Our Deepest Source of Gratitude
Today I am going to focus on a passage that will prepare us well for Thanksgiving week. This is a chapter in which God is giving Jeremiah an incredible prophecy of what was to come. But to appreciate the prophesy and God’s message for his people for all time we have to start by understanding when this message was given. To do that we have to go back in history to about 590 years before Christ. What was going on 590 years before Christ?
After King Solomon died, Israel gets split into two kingdoms. The Northern and Southern kingdom. The Northern kingdom people were called Israelites, while the Southerners were called the Jews because they came from the tribe of Judah. This was the only tribe that continued to worship Yahweh in Jerusalem. Now mind you even they were not faithful and that is why they are going to be punished but at least they still had Solomon’s temple. And one of the things they believed was that Jerusalem could never be defeated and taken over by any other neighboring power because the temple of Jerusalem was were God himself resided. But by 600 BC Judah was very weak. Judah’s king, Zedekiah was actually appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 597 BC. Zedekiah however revolted against Nebuchadnezzar and tried to align himself with Egypt. But that move backfired badly. Because Nebuchadnezzar was not about to let a king he appointed rebel against him. In 589 BC he laid siege around the city of Jerusalem. The blockade against the city was very successful. It caused terrible starvation and weakened the entire population. In the year 586 BC the city of Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. This was a big shock to the system because the Jewish people never thought it was possible. Something like the Russian flag flying over Washington DC or Saudi Arabia taking over the Vatican. Ok so now remember, that would happen in 586 BC.
Our passage opens a few years before that there the city is under siege, the supply routes are all cut of and the city is being starved. The situation they are in is really bad. It is at such a time that God comes to Jeremiah and tells him, “Jeremiah! Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets, things you know nothing about regarding the things to come”. What a way to get your attention right? Would that get your attention if God spoke to you like that, in such a critical moment?
Well, it did get Jeremiah’s attention alright. And what God told Jeremiah is this. If you think your situation is bad now, it actually is going to get worse. The city will be using every last resource it has to strengthen its walls. But it is too little, too late. The men of Jerusalem are as good as dead. Why? Because I am no longer going to protect them from the attack because of their wickedness. In other words, if you think things are bad now Jeremiah, brace yourself because this is a time in history in which the worst-case scenario, the unthinkable even, the fall of Jerusalem is going to happen.
However, and here is the part that you are going to have a hard time imagining in your present despair. This destruction of Jerusalem is not going to be the last word on the city of God. In spite of the evil of the people, I am now quoting here, “Nevertheless, the time will come when I will heal Jerusalem’s wounds and give it prosperity and true peace. 7 I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Israel and rebuild their towns. 8 I will cleanse them of their sins against me and forgive all their sins of rebellion. 9 Then this city will bring me joy, glory, and honor before all the nations of the earth! The people of the world will see all the good I do for my people, and they will tremble with awe at the peace and prosperity I provide for them.”
In other words, the city that rebelled and brought dishonor to God would be healed and cleansed and restored in such a way that the city will be given a new capacity to bring God, “glory, honor and even joy before all the nations of the earth”. Can you imagine this scenario? A city bringing glory, honor, and joy to our God! And as a result of this great turn around for Judah and Israel, the people of the whole world will see all the goodness of God towards his people and will tremble with awe at what they see. So God is telling Jeremiah that at that moment when he is in distress and things are bad that yes they will get worse. In fact, it will be the worst-case scenario, Jeremiah! The people of Judah will be punished for their evil. But here is the remarkable thing… Remember God’s promises to King David that he will always have someone from his line on the thrown? Well, that is still going to happen. Remember all the good things ever promised to the people of Israel and Judah? All those things are still going to happen, Jeremiah! David’s line will still be unbroken and be ruling forever. Israel will become a blessing to all the nations of the world. God said he would never abandon his people. So now in the midst of the destruction which also was something God had warned his people would happen if they were unfaithful, God comes to Jeremiah and reiterates his incredible promises. Somehow and in a manner that is beyond everyone’s imagination, all God’s promises of peace and prosperity will still come true. Judah and Israel will be transformed and become a symbol of God’s love and faithfulness to his people. And there will be the joyous voices of brides and bridegrooms and the joyous songs of people bringing thanksgiving offerings to God. There will be celebrations in Israel and Judah. And the city and nation will bring glory and honor and joy to God in heaven. Think about the power and capacity of God to transform a terrible situation and make everything that he uttered from his mouth to come true.
Now poor Jeremiah might be wondering, how Lord can I see this glorious and joyous picture in my mind when I am in a terrible situation right now that in your own words is about to get worse? That is understandable, right? For the average human mind, we take one negative thing that happens and make it the defining moment. In this case, God wanted Jeremiah to see beyond the unthinkably bad situation that was about to occur.
So to give Jeremiah a frame of reference to help him trust the surety of the glorious picture God painted to him, God tells Jeremiah to consider the covenant God has made with the day and night. He says this in verse 20. “This is what the Lord says: If you can break my covenant with the day and the night so that one does not follow the other, 21 only then will my covenant with my servant David be broken”.
And then he expands this statement even further in verse 25 by saying 25 But this is what the Lord says: I would no more reject my people than I would change my laws that govern night and day, earth and sky.
This is really fascinating. God is saying here, Jeremiah I want you to look at the day-night cycle. Has the day-night cycle changed? Never. One time the sun was stopped for a bit, but the day-night cycle was never changed. In fact, there is a constancy to all the laws that govern night and day, earth and sky. Scientists describe this constancy we observe as a property of the universe called “symmetry”. If you indulge me for a few minutes I will explain this. I get excited about science but I think it will be worth your while in understanding what God is telling Jeremiah a little better.
In technical terms “symmetry” is defined as a feature of the system that is preserved under some transformation. So when God says the day-night cycle does not change what he is saying is that the law of night following day is a feature of the world we live in that does not change, no matter there you go in time. The night will follow day, even a thousand years from now. In fact, in verse 25 God broadens this principle to include all the unchanging nature of all laws that govern the earth and heaven.
If you were to look at it from a human standpoint for a minute, scientists observing the universe describe this same thing in the language of symmetry of the universe. And in its broadest sense, it means this. A law that is discovered in one part of the universe is true in any part of the universe. This is called “spatial symmetry”. There is another feature of the universe. A law discovered at some point in time is true at all points in time. This is called “time symmetry”. So scientists observing the universe all agree that our universe has both spatial and time symmetry. From the scientist's viewpoint, a law that they discover like gravitation or magnetism is not just valid in one part of the universe and in one season, but it holds true everywhere and through all time. From God’s point of view, all the laws he put in place to govern the universe are unchanging. It is like a covenant he has made with the universe itself.
And he did that for a purpose. You see Jeremiah may have been living in a time of change and things were getting horrible. But God was saying, even though your life is changing, this universe that you are living in by his design is not changing. The sun will still rise tomorrow and set in the evening. The moon will do its thing and so will the stars. And in that constancy, you need to see that God has not lost control of this world. He is still in charge. Everything is still working according to God’s plan. And Jeremiah, if the laws that govern the whole universe is holding up, so will every promise made by God.
That is why in the midst of the deepest despair, God can look at Jeremiah and paint this picture for him. This is a desolate land where people and animals have all disappeared.’ Yet in the empty streets of Jerusalem and Judah’s other towns, there will be heard once more 11 the sounds of joy and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will be heard again, along with the joyous songs of people bringing thanksgiving offerings to the Lord. They will sing,
‘Give thanks to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
for the Lord is good.
His faithful love endures forever!’
This land—though it is now desolate and has no people and animals—will once more have pastures where shepherds can lead their flocks. 13 Once again shepherds will count their flocks in the towns of the hill country, the foothills of Judah,[b] the Negev, the land of Benjamin, the vicinity of Jerusalem, and all the towns of Judah. I, the Lord, have spoken!
So what message is Jeremiah 33 conveying to you and me, to our church and to our land today? Three things I believe.
Firstly, When things don’t go the way you think they should have gone, don’t allow the despair of the moment to consume you. When the pews are empty because the people who many years ago filled this building with voices and laughter are missing, don’t worry. Because God is saying he will fill the streets of Jerusalem once again with sounds of people and the joy of bride and bridegrooms, of people and animals, or old and young. And guess what, you and I are the new Israel ruled by Jesus Christ. And we are being prepared to inhabit the New Jerusalem that will come down from heaven when God creates a New Heaven and New Earth. So the first thing to remember friends is when you are about God’s business, don’t let the moment get you down, but fill your mind at all times with the hope that Jesus Christ has planted in us. Don’t dwell on your present troubles but fill your mind with the hope that is to come.
Secondly, when you go crazy with everything that is changing around you, when you are being bombarded by the message of this world that the only thing constant is change, then turn your attention to the unchanging God of the Bible. The climate may change but God does not. The seasons may change but the sky does not. The times may change but the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow will never change. And when the sun rises let it be a reminder to you of our unchanging God. And because God never changes, you can be sure that his promises to you and me are unchanging as well.
Thirdly, remember in Jeremiah’s vision, the promise of God was that the streets will be filled with joy and laughter and people glorifying this amazing creator and giving him thanks? That is how this world will end my friends, neither in fire or in ice. This world will end in praise and thanksgiving. Because when this world ends, it is because the New heaven and new earth are ready to receive its king. And that is what we should remember in the end at our Thanksgiving celebrations. You see, after we have reflected with gratitude on all the people that have been there for us and sustained us and helped us to get where we are, after we have thanked God for the circumstances of our lives, after we have thanked God for all the good things and even the bad things in our life, we should end with thanking God for being the unchanging God who created a universe with laws that are true everywhere and at all times. Because that constancy is built into the universe so that you and I can have a reason to trust in God’s incredible promises and to live our entire lives based on those promises. Remember God’s promises are reserved for the deepest part of your heart. So when you reflect this Thanksgiving, go down deep. And when you get there, I hope you find dwelling there, our unchanging God and His incredible promises. And may that discovery be the source of all your gratitude. Let us pray.