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!