Starting the Passover Over

Please read 2 Chronicles 30:1-31:1 in your Bible.

Starting Over (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

“A story surfaced from Operation Desert Storm about a soldier who got a ‘Dear John’ letter from his girl; she wrote that they were through. Worse than that, she was getting married to someone else! Adding insult to injury, she wrote, ‘Will you please return my favorite photograph of myself? I need it for my engagement picture in the paper.’

“The poor guy was devastated but not defeated. From every corner of the camp, soldiers handed over extra photos of their girlfriends. There were hundreds of photos. The jilted soldier put all the photos in a shoe box and mailed it home with a note. ‘Please find your picture,’ he wrote, ‘For the life of me, I can’t remember exactly which one you were!!’”

How’s that for making the best of a bad situation?  When we think about the Passover, that’s a time when God turned evil into good. And as we’ve seen, at the center of the Passover is the lamb.  In the centuries that would follow the first Passover, lambs had died for the sins of the nation.

“Inside the walls of the Temple, two lambs died every day (Exodus 28:29-31), one at 9 a.m. and the other at 3 p.m. It had been a sacrifice marked by blood, for the literal meaning of ‘sacrifice’ in Hebrew is, ‘to slit the throat.’

In addition to the twice-a-day sacrifice of lambs, there would have been countless lambs dying on the major Jewish holidays.”  (Andy Cook, Lifeway.com)

So our identification of Jesus as the Passover Lamb is an important, even essential biblical image.

Rediscovering the Passover revived the devotion of God’s people.

  1. A quick history lesson.

Hezekiah served as king over Judah from 715-686 BC.  His reign ended 100 years before the Babylonians conquered Judah.  2 Chronicles 29:1-2 tells us he took the throne at age 20 and ruled for 29 years.  He had not been on the throne for a month when he reopened the temple (29:3).  He brought back the priests and their assistants, the Levites, whom he commanded to purify the temple.

The temple was closed because King Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father, was an idolater and a very bad king.  He had ordered the temple’s furnishings removed and its doors shuttered (2 Chronicles 28:24-25).

Finally, after purifications, consecrations, and preparations, worship in the temple was restored (29:35).  The Passover would be the first sacred day to be observed in the reopened temple

  1. What we can learn from it.

Worship is supposed to be a unifying act. (30:1, 5-11)  Hezekiah invited all the tribes of Israel, even though the northern 10 tribes had already been conquered by the Assyrians and dispersed. Hezekiah may have hoped the unification of the tribes in worship would have political benefits too.  Having a secondary motive in no way diminishes Hezekiah’s loyalty to God or what was accomplished in this Passover observance.

We should be eager to worship. (30:2-4)  God commanded the Passover be observed on the 14th day of the first month. However, they did not have things ready at that time (the priests were not ready and not enough people had returned to Jerusalem).  Rather than wait until next year, they agreed to hold the Passover in the second month.

God directed them to worship. (30:12)  THE HAND OF GOD gave them UNITY OF MIND, FOLLOWING THE WORD OF GOD.  Unity of mind is something to which all church folk should aspire, and it will only come as we jointly follow Jesus, the Word of God.

Worship required them to purify themselves according to the will of God. (30:13-17)  Offerings were made in accordance with the Law and almost everyone complied with ritual purity.  The response of the people was so enthusiastic, it made the priests and Levites feel ASHAMED at their relative apathy.

Worship brought healing. (30:18-20)  Not everyone kept the Law as they should.  Some of the Israelites from the north (30:11) came late and did not undergo the ritual purification. Hezekiah offered a wonderful prayer for their forgiveness and God HEALED THE PEOPLE.  This shows us that sometimes ritual needs to be set aside to meet people where they are.  After all, the ritual was made for the people, not the other way around.  A sincere heart is a more important qualification for worship than ritual purity.

Worship requires follow-through into daily living. (30:21-22, 31:1)  Those who came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover followed up with the week-long observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread too.  They worshiped the Lord every day of that week. When the time of worship ended and they returned home, they continued the program to get rid of idolatry.

Worship ought to be something we enjoy and want to do. (30:23-27)  THE WHOLE ASSEMBLY (23), THE ENTIRE ASSEMBLY (25) found such joy in their worship they wanted to continue it another week!  There was nothing in the Law to require or even advise this; their decision to stay together was entirely voluntary.  Part of their joy was the knowledge that God was pleased with their worship (27).  King Solomon is mentioned here, the builder of the temple.  Hezekiah, the temple rebuilder, is compared with Solomon.

Rediscovering the Passover revived the devotion of God’s people.

In 1998 Ray Boltz recorded a song entitled “Watch the Lamb.”  It recounts the story of Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross to Golgotha.  Here are the lyrics of the latter half of the song:

At first I tried to resist him then his hand reached for his sword.

So I knelt and took the cross from the Lord

I placed it on my shoulder and started down the street

The blood that he’d been shedding was running down my cheek.

 

They led us to Golgotha.  They drove nails deep in His feet and hands.

And yet upon the cross I heard Him pray, “Father, forgive them.”

Oh, never had I seen such love in any other eyes.

“Into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” He prayed, and then He died.

 

I stood for what seemed like years.  I’d lost all sense of time

Until I felt two tiny hands holding tight to mine.

My children stood there weeping.  I heard the oldest say

“Father, please forgive us.  The lamb ran away.”

 

“Daddy, Daddy, what did we see here?

There’s so much that we don’t understand.”

So I took them in my arms, and we turned and faced the cross

And then I said, “Dear children, Watch The Lamb.”

(Ray Boltz, 1998, Gaither Music)

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary,

1 & 2 Chronicles, J. Kier Howard

The Daily Study Bible Series,

I & II Chronicles, J. G. McConville.

Andy Cook at https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/sermon-easter-passover-lamb-jesus

http://www.higherpraise.com/lyrics/superduper/b/ray_boltz/watch_the_lamb.html

Breathe in Peace

Please read John 20:19-23.

Jesus Exiting the Tomb

It’s been nearly a week since the world saw images of the cathedral Notre-Dame engulfed in flames.  As you are no doubt aware, there has been no shortage of reactions to the fire and opinions about rebuilding the historic building.

On one side you have the architectural experts who have already submitted unsolicited opinions that the cathedral should be renovated to reflect modern, politically correct sensibilities.  I heard one man condemn the cathedral as oppressive to non-Christians and non-whites.  His solution sounded to me like a kind of “religious mall” that accommodated worshippers of all faiths and no faith at all.

Chowderheaded notions like that betray the sad state of the PC crowd.  To have these thoughts, let alone express them in a public forum, is ridiculous.

On the other side I offer Mel Lawrenz, Minister-at-Large at Elmbrook Church and director of The Brook Network.  He wrote, “Notre-Dame de Paris is a church building, but also a landmark of civilization whose construction was started 858 years ago, taking 200 years to build. When its construction began, Paris only had 100,000 residents.

“What do the great cathedrals represent? Churches are built to facilitate worship. A church is a gathering place for the people of God. They stream to

it from the surrounding neighborhoods, and so enjoy a connection with each other, the basic movement that forms community and society.

“When I saw Notre-Dame burning what came to my mind was the great loss of this symbol, but also the fires burning up our civilization today.  Philosophies that deny the possibility of truth, the abnegation of morality and ethics, the devaluing of community and the descent into lonely isolationism. Churches settling for superficial sentimentalism and church leaders trading integrity for fame. Government leaders forgetting the very idea of selfless service. The laziness of crude social communication. There are dozens of fires smoldering among us, and none of us know when [one] will flare up & make us less civilized.

“A mason who worked on the beginnings of Notre Dame in AD 1160 knew he would not see it completed, nor his apprentice son, nor his son, nor his son. They all worked on something that God and the world could see 200 years after it was started. The most important things we work on in our lives will never be completed within our lifetimes.  And the most important things we will build are not buildings.”

<https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2019/04/the-notre-dame-fire-civilization-burning/?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklybrief&spMailingID=59057872&spUserID=MTI3ODAxOTkxODkwS0&spJobID=1622644128&spReportId=MTYyMjY0NDEyOAS2&gt;

The resurrected Jesus replaced His disciples’ fear with peace, joy, the Holy Spirit, and authority.

  1. They were afraid of the Jews.

They were afraid even though Peter and John had already seen the empty tomb (vs. 1-9) and Mary of Magdala had seen Jesus Himself (10-18).  If they’d understood from the evidence and eyewitness Jesus was raised from the dead what reason did they have to be afraid?

Clearly, they didn’t understand.    Peter and John saw only the empty tomb; they didn’t see Jesus.  This was evidence they’d misinterpreted.  They may have been concerned that the Romans or Jewish leaders were convinced Jesus’ body had been stolen, they would likely be blamed, sought out and arrested.   Without His body they had no way of proving their innocence on a grave-robbing charge, a crime that met with severe penalty: death.  The empty tomb may have added to their fears, not diminished them.

Mark 16:11 says the disciples found Mary of Magdala’s account to be unbelievable.  To be fair, Mark 16:12-13 says they didn’t believe the testimony of two others who said they’d met Jesus walking in t country.  This is nothing new; in the gospels Jesus rebukes the disciples several times for their being slow to believe (Luke 24:25).

Their fear was demonstrated in two ways (19).  One, they were gathered together, possibly believing there was strength in numbers.  Of course, they gathered for reasons other than fear; surely grief bound them together as well.

Two, they had locked the doors.  The motive for doing this is specified as FEAR OF THE JEWS.  John’s reference to THE JEWS probably meant the Jewish religious and civil authorities; the Sanhedrin.  What did the disciples fear THE JEWS would do to them?  Probably some version of what they’d done to Jesus, perhaps more quietly.

  1. Jesus replaced their fears with blessings.

He replaced their fear with peace by being among them (19). Jesus’ means of entry into their locked room is not specified, so we are left to imagine how it happened.  The point is that He STOOD AMONG THEM.  He was with them again!

Surely His presence among them, say nothing of His sudden appearance, would have been startling to already nervous people.  To calm their fears, He pronounced PEACE to them for the first of two times in this passage.  This expression is often used in response to angelic visitations and other situations where a startled, fearful response would be understandable.

He replaced their fear with joy by confirming His identity and His still-human nature (20).  Jesus SHOWED THEM HIS HANDS AND SIDE: two of the three places where His body had been pierced during His crucifixion.  This allowed them to recognize Jesus as a man, not a ghost (see Luke 24:37-39).

We could paraphrase this verse to say, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw He was the Lord.”  It was really Him!  A small part of their joy may’ve been relief that He wasn’t a ghost, but the major portion must have been that He was not dead.

He replaced their fear with peace by pronouncing peace to them (19+21).  Jesus blessed them with His peace a second time (a reminder of the peace He’d promised them in John 14:27).  Part of this PEACE was an assurance that their story was not over.  Quite the opposite, Jesus was sending them into the world as God the Father had sent Him. The commissioning we see here fits with Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 18, “AS YOU SENT ME INTO THE WORLD I HAVE SENT THEM INTO THE WORLD.”

At that time, this was a typical greeting in the Hebrew language; shalom alekem.  In a situation where they felt anything BUT peace, it was a familiar-sounding and calming blessing.  The fact that Jesus bid them PEACE twice supports the assumption that He appeared suddenly and miraculously among them, startling them.  As this is something people aren’t normally able to do, He also had to reassure them He was a man not a ghost.

He replaced their fear with the Holy Spirit by breathing on them (22).  They would go into the world to continue Jesus’ mission.  As He had, they would carry on under the power of the Holy Spirit.

The matter of Jesus’ breathing on them seems strange to us.  Consider the following:

The sight, sound, and feeling of Jesus’ breath were more proof that He had risen bodily from the dead.  Ghosts do not have breath.

In both the Hebrew and Greek languages, the word we translate as “spirit” can also be translated as “breath.”

Both of them are required for life but are invisible to the naked eye.

This action is meant to remind us of a couple Old Testament passages.  First, Genesis 2:7; how God created humans by breathing THE BREATH OF LIFE into the nostrils of the man He’d created from the dust of the earth.  Second, the vision of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37), where God breathed new life into the dead men’s bones.

We can understand Jesus’ action of breathing on them was a kind of demonstration, given the layers of meaning we have just noted.

He replaced their fear by delegating His authority to them (v. 23). As Jesus’ opponents acknowledged, only God has to power to forgive sins (for example, see Mark 2:7).  Jesus repeatedly exercised this power, demonstrating He was God as well as man.

In this verse He is delegating to His disciples the divine authority to forgive or withhold forgiveness.  The word FORGIVE literally means “to let go, to release.”  In this way it reminds us of the “binding and loosing” promise Jesus made in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18.

The resurrected Jesus replaced His disciples’ fear with peace, joy, the Holy Spirit, and authority.

A mother and her four-year-old daughter were preparing to retire for the night. The child was afraid of the dark. When the light was out, the child caught a glimpse of the moon outside the window. “Mother,” she asked, “is the moon God’s light?”

“Yes,” said the mother.

The next question was, “Will God put out His light and go to sleep?”

The mother replied, “No, my child, God never goes to sleep.”

Then out of the simplicity of a child’s faith, she said that which gave reassurance to the fearful mother, “Well, as long as God is awake, there is no sense both of us staying awake.”

<http://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/faith-to-sleep&gt;

Fear is one of the things Easter has done away with.  As we’ve seen this morning, fear has been defeated.  It no longer holds any mastery over us.  In Jesus Christ, our fear of death, in particular, has been put to rest.

The resurrected Jesus Christ relieves us of fear and replaces it with courage based on the peace, authority, joy, and Holy Spirit power.  Yes, fears still arise, but their voice rings false.  The world’s threats are empty.  Because we share in the Resurrection Day victory of Jesus, we shall overcome all our fears.

 

Resources

The Anchor Bible, Raymond E. Brown

Message #180

Zondervan Bible Commentary, David J. Ellis

Advent Attitude: Joy

Advent 1

(Please read Luke 2:8-20 & 1 Peter 1:3-12 from your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to conduct my research.)

Last Christmas, grandpa was feeling his age and found that shopping for Christmas gifts had become too difficult. So he decided to send checks to everyone instead.  In each card he wrote, “Buy your own present!” and mailed them early.
In the usual flurry of family festivities he noticed the grandkids were a bit cold to him; a couple were downright angry. Puzzled over this, he went into his study to get some time alone to think about it. It was then he saw the gift checks which he had forgotten to enclose with the cards.

(https://www.favecrafts.com/Entertaining/A-Great-Bunch-of-Funny-Christmas-Stories)

Today we begin a journey that will end at a cattle pen near a village that had a lot of history, but not much to recommend it at the moment.  Advent is a significant time in the church calendar, one of two seasons of preparation.  I felt lead, this Advent, to explore some of the reactions to Jesus that people in the Bible demonstrated.  My prayer is that these studies will encourage us to be mindful of our own Advent Attitudes.

This thought is not original to me.  Darrell L. Bock expressed a similar line of thought in his commentary of the Gospel of Luke: “The variety of reactions to the birth of Jesus noted here should not surprise us.  People respond to him differently.  Some are amazed, but do not engage him at any deeper level.  Others offer praise, while others ponder what Jesus means.  There is no doubt that in this passage Mary and the shepherds are the exemplary characters, reflecting the testimony and obedience that should characterize saints.”  (p. 89-90)

We begin this series with JOY because it is the most common reaction to the birth of Jesus.  With the exception of King Herod, everybody in the biblical accounts seems really thrilled that God has brought this about.

Jesus brings joy to His people.

  1. Jesus’ birth brought joy to the Shepherds (Luke 2)

The angels predicted the Holy Birth would bring GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY to ALL THE PEOPLE (10).  GOOD NEWS is the Greek word from which we get our English word “gospel.”  It is significant that very word was used to announce the birth of Emperor Augustus.  Luke tried to evoke a similar vibe among his readers.

The angels promised GREAT JOY.  It was “great” in the sense of being giant-sized.  The size of the JOY is measured by the size of the recipients: ALL THE PEOPLE.  The size of the JOY is measured by the reactions of the shepherds.

Then angels promised that God intended this joy to be for ALL THE PEOPLE.  This is one measure of the significance of Jesus’ birth: it is important not to just one family or even one nation, but to ALL PEOPLE.  This is also the reason why the world must know and part of what motivated the shepherds to go and spread the word.  For us as well, the world must know so we must go tell them.

Another measure of the JOY is how the shepherds wasted no time checking it out (vs. 15-16).  They quickly agreed this was worth looking into and decided to go together (v. 15).  In fact, verse sixteen testifies that they HURRIED OFF to find the family in Bethlehem.

They wasted no time, spreading the word immediately (vs. 20, 16-17).  This is another reaction you’d anticipate from someone feeling GREAT JOY.

Luke may have these verses a little out of chronological order.  In terms of how the events happened, verse 20 should precede verses seventeen to nineteen.  Verse twenty describes the immediate effect on the shepherds; verses seventeen to nineteen describe the effect of their testimony on others.

First, the shepherds worshiped God.  Luke wrote that they returned to their flocks GLORIFYING AND PRAISING GOD.  They were gratified they’d had seen the Savior with their own eyes, that everything was just as the angels had promised.

Second, they told everyone about it.  The response to their excited witness is amazement (v. 18), except for Mary, who treasured these revelations and PONDERED them (v. 19).

  1. Jesus’ life brings joy to His followers (1PR 1).

Jesus Joy gets us through tough times (v. 6).  Peter wrote about our LIVING HOPE; a future God created for us through the RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST.  This HOPE shields us, protecting us until our salvation is REVEALED IN THE LAST TIME.  He wrote IN THIS YOU GREATLY REJOICE.  Remember, the angels announcing Jesus’ birth said it was GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY.  Here is that expression again.

The JOY Jesus brings helps us endure GRIEF from ALL KINDS OF TRIALS.  Verse seven explains God’s purpose in trials; he uses them to “refine” our faith, the most precious thing we have.  While we might prefer that God refine our faith by gentler means, it is in trials that we most appreciate the value of our relationship with God.

Peter also encourages us to know our TRIALS – even the ones that are life-long – are only temporary.  They last only FOR A LITTLE WHILE.  Heaven is eternal.  In trials we most eagerly desire our deliverance, our salvation.

Jesus Joy is INEXPRESSIBLE and GLORIOUS because it is based on our salvation (vs. 8+9).  Jesus Joy is so wonderful, so supernatural, Peter wrote that it is INEXPRESSIBLE! This JOY is so deep it challenges our vocabulary to describe it.  It challenges our hearts to contain it.  It challenges us to properly express it in our words and deeds.  It is so contrary to ordinary worldly experiences, it defies all attempts to draw comparisons.

GLORIOUS means it is divine (from God).  It reflects the being, character, and will of God.  As our salvation comes from Him, so does this JOY that flows from our salvation.

In the Greek New Testament, the word JOY is written in the form of a command.  Peter is not just saying JOY is available to them, he is commanding them to observe it.

Jesus brings joy to His people.

It was the last case before the court went on Christmas break.  The judge was to wrap it up and allow everyone to leave.  Without waiting for the bailiff to announce the case, the judge barked at the prisoner, “What are you charged with?”
The prisoner replied, “Doing my Christmas shopping too early.”
“That’s no crime,” said the judge. “Just how early were you doing this shopping?”
“Before the store opened,” he said.

(https://www.favecrafts.com/Entertaining/A-Great-Bunch-of-Funny-Christmas-Stories)

I don’t imagine that guy made it home for Christmas.  When all your plans and the extra responsibilities of the season threaten to make you crazy, do us all a favor and remember the first and greatest Advent Attitude is JOY.  Begin each day of Advent with that thought and see how it transforms the season.  Seek joy for yourself and to share it with others.

 

RESOURCES:

Sermon #1187

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Edwin A. Blume.

The NIV Bible Application Commentary, Darrell L. Bock.

The Good Old Ways

Take a moment to read Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

old-age-sticks-and-modernism-2-1-728

Image from: https://www.slideshare.net/Louendi/old-age-sticks-and-modernism-2

Classic One-Liners About Age

* Regular naps prevent old age, especially if you take them while driving. Author Unknown

* I’ve learned that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes. Andy Rooney

* When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to youth, think of algebra. Will Rogers

* I’m at an age when my back goes out more than I do.

* Whatever you may look like, marry a man your own age — as your beauty fades, so will his eyesight. Phyllis Diller
* Bottom of Form

He’s so old that when he orders a three-minute egg, they ask for the money up front.

* When I was a boy the Dead Sea was only sick. George Burns

* You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.

* It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens. Woody Allen

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-blumenthal/aging-comedy_b_1128087.html

This morning I want to draw particular attention to our summary statement:

God gives joys and trials at every stage of life.

          The paradoxical thing about that statement is that while it true that joy is a gift, it is also a pursuit.  This is what the Preacher of Ecclesiastes wants us to understand.  It’s not enough to wait around for joy to fall on you, each of us is to pursue the things that are God-given sources of joy.  Effort and intention are necessary for experiences of joy.

We need to also acknowledge the other half of that sentence.  Trials are also gifts from God.  They hurt in varying degrees, but are also rich resources, deep wells of experience that train us much better than joyous experiences do.  Trials help us mature graciously.  We’re not to simply grow old, but our aim is to grow in our spiritual maturity as we age.  Age and maturity aren’t necessarily the same thing.

To help in that line, I want us to take a look at a passage from the OT book of Ecclesiastes.  The author of this book identifies himself only as “the Preacher,” so that is how we will refer to him.  Let’s look together at the Preacher’s comments on aging and see if our thesis holds true.

  1. Let all ages enjoy life (11:7-8).

Given the cloudy, wet weather we’ve endured lately, we can appreciate the statement in v. 7; LIGHT IS SWEET.  It is true of all people – to one degree or another – we need sunlight.  Extensive deprivation causes low energy, depression, etc.  The phrase IT PLEASES THE EYES TO SEE THE SUN is a description of human nature, as is the majority of this passage.

LIGHT is a metaphor of youth and the joys the young can enjoy more fully than the aged; it is SWEET.  LIGHT also stands in contrast with the DAYS OF DARKNESS in verse eight.

The LIGHT-DARKNESS contrast is also a symbol of how human life can progress.  The Preacher looks at youth (the LIGHT years) from a wistful perspective and here catalogs all that age has taken from him in the “dark” years.

The point/counterpoint of LIGHT and DARKNESS reminds us to be temperate; to not be too attached to either the joyous or sorrowful moments.  We need to avoid being defined by our best days or our worst ones.

Verse eight brings a mix of good and bad news, mostly bad.  That’s how Ecclesiastes often seems to us; a surplus of bad news.

The good news is that all ages are called to joy.  However long life lasts, make your days a pursuit of joy even as you overcome trials.

The bad news is that we experience DAYS OF DARKNESS.  To REMEMBER this fact is to keep our perspective in balance.  The pursuit of joy is not to consume every conscious thought, nor is it supposed to take us in the paths of evil.  The Preacher warns us there will be MANY DAYS OF DARKNESS.  This is realism, not pessimism, though the Preacher goes back and forth across that line throughout this book.

  1. Let the young be happy but mindful that life ends with JUDGMENT (11:9-10; 12:1).

The Preacher gave five reasons to go ahead and enjoy our youth.  These are not a license to do sinful or stupid things, but a recognition that it is wise to store up a trove of joy in your heart and memory, especially while you are young.  These memories will help you get through DARK days.

The first four reasons are quite obvious and need no commentary:

BE HAPPY.

LET YOUR HEART GIVE YOU JOY.

FOLLOW THE WAYS OF YOUR HEART.

BANISH ANXIETY FROM YOUR HEART.

The fifth, however, requires a little explanation.  CAST OFF THE TROUBLES OF YOUR BODY means to not allow any weakness of body to inhibit the flight of your spirit and mind.  Be ambitious in ways that go around your physical limitations.

The Preacher listed three things to keep in mind during good times.  The first is to remember GOD WILL BRING YOU TO JUDGMENT (3:17; 9:1; 11:9; 12:14). Choices always have consequences.

On one hand, consequences are one of the primary means for parents to train children and our heavenly Father to train all of us.  The person who remembers this will avoid sinful behavior.  On the other hand, it is a virtue to seek joy.  A 3rd century rabbi named Rab commented, “Man will have to give account for all that he saw and did not enjoy.”  It is a sin to ignore God’s blessings.  What’s called for here is a balanced perspective, one that tempers both joy and sorrow.

The second is to realize YOUTH & VIGOR ARE MEANINGLESS. Young people can feel “10’ tall & bulletproof,” but life has a habit of disabusing us of such illusions.  The optimism and vitality of youth do not, by themselves, create anything of eternal value.

The third is to REMEMBER YOUR CREATOR.  Be appropriately grateful for your life and don’t abuse it or give it up.

In this passage there are three times (11:8+10; 12:8) the Preacher reminds us the things of the world are MEANINGLESS.  We know how that word feels, we also need to know what it meant.  In Ecclesiastes, MEANINGLESS means “a fleeting breath.”  It is also translated as “vanity” because it is temporary, not eternal.  It is subject to frustration because it is worldly, not heavenly.

The Preacher used the word repeatedly.  It was his verdict on the things of this life; the sum of his experiences and the conclusion of his thinking.  In chapter twelve, the Preacher examines how the physical and mental limitations sometimes imposed by age can frustrate us.  Better to make all the progress in spirituality we can before the limitations of advanced age make it harder.

  1. Let the aged be remembered (12:1-8).

Old age is a serious subject, referred to here as THE DAYS OF TROUBLE.  Even so, the Preacher approaches it with a sense of humor that is expressed in eleven clever metaphors of troubles that are typical to the aged.  The preface to the word pictures is a statement that sums up our feelings about the DAYS OF DARKNESS: “I FIND NO PLEASURE IN THEM.”  There are a number of different ways to interpret these word pictures; what I offer are examples; they’re not being offered as exclusive definitions.  One other caveat: not all aged persons experience all these symptoms and modern medicine has invented several ways to relieve these typical limitations brought on by aging.

One = SUN, LIGHT, MOON, STARS GO DARK, CLOUDS RETURN AFTER THE RAIN (2) and LOOKING THROUGH THE WINDOWS GROWS DIM (3) refer to a gradual loss of vision.  Or they may refer to the passing of the seasons and how the weather becomes progressively more difficult to live with: spring is easy, winter hard.

Two = THE KEEPERS OF THE HOUSE (legs) TREMBLE and STRONG MEN (arms) STOOP (3) remind us of how weak limbs and stooping are stereotypes of aging.

Three = GRINDERS CEASE BECAUSE THEY ARE FEW (3) references loss of teeth.  Oy, am I there!  My dentist wants me to put all my money where my mouth is!

Four = DOORS TO THE STREET ARE CLOSED (4) notes how some old folks come to prefer solitude to socializing; the repeated loss of family and friends can have that effect on a person.  Also, diminished senses of sight and hearing can leave a person feeling left out of conversations and understandably less interested in being among people, especially large groups of them.

Five = THE SOUND OF GRINDING FADES AND SONGS GROW FAINT (4) describe a gradual loss of hearing.

Six = MEN RISE AT THE SOUND OF BIRDS (4) is akin to our phrase “up with t chickens,” which is a vestigial habit of rising early, being trained to rise at a certain hour all our working years.  This may also imply a problem with insomnia, more common among the aged than the young.

Seven = AFRAID OF HEIGHTS AND DANGERS IN THE STREETS (5) looks to the added intensity of fear among the aged.  Of course, people of all ages feel anxiety but it more often comes with advancing age because repeated experiences of trials can make us feel wary.  Worse, a symptom of dementia and other mental illness is unfounded fears.

Eight = THE ALMOND TREE BLOSSOMS (5) are white, like an aged person’s hair.  “Snow on the roof” is a modern expression observing the same phenomena in a polite expression.

Nine = THE GRASSHOPPER DRAGS HIMSELF ALONG (5).  We’ve all seen how bugs get sluggish when the weather turns cold.  We’ve also seen how arthritis and other illnesses typical to the aged can slow folks down.

Ten = DESIRE IS NO LONGER STIRRED (5) at varying ages, libido is trumped by the need/desire for a good night’s sleep.  More broadly, the passions of youth typically give way to a more deliberate and temperate emotional nature as we mature.

Eleven = MAN GOES TO HIS ETERNAL HOME AND MOURNERS GO ABOUT THE STREETS (5) refers to the end of life.  The culture of the day required wailing and expressions of grief most of us would consider extreme.  In fact, by Jesus’ time, people would earn a living as professional mourners, performing these dramatic acts of mourning so the busy family members could get on with their daily routines!

In light of the DAYS OF DARKNESS, the young are to REMEMBER the aged.  “Remembering” means to attend to the aged and honor them in their troubles.  The young are to REMEMBER HIM (the aged) BEFORE death occurs, for death is inevitable and irreversible. We are given six word pictures of death here.

One, THE SLIVER CORD IS SEVERED.  This CORD held up an oil lamp.  Once severed, the lamp would crash to the floor and break.

Two, THE GOLDEN BOWL IS SHATTERED; a broken lamp will no longer give light to the room.

Three, THE PITCHER IS SHATTERED.  A broken pitcher is of no use in carrying water.

Four, THE WHEEL IS BROKEN.  If the pulley used to draw water from the well breaks, getting water has become much more difficult.

Five, THE DUST RETURNS TO THE GROUND refers to the creation of Adam from dust and to the decomposition of a body when buried (3:18-21).

Six, THE SPIRIT RETURNS TO GOD reminds us that life itself is a gift from God.  God alone determines birth and death; all life is His to command.  This is more reason to keep our focus on Him.

As serious as they are, the trials of the aged are also MEANINGLESS.  That is, they are temporary.  The only parts of life that endure are the maturity created in the person and the good works we do.

When reading Ecclesiastes, we need to keep in mind that it belongs to a kind of revelation called “wisdom literature.”  The writer did not claim to be a prophet, but used reasoning to persuade his reader to a godly perspective.  He did not wield the authority of “thus says the LORD,” but instead asks, “What do you think about this?”

We should also remember that all parts of Scripture interpret one another.  No single verse or section stands alone to support doctrine.  Instead, our most central beliefs are woven together from the strands of many scriptures.

All that to say this: don’t neglect reading Ecclesiastes because it seems negative.  The Preacher’s observations are included in the Bible to help us form a rational basis for our faith and to weave together personal experience and divine revelation.

When you come down to it, this passage is a matter of time.  In the life span of a human being, we reach the height of our power when ability is at its peak, matched by the breadth of opportunity.

In this case, the Preacher’s observations lend support to our belief that God gives joys and trials at every stage of life.  If we believe God is in charge, then we must accept this essential truth.  The alternatives are to blame the devil for all trials (not true), or to blame randomness (not true).

With God in charge, every experience has some meaning that transcends the moment and offers us at least one lesson to be learned for the deepening of our maturity.  When we believe God is in charge, we understand that everything He does is motivated by love and that it will all work out for good.  If we believe anything else, then the situation is really more hopeless than anything the Preacher described in Ecclesiastes.  Faith in God is the only choice that offers hope for the future and gives meaning to our past and present.

As If in a Dream

Please read Psalm 126 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I prefer the NIV (1984) and used it to prepare these remarks.

Joy comes with God’s renewal of His people.

 Joy

       I hear concerns raised about how the Church in America is losing its influence on popular culture.  There are lots of reasons offered but I think it’s our impaired sense of humor that is a reason I don’t hear being discussed much.  We excel at “mourning with those who mourn,” but are morose about “laughing with those who laugh.”

          Realize two things: One, among all the beliefs on the face of the Earth, the Christian faith gives the greatest reasons for joy.  Two, the Bible is a book that is full of life and a great deal of what it has to say is couched in humor.

I could go on and on with examples and explanations, but it’s such a chore and time is limited, so let me offer just one example.  The humor of the Bible is situated in a time and culture that is very distant from our own.  Humor is something that is very dependent on the moment.  Have you ever related something funny that happened to you and got a deadpan reaction?  What do we say in response but, “I guess you had to be there?”

William Shakespeare wrote a number of comedies.  But to modern audiences, it’s hard to get the joke, especially when reading it.  Sir Richard Eyre, former head of the National Theatre and one of Britain’s most celebrated Shakespearean directors, said topical comedy dates “very quickly”, leaving the meaning lost to history.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/11694297/William-Shakespeares-jokes-are-just-not-funny-Sir-Richard-Eyre-admits.html

More recently, here are some 19th century American jokes, tell me what you think:
“If conceit were consumption, he’d be dead a long time ago!”
“They say that too many minors have enlisted in the army, however I think that some of the minors are doing better than some of the Majors.”

“What’s the difference between a drunkard and a condemned man? One takes a drop to live and the other takes a drop to die.”

https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-old-jokes-that-were-considered-hilarious-in-their-time-but-would-fall-flat-before-most-modern-early-21st-century-audiences

Not exactly side splitting stuff, right?  So we need Bible scholars to tell us why Bible humor was humorous, how Jesus’ reference to a plank in your eye was probably LOL to His peeps.  After all, we don’t have a “laugh track” to tell us which are the funny parts.

But let there be no mistake that the Bible has a lot to say on the subject of JOY and its perfectly obvious.  Let’s start with today’s text.

  1. Praise God for a dream fulfilled. (126:1-3)

The text offers four very descriptive signs of joy.

Joy Sign #1: WE WERE LIKE MEN WHO DREAMED.  We think of “dreams” as visions we receive while sleeping and as visions we realize while awake.

Normally, dreams are simply ways our subconscious ways our minds try to work out waking problems while we sleep.  God created dreams as a psychological “safety valve.”  Biblically, God has used dreams to reveal His will.  There is no indication in the Bible that God has ceased to do this.

On the other hand, we express our aspirations in order to give inspiration to others.  We need to be cautious here to not mix up our will with God’s.  Self-deception comes so easily we must submit these aspirations to the scrutiny of the church for affirmation.  Especially when we envision ways to do God’s will, the fulfillment of our DREAMS brings a special and abiding kind of JOY.  What we have here is a JOY so intense it feels dream-like, “too good to be true.”

Joy Sign #2: OUR MOUTHS WERE FILLED WITH LAUGHTER.  This phrase describes people who were giddy with joy, a happiness that demanded expression, one that could not be denied.  Laughter is not a sign of immaturity nor is it unspiritual if it flows out of godly joy.  The morality depends on what inspires a person to laugh: what’s in their heart at that moment.

Joy Sign #3: OUR TONGUES WITH SONGS OF JOY.  Like laughter, singing is a way we spontaneously express our JOY.  Wouldn’t it be great if life were more like a musical comedy?  We could express our JOY with singing and dancing, backed by a full orchestra!

Joy Sign #4: WE ARE FILLED WITH JOY.  They were FILLED, even to the point of overflowing, with JOY!  Anyone who doesn’t desire this level of JOY in their life is missing a vital part of a living, maturing faith.   To me there is a parallel between being FILLED WITH JOY and being Filled with the Spirit.

As verse two testifies even the pagan NATIONS noticed what God had done.  They offer the testimony of a “hostile witness” which carries extra weight because they have nothing to gain by misstatement or exaggeration.

We also need to understand the times.  People of this age were superstitious and tied their gods to their national identity.  For example, when your nation won a war, it was thought to be proof that your god was more powerful than your enemy’s.  In this instance, when the Babylonians conquered the people of Judah, the NATIONS concluded that the Babylonian gods were more powerful than the Jew’s God, Yahweh.

This means God allowed His name to be slandered among the nations in order to discipline His people.  On the other hand, later, when the people of Judah were allowed to come home, that was seen as their God’s triumph over the gods of Babylon.

Here’s what the NATIONS concluded: “THE LORD HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR THEM.” (2)

Here’s the people of God agreeing with the pagan NATIONS; THE LORD HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR US. (2)

Here’s the result: WE ARE FILLED WITH JOY. (2)

This joy was not from the pampered and comfortable, but from those who were CAPTIVES in Babylon.  There is a spontaneous kind of JOY that comes like a clap of thunder.  It is often undeserved or at least unexpected, and it departs as suddenly as it disappears.  There is also the kind of JOY that abides with you.  It comes as a sense of satisfaction after a good work well done.  It settles on your heart and warms it.  It stays with you, to some degree, and recurs when you recall the circumstances.  The first kind is exciting, the second kind, encouraging.

Those persons who, after 70 years of captivity, endured and then returned to their homeland experienced the first kind of joy when the news was announced and the second kind when the returned home and rebuilt Jerusalem.

The ones who experienced this divine JOY were the ones who remained faithful in spite of what it cost them.

The ones who experienced this divine JOY were the ones who stood against the seemingly impossible odds, travelling hundreds of miles on foot to a set of ruins.

The ones who experienced this divine JOY were the ones who persevered against the elements and their enemies to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple.

This is how life works for all of us, folks.  The worldly culture around us offers flashes of happiness in return to submitting to the captivity of their “groupthink” and the slavery to sinful appetites that is called “consumerism.” Not content to only offer distractions, the world also actively opposes faith; it belittles and battles genuine devotion to God.

We will know divine JOY when we ignore the distractions and remain faithful when we face persecutions.  This is a depth of JOY as described in this passage that the world will NEVER be able to give.

  1. A prayer for dreamers. (126:4-6)

When dreams come true, there is still work to be done.  When the initial joy of hearing that they COULD return to Jerusalem, then the realization of what that would take set in.  That’s why the passage makes the sudden jump from JOY to pleading with God.

RESTORE OUR FORTUNES, O LORD, sounds to me like a plea, a heartbroken prayer spoken when the ruins of Jerusalem were finally in sight.  Imagine how those returning from exile must have felt when they saw all the work and struggle that lay before them.  As people of faith, they cried out to God to help them do what, to worldly eyes, must’ve looked impossible.  Don’t let the word FORTUNES throw you; this is not a plea for prosperity as much as it is a desperate prayer for survival!

Historically, we know the returning exiles had to overcome a great deal of adversity to rebuild their land: lack of shelter, opposition from neighboring nations; the insecurity of the lack of suitable defenses; raiders; locusts; bad harvests; an extended drought; mountainous problems inflicted by both man and nature.  They had no idea what they’d got themselves into when they arrived, but they knew enough to prompt this crying out to God.

LIKE THE STREAMS OF THE NEGEV refers to a common experience of the people.   In that climate, streams and rivers can dry up completely.  One might not even recognize a riverbed when walking on it.  However, when the rainy season arrived, flash floods were common and the streams would be restored, full of water.

This would have been a common experience in the NEGEV, a desert area in the southeast part of modern-day Israel.  The people felt like a desert-dry stream bed, so they prayed that God would RESTORE them and fill them with life, just as He did with the dry streams in the desert.

In spite of the intimidating task before them, the returnees had hope.  They trusted in God, and from that trust came this promise expressed twice in vs. 5+6.

THOSE WHO SOW IN TEARS WILL REAP WITH SONGS OF JOY.

HE WHO GOES OUT WEEPING, CARRYING SEED TO SOW, WILL RETURN WITH SONGS OF JOY, CARRYING SHEAVES WITH HIM.

The TEARS and WEEPING are the physical signs of great sorrow.  They are the trails of trials that track down our face when we have to face opposition and obstacles.

If we think of them as “seeds” we can be assured these sorrows are designed to ensure a fruitful future.  We’d prefer a gentler, kinder, experience, but that’s not the way the world works.

In ancient cultures, sowing a seed was a symbol of burial and came to be associated with grief over a death.  Both Jesus (John 12:24) and Paul (1CT 15:36) used this imagery to teach about life overcoming death.  Trust that the seed will grow; that with the harvest, there will be SONGS OF JOY.

I read a provocative statement in an article entitled “Three Absolute Truths that Determine the Harvest,” by Dr. George Bannister.  He wrote, “It has been said that the problem with Southern Baptists is that we are ‘A harvest oriented denomination in a unseeded generation.’”

His point was that there can be no harvest without sowing.  It is not enough for churches to keep their doors open and expect people to seek us out and step through them.

Ken Ham made a similar point in his new book Gospel Reset: Salvation Made Relevant.  We are living in a culture that is ignorant of the basic truths of Scripture.  The culture has dismissed the Bible as irrelevant and disregarded sin as a relative to the situation.  The Church in America is stuck in a mode where we’re answering questions no one is asking, using language they don’t understand, referencing things that have largely disappeared from our culture, except as objects of ridicule.

We want the joy of salvation.  There is no joy in this life that is sweeter than helping someone find Jesus as their Savior.  If we are to know this joy, we must plant those seeds.  There is an unmistakable connection between joyful reaping and passionate seed-sowing.

God announced this principle in Galatians 6:7, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: a man reaps whatever he sows.”  We can resist this cultural trend in media and politics, but the forces allied against us have the advantage in those areas.  Our advantage is the power of God and the truth.  These advantages are most influential in personal relationships.  Rather than assault the culture directly, it makes more sense for us to put the majority of our effort into establishing relationships and making friends with those outside our faith.

 

RESOURCES:

The Daily Study Bible Series, George A.F. Knight

Bible Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown

The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, Lawrence E. Toombs

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce

https://sermons.faithlife.com/sermons/110191-three-absolute-truths-that-determine-the-harvest

Planting Tears, Harvesting Joy

advent three(From http://www.lifeway.com/Article/devotions-christmas-advent-week-three-joy.)

Please read Psalm 126 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV to prepare this article.

Jesus is our joy.  Our joy is our strength.

          From an anonymous author and for your Advent enjoyment, I present a “Theology of Christmas Toys.”   This humorous article answers the question, “If adults were as concerned about toys as kids are, how would different faiths think about toys?”

  • Atheism: There is no toymaker.
  • Polytheism: There are many toymakers.
  • Darwinism: The toys made themselves.
  • Capitalism: Sell your toys.
  • Communism: Everyone gets the same number of toys.
  • Islam: You can only play with my toy. Get rid of yours or else.
  • Buddhism: The world would be a better place if we all stopped asking for toys.
  • Presbyterian: These toys were chosen for you to play with and these toys were chosen for me.
  • Methodist: Consult the “Book of Discipline” for the right method of playing with toys.
  • Episcopalian: We don’t care where the toys come from, we just play with them.
  • Baptist: We have played with this toy this way for years and we’re not about to change.
  • Unitarian: There are no bad toys or bad players.
  • Pentecostal: Real toys can speak in tongues.
  • Assembly of God: Name the toy and claim it.
  • Seventh Day Adventist: Eat your vegetables and play with your toys on Saturday only.
  • Christian Scientist: Broken toys are a figment of your imagination.
  • Amish: No toys with batteries.
  • Orthodox: There is only one toy and it is in our church. It was our toy first.
  • Catholic: No, it’s our toy.
  • Televangelist: Send me $100 and I’ll tell you how to get more toys.

(Adapted from the Joyful Noiseletter, Dec. 2010.)

It turns out that the real joy of this season was wrapped in “swaddling clothes,” not in wrapping paper.  Do you want to have a joyous Christmas?  Focus on Christ.                2

  1. The LORD’s restoration is the peoples’ joy.

Restoration brings joy.  The word “restoration” is one of two key words in this passage.   It is described as A SONG OF ASCENTS; a hymn sung as people walked up the hill to the temple.

The historical occasion is the return of God’s people from their exile in Babylon. RESTORE OUR FORTUNES…LIKE STREAMS IN THE NEGEV (4).  Traditionally, this psalm is believed to have been written by Ezra, the priest who helped lead God’s people back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and the temple.  The joy of returning home was no doubt tempered when they saw the ruins of the city and fully realized the work that lay before them.  That’s why verse four feels a bit out of place – a downbeat among all the excitement.  In the Hebrew, the word RESTORE is in the imperative voice, so it’s pleading with God (use an “!”).

In the region of the NEGEV, the STREAMS have dry up over the summer.   When winter rains fall, even just an inch results in rushing waters & flash floods.  Ultimately the water revives the land: there are blossoms in the desert.  To the first readers of the song this would have been a dramatic illustration as they would have experienced this personally.

Spiritually, this image means we are restored from slavery to sin with its deadly effects.  We are restored to fellowship with God and one another.

“Joy” is the other key word.  Their joy upon returning home was so deep, it was beyond understanding: WE WERE LIKE THOSE WHO DREAMED (1).  Have you ever said to someone, “Pinch me; I must be dreaming” and regretted it later?  Deep joy is one of those rare moments when life feels too good to be true and we are overwhelmed by joy.  It’s a more common experience to anticipate something but still be overwhelmed when it actually happens.  This passage reads like the eyewitness account of someone who’s experienced this kind of joy personally.

In verse two their joy found expression.   OUR MOUTHS WERE FILLED WITH LAUGHTER, OUR TONGUES WITH SOUNDS OF JOY.  The repetition of MOUTHS and TONGUES is for emphasis.  The point: joy is sometimes so powerful we can’t hold it in.

LAUGHTER and SOUNDS OF JOY may be the same thing, but they certainly come from the same thing: profound joy.  Whether we celebrate with laughter or song, God wants us to worship Him with joyous hearts.

This is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: LEAVE BABYLON, FLEE FROM THE BABYLONIANS!  ANNOUNCE THIS WITH SHOUTS OF JOY AND PROCLAIM IT.  SEND IT OUT TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH; SAY “THE LORD HAS REDEEMED HIS SERVANT JACOB.” (Isaiah 48:20)

The phrase IT WAS SAID AMONG THE NATIONS means the message of God’s restoring His people was spoken so widely and with such intensity of joy even pagan nations knew God had acted on their behalf.

The deepest joy flows from remembering all the GREAT THINGS God has done for us (v. 3).  God so worked on the heart of Cyrus, the Babylonian king, that he allowed the people of Judah to return to their homeland without paying any ransom.  He allowed them to take back temple treasures and even aided their return and reconstruction with generous gifts.  When enemies tried to undermine the Jew’s efforts, Cyrus took their side.

The rebuilding of the city, its walls, and the temple within was no small feat.  The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail the obstacles overcome to achieve this.

Tears are “joy seeds,” as affirmed in verses five and six.  THOSE WHO SOW WITH TEARS WILL REAP WITH SONGS OF JOY (5). Obviously we don’t weep seeds, so this is a poetic, symbolic statement.  It is a promise that our sorrows are not wasted.  The tears we cry are like seeds in the sense that they will bring better days ahead.

THOSE WHO GO OUT WEEPING, CARRYING SEED TO SOW, WILL RETURN WITH SONGS OF JOY, CARRYING SHEAVES WITH THEM (6).

The Jews struggled to emerge from their captivity.  The promise is overcoming.  It will make a difference.  Tears of grief and frustration will become tears and songs of joy as God rewards faithfulness with fruitfulness.

The Bible is clear on this point: our TEARS are important to God; He sees them.  As a psalmist wrote: Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll— are they not in your record? (Psalm 56:8)  Other versions translate this verse as saying God collects our tears in a bottle.

From Egyptian times to the American Civil War and even to today, people have used small bottles to collect their tears as a sign of grief at death or parting.  These bottles are called “lachrymatories.”  (You can order them online, spending from $7 to $70.)

The agricultural metaphor implies that restoration is a gift that demands effort on our part.  As we’ve learned recently, our part is to be faithful and trust that God will make us fruitful.  For them, this involved risk; seed was buried in the ground and if it didn’t produce a crop, there would NOT be any for next year’s planting.  Faithfulness requires risk.

  1. Jesus’ birth was a joyous occasion.

The MAGI/wise men rejoiced (Matthew 2:9-10).  AFTER THEY HAD HEARD THE KING, THEY WENT ON THEIR WAY, AND THE STAR THEY HAD SEEN WHEN IT ROSE WENT AHEAD OF THEM UNTIL IT STOPPED OVER THE PLACE WHERE THE CHILD WAS.  WHEN THEY SAW THE STAR, THEY WERE OVERJOYED.

Elizabeth and unborn John the Baptist rejoiced (LKE 1:44).  “AS SOON AS THE SOUND OF YOUR GREETING REACHED MY EARS, THE BABY IN MY WOMB LEAPED FOR JOY.”

Mary rejoiced (LKE 1:46).  “MY SOUL GLORIFIES THE LORD AND REJOICES IN GOD MY SAVIOR.”

In Luke 2, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna gave glory to God when they saw the baby Jesus, which is exactly the right thing to do when we experience godly joy.

It has been suggested that we proclaim 2018 to be a Year of Joy here at Emmanuel.  Sounds good.  But proclaiming requires doing or we’ve only succeeded in exchanging words.  We’d all like a 52 week break from negativity and worldly concerns.

Theologian Huston Smith is quoted, “At the center of the religious life is a peculiar kind of joy, the prospect of a happy ending that blossoms from necessarily painful ordeals, the promise of human difficulties embraced and overcome.”
(Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/huston_smith_613775)

 

An Invitation to Dance

(Please read Jeremiah 31 in your favorite translation of the Bible.  I have used the NIV.)

God’s people have reason to dance with joy.

  1. Look who’s dancing. (vs. 4 +13)

In the Bible, dancing is an act of WORSHIP on occasions of JOY. The Bible records occasions when God’s people danced.  Generally speaking, these were worship services, feasts, and at military victories.  (The men danced a/t battle site, immediately after the victory was won.  Women danced in a parade with the returning soldiers.)

There are two familiar examples of joyous dancers in the Bible.  In Exodus 15, Miriam, beside the Red Sea, danced immediately after God vanquished the Egyptian army.  In 2 Samuel 6, David danced before the Ark of the Covenant as it was finally brought to Jerusalem.

In the New Testament era, dancing was a point of controversy, so we don’t read much about it.  Some early Christians distrusted it because pagans danced as part of their worship.  However, some of the church fathers wrote in favor of including dance in worship.

Let’s take note of our passage for today: dancing in Jeremiah 31.  Who is dancing in this prophecy?  THE JOYFUL (4) = Everyone who celebrated what God has done for them.  MAIDENS…YOUNG MEN AND OLD AS WELL (13) = Neither age nor gender were no barrier to praising the Lord in this way.

Why were they dancing? Because at last God’s promises were being fulfilled; they were delivered from their enemies.

  1. You too have reasons to dance. (vs. 3, 5-20, 31-34)

While this prophecy was fulfilled in part during the lifetimes of the Jews returning from Babylon, part of it remains to be fulfilled in our lifetimes.  Also, the spiritual principles that are at the heart of these promises are just as true today.  So let’s take a look at the reasons for joyous, worshipful dance that are detailed in Jeremiah 31.

First, God LOVES you (v. 3).  God’s love is definitively stated: I HAVE LOVED YOU WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE and I HAVE DRAWN YOU WITH LOVING-KINDNESS. The national history of Judah is the same as our personal history; we’ve gone our own way, defying God.  We have benefitted from His discipline and enjoyed His forgiveness.  Take the promises personally

Second, He promised you will enjoy the fruits of your LABOR (v. 5).  When the Babylonian army invaded, they reduced Judah’s fields to rubble.  From that point on, the people served their Babylonian masters and they enjoyed the fruits of the labor of God’s people. To work and enjoy the fruit of your labor is grace, a gift from God.

One of the most frustrating things in life is to work and receive no reward. For example, consider Tax Freedom Day.  That is the day experts calculate you have been working for the government, that the money you’ve made hs gone to pay your annual taxes.  Tax Freedom Day came to us in South Dakota on April 8, the rest o/t nation averaged April 24!  We are 4th earliest!

<Retrieved from http://taxfoundation.org/sites/taxfoundation.org/files/docs/TFD%20Map.png on 5/14/16.>

Third, you can WORSHIP God (vs. 6-7, 12).  The Bible does not endorse any one style of worship as more pleasing to God.  All styles of acceptable worship are the reaction of believers to their experiences of God at work in their lives.  It is a matter of choice, with three caveats.

– It focuses on God’s glory.

– It is sincere. Sincerity is proven in different reactions, including the sorrow of repentance and the joy of salvation.  Feel all emotions in worship!

– It is done decently and in order.

Jeremiah 31 is a vision of God’s people reunited in worship.  They are GOING UP TO ZION, up the temple mount to worship God.  He reunited His people for this purpose.

Fourth, God saves us, bring us together, and makes us one FLOCK (vs. 8-11).  This FLOCK is constituted by God’s grace, not by the strength of the sheep.  In this text, they are described as folk needing assistance.  It is the BLIND…

LAME…EXPECTANT MOTHERS who God leads back to Zion.

Because it’s clear they did not save themselves, this FLOCK returned with WEEPING and prayer (v. 9).  We can’t understate this point: joy comes from knowing we’re saved by grace, not our hand.  They rejoice because the LORD RANSOMED and REDEEMED them.  Rejoice and dance because it is not about you and it never will be.

Fifth, your TEARS will be dried: God Himself will be your comfort (vs. 15-17).  RACHEL represents the nation of Judah, who wept over all she lost: her people, freedom, temple, and land.

In his Gospel, Matthew saw fulfillment of this passage in the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem by King Herod.  He quoted it in Matthew 2 to explain the horrifying deaths of infant boys to satisfy Herod’s fear of being supplanted and ruler of Judea.

This passage shares our grief but more importantly affirms our hope.  We all suffer loss, but thanks to God, we are defined by our joy, not our grief.

Sixth, you will be disciplined, but God is eager to forgive you (vs. 18-20).  God took His people into exile, but 70 years later, He brought them home.  Just as promised.

In this section we hear the voice of repentance.  By faith, they finally understood the seriousness of their sin. They finally felt the necessity of repentance.  Best of all, they finally experienced the relief of forgiveness.  Flooded with joy, they danced in spirit in worship of the One who forgave them.

Seventh, we’ve been brought to a NEW COVENANT; a new relationship with God (vs. 31-34).  These verses are the climax of the passage: the very best news possible.  The Old Covenant was bound to be replaced.  The New Covenant provided a better, more personal relationship with God.

Under the New Covenant, God’s will is put in our MINDS and written on our HEARTS, not on tablets of stone. Under the New Covenant, all people of faith – FROM THE LEAST OF THEM TO THE GREATEST – can have an intimate, personal relationship with God.

Of all the reasons that a person might dance, this seems to be the best, doesn’t it?  Life can be like a musical, if only you will have faith to hear the notes.

(You may view the video version of this message at YouTube.com.  Look up “EBCSF” to find it.)