Sunday, October 17, 2010

A People Apart

A People Apart (Jer. 35:14)

Sermon Statement

Christians are a people called apart for God because they are a people who are saved by God, who knows the Word of God, who loves the people of God, who loves those who do not know God, who lives their lives with integrity, who experiences joy, and who are free.

Text (Jeremiah 35:14)

Jonadab son of Recab ordered his sons not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather's command. But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me. (NIV)

Background (Jeremiah 35:1- 18)

JER 35:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD during the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah: 2 "Go to the Recabite family and invite them to come to one of the side rooms of the house of the LORD and give them wine to drink."

    JER 35:3 So I went to get Jaazaniah son of Jeremiah, the son of Habazziniah, and his brothers and all his sons--the whole family of the Recabites. 4 I brought them into the house of the LORD, into the room of the sons of Hanan son of Igdaliah the man of God. It was next to the room of the officials, which was over that of Maaseiah son of Shallum the doorkeeper. 5 Then I set bowls full of wine and some cups before the men of the Recabite family and said to them, "Drink some wine."

    JER 35:6 But they replied, "We do not drink wine, because our forefather Jonadab son of Recab gave us this command: `Neither you nor your descendants must ever drink wine. 7 Also you must never build houses, sow seed or plant vineyards; you must never have any of these things, but must always live in tents. Then you will live a long time in the land where you are nomads.' 8 We have obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab son of Recab commanded us. Neither we nor our wives nor our sons and daughters have ever drunk wine 9 or built houses to live in or had vineyards, fields or crops. 10 We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab commanded us. 11 But when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded this land, we said, `Come, we must go to Jerusalem to escape the Babylonian and Aramean armies.' So we have remained in Jerusalem."

    JER 35:12 Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying: 13 "This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go and tell the men of Judah and the people of Jerusalem, `Will you not learn a lesson and obey my words?' declares the LORD. 14 `Jonadab son of Recab ordered his sons not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather's command. But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me. 15 Again and again I sent all my servants the prophets to you. They said, "Each of you must turn from your wicked ways and reform your actions; do not follow other gods to serve them. Then you will live in the land I have given to you and your fathers." But you have not paid attention or listened to me. 16 The descendants of Jonadab son of Recab have carried out the command their forefather gave them, but these people have not obeyed me.'

    JER 35:17 "Therefore, this is what the LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: `Listen! I am going to bring on Judah and on everyone living in Jerusalem every disaster I pronounced against them. I spoke to them, but they did not listen; I called to them, but they did not answer.' "

JER 35:18 Then Jeremiah said to the family of the Recabites, "This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: `You have obeyed the command of your forefather Jonadab and have followed all his instructions and have done everything he ordered.' 19 Therefore, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: `Jonadab son of Recab will never fail to have a man to serve me.' "

Note: Who also has the Lord promise will never fail to have a man to serve him? David

The obedience of the Recabites is held in contrast to that of the Judeans (v. 12-16). An object lesson was shown to the Judeans of a people who stand apart from other people because of their obedience. Wine is a common drink of that period.

I.     The test of the Rechabites (vv 1–11)
A.     The Lord’s command (vv 1–2)
B.     Jeremiah’s obedient response (vv 3–4)
C.     The test (v 5)
D.     The testimony of the Rechabite lifestyle (vv 6–10)
E.     The reason for the Rechabite presence in Jerusalem (v 11)
II.   Prose oracle against the Israelites (vv 12–17)
A.     Contrast between the Rechabites and faithless Judah (vv 12–16)
B.     The word of judgment (v 17)
III.  An oracle of promise for the Rechabites (vv 18–19)

(Keown, G. L. (2002). Vol. 27: Word Biblical Commentary : Jeremiah 26-52. Word Biblical Commentary (194). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)

Who are the Recabites?
  • The Recabites were a nomadic clan (35:7-10) descended from “Jonadab [or Jehonadab] son of Recab” (v. 6)
  • assisted Jehu in exterminating Baal worship from Israel (2 Kings 10:15-27).
  • They were related to the Kenites (1 Chron. 2:54-55) who descended from Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro (Judg. 1:16).
  • Evidently Jonadab rejected a settled way of life for the life of a nomad, and his lifestyle became the norm for his clan (Jer. 35:6-10).
  • The four prohibitions of the Recabites
    • shall not drink vine
    • shall not build a house
    • shall not sow a seed
    • shall not plant or own a vineyard
  • They traveled in the wilderness of the Negev (Judg. 1:16; 1 Sam. 15:6)
  • Some scholars suggest that they were iron-monger, artisans dealing with iron or even makers of chariots
  • They possess the ‘family secrets’ of iron making and to keep this secret within the family, they are forbidden to drink vine and become nomadic.
  • They were forced to move to Jerusalem when Nebuchadnezzar threatened Judah in 598 BC. (Jer. 35:11).
  • They are a people apart yet forced to live in urban Jerusalem.

Jeremiah invited the Recabites, including Jaazaniah, into one of the side rooms in the temple. These rooms surrounded the temple court and were used for meetings, storage, and as priests’ residences (1 Kings 6:5; 1 Chron. 28:12; 2 Chron. 31:11; Neh. 13:7-9).

The particular room Jeremiah entered belonged to the sons of Hanan son of Igdaliah. Nothing is known about Igdaliah except that he was a man of God- a term usually used to describe a prophet (cf. 1 Kings 12:22; 2 Kings 1:9-13; 4:21-22). The room occupied a prominent position, next to the room of the officials and over the room of Maaseiah son of Shallum the doorkeeper. Maaseiah was one of three ”doorkeepers“ for the temple. This was evidently a high position because those holding it were singled out by the Babylonians for judgment along with the chief priests (cf. 2 Kings 25:18-21; Jer. 52:24-27). Into this august company Jeremiah brought the rough, nomadic Recabites.
(Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (1179). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.)

A People Apart
Jeremiah knew that the Recabites do not drink wine but purpose invited them to an important function room and in front of the religious authorities of Judah, offered the Recabites wine! Of course they refused.

The Recabites were then used as an object lesson to the Judeans of a people who are faithful in obeying their founders as contrasted with the Judeans who are not faithful in obeying their God.

Eugene Peterson, writing in his excellent book, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983 p. 142) notes,
The essence of Jeremiah’s message is this; “You also have a father who has commanded you to live in total relationship to him. You know that he has set you apart to a live of love. Why don’t you live in response to it? If you think it is because ordinary, mortal human beings can’t do it, think again. The Recabites are ordinary, mortal human beings and they have been doing it for 250 years. You also have a way of life that requires a certain disciplines to maintain its character. The disciplines involve you in making specific decisions about the way you live: regular worship, faithful prayer, tithing and caring for the poor, moral conduct and the pursuit of righteousness. Now, why don’t you do it? If you think that it is too rigorous a life for ordinary mortal human beings, think again. The Recabites are ordinary mortal humans, and they have been doing it for 250 years.

Christians are also a people apart. Christians are called to be faithful to their God. The characteristics of the Recabites are that (1) they do not drink wine, (2) do not build houses, (3) do not sow a seed, and (4) do not plant or own a vineyard. What about Christians? What set Christians apart from the other people? The Recabites are so named because they followed the teaching of Recah, their founders. Christians are son  named because they follow Christ.

Here are seven characteristics that set Christians as a people apart. Unlike the Recabites whose distinguishing characteristics are negative and consists in “Thou shall not,” Christians as a people are full of positive features. Christians are

1.      people who are saved, worshipful and prayerful
2.      people who knows the Word of God
3.      people who loves the people of God
4.      people who loves those people who do not know God
5.      people who lives their lives with integrity
6.      people who experience joy
7.      people who are free

1.      People who are saved, worshipful and prayerful
John 3:17-21
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

(a) People are saved by the work of Christ on the cross
Christians are people who have come into the light and have seen the truth. That Jesus Christ, God himself can into the world to die for our sins so that we can be forgiven by God. That is why the Holy Communion is so meaningful. Each time we partake of the bread and wine, we are reminded that God has saved us though the death of his son.

(b) People who are saved by Christ are a worshipping people.
Christians worship because we know how awesome our God is. It is beyond our finite minds to understand him. This God we worship is beyond time; that is why the past, present and future is open to him. This God we worship knows every particle in the know universe and yet even aspect of our lives. I used to have discussions with my friends that because of the quantum theory which things exist in two states, God cannot be all knowing. My also is to ask why not? Why can he know the existence of both states?

(c) People who are saved by Christ are a praying people.
The all powerful, self-sufficient God wants us to talk to him. Prayer is our conversation to him. We really need to move beyond our ‘shopping list’ type of prayers to contemplative prayers where we can learn to contemplate on his holiness.

2.      People who knows the Word of God
Matt. 4:4
MT 4:4 Jesus answered, "It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' "

Jesus mentioned that in response to the temptations of Satan. Not too long again, Christians are known as people of the Book. You know who called us that. The Muslim. Unfortunately, Bible literacy has gone down so much that many still times the sentences “God helps those who help themselves” come from the Bible. The Reformation started the trend of translating the Bible into the people’s own language so that people can read and understand the Bible themselves, not just the clergy and the scholars. We shall be celebrating the 400 years anniversary of the King James Bible next year.

3.      People who Loves the People of God
One of the observations made by many people is how Christians ‘love on another.’ Of course, I am aware that there are problems in the church and Christians are suing each other in the courts. However, one of the distinguishing marks of Christians is their love for one another. I am privileged to be in a church where there is this Christian love. Often it is not apparent, but anything, should anyone in this church get into trouble, people are mobilized into service, counseling, giving aids, giving money, visitations and prayers. I am very impressed by the Ladies Fellowship and the Cell Groups in this. I am also impressed by individual Christians who will go out of the way to help others.

John 13: 34 Jesus said
  JN 13:34 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

People will know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ if we love one another. Love for one another is the mark of being a Christian.

4.      People who Loves Others
Matt. 5:43
MT 5:43 "You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

5.      People Who Lives with Integrity
Matt. 5:33-37

MT 5:33 "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your `Yes' be `Yes,' and your`No,' `No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Here Jesus is teaching his disciples to keep their words. Deliver what you promise. No need to talk too much. Walk your talk. Christians are always aware that they are living in the world but they are not part of the world. That’s because their perspective is different. The world wants Money, Power, and Sex. Christians want in Faith, Love, and Hope. This is the straight and narrow path Jesus talked about. Christians have always sought to live lives of honesty, integrity, and according to their conscience.

6.      People Who Experiences Joy
John 15: 9-11
JN 15:9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Jesus was teaching his disciples. If we remain in Jesus’ love, then we shall have joy. Joy is different from happiness. Happiness is transient. I remember the happiness I feel when I bought my first BMW 520. The sleek design and the smell of new leather. Wow. It is heavenly. There is a special feeling when you drive around in a new BMW. You feel that everyone is looking at you. After a few days, it is just another car.

I remember the joy when I married almost 30 years ago. Despite all the up and downs in a marriage the joy is still there. How much so is the joy of Jesus who said that his “joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

7.      People Who are Free
John 8: 32-35
32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

    JN 8:33 They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"

    JN 8:34 Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

(a)   New Covenant
Unlike the Israelites who are under the Mosaic covenant, we Christians are under the new covenant. The prophet Jeremiah taught a lot about this covenant. This new covenant is not about obeying a set of eternal rules and regulation. God has now written his laws into our hearts and conscience. We know what is right or wrong

(b)   Choices
a.      Reject God
God has allowed us to choose to obey him or not, as he has allowed us to choose to be saved or not. Imagine a being with all the power in all creation allowing his creatures free-will! Imagine such a being allow his creatures the choice to reject him. And even when they have accepted him, he still allows the choice to disobey him. It is a high sign of respect to be allowed freedom.

Most of us who are working know that there is a hierarchy of authority in any company and the lower you are in that hierarchy, the less freedom you have. The reverse is true. The higher you are in the hierarchy the more freedom. God has turned it upside down. All levels of the hierarchy have equal freedom. The cleaners have equal freedom as the executives.

b.      Choose God
Choosing God is a choice. Choosing God is privilege given to us and nobody can take that away from us. They can take away our status, our properties, or dignity but they cannot take away our freedom to choose God.

I am often touched by this story that I have heard but I cannot confirm whether this is a true story or not. It was about group of Christians in Africa that was captured by a regime that hated Christians. These Christian are placed in the middle of a stadium to starve to death as a lesson to others who want to become Christians. There a young man among the Christians who is a musician. He decided to lead the captured Christians to sing hymns to praise God. All day and night, sounds of singing can be heard from the compound. The captors were upset about the singing and ordered the young man not to sing. The young man disobeyed and continued to sing. The captors decided to cut off the young man’s tongue. They observe closely to see what the young man will do. They say the young man mimic playing a guitar and singing though there was no sound from his mouth. The captors were upset and decided to cut off both his forearms above the elbow. They then watched what the young man will do. The young man stood up in the centre of the group and swayed his body as if he is singing in worship of the Lord. The captors were so furious that they cut off the young man’s head and throw it into the crowd of captive Christians to discourage them. Instead the next day, they find the Christians singing even more enthusiastically. When they we to investigate found the young man’s head. The expression on the face of the young man at the time of his death was that of a man full of joy and expressing this joy by singing to God. Not even death can rub this young man of his choice to follow God.

Lessons for us

We need to be a people apart. The Recabites followed the 250 years old commands of their founder, a man, their forefather – Jonadab Ben Recab. We follow the eternal commands of Jesus who is more than a man. He is also a God. We become a people apart by
(1)   Saved, worshipful and prayerful
a.       Set time for personal prayer
b.      Read a devotional book
(2)   Study the Word of God
a.       Read the Bible
b.      Read books about books of the Bible
c.       Memorise parts of the Bible
(3)   Learn to love one other Christians
a.       Do something for one Christian
(4)   Learn to love one other non-Christians
a.       Do something for one non-Christian
(5)   Live each day with integrity
(6)   Receive joy in our lives
(7)   Exercise your freedom to Please God

Soli Deo Gloria

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