"POWER OF PROMISES"

TEXTS:     Jeremiah 33:1-18

INTRO:

One of those exciting moments as a young child is when your parents promise you something special. The moment the promise was made everything was different … even though the actual fulfillment of the promise was a ways off. It had the power of changing the entire atmosphere for the moment, and even your behavior. There was anticipation, and sometimes there was even greater obedience when the promise was conditional … like "I promise … if you are good." ILLUS: My five-year-old grandnephew was obviously worried as he looked down the long aisle of the church where his aunt was to be married the following day. His grandmother had an idea. "I think I'll give a prize to the person who does the best job tomorrow," she told him. We were all holding our breath the next day, but when it was time, the ring bearer performed without a hitch. When his grandmother told him he had won the prize, he was both excited and relieved. "I was pretty sure I had it," he admitted, "until Aunt Dana came in wearing that white dress and the horn was blowing. Then I started thinking -- she might win!" -- Barbara Lee, Goldsboro, North Carolina. Christian Reader, "Rolling Down the Aisle." The interesting thing about a promise is the power it has to change us long before any of the promise is even realized. Because a promise gives something to look forward to, to hope for, to anticipate, it actually holds great power in the present without even being realized until much later. ILLUS:Surely one of the most daring of all adventurers was Christopher Columbus. He was sailing where no man had ever sailed before. His crew urged him to turn back. They threatened mutiny if he did not. Still Columbus stayed his course. We must have the courage to set a goal and then stay our course, no matter what others may think or say. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). God uses promises in much the same way, to change us in the present, to give us hope in the midst of despair, to anticipate something greater and better when we have little to base any joy on in the moment. God's promises alone can empower us to live in such a way as to confound the world. It also has the power to keep us moving in the right direction against tremendous odds. PROP. SENT:      The Bible teaches us that God's promises are powerful, enough to change our lives both now and forever.

I. CHALLENGING TIMES       33:1-5

A. Self Reliance     33:1-4 1. So what does Jeremiah's story have to say to us today? a. The times were very similar, Judah was a nation birthed by fervent faith in God, but now its very pluralistic culture hardly knew the God of Abraham. b. Times were difficult, the world was on edge over chaos in the Middle East, Babylonians were threatening attack, and were in fact already laying siege against Jerusalem … some in Judah were wondering if God will come to their rescue, some where asking, "Will God keep His promises?" c. Yet, while wondering if God would keep His promises, they did everything they could to solve the problem their own way, thus ignoring God's promises! (1. In Verse 4 it states that they were tearing down their own houses, even the royal palaces in order to use the stones to build their walls higher against the enemy … all in the hopes that they could save themselves by their own efforts. (2. While these efforts might have been good had they FIRST come to God, they hadn't even inquired about God's help, they refused constantly to hear the Word of God from Jeremiah … they didn't like his messages! (3. This is why this passage opens with Jeremiah confined to the courtyard, they didn't like God's Word so they decided they would beat their enemy in their own way and keep Jeremiah captive … the formula for disaster! (4. Tragically, they hadn't learned from their sister nation Israel which fell earlier to the Assyrians because they had rejected God too. 2. Self reliance can have a high price tag … for it often leaves us bankrupt spiritually! 3. Ironically, God did have a message for them, a way for them to escape the imminent destruction, but it wasn't acceptable to the Jews in Judah because it meant surrender … the hardest thing for us to do is surrender our will to God's! a. They continued to live with the mistaken notion that they were really in control of the situation! ILLUS:A newly elected politician was visiting Washington, D.C., to get acquainted. He was visiting in the home of one of the ranking senators who was trying to interpret the bizarre wonder of the capitol. As they stood looking out over the Potomac River, an old deteriorating log floated by in view on the river. The old-timer said, "This city is like that log out there." The fledgling politician asked, "How's that?" The senator came back, "Well, there are probably more than one hundred thousand grubs, ants, bugs and critters on that old log as it floats down the river. And I imagine every one of them thinks that he's steering it." -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 439 b. Their efforts made them think that they were accomplishing something, that they were in control … but Jeremiah clearly had told them that their efforts would fail, their sin of self reliance would be a disaster … but God had also offered them a promise, "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." All they had to do was turn away from their own self reliance and trust God. c. Victory would be found in God's promises, not their self efforts! 4. But their self efforts somehow made them feel better, and at this point they were more interested in feeling better than finding God! (this mirrors the attitude of many today!) ILLUS:Feeling better has become more important to us than finding God. -- Larry Crabb in Finding God. Christianity Today, Vol. 39, no. 8. a. It would be a costly error however in the long run! b. Their efforts for short term gain would mean long term captivity, a high price to pay for self reliance. c. Anytime we turn away from God and do things our way we end up paying a price, and sometimes it is costly! B. Sorry Results!     33:5 1. Jeremiah's message wasn't very comforting, it was that the streets would be filled with dead bodies, and not Babylonian ones! The last sentence of verse 5 certainly knocked Jeremiah's preaching off the top of the popular prophecy charts in 588 BC. "I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness." a. Their constant rejection of doing things God's ways is going to cost them finally! b. And rather than submit and humble themselves they continue to try to solve the problem by greater human effort, tearing down their houses and even royal palaces, how much easier it would have been to submit to God! (Have we learned this?) 2. This was precisely what led to Israel's earlier captivity by the Assyrians. 3. Their own boasting of self reliance was creating pain -- and yet they continued to stand in their own pride! ILLUS:The lion was proud of his mastery of the animal kingdom. One day he decided to make sure all the other animals knew he was the king of the jungle. He was so confident that he bypassed the smaller animals and went straight to the bear. "Who is the king of the jungle?" the lion asked. The bear replied, "Why, you are, of course." The lion gave a mighty roar of approval. Next he asked the tiger, "Who is the king of the jungle?" The tiger quickly responded, "Everyone knows that you are, O mighty lion." Next on the list was the elephant. The lion faced the elephant and addressed his question: "Who is the king of the jungle?" The elephant immediately grabbed the lion with his trunk, whirled him around in the air five or six times, and slammed him into a tree. Then he pounded him onto the ground several times, dunked him under water in a nearby lake, and finally threw him up on the shore. The lion--beaten, bruised, and battered--struggled to his feet. He looked at the elephant through sad and bloody eyes and said, "Look, just because you don't know the answer is no reason for you to get mean about it!" -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 312. 4. The road of self reliance and self exaltation is a dead end! a. Even in captivity however, God will not abandon them, His promises don't end with their disobedience … they are only postponed to a time when they will obey. b. God had not abandoned them, they had abandoned God, but God's promises still stood. II. CONSTANT THEMES     33:6-18 A. Savior's Reassurance     33:6-13 1. Though they would experience a time of refocusing in Babylonian captivity, God was not through with them! a. Though God may allow difficulties into our life when we live disobediently, He does not hate or abandon us … He uses such times to refocus us in preparation for His promises. b. In fact, it is at such times that there is such power in promises … for they motivate us when we know they still exist! 2. What makes it possible to go through struggles in our present lives, to even experience great joy with great losses? It is the promises of God! ILLUS:I have hope in the future. The Bible speaks about bodies being glorified. I know the meaning of that now. It's the time after my death here when I, the quadriplegic, will be on my feet dancing. -- Joni Eareckson Tada, quoted by John R. W. Stott, "The Up-to-the-Minute Relevance of the Resurrection," Preaching Today, Tape No. 79. a. Ironic isn't it, a promise is something not yet here, but has the power to completely change the way we deal with the "now." b. This is why people use promises to get elected, to alter other people's behavior, to motivate children, to get you to buy products, to establish your dreams … promises have power to them … but that power is only as good as the one who makes those promises! 3. God's promises are something we can STAND ON! a. By standing we mean building our lives on them. b. One does not "stand on the promises of God" by simply quoting them, they stand on them by the way they live, as though those promises are so sure that the present choices must reflect the certainty of that coming promise. 4. For Christians … this is why death is not a final defeat, but a great victory … the promise of eternal life has profound impact not only on our future, but even our present life! ILLUS:Easter is God's everlasting "Yes" to humanity's troubled question: "If a man dies, shall he live again?" Not too long ago, James Gordon Gilkey, one of the Christian leaders in Portland, Oregon, was told by his physician that he had fallen victim to an incurable disease. There was no possible way by which death could be averted, or even long delayed. When this man heard the news, what did he do? Here is his own account of the hours which followed: "I walked out to my home five miles from the center of the city. There I looked at the river and the mountain that I loved, and then--as the twilight deepened--at the stars glimmering in the sky. I said to them, I may not see you many times more. But, river, I shall be alive when you have ceased your running to the sea. Mountain, I shall be alive when you have sunk down into the plain. Stars, I shall be alive when you have fallen to the sea."' -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 143. 5. If Judah could only hear Jeremiah's reassuring message of God's promises they wouldn't have been so angry with him concerning the present suffering … God will not cast them aside, He will return them with great joy and blessing, once they have properly learned reliance on Him again, and captivity is a good place to learn reliance on God! a. Even on the verge of captivity God is assuring them of future blessings. b. Why then did they find no joy in this? Because they were not willing to abandon their own sinfulness … so the promises meant nothing to them … YET. c. When we submit to God however, His promises will take on a new power in our lives, they will in fact anchor our lives and direct our paths. B. Savior's Rule     33:14-18 1. Jeremiah has more good news, the day will come when both Israel AND Judah will rediscover God's gracious promises … and what a glorious day it will be! a. Though they weren't appreciative of these promises now, they will bring comfort later! (In fact, it was later in captivity that Daniel was reading from the book of Jeremiah and God's promises that rekindled hope in God's deliverance for Jews, and moved Daniel to repent for Judah's sins in hopes of realizing these promises of God.) b. God's promises work for all generations. 2. What do these promises mean? That God is the ruler, He is in control, ultimately His will will prevail. a. All they needed was to remember who they were, where they came from … so they could see the promises of God of where they are going! b. When they lost sight of WHO they were, WHO they belonged to, they lost their way. 3. They were not just some other nation, they were God's people … but they weren't acting like the nation God had created them to be, so captivity would be a reminder … to get them back on track, ironically they would remember what nation they were once they weren't in the land of their nationality, but when they are in captivity in a strange land. ILLUS:George Shultz, when Secretary of State during the Reagan administration, kept a large globe in his office. When newly appointed ambassadors had an interview with him and when ambassadors returning from their posts for their first visit with him were leaving his office, Shultz would test them. He would say, "You have to go over to the globe and prove to me that you can identify your country." They would go over, spin the globe, and put their finger on the country to which sent--unerringly. When Shultz's old friend and former Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield was appointed ambassador to Japan, even he was put to the test. This time, however, Ambassador Mansfield spun the globe and put his hand on the United States. He said: "That's my country." On June 27, 1993, Shultz related this to Brian Lamb on C-Span's "Booknotes." Said the secretary: "I've told that story, subsequently, to all the ambassadors going out. 'Never forget you're over there in that country, but your country is the United States. You're there to represent us. Take care of our interests and never forget it, and you're representing the best country in the world.' " -- Dr. Wallace Alcorn. From the files of Leadership. 4. All they had left now was God's promises … but this would be enough once they realized the emptiness of doing things their own way. a. There would be enough power in God's promises to redirect the entire nation back to God. b. Hopelessness would not overcome them in captivity, because God had something more to say and do with them … and His promises prove that! c. No promise of God has ever failed … and their delivery will come, Babylon will not have the last word, God will. ILLUS:If you want a wonderful experience, take your New Testament and use a concordance to look up the two little words, "but God." See how many times human resources have been brought to an utter end; despair has gripped the heart and pessimism and gloom has settled upon a people; and there is nothing that can be done. Then see how the Spirit of God writes in luminous letters, "But God," and the whole situation changes into victory. -- Ray C. Stedman, Man of Faith. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 5. 5. Better days are coming … this is what drives all Christians forward. a. Sinners always have their pasts catching up with them, BUT believers always have their futures catching up with them! b. God's promises contain great power … they are what made men like Abraham leave their own land to go where they had never gone before, to enable men like David to hold steady when Saul was king knowing that God had already chosen David to be king instead, for Joseph to take Mary to himself as his wife in spite of how things looked in society with a pregnant fiancée, for Jesus to go to the cross and die … BUT GOD had the final word on all these things because His promises were given long ago … and they are good enough to live our lives by, and die by! 6. Are you standing on God's promises or your own self reliance? a. Are God's promises strong enough to persuade you to live by His Word rather than your own wisdom? b. Are His promises real enough in your life that though the present painful circumstances come they don't drag you down? c. Are His promises transforming your values to His values because you are so certain that they are true? CONCLUSION:    A promise is a powerful thing, for it does not usually meet an immediate need but it inspires us to persevere present sufferings knowing something good will eventually come. A promise has the power to transform the present even if it doesn't come into existence until the future. What promises keep you going, are you really standing on God's promises?