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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:The LORD of All Nations
Text:Jeremiah 18:1-23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Justice
 
Preached:2015
Added:2022-07-02
Updated:2022-07-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Beautiful Savior  

Have Thine Own Way

Wherefore Do the Nations Rage

The Lord unto His Christ Has Said

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


07/05/2015
The LORD of All Nations”
 Jeremiah 18:1-23
 
In the United States, every Fourth of July we celebrate the founding of our nation. Yet any celebration of national blessings must recognize the hand of God. God is, as Scripture clearly teaches in many passages, the sovereign Lord over all nations. It is he who holds the heart of the king – that is, all politicians – in his hands and directs all nations and political leaders according to his will.
 
The truth of God’s sovereign rule is clearly taught in many passages of Scripture, including Jeremiah 18. As the chapter begins, we read how Jeremiah was instructed to go to the potter's house and there learn a lesson that he could relate to the people of Judah and the house of Israel. Jeremiah describes how he saw the potter working at the wheel, but the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him (v. 4).
 
Jeremiah, at that point, may have been wondering what the Lord's purpose was in sending him to the potter's house to watch the potter work the clay. But then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, in verse 5 and the verses that follow, explaining that just as the potter saw that the first pot he made was marred – and made a different pot from that same clay – so too the Lord would do as he wished with the nation of Judah and the house of Israel.
 
The Lord used the illustration of the potter and the clay to illustrate that all nations are in his hand. Through that illustration he teaches, first, that he blesses nations who repent. In verse 7 and 8 the Lord declares: ...If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.”
 
A striking example of those verses is the city of Nineveh. I'm sure that many of us remember the account of Jonah going the opposite direction of Nineveh, when he was told to go preach against that city. But then, after being swallowed by a great fish and being rescued by the Lord, he went to Nineveh, and proclaimed, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.”
 
The Ninevites took the word to heart, and they repented, from the king right on down to the common people. We read in Jonah 3:6-10 how Jonah proclaimed, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.  (Then) the Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.”
 
The king of Nineveh issued this proclamation: “‘Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’ When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.”
 
The Ninevites’ repentance, and the Lord’s sparing of their city, shows us the grace and mercy of God. He sends messengers to warn of judgment so that people have an opportunity to repent. Their repentance, or lack of it, will determine how the Lord will shape that nation or people. That is why the Lord sent prophets in the Old Testament era and sends faithful preachers today to proclaim the need to repent. When the people repent there is no longer the need for judgment. That is why the Lord declared in verse 8, And if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.”
 
You children have undoubtedly noticed when clay is cold how hard it is to shape and form. But when you have it in your hands, and knead the clay, as it warms up, it becomes pliable and it becomes easy to shape and mold. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit is teaching us that the composition of our heart, whether as individuals or as a nation, determines how God will shape and mold us.
 
Admittedly, the change comes from the Lord’s work within the heart of individuals and of nations. Only God can change the heart of an individual; only God can change the hearts of people in a whole nation, as he did with Nineveh so long ago. Because God’s work must necessitate change, we are to pray for God’s grace in bringing repentance to individuals and repentance within nations, including our own.
 
Those who respond to God's call for repentance, and place their faith in him alone, will be spared and blessed even as the Ninevites were so long ago. But those with a hard, cold heart, like brittle clay, will be destroyed.
 
The warnings of destruction for nations that celebrate evil and will not repent, are woven throughout Scripture. For instance, Jeremiah 12:17 declares this warning: “‘But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,’ declares the LORD.” And in the opening verses of chapter 20 we read of how the Lord would hand Judah over to the king of Babylon and allow the Babylonians to carry away their plunder as well as the people of Judah into exile.
 
As the Lord says in verse 9 and 10 “...If at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.”
 
Repentance and the Point of No Return
 
After going to the potter's house and learning the lesson from the potter and the clay, Jeremiah is told in verse 11 to go to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem. He was to give a message very similar to the one that Jonah gave to Nineveh: “Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.”
 
But the people of Judah did not react the way the Ninevites responded to the message that Jonah gave to them. Instead, their response in verse 12 shows that they were at a point of no return. They replied, “It’s no use. We will continue with our own plan; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart.’”
 
When an individual person, or when a whole culture, comes to that point where they callously reject the Lord and willfully follow the stubbornness of their own heart, they bring themselves to a point of no return.
       
Perhaps you have heard the expression, “God doesn't send people to hell, they send themselves.” There is some truth to that. Because of the hardness of their heart – because of their refusal to repent and to be molded and shaped by the Almighty Potter – the people of Judah brought themselves to a point of no return.
 
When people, as individuals or as a whole society, come to the point that the people of Judah came to, and echo the words of verse 12, “We will continue with our own plan; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart”, then God gives them over to their sin.
 
Romans chapter 1 clearly teaches that there is a point of no return for individuals and nations that continually reject the Lord. Three times over we are told that God gave them over to their own sins since they refused to repent and believe in his Son. As Romans 1:28-32 puts it:
 
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
 
When God gives a nation over, that nation comes to a place of no return. Ezekiel 14 speaks of inescapable judgment. Ezekiel 14:12, and the verses that follow, describe a nation that is at a point of no return:
 
“The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its men and their animals, even if these three men – Noah, Daniel and Job – were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD.
 
“Or if I send wild beasts through that country and they leave it childless and it becomes desolate so that no one can pass through it because of the beasts, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, even if these three men were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved, but the land would be desolate.
 
“Or if I bring a sword against that country and say, 'Let the sword pass throughout the land,' and I kill its men and their animals, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, even if these three men were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved.
 
“Or if I send a plague into that land and pour out my wrath upon it through bloodshed,
killing its men and their animals, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they could save neither son nor daughter. They would save only themselves by their righteousness.” (Ezekiel 14:12-20)
 
Before looking at any similarities between our culture and that of God's people in the Old Testament it is important to realize that Israel and Judah were unique in their relationship to the Lord. The United States, although undoubtedly richly blessed by God in a unique way over her history, is nevertheless described along with all the other nations of the world in Isaiah 40:15 as just “a drop in the bucket” before God.
 
By contrast, Old Testament Israel served as a type, or pattern, of the church. Israel was chosen by God and then led by him out of their bondage in Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. Their exodus illustrates the pilgrimage that all of us are on through the desert of this life as we travel to the eternal city God has prepared for those who believe in him alone for salvation from sin.
 
Old Testament Israel, because of their hardness of heart and disobedience to the word of the Lord, was taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Shortly thereafter, the people of Judah, from whom we have the human ancestry of Jesus Christ, were taken captive by the Babylonians because they also had hardened their heart against the Lord. By God’s grace they were able to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their homes, to rebuild the temple, and to have the privilege of being the human ancestors of Jesus, the Messiah.
 
Consequently, we realize that Israel and Judah were unique among all the nations of the world. They were unique in the hands of God in a way that no other nation, including the United States, is unique. Yet our nation bears a striking similarity to Israel and Judah of the Old Testament. The striking similarity is in that our nation has not only forgotten about the Lord; our nation has turned against the Lord and the teaching of his word with great animosity.
 
We have turned from God much as Israel and Judah did. In verse 15 the Lord says, “Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways and in the ancient paths. They made them walk in bypaths and on roads not built up.”
 
Because verse 15 talks about burning incense to worthless idols, it may seem at first glance that there would be no application to our country. But idolatry comes in many different forms. We can idolize even the good gifts God gives us, worshipping the gift instead of the Giver. As John Calvin pointed out, “The human heart is a perpetual idol factory”. 
 
Idolatry thrives in our culture – and in our hearts – today, just as surely as it did in the culture of Jeremiah's day. We have seen our culture turn from the Lord as it idolizes virtually every type of anti-Christian thought and action.
 
The Word of God Despised
 
A second similarity: We see within our culture where the Word of God is despised. In verse 18, after Jeremiah has told the people to repent and turn to the Lord, they respond by saying, “Come, let’s make plans against Jeremiah; for the teaching of the law by the priest will not be lost, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. So come, let's attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.”
 
The people of Judah had their priests who told them what they wanted to hear. Their priests told them that they were just fine in the sight of the Lord and that their sin was no problem at all to God. But because Jeremiah warned of judgment and called for repentance, he was attacked, ridiculed, and in Chapter 20 we find him put in stocks. That was just one of the many tortures that he underwent for being faithful in calling for repentance.
 
Not much has changed. It is tragic how many churches and denominations rejoice that moral decay, including gay marriage, is accepted and advocated for across our land. And those same churches are quick to say that Christians who call for repentance or speak of the judgment of God are like the Pharisees whom Jesus condemned for their holier than thou attitude.
 
One of the most ridiculed men in America is the son of one of America’s best-known evangelists. Innumerable articles have been written denouncing Franklin Graham for the biblical stand that he has taken against the tide of immorality in our land. Those who denounce and ridicule are saying in effect what the people said about Jeremiah, “...Come, let's attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.”
 
Good Repaid with Evil
 
 A third striking similarity: Good is repaid with evil. In Jeremiah's prayer, he prayed in verse 20, “Should good be repaid with evil? Yet they have dug a pit for me. Remember that I stood before you and spoke in their behalf to turn your wrath away from them.”
 
Jeremiah spoke to them for their own good. Jeremiah urged them to be compliant in the hands of the Almighty Potter, repenting of their sins and putting their faith and trust in God. But instead of being thankful for looking out for their good, they repaid him with evil. He was threatened with death, thrown in a dry cistern, put in stocks and publicly ridiculed. All because he spoke the truth of God’s Word.
 
The world in which Jeremiah lived was defined by one of his contemporaries who wrote these words of warning from the Lord. Isaiah 5:20 declares: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”
 
But I trust that you see that it wasn't just the culture of the Old Testament that called evil good and defined good as evil. That is exactly what our culture has done, and that is what the majority of people in this country – according to the polls and news media – believe. Good is labeled evil and evil is called good.
 
Prayers for Those in Authority
 
How are we to respond (on this Fourth of July weekend)? How are we to react to the increasing wickedness of our culture? What do we do in the face of rising animosity against the true church?
 
First, we are to pray for our nation.  Did you notice in the closing verses of Jeremiah 18, how Jeremiah's prayer is an imprecatory prayer? He prayed for God's judgment on the land. He had good reason to do so because the Lord had previously told him that the land was coming under his inevitable judgment.
 
In fact, twice in previous chapters Jeremiah was told not to pray for the country. Jeremiah 7:16, “Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.”  Jeremiah 11:14, “Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.” The people had hardened themselves to the point of no return; God had given them over for judgment.
 
By contrast, Paul told Timothy to pray for kings and all those in authority. The nation Paul and Timothy lived in was incredibly wicked. There was no love for Christians in the culture of that day. People took delight in filling the amphitheaters to watch Christians be torn limb by limb by lions, burned to death, or be put into the skins of wild animals, and thrown before animals to be torn apart and killed. This world is no friend to grace. It wasn't in Jeremiah’s day, or in Paul’s day, or today.
 
And that's why we are told to pray for our nation. Specifically, we are told, in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 to pray for kings and all those in authority so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
 
That is an especially contemporary prayer request. Our federal government has specifically targeted the rights of Christians while at the same time advancing and giving special privileges to those who oppose Christianity.
 
The ability to live a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and holiness is being threatened in the United States today. Prayer is so crucial. But even if our nation falls, we know that the Lord will see his people through, just as he did for Jeremiah, Daniel, Noah, and all the others who by God’s grace have saving faith in Christ alone. Not even the sword of martyrdom can separate the Christian from their Savior. Rather, the last enemy to be destroyed, death, becomes our entranceway into glory.
 
Proclaiming God’s Word without Compromise
 
As we pray for our nation, we are to proclaim the truth of God’s Word without compromise. History has shown that people do not want to hear the truths of God's Word, but rather they want to gather around them teachers who will tell them what their itching ears want to hear. That was true for Jeremiah; and it is true for us today. People want a form of “spirituality”, but they do not want to hear the truths of God’s Word concerning their sin and their need for the only Savior, Jesus Christ. They are like King Jehoiakim who burned Jeremiah’s scroll, column by column, because he did not want to heed God’s Word. (Jeremiah 36:20-26)
 
And because of that, there is a great temptation to compromise, even within many churches. The compromise says that we can be Christians and still tolerate sin. We can be Christians and condone not only homosexual conduct, but virtually any type of sinful conduct. And if you claim to be a Christian and you don't condone the things that go on in the world, then you are filled with hate, not love, in the opinion of our culture.
 
For instance, a previous president is often held up as an example of what it means to be a Christian and to be loving and kind toward all people. After all, that previous president says that he is a Christian. He quotes from Scripture. He can sing Amazing Grace. And, as his thinking evolved, he became more enlightened and educated; he became an advocate for gay marriage, celebrating it by lighting up the White House in the colors of gay pride.
 
What is the difference, in the eyes of the world, between people like us who say they are Christian, quote the Scripture and sing Amazing Grace, yet don't condone the immorality that has become so popular?  The difference is that we are filled with hate in the eyes of the world, whereas others – those who say they are Christians but condone every form of depravity – are filled with love.
 
That is why laws against “hate crimes” have been enacted. Laws have been made which make speaking out against sin a hate crime. Their purpose is to take away the freedom of biblical expression. And there is little doubt that as time moves forward, they will be strictly enforced.
 
In this hostile atmosphere there is a temptation to compromise. The temptation is put before us to take the easy way out. But that's precisely why the apostle Paul warned Timothy, in 2 Timothy 4, Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim. 4:2-4)
 
Standing Firm to the End
 
We are to pray for our culture. We are to proclaim the Word of God without compromise. And thirdly, as we see the ever-increasing wickedness of our culture, each one of us must be ready for the return of the Lord.
 
Do you recall these words of Jesus, in Matthew 24? He said, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
 
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (7-13)
 
In that same 24th chapter of Matthew Jesus says, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (36-39).
 
That is another reason why we are to pray for our culture, for our neighbors, co-workers and family members who do not believe, because the day will come when Jesus returns and it will be too late to be saved. Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation”, 2 Corinthians 6:2, along with many other passages, proclaim.
 
But even as we pray for others, Scripture calls us to examine our own lives. The people of Jeremiah's day thought they were doing just fine, even when they were on the brink of destruction.
 
The only way to be saved from your sin is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). No one comes to the Father apart from saving faith in Christ alone, for, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
 
When, by God’s grace and Spirit’s power we have saving faith in Christ alone, then we need not fear the rising tide of evil in our land. Instead, we can fully trust in the faithfulness of our Lord, knowing that one day he will come to right all wrongs and to receive his people to himself as Christ judges the living and the dead.
 
In a sinful and hostile world, may you and I always be ready for that great and glorious day! Amen.
 
 
Sermon Outline:
 
“If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn
down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I
will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.” - Jeremiah 18:7-8
 
                                         “The LORD of All Nations”
                                                   Jeremiah 18:1-23
 
I.  Any celebration of national blessings must recognize the hand of God, who:
     1) Blesses nations who repent (7, 8)
 
 
 
     2) Brings judgment on nations that turn from Him (9, 10; Jeremiah 12:17;
         19:15; 20:1-6)
 
 
 
     3) Warns that there is a point of no return (12; Ezek. 14:12-23; Rom. 1:24, 26, 28)
 
 
 
II. Israel and Judah were unique in their relationship to the Lord, yet our nation
     bears a similarity in that:
     1) We have turned from God (15)
 
 
 
     2) The Word of God is despised (18)
 
 
 
     3) Good is repaid with evil (20; Isaiah 5:20)
 
 
 
III. Our response: We are to pray for our nation (1 Timothy 2:1-2), not wavering
      in proclaiming the truth of God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:2-4), being always ready
      for the return of the Lord (Matthew 24:7-14, 36-40)
 
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Ted Gray

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