At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called Outlaws, a series looking at prophets whose stories point towards the Messiah.
Having an unpopular message to share with others can be a daunting task. But just as we need friends and family in our lives to share truth with us, we also serve a God of both truth and love. How can God’s truth, even when tough to hear, lead us to a more hopeful future?
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
WITH YOUR FAMILY, ROOMMATES, OR LIFE GROUP, WORK THROUGH THE MESSAGE NEXT STEPS:
LISTEN TO THE MESSAGE I SHARED AT GATEWAY IN SOUTH AUSTIN:
HERE ARE THE MESSAGE NOTES FROM OUR TEACHING TEAM:
In our Outlaws series we have been looking at prophets who spoke truth to power – risking their lives as messengers from God. Moses confronted Pharoah. Isaiah and Daniel confronted the evil kings of their day with warnings and a call to turn to God, change their ways, and end the injustice.
Last week we saw how in the midst of the courage to stand up for their faith, Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den as a punishment for praying, but he survived. His friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown in the fiery furnace because they would not bow down and worship the king. They miraculously survived, but what if they hadn’t? Sometimes the story does not have a happy ending.
So today I want to talk about the elephant in the room that skeptics and believers wonder:
“How can I trust God when there seems to be nothing good in our future?”
Are we willing to trust God when there is not a happy ending? Last week we talked about having an “even… if” faith rather than an “if… then.”
“If… then” faith says: “If I do this God, then you have to do that—or I’m not following you.” This is actually a conditional kind of relationship. Many of us who were raised in going to church have this kind of understanding of God. You can know if that is your tendency if your relationship with God feels more motivated by guilt, shame, or obligation. And we believe that if we do enough good things it will offset the bad things so God will be obligated to us.
Instead of religion, God invites us into a relationship with Him. We can actually know God and experience His divine nature and divine power. We can experience a connection with the Spirit of God and the fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
So what is “even… if” faith? It comes from this passage from the story from when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace. They said to the king:
17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:15-18
It’s the call to trust God even if doing so means we die in the fiery furnace.
God wants to help us to develop a faith greater than our circumstances and experience a peace that surpasses understanding.
That’s when we say and mean: “God I’m going to trust you, and I’m going to believe you’ll deliver me through this tough situation, but even… if you don’t do what I’m asking—I will still follow you.”
So that is why we are going to look at Jeremiah.
Jeremiah is most commonly known as “the weeping prophet.” He’s called that because he’s God’s last hope to turn his people’s hearts back to Him… but as we learned last week, they stay hard-hearted.
Many scholars believe that, in addition to being a powerful man of God, Jeremiah also probably battled clinical depression throughout his entire life.
The hard reality of the prophet Jeremiah is, no one followed him! For 40 years he shared messages of warning and hope and not one person listened.
And in case you’re wondering how that affected him… his sequel to the book named after him was a book he wrote called Lamentations. A book of laments!
Now, if we’re honest, we hear about Jeremiah’s struggles and we don’t want that for our lives!
Yet from the very beginning, God made it clear He had a plan for Jeremiah.
The Lord gave me this message: “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” “O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!” The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said, “Look, I have put my words in your mouth! Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms. Jeremiah 1:5-10
That sounds awesome, right?!
God created you on purpose and with a purpose
I want you to know God created you on purpose and with a purpose! We discover our purpose as we surrender our lives to follow Him and grow to know Him.
Discovering our passions, talents, and spiritual gifts… combined with our experiences and developing our character leads to clarity!
Was God’s purpose for Jeremiah to suffer as his prophet for 40 years?!
That makes us wonder: what if we don’t like the purpose He has for us? We hear about Jeremiah’s struggles and we don’t want that for our lives!
Here’s the catch: don’t let the struggles of others keep you from trusting God from helping you in the midst of yours.
God never promises a life without problems.
He promises to be with us in the midst of our problems.
Jeremiah was rejected, imprisoned, his life was threatened, he was thrown in a pit and left for dead. Yet how do we know if Jeremiah isn’t grateful for the life he experienced?
Some of us who face more challenges than others also seem to have more peace and more experiences with the miraculous loving grace from God.
Jeremiah lived a life of faith in the midst of suffering.
So much of Jeremiah’s legacy is how differently, and compellingly he was able to live the prophecy he was speaking.
- Jeremiah lived with fiery passion in a culture where, by-and-large, faith had been replaced by complacency
- In a culture of apathy, he lived with a captive imagination
- In a culture of great distraction, he lived with focus
- And in culture of compromise, Jeremiah lived with an unwavering sense of conviction
Jeremiah’s life was so compelling that, hundreds of years later when Jesus appeared on the scene Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples, gives us this account:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Matthew 16:13-14
I find it really interesting… Jeremiah’s collection of writings are so significant and extremely relevant for our times – but also known to be one of the least talked-about and taught-on in modern church settings. Perhaps one of the main reasons for this, is the reality that Jeremiah doesn’t deliver a happy message.
I want you to know that I’m very aware that we all come in to this space from many different circumstances. Some of us show up with a healthy skepticism about all of this… that in some cases, comes from actual experiences you’ve had in the past… where you’ve been let down or hurt by a person in a church or a religious group of some kind.
If that’s you today, I’m so glad you’re here, and I’m so sorry for the hurt you’ve experienced in the past.
The reality that many of us have come to know all-too-well, is that any community that we can ever be a part of is a “usually well-intentioned” group of imperfect people bumpin’-up against each other and living in the blast-radius of each other’s brokenness and failures.
I mention this because so many of the failures that we see in the church today are characteristic of the failures of ancient Israel – failures that receive strong rebuke in the Book of Jeremiah. Like I said, Jeremiah is completely relevant to our lives today.
It’s not a happy message, but a heavy and relevant one.
Nevertheless, it’s a message that contains incredible hope for our lives!
What I’ve grown to love and appreciate about the Book of Jeremiah:
It does what most every book in the Bible does, if we will allow it to — it becomes mirror that shows us our own reflection – and a window that enables us to see God for more of who he really is.
Throughout Jeremiah, you see a heartbreaking story of a God who pursues his people… even when they’ve completely tuned him out and rejected his ways. (just like me)
God doesn’t stop trying to appeal to them – to get them to alter their course and to return to him. The amazing thing is… the God who pursued Israel is that same God we connect with today.
One of the things that rolls into focus throughout this book is that
God’s Love Always Speaks Truth
From the first time God sends Jeremiah with a message for Israel. It’s a message motivated by love, but a message that speaks truth at the same time.
It’s really important to understand… it was a very unpopular truth for the people of Israel. It didn’t feel like love to them, so they didn’t listen to it.
But God pursued them, speaking the truth in love.
This message came to Jeremiah from the Lord early in the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah. “This is what the Lord says: Stand in the courtyard in front of the Temple of the Lord, and make an announcement to the people who have come there to worship from all over Judah. Give them my entire message; include every word. Perhaps they will listen and turn from their evil ways. Then I will change my mind about the disaster I am ready to pour out on them because of their sins. Jeremiah 26:1-3
Kenny Green, our Central Campus Pastor is speaking at our North Campus. Our teaching team works on these messages together, so he shared a story with us that just fits perfectly here. If you don’t know his story, Kenny played drums in some really great bands in Southern California while experimenting with a lot of drugs. He got addicted to crystal meth in his early 20’s and stayed that way until he was 34. He went to jail for the last time in 2004, and that’s where he became a follower of Jesus. Since then he has helped lots of others find freedom from their addiction and discover a genuine and beautiful relationship with God. Today he said that it just seems fitting that at least one of these messages at North Campus would be taught by an actual convicted felon, right?
But he shared with us looking back, it’s still incredible to him… how many warnings God gave him throughout his addiction. But his brokenness just wasn’t listening to the prophets in his life…
- Bosses & Coworkers
- Friends & Family
- Police officers & Judges
- Even his friends who were on drugs were like, “dude, you gotta slow down!
He said: “I feel like God sent so many “prophets” in to my life… but I was so sick and my heart was so hard that I just refused to listen or to change. The further I ran away from God and His Will and Ways, the more I began to experience the consequence until finally, IN LOVE God let me hit bottom.”
- Have you hit rock bottom? You can tell when you have nowhere else to go but look up for help!
- Have you ignored the prophets God has sent to warn you?
- Have you stopped listening to the very people God has sent to help you by having a hard conversation?
God loves us so much that He gives us the freedom to follow Him or reject Him – to go His way and enjoy the blessings of that or to go our own way and learn from the consequences of those choices.
In the meantime, He loves us so much He gives us the freedom to follow Him or reject Him – to go His way and enjoy the blessings of that or to go our own way and learn from the consequences of those choices.
Sometimes we struggle to trust God because of the bad things happening in our lives not realizing the bad things happening may be the direct result of our decisions!
Other times, we suffer because of the bad decisions of others.
That’s the story of Jeremiah. No one wanted to hear what he or God had to say.
When you ally yourself with God… it will make you unpopular at times.
God is a God of love, but he is equally the God of Truth.
There are times when a firm devotion of love to someone will lead you to oppose things that they are doing that are wrong… destructive to others… or destructive to themselves… but that kind of love won’t usually be welcomed.
The price of “tough love” was high for Jeremiah – he was beaten and thrown in the stocks threatened with death imprisoned for years and thrown into a pit and left for dead, but because of that devotion to speaking the truth in love, we also discover through Jeremiah that
God Is Always Just
In our world today, most of us would tend to think of this as great news.
We are surrounded by endless stories of injustice and it’s good news to know there is a God out there who sees the wrongs done, and is pledged to right it through justice.
The widespread social injustices in Israel were obvious, and it was symptomatic of their rejection of God and his ways.
Let everyone beware of his neighbor, and put no trust in any brother, for every brother is a deceiver, and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer. Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:4-6
Jeremiah teaches us in a painful way that God’s commitment to justice is unwavering, and while he is patient, he won’t be unjust in the end.
Israel had come to the end of God’s generous patience. They had been warned through all of these outlaw prophets we’ve been discussing over the past few weeks Moses, Isaiah, Daniel and here in Jeremiah warned about the consequences facing the choices they were making. If God is truly just, at some point these wrongs had to be righted.
The beautiful thing is He did. This world is not as it should be, but do not worry, He came to make things right, and one day He will make things right!
In fact, as we look toward Easter God’s justice is clearly seen through the cross! There’s a tremendous amount of injustice, sin, and brokenness in our world — and some of it exists in us. How can God be just in righting our wrongs, and at the same time, treat us with mercy and grace?
This is only possible through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. Romans 3:23-26 NLT
The cross of Jesus reminds us that God is both just and grace-giving!
Which is really the bass note of all of Jeremiah’s writings. It’s the theme of this entire book. God would allow people’s rebellion and sin to impact their lives he was going to stop shielding them from the consequences of their ways. He was going to allow their lives to be disrupted and uprooted. He would allow them to hit bottom.
However, in God’s Love and Justice there is Hope Seeded Into Sadness
This is so important because… when I try to put myself in Jeremiah’s shoes… being threatened, beaten and imprisoned… I know I had my share of questions and doubt… where I would’ve been like, “this doesn’t feel just… I mean, God I trust you… but this just sucks”. Do you know what I mean?
It doesn’t really feel like Jeremiah got dealt fair hand… and there are times when we all feel that way.
How can we trust that God is just and can be trusted with the future while people that we love don’t seem to have one?
When we lived in Los Angeles we would get together with my cousins and their families. 2 of my 3 cousins that are my age lived near us.
So my cousin Todd married a woman whose son Jakob was very sick. He had been sick since birth. They were told he may not survive childbirth. Miraculously he did. They were told he wouldn’t be able to communicate or survive for very long. Once again, Jakob far exceeded expectations. Jakob lived to be 9 years old. He was very fragile but he was so full of joy! Pic of Jakob
When we lost Jakob, I remember having to tell my children that their little cousin had died. He was the first person they knew who passed away. And he was their age. Deborah and I struggled whether to take them to the funeral which was the first one they would ever attend.
We grieved and we mourned, but the family was so grateful for Jakob. We heard people say that Jakob experienced more joy in his brief life than most people do in a lifetime.
He was no longer in pain! He could run! He could jump! He didn’t experience the angst and pain of life.
In fact, passages like the following brought comfort and an eternal perspective:
“Precious in the eyes of God are the deaths of His faithful servants.” – Psalm 116:15
“The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”
Isaiah 57:1-2 NIV
We need to have an eternal perspective! For so many of us… we’re allowing the struggles in our lives… or the struggles of others around us… to bring us to closure too soon on who God is and what He wants to do in our lives!
- We’ve settled for pursuing happiness when God offers joy that transcends our circumstances!
- We’ve settled for “if… then” religion when we can have an “even.. if” faith!
- We’ve settled for churchianity when God offers us a relationship with Him that begins now and continues into eternity!
God does not promise a life without problems.
God promises to be with us in the midst of the problems we face.
This is not all there is! The best moments now are just a tiny glimpse of what will be! Every good gift we have in this life is a gift from God so can you imagine when all the sin, selfishness, brokenness, and pain of this world are removed and replaced with the glorious love and grace and beauty of God’s presence!
The prophets in the Old Testament trusted in the God who would one day come one day to rescue us! We trust in the God who came to rescue us and will come again to make all things right and His name is Jesus… Yeshua… which literally means, “God saves.”
Last week we looked at one of the most famous verses in the Bible, that speaks of hope (Jeremiah 29:11) isn’t just a passage about hope. It’s actually a promise embedded into a sad reality.
The hope is present, even in the sadness.
You’ll remember this text from last week…
This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:10-14 NLT
There was no changing the reality of the destruction of Jerusalem, the exile, and the loss of their land.
But it wasn’t going to be permanent, there was hope seeded into the sadness.
- Likewise, there will be moments of loss and grief for us
- We will experience the pain of injustice
- We’ll sometimes (or often times if you’re like me) have to experience the consequences of our own actions.
But friends, God is at work… He speaks the truth in love… and He’s good… He’s gracious… and He’s Just!
He has given us promises to hold onto, promises that can lead us through.
We can trust God with our future. The closer we grow to know God, the more we want what He has for our lives.
Jeremiah suffered, but it seems the suffering allowed him to fulfill His calling and experience a beautiful closeness with God.
Listen to how Jeremiah honestly summarizes his life:
“I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.” Lamentations 3:1-6 NIV
That all sounds terrible! Jeremiah has such a high view of God’s sovereignty- His control – that rather than saying the kinder “God has allowed all this to happen” Jeremiah accepts this was his lot in life.
Listen to the level of trust and hope Jeremiah has in God’s goodness and loving kindness. He continues:
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
Lamentations 3:22-26 NIV
Are you stuck in the beginning of that passage or has your faith grown to see the presence of God even in the midst of your pain so that you can point to how good He is!
I’ve been through pain and I’ve experienced loss, and I still hurt and still mourn for those moments and those people in my life but I am grateful. For in those experiences I know God was with me and with those I love. I know He can be trusted for He is good and loving. In fact, you could almost consider His love to be reckless. His love drove Him to the cross to die for you and me and even now He pursues us.
So how do we know?
God pursues us in the following ways:
- Circumstances – a line in a film, a lyric in a song.
- Answers to prayer.
- A follower of Jesus gives you something to read or listen to because he or she was praying for you and that idea came to mind.
It’s incredible to me that so much of the Hebrew Scriptures are filled with people pondering and asking the same question that so many of us have, today: “What is God Like?”
So what does God do in response to that question? He comes to rescue us, and His name is Jesus.
Then people in Jesus’ day are asking Him the same question… “What is God like?
And Jesus says, “you want to know what God is like?”
- He’s like a shepherd who has 100 sheep…
- He’s like a woman who loses a coin…
- He’s like a father who has two sons…
If you want to know what God is like… we look to Jesus, whose love drove Him to the cross to die for you and me and even now He pursues us.
No matter how far from God you might feel today… no matter what you’ve done… or could ever do… IN HIS LOVE, God is pursuing you!
Like a shepherd willing to leave the 99 sheep in the pen to go searching for the one who is missing.
God never promised we would not have difficult times.
He promised He’d never leave us or forsake us.