Sermon Notes

May 24th 2020

Thoughts on the Sunday School Lesson May 24th

Do the Right Thing / Jeremiah 22:1-10 (MSG)

1-3 God’s orders: “Go to the royal palace and deliver this Message. Say, ‘Listen to what God says, O King of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you and your officials and all the people who go in and out of these palace gates. This is God’s Message: Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the orphans, the widows. Stop the murdering! 4-5 “‘If you obey these commands, then kings who follow in the line of David will continue to go in and out of these palace gates mounted on horses and riding in chariots—they and their officials and the citizens of Judah. But if you don’t obey these commands, then I swear—God’s Decree!—this palace will end up a heap of rubble.’” 6-7 This is God’s verdict on Judah’s royal palace: “I number you among my favorite places—like the lovely hills of Gilead, like the soaring peaks of Lebanon. Yet I swear I’ll turn you into a wasteland, as empty as a ghost town. I’ll hire a demolition crew, well-equipped with sledgehammers and wrecking bars, pound the country to a pulp and burn it all up. 8-9 “Travelers from all over will come through here and say to one another, ‘Why would God do such a thing to this wonderful city?’ They’ll be told, ‘Because they walked out on the covenant of their God, took up with other gods and worshiped them.’” 10 Don’t weep over dead King Josiah. Don’t waste your tears. Weep for his exiled son: He’s gone for good. He’ll never see home again.

INTRODUCTION

This lesson is prophetic, messianic and theological. It reveals to us God’s promise, through Jeremiah, of restoration to His people after they have experienced judgment for their sin, and how they should conduct their lives.
Key words in this series of lessons have been “justice” and “righteousness.” Justice is, “the standard by which the benefits and penalties of living in a society are distributed.” Righteousness is, “the state of being in the right or being vindicated.” This week’s lesson, in many regards, is a repeat of last week’s lesson. God reminds Palace and people of the dangers of unrighteous, unjust living.
The main difference here is the audience who receives the message. Whereas, Jeremiah 21 deals with the reign of Zedekiah, Jeremiah 22 belongs to an earlier period—the brief reigns of Shallum, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Jeconiah, the sons of Josiah. Bible scholars maintain that Jeremiah is constructed in such a way that prophecies are grouped by similarity of topic, not by chronological order.

LESSON BACKGROUND

Josiah’s reign began in 640 BC, when he was only 8 years old. Josiah didn’t live a long life—he died at the age of 39—but in the 31 years that he served as Judah’s king, he made a powerful impact for God people because he was transformed by the Word, and because he was courageous enough to press his people to accept spiritual reform.
Josiah’s story is told in II Kings 22 and II Chronicles 34. He was the son of Amon and the grandson of Manasseh, two of the most evil kings in Judah’s history. But Josiah was of a different spirit: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He lived the way King David had lived. He didn’t turn away from it to the right or the left (II Kings 22:2; II Chronicles 34:2).”
At the age of 16, he began to worship Yahweh. At the age of 20, he purged Judah of all semblances of idol worship. At the age of 26 he had rid Judah of all idol worship and restored the true worship of God. The Chronicler says that, for as long as Josiah lived, he ensured that his people followed the way of the Lord.
The discovery that transformed Josiah’s life was the result of his desire to restore God’s Temple, which had fallen into disrepair. During the restoration, Hilkiah, the High Priest, discovered the book of the Law, which had been lost. He gave it to Shaphan, the King’s secretary, who, in turn, gave it to Josiah.
When Josiah read God’s Word, it was a transforming moment in his life. He tore his robes, to show his grief, and he decided that this would be the impetus for a reformation for his people.
He went up to the Lord’s Temple with all the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets. He read the Covenant in their hearing and renewed the covenant in the presence of God. He pledged to follow the Lord and to keep His commandments with all his heart and soul, and the people pledged to do the same.
Josiah was killed in battle with the nation of Egypt, in 609 BC, some 23 years prior to the fall of Judah to the Babylonians. Necho II, the Egyptian Pharaoh, established puppet regimes through Josiah’s progeny.
First was Jehoahaz (also known as Shallum). His reign only lasted 3 months before he was deposed and killed. He was succeeded by Eliakim, whose named was changed by Necho II to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim reigned for 11 years, but during that time, Egypt was overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. While Jehoiakim was permitted to remain on the throne, he wavered between support and opposition of Babylon, against Jeremiah’s prophetic counsel. In 598 BC, Jehoiakim was replaced by his son, Jehoichin, who reigned for only three months before he was swooped up by Nebuchanezzar and carried away into Babylonian captivity.
The prophecy contained in our printed lesson belongs to this time of insecurity in Judah, and is against the injustices that these leaders permitted within their administrations.

INTO THE LESSON

1-3 God’s orders: “Go to the royal palace and deliver this Message. Say, ‘Listen to what God says, O King of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you and your officials and all the people who go in and out of these palace gates. This is God’s Message: Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the orphans, the widows. Stop the murdering!
Jeremiah is told to go to the palace and speak a bold message of truth, designed to be counter to the corruption which had taken hold in the land.
The kings and their ruling counsels are condemned for manipulating the judicial process in a manner that results in the denial of true justice (equity). The outcome of such manipulation was an intolerable oppression of the people—unsettled discrepancies, exploitation of the marginalized, no resolution for violent crime. As a result, the time will come, says the prophet, when the leaders will call on the Lord in distress, only to find that He will not hear them.
*While God is patient, there is a limit to the withholding of divine judgment. When that limit has been reached, we can expect correction.
4-5 “‘If you obey these commands, then kings who follow in the line of David will continue to go in and out of these palace gates mounted on horses and riding in chariots—they and their officials and the citizens of Judah. But if you don’t obey these commands, then I swear—God’s Decree!—this palace will end up a heap of rubble.’”
We know the difference between right and wrong. There is something deep within every single person who recognizes this. Our actions, however, many times are contrary to what we know to be true. When our consciences become seared we will fall into choices and follow through of things that are completely opposite to doing the right thing.
This comes from our own justification. It tangibly shows itself when we are driven by our own will over what is the right thing to do. It doesn’t mean the Spirit of God doesn’t wrestle with us over such matters, He most certainly does. But the more we make excuses for why we can’t do the right thing, the easier it becomes to continue on the path of deception.
“Do what is just and right.” God says. His statement speaks toward not just believing the right things about God Himself, but taking action on them. It’s living in obedience. And many times, that living in obedience is sacrificing our will again and again so we can heed the Spirit’s voice. No matter of human maneuvering can mitigate God’s justice.
*For the Christian, the ultimate decision of life—embracing or rejecting 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?” No matter of our maneuvering can overrule this reality.
6-7 This is God’s verdict on Judah’s royal palace: “I number you among my favorite places—like the lovely hills of Gilead, like the soaring peaks of Lebanon. Yet I swear I’ll turn you into a wasteland, as empty as a ghost town. I’ll hire a demolition crew, well-equipped with sledgehammers and wrecking bars, pound the country to a pulp and burn it all up. 8-9 “Travelers from all over will come through here and say to one another, ‘Why would God do such a thing to this wonderful city?’ They’ll be told, ‘Because they walked out on the covenant of their God, took up with other gods and worshiped them.’”
The main point to be drawn from this verdict of God is not that justice will prevail despite God’s love; the main point to be drawn from this verdict of God is that justice will prevail because of God’s love. Too often, we rely on justice being withheld because God’s love prevents harshness. But the word from the prophet, on behalf of God is that, “Because I love you, I will bring correction to you.”
Concerning God’s justice, we are invited to consider the following:
1. God’s love is the cause of His justice. Love will not permit God to do anything but what is righteous. He can no more be unjust than He can be unholy or unloving.
2. God’s will is the supreme rule of justice; it is the standard of equity. God’s will is wise and good. God wills nothing but what is just; thus, it is just because He wills it.
3. Within God’s justice is mercy. God does not go according to the rigor of the law; He takes something off of His severity. He could easily inflict heavier penalties than He does (Ezra 9:13). Our mercies are more than we deserve; our punishments less.
10 Don’t weep over dead King Josiah. Don’t waste your tears. Weep for his exiled son: He’s gone for good. He’ll never see home again.
This final verse of our printed lesson, in actuality, is the opening of a new paragraph in the prophetic word that Jeremiah gives. It is a word that specifically lists the sins and punishments of Josiah’s progeny, Shallum and Jehoiakim. Despite the sterling example of spiritual uprightness that Josiah left, his children were led by a different spirit. As a result, they made poor choices and suffered terrible ends.
*Righteousness is not inherited or bequeathed. All of us are charged to leave the best example that we can for those who follow us. But ultimately, their choices are their own. Sadly, when it comes to leaders, the consequences of those choices are often radiated out to impact those that they lead.

CONCLUSION

Despite the interest we may have regarding the specific reigns of Judah’s monarchy at this time, the message of the prophecy is transcendent and universal: Exercise justice and fairness toward all or suffer the consequences of failing to do so.

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