Yesterday’s message was ORIGINALLY supposed to be delivered last Sunday, December 9, but we of course were snowed out.
Yet I knew we HAD to present this one. Why? Well, I liked the exegetical work on Jeremiah 33. I liked the metaphor of wood. I liked the bottom line. But I loved the video that Chris Macedo and team put together to cap it off.
Here it is: The Waiting Game, a message that landed at this as its point: The deeper the pain, the sweeter the prize.
So I have a piece of wood here. It’s small and smooth and minding its own business. But you know what some pieces of wood go through, don’t you? They get shaved. They get whittled. They get carved. They get manufactured. Back in my day, they got transformed into THESE: Jack Kramer Autograph
But have you ever thought about how hard this is on the wood? I mean, trees are living things, they grow, they have circles on the inside representing successive years of life, and yet we subject them to a lot of consequences. Pain, even. All to make them into something better and more useful after than before. But it’s a cut here, a cut there, a carve here, and a carve there, and to the extent that trees have feelings, it can’t be pleasant.
I tell you all that not because we’re going to conclude with a collective tree hug, but because that’s the way it is with a lot of life, isn’t it? You’re like that stick. And life – or God? – keeps giving you a cut here, a whittle there, a carve over there. It’s the divorce. It’s the SECOND divorce. It’s the depression. It’s the unemployment. It’s the non-compliant child. It’s the diagnosis. It’s the realization when you’re 18 or so that that this thing (Kramer) is NOT going to lead to a pro tennis career because you simply aren’t good enough. And if you’re like me, even in December, you’re not sure where God is in all this stuff, you can’t always tell between what he ALLOWS and what he CAUSES.
Maybe even more painfully, it’s so hard to be sure whether or not the bad things that happen are YOUR fault or they are SATAN’S fault or if instead they are divorce laws over the last 50 years or so: NO FAULT. All you know is you’re waiting for the pain to be over and God or karma or whomever seems to be taking his sweet natured time.
Which brings us to another of our OT characters who is not a Lady In Waiting but a Gent In Waiting: Jeremiah. Now: Jeremiah lives at Ground Zero of a war zone, surrounded by an invading army. It’s about 600 BC (Micah, last week, was 700) and Jerusalem is under siege, encircled by the Babylonian army, modern day Iraq. The siege goes on and on and on, increasing levels of desperation leading ultimately to cannibalism and the ultimate triumph of those Babylonians. But all that is in the future as we look at Jer 33. Here, the siege is ON and suffering is everywhere. AND you need to know this: a lot of the Jews, include many of the guys whose words made it into the bible, believe that the suffering and the catastrophe was the fault of the Jews themselves. Their sin – idolatry and mistreatment of the poor – had weakened them internally and externally, and the Bab army was God’s weapon of choice to ensure that Israel suffered the CONSEQUENCES of their sin. Jeremiah was one of those who held this to be the case and he was not shy about broadcasting what he thought.
BUT! Those in authority in Jerusalem – kings and princes – didn’t agree with that assessment. They were sure they’d ultimately prevail. And, like the best of Soviet or Chinese dictators, they did not take too kindly to rabble rousers such as Jeremiah. Which is why Jer 33 begins this way:
While Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard,
He’s locked up! Ah, you speak, as they say, “truth to power” and power doesn’t take kindly to it. But look what happens while Jeremiah suffers a CONSEQUENCE of his truth telling:
the word of the Lord came to him a second time:
So he gets a second “word” from God and what does God say? It starts in 33:2-4:
2 “This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: 3 ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ 4 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says about the houses in this city and the royal palaces of Judah that have been torn down to be used against the siege ramps and the sword
After giving the short version of his God Resume (will return to that!), it’s almost as if the Lord says to J, “Hey, buddy. Let me tell you something I don’t tell just anybody. You’re special, so you’re getting the inside scoop.” And with that kind of privilege – God takes me into his confidence! – you expect that what comes next is gonna be good. If you’re special enough you get advance notice of stuff, then blessing is sure to come.
Uh, no. Look at 33:5:
5 in the fight with the Babylonians[a]: ‘They will be filled with the dead bodies of the people I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness.
Oh gross. Like the Killing Fields, except it’s the Killing Palaces. What a let down after the build up of being taken into God’s confidence. And the critical phrase is there in the last part of v. 5: “because of its wickedness.” So the catastrophe is clearly a consequence of what Israel has done and how they have been. And I suppose that for a lot of you it isn’t that dramatic – I’ve never seen a pile of corpses at anyone’s house, for example – but I know that a lot of you also are living consequences. Someone here is single NOW because of an inappropriate relationship THEN. Someone else is unemployed NOW because you lost your temper THEN. Someone else is broke NOW because you were careless THEN. And someone else has confused kids NOW because you abandoned them THEN.
No corpses. Plenty of debris. Even now. Jeremiah knew the power and persistence of consequences and now you do too.
Which makes the next turn in Jeremiah 33 all the more stunning. Look at 33:6:
6 “‘Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security.
Huh? Punishment announced. Provision promised. They’re almost simultaneous. It’s almost like the punishment is just the provision in disguise. Because as soon as the consequences get declared, God starts pouring his compassion out. The reversal is dramatic and instant. Yes, the pain is profound, the consequences are deep, but there is an immediate filling with a hope that endures.
Then, skip to 33:14-16:
14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
15 “‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[c] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’
Oh, all that compassion and all that generosity is going to be embodied in one individual. He’s coming, Jeremiah. You’re going to have to wait for it. 100 years less than Micah – he had to wait 700, you’ve only got about 600, Jeremiah – but it’s a waiting game til Messiah and Rescuer comes. But while you’re waiting – HUH, just like we wait all December for the magic of Christmas Eve! – there is this pattern that emerges. I have built it into the universe and I have revealed to you, J, so you will tell the people. Because when you look at it closely, my discipline and my love are almost indistinguishable. My punishment IS my provision.
And when I know God says that, and then I realize how over-the-top good is that Righteous Branch, Jesus himself, I know the inescapable conclusion from Jer 33. The thrilling takeaway. Here it is: The deeper the pain, the sweeter the prize. Yes! The worse you’ve blown it, the better the second change! The more you mangle stuff up, the better his mercy to bring you out. You go through seasons that are punishment OR JUST SEEM LIKE THEY ARE, and in retrospect they were just preparation for something better. Your setback doubled as a set up. The deeper the pain, the sweeter the prize.
This is how God works! You’ve walked this. You know this. Only when you have been low, low, low – sometimes as a direct result of your rebellion & self-destruction & other times because things just appear to happen – can you fully appreciate how good it is to rest in God’s goodness and grace in the next chapter of your life. Because God’s discipline is never punitive; it is always redemptive. Never to put you down but to pull you back! There are so many things that God loves you too much to let you get away with. The deeper the pain, the sweeter the prize.
Moms know this better than anyone. Dads see it. Moms know it. Because the process of childbirth is … so they tell me … PAINFUL. Unbearable painful. A consequence. And yet at the conclusion, when dad or doctor or both place that squirming, squealing little body in your arms, was it not all worth it? The pain gets forgotten, the prize gets cuddled and you know for a fact that God’s mercy really is new every morning. The deeper the pain, the sweeter the prize.
You know why this is so dependable? God’s resume, the part that I asked you to tuck away in 33:2: READ. I’ve wondered why, when God introduces himself to Jeremiah here, that the he has to list all his accomplishments. And then I realized! It’s the collateral he uses so we will trust his promises!! Like a loan! The reason we can depend on all the “will”s in this passage is because of God’s faithfulness in the past. When you’re going through the worst of your self-inflicted consequences, OR JUST A PAINFUL SEASON IN LIFE, then you know: ah, God has made the prize better than the pain in the past and I know he will again. Every time I think church is doomed, we’re stuck, we stink, and the prob is the guy in charge, I remember: God’s been more than faithful in the past and he has not changed. See, his resume, his record of faithfulness is why we say the Creed? Grounds us. It’s why we lift the bible? For an informal church, those moments of formality and routine shape us. Did you know we are in the middle of a miracle even this week? Last week we did not have church because of snow … the second cancellation in three months as Hurricane Florence got us as well. Hey — we only have 52 of these Sundays a year and I got all worried that we’re going to go broke because of not having church. Guess what? Last week, with no church we had a $75,000 offering. Guess I’ve got A NEW STRATEGY!
God has been more than faithful in the past.
Remind us he is not a God of intuition; he is a God of intervention. A God of history who has invaded our space and lives. The deeper the pain, the sweeter the prize.
Like that small piece of wood. Remember? Well, you might be interested to know what happened to one just like it. It became a flute. How? A man carved it. Who? A man who is … blind. If he hadn’t gone through THAT, we never would have had THIS. I want to meet him and some other Good Shepherd friends who are like him in this video: