it is not for ever; for 'Joy comes in the morning.' (Ps 305)
    and 'Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.' (Ps 1265)
He learned that in the world there will be trouble - and plenty of it;
    but in Christ, and only in Christ, there is true peace.


Thank you Jeremiah.
You saw so clearly that God is right and just to judge the earth.
You experienced the trials, tribulations and persecution for over 40 years.
You warned them as you have warned all the generations of men since,
      for the heart of man has not changed.
You were able to endure because your eyes were set on a better kingdom.
You wept but remained full of faith, when all around you crumbled.
You did not spend your life trying to make it just a little bit easier and more comfortable.
You were not conformed to this world.
You were a faithful prophet and pilgrim.
God spoke to you. You had ears to hear.
You knew what Jesus would do, even if you didn't know exactly how he would do it.
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
      In this world you will have trouble.
      But take heart! I have overcome the world."

 
Prayer

Lord Jesus, you are the desire of our hearts,
      and to obey you is better than any sacrifice or even the praise of men.

Forgive us for thinking that real disasters only happen the other side of Dover.
That trouble is always for someone else, some other town or country.
Forgive us for the proud presumption that tomorrow will be the same as today.

May we learn to build relationships that are strong and will endure,
Be willing to share what God has so generously lent us,
To value what you provide us with today, but hold it lightly -  
      all our possessions, all the amenities here.
For we do not deserve any of your provision or kindness.
May our minds be so transformed that we can truly say with Job,
      "The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord."

May we see your plan, your purposes, O God -
      especially when we don't understand
      or it seems contrary to what we expect.
May we not be surprised at the happenings you have warned us of.
Not so taken up with working, feeding and breeding - as in Noah's day
      that we are surprised, caught with no oil for our lamps.
Lord, may we be ready;
      and not deceived by the ways of the world and the lure of riches.
O God have mercy upon us
      and lead us on in the paths of truth and righteousness. Amen.


If God has troubled your spirit - talk together, pray and especially, obey what God has said.
Please do not give false comfort to each other, "It won't be as bad as all that."
Remember:
      God is always faithful to his covenant with his Son, Jesus,
      with Jeremiah
      and with us.

Hymn.

Peace, perfect peace, in this dark word of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.

Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesus' bosom naught but calm is found.

Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus' keeping we are safe and they.

Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and he is on the throne.

Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.

It is enough; earth's struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus call us to heaven's perfect peace.

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