March 1, 2002
Sky Valley Park
Desert Hot Springs, CA
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:13, RSV).
When I was a child, the King James Version was thought to BE the word of God. While I love the poetry and the lyrical prose of this translation, nevertheless, it was difficult to understand, especially the Old Testament, and specifically the prophets, major and minor. In my old age, I'm happy to report that God is opening up the interrelationship of the prophets to the various kings of Israel and Judah, and showing me the relevance for us today. Perhaps because his warnings were so dire, or perhaps because he was so mournful, Jeremiah, also known as "the weeping prophet," was difficult for me to read. Now that the letter of the book has become Spirit and life for me, I perceive that Jeremiah was in the same boat as a lot of the rest of us. He lived in dangerous times, in a country surrounded by enemies, among people who had forgotten about God's promises and covenants, and he had to contend with church leaders who were so interested in currying favor with the flock that they required the prophets and priests to tell the people what they wanted to hear. Then, as now, truth was not as important as being politically correct, and certainly not as important as keeping the collection baskets full of cash.
Jeremiah had a very long career in the service of the Lord, and he had a great deal to say about our topic today, "Coming Home." He began prophesying in Judah halfway through the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC), one of the few righteous kings of Judah, and continued on during the reign of three of Josiah's sons, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoichin (a grandson), and Zedekiah. Over against their father's faithfulness, these sons all did evil in the sight of the Lord, bringing down on their heads the wrath of God. During that time, the Neo-Babylonian empire was on the rise under a brilliant military leader, Nebuchadnezzar, who first besieged Jerusalem in 605 BC, when he carried off Daniel and his three companions to Babylon (Jer. 25:1; Dan. 1:3-6). Later, this king whom God referred to as "my servant" (Jer. 27:6), fulfilled the word Jeremiah had brought to them: "He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and spared neither young man nor young woman, old man or aged. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar... He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons... until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah" (II Chronicles 36:17,20-21, NIV).
Jeremiah had tremendous responsibility, suffered hardships and physical abuse, and was accused of not telling the truth: "They keep saying to me, Where is the word of the LORD? Let it now be fulfilled!" (Jer. 17:15). By the way, the punishment for falsely claiming to be speaking for the Lord was death (Deut. 18:20), and one of the proofs of whether a prophet spoke for the Lord was whether or not what he prophesied came to pass (Deut. 18:21-22). For years, Jeremiah warned the people to repent and turn from their evil ways during the reign of Josiah and his heirs, but seemingly, his words were not being fulfilled. During the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, Hananiah came with a pleasing, but false word. He told the people that they would not be in captivity 70 years as Jeremiah had prophesied, but claimed God had said, "'I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the LORD's house that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from here and took to Babylon" (Jer. 28:2-3, NIV). He may have been popular, but God made short work of this guy. The word of the Lord came to him through Jeremiah: "Listen, Hananiah! The LORD has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies. Therefore, this is what the LORD says: 'I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebellion against the LORD.' " In the seventh month of that same year, Hananiah the prophet died" (Jer. 28:15-17, NIV). And just as Jeremiah had prophesied, the children of Israel were hauled off to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, where they remained for seventy years (Jer. 25:11-12; Dan. 9:2).
The Lord used interesting visual aids with this prophet to make His points. In one instance, Jeremiah was sent to the potter, to buy a clay jar, which he was to take to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. Taking some of the elders and priests with him, he broke the jar in front of them and declared to them that God was going to break them as well, to bring disaster on the infamous Valley of Ben Hinnom, "For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned sacrifices in it to gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal, something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter" (Jer. 19:4-6). The Hebrew name for this valley is Gehenna, which has been translated as "hell" in the King James Version of the bible, among others.
I have written about this extensively in my journal, "Primrose Path to Gehenna" (See End Note "A"), but I would like to relate a personal story. One morning after the service at Medicalodge, a woman came up to me, clutched my hand and implored, "Pray for my son." She went on to say that he was in jail, awaiting prosecution because he had stolen a chain saw to buy drugs. Even though he was more or less a low achiever in the thievery department, his mother's pain was intense, and clearly, she was suffering, big time. I leaped to an intuitive conclusion about the depth of her pain and asked, "Are you afraid he will go to hell when he dies?" She replied, "Well, of course." I took another intuitive leap and asked, "Do you know why God hauled the children of Israel off to Babylonian captivity for 70 years?" She admitted that she did not.
I went on to say, "God sent them there because they burned their sons and daughters in the fire in worship of Baal and Molech. How could He be guilty of this abominable practice which He condemned over and over?" She had no comment, but I could see the wheels turning in her head. I went on to tell her that we dare not accuse God of doing the very thing for which He punished His children. The Israelites burned their children once, but the church accuses God of doing it for all eternity. The punishments of God were swift and sure, but there is no indication that they were eternal in nature. In fact, Jeremiah has many words of comfort to those being punished. Note this passage: "This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile" (Jer. 29:10-14, NIV).
Consider this: if in addition to losing their homes, their freedom, and their wealth, the Babylonian captives were facing eternal punishment, Jeremiah's words would have been meaningless! Many of them died in captivity and would have had no possibility of receiving the blessing he promised, "I will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile." As I was running references and getting excited about what I was finding, I saw that Jeremiah's prophecy about "Coming Home," is for all of us. Is the promise physical? Scripture indicates that it includes the physical, in the fulness of God's time. We are currently on vacation in California, and when we were driving the streets of Thousand Oaks, I felt like we were coming home. In one sense, I identify with the Babylonian captives. Like them, we were uprooted from our home, losing all our treasures, and sent to a "far country." Now, lest the good folks in Missouri get their "knickers in a twist," let me hasten to say that in a real sense, Missouri is my home as well, but I'm talking about the rude shock of being transplanted, not by choice or determination, but by God's providence. Daniel proved that God blessed His faithful in captivity, but still, they did not go to Babylon by choice!
Hallmark cards notwithstanding, you can never really go home again. When we lost our beautiful property, I said to the Lord, "But now I do not have a home." His swift reply was, "I am your home." The bible is replete with stories of people who were exiled to a far county, including Adam and Eve, Joseph, Jacob, Moses, and the saints listed in Hebrews Eleven, people who were looking for a home which they did not find in this life (Heb. 11:13). I exclude Abraham from this category because he lived on God's promise, rather than by law. God did not hold his sins against him: "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due" (Rom. 4:2-4, RSV).
Abraham's blessing did not come as wages earned, but as the fulfillment of God's promise that in his seed should all nations of the earth be blessed (Gal. 3:8). Thus, he is a prototype of the New Covenant man, the only one who lived by promise, not by law. Even Adam and Eve lived by law, though they were judged and condemned by the spoken commandment of God rather than by the law of Moses. Driven from their home, they lived out their days in exile, in captivity to sin, sickness, death, and deprivation, which they passed along to us, for in Adam, Paul says, ALL died (I Cor. 15:22). Strangers from the covenants of promise, alienated from Christ, without God and without hope in this world (Eph. 2:12), we all were in exile, dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). About the heroes of faith, the Hebrew writer says, "And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect" (Heb. 11:39-40, RSV).
Jeremiah's prophecy, "I will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile" refers to Jerusalem, our mother from above (Gal. 4:26), the city whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10). Have you been delivered, or are you still living in exile? Will you need to wait until you die to leave Babylon behind and return to Jerusalem? The tension of this hour for all creation is that we are groaning for the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:20-22). Like the saints in Hebrews, Chapter Eleven, many have passed on without seeing its fulfillment, but the Apostle Paul says, "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed" (I Cor. 15:51-52, NIV). From this verse and others, the Spirit has quickened to me that some will receive what Lenny calls Resurrection Life this side of Jordan. We will know we have it in its fulness by the "redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:23). We had an e-mail from a reader this week, who reminded us that in Romans 6:5, the Apostle states unequivocally, "If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection."
As the church prepares to celebrate Easter, most Christians enjoy the triumph of Christ's resurrection over death, but most also seem to think that we'll have to wait until after we die to reap the benefits of resurrection life for ourselves. Yet in saying that "we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection," Paul is clearly speaking about overcoming death BEFORE we die, in the here and now. Jesus challenged Martha and the rest of us when He said, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26, RSV).
The dilemma for all of us is to try to see as "present tense," that which the bible puts in the present, but which most Christians project out into the future. Harry Fox refers to this as "seeing with bifocal lenses." We do not deny what we see up close, but with our spiritual eyes, we see that the promises of God in Christ are "Yeah and amen," (II Cor. 1:20), NOW! We can only live in the NOW, for no one can physically revisit yesterday or live in tomorrow. Lenny is momentarily anticipating Resurrection Life ("the redemption of the body"). He "sees" that when Resurrection Life begins to manifest, it will flow from the throne of grace around the planet like a great river, bypassing law and condemnation, without respect to moral character or religious belief, based only on God's promise as in the case of Abraham. It will end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; nullify the war between Hindus and Muslims; stop dead in its tracks, all sickness, disease, addiction, poverty, war and other forms of the living death covering this planet today. What a day of rejoicing that will be, which I believe will be the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, "And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (Isaiah 40:5, RSV). Remember that those who went on are waiting for us to get it, to see it, to experience it. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Heb. 12:1, NIV). Lord, open our eyes to see that we have completed the journey which Adam began. We have come to the city whose builder and maker is God. The angels with flaming swords now welcome us. We have come home. Amen. Jan Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
End Note "A" Primrose Path to Gehenna
The Glory Road
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This page was uploaded to the web on 3/5/02
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister
and last edited on 10/29/08.