THE REMNANT OF THE KINGDOM.
[Where is God’s Kingdom when your whole world falls apart]
Ezekiel 11v16-21; 18v1-4, 17b-20, 25-32; 37v1-14.
We have seen how the kingdom of Israel peaked under the rule of David and Solomon. Then its split into North and South followed by decline in both. The North was destroyed by the Assyrians and the South now under threat of immanent defeat and destruction by the Babylonians.
The Prophets had warned the Southern Kingdom of Judah that they would be exiled if they continued to disobey God. Isaiah had told of this coming exile. Then as the time approached Jeremiah continued to warn of impending doom but they did not want to hear him. Ezekiel’s prophetic voice was joined to Jeremiah’s but the people could not OR would not believe that God would allow His City and His Temple to be destroyed.
Israel had this false hope that God would always protect her – what they often failed to see was that the Kingdom of God was not synonymous with the Kingdom of Israel and its Temple. The survival of God’s Kingdom did not depend on the Temple.
Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel laid great stress on the inner and individual character of religion. No prophets laid greater stress on the inward nature of repentence, the change of heart than did these. Jeremiah particularly called for individuals to decide for the kingdom of God against the kingdom of Jehoiakim.
Jeremiah’s life was an illustration of the immense cost of that decision. He was ridiculed and persecuted. They did not want to hear him – they followed the crowd. Jeremiah had to make a choice to go against popular opinion and to follow God.
Today we are faced with the same choice that faced Jeremiah. We have to make individual choices. Often we hear people being very critical of society – we ourselves are – or critical of the church often forgetting that we are part of that group. The pressures of Society or of the group is never an excuse for the individual’s sin. The strength of the group is only as strong as each individual.
So like Jeremiah we have to make choices – only those who hear God’s Word and obey his will are his people – these are part of his kingdom.
So even if the Nation be destroyed and the Temple lie in ruins – those who hear and obey can meet God anywhere. So amidst the impending doom is God’s promise of a remnant that are his – Out of this bitterest trial God will create a pure people for himself.
This is what the lord says:
“When 70 years are completed for Babylon,
I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promises
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 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 you will find me
when you seek for me with all your heart.
I will be found by you,” declares the Lord,
“and will bring you back from captivity.
So it was that Jerusalem finally was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. The house of Judah fell never again to rise. It was never again a sovereign independent State but always under a foreign power.
So what happened to the faith of Israel.
1. Faith is not dependent upon circumstances, ritual nor geographical place.
With the fall of Jerusalem many were killed but many were also deported to Babylon – esp. those who were educated and skilled. When they arrived in Babylon they were not held in prison camps but allowed to settle and in many respects continue with life as normal.
The exile created a crisis in their faith. Israel’s religion could no longer continue as a sort of national Church, supported by the State and existing to foster the well-being of state and society.
Their popular prophets had said it could never happen – can you imagine how devastated and disillusioned the people felt. Their worst fears had become reality.
Instead of God’s invention to establish his kingdom there had come humiliation at the hands of a pagan army. Was this not a victory for paganism? Many Israelites probably felt that the Babylonian gods were mightier that Yahweh.
Some may have been tempted to turn to pagan worship.
Some may have whinged that “It’s unfair! Why is God punishing us??”
Some may have concluded that God’s covenant was broken and they were doomed “Our bones are dreid up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.” [Ezek.37v11]
It was a great temptaion for the Jews to sink into paganism – God had let them down.
Listen to them in Ps.137:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the populars we hung our harps,
for their our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of Joy;
they said: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion”.
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
All the externals of their faith had been stripped away – everything had changed. How can we worship God under such circumstances.
How much of our faith and our trust in God depends on our circumstances. Many have “Strange Land” experiences.
ILLUS.: Often we think life will always be good to us. That God will not allow us to suffer. It will never happen to me. How will my faith stand up to the “Strange Land Test” When God allows the things that make us feel secure to be taken away. Will we cry “Its not Fair!!!” “Why me??” When people we love let us down. When finacial crisis hits. When Children rebel and break our hearts. When loved ones die!!!
God wants our trust without trappings – he wants our worship without ritual. It was not that Israel’s religious ritual was wrong but that their ritual had lost its meaning.
ILLUS.: Think of all the energy and effort and expense of celebrating Christmas in our society – how much is real worship of the king.
Israel had been stripped of all extenal ritual – what they thought was the heart of their worship – the Temple – was not essential at all. The essential of worship is obedience and righteousness, without which external worship becomes a great sin.
I am sure that many thought that the exile was the graveyard of Israel’s faith – paradoxically it was a time of great spiritual vitality.
2. Faith searches its own hearts [doesn’t blame God or sink into despair].
In Ezekiel we read that God’s message to Israel was that if the righteous person committed sin he would be judged and if the wicked repented he would live. In the midst of judgement there was grace. God takes no pleasure in the judgement of the wicked.
In the midst of this national calamity there were no doubt many who blamed God or simply descended into despair.
It is so easy when trouble comes – when life is hard – to lash out, to blame God or anyone else. That is our natural response. It is easy to become bitter and disillusioned and to turn our backs on God. To be angry with him. It is natural and understandable BUT it is not right.
Maybe you have had a bad experience in the past – or are having one now – maybe you were let down by those you trusted. Maybe you had a difficult home life as a child [broken home]. Maybe you haven’t been given recognition for your work and or abilities. You don’t feel appreciated or loved. Maybe …….many things.
Maybe as a result you carry a grudge – It is everybody else’s fault. As a Christian suffering and hardship doesn’t always make us stronger in the faith – it is possible to go through hardship and end up worse because of how we respond to it. The result is that we end up as spiritual cripples.
BUT not all the Jews blamed God – those with a sincere faith and a desire to know God were driven to search their own hearts. They heard the prophet’s message “REPENT AND LIVE”
They understood what the apostle John would write years later:
If we confess our sins he is faithful and just
and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us
from all unrighteousness [1 John 1v9]
ILLUS.: Norain van Kim – Cambodian lady – lost husband and three children [two died one lost] she had to repent of her bitterness and hatred of the Khmer R..
Resentment and bitterness eats us up and hinders our spiritual life. We need God’s help to repent.
There came at this time in the history of Israel a realisation more than ever before that it was the individuals standing before God that was important. That being part of the Kingdom of Israel was not the same as being part of the Kingdom of God. In order to part of God’s kingdom one had to be in a right relationship with God. This would become much clearer in the NT. Although it had always been so.
The OT Jew could not rely on his ancestry for salvation – no more can you or I.
You can have a good Christian pedigree and go through all the motions BUT if your heart is far from God you are no better the the OT Jew who thought he could rely on the Temple.
God’s message to the Jews then and his message to people of today is the same “REPENT AND LIVE”
“Rid yourselves of all offences you have committed,
and get a new heart and a new spirit” [Ezek.18v31]
[1. Faith is not dependent upon circumstances, ritual nor geographical place.]
[2. Faith searches its own hearts [doesn’t blame God or sink into despair].]
3. Faith trusts and hopes even when the odds are stacked against it.
In the Ancient Near East at the time of Nebuchadnezzar Israel was a small nation in a backwater of the empire. Now that nation was destroyed and only a remnant survived 1000’s of mile from home. And of that remnant only a few were faithful in following God. They were the minority of the minority.
What hope could they have – They were exile who were outnumbered and had no power and no influence in this world. Who was going to be concerned about their needs and their desire to worship this God of theirs.
As a Christian don’t you sometimes feel like that – who am I in the midst of a world that couldn’t care less about God.
BUT this small band of God’s people in exile had a vision – they had God’s promise. He had said he would restore them. They had a vision that Isaiah had left them of a God who was in control of the nations. With savage irony Isaiah had taunted the nations gods with their nonexistence – had shown the stupidity of anyone who would carve a god out of a tree and then use the same tree to cook his supper!! [Isa.44]. They had a firm belief in only one God besides whom no other gods exist.
If God was the one and only then he was in absolute control of the histroy of the nations. And this God had embarked on a plan and called out for himself Abraham and Jacob and it was simply inconceivable that he would abandon his plan.
Israel’s calamity was not God’s defeat – it was his doing, he was in control. Something Jeremiah and Ezekiel had stressed endlessly!!
Even the mighty Cyrus, who had eventually succeeded Nebuchadnezzar, as the world’s leader was an agent of God’s purpose. So from the ruins of Israel – from what seemed to be a hopeless situation – God would restore his people.
You can’t be more hopeless that a dry, dusty heap of bones. But even from that mass of dead bones God could raise up an army for himself. [Ezekiel 37].
God comes and by His Spirit gives life and purpose – that which is dead he makes alive – He takes the hopeless and gives them hope. That is what he promises all who come to him. Paul reminds the Ephesians of God’s work in their lives:-
As for you, you were dead in your
transgressions and sins,
in which you used to live when
you followed the ways of this world
But because of his great love for us,
God who is rich in mercy,
made us alive in Christ,
even when we were dead in sin ….
Sometimes when we look at our situation – our own country and our world – life can seem pretty hopeless. Who am I??? pretty insignificant – a nobody in the affairs of world power and influence. BUT I have a Father who loves me and who in all powerful. One who is still taking the dry bones of peoples lives and breathing spiritual life into them – giving hope and meaning.
A God who is King – who has a plan for this world and is working out that plan. And politicians and industrialist might strut about the world stage thinking that they are making things happen. BUT God laughs at them – because he is in the process of establishing his kingship and we as the church are part of that.
Jesus promised:- “I will build my Church and not even the gates of hell will stand in the way” [Matt.16v18]
As Christians we are involved in something that cannot fail – that will not fail. Life might sometimes be difficult as I am sure it was for the Jewish exiles. BUT we have a hope – the kingdom of God will be established among the nations of the world. There will be a mighty army just as Ezekiel saw in his vision of dry bones.
John writes in Revelation 7v9:-
After this I looked and there before me was a freat multitude
that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and
language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
They were wearing white robes and holding palm branches in
their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne
and to the lamb”.
So we need God’s help to have a faith that is not dependent on our circumstances.
a faith that searches our hearts
a faith that trusts and hopes
Because in spite of what the world thinks we know that:
The kingdom of this world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign forever and ever [Rev.11v15]
Jesus Shall reign where’er the sun
does his successive journey run;
his kingdom stretch from shore to shore
till moons shall rise and set no more.