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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1268

August 21, 2016 Jeremiah 33:14-16

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

 

"The Impossible Possibility of Hope"

 

 

  • Jerusalem Under Siege

It was a horrible time for God and God’s people. I do not think we can appreciate the hardship Jerusalem and its people were under during the time of 588 and 587(BCE) because we have never been in the midst of such devastation in our own homeland. The situation was exile. God’s people were on the verge of being driven from their homes and homeland. Babylon was a powerful nation standing at the gates of Jerusalem ready to enter. Jeremiah had been imprisoned, accused of being a traitor to his people. Let us look for a moment at what lead to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple of God.

Nebuchadnezzar was in control of the region of Asia and Palestine and plotted to take the cities surrounding Jerusalem one by one until he could walk right into Jerusalem. In the middle of this desperate situation was God's prophet, Jeremiah. As I mentioned he was taken prisoner by his own King because the word he gave from God said that anyone who stayed in Jerusalem would be killed, but any who gave themselves up to the Babylonians would be alive even if a prize of war (Jeremiah 21:9). This was obviously treason in the eyes of Jerusalem's leaders, but Jeremiah was convinced that, not only was Babylon against Jerusalem, but God himself opposed the city.

But Jeremiah was not arrested right away, because some leaders felt he might even be right. It was not until there was a break in the fighting and the Babylonians had lifted their siege that Jeremiah was arrested. The picture is one of the chaos of war and threat and uncertainty.

The unsettled nature of this region is still evident today as Israel and Palestine, Jews, Christians, and Muslims still have great conflict in this area of the world. Things are settled in some ways and unsettled in others. It is perhaps the most complex area in the world and certainly not a place then and now that one would want to invest in things like land.

 

  • Jeremiah Buys Land

 

Jeremiah, in the middle of the chaos buys a piece of land. If West Virginia was about to be taken over by an outside force, I do not think we would consider it a wise time to buy property.

In Palestine, land was worthless – so why buy land? One reason, God told him to..."Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours" (Jeremiah 32:7). Jeremiah was one to do what God said, just about the only one about this time in the history of Israel, which is why they are in so much trouble. But Jeremiah heeds the command of God to buy land even in the face of the whole nation of Israel being driven from their land. Jeremiah demonstrates the ultimate confidence in God’s command, being obedient no matter the apparent hopeless situation.

Another reason to buy land is that God's ways are often hidden and God has a plan for the future. God’s promises are true. We often cannot see what God is doing, what God has planned. But the beauty of faith is in trusting God’s future and keeping commandment in the face of hopelessness.

When everything is hopeless, as far as we can see, God is still Lord. When we stand at the grave of a loved one and realize that we can never say another word or do another thing for that one – God has a plan. When society and culture seems to be getting worse and worse with regard to Christian values – God has a plan. When we struggle to make ends meet – God has a plan. When our world may seem to be falling apart before our very eyes – God is faithful still.

Hope is evident in our willingness to hope and believe when so many people are doing neither and even doing all things possible to end the hopes and beliefs of Christians.

While Jeremiah saw his city and people threatened by total destruction and captivity, he followed God's command. Jeremiah hoped when all seemed hopeless.

 

  • Zedekiah ‑ The Lord is our Righteousness

 

The reality was not that Babylonia would retreat and leave Jerusalem alone. They would indeed destroy the city and burn the temple and drive out the people. King Zedekiah was the last king of Israel in a succession of bad Kings. He was the last hope of Israel. But he failed, like the three kings before him. It is ironic that Zedekiah was the last king to rule in Israel. Zedekiah's name is from the Hebrew word for righteousness. But he was far from righteous. It was like calling a slow person "speedy" or a big person "tiny." It was hoped that Zedekiah would be the righteous king to lead Israel, but like the last three before him, he was a bad king. The reality of Jeremiah's world is that Jerusalem is overrun and Zedekiah's leadership ran his people into ruin. Jeremiah is taken captive and the temple is destroyed. The hope of a nation has run through four kings and is crushed by the conquering Babylonians.

 

  • Jeremiah Still Has Hope

 

"...the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah a second time...The days are coming when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.

In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord is our righteousness" (Jeremiah 33:1, 14-16).

 

 

King Zedekiah was the hope for righteousness but failed to be that righteousness. So the promise comes to Israel that a king will come, a king will spring up for David’s line, a king who will indeed be the embodiment of righteousness and justice. There is still a king to come, and the promise is for a righteous king. Righteousness will come. That is the word and promise of God. Jeremiah had the courage to proclaim that promise, to speak against the earthly king and announce the good news of a coming king. We know that king today in the person of Jesus Christ. It is through his righteousness that we can know a hope that does not disappoint. We can know the hope that goes beyond Christian enemies, the hope that reaches farther than upcoming elections, and the hope that overcomes all the troubling concerns of this life.

 

 

  • America Under Siege

 

Some believe America (like Jerusalem long ago) is under siege, perhaps even under the judgment of God. There are certainly enemies at the gates and perhaps more dangerous are those “within the gates.” We might argue that external terrorism or even internal terrorism is not as big a threat as the pursuit of eliminating God from our national identity and history. We see so many more enemies of the church, those in our country to oppose Christianity and much of what we believe the nation to hold as foundational to our strength. As far as our nation is considered, we have never faced the kinds of problems and enemies as we do today. Is America under siege? Is God acting toward us like he did against Jerusalem? We pray that that is not so. But the reality is that we are falling deeper and deeper into a separation between sacred and secular. We face numerous problems that call for justice and righteousness. It is disheartening to turn on the news or read the papers anymore for fear of reading about another injustice and story of corruption. With all that is going on today, it is a time that brings greater possibilities of hopelessness.

 

 

  • The Church Prays, Hopes, and Believes

 

Hope seems hopeless at times, but like Jeremiah who bought land when land was worthless, we buy into the promises of God that call us to pray when prayer is frowned upon in the public life. We buy into the hope that is Jesus Christ when we are bombarded by the gods of this world tempting us to worship them. We believe in one God alone even though society rejects God and calls us to believe only in what we can see and hear and touch.

If America is under siege, although a very different threat than that against Jerusalem long ago, then it is all the more the time for the church to pray, to hope, and to believe.

When times are most difficult, we look for the signs of Christ’s coming, for the signs of his kingdom. We hope against all hope. We look to the promise of God to send the righteous king, the zedeka, the righteousness.

 

  • A Succession of Presidents

 

We might even look back at our succession of Presidents like the kings of Israel, a connection cannot be made too closely, but history shows that with each new name for president there is hope for a better future. In Jeremiah's day it was King Jehoahaz, then Jehoiachim, followed by Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.

 

We have looked to Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush 2, and Obama each with promises for a brighter future. We may or may not consider how any of those names have the same hope of a name like Zedekiah, which itself means "righteousness", and our hope wanes quickly as soon as any leader takes office. With the next Presidential election, hope will rise again for some people, but our hope is not in the rulers of this world or in policies or in ideologies. Our hope is in the One whose promises are sure and trustworthy. Our hope is in the one who is righteousness. Our hope is in God. Our hope is Jesus Christ.

 

 

  • The Impossible Possibility of Hope

 

When hope seems impossible there is the word from the Righteous One of God. There is a promise of a brighter future. There is the command to buy land where we would never buy land. There is the command to buy into the things of heaven, store up treasures in heaven. That is the hope and faith in discipleship. We wait in a world filled with darkness with the hope that God will bring Zedeka ‑ righteousness.

I remember growing up with the TV show Mission Impossible. This was before the modern movies with Tom Cruise. This was when TV had really cool shows like Mission Impossible. Mission Impossible was about an elite group of spies taking on missions that seemed impossible to anyone else but they were able to make them possible. Hope might sometimes seem like an impossible mission in the midst of our darkening world, but hope is the impossible possibility, the only possibility for our future in Christ. Reminds me of Isaiah 50:10, Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.” This may be our greatest call in modern times, even while darkness surrounds us, we trust in the Lord and rely on him. This is our hope and call. Do not let the news of the day or the tide of darkness diminish our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.