We are reading Ezekiel and Jeremiah. In the midst of all the judgment and warnings, Jeremiah gives us an amazingly comforting message from God:
31:31-36, 32:36-41, 33:6-16.
Now, you must understand that Jeremiah spoke these words just as the Babylonians had come to destroy Jerusalem and take them into captivity.
By all appearances all Israel and Judah are done for. Their time has come to an end as a great nation. Their sins have finally brought them to utter ruin and God’s wrath is poured out on them so that they think that they are no longer His people.
That’s what they were saying. But they are wrong.
A friend of mine, Roy Smith, once told me of a time when his dad and brothers were all up in Alaska on a hunting trip. They were packing a lot of meat to bring home and were about to fly back to Juno on a small plane together.
He said that the pilot mentioned the maximum weight for takeoff and that they were close but he thought it would be ok. Roy said the runway was short and dumped out over a steep cliff and as they were taking off the plane never left the ground till they dove off the cliff, nose down, looking like they were going to crash. Roy’s dad bellowed out, “Hang on boys! This could be it!” Roy said they knew they were all going to die. It was over. But it wasn’t. When they pulled out of the descent and began climbing they all praised the Lord. What looked like the end, wasn’t. Roy said that they all talked about that event for years.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel give us perhaps the longest section in our Old Testament Bibles covering a very short but terribly tragic period of the history of God’s people. God preserves this large body of prophecy and history. Why? What’s so significant about the fall of Judah and Jerusalem that calls for all these pages and pages of biblical accounting? If you are reading with us, as I’m sure most of you are, you are probably wondering by now just how much more of this you can stand. Can I get an Amen?
Let me share something with you that may help. If we didn’t have these books, we would not know the extent of Judah’s depravity. They, like our times, hit bottom morally and spiritually. They, as a nation, had turned from God to idols, which we in our secular contemporary western world might think insignificant. But this was the root cause of the decay. Judah had the Bible, but not the faith. They had the temple, priests, prophets and history to know better. But they entangled themselves with the immoral cultures and idolatrous values of the nations around them. They were enmeshed in such immoral behaviors as sacrificing their children, enslaving their poor, lusting after their neighbors, practicing all kinds of sexual and immoral behaviors. The filth of their sins was piling up and weighing them down so that God’s justice demanded His punishment, God’s wrath was poured out upon them. But not before warning after warning after warning was proclaimed and declared to them. These long pages of Jeremiah and Ezekiel that wear us out are there to remind us that God made it clear to them what was coming and what price would be paid for their sins. But there’s an interesting twist at the end, we learn that God’s justice and mercy are both at work, and that God has a long term goal. Let’s think about this a minute.
How many of us here have had a spanking? Most of us have had that experience. The purpose of a spanking or punishment has multiple facets. One is the justice of getting what our deeds deserve. That’s some of what’s behind the statement, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This facet of punishment is a justification to make one pay a penalty for an infraction. The death penalty is the capitol punishment for the most serious offenses one can commit. Lessor crimes incur lessor penalties. But justice is the notion of balance so that the punishment “fits the crime.” Sort of like a bad behavior opens up a cavernous hole that punishment is used to repair and fill. Sin is a crime and if left unchecked will completely destroy us. Righteousness is simply doing what keeps these holes from opening up. Laws are written to expose crimes and offer due penalties for committing them. God’s law is the ultimate standard for right and wrong, good and evil.
If I asked you, are you a good person? What would you say? It depends on what you mean by “good,” right? Mark 10:17-18, a rich young ruler ran up to Jesus and said, “Good teacher! What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good, no one is good but God alone.”
Are you good according to Jesus’ standard of good? Isaiah was a priest and prophet, but when he saw God, he pronounced a curse on himself. Later Isaiah wrote, all our righteousness is as filthy rages.
Did you know that only good people go to heaven? That puts us in a tough situation, does it not? God doesn’t send good people to hell. The problem is, according to Jesus, and He knows, who among us is good. That God saves any of us is an act of His grace.
But God doesn’t give up on us. What he does is sort us according to who desires and strives for goodness and who doesn’t. It’s called faith, obedient, confessing faith. Our sins produced the holes in Jesus’ hands, feet and side. We committed the crimes, He took the punishment. When we become disciples of Jesus and are baptized into Christ, God not only washes our sins away, He also credits us with His righteousness. God restores goodness into us, His goodness, not ours. All our righteousness is as filthy rags.
When God receives us as His own, he begins to discipline us into Christ’s goodness.
That is another facet of punishment called discipline. Can you hear the word “disciple” in that? God is just, but God is also loving. God must punish evil but God want’s us to be holy, like Him. God wants us to be good so that punishment can cease.
Hebrews 12 gives us this great insight into God’s punishing discipline for our reformation into His holy character. Hebrews 12:4-17