Monday, December 10, 2012

Touching Base! Part 191

Jeremiah was a bullfrog? - Part 9
The Mute Stones Speak

Guest posting by Eric Prost

(You can find a recording of this sermon here.)

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

Read Jeremiah 23:5-6 and 33:12-16; Lamentations 2:8; Luke 19:37-40.

If the walls in your house could talk, what would they say? What if your walls could gossip? What is said when it’s just your family at home? How do you spend your time when you’re home alone?

What if the walls in the Oval Office could talk? Would they recite statistics and reasoned arguments? Would they praise the chief executives who have sat behind that desk? Or would they lament the dead in wars executed from that room or weep for the injustices of rich and poor?

If the stones in the White House or the parliament buildings are anything like stones in the Bible, they would show strong emotions. They wouldn’t reason with you; they would be passionate with loud emotion even when – especially when - no one else was joining in. They would always be accurate to the occasion. Offensive maybe, but accurate: If a lament were suitable, they would weep; if praise, they would shout it out immediately.

In this week’s sermon and this accompanying Touching Base, we’re going to come back to stones.

The Big Idea is this: Lamentation and Praise go together in God’s good news for human beings – the Gospel – and God’s good news is, after all, what Christmas is about.

This is the last Touching Base in our series on the Prophet, and the Book of, Jeremiah. Pastor Mark has posed hard questions over the last couple of months. What are your idols? What verses or passages of scripture do you “burn” by outright rejecting them or explaining them away? Are you willing to wear a plaid jacket from Costco in order to be countercultural? Jeremiah was imprisoned, put in stocks, and lowered into a mucky pit because he was countercultural.

So we’re wrapping up this series on the Second Sunday of Advent with the church decorated for Christmas and we’re talking about a weeping prophet. How does this work?

Weeping and Lamenting

I read through the Book of Jeremiah again during this sermon series. It’s not an easy read. God tells Jeremiah to say a lot of things. Many of the things are, not surprisingly, hard for the wicked to hear. Jeremiah is ignored, imprisoned, tortured. He is the weeping prophet: he weeps for Jerusalem, he weeps for the people left behind, he weeps for the people exiled, he weeps for himself and how he does just what God wants him to and is then abused for it.

Jeremiah must have cringed whenever he heard the Lord say, “Go and proclaim…go and proclaim,” over and over again.

Why did God need a prophet at all, one who persisted for 52 chapters “proclaiming” to the people?

God needed a prophet because he is gracious and merciful and longsuffering. He continually engaged his people and their leaders with instruction and love and second and third and fourth chances. And even when they reaped the punishment of exile, he still guided and took care of them.

How did God feel? Listen to the stones. Stones don’t often speak in the Bible, but when they do, they obey their Creator. They are pure emotion, straight-up intense emotion. It is as if the oldest and most primordial of God’s creation, the part that has been around the longest with the Creator, gives out the most apt but primitive of utterances. Not sophisticated, but right on.

See if you can find other examples of audible stones in the Bible.

So what does God feel? The stones (and God) lament. Lamentations 2:8: “He made the ramparts and walls lament.” The 2nd chapter of Lamentations is discussing God’s anger and what he has done; yet here the ramparts – the obedient stones – are lamenting. Matthew 23: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Here are the stones of Jerusalem weeping and lamenting with God at what is happening.

So the Book of Jeremiah is about a lot of warnings and a lot of consequences for sin and a lot of judgment. And then Jeremiah writes a book specifically about lament to go with it.

So is there any consolation, any hope? What else can the stones say?

Praise and Worship

Jeremiah is a book of prophecy in the sense that it’s about a prophet to whom God gives a message of warning. But Jeremiah also has the honour of foretelling the messiah’s advent (chs 23 & 33): The days are coming when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch…This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour…in the villages around Jerusalem…flocks will again pass under the hand of the ones who counts them”.

Find other OT prophets who anticipated Christ’s Advent.

The expression “being saved” has vanished from our Christian vocabularies, but it is quite Biblical. What better place to stand than to be safe, to be saved? God calls Jesus a “saviour” throughout scripture. “He will save his people from their sins.” The Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” – “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” “If you will confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The people of Israel and Judah would be saved from the Babylonians, they would be saved from judgment, and, best of all, they would be saved from their sins.

Luke 2:8-14. “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord…Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peach, good will toward men’”.

Read Luke 19:37-40.

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Let’s talk more about stones. “…the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

“I tell you, he replied, “if they keep quiet, the very stones will cry out.”

Picture this. It’s the night Jesus was born. The shepherds are watching their flock. Suddenly a great company of angels appears, praising God. What if someone had then shouted at the glowing sky, “Stop it!” What if they’d shouted at the baby Jesus, “Rebuke those angels, Baby Jesus, shut them up!”

It’s absurd, blasphemous.

“Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

“Oh no, if they keep quiet, these very stones would immediately cry out!”

Here’s God’s primitive creation speaking because it cannot keep quiet. This isn’t judgment but triumph. They shout, not in lament, but in praise.

Let’s mix the verses in Jeremiah and Luke together. “Today, in the town of David, a Righteous Branch sprouting from David’s line has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord, Our Righteous Saviour.”

The stones lament because God must be judge. But he has provided a way of escape with Advent. And when he triumphs over sin, when sinners repent, when he is acknowledged as King, the stones cry out in praise and worship.

We live in a city built on, and built of, limestone. This Advent season, don’t leave it up to the stones to praise their Creator. God values your repentance and your praise far more.

Eric Prost
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