(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.
- 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.
- 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.)