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Author:Pastor Dirk Boersma
  Free Reformed Churches of South Africa
Preached At:Emmanuel American Reformed Church
 Denver, Colorado
Title:God speaks and directs world affairs
Text:Jeremiah 1:4-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 121, 1-3
Reading of the law
Ps 67
Scripture reading: Jeremiah 1
Ps 44,1.4
Sermon text: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Ps 46, 3.4
Hymn 62
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Dirk Boersma, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Theme: God speaks and directs world affairs
1 God transmits His words through people
2 He addresses the situation of the times

Congregation of the Lord, who is king of heaven and earth,

The Bible is unlike newspapers. You never read: "Yesterday afternoon at 14:00, God caused an earthquake off the coast of California." Or: "God warned the leaders of all nations today that they must stop abusing their power. If they do not obey the directives He has sent them, they will be replaced. This caused unrest that was felt in all stock exchanges."

This is really what happened in the time of the Bible, in the past. A prophet would stand up and give a word from God, concerning the situation of the moment. Later, the apostles would stand up and say: "What just happened is the fulfillment of what God had spoken centuries ago."

We don't get any direct messages from God any more.
And you start wondering: how is God involved in what happens today and tomorrow?
The world is in chaos, it makes no sense. Suicide bombings blow the roadmap for peace to pieces. There is growing concern about the feasibility of stability in Iraq. Is God involved in those things? Does He let this happen? Does He give us any direction?

And that is far away, on a world level. What about your own life? Can you make sense of what happens? The illness you can't explain; expectations that don't come out and leave you disappointed. You need direction for raising you children. You don't know how to reach the other person and communicate with him or her.
You wonder: where is God? Does He do anything? Does he speak to me?

You can long for the time when God's Word was clearly spoken: 'Thus says the Lord'. Often, people did not like it, but at least it was clear.
The only thing we have is the Bible, it seems.
God has spoken - but has His Word any meaning today?

We read these old words from Jeremiah's time, 2600 years ago. Is that for us? Is it about us?

We will find an answer to these questions as we listen to God's word today.

God speaks and directs world affairs
1. God transmits His words through people
2. He addresses the situation of the times

1. God transmits His words through people
How does God speak to us? How does He make His will about current affairs known, and how does He influence them? How does He give us direction in our daily lives, at home, at work, at school?

In the previous sermon (see #1 in the series), we heard about the terrible situation in God's people. His Word was gone, because it had been neglected and denied. The official policy in the kingdom of Judah for the past 60 years had been contrary to God's will. It had not been not neutral, but clearly anti-Christian.
Don't you think that the faithful believers in those days would have thought: 'What will happen? Will this ever change? Where is God? Does He do anything?'
And wouldn't they have continued to pray for change, for repentance: a return to the worship of God who had given them this land and who had always been good to them?

Then, God sent a faithful king, in order to change the country's direction. His mission was to remove idol worship from the land, and change the course of the foreign and domestic policy.
However, we found that the king could not turn things around. It is not enough to change state laws, if the hearts of the people don't change. And removing the places of idol worship in public is good, but it does not remove the people's desire for idols. One faithful king reminded the people of God's intention and showed them how God's will was to be obeyed, something they had not heard and seen in years. But he was ultimately powerless to change their hearts and to save them.

You can hear the ominous signs of the coming catastrophe in the first verses of this chapter. The first three verses say that the word of Yahweh came to Jermiah during the reign of the last kings of Judah, ending in the exile. A Dutch commentary on Jeremiah has the title "From Reformation to deportation." What a perspective for someone who just starts his ministry! Jeremiah may not have known the outcome when he was called. These verses were probably penned afterward, as an introduction to the book. But as we read it, we get an inkling of what is going to happen.

Why does God send His word in a time when Judah is going downhill, and when He has told Josiah that the nation will definitely go into exile, and their land will be destroyed? Does this make sense? Isn't that like trying to save the Titanic after she has hit the iceberg?

When you see your children or relatives choosing the wrong path, ignoring God's commandments and choosing a course that will bring them only misery and may destroy their lives, what will you do?
You know your children have wrong friends who influence them. You see your siblings growing away from God, engaging in a godless lifestyle. What are you going to do?
You can give in and say: 'Well, it is their choice.' But you will probably do the opposite: you will try to talk to them and warn them more strongly when you see that they become more obstinate and resolute to go on. It will also depend on how much responsibility you have over them, but if you really love them, you will not let them go but warn them, and make sure they realize the consequences of their choice.

This helps us to understand part of the reason. Indeed, God did not let them go, and say to himself: 'There is no stopping these people from getting punished. I better stop talking to them.' No, he sends yet another prophet, to speak his Word in that specific situation. Until the final moment, they will hear His word addressing their situation, they will hear his response to their twisted thinking, and He will tell them why He is punishing them. The events will not go by unnoticed and without meaning.

Here we need to remember the framework that helps us understand the whole book of Jeremiah. The words that God speaks through Jeremiah remind the people of the covenant He made with them. They call them back to faithfulness in the covenant, something they had promised to God. God repeats His claim for their allegiance, reminds them that what they are and what they own is His. And He tells them clearly that what is going to happen to them is the punishment they deserve for breaking the covenant.

God does not let it go. He is actively involved, and He had already been raising a prophet. He tells Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
The words God uses have a special significance. He set Jeremiah apart - that word reminded every Israelite of the special position of Israel: set apart for God. And Jeremiah needed to know that God had chosen him and set him apart for a special task: to speak God's words to the nations.

God chooses a simple instrument to speak His Word: a young boy. Jeremiah's response to his calling tells you that he is just a boy. The word he uses referred to boys at different ages: it is used for Moses as a baby, when he was found drifting in his basket; and for Joseph when he was seventeen. Jeremiah was obviously old enough to understand what was happening, and had probably not yet reached the age that he was considered an adult. He could have been 15 or 25 years old. Let's say he was 15, and had not had any official and public duties yet. No wonder he was afraid to speak in public!

These words of God are the proof that Jeremiah is a legitimate prophet of Yahweh. He did not appoint himself; if it was up to him, he'd rather not be a prophet!

God provides him with the authority to speak in His name, and say: 'This is the word of the Lord.' He is appointed to be the official spokesperson for God.
But this means that he must literally transfer God's words to His people. His book also gives us descriptions of Jeremiah's actions, probably mostly written by Baruch, his secretary. However, most of the book consists of words from God that Jeremiah had to transmit directly, without any addition or change. It was like: 'God says:' quote . unquote.

We see that God is working in a particular way. His Word does not drop from heaven in a scroll, or on golden plates, like the Mormons believe. He speaks his words to messengers, who live in a certain time in history, are part of the population, and speak His words to the people in the language of that time, addressing that specific situation, but always speaking only what God told them.
God does not choose impressive people. This young boy probably won't be taken seriously. He does not wield any power as part of the establishment. But the fact that God was speaking through him was enough to establish his credibility. The people would see that his words came true, which was the proof of a true prophet.

Symbolically, God puts his words in Jeremiah's mouth, by touching his lips. This reminds us of what God had said to Moses in Deut18,18: "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him."
Another prophet in the line starting with Moses is commissioned to speak God's word.

There was a need for a literal communication of God's words. There were many prophets around who claimed to be His prophets, but in fact only made up their own message, depending on the circumstances. They spoke things the people wanted to hear, what pleased the king and his advisors, and what sounded patriotic.
This caused conflict between Jeremiah and those so-called prophets. Jeremiah was the only one commissioned by God, and he always spoke God's Word straight.
Think of it like a movie. Sometimes, you can buy a special DVD with 'the director's cut': it contains several scenes that the director liked, but that were deleted by the editors somewhere in the process. The film did not come out with those scenes, but this special edition has them.
Jeremiah's message was even better than the director's cut: it was uncut; nothing was left out from what God had told him.
This message is pure, plain and straightforward. There is no smooth talking, no playing up to people.

How great was the need for such pure words! When there are many different voices around, you need to know which message you can trust. The last king of Judah, Zedekiah, was in that situation: Hananiah, a false prophet, told him that the Lord said that He would break the yoke of Babylon (see chapter 28). In other words: Judah would not have to be afraid, the siege of Jerusalem would end and they could all breath freely. So there would not be any punishing of Judah, either, as God had promised. This was a false prophet trying to bring false hope in the people's hearts, by playing on their hopes for the restoration of Judah's glory. With his false message, he discouraged them to repent and return to God.
Jeremiah challenged him, because it would mean that God had changed his mind, since all the prophets that had come in God's name before had prophesied war, disaster, and plague. Shortly afterwards, God told Jeremiah that Hananiah would die, because he preached rebellion against the Lord. He died that same year.

There is a great need for a prophet at the king's side: God's Word is independent, it should not be constrained by politics. Unlike presidents, God's prophet does not have connections with powerful people who help him get elected, and later expect him to support them. There are no voters to please. God's prophet has only one loyalty: God.

Although we are in a different position and no longer get direct messages from God, we can recognize the same need for the undiluted word of God to be declared publicly. So many different messages are floating around on the airwaves, and the media offer you many different opinions. People who don't want to serve God can find affirmation in what they hear in our free society. Most of it does not call people back to God. And even the people and organizations that claim to speak in God's name do not always do that purely, faithfully following what God has said.
God sent his church into the world to proclaim His kingdom and to make His will known. Everybody must know that there is only one name that brings salvation: the name of Christ. And they must hear that there is no future for them unless they submit to Him. Because God has appointed Jesus as the supreme ruler over the whole earth.

It is no accident that Jesus was called the highest prophet. He said of himself: 'I have told them everything you have commanded me.' He was faithful to the Father, who sent Him.

As Christians in this world, as the church of Christ, we should realize that the Word of God must still be made known publicly. We must speak God's word faithfully, without adapting it to people's opinions. Because God is still actively involved in this world. He is directing it and He makes happen what He has announced earlier.
What we need to do, is not wait for new revelations but study the Word of God and prayerfully discover how it speaks about our times. We should not only be looking for comfort for our own personal situation, but realize that God speaks to the whole world. He wants his church to confront the world with the words He has spoken, to show them the way out in Jesus Christ, to remind them of His promises, and to call them to repentance.

What authority do you have to do this? God has entrusted his church with His Word, and given us the mandate to preach it to all nations and make them disciples.
And He tells us that He has put Jesus in charge of this world. He is the king who rules this world and directs daily affairs down here by the power of His Word. That is what we need to see in the next part:

2. He addresses the situation of the times
Another reason why Jeremiah needed these words from God was the nature of his mission. His work was going to be nasty and dangerous.
Being a prophet in God's service is not something that you look for as a nice promotion from your current job. Hosea found that out earlier, and with Jeremiah and Ezekiel it was no different. God made them do things they did not like, in order to exemplify to Israel what they had done and what God was going to do. Hosea had to marry a prostitue; Ezekiel was tied down to the ground for more than a year. Jeremiah was going to suffer under the resistance against his message. He would almost drown in a muddy cistern because he was accused of high treason.

When you are facing such dangers, you need encouragement, protection, and comfort. And this is what God is giving him: "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and I will rescue you." God promises him in v. 8. That is a strong promise, and it tells you how fierce the resistance and hatred would be that Jeremiah was going to face. How can a young man ever survive this and not give up? He can get discouraged, and quit. Or people might kill him in order to silence him.
God will not let that happen. He tells Jeremiah not to be afraid, because He will protect him. After all, what can happen if the almighty God is behind you to protects you? Not that nothing will happen to him, but God will rescue him under all circumstances, and make sure they will not succeed in silencing him.

Why is this necessary? What is at stake?
God appoints Jeremiah as a prophet, not only to Judah, but to the nations. God gives him his task description in v. 10: "See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant."

Uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow - those are pretty violent activities. And that is going to be the effect of Jeremiah's words: people start getting unnerved, they lose their self-built securities; God destroys them with his message of the coming judgment, which will lead to the destruction of Jerusalem.

His words are going to have an impact, not only because they trigger resistance, but because they are the words of God, and His words are words that happen, that bring change, that execute His plan.
First, destruction of people's security is necessary, the thwarting of their plans for survival. Not only in Judah, but also in the surrounding nations: they are instruments of God in punishing Judah, but they arrogantly push their own agenda; they enjoy being in control.

Destruction is not the only thing that God's words through Jeremiah are going to cause. He also has the task to build and to plant. After people's deep-rooted resistance against God and their sense of self-sufficiency are uprooted like weeds in a garden, God is going to plant something else: His own kingdom amongst His people. That kingdom will span the whole earth.

From the start, we see that God's power is not limited to the nation of Israel and their territory. God is not like the gods of the other nations: local gods that have power only in the territory where they are worshiped. God is the creator and owner of the whole earth. Every nation must serve and obey Him, acknowledge Him in that capacity. Although God concentrates his attention on one nation, Israel, and limits his presence to them, He shows us that He is in control of the whole earth. When we read the book Jeremiah, we will find a whole section with prophecies to the nations. God addresses them through Jeremiah. And in his dealings with His people, He shows that He is in control of the whole world situation.

Imagine, Israel is this small country sandwiched in between these enormous empires and other nations, that threaten to squash it. The kings of Israel and Judah are constantly afraid and always feverishly trying to protect themselves with this and that treaty. When you look at it from the outside, their survival seems to depend on military power and the right connections, shifting loyalty to the strongest player in the region.
But the one really in control, is God. When Babylon crushes Israel and Judah, God tells them through His prophets that these enemies are His instruments. And when Cyrus, king of Persia, gives the exiles permission to return, he acknowledges that the Lord, the King of heaven, has given him that power, and appointed him to build a temple for Him. (2Chron36,22).
Really, the history of a very turbulent century, full of violence, destruction, death, massive movements of people, in which Israel is only a small piece, is all in the hands of God.
Presumptuous? Yes, unless you are the Creator of heaven and earth, and the eternal God who is almighty. He is the King of heaven and earth. And He appoints Jeremiah to speak the words that will be fulfilled and that will determine the course of history, not only for Judah and Israel, but for that whole region, reaching far into the future.

Where does this leave us, brothers and sisters?
If you think of your personal life, you can find comfort. God is powerful enough to determine the direction of history and to use mighty empires as his instruments; He is able to intervene in your life, too.

But there is a danger here. Because our culture is so individualistic, concentrating on their personal lives has become an obsession for most people, and it limits their horizon. We should not let ourselves be influenced by this trend by always asking first what this means for my life and my own wellbeing.
Some parts of Scripture give us promises for our personal lives and show us how God is involved. Let us find comfort in God's love for us in Christ, and realize that indeed God is involved in our lives, including all the details.

This passage, however, shows us that there is something much bigger. God is accomplishing his purposes in this world. He is carrying out his plan, and establishes his kingdom on earth.
He will uproot and destroy: when people trust in their accomplishments, in the economy, military power, or science. Everything we use to push God from His throne can be taken away by Him - just like that. This means that in our prayers, we should not only ask for a quiet and happy life, living undisturbed in a wonderful, prosperous country with a strong economy. It may very well be that God is going to bring a country like this to its knees because it stands up against God. Somehow we think that the big power centers of our times are going to be there forever. But the Sovjet Union has fallen into pieces even in our lifetime. Look at all the players on the board in the time of Jeremiah: where are they now? The proud king Nebuchadnezzar is long gone, dead, and judged by the Almighty God he resisted.

What is constant? Whom should we rely on?
Open your eyes in God's world, and you see Jesus: appointed as King over the whole earth. He received all power from God. He will fulfill God's purposes and realized them by His power.

Let us not be silent about what our King Jesus is doing. Remember that all God's words spoken in the past have come true. Jeremiah's prophecies have all been fulfilled. God's words really happen!

That should urge us, first, to put our trust in Jesus, who is King in heaven and on earth. And second, to continue to speak His Word to a world that does not see Him and does not take His kingdom into account.
Do not be afraid when you proclaim His kingdom. When you point people to Christ, and tell them who is really in charge, don't be ashamed of Him. Although you cannot see Him now, He has given us every assurance that He will return, and His reward will be with Him.

Whenever we bring God's word and profess of faith either in the church or outside, we should keep this in mind: this is God's world, where His words determine things. Jesus will come back. Let us make sure that we are prepared by following Him in our daily lives. And let us prepare others for His coming, so that they will not be unpleasantly surprised when the moment comes.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Dirk Boersma, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2003, Pastor Dirk Boersma

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