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Oct 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 20-23 – 19/22/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!       Welcome to RefleXion.     The Lord is with you!

Life is difficult.  For some of us, this week that’s never been truer.  Life is difficult.  That’s the first sentence of one of my favorite books, A Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck.  Sometimes we get the impression that life is not supposed to be difficult. Well, maybe in the beginning, it wasn’t…but it is, isn’t it.  Last week Chuck mentioned one of his favorite books, The Sacrament of the Present Moment.  That is one of my very favorite books too.  My translation titles the same book as Abandonment to Divine Providence. 

“Divine Providence”  is the term used to describe God’s intervention, governance, and care for all things in the universe.  It implies that God is in complete control of the natural order and the destiny of people. Chuck also mentioned the word “Surrender”.  This is how we might surrender, by considering each moment a sacrament, surrendering not only to the will of God but to his providential care. 

This morning I would like to highlight the “to Whom” we surrender.  If you’re like me, to surrender might seem like giving in or giving up.  As Christians, this thought of surrender seems to me to be the giving-up of our illusions, our demand for privilege and position, the expectation of freedom from pain.  That still doesn’t seem to satisfy me. 

Another one of my favorite books, and favorite authors, is Surrender to Love by Dr. David Benner.  “There’s a difference between a white-knuckled obedience and a willingness to live in God’s love and God’s knowing,” it says.  This is where our faith must take us, but it’s not a straight road.  This is where, as it must, not only be an idea but become our personal experience of God’s love, our own knowing of it.

Is this shattering to our Ego – oh, yes.  Is it beyond our present understanding of love – yes.  And of goodness – most definitely.  It is not the fact that we are loved that will transform us, but the experience of being loved in vulnerability, in doubt, in confusion, in grief, and deep neediness.  Let’s look for love in whatever various forms it presents itself.  Let’s help each other find it. With love, we can always find the spark of divine presence.  May we be the glad recipient of it.

Our opening prayer, please join me:

Be with us today, Lord.  You have made a way for us.  We go together. We thank you for Jesus, who is the Way, and for the Spirit who leads us.  May we encounter Truth and the Grace it brings as we come together this morning. Help us to realize your great love for us.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: One of the challenges I’ve wrestled with in Jeremiah,
Is that it is so distant and unpleasant that it seems irrelevant or offensive
– distant, because we are out of sync with that period of time and culture
• we don’t share their norms, values, or kinship structures
◦ their geopolitical context was nothing like ours today
◦ their hardships are not our hardships
• their language is foreign, their names are foreign, their cities are foreign
◦ moreover, they had ruined their relationship with God
◦ Israel had violated and broken God’s covenant
And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, “Why has the LORD dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and worshiped other gods and served them” (Jer. 22:9)
– it’s unpleasant, because hell-fire preachers have capitalized on damnation
Chuck Fromm, “There are lots of angry men behind pulpits”
• they shout at us like abusive parents who take their anger out on the children
• this has left us with an unpleasant taste in our mouths
◦ we’ve become sensitive to these passages of doom
◦ on other hand, do we want a God who has no anger?
a God who doesn’t grieve? Doesn’t react? Doesn’t care?

To benefit from these ancient and abrasive chapters, one of our tasks is to find points where we can relate,
– and where we can hear what God has to say to us through his prophet

In chapter 20, Jeremiah suffers the fate of many prophets
Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. Then Passhur beat Jeremiah the prophet and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the LORD Jeremiah 20:1-2

It was not some hillbilly or lowlife criminal that attacked Jeremiah
– the temple had its own security guards and Pashhur was the “chief officer”
• the Hebrew word for “stocks” suggests a painful contortion of his body
◦ this officer was authorized by priests and the king
• historically, whenever any religion influences government,
◦ government becomes more repressive
◦ like Rome once Constantine ruled, or today’s Iran, Sudan, Myanmar
(in fact, the highest ranking Patriarch in the Russian Orthodox church supports Vladimir Putin’s military assault on Ukraine)
– when released, Jeremiah came back at Pashhur with a sharp reprimand
• he prophesied a bleak destiny for him, his family and friends
◦ all the people to whom he had prophesied falsely (v. 6)
◦ we’ll soon take a closer look at false prophets
• by contrast, here is what a true prophet looks like:
For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the LORD has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot
Jeremiah 20:8-9
◦ Jeremiah was struggling with the work God assigned him
◦ but he was unable to stop – it was God’s word and work that defined him

All through his prayer in verses 7-18, Jeremiah is vacillating
O LORD, you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become the laughing stock all the day,
everyone mocks me
Jeremiah 20:7
– now only someone who knows God well can pray like this (and get away with it)
• Jeremiah wanted to quit, because he had been fiercely attacked,
◦ yet he goes on in his prayer,
But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble
Jeremiah 20:11
• in verse 13 he is singing God’s praises
◦ then in verse 14 he says,
Cursed be the day
on which I was born!

– this kind of fluctuation is characteristic of depression
• depression is more common among people in ministry than you might think
◦ Charles Spurgeon, a renown British preacher delivered lectures to ministerial students
◦ when his lectures were published in book form, and entire chapter was devoted to the minister’s depression (“Fainting Fits”)
• Paul shared with the Corinthians his struggles with despair
◦ it seems that the minister’s highs reach to the heavens and the lows sink into hell

Chapter 21 begins with a surprise
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, when King Zedekiah sent to him [two men], saying, “Inquire of the LORD for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us Jeremiah 21:1-2

King Zedekiah, who has paid no attention to Jeremiah until now, sought his help
– in football, this desperate move is known as a “Hail Mary”
• it would be amusing if it weren’t so sad
• Zedekiah had in mind a specific role for God – perhaps he would work a miracle for them as he did for King Hezekiah (Isa. 37:37)
◦ how great if we could invoke a miracle whenever we get ourselves into trouble!
◦ it would be like Jimmy Olsen having Superman on-call
– we must live in world as it is and trust God for all that happens
• our trust is unconditional – even if we don’t get our miracle
• it is not God’s will that bad things happen in our lives
◦ that is simply life in an uncertain universe (and some our troubles we have created ourselves)
◦ regardless of what happens, God’s will opens a way through
◦ and if we ask, Jesus will join us and walk us through the dark valleys

God had a personal message for the king
O house of David! Thus says the LORD:
“Execute justice in the morning,
and deliver from the hand of the oppressor
him who has been robbed,
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
and burn with none to quench it,
because of your evil deeds”
Jeremiah 21: 12
– this theme is continued into the next chapter
Thus says the LORD: “Go down to the house of the king of Judah and speak there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place . . . .’”
“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve for nothing
and does not give him his wages”
Jeremiah 22:1-3 and 13
Robert Alter, “Throughout the Bible, this Hebrew word, ger, designates a resident alien, who as someone without inherited land or the protection of a clan is vulnerable, as are the widow and the orphan.”
• care for these weakest members of society included not only food and shelter, but justice
• God never takes his eyes off and those who help the poor and needy
◦ or off of those who could help but do nothing for them

Two verses in this chapter deserve serious meditation
– I’ll point out the statements that I find insightful in verses 15-16
Do you think you are a king
because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
declares the LORD
Jeremiah 22:15-16

First, we learn that there are things that do not make you a king or queen (cedar paneling)
• every culture we know of has status symbols
◦ it’s easy to mistake the symbols for real status
◦ driving a Maserati doesn’t make you a Maserati
(Or someone says, “I can go from 0 to 60 in three seconds”
We respond, “O yeah? Let’s see you do it without your car”)
– when I was a child, I was impressed by evangelist who drove a nice car, wore nice suits, and sported shiny watches and rings
• I assumed we would hear great sermons and get closer to God with a person like that leading our “revival” week
• having thousands of followers, huge income, a private jet, while keeping the poor and needy at a distance,
◦ doesn’t make anyone a gifted minister, or evangelist, or a true servant of God

Second, the way Josiah is characterized reveals God’s ideal king
– devoting himself to justice and righteousness came to him as naturally as eating and drinking
• not only that, but he judged the cause of the poor and needy
– our court system today makes it difficult for the poor to get the same treatment as the wealthy
• few poor people would know where to begin a legal suit or defense
◦ even fewer have money for a retainer of a good attorney
• lawyers who help the poor pro bono are unsung heroes

The third insight, and this I find shocking, is what God says regarding Josiah
Is not this to know me?
declares the LORD

– there are few evangelical churches where you will hear this
• what you’ll hear, is that if you want to know God you have to study the Bible, attend seminars, go on retreats, and maybe take a course in biblical theology
• what we don’t hear is, “You don’t know God if you’re not doing good for others and adding goodness to the world”
◦ Jesus expects his followers to share a family resemblance with their heavenly Father
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons [and daughters] of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Lk. 6:35-36)
◦ if we’re not this, we don’t know God, regardless of how much we read the Bible

The message in chapter 23 is not only relevant, but much needed

Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”
For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD
to see and to hear his word,
or who has paid attention to his word and listened? Jeremiah 23:16-18
One of my old meditations: “The false prophet smooths his hair with his hand and clears his throat. He tilts his head back and lifts his eyes upward. Then he speaks in a strange voice, as if someone or something were speaking through him. Promises are made–in fact, the very things people want to hear. The message delivered is encouraging. They can go on exploiting others and ignoring the alien, widow, and orphan with God’s blessing. No need to repent or change. Forget what is written in God’s law or what previous prophets have said in God’s name. Enjoy your prosperity and share it with no one. You’ve been blessed.”
– I have tried to warn people about false prophets – to catch them in their failed predictions
• they’re everywhere, but especially among Pentecostals and Charismatic preachers
They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the LORD,’ when the LORD has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word (Eze. 13:6)
◦ isn’t that a great exposé? They invent prophetic predictions, then expect God to fulfill them
• I believe the spiritual gifts Paul mentions are vital
◦ they often come to people in exciting and dynamic encounters
• but more important than the gifts of the Spirit, is the fruit of the Spirit
◦ the fruit comes gradually through the slow growth of lived experience of trials and blessings, failures and successes
◦ in other words, in the normal progress of our spiritual journey

Conclusion: God warned the false prophets that there was nowhere to hide from him
Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD Jeremiah 23:23-24

The false prophets assumed God was far away or absent,
so they could say whatever they wanted and he would not speak up to contradict them
But those same verses are for us today a promise
Slowly draw a deep cleansing breath
Exhale slowly
As you exhale, remind yourself, “The Spirit of God is here, now”

The big idea today, is no matter the situation,
our concern is to find our way to God in it

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