Tag: law

Sermon: The God Who Would Be Known

The God Who Would Be Known

Jeremiah 31:27-34

27 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will plant the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the offspring of men and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the LORD. 29 “In those days people will no longer say,

‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,

and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

30 Instead, everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—his own teeth will be set on edge.

31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD,

“when I will make a new covenant

with the house of Israel

and with the house of Judah.

32 It will not be like the covenant

I made with their forefathers

when I took them by the hand

to lead them out of Egypt,

because they broke my covenant,

though I was a husband to them,”

declares the LORD.

33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel

after that time,” declares the LORD.

“I will put my law in their minds

and write it on their hearts.

I will be their God,

and they will be my people.

34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor,

or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’

because they will all know me,

from the least of them to the greatest,”

declares the LORD.

“For I will forgive their wickedness

and will remember their sins no more.”

The Prophet No One Wanted To Hear

Last week we looked at Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet no one wanted to hear.  Jeremiah preached between the time of the defeat of the northern kingdom of Israel, and the Babylonian captivity of the southern nation of Judah.

Jeremiah’s first sermons came as the king of Judah and the aristocracy of the nation were being carted off to Babylon.  Other prophets were saying that the “shalom” of God — the all-encompassing peace of God’s provision, protection, and presence — would be with the remaining inhabitants of Judah.  In other words, “everything’s gonna be all right.”

But everything was not going to be all right, and Jeremiah knew it.  The famous phrase, “peace, peace when there is no peace” may have been borrowed by the American revolution, but it originated with Jeremiah.  Jeremiah was the naysayer, the doomsday prophet, the guy with the sandwich board which read, “The End Is Near.”

And, of course, the end was near.  In 586-7 BC, the Babylonians quit playing at making Judah its territory, and destroyed the holy city of Jerusalem, and Solomon’s temple with it.  But, this passage we have just read comes as the worst is about to happen.

Finally, the prophet no one wanted to hear had something to say that everyone needed to hear.

The Days Are Coming

Jeremiah has some bad news for the people — Jerusalem is going to be destroyed.  But he has some good news for them, too.  “The days are coming” Jeremiah says in verse 27, “when I will plant the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the offspring of men and animals.”  That’s the promise God makes, but what does it mean?

Well, there are two things going on here.  First, the phrase “the days are coming” is a prophet’s way of speaking of the beginning of the end, of the eschaton, the culmination of all things.  So, this is a real prophecy, a glimpse into the future of how things will be when God has God’s will in this world.

And, Jeremiah uses the language of creation — “the offspring” or seed of men and animals — to paint a picture of a new creation, a new day, an era unlike the era in which he and his fellows Jews are living.

This era will mark a new beginning, a new awareness of God in His relationship with humankind.  The old relationship was based on the Exodus experience.  God delivered the nation from bondage, from the slavery of Egypt, and from exile in a strange land.

But that the face of that deliverance was Moses.  Moses was chosen by God.  Moses represented God before Pharaoh.  Moses spoke for God, even though at times he used Aaron to do the speaking. And most importantly, Moses encountered God first at the burning bush where God called him.  Then, after the Exodus on Mount Sinai where God had summoned him.

Moses was the face of God before the people of God.  So afraid were the people of a direct encounter with God that they wanted Moses to go into the Presence on their behalf.  And it is in the presence of God that Moses receives the Ten Commandments, written by the finger of God, on rock-solid visible tablets of stone.  These tablets were held up before the people, broken in anger at the rebellion of the people, and then given again as the external reminder of the expectation God had that this people would be different from all other peoples on the earth.

But it wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t enough to have the Ark of the Covenant, powerful as it was, in their midst. It wasn’t enough to have the tablets of stone containing the Decalogue, the foundation of moral and spiritual conduct.

It wasn’t enough for God to be on the mountain, and it wasn’t enough for Moses to represent the people of God in the Presence of God.  For while Moses was on the mountain, the people in the valley clamored for their own experience of God.

And before the proverbial ink was dry on the 10 Commandments, before they had even heard what God had in mind for them, the people wanted a god they could see, hear, and control.  The golden calf, made from their own gifts of jewelry, became their reassuring symbol of the presence of a god.

God’s Hand Was Evident In Nature, Too

But before God had called Israel out of bondage in Egypt, God had revealed himself to his people in creation.  God had placed Adam and Eve in God’s own garden, a place where God walked with Adam and Eve each evening.  But it wasn’t enough.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which was supposed to be an external reminder that humanity did not know everything, became an external symbol to be grasped, and plundered rather than revered and acknowledged.   Even the penalty of death, which mankind had not experienced, was not enough to keep the boundary between God and man secure.

It wasn’t enough that Adam and Eve had everything good thing in the garden, they wanted everything.  And most of all they wanted to be like God.  Not with God, but like God rendering God’s presence with them unnecessary.  It wasn’t enough that they were products of the hand of God.  They wanted, not God’s revelation, but God’s prerogatives.

But even after Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden for their sin, God continues to reveal himself in nature and creation.  But man continues down a path of rebellion, misuse, and misappropriation of all the good gifts of God until God uses creation itself to judge all that is evil.  Only Noah and those in the ark survive the judgment of God.

God Reveals Himself in a Purpose

Generations pass, and God reveals himself in a purpose to another man, Abraham.  The covenant God makes with Abraham precedes the covenant with Moses and the nation made int he desert of Sinai’s wilderness.  God calls Abram from out of paganism, gives him a son as proof of the promise, and then begins to establish the descendants of Abraham as a nation that will be a blessing to all the nations of the world.

But it is not enough.  The nation loses its way, forgets its purpose as it grows and expands, and finds itself captive in what had been the land of deliverance.

It wasn’t enough that the people of God had a purpose.  They continually lost sight of both the Presence of God and the purpose of God for their community.

And so after generations of disobedience, where the sins of the fathers impact their children, and grandchildren, God sends judges, and kings, and prophets, but they are not enough.  Not enough for the people to understand that God is their God, that they are His people.  Not enough to have the Presence of God mediated through judges, and priests, and kings.  Even David, called a man after God’s own heart, fails the God he encountered as the Good Shepherd who led him beside still waters and was with him through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

A Time Is Coming

So Jeremiah reiterates his prophecy.  “A time is coming” Jeremiah says.  Not just days, but an epoch, an era, a new beginning. “A time is coming” when God will make a new covenant with his people.

It will not be like the old covenant, not like the time when they were delivered from slavery in Egypt.  That covenant meant deliverance, and security, and land, and a future, but even those promises were not sufficient to make the people keep their side of the bargain.  The people failed me, God said, even though I was their “husband” — their protector, their guide, their security, and their provider.

No, a time is coming when a new covenant will be made.  When the way to live will not be carved on stone, but carried in the heart.  Tablets that could be broken, became a symbol of a law that also could be broken.  External, enshrined in the Ark of the Covenant.  Eventually the Ten Commandments and some of the reminders of the Exodus — Aaron’s rod that budded and a pot of manna — were stored in the Ark of the Covenant.  It was placed in the Holy of Holies in first the tabernacle and then the Temple.

But Jeremiah is telling the people “the time is coming” when the law will be written on your hearts, not on tablets of stone.  What he doesn’t tell them is that in a few short years the Temple will be destroyed, the Holy of Holies desecrated, and the Ark of the Covenant plundered.  The Ark and its contents will disappear forever from the life of the nation.  The external law, the tablets of God, will also disappear for before God’s word can be written on hearts it must disappear from its external hiding place.

The Time Did Come

But when was this time of which Jeremiah spoke?  When did God place his law within his people?  When did God write his precepts upon our hearts?  When did everyman, great and small, know God directly?  When did God reveal himself in a way that was different, and make himself known so widely that no longer would teachers be necessary because everyone would know God directly?

The people of Jeremiah’s day did not live to see that time.  Jerusalem is destroyed in 586 BC and the Temple plundered and razed.  The Ark of the Covenant is lost forever.  The nation is carried into the long decades of the Babylonian exile.  The future looked bleak, if not hopeless.

But the day did come.  Not 70 years later with the return of the nation, but about 500 years after that.  The time did come when God made himself known.  The time did come when great and small could know him.  The time did come when the way to live would spring up from the heart, rather than be represented on hard tablets of stone.

The time came in Jesus.  The revelation of God known to all of Israel.  The time came in the birth of a baby, the growth of a boy, the maturity of a man.  The time came as the cousin of John the Baptist rose from the waters of baptism with the acknowledgment and approval of his Heavenly Father.

The time came when the least — a boy with his lunch, a leper with his sores, and blind man with his cane — would be touched and transformed by God’s presence.

And Jesus came with the message of Jeremiah, too.  Herod’s Temple, a grander version than Solomon’s, dominated the Jerusalem cityscape.  And Jesus reminded his followers that not one stone would be left on another.  And in 70 AD, the Romans did what the Babylonians had done five centuries before — they destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.

And then, they dispersed the followers of Jesus into all the world.  The time did come when the Holy Spirit, promised by the Son, sent by the Father, filled followers of Christ with his presence, his power, and his promise.

The time did come when the last sacrifice was made, the forgiveness of sin complete, the power of death broken, and the promise of life secured.  The time did come, and the God who would be known was known by everyone.  History was changed, hearts were healed, and God would forever be known as the God who came down to his people.


Sermon: Why Did I Do That?

Why Did I Do That?
Romans 7:15-25 NIV

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Everything To Lose

On March 12, 2008, 14 months after taking the oath of office as the governor New York, Eliot Spitzer resigned the governorship citing “personal failings.” Those failings, it turned out, were reported in the New York Times two days earlier — Spitzer, the governor of New York, and former Attorney General of New York, was under federal investigation for his involvement with a prostitution ring operating out of Washington, DC.

Spitzer had been called by Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, “the future of the Democratic Party.” He had handily won election as governor, had an extraordinary reputation as a prosecutor, and had been responsible for the investigation that brought down the Gambino crime family’s influence in New York. A graduate of Princeton and Harvard, married to a beautiful woman, Silda, who founded a children’s charity, father of 3 children, son of a well-known and respected New York real estate family, Spitzer had the world by the tail. Until he did what he knew was wrong, illegal at that, and got caught at it.

Now, before we get too hard on Eliot Spitzer, or Bill Clinton, or the endless line of public figures who do stupid, and sometimes criminal things, let’s take a look at this passage in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome.

The Frustration of Life

Paul expresses a frustration that many of us — okay, all of us — have experienced at one time or other. Have you ever had to apologize to someone for some thoughtless act or word? And you probably asked yourself, “Why did I do that?” Well, Paul understands your frustration, and expresses it this way himself –

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.

Paul was actually saying something as old as Greek and Roman culture itself, for there was an old debating question that was trotted out in the public forums of Rome, that went something like this –

Even though I know what the right thing to do is, why can’t I bring myself to do it?

This thing of knowing to do right, but not doing it is universal and timeless. Parents who tell their children, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” are living out this paradox, this frustration, right in front of their kids. Let’s break this down and see if we can understand it a little better ourselves.

Sin and The Law

Sin and The Law — sounds like a TV show, doesn’t it. But these are two words we really need to understand. And, they have special meanings when Paul uses them here. By “law” Paul means God’s law, the law of Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, the Pentateuch — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The Law of God, including the Ten Commandments. The whole deal given by God to Moses for the people of God. And The Law is important because it distinguishes the people of God from everyone else. Israel was to live by God’s law so the nation could fulfill the promise God made to Abraham to be a blessing to the nations.

Sin. This is a word we do not use in casual conversation today. And, Paul doesn’t mean “sins” — lots of bad things people do. No, Paul uses the word Sin here with a capital “S” — the Sin Force, the Sin Principle, also know as Evil. But, the word “sin” has a pretty tame meaning in Greek — it means missing the mark. It’s the image of an archer who shoots his arrow, but it misses the bulls-eye. It doesn’t matter how much it misses the bulls-eye, a miss is a miss. Sin misses the mark God sets for his people. Sin shoots wide of the target. But, more than that, Sin doesn’t just miss the mark — Sin gets us to aim for another target all together.

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I got a BB gun for Christmas. I wanted a BB gun, I had asked for a BB gun, and I suppose my parents thought I was old enough, and responsible enough to have a BB gun. Mine was a Daisy, lever-action BB gun. You loaded the copper BBs — they looked like copper to me — into a hole in the barrel, turned a disk on the end of the barrel to keep the BBs from falling out of your gun, pumped the lever to put a BB into the chamber, and you fired away!

But, as I opened my BB gun on Christmas morning, it was to a chorus of my mom and dad saying things like –

Never point this at anybody.
Don’t shoot anything but the target.
Don’t shoot birds.
Don’t shoot your eye out.
And so on.

Coincidentally, my friend, Charles Norris, who lived in the house directly behind ours, also got a BB gun that year. So, we were set — two 10 year olds, armed to the teeth. Of course, the first thing I did was shoot a bird. I really didn’t mean to shoot it — actually I didn’t mean to kill it — but I did, and I had to bury it in the backyard to conceal my murderous deed from my parents. I felt a little like Cain killing Abel and trying to cover it up.

You would think I would have learned a lesson from that experience, but of course, I did not. So, Charles and I proceeded to see what other things we could shoot, and what would happen when we did. The neighbors who lived next door to us were not very friendly people, as I recall. And, they drove a Cadillac. Not that there was anything wrong with driving a Cadillac, I just didn’t know anybody except our nextdoor neighbors who did. Charles and I hung out behind our garage, which had a little workshop space that we converted into our club. We crawled in and out of this secret clubhouse through a window in the back. One day on a total whim, we both aimed our BB guns toward the next door neighbor’s house, and let a couple of BBs fly. Nothing happened, so we went about our business doing 10-year old boy stuff.

That evening, our neighbor knocked on our door. I saw her, and kind of ducked down so she couldn’t see me as my dad answered the door. I could tell from the muffled adult conversation that I was in trouble. To make a long, and ultimately painful story short, Charles and I had shot the glass out of their backdoor! Several things happened to me that night, the least painful of which was I got my BB gun confiscated.

The point of that story is that not only did I miss the target with my BB gun, I was shooting at all the wrong things purposely. That’s Sin. That urge, force, temptation — whatever you want to call it — that not only causes us to miss God’s target, but actually has us shooting at the wrong thing!

The Law comes to bear on that situation, by reminding us that we did not hit the mark — we missed the target God had for us, and oh by-the-way, you’re not even shooting in the right direction.

Why Do We Do It?

So, the question we have to ask ourselves is, “Why do we do that sort of thing?” Why do we shoot at the wrong target, missing God’s mark, and actually doing the opposite of what we are supposed to do?

And, isn’t Paul writing to Christians here, and aren’t we supposed to be able to obey God?

Okay, let’s take those one at a time. Why do we do it? Paul says, evil is right there alongside of us. Evil — not just bad choices, Evil itself. Evil is that which is opposed to God. Evil is that which leads to death. God leads to life. Evil is opposed to God. Evil effects everyone, even Christians. Here’s how –

Friday and Saturday, Debbie and I worked in the garden. Our raised beds aren’t really working out too well, so we’re doing what any self-respecting gardeners would do — we’re expanding the garden! We doubled the size of our garden plot, dug up about 400-square feet of grass, fenced it in, and will plant three varieties of seed potatoes there, plus some other stuff.

Gardening is hard work. Before I became a gardener, I didn’t think gardening took much effort. I no longer think that. Both days we have worked hard, sweated, and dug and still we’re not finished. Saturday we finally got the fence up, and in the midst of that it started raining, but I had to finish, gather the tools, and then head inside. I was beyond dirty. I had changed shirts three times, used one shirt to wipe the mud and dirt off my arms and legs, and was really, really dirty. When I got in the shower, my feet were so dirty that the water running over them did not wash the caked on dirt off. I had to sit on the floor of the shower and use a brush to scrub the dirt off my feet and legs. That is dirty.

Now, how did I get that dirty? By being in the garden, by being in the dirt. The more I worked, the dirtier I got. We live in that kind of world. A world where the force of Sin, the force of Evil has so dirtied God’s creation that some of it rubs off on us. We’re affected by it, tainted by the stain of sin. We can’t help it, we can’t avoid it, we can’t outwit it. It is the nature of the environment in which we live.

Evil and God

N. T. Wright in his book, Evil and The Justice of God, says that our culture has three approaches to evil –

  1. We don’t believe it is so bad.
  2. We’re shocked when confronted with evil.
  3. We believe things will get better.

Evil, Sin, opposition to God — are all pieces of the same puzzle. All of them lead to death, a dead-end, no way out, an unfulfilled life. We believe the “lie” instead of the promise of God. Scott Peck, wrote People of the Lie, to counter the idea in his profession as a psycho-therapist that there is no such thing as evil.

Not all evil has the same consequence or effect, however. A person who cheats on a test and Adolf Hitler may both have sinned, but the horror of concentration camps outweighs a stolen test answer my orders of magnitude. But, both are expressions of evil.

We are influenced by evil, surrounded by the environment in which evil holds forth, and contaminated by its effects.

Some Biblical scholars believe that Paul is actually speaking of the nation of Israel here, when he says “I.” Much like our “royal WE” the first century used a literary device where are writer would speak in the first person — use the word “I” — to represent a larger group, without having to be so explicit.

Substitute the word “Israel” for every “I” Paul uses, and you see the same thing. Israel doesn’t do what it wants to do. Israel doesn’t obey God. Israel loves the law of God, but doesn’t keep it. Israel has failed to hit God’s mark, and indeed is also shooting at the wrong target in the first century.

So, what are we to do? Paul asks that very question — Who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!

It is Jesus death that gives us life. God lets the Sin Force get so great, that it must be dealt with. He lets Sin do its worst. Then, God wraps all that up, hands it to Jesus, condemns Sin, and had Jesus bear it to the cross. Sins great penalty is death. Not only does God kill the Sin, but He breaks the hold Sin has on us through death in the resurrection of Jesus.

Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! Jesus takes Sin to the cross, bears it in his body, dies with sin clutched tightly to himself, and kills the power of sin in the process. Then, the one-two punch culminates in Death also being defeated as God raises Jesus, brings him back to life, back through the door of death, back to a new resurrected, glorified life everlasting. Life in the age to come, but here and now. Thanks be to God, indeed!

Right now, we live in that in-between time — between the defeat of Sin and Death and God’s final victory. We now live in a shadow of the age to come, the kingdom of God. One day Sin and Evil will be fully vanquished from God’s good creation. As the new people of God, we help in hastening that day. Until then, until that day fully comes, we live in-between, on the battlefield in the war between God and Sin. God wins, we know that already. But we still live in the present reality, struggling at times, failing at other times, but always aware that our victory has been bought in Jesus death and resurrection. Who can deliver us from this struggle with Death? Thanks be to God, it is through Jesus Christ our Lord!