Sunday, January 15, 2017

Great Promises from the Prophecy of Jeremiah #3 : Jeremiah 32: 36-44 - “I will make with them an Everlasting Covenant

The human heart instinctively yearns for paradise, for  a place of peace  and tranquility.  We were made for peace and tranquility, but we don’t seem to get it on this earth. And so we spend  money  to  get away  to places where we  hope to  get away from the  great rat race. On a far  larger scale,  and for  thousands of years,  mankind has  migrated  and separated  to get  away from each other.  Abraham and Lot separated. Listen to these words: “Then Abram said to Lot, “let there be  no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen…. Is not the whole land  before you? Separate yourself from me…” [Gen. 13:8,9].

The history of  the world is the history of a people on the move. People  are  forever seeking  to escape political,  religious, social and economic   conflicts. People are forever  in search for  a place  where they can build their idealistic futures. This is the origin of the American dream and I suppose everyone else’s dream.   But there is  no safe place on the face of this earth. As long as  there is a devil  and  as long as  there are sinners on the face of this earth this will not happen.   Peace and tranquility  will continue  to  elude us.   

I have always been fascinated by the story of the  mutiny  on  the  Royal Navy vessel HMS Bounty which  occurred in the south Pacific on 28 April 1789. Led by Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, disaffected crewmen seized control of the ship from their captain, Lieutenant William Bligh, and set him and 18 loyalists adrift in the ship's rowing boat. Some of the mutineers settled on Tahiti and others on Pitcairn Island, one of the most  isolated islands in the South Pacific. Bligh  completed a voyage of more than 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 km) in the  little boat to reach safety, and began the process of bringing the mutineers to justice.  Fletcher  Christian's group,  undiscovered on Pitcairn until 1808, could have carved out  a life of bliss  for themselves, far away from  that civilization from which they came, where there was always war.  When they were  eventually found, only one mutineer, John Adams, had  remained alive. All his fellow mutineers, including  Fletcher Christian, had been killed, either by each other or by their Polynesian companions.  

The human  race is  simply not able to live in peace  with one another – nowhere!  Our  manner is like that  of Cain,   who not only murdered his brother, but who  became a fugitive and a restless wanderer upon the earth (Gen. 4:12). Only the  Prince of peace  by His word, the gospel of peace,  can bring about peace with God and with one another.  When He is not at the centre we are ready to murder one another.

And so it was in Israel. Though Israel  was endowed  with  the unique  favour  of  the God of all Creation,  and although she was   so  favoured with  God’s presence and God’s  good law  to govern her  society, her people   could not manage to live  under God and in submission to one another. As soon as they forgot the law of God within a generation  Israelite   society   was inundated   with murder, intrigue, idolatry  and idol worship, lawlessness, poor relationships  and the like in all levels of society.   
Now the nature of the God of all creation  is holy and just and loving. In  this spirit He entered into a covenant   relationship with  Abraham and  then with Israel. But,  the people of the covenant weren’t always committed to  the terms of the Covenant. And so God, being holy and  righteous and loving and merciful needed  to be what He is.  As a holy  and righteous God, He  needed to  punish   the sin  of His people. But as a loving and merciful  covenant keeping God, He  needed  to  preserve them. And so, at this time of Israel’s history  in about 589 BC, He did both. He handed them  and their city over to  be  destroyed by   their enemies, and  He preserved  a good portion of them from destruction by taking them  out of  Jerusalem  and into Babylon  for their own good (!) promising to bring them back from there in 70 years. 

And so, as we pick up at v.36  we read: "Now therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, 'It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence'.  
Notice the emphasis  in v. 36 .. “you say…” PERIOD!  Although it is all true, that  Jerusalem will be sacked, and true that  Israel  must go into captivity, because she has violated God’s covenant   they  and we  must remember that this is not the end of the story.  In His wrath  towards His sinning  people   God does not forget to  exercise mercy. Often,  when we experience  the  chastising hand of our Good Father in Heaven,  we only tend to see the dark side of things  and not the end of  things. In reality it  is  never  “You say…”, but “God says”, and He isn’t finished yet. 

Listen to the next verse, vv. 37,38: “Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people and I will be their God.”   The bad news suddenly  turns into good news.   
That is the essence of the gospel in Isaiah 9:2  [quoted in Matt 4:16] a Messianic text : “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” After many years of spiritual darkness  and the  absence of the Word of the Lord, the messenger has suddenly come to His temple [Mal 3:1]. That will be true of the second coming at the end of all times. Suddenly, the Lord Jesus will be here. [Matt. 24,25 ; 1 Thess. 5: 1-6; 2 Pet. 3:10].

A recent article published by Christianity Today  says that  “for the third year in a row, the modern  persecution of Christians  worldwide has hit another record high in 2016." [Research from Open Doors].   So, yes, Syrian  and Iraqi  Christians  have been driven from their land , but yes, the present fate  of   the Christian people in Syria  and Iraq  is not the last word. God has the last word. And in this context,  it is a word of grace.

So, yes,  God  has driven  His people  into these foreign lands, but yes, that is not the final  word on the matter.  God  sent His people into Babylon for a while  to  preserve them  there. The same has happened when God sent His people to Egypt for a little while. The Lord Jesus and His parents needed to hide there for a little while from the wrath of Herod, so that the Scripture says, “Out of Egypt have I called my Son.” [Matt.2:15]  Suddenly,  the LORD  brings His people back. God promises here  that He  will gather them and bring them back to their land and to Himself.  In a moment we shall see that this promise is connected to an eternal covenant, and applicable to us.
And so, by way of application I want to ask a question:  If God is a God of eternal holiness and justice,  who can  hand  sinning Israel  over to the Babylonians  and  also  send them into  exile, far away from home, then  how do we  know that this will not happen to God's chosen people today - the church, the bride of Christ, the true  sons  and daughters of  Abraham?   And  following that question  comes the next question. Can  God  see us through  our sinful neglect  of Him? Can He bring us   into a place of peace and tranquility?  The answer is  a resounding  “yes!”, and that is what the rest of the text is essentially  about - the  amazing  grace of God  to undeserving  sinners.  This grace is our  only sure confidence for the future. You and I,  are utterly  unreliable. If we were left to our own powers to keep the faith and to  be holy  and to  persevere, we wouldn’t  make it. Grace is all of God. “Grace  has led me safe thus far, and  grace will lead me home”  wrote John Newton.  Another hymn, “Come Thou Fount of every Blessing”,    written  by a 22  year old  pastor,   Robert Robinson in  1758  confesses the same truth :

O to grace how great a debtor, daily  I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee:
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O, take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above.

Now the  gracious promise of God  towards  His true people  rests on the foundation of His covenant:  
"And I will make  with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me into their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in  faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.”

This is one of several Old Testament promises of the new covenant that Jesus said He sealed with his own blood for all who are in him. This promise is not just for the believing  Jews, but for those who are true Jews, true sons and daughters of Abraham  by virtue of union with Jesus,  who is  the seed of Abraham (Gal.3:7,16).

Four Promises  For Faithful  Believers  As They Negotiate Difficult Times

1. God Will Be Our God :  V. 38: "And they shall be my people and I will be their God. ”God is for us, even  when we have to experience calamity.   God sees to it that we remain His  people. All that He  is  as God, He  exerts for  their good.

2. God Promises to Change Our Hearts :  V. 39 &  40b  "I will give them one heart and one way that they may fear me forever … that they may not  turn from me… (v. 40b) .  Under the everlasting covenant sealed in the blood of Jesus, God will not simply stand by to see if we, by our own powers, will fear him. No ! He  will sovereignly and  mercifully give us the heart that we need to have, by which we will  be led safely home to heaven.

3. God Promises   to give us the ability to remain faithful to Him : V. 40: "I will make an everlasting covenant with them…”.  This is what is different about the new covenant, when compared with the Old  Covenant.   The New covenant  promises  that  God’s people  will  be given the ability, the power,  to trust God , fear God  by the indwelling Spirit  through Jesus  Christ our Lord, who has kept the law of the Old Covenant,  that we could never keep.  Under the New Covenant we are enabled by sovereign Grace.  

4. God Promises to Do This with  All His heart and Soul:  V. 41   Although  the eternal , infinite God is not a man like us, He has attributes  of personality, just like us, and here  He is saying through Jeremiah that He intensely desires   our good with His entire heart and soul. And oh, how infinitely big  God’s heart and souls is… not like mine and yours.
God will keep His  promises as  surely  as He will exercise  His wrath.  That is what we are called to learn today, and that is how Chapter 32 ends.  As He has brought disaster   upon His people, so will He  bring  all the good  that He has promised.     He will do this  notwithstanding their present despair (v. 42).

The true church of the Lord Jesus Christ in these very difficult days almost appears to be obscure. She is  persecuted  from without and within. The enemy is not only out there, but He is in here, and sometimes I think that the latter is the more insidious problem  that we have. But this we may know:  The church  shall have rest after these  days of adversity.  We may look forward to it. In history  and from  time to time God has given us revivals,  short periods of respite  just so that we would not grow unduly discouraged . But a time is coming  when God  will restore  peace in the earth … when metaphorically  speaking houses and lands and fields shall be bought.  This is the fulfillment  of a promise made to Jeremiah by God  in the earlier part of Chapter 32.  All this points forward  to our heavenly Canaan, reserved for all those who have God's fear in their hearts and do not depart from him.  Keep  the eternal city  in sight as you  continue your pilgrimage. 
Heaven is our ultimate  goal!

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