This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on September 19th, 2010. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Justin 9/19/10.
Jeremiah 32 Living in Hope 9/19/2010
Today’s reading from Jeremiah tells the story of a real estate transaction that didn’t make good sense. The setting: Jerusalem, capital of the kingdom of Judah, about 587 B.C. Zedekiah, a young weak king whom the Babylonians had installed in Jerusalem after they began to dominate his area, had led the Jews in rebelling against Babylon’s rule, and now the Babylonian army had come to wreak vengeance on the failed rebels. Jerusalem was under siege. Famine and illness, the usual companions of siege, were killing as many people as the Babylonians’ swords (verse 24).
The prophet Jeremiah had been imprisoned for prophesying that Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians, for saying that this conquest was God’s judgment on centuries of sin, and for telling the citizens of Jerusalem that resistance would do them no good. The king called him a morale-sapping traitor. (This happens to God’s spokespeople throughout the Bible. Sometimes, speaking God’s truth will make you very unpopular with the authorities or even with your friends and family.)
In the middle of Jeremiah’s imprisonment, his cousin Hanamel came to visit (v. 8) to ask him to buy a field in Anathoth, less than an hour’s walk from Jerusalem. Hanamel was following the tradition established in Leviticus 25:25: if a person became unable to keep his land, and had to sell it, his closest relative was supposed to try to buy it, in order to keep the land in the family. But Anathoth was currently occupied by the Babylonian army! This deal appeared to be foolish. But Jeremiah knew this was the fulfillment of God’s prediction to him, and he bought the field, turning what seemed like a terrible idea into a concrete symbol of hope. He took great care with the copies of the deed, so that they would last a long time (verses 9-12). He made sure to explain his confidence to the witnesses: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land’ ” (verse 15). In other words, people would return and be able to live normal lives, making use of the fields and vineyards. The Babylonian victory would not be a permanent one.
Though everything seemed to be collapsing, and God’s preservation of his people seemed to have ended, God promised that all was not lost. But the promise went beyond mere economic restoration: God also promised a new and more intimate relationship with his people (verses 38-41). In the midst of catastrophe he offered hope.
How did Jeremiah demonstrate that he was holding on to this hope?
- In prayer (verses 16 through 25). Knowledge of God’s future plan is not meant to make Jeremiah fatalistic. Instead, it drives him to anguished prayer: “God, you know how bad things are. How is this promise of yours going to come true?”
- In action. He buys the field and tells people God’s rationale for why he has done it.
Jeremiah’s prophecies came true. Babylon conquered the city; King Zedekiah was brought before Nebuchadnezzar, then blinded and sent into captivity, and many of the people of Judea were deported to Babylon. Not until seventy years had passed were the exiles given permission to return, to rebuild their city and Temple and to worship God as they had done before.
For years after the return from Babylonian exile, the people wondered how God was going to fulfill the second half of his promise: how would he create a new relationship with them? Some thought it would happen only in some far future. But the fulfillment of this prophecy began in an unexpected way. It began with one man, Jesus, whose ministry, like Jeremiah’s, was opposed by the powers of his day (prophets were still unpopular!). These rulers, aided by the Romans, executed Jesus. But he didn’t stay dead, and with the resurrection of Jesus, God’s power, his promised future, began reversing the sin and death of our present world. The New Testament writers, whose lives were turned upside down by the news of Jesus’ resurrection, said that Jesus was the first installment of God’s future rescue of the world (Colossians 1:18-20). Through sending his son as a human, and later bringing him physically back to life, God demonstrated that he was not abandoning his creation. He has permanently connected himself with us in a new way. Now, after his resurrection, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to all who follow him. This Spirit (Paul calls him the “down-payment” or anticipation of God’s future kingdom) brings some of the effects of God’s future redemption of the whole world into our present.
That sounds wonderful. But how can we hold on to hope, in a world that often feels like a besieged city? How do we put our hope into action? First, we pray. It is tempting, in hard times, to forget about prayer entirely and to focus on our own efforts and options. It may even be painful to pray because we feel that our prayers are being ignored. But God is not deaf to our prayers, and the act of speaking to him, even sadly or angrily, can be courageous and hopeful. (In the book of Romans, Paul speaks of “groaning” in prayer when we are too weighed down to articulate what we need.) We are to have a “holy impatience,” to pray for God’s kingdom to fully come, to tell God about our troubles and about the places where it seems that his peace is very far away, to ask him to act. Like Jeremiah, we should pray about places where it seems like God’s absent or angry and we’re under siege.
Second, we act in ways that show we believe God is at work in our lives and in the world. Too often we base our decisions on fear, especially when we feel that our world is fracturing, but we as individuals and churches are called to act out of hope, instead. There are as many ways to do this as there are Christians, but here are a few:
- Speaking and acting kindly to someone who has not treated you fairly (if you’re feeling extra-brave, make it someone in your own family)
- Forgiving a past offense, every time you remember it, instead of holding on to a grudge
- Learning more about injustice in the world and working to combat it (as groups like the International Justice Mission are fighting slavery and sex trafficking)
- Tutoring a child who doesn’t seem to have much of a future
- Creating a beautiful work of art
- Praying for God to work in a situation that has seemed to drag on with no change
- Tending the little patch of creation that is yours, through good use of the land and its resources
- Showing hospitality and generosity to someone in need (Matthew 25:34-40), especially to those who cannot pay you back (Luke 14:12-14)
- Being ready to tell people the reason for “the hope that is in you,” and to do it respectfully (I Peter 3:15)
Without the hope that God is working in this world, some of these things make about as much sense as buying a field in a war zone. But because God has not given up on creation or on us, we know that “our labor in the Lord is not pointless” (I Corinthians 15:58). Today, as we worship God and pray for him to heal our broken situations, ask him to strengthen your hope.