“Symbols of an Everlasting Love: Ripened Love” sermon from 10/17/10, Jeremiah 24:1-8
Have you ever felt like you were extended good fortune because you haven’t had to endure certain thing(s) that another has had to? Or, maybe you’ve considered certain things in your life to be blessings or curses that aren’t necessarily. Sometimes things that seem like good fortune turn out not to be, and sometimes things that seem like bad fortune turn out to be for your good, or not as bad as you suspected. Most of you are probably familiar with the phrase blessing in disguise. I had a little experience with this earlier this past week. Not necessarily a blessing in disguise from what I can tell, but Monday morning my wife, daughter, and I went to visit a shut-in of ours and as we were getting back into our car to leave I did what I often do while strapping our daughter into her carseat; I placed my Bible and daily planner on top of the car with intentions of crabbing it before getting in the front seat and driving off. Well, I imagine you can all guess what happened next. I totally forgot about my Bible and planner, proceeded to get in the front seat, and took off. Twenty minutes later when we arrived back at the parsonage I realized what had happened, and suddenly my day was ruined! Does this ever happen to any of you? Something “out of the ordinary” happens and it just sets your whole day off. Suddenly it seems like something is against you and it’s hard to get past it. This sort of thing happens with me and sports too. I have learned that I have to be careful on Sundays while watching football because it’s been easy for me to let how the Packers game turns out dictate the rest of the day. Seriously, this seems ridiculous, but I’ve had problem with this in the past. Some of you just lost all respect for me out there with that confession (last night was a great night in sports, BTW). What I am getting at here though is that it’s easy for us to have a warped view of blessing and curses (good/bad fortune). It’s easy to think that if “good” things are happening in our lives (i.e. good weather, good health, prosperity) God must be on our side (and that may be true), and if seemingly “bad” things are happening that God/world is against us, we’ve been cut off, or we’ve done something wrong, etc. These are the sort of things we will be exploring in our message for this morning.
So, let me back up and give a quick run-down again of the things we have talked about in our current message series. We have been following a series based on the OT book of Jeremiah through the use of symbols in which God shows to Jeremiah that have messages to him and God’s people within them. The title of this series has been Symbols of an Everlasting Love for that is the message behind the messages. Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” Behind all of God’s actions, everything He does and says, is His everlasting love. We began this series with visiting Jeremiah’s call story as we discussed how as God’s people we are Deeply Known and Lovingly Called; God deeply knows who we are and has a plan and purpose for each of us. After that we got into our first message tied to a symbol as we looked at what God had to say to the people through Jeremiah as he stood in front of the temple of the Lord and expressed God’s desire for a Worshipful Love (deep, devoted, close love) between us and Him; not just a love where our perceived needs are met. From there we continued on with another aspect of our love relationship with God and talked about Committed Love and how it can become spoiled and rotten if we don’t nurture it properly and leave it to become dried up or maybe even swept away under something. And for the last two weeks we have looked at two aspects of God’s love toward us; God’s Shaping Love as He is the Potter and we are the clay & His Shepherdly Love as He is the true Great Shepherd always tending to His flock as is needed and He sent the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ that He might be for us The Lord, Our Righteousness. This morning then, we will move ahead with a message I am calling, Ripened Love as we look at Jeremiah 24. Turn their with me in your Bibles and I will read verses 1-8…
24 The Lord showed me two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the Lord. This was after King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the artisans, and the smiths, and had brought them to Babylon. 2 One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. 3 And the Lord said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 5 Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. 6 I will set my eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. 7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. 8 But thus says the Lord: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who live in the land of Egypt.
So, once again, God has a peculiar message for Jeremiah and the people of Judah centered around a symbolic vision He gives to Jeremiah. So far we have looked at four others, each with a specific message for Jeremiah and the people dealing with something to do with their present circumstances. Today in God’s message for Jeremiah He shows Jeremiah a vision of two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the Lord. One basket full of good, first-ripe figs, and the other filled with bad, non-edible figs. I have this sort of represented here to my left in this basket and the fruit décor within it. This at least gives you a picture of what Jeremiah saw. What is God trying to get across to Jeremiah and the people this time?
Well, as with all the messages in this series, the imagery is specific; specific to the people’s circumstance and to the symbol and what it represents in itself. So again, our passage opens with saying, “The Lord showed me (Jeremiah) two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the Lord. This was after King Nebuchadrezzer of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the artisans, and the smiths, and had brought them to Babylon.” So let’s break that first verse down. The Lord showed Jeremiah two baskets of figs placed before the Temple. This represents two sets of people before the Temple of the Lord. Secondly, Jeremiah continues to place this vision within the context of the day and the peoples’ circumstances. He tells us that this had occurred after the people had been taken into exile in Babylon, the land to the north.
The passage then goes on to say, “One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. And the Lord said to me, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’ I said, ‘Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs, very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.’” As a quick side not, I chuckle sometimes in hearing Jeremiah’s response to what he saw. It sounds sort of like caveman speak… This just goes to show me that visions from God, or things He may show you and/or me in His Word, conversation, prayer, etc aren’t necessarily all that complicated (rocket science). Visions from God are both simple and yet compelling at the same time. I just say that to encourage you against thinking that all of God’s messages are extremely complicated, or our tendency to complicate the message ourselves because we think, anything from God must be complicated. God speaks to His people in terms, visions, etc they can understand. That’s how He’ll speak to you too.
Getting back to verses 2-3 then, Jeremiah sees two baskets of figs, one with very good, like first-ripe figs, and another very bad, non-edible figs. These were placed before the Temple of the Lord. One thing this stood for is the offering up of first fruits to God. Those very good, first-ripe figs were who God considered to be a sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Himself. These were like first-ripe figs, the most tasty and delightful; worthy of preservation, saving, and cherishing for all time! The other group, the very bad, non-edible figs are then the opposite; not worth much, dirty, dried up, spoiled, etc. We’ve heard these descriptions in our sermon series already (dirty, dried up, spoiled, good for nothing) in reference to Jeremiah and God’s people of Judah, but who was God using them in reference to here? That’s what the rest of Jeremiah 24 fills us in on.
Verses 4-8 go on to say, “Then the word of the Lord came to me (Jeremiah): ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans (a.k.a. Babylonians). I will set my eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. But thus says the Lord: like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so I will treat King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who live in the land of Egypt.” Here’s where my opening questions on good/bad fortune come in. How would you have felt to be among the many taken into exile; those not able to stay in the land and their homes? And then let’s turn that around. How would you have felt to be among those who stayed in the land and didn’t necessarily lose their home or were able to somehow escape to Egypt? I imagine if you were among these second people you may think some good fortune had come your way. How else could you explain not experiencing some of what the many others had to go through? You may even have said thank you to God for such “good fortune”.
God turns this sort of logic around on the people though. He declares the opposite of what you might think. God’s people, those that endured being sent away, being torn down, plucked up, scattered, not attended to by their shepherds, etc. These were who God regarded as very good, first-ripe fruit. The others, those who remained in the land or sought to escape harm were those to be considered bad, non-edible (spoiled, marred, etc) fruit. The “bad fortune” of those taken away to exile God was going to turn to good. Some of you may recall a similar thing happening to the OT character of Joseph in Genesis, a son of Jacob/Israel. If you remember he was thrown into a pit and sold into slavery by his brothers. Joseph had to endure many years of trial and struggle, but he also had the Lord’s good favor with him every step of the way. At the end of the story Joseph is exalted and it seems like his good fortune finally matches his favor and as he is reunited with his brothers he has this to say them, “Do not be afraid (they had reason to fear for their brother they had cruelly mistreated had been placed in power over them)! Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20).” I think of this same sort of thing in light of the Chilean miners who had been trapped underground and now rescued just the other day. They could have very easily felt like “bad fortune” had come their way, and some of them probably did (at least for a time). But their story has been turned into one of hope and amazement and awe where the miners themselves show immense courage and survive-ability (if that’s even a word), and people, a nation, and others come together to help, watch and cheer the saving of their lives. Also, listen to this email I received from a friend of mine who works for Campus Crusade for Christ here in the U.S… (email not available).
Well, God was now going to do this same type of thing with His people, Israel who had endured exile and great trial (and who were enduring it at the time of this message). His favor was with them through it all and He had what I count to be six promises for His people: 1) setting His eyes on them for good, 2) bringing them back to the land, 3) building them up, 4) planting them, 5) giving them a heart to know the Lord, and 6) being their God. Such are the things that mark those whom God loves with an everlasting love!
God does this with us today too… Listen to this passage from I Corinthians 1:26-31, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” You see, none of us have been saved by God because of some “good fortune” afforded to us or some higher standing we may have on this earth. That’s the opposite of grace! God regards those He calls highly just because of who they are; His creation, those He loves. You and I are afforded salvation not for anything we have done or can do, but because of God’s love and grace extended to us in Jesus Christ His Son. Those of us in the faith may not look like much, may not have much, may endure many trials, but God is with us, and therefore who can be against us!
There’s still something else to point out in this passage as well; God desires to make His people ripe for the picking! Jesus says in Mark 4:26-29, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with this sickle, because the harvest has come.” This is what God does among His people. In this are the things we’ve talked about over this series of God and His everlasting love. In the seeds being planted, He’s the one who plants, waters (cares for and watches over), grows (shapes & leads as the Potter and Great Shepherd), and then HARVESTS; picks His people when they are ripe for the picking; ripened for an intimate love affair with their God, the Planter, Potter, Shepherd, and Lover!
When You’re In Love; A Heart to Know God, Returning to Him With Your Whole Heart:
One last thing then… I have brought this book Crazy Love up in this series before and I said I refer to it here and there throughout it. Well, I want to read another exert from it (pg 100)… This is the type of love, Ripened Love, God wants with His children. This isn’t a love sprung out of duty or obligation or guilt (all of which can be much of our reasoning for in our attempts to be close to God). It’s a love sprung out of a ripe craving to know God and love Him more over all else, because all else doesn’t measure up to God and the love afforded through Christ Jesus our Lord. Who as Paul says, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ…” (Phil 3:8-9). Paul’s great craving, tenacity, exemplary life of faith sprung out of a ripe love God had grown up in his heart. I pray our desire would be that God would do a similar ripening in each of our own hearts, giving us a heart to know Him and returning us to Him with our whole hearts!