Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Great Promises from the Prophecy of Jeremiah #4 : Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”

This is yet another  well loved, oft quoted  verse, and a great promise  from the prophecy of Jeremiah,  to guide our thoughts  into  the coming year.  
With this text I am bringing our January meditations  from  Jeremiah  to an end. 

The scope of this chapter is very much in keeping with the preceding chapters which we have already considered.  Israel is destined to go to exile in Babylon, and Jerusalem will fall into the hands of the Babylonians. The land will be restored to the Jews in about 70 years. The relevance of this text for us today  is that,  like Jeremiah,   faithful people of God in an age  that is  so  filled with spiritual deception  and  spiritual devastation, may  suffer the  results of living in a society  that has abandoned the true God and   which in turn has been handed over to its own desires.  Our country  seeks solutions  in every sphere  but God’s solutions.  We, like Jeremiah need to persevere in clinging to God against all the odds, and we need to  continue to be committed to hear the Word of the Lord as Jeremiah did.  We need  to  know that there will  come a time, when we shall inherit the kingdom of God in all its glory, when Jesus  comes again. The heavenly Jerusalem will be our city, and the dwelling place of God will be with man. He will dwell with us, and we will be His people, and God Himself will be our God. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away [Rev. 21:3,4].

The particular promises  of chapter 33  are  that 
(i) the city shall be rebuilt and re-established. Health and prosperity  and security will be restored (vv. 1-8
(ii)  God will be glorified  as His people  rejoice in Him and praise His name  (vv. 9-14). 
(iii)  An announcement is made that  a righteous Branch (a Messianic term)  will rule, in keeping with  God’s promise made to David. Jesus is the Son of David. He is the   Mediator of the New Covenant  by which  we are  kept securely,   forever and ever (vv.  15-26).   Thus we see that chapter 33   goes far beyond the restoration of  the Jewish kingdom. 

Our focus  will  be  on the  first three verses  of this chapter, containing a very great promise  in 33:1: “The Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah a second time, while he  was still shut up in the court of the guard.”  

We have read of Jeremiah’s imprisonment before in  32:2.  A Word of hope  comes to  Jeremiah and  thus to the nation of Israel  in the midst of her darkest of political times, as the Babylonians are preparing siege ramps to  sack  Jerusalem.  The Word of hope comes as Jeremiah is kept under guard   and imprisoned by king Zedekiah, who still believes that Jeremiah the prophet is undermining his kingly authority, believing the word of the false prophets more than the word of the true prophet. The Word of the Lord comes as a word of hope in the most hopeless of times. No imprisonment can deprive God’s people of His presence. No locks or chains can keep God from visiting and speaking to His people in prison. In fact, God has,   on numerous times visited His people in prison in an extra ordinary way. 
Think of Joseph in an Egyptian prison. Genesis 39:21 says: “But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.”  
Think of Daniel in the lion’s den. The Bible says: “No harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” [Dan. 6:23]. 
Paul and Silas were in prison, “having had  many blows inflicted upon them”,  and yet they were able  to pray and sing hymns to God in the night  [Acts 16:23-25]. The presence of God was clearly with them.  
Some of Paul’s   epistles were written from prison[1], and these letters provide us today with so much comfort and encouragement.    

God has used the lives and words of His  suffering people  in  very great ways.  The letters of Samuel Rutherford [c. 1600 – 29 March 1661] are currently on our bedside table. Rutherford was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor, theologian and author.  In his  first years as a pastor in his parish church  at Anwoth in Scotland, he experienced  great sadness. His wife was ill for a year and a month, before she died in their new home. Two of his children also died during this period.  Samuel Rutherford was a faithful pastor. He was always praying, always preaching, always visiting the sick, always teaching his people, always writing and studying. He preached  a God centred doctrine and  He insisted that  Christian profession should be matched by  godly living. Because of this he was  banished by the authorities  from his church at Anwoth to Aberdeen. At this  time  God used him, particularly in terms of  his pastoral  letters  which he sent to his  church members, particularly  those that were suffering in his parish. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that great Baptist preacher  described Rutherford's letters  “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men”. [2] 

In preparing this sermon,  I  read  a sermon  of  Spurgeon on Jeremiah 33:3[3], entitled “The Golden Chain of Prayer”  and I   saw  that he quoted  Rutherford.  He said :
"Rutherford had a  quaint saying that when he was cast into the cellars of affliction, he remembered that the great king always kept his wine there, and he began to seek at once for the wine bottles, and to drink of the “wines on the lees well refined.”  What Rutherford wasn’t saying that his  adverse circumstances  were  an opportunity to get drunk! What he was saying is,   that even in the  darkest times  God has an encouragement  for you in the dark cellars of life.  When God is at the end  of your story, it matters very little what men may do to you.  

Many years ago I read the  biography of  John Paton (1824-1907), another Scotsman  who became  a missionary  to what was once known as the “New  Hebrides”, named after a chain of Scottish Islands. This  group of islands  is found in the  South Pacific Ocean, and it  is now  the nation of Vanuatu. John G. Paton  arrived there  in 1858.  His  decision to go there  was subject to severe criticism  by a respected elder of the church. The elder, Mr. Dickson said,  "You will be eaten by cannibals!"  John Paton responded,  “Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in  years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen redeemer”.  The knowledge  of the presence of God in our trials  is our greatest comfort, and again  we  say, that it matters very little  where we are, as long as God  is with us. 

And so, the  Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah while he was imprisoned, and it came a second time to Jeremiah, as a re-assurance.
33:2  “Thus  says the  LORD who  made the earth, the LORD who  formed it   to establish it – the LORD is his name…”.  The  One who gives this promise and the One that  invites us to call  to Him  is no one less  than  the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  This is an important  assurance in the midst of  chaos and confusion, when our world  lies upside down  and  when truth lies slain in the streets, and when the true  church, the  city of God on earth is hardly visible in the community, because her members are  dispersed  and exiled….  This is an assurance by His own Word,  that God has not forgotten  the people of His covenant, the  true children of Abraham,  comprised of  both, the Jews and the  Gentiles. The firmness  and the  certainty of God’s covenant   is expressed in  33: 19-26, and again, it comes in  in two separate   statements, emphasising and re-emphasising the covenantal faithfulness of God. 

33:3  Now,  all  this  forms the basis  of this great invitation  for prayer : “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” Now you may remember  that  Jeremiah  has been found praying   concerning  this in 32:16-25.  And now he must call upon God again!  I remind you that  prayer is an ongoing work.  We have prayed for our own city and its people many times,  and  we  must continue to pray for her.    We  must pray again and again. That is the meaning of Luke 11:1-13  and Luke 18: 1-8,  Jesus’s teaching about prayer and perseverance in prayer.  God has promised a certain restoration  of all things,  and we must always pray “Your kingdom come”, but until that happens  we must  also pray for our daily bread (physical needs), we must continue  to pray for  the forgiveness of our sins even  as we forgive  others, and we must pray  continually that we may not be led into temptation.    The people  of Israel  thought that they had the kingdom for good, but they forgot that  they needed  to maintain  its purity and devotion to God. But they forgot their God and  went in search of other schemes, and now look  where it got them!  Oh how merciful and gracious God is to them  and to us, despite their  and our hardheartedness. He invites us by His Word: “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”

1.       Call to me
In the midst of your life, with all its complexities and uncertainties  in the face of political  and economic instability, and in the midst of  poor commitments to  Christ  and  His Word, and therefore poor commitments to  His church, God still says “Call to me”.  This is at the heart of our prayer week. Prayer week is not  simply there  to  give you an opportunity to pray one hour per night for 5 days and then to be  done for the year . Prayer week is meant to stimulate you to see the value of calling persistently upon the  God who sees and hears, and who commands us to pray without ceasing!   

2.                   I will answer you: God promises Jeremiah that persistent prayer  will  find an answer.  My  own experience concurs with Spurgeon:  “ If there is anything I know, anything that I am quite assured of beyond all question, it is that praying breath is never spent in vain. If no other man here can say it, I dare to say it, and I know that I can prove it. My own conversion is the result of prayer—long, affectionate, earnest, persistent. Parents prayed for me; God heard their cries, and here I am to preach the gospel. Since then, I have adventured upon some things that were far beyond my capacity, as I thought; but I have never failed, because I have cast myself upon the Lord. You know as a church that I have not scrupled to indulge large ideas of what we might do for God; and we have accomplished all that we purposed. I have sought God’s aid, and assistance, and help in all my manifold undertakings, and though I cannot tell here the story of my private life in God’s work, yet if it were written, it would be a standing proof that there is a God who answers prayer!”  

3.                   … and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known… Spurgeon’s  comments here are worth repeating. In fact, I will close with them.

“All believers see Christ, but all believers do not put their fingers into the prints of the nails, nor thrust their hand into His side. We have not the high privilege of John to lean upon Jesus’ bosom, nor of Paul to be caught up into the third heaven. In the ark of salvation, we find a lower, second, and third story; all are in the ark, but all are not on the same story. Most Christians, as to the river of experience, are only up to their ankles; some others have waded till the stream is up to their knees; a few find it chest high; and but a few—oh, how few!—find it a river to swim in, the bottom of which they cannot touch. My brethren, there are heights in experiential knowledge of the things of God which the eagle’s eyes of sharpness and philosophical thought have never seen;… God alone can bear us there; but the chariot in which He takes us up, and the fiery steeds with which that chariot is dragged, are prevailing PRAYERS. ….If you would reach to something higher than ordinary groveling experience, look to the Rock that is higher than you, and look with the eye of faith through the windows of persistent prayer. To grow in experience then, there must be much prayer. 

Dear friends, I pray you take this text—God Himself speaks it to you—“Call unto Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” Take God at His Word. Get home, go into your chamber and shut the door, and try Him. Young man, I say, try the Lord! Young woman, prove Him—see whether He is true or not! If God is true, you cannot seek mercy at His hands through Jesus Christ, and get a negative reply. He must—for His own promise and character bind him to open mercy’s gate to you who knock with all your heart! God help you, believing in Christ Jesus, to cry aloud unto God, and His answer of peace is already on the way to meet you! You shall hear Him say, “Your sins, which are many, are all forgiven.” The Lord bless you for His love’s sake. Amen.  

[1] The prison epistles—Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon—written by the apostle Paul during his incarceration in Rome.
[3] Spurgeon has actually very little to say about the context of  Jer 33:3. He  simply takes the text  and  turns it into a sermon on prayer, dividing  it  into three points : First, prayer commanded—“Call unto Me.” Secondly, an answer promised—“And I will answer you.” Thirdly, faith encouraged—“And show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.”   

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