Sermon Notes

May 17th 2020

Thoughts on the Sunday School Lesson May 17th

Just Rewards / Jeremiah 21:8-14 (MSG)

8-10 “And then tell the people at large, ‘God’s Message to you is this: Listen carefully. I’m giving you a choice: life or death. Whoever stays in this city will die—either in battle or by starvation or disease. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who have surrounded the city will live. You’ll lose everything—but not your life. I’m determined to see this city destroyed. I’m that angry with this place! God’s Decree. I’m going to give it to the king of Babylon, and he’s going to burn it to the ground.’ 11-14 “To the royal house of Judah, listen to God’s Message! House of David, listen—God’s Message to you: ‘Start each day by dealing with justice. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Prevent fire—the fire of my anger—for once it starts, it can’t be put out. Your evil regime is fuel for my anger. Don’t you realize that I’m against you, yes, against you. You think you’ve got it made, all snug and secure. You say, “Who can possibly get to us? Who can crash our party?” Well, I can—and will! I’ll punish your evil regime. I’ll start a fire that will rage unchecked, burn everything in sight to cinders.’”

INTRODUCTION

The lesson is prophetic and pragmatic. Of all in existence, God is the One we want to be on our side. Conversely, of all in existence, God is the One we do not want to be against us. We remember God’s words when the Israelites did not show confidence in Him after first exploring the land of Canaan which God was giving them: “…A long schooling in My displeasure (Numbers 14:34).”
Jeremiah told the people of Judah that God had declared that Judah would be defeated by the Babylonians. Therefore, if they wanted to live, they should surrender to them. If they chose instead to fight, they would die. However, the people did not take him seriously and mocked him (Jeremiah 20:10). In his earlier ministry, he warned them to change their sinful practices. Because they did not change, Yahweh decided to make a judgment.
In your life who serves the purpose of Jeremiah? The Holy Spirit could fill that role by urging us to stop living a sinful life ... that is if we allow Him to guide us. Studying the Bible can serve as our "Jeremiah" by conveying to us how the Lord wants us to live and the consequences of disobedience. Through their sermons, ministers can serve that role.
An even more relevant question is are we strong enough Christians to counsel others about the correct lifestyle they should live? To put it another way, are we ready to be a "Jeremiah" in the life of someone else—telling them to change their sinful practices before the Lord makes a judgment on them?

LESSON BACKGROUND

Jeremiah 21-24 comprises the second major division of the book. It is generally agreed by scholars that the date was very near the onset of Nebuchadnezzar’s final siege of Jerusalem, between 588 and 586 BC.
There is a 20-year gap between Jeremiah 20 and 21, and a great deal had happened. Jehoiachim, a protegè of Egypt, came to the throne and reigned 11 years, wavering between the necessity of paying tribute to Nebuchadnezzar and rebelling against Babylon, contrary to Jeremiah’s advice. Following his death, Jehoiachin came to the throne for a brief three-months, but ingloriously ended when he surrendered the city to Nebuchadnezzar on the 9th of Adar, 597 BC. Meanwhile, Nebuchadnezzar had finally and completely defeated Egypt. He carried Jehoiachin to Babylon, along with many of the captive nobility, including Daniel and others. At that same time, Nebuchadnezzar placed Zedekiah, a king of his own choice, on the throne of Israel. The new king was an uncle of Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah was the name given him by Nebuchadnezzar (II Kings 24:17). Zedekiah swore fealty and perpetual loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar, but he defaulted on his promises and did evil in God’s sight. Some ten years later, we come to the events of this chapter.
Eleven years after coming to the throne Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, who moved to destroy Jerusalem. At first, he mopped up the cities surrounding Jerusalem, and it was during this early phase of the siege that the events of this chapter happened. Zedekiah ignored Jeremiah’s prophetic warning and held out against the Babylonians for a year and a half, enduring the horrors of a terrible siege. But, on the 9th day of Ab in 588 BC, Zedekiah and his nobles tried to flee the city but were captured on the plains of Jericho. He was terribly punished by Nebuchadnezzar (II Kings 25:1-7).

INTO THE LESSON

8-10 “And then tell the people at large, ‘God’s Message to you is this: Listen carefully. I’m giving you a choice: life or death. Whoever stays in this city will die—either in battle or by starvation or disease. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who have surrounded the city will live. You’ll lose everything—but not your life. I’m determined to see this city destroyed. I’m that angry with this place! God’s Decree. I’m going to give it to the king of Babylon, and he’s going to burn it to the ground.’
These words are very similar to those found in Deuteronomy 30:15-20, which were part of Moses’ farewell address to the children of Israel. Moses point then is the same as Jeremiah’s now: “God has declared what He will do. The only question is how will you respond—and the consequences are directly tied to the response.”
Countless warnings had been given to God’s people about their sinfulness, but they had not been successfully heeded. God had decreed the inevitable destruction of Jerusalem because of the wickedness of the people, but it was nothing but what the people themselves had ordered by their rejection of God’s will and their utter disobedience.
*Regarding the ultimate decision of life—whether to accept or reject God’s salvation, through Jesus—the same matter-of-fact reality prevails. God has declared that salvation is available only through Jesus. The remaining question is, “How will we respond?”
11-14 “To the royal house of Judah, listen to God’s Message! House of David, listen—God’s Message to you: ‘Start each day by dealing with justice. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Prevent fire—the fire of my anger—for once it starts, it can’t be put out. Your evil regime is fuel for my anger. Don’t you realize that I’m against you, yes, against you. You think you’ve got it made, all snug and secure. You say, “Who can possibly get to us? Who can crash our party?” Well, I can—and will! I’ll punish your evil regime. I’ll start a fire that will rage unchecked, burn everything in sight to cinders.’”
Some scholars suggest that the end of the message to Zedekiah came in verse 10, and that these verses are a prophecy regarding the House of David, being a part of a number of similar prophecies in this four-chapter section. While this is possible, it is unlikely. The words here are an appropriate continuation of the message to Zedekiah.
The burning of Jerusalem mentioned in the 14th verse would occur within 18 months of Jeremiah's response to the delegation from the king. Additionally, verse 12 relates that all the punishment to come upon Jerusalem would be because of the evil of Zedekiah. His wickedness is seen here in that he repudiated the prophetic warnings of God's prophet.
God makes it clear through the prophet that it was the king’s duty to dispense justice. Thus, along with the false prophets and the immoral cultic-priests, the monarchy itself must share in the responsibility for the moral and social collapse of the people and the resulting divine punishment that fell upon them.
*It is quite appropriate, at this point in our nation’s history, that we are reminded of the direct relationship between corrupt leadership and corrupt people. Even in America, where there is a supposed separation between Church and state, our leadership should rise to some level of moral and ethical accountability, providing an appropriate example to the people—and to peoples around the world. Too fail in this responsibility carries terrible consequences.

CONCLUSION

Jeremiah’s message for Zedekiah was discomforting. Not only is God going to allow the Babylonian troops to assemble right here in the middle of the city, but God Himself is going hand Jerusalem, Judah and Zedekiah to the invading armies. Zedekiah will be destroyed, but the people will have an opportunity to survive.
God always gives to us a choice—the way of life or the way of death. Zedekiah’s choice was confirmed in the previous chapters. He had been warned of the dangers of the choices he was making, but he persisted in going his own way. In this lesson, we see that God also offered the people a choice.
Scripture teaches that to pursue the flesh is death; but to pursue the Holy Spirit is life and joy and peace. We have the choice. This is the perpetual story of our relationship with God.

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