Posted by guest blogger Nicks.
I occasionally get the opportunity to fill the pulpit for a local church, and this week was one of those opportunities. Outside my family, it is certainly the thing that gives me the most joy. It is not so certain that it carries the same level of enjoyment for those in the congregation. I must agree with Martin Lloyd-Jones comment, "I can say quite honestly that I would not cross the road to listen to myself preaching".
Fair warning being given, here is a short summary of this morning’s sermon…..
“Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
And shout among the chief of the nations;
Proclaim, give praise and say,
‘O LORD, save Your people,
The remnant of Israel.’
“Behold, I am bringing them from the north country,
And I will gather them from the remote parts of the earth,
Among them the blind and the lame,
The woman with child and she who is in labor with child, together;
A great company, they will return here.
“With weeping they will come,
And by supplication I will lead them;
I will make them walk by streams of waters,
On a straight path in which they will not stumble;
For I am a father to Israel,
And Ephraim is My firstborn.” Jeremiah 31:7-9 (NASB)
In context it speaks to the restoring of the northern ten tribes. A promise of a return of their joy. It is glad tidings. In these three verses we see God’s desire restore them, and to hear His peoples voices in worship, prayer, and repentance.
God uses active verbs in the instructions for worship – Sing, shout, proclaim, praise. To a people born in exile, suffering for the sins of their grandparents, God says He is returning the joy of worship. Even in dire circumstance. Even under gentile domination. Even far from the land of promise.
Right now, right where you are, can you sing aloud with gladness? Can you shout, proclaim, and give praise to God? Are our circumstances so much worse than theirs? Does God love us less? Is He less faithful to us?
Adding to the glory of worship He encourages them to pray – “say, ‘O LORD, save Your people, The remnant of Israel.’” Pray for the restoration of relationships, pray for a revival in the hearts and minds and circumstance of His people. No small request. Not your “save my kitten” kind of prayer. This is big stuff. This is history changing and history making. This is eternal in scope and reach.
God says, pray, because I am already at work. Notice the tense in verse 8. “I am bringing” God is already at work. He is already restoring and healing, even though they just cannot yet see it. He is gathering those who are helpless on their own. The lame, the blind, the woman in labor. Those who cannot find their own way and do not have the strength in themselves to make the journey.
That is me. I am lame and blind and weak, unable to restore my own spirit. Unable to find joy in worship in my own strength. Perhaps it is you too. If so, verse 9 gives the key to reclaiming that joy.
“with weeping they will come” – They would return weeping tears of repentance and praying for the Lord's favor. A broken and contrite heart. Recognition of, and repentance for my sin. That is the key. That is the thing that unlocks the straight path near the streams of water.
As the people give themselves to prayer and repentance, the Lord will lead them to the refreshing streams of water. He would lead them back tenderly, as a father deals with his firstborn son, and would make the trip refreshing, pleasant, and safe. What parent does not want the best for their child. What Husband or wife does not want the best for their spouse? God says "I am a father to Israel."
A Father. The term is hardly ever used of God in the OT, yet Jesus encourages us to use it in prayer. To recognize that we are the adopted family of God. We are His children, and as such the recipients of the full measure of His love and caring for us.
Have we understood our circumstances in light of that? Have we looked around and seen the hand of God at work? Have we repented, rejoiced and been refreshed by God’s spirit?