Sermon, St Petri, Sunday August 7, 2016, Pentecost 12C. Story Week 17,
The Fall of Judah and the Prophet Jeremiah,
Isaiah 53:6-11, Jeremiah 21:8-14, John 1:29-34
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression[a] and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.[b] 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes[c] his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. 11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life[d] and be satisfied[e]; by his knowledge[f] my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities
Life definitely has its seasons.
I visited some of my own “historical sites” when travelling in WA recently. For some reason it seems good for a person now and again to re-visit places in your own history. Maybe is “ground you” again? It gives you cause to thank the Lord for your life too.
I lived in this place. It used to be a thriving wheat bin/rail siding with a general store and attached house in which we lived. Mum and Dad ran the store. We ran amok! I loved living there. I had all the space and freedoms in the world! But how seasons come and go! Here is me 40 years later just a couple of weeks ago standing next to what was our house. Here is all that is left of what used to be three very large wheat bins with attached living quarters for 15 to 20 blokes and a train station that Dad and I used to pick up and deliver the mail and freighted goods.
As I stood there in the remains of what used to be I remembered this chapter of the story. I asked myself then and do now, is this how God’s people felt as they were marched out of their completely destroyed Jerusalem by the Babylonian military with smoke still rising.
Did they feel the lostness as they looked over their shoulder walking away from their homes; their city; their story, their families, and most importantly; their temple – the place where they used to meet with the Lord for forgiveness and wisdom and praise? Is that how everyday Syrian families feel when IS comes to town. is that how any refugees feel as they flee?
How would you feel at so great a loss? Confused? Hurt? Angry? Guilty? Fearful? Empty? Hopeless? Despairing?
Are God’s people sometimes confronted with a season that makes them like a lone sailor who has exhausted all options and knows he can no longer even keep his life-boat afloat? They whisper to themselves, “All is lost”.
I don’t know what you have lost. I don’t know if you have uttered those words in earnest – “All is Lost”. You may have come close.
In dire circumstances that force the thought, “All is lost” , we have heard in these weeks in The Story that the Lord has simply stayed close; stayed verbal – still speaking, calling, asking, proclaiming his undying love and acceptance to a people who never deserved it but by sheer grace did received it by repentance and faith anyway.
The northern kingdom did not listen to the 38 prophets over 208 years. They were scattered to the winds never to reform. But that was the 10 other tribes. Judah was special. It was the tribe from which David came. It was the one tribe from whom a season would come when a perfect, just, wise, loving and powerful King of all kings would rule forever.
But King Manasseh in Judah did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any other king in history. (2 Chronicles 36:15-16).
Of the last 6 kings in Judah, only Josiah, who began his reign as an eight year old, was faithful to that first commandment; to love the Lord with heart, mind soul and strength – in other words – to trust the Lord for his life.
And now the unthinkable has happened. Judah is defeated and abandoned. The people are taken captive and brought to the far eastern country of Babylon as a slave labour force.
Surely the promise is dead. There is no coming back from this. The damage is too great, the mistakes too harmful, the guilt too overwhelming.
Is that how you feel about something or someone? If you live long enough and actually stand for something important in your family, your work place or your faith life in Christ, at some stage, this will be your experience.
As for slavery in Babylon; we might know more about that than we initially think. God’s people ended up living in a culture completely devoid of and generally opposed to their relationship of trust in the Lord. They were foreigners in a strange land and they certainly did weep “By the rivers of Babylon”, as the old song says. Surely they must have caught themselves believing, All is lost” more than once.
Is this our whisper too in modern Australia? Do we generally feel lost? Do we believe the church is lost and that the Lutheran church is largely lost?
If this greatest story ever told tells me one thing it is this: God is not lost even if many are or we feel we are!
If my baptism into Christ by the power of God’s Spirit tells me one thing it is this: I am not lost. The Lord says so.
If this terrible experience of loss and regret, guilt, fear and despair of God’s people in exile tells me one thing; as God’s community, we are not lost.
Sure: God proclaims that he cannot continue to bless Judah. Wayward heart, bad behaviour, bad words and terrible relationship troubles eventually have to be sorted out.
But he does more than that. He is not like negative neigh-sayer person who only ever tells of the trouble and the threat and the darkness. He gets on the front foot and provides a remedy and therefore hope when all seems lost.
He sends his man Ezekiel, to proclaim the hope of a return from this tragedy to him; a return to community; a return to purpose and direction in life together – to again be that everlasting nation under a perfect king, being what we have been called to be – the nation through whom the Lord pours out blessing to all nations.
Ezekiel lives this call – bodily in strange signs. He also remarkably tells the people that the altar in the Jerusalem actually has wheels on it. It is mobile. God’s presence is mobile. The Lord of the promise is still with them – even in exile; in the temptation to give up on faith, or reject their own their story, or forget what he did when they were baptised (or circumcised) into his gracious acceptance. (Ezekiel 36:23)
The Lord also sends that “weeping prophet”, Jeremiah to Judah. God calls Jeremiah while Jeremiah is still in the womb! (Jeremiah 1:4-5), such is the Lord’s haste to get us back!
Friend, you may have lost a lot. You may have got that moment when you really do wonder whether “All is Lost”: when it comes to being a faith-filled, joy-filled man, woman, young woman, young man of the Lord Jesus.
Life has its seasons. You may have experienced what it is to see something your once were a part of and even loved fall to the ground and be destroyed.
Let me tell you though, from what I hear today and what I hear among God’s faith-filled people often and in the living Word of his Son, my Saviour, all is never lost.
If your house burnt down, your body got seriously disabled, your mind started to go, you partner walked out, your kids left hardly ever to return, your gold fish died, you lost your hair, your team lost the grand final, the love of your life died, and life seemed like it was like that pile of tin and wood behind me, there would be One remaining with you.
He is the One who;
9 ……was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
His presence, power and promises are mobile and load bearing.
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
Jesus the new Temple, the Great High Priest, the new city of light, the new place of worship, the dead man carrying sin to his grave and risen. He has proven that he would get to you and stay with you walk on with you like he has me all these years.
All is never lost with our Saviour God. You are not lost. Your friends are not lost. Kingdoms fall and the world shakes. In the looking back and the wanting to move on, the Spirit calls out “be still and know that I am God”. We are found.
Chapter 17, the kingdom’s fall
Timeless Truth: Listen and live.
Chapter Summary (Have someone in your group read the summary section.)
Legacies are fragile things. Hezekiah had been King of Judah for nearly three decades. His reforms were sweeping, his achievements notable, his accolades many. He is listed among the few who “did what was right before the LORD His God.” After his death, his son Manasseh ascended to the throne and unraveled his father’s spiritual heritage. Manasseh’s reign marked a spiritual relapse from which the kingdom of Judah would not recover. He made a mockery of Hezekiah’s faithful reign and did more evil than any of his predecessors.
King Manasseh set up altars in the LORD’s temple where worshipping the stars accompanied worship of Jehovah. He filled Jerusalem with the blood of innocents and turned his own heart and his people’s hearts away from God. Manasseh was eventually captured by the Assyrian king and led off to Babylon in utter humiliation. At last, he turned to the LORD who had compassion on him and eventually allowed him to return to Jerusalem. God re-enters the story to give ultimate forgiveness even to the worst of kings.
But God’s people would not return to Him. They ignored the prophet’s warnings. So God did what He said He would do—He sent foreign armies to raid Judah. Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar laid three sieges against Judah and Jerusalem. The first came against King Jehoiakim and the second against King Jehoiachin. Nearly 10,000 Judeans were captured and taken away to Babylon. The king and the prophet Ezekiel were among their prisoners.
Ezekiel’s visions are some of the most colorful in all ancient literature and foretold of Jerusalem’s certain doom. God commissioned Ezekiel to speak truth to the exiles who disregarded their guilt, even when faced with such stern judgment. He refused to give up. He called Jeremiah to alert the adulterous people that they must own up to their reckless sin. And God also sent word that the worst was yet to come.
Zedekiah was Judah’s last and most pitiful king. His government was controlled by Babylon and he and the people rejected God, broke His Law, and defiled His temple. The time for judgment had come, so God arranged the final battle: King Nebuchadnezzar vs. King Zedekiah. The outcome was certain. An 18-month blockade left Jerusalem’s inhabitants weakened by famine. Zedekiah made a last ditch plea for help from the prophet Jeremiah, but no one much cared for Jeremiah’s response. He reported that Jerusalem would not be saved and he urged surrender as their only hope of survival. Most regarded his claims as treasonous.
In 586 BC, the Babylonian army broke through the walls of Jerusalem. They demolished the city, looted the temple, and led the people away to Babylon. Jeremiah was among the few who were left behind. He grieved the loss of his beloved city and mourned the sin of God’s people. He knew that Judah could have been saved, but even in his sorrow, this weeping prophet stood firm on the sure promises of God. He trusted that God would have compassion on the remnant who remained in Jerusalem.
It had been eight centuries since God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt. Now they were exiles in Babylon. Hope vanished. But God told Ezekiel that all was not lost. He reminded His people that He would one day cleanse and restore them. He assured their return to the homeland. And He promised that He would be their God.
To illustrate His point, God showed Ezekiel a valley of dry bones and asked, “Can these bones live?” When Ezekiel spoke God’s message to the bones, they came to life and stood like a vast army. This astonishing demonstration confirmed that even exile in Babylon would not hinder God’s great Upper Story and foretold a future resurrection for the faithful. Life would return to Israel’s dried up bones. God would make them a nation again. He would bring them back to their land. Only He could.
Icebreaker Question: What is the most memorable destruction or disaster that you have seen firsthand?
- List the evil things that King Manasseh did to arouse the anger of the LORD (p. 231-232). How did Judah compare to the pagan nations that the LORD had driven out of the Promised Land? (See the first full paragraph on p. 86 for insight.)
- What are the “starry hosts” (p.231)? What are the implications for astrology, horoscopes, and other “harmless” and “fun” fortune tellers?
- Who is most culpable for the sins of Judah—the people or their king? How can believers today avoid being led astray?
- What happened to King Manasseh? What do you think led him to change his ways?
- Review Isaiah’s prophecy made over one hundred years before Nebuchadnezzar’s attacks (p. 225-226). Compare Isaiah’s predictions with the events during the reigns of Kings Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.
- During the exile, God gave Ezekiel the mission of sharing his word with the Jews living in a foreign land. How does the Christian mission today resemble this situation?
- Jeremiah was still in Jerusalem after the first two sieges. According to his prophecy (p. 238-240), what single condition must be met for God to forgive the city? Are you as forgiving as God? Why or why not?
- Nebuchadnezzar’s final siege lasted eighteen months ending in 586 BC. How did King Zedekiah regard the LORD? What was God’s final word to him?
- After the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah grieved for his beloved city (p. 243-245). What did Jeremiah believe about the Upper Story of God? What specifically can we apply to our own lives from Jeremiah’s lament and praise?
- What did God promise He would do for Israel in spite of their great sin, their Babylonian exile, and their stone hearts (p. 245-246)? What does this teach you about God’s heart for His chosen nation?
In the time remaining ask your group members to share any of their personal reflection insights from their journal entries.
Chapter 18, Daniel in exile
Journal your answers to these questions as you read through the chapter this week. You may wish to read one day and journal the next, or spread the questions over the whole week.
- Carefully observe how the chapter describes Daniel (p. 249, 257-258, 259). Do other characters in the chapter confirm or deny such attributes?
- How does your prayer life compare to that of Daniel? Is it difficult for you to set aside time for regular prayer?
- Although they might have only been teenagers, Daniel and his friends stand out for their choices to observe a strict diet and only worship their God. How can you help the young people you know to be more like Daniel and his friends?
- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were punished for their faithfulness to God. How would you answer the question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to people of faith?”
- Daniel and his friends remained faithful to God, although they were given leadership positions in a pagan government. What can you learn from their leadership? What can you learn from their relationships with their boss and co-workers?
- Did God promise Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego deliverance from the fiery furnace? What consequences are you willing to accept in order to stand firm in your faith?
- Daniel’s integrity was so consistent and above reproach that even his enemies could find no grounds to accuse him (p. 257-258). Examine your own life. Do any inconsistencies exist between your public life and your private life?