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3rd Sunday of Advent – Joy! – Jeremiah 31:11-13

3rd Sunday of Advent – Joy! – Jeremiah 31:11-13
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 17, 2017

Joy for a lot of people depends upon their physical state instead of their state of mind; they want to be happy all of the time through material things and this is impossible. We can never achieve the convoluted ideal of a perpetual happy nirvana in life. Trying to say to one’s self over and over that every day in every way I am getting better and better does not make one joyful, especially when others remind you just how incompetent you might be. Joy comes from inner peace and contentment which can only truly be found in Jesus Christ. The reason is obvious; his joy is not just internal it is eternal and cannot be taken away by outside circumstances.

When the Messiah was promised by the prophets of God people began to realize that his coming would mark a new era not just in the way things were done here on earth, but his coming would affect all of creation. There would be the joy of the Lord in the midst of his people and it would not depend upon government, finances, personal relationships, or world peace; it would come from and be given by God. Let’s discover this day of Advent what that joy means for us today…

READ: Jeremiah 31:11-13

Jesus is not some trinket or talisman we can place on our dashboard or hearth for personal security. He is not some entity we mutter incoherent meandering prayers to either; he is the coming of God to the world that brings us eternal life and in doing so we also discover that…

I. The joy of Advent brings God’s protection! (v. 11)

For the Lord will deliver Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.

1. In our day and age and because of where we live we may not fully understand what it means to be delivered. Jeremiah is not referring to a UPS package at Christmas here. The Israelites had experienced hundreds of years of bondage to other nations and now were experiencing that same bondage from their own leaders! And added to this was the threat of war with a very aggressive and violent nation, Babylon. The Bible Knowledge Commentary states that “Jeremiah was the premier prophet of Judah during the dark days leading to her destruction. Though the light of other prophets, such as Habakkuk and Zephaniah, flickered in Judah at that time Jeremiah was the blazing torch who, along with Ezekiel in Babylon, exposed the darkness of Judah’s sin with the piercing brightness of God’s Word. He was a weeping prophet to a wayward people.” Not everyone in Israel was willing to hear Jeremiah’s words and in fact he was oppressed by his own people and leaders for telling them the truth! However, as negative as Jeremiah’s words were to their ears he was also giving them the promise of God’s joy. He tells them, “For the Lord will deliver Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.” Even though God’s people had fallen into sin they had hope and they would find ultimate joy in him again. In fact, God would deliver them and redeem them from their enemies. Not just the Babylonians, who would be used by God to punish his people but eternally from those who would seek to do them eternal harm. Their joy would be more than a momentary morning sunrise; it would last forever and God’s powerful hand would protect them! The joy of Advent brings God’s protection!

EXAMPLE: After Jesus had sent out 72 of his disciples to heal the sick and proclaim the good news of his coming, they returned full of pride at their actions, he warned them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20 NIV) Far too often we treat our relationship with Jesus as a magic pendant to ward off the evil of the world or as a means to try and garner God’s guardianship as some mystical warrior to do battle with Satan for us. This is spiritual hogwash. When we have Jesus we have the full armor of God. His coming to earth, dying on the cross and rising again insures our spiritual security. We do not need to be frightened or insecure in this world. The joy of Advent brings God’s protection!

We are safe and secure in Jesus, but there are those who experience the distress and sadness of the world around them. Jesus reminded his followers that in this world we would always have trouble, but we were to rejoice because he had overcome the world! (John 16:33) In fact we learn that…

II. The joy of Advent does away with sorrow! (v. 12)

They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord — the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more.

1. In an arid climate the one thing that matters most is water. With the amounts of rainfall we have been receiving lately here in the Northwest it can be hard to understand this concept but in Israel, where the ocean clouds sweep easily across the mostly flatland and low mountains ranges, mere foothills compared to the Cascades or Rockies, rain meant a lot. It brought bigger and better harvests; grass for herds which meant more lambs being born. And all of this was important to a society where food was a daily concern. There was no refrigeration and few ways to keep food stocks fresh for more than a day. Daily shopping for food was the normal way of life. Therefore anything that brought about abundance in harvest or flocks was seen as a time of rejoicing. People could eat well, be healthier, and have more children. This is why Jeremiah proclaimed earlier, “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.” (v.10) The rains would come in abundance when the Messiah came. “They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord — the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more.” However, the promise of living water was for the coming of the Holy Spirit to the children of God. Joel would say, “In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the LORD’s house and will water the valley of acacias.”(Joel 3:18 NIV) And John writes in Revelations, “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:16-17 NIV) This is why the coming of the Messiah was seen as a time of abundance and thereby rejoicing!  The joy of Advent does away with sorrow!

EXAMPLE: One thing I have learned in life is that each sunrise brings a new day. Now knowing that and understanding what it means are two different things. Each we are given is a new day to live for the Lord. Think of it this way as the new light of day is dawning: It’s a new day and help has already arrived to live this day brand new! In the midst of our deepest sorrow and suffering, help has already arrived. He has already come and is already waiting for us in Jesus. In this we know that the joy of Advent does away with sorrow!

I did not understand it when I was younger but now I truly do. What I mean is that old adage that life is what you make of it. Our life is not dependent upon what others do for us; it is fulfilled in how we live it for others and God. And the life we live in Jesus is the happiest, easy, relaxed, and contented calm there is. In fact…

III. The joy of Advent brings lasting comfort! (v. 13)

Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.

1. When the Messiah comes things would change not only for Israel but for all people everywhere. The Messiah would be a priestly king, godly and regal, wise and wonderful. Jesus would later quote Isaiah when he stood up in the synagogue and related, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn.” (Isaiah 61:1-2 and Luke 4:18 NIV) Jesus was letting the Jews know that the words of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and all the Prophets had come true; the Messiah had come! The advent of God had arrived! John would declare, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV) The Apostle Paul would also state concerning Jesus and the eternal security he gives those who trust in him, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV) Wolford would write that “One of the many paradoxes of the Christian life is that the grace of God is most keenly experienced not in the best but in what seem to be the worst of times.” And it is in these times whether the worst or the best we find the comfort of God through Jesus. Jeremiah could only dream and envision such a thing. To him and his people it would be a time of joy and everlasting comfort when the Messiah came. He was correct; the joy of Advent brings lasting comfort!

EXAMPLE: I have an old easy chair that is very comfortable. In fact at the end of the day you can often find me there reading a book, watching TV, or simply sleeping. It is filled with the memories of cuddling little boys and baby girls, the unwrapping of Christmas or birthday gifts, special and ordinary occasions, and the sorrows and joys of life. It fits me. It is comfortable. Yet it does not compare to the knowledge of knowing Jesus and security and utter comfort he brings in life. How can Jesus do this? Paul would marvel, “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16 NIV) Jesus brings the comfort of God because he gives us the eternal promise of God that because he lives we too will live always. The joy of Advent brings lasting comfort!

Conclusion:

The joy of Advent brings God’s protection! The joy of Advent does away with sorrow! The joy of Advent brings lasting comfort!

This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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The City of God is great! — Psalm 48

The City of God is great! — Psalm 48
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 9, 2017

Some of the things man has made can cause one to wonder: “How in the world did they do that?” Such things are Angkor Wat which is a huge temple complex covering 402 acres in Cambodia, the city of Petra that was carved out of the rock in southern Jordan, the huge sky scrapers like the Tokyo Sky Tree or United Arab Emirates’ Burj Khalifa tower. Then there are the Super Tree structures of Singapore that look like massive trees from another planet.

As great as the works of man are, God is greater. The psalmist writes a poem about the City of God, Zion. Some think he is referring to Jerusalem or perhaps a heavenly city yet to be erected. I happen to believe it is both. In a beautiful rendering he gives us a grand picture of the City of God Jerusalem and the future heavenly city we will enjoy as well. He sings of her condition; God’s relation to her; his love of her; the utter terror Zion is to her enemies, while she is the everlasting joy of those who love God! Let’s see how the City of God is great…

READ: Psalm 48

Why would we want to know how great the city of God is anyway? One of the main themes of a lot of end of the world scenarios in movies is there are always a few people trying to get to a place of safety; whether it is an area, island, military base, or city. The Psalmist writes that…

I. The City of God is great because of her protection! (Vv. 1-8)

Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain. It is beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth. Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King. God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress. When the kings joined forces, when they advanced together, they saw her and were astounded; they fled in terror. Trembling seized them there, pain like that of a woman in labor. You destroyed them like ships of Tarshish shattered by an east wind. As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD Almighty, in the city of our God: God makes her secure forever. Selah

1. The Psalmist begins his poem by relating what a lot of biblical writers do by stating, “Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise”, but why does he write what he does? He tells us not so much why but rather where God is great and the idea is one of rule or reign. We see that God is great and worthy of praise “in the city of our God, his holy mountain”. We learn in another Psalm that God “has set his foundation on the holy mountain” and in fact that “the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” (Psalm 87:1-2 NIV) God’s city is his holy mountain which is descriptive of his strength and power. But the Psalmist begins to veer away from describing earthly Jerusalem and begins to wax poetic concerning God’s heavenly city. So wonderful is this city of God’s that “It is beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth.” It was the joy of the world because it is God’s city where he dwells, where his word is expounded and heard, and where his holy temple is! And “Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King.” But here is the key to what the Psalmist wanted his listeners to understand, that when “God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress.” God is the one who makes the city great, powerful, and secure. In fact, “When the kings joined forces, when they advanced together, they saw her and were astounded; they fled in terror. Trembling seized them there, pain like that of a woman in labor.” So powerful and mighty is God’s city that her enemies are “destroyed… like ships of Tarshish shattered by an east wind.” Was this especially true of Jerusalem? Nope, even though it had a continuous fresh water supply from the Gihon Spring which flowed along Hezekiah’s Tunnel to the Siloam Pool. Jerusalem had been overthrown quite a few times. But God’s enemies could never overthrow what his city stood for: his presence and power. And this truth is reflected in his stanza, “As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD Almighty, in the city of our God: God makes her secure forever.” The City of God is great because of her protection!

EXAMPLE: Now God is not a genie or good fairy who grants our wishes. He is not a wizard with a staff who stands in front of an oncoming demon declaring, “You shall not pass!” The Psalmist makes it plain that God is great because of whom he is and because of who he is he protects those he loves even in our darkest moments. King David would sing, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest–I would flee far away and stay in the desert; Selah I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.’” (Psalms 55:4-8 NIV) Like the Psalmist we can find rest in the shelter of God. The City of God is great because of her protection!

Few things in life last. Warrantees expire, guarantees fail, and promises are sometimes unkept. Is it any wonder then that so many are skeptical of God who promises protection in a world full of broken promises? And yet his promise of protection never fails those who trust him. We discover that…

II. The City of God is great because God is always there! (Vv. 9-14)

Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness. Mount Zion rejoices, the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments. Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels that you may tell of them to the next generation. For this God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.

1. Right away the Psalmist affirms that the Lord Almighty (the Lord of armies) had made his city secure. And interestingly it isn’t because of some vast army or military strength; it was due to something else entirely. The Psalmist did not think the city could withstand any physical attack but rather it could withstand anything man could throw at it because it was where God dwelled with his people! Being close to the Lord and in his presence is the source of comfort for God’s people. John in his final book writes of his vision of the City of God that, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. (Revelation 21:22-23 NIV) The Psalmist understood this and sang, “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.” God’s city was beautiful and powerful and caused his people to think on his presence and to speak with him daily because God is there it is his temple! And like God’s name is known in the land, his “praise reaches to the ends of the earth” as well. It reminds me of the angels the Prophet Isaiah saw who sang together, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV) Therefore everyone knows that God’s “right hand is filled with righteousness” and for the reason of who God is! He always judges correctly without prejudice. In the light of this glorious truth we learn that “Mount Zion rejoices, the villages of Judah are glad because of [God’s] judgments.” Few, if any, cities of man can boast of the same greatness simply because of the impartial judgments that are enacted within its boundaries. As David would sing, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.” (Psalms 19:7-10 NIV) Therefore one could feel safe and secure within the City of God. In fact the writer challenges his readers to “Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels that you may tell of them to the next generation.” The City of God is great because God is always there!

EXAMPLE: As a child I would find comfort in the arms of my mother or in the steady hands of my Dad. And so it isn’t surprising that we find in the words of King David his relationship with God was comforting too. He would sing, “You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalms 139:5-10 NIV) He understood what this Psalmist did as well, that the City of God is great because God is always there!

Conclusion:

The City of God is great because of her protection! The City of God is great because God is always there!
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This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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