One of the cartoons on my daily New Yorker Calendar had a couple sitting in their lounge room and he is saying what I think is a fairly dreadful thing to say to his wife which is this: “could you please summarise what you have been saying for the last 25 years because I haven’t been listening”.
And our sermon this morning is a call to those who don’t listen. I don’t think that’s a big problem here on Sunday mornings – I think people do listen; at least I think you are listening. I personally know what it’s like to be sitting in church looking like l am listening but I am actually thinking about something completely different. But that’s just a personal confession.
And this morning as I say the title to those who don’t listen is because in Jeremiah 25 the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah had the very painful job of saying to God’s people that because they had refused to listen for a very long time, they were about to be punished. God would bring really a devastating discipline on them and exile them from the land, the Promised Land, and then eventually after 70 years he would restore them and do good to them.
Jeremiah (just by background) was a prophet around 600BC. Therefore in the timeline of the Old Testament he comes after Abraham, after Moses, after David, the people of God are in the Promised Land, the Promised Land has been split into two. The north called Israel has now been kind of wiped out, the south called Judah seems to be going the same way and Jeremiah is speaking to the south, to Judah.
And if you don’t know this – you need to know that God sent his prophets like Covenant watchdogs who would come and speak to God’s people when the leadership, the King and the people were not listen to the Word of God. The King was meant to place himself under the Word of God and the people were meant to place themselves under the Word of God but when they didn’t, well of course the whole nation – the people of God went into great darkness and God would bring over the top a prophet who was fearless and brave and faithful.
Elijah would speak to Ahab – even though Ahab was the king.
Nathan would speak to David – even though David was the king.
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John the Baptist would speak to Herod in the NT – even though Herod was the king.
The prophet was somebody who God brought in to bring back the Word of God to its proper place. This is where the book starts to turn from warning to hope. So there is a bit of warning and then it moves steadily into really wonderful chapters and I hope you will see as we study these really wonderful riches. I didn’t personally think you could cope with 24 chapters of sustained judgment and so I’ve lovingly chose to summarise it which I think is probably reasonable.
So if you look at chapter 25 on page 775 – let me read to you again the first words of the chapter. It says “The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah” and you’ll see the king at the time was Jehoiakim – he was in his 4th year – obviously ungodly and then these very ominous words “the king of Babylon is Nebuchadnezzar” – he is in his 1st year – that’s an ominous phrase because Babylon is going to be the weapon that God would use to discipline the people of Judah.
And Jeremiah says this: “for twenty-three years the word has come to me – I didn’t ask for it, says Jeremiah – but it’s come to me and I have spoken to you again and again but you have not listened for twenty-three years”.
I am very thankful that over the years so many have listened but imagine if at the end of 23 years you could say nobody has listened – nobody has listened! What is God going to do with nobody listening among his people – remember he is not a fool; he is not stuck for answers. Well his people in 600BC are not listening – this is the important thing – God is going to do something because his word is not like a television ad – his word is actually the facts. You cannot safely fight against the Word of God. It doesn’t come as an option.
If you were watching commercial television last night from 6.00 to 7.00pm and you’d watch say the News, you would have probably listened to if you kept going through the whole hour 25 or 30 commercials, but they are optional. Whatever they are telling you is an option. With the commercials you can safely ignore them and sleep. The Word of God is not like a television commercial, the Word of God is like an announcement of how life works.
And from Genesis people have not been listening and people have therefore been suffering but God is a God who teaches his people to listen. Here in 6th Century BC Judah and God is going to teach them to listen. We are not good listeners but we learn to listen because God teaches us to listen. We (if you are like me) are the sort of people who easily pick and choose from the Word of God and we turn a deaf ear. Even in church as I say – you can be hearing but not listening and even what you listen to you can refuse to do – but God will teach us to listen.
So I want to look at this chapter under 3 quick headings –
The first is – Strange Deafness – Chapter 25 verses 1-7 (this will be half our time)
The second is – Enforced Listening – Chapter 25 verses 8-14
The third is – There are Big Consequences for this – Chapter 25 verses 15-38
First of all – Strange Deafness. Look again at chapter 25 verse 4 – God gave his word to Jeremiah for 23 years. So Jeremiah is half way through his ministry. His ministry lasted about 45 years and the mark of Jeremiah’s ministry is that he has been very faithful and very unsuccessful. Is that possible?? It is. He has been very faithful and he has been very unsuccessful. God had called him when he was a boy. He was a priest and God called him to be a prophet. God said – your word is actually going to go out to the nations and Jeremiah said – well that’s just ridiculous – my word will never go out to the nations and the Lord said – Yes it will – and it did.
And it was a miserable ministry for Jeremiah – nobody listened to him and he had to announce God’s plans again and again that he would punish his people. The false prophets were there buzzing around saying “this will never happen – don’t listen to Jeremiah – the God of heaven loves you and nothing will go wrong for you – do whatever you like” said the false prophets.
And the message in Jeremiah’s head and heart and in his very bones caused him to weep. He says in chapter 9 “I wish my head was a fountain so that I could get all the tears out”. So this word was something that he didn’t want to say but he was obligated to say and he was faithful to say and he went on to say to the people of Judah – you have committed 2 sins – 1. You have turned your back on God who is the Fountain of living water and 2. You have turned to buckets that have got holes in them and will disappoint you. And he described Judah as:
A prostitute and
A camel on heat and
As a lusty stallion
Because the people were so addicted to their spiritual adulteries. He found the leaders and the people to be the same – not one of them was committed to the truth, he says in chapter 5. And here is Jeremiah saying – you have not listened to the Good News, you must now listen to the bad news – you are going to have 70 years in exile in Babylon.
And the false prophets said, don’t believe it – he is a pessimist – and so Jeremiah said of the false prophets “they dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious” – it’s a gaping cancer and they are putting a band aid over it. They say “peace, peace” where there is no peace. So they didn’t listen, they didn’t care. Jeremiah would call to the people “return to Yahweh and he will cure you” but they wouldn’t and so his message was for the people of Judah “an enemy will come from the North” and of course he meant Babylon. They will come like a boiling pot tipped over – they will pour onto you. This will be a disaster for you – the place that you are in now, the Promised Land, will be a desert and to make the point Jeremiah said the absolutely unthinkable – “God is going to fight AGAINST YOU”.
And of course the people said – that’s impossible – and the false prophets said – that’s impossible. But Jeremiah spoke the truth. God was going to fight his people because his people were absolutely deaf to his word.
A couple of days ago I was doing some mowing at my mother’s house and there is a funny sort of push mower – you know the push mowers? They can only cut very low grass. But anyway I was doing the nature strip out the front and the little boy next door came over and he said “could I have a go?” I said “Yes you can have a go”. He is about 8yrs. I gave him the mower and he started to push and then he just went completely silly like a little boy and he just went all over the place. And I said to him “Just follow the line and then as you follow the line we keep going around and we will finish the lawn”.
He looked at me, and I kid you not – this is what he said “I will go wherever I want to”!!! It’s a very chilling moment. And I thought to myself – you really speak for the human race don’t you – I will go wherever I want to. I hope he hears this one day!!
The illustrations that God gave to Jeremiah to make the point were really wonderful illustrations. God said to him on one occasion –
“see the belt that you are wearing around your waist, I want you to take the belt and I want you to bury it and then go and dig it up after a few days”.
When Jeremiah dug the belt up after a few days, the Lord said to him:
“you see the belt is ruined and I” said God
“am going to ruin the pride of my people.
I have had them attached to me,
I have had them bound around me,
but now I am going to ruin their pride” WHAT A POWERFUL THING TO SAY.
On another occasion more famously he said to Jeremiah –
“Go down to the Potters House
Watch the Potter
You see how the Potter can crush the clay and then re-shape it in any way he wants.
Says the Lord “can I not do this with my people, can I not crush and then re-shape them?”
“so when I have brought them very low” said the Lord
“I will bring them back to the land”
“I will uproot them but I will have compassion and I will bring them back”
The great patience of God waiting years and years and years – not just Jeremiah but also the other prophets. – 23 years of Jeremiah telling Judah to return to Yahweh.
Now friends why would God take them out of the Promised Land if he had promised the land to them? I think the answer is that he promised the land to them but he did have expectations for how they would behave in the land. Just as a couple might say to their son “we have got your own room for you now but we expect you to keep it reasonably tidy”. And after a year of absolute filth and neglect to the point of disease, the parents say “we are taking the room back and when you have learnt to look after a room you can move back in”.
It’s a little bit like that – God is saying to the people “I gave you the land but you have not lived up to the expectations and I am removing you with the purpose one day of restoring you but when I restore you, you will have learned to listen.
Well God had warned the people through Jeremiah and other prophets – Uriah, Zephaniah and Habbakkuk.
And if you down to verses 6-7 you will see that the not listening, the deafness had provoked God to anger (verse 6) and (verse 7) had brought harm to themselves as of course being deaf to the word of God does bring harm – certainly in the long term.
I wonder whether it seems possible to you that God could be angered by sin? Does it ever occur to you that when sin takes place in the world and in our own behaviour, that it angers God? We get angered by some things. We get angered by the beheadings that we are observing though the media. If somebody said to you “well don’t be angry” you might rightly say to them “do you care about anything?”
And God gets angry at evil including deliberate deafness – turning away from Him. It angers Him and it harms those who do it. And so what we have in Jeremiah 25 is a little microcosm of the world from The Garden of Eden till today because The man and the woman in the Garden did not listen and what happened to them? They were expelled.
Israel in the wilderness did not listen and what happened to them? They did not enter the Promised Land.
The prophets came to Israel and Judah and spoke and what happened to them? They did not listen and God said you will be removed from the land.
Jesus came into the world and he was not listened to – and people are therefore in darkness.
And the Gospel goes out today from you to your family, and from you to your friends and so many people do not listen. And God is angered by this and it does harm to those who do not listen.
We also need to face, I think, our own refusal to listen even as believers. I am sure you know you have the ability as I have the ability to shut out any voice which is inconvenient to our plans. Do you know this ability that you and I have? You see this at the human level, don’t you?
How often people make up their mind to go somewhere and they are not open to any conversation or challenge.
You see sometimes there has already been an obsessional putting of all the steps in place in order that this would happen so that it is a fait accompli.
Or somebody says “it’s all just happened so quickly – I just made the phone calls – it’s all fallen into place – and we are off”
Or somebody says a little more piously “we prayed about this” which means “don’t interfere because I’ve already got God’s will”.
“Often I’ve prayed about this” means “I’ve told God back what I am doing”.
Much more serious you see than not listening to other people who may advise us is to not to listen to God, to not to listen at the Divine level where we steal ourselves against the Word of God and we think to ourselves – well He won’t mind – it doesn’t matter and anyway I need what I need – that’s the way my sin works – I am sure you are the same.
And actually Jeremiah records this in chapter 2. He says of the people “you say it’s no use – I love foreign gods and I must go after them”. Doesn’t that ring a bell? Isn’t that a very temporary thing? 2,600 years ago that was written “I LOVE…… AND I MUST GO AFTER IT”. And then in the same chapter “I AM INNOCENT AND HE IS NOT ANGRY” but the Lord says “I will discipline you”. So that’s the Strange Deafness. We need to feel this. It’s a global thing – it’s there in Judah and it’s there in our own hearts.
The second heading briefly Enforced Listening (verses 8-14). God you see invites us to listen (remember that?) He who has ears let him hear – but when we don’t listen he gets us to listen. Look at verse 8 – he says to Judah though Jeremiah “Because you have not listened to my words I will summon my servant Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon and I will bring him against this land”.
Friends that is like saying – the church in Sydney is not listening to the servants and therefore I will bring my servant, the leader of North Korea to wipe the church out. And the shock of that is that he calls Nebuchadnezzar “his servant”. You see what God is saying – you haven’t listened to the faithful servants so I am going to make you listen to an unfaithful servant. Of course Nebuchadnezzar is not really a servant of God but he an instrument of God and God is going to use Nebuchadnezzar to discipline his people – it’s very illuminating. Just as God would later call Cyrus King of Persia who was not a believer “my servant” because he would do what God planned for him to do.
Here he calls Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon “my servant” although he was not a believer because he was going to do what God wanted him to do.
You didn’t listen to Jeremiah, you will listen to Nebuchadnezzar.
You didn’t listen to the sermon; you will listen to the discipline.
You didn’t listen to the plain reading of your word, you will listen when things don’t work as you planned.
And the second surprise comes in verse 12 – “when the seventy years are over and you’ve learned to listen, don’t think Nebuchadnezzar will get off scot-free. Don’t think that I will bring in a sinful person to discipline you and then leave a sinful person – I will punish Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon for their guilt. “They will be taken over” says God. And they were taken over. Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon lost to Persia.
But Nebuchadnezzar was also given tremendous opportunities to list because if you read the Book of Daniel, you’ll see again and again and again the Lord God gave Nebuchadnezzar an opportunity to take him seriously. But if he fails to listen and if Babylon fails to listen, the same God is going to back his word and make sure that he is heard in the end. Nebuchadnezzar may think to himself – I’m completely above this god, I don’t know what they are talking about, but actually God will control his short term and he will bring him into the court room for the long term.
So the genius of God you see is that his word goes out and it does eventually get listened to. The word of God goes out through the Creation and it says – I am powerful and I am glorious all around the world. The Word of God comes into the world in the person of Jesus and says – I am merciful and I am loving and I am gracious and that message goes all through the world.
And when a person responds and listens and calls on him to be saved – they are saved – but if they don’t listen, they will one day listen and bow the knee. So that’s the first and the second points – Strange Deafness and Enforced Listening and thirdly and briefly There are big consequences.
Let me tell you a confession – I occasionally fall into the trap of thinking that my faith is belonging to a small circle. Or to put it another way – I occasionally think that Christianity has no right to challenge the whole world. Then I remember in my best moments that Christianity began in the Middle East and I remember that it is a unique message of grace that every single person in the world needs to hear and I also remember that there are Christians in every country and if they came into the building and said “What are you talking about – the country that I am part of desperately needs the Gospel”.
Then I remember too that we at St Thomas (may be even here this morning) have about 30 or 40 nationalities in our congregation – but especially I remember that Christ said “Go to the nations – this is a global message”.
And in chapter 25 verse 15 – if you look at this – but God calls on Jeremiah to take his cup to the world. Sometimes the word “cup” means blessing. Psalm 23 “My cup overflows” – mostly the cup is a picture of wrath or anger.
And God calls on Jeremiah to take the cup of his wrath to the nations and make them drink it which is a very, very strange thing for us to read because there was no literal cup. No cup would be big enough. Jeremiah is not about to travel the earth forcing people to drink but this is a symbol of God speaking to Jeremiah and through Jeremiah and saying to him – do you understand that the whole world is going to be brought into my Court Room. Everybody in the world is accountable and the list you see in chapter 25 verse 15 and following goes from Jerusalem through to Babylon which is a proof that God is going to judge ever nation. He is not our little mascot – he owns the world.
And because Jerusalem heads the list (chapter 25 verses 18) we remember the judgment begins with God’s family because we are the most privileged and we are the most responsible and friends, when you think about it, if we have received much and much is required, doesn’t that cause you to shake in your boots?
What hope do we have?
What hope do I have as the Preacher who preaches the word and doesn’t practise the word? What hope do you have who hear the word and don’t practise the word?
What hope do we have if the test is going to be faithful listening and faithful doing?
We don’t have any personal hope.
We don’t have any slick answers.
We don’t have any excuses.
But as we meditate and as we think about Jeremiah being asked to take the cup of God’s judgment to the nations, perhaps your mind goes forward to the Garden of Gethsemane and you remember somebody who listened perfectly and obeyed perfectly – called Jesus Christ – who said in his prayer “Father I don’t want to drink this cup but if it is your will, I will drink the cup”. And he drank the cup of God’s just wrath by dying on the cross and having all my evils and all your evils placed on him. And he drank the cup to the bottom in order that we might have no cup of wrath to drink and that anybody who believes in him right around the world would have no cup of wrath to drink – just the cup of fellowship.
So you see what Jeremiah is saying to the world – you have not listened, let me tell you what’s in front of you – it’s dreadful. It takes a lot of courage to say that. The world needs to hear that.
And then notice what Jesus said to the world – You’ve not listened – but let me tell you what I have done about this. And it takes a lot of love and wisdom to tell people about him.
So let me finish by saying that when it comes to God’s word (and I am not about to finish to go home and read your Bible as you would expect half the sermons to say) – I simply want to say we are accountable for what God has said to us. What we know he has said to us and what he has given to us in his Word. We are accountable for that. He speaks very clearly in black and white and he expects us to trust him and he expects us to obey him.
There may be a few this morning who have not listened to the warning and have never turned to Christ. And I say to you very quietly, but I’ll still say it significantly, it’s just a matter of time before the trouble of God’s anger drops on you. And nothing is going to stop that unless you turn to the one who drank the cup for you and put your trust in him and discover that that trouble has been lifted away.
But Jeremiah was not listened to and preachers are not listened to but Jeremiah spoke the truth and I am repeating it.
Many however, this morning may not be listening well to God’s solution. That is, you have turned to Christ, you are just not listening well to the fact that the trouble has been lifted away and the blessing has been placed on you. And maybe you need to listen well to the Word of God that he is for you and that he is your Father and that there is no condemnation and that you should therefore go from this building rejoicing because whatever you have fallen into this week has been dealt with by your Saviour. You see it’s possible to listen badly to the bad news and it’s possible to listen badly to the good news.
One of the reasons I think, people do drift even as believers is that they don’t listen to the good news and therefore they minimize the good news and they fall into stupidity as I do and you do. But if we don’t listen, God will discipline us lovingly and like a Father he will bring us back, he’ll teach us that we can’t safely walk down dumb roads, he’ll bring us back to the narrow road – not because he wants to do damage to us but because he loves us.
So Jeremiah provides us with a very good warning to the nations. Not listening? Trouble is coming. Jesus provides us with a wonderful solution for the nations. You’ve not listened but he has solved the problem.
Let’s pray –
Our Father we thank you this morning that you are a very great and gracious speaker. We also ask that you would forgive us for being very stubborn and foolish in not listening. We are hugely grateful to you for the giving of your Son, listening, obedient, faithful Son who has paid the price of we who have not listened.
We pray that you would cause us to be wonderfully transformed as sheep who listen to the shepherd. We pray that you would give us the wisdom, the joy, the strength and the courage to listen and trust and obey.
We pray that you would use us as your messengers in a world that doesn’t believe the bad news and doesn’t understand the good news. Please help us and use us in remarkable ways that would honour you, help others and bring joy to us.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.