On Miscellaneous Subjects
By Pastor Ron Thomas
Rodgers Baptist Church
801 West Buckingham Rd. - Garland, TX 75040
Text: Jeremiah 29:1; 4-7. “Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon.”
Verses 4-7. “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon;
5 Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them;
6 Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.
7 And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”
Introduction: Cowboy Joe was telling his fellow cowboys back on the ranch about his first visit to a big city church. Joe began, "When I got there, they had me park my old truck in the corral," Charlie, who had more knowledge about such things interrupted. "You mean the parking lot Joe. It’s not a corral!"
Joe continued, "I walked up the trail to the door," "It’s a sidewalk to the door, Joe."
Charlie corrected him again. Joe went on, "Inside the door, I was met by this dude." "That would be the usher," Charlie explained.
"Well, the usher led me down the chute," Joe said. "You mean the aisle," Charlie said.
Joe continued, "Then, he led me to a stall and told me to sit there." "It’s a pew, Joe," Charlie exclaimed.
"Yeah," recalled Joe. "That`s what that pretty lady said when I sat down beside her. Pew!"
Incidently, you might be a redneck, if the biggest city you have ever visited, is a Walmart.
For the first time in recorded history, the 21st century finds a majority of the world’s population living in cities. More and more of our world’s population consists of city dwellers, rather than cowboys or county folk. 82% of Europeans live in cities. In America, 94% of our population live in cities.
It has also been observed that among the religions of the world, Christianity is uniquely urban. Judaism’s roots were agrarian. Islam came from the desert. The cradle of Hinduism and Buddhism is the village. Christianity however, was born in the city. The primary events of Christianity’s beginnings, happened in the city of Jerusalem.
In the gospel of Luke, we find a most touching passage as Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem. The Greek word for “wept” used there is klaio'. It describes crying or weeping that is audible. This is weeping that suddenly seizes you, so that you lose your control, and cry out loud. Jesus was passionate for the city of Jerusalem with it’s Temple and teeming population gathered to celebrate the Passover.
From Jerusalem, to Damascus, to Corinth, to Athens, and ultimately to the city of Rome itself, the message of the gospel found a foothold in cities (often first in the Synagogue), and spread from there! Churches were established in cities. We read of the church (assembly) at Corinth, the church (assembly) in Ephesus, the church (assembly) in Colosse, the church (assembly) at Antioch, the churches (assemblies) of Galatia, the seven churches (assemblies) of Asia, and so on. The apostle Paul wrote letters to many of these churches located in cities. Christianity has thrived in the city!
Our text passage focuses on two prominent cities, Jerusalem and Babylon. A large part of the population of Judah, suddenly finds themselves living not in the city of Jerusalem, but in the city of Babylon. They were not living in Babylon by choice. They had been taken captive against their will, and transported to the very city they considered evil. At first, these exiles were overwhelmed with grief and sorrow. The psalmist in Psalm 137:1 says, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” The city of Jerusalem had been conquered and leveled by the Babylonians. Their beloved Temple had been destroyed. Jeremiah speaks to these downtrodden, grieving Jewish exiles living in Babylon, and tells them two things.
First: Jeremiah tells them that they are in the city of Babylon, by the hand of God. Notice verse 7a of our text. God says through His prophet, “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives.” It was God who sent them to Babylon to live in exile. Why? The residents of Jerusalem, Judah, had refused to listen to the voice of their prophets and repent. For a long time, they were warned of the consequences of their attitudes and behavior towards God and His commandments. Israel, their Jewish neighbors to the north, fell before Judah, yet they did not pay attention nor take it to heart. Sitting in Babylon, Jeremiah tells them to get over it! They were going to be there for a while, so they might as well accept it, and make the most of it!
Christian, have you ever thought of yourself as an exile? The Bible teaches that we are actually citizens of Heaven. We are “strangers” and “pilgrims” on the earth. Like Abraham of old, we look for a better, heavenly country. In that country, there is a city whose builder and maker is none other than God. That’s right! Even in Heaven, we will be city dwellers! This city is called the New Jerusalem! Revelation 21:1-2 says, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
Second: As residents of Babylon, Jeremiah instructs them to seek the welfare of the city. Verse 7 of our text says, “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” They were not sent to the city of Babylon to sabotage it, but to pray for it and be a blessing in it! The word “peace” or shalom is a rich Hebrew word. When we hear the word “peace,” we think of an inner calm which is only part of the words meaning. The word “peace” could be translated welfare. It means to flourish or to prosper. In verse 6b of our text, God tells them through His prophet Jeremiah, that their numbers and influence in this strange land and city, were not to decrease, but increase! They were to propagate and prosper. As they sought the “peace” or welfare of Babylon, they sought their own.
Christians must make the most of the situations they find themselves in. You may not like your situation. It could be there because of your own stubborn will and sinful choices. What you need to do is repent, turn to God, make Him your Senior partner, and make the most of the situation!
Self preservation was a major concern for these Jews exiled in Babylon. Preserving their ethnic and spiritual identity as a minority within a dominant culture would be difficult.
Jeremiah’s mandate presented choices:
They could assimilate. This is the melting-pot scenario by which these exiles or immigrants blend into the dominant culture, shedding and losing their own unique identity. The Jewish exiles could become Babylonians in every way! Some did! When the seventy years ended, and they were allowed to return to Jerusalem, some Jews remained in Babylon!
They could withdraw completely. This would necessitate that they create and maintain distinct, separate communities within the dominant culture. They could refuse to learn a new language, and create their own separate neighborhoods and markets. In effect, they could form a city within a city!
They could critically participate in the foreign culture, while maintaining the important elements of their own identity. Some have called this hybridization. The exiles or immigrants could actually take on two identities at the same time, producing a new kind of people and community, but all the while refusing to forfeit their central identity as a separate people. Jeremiah seems to propose this model or option. They were to engage the dominant culture with a saving, preserving influence! While in Babylon, we find the Jewish people adapting by creating the synagogue, as well as collecting and forming the complete canon of the Hebrew Scriptures. They strove to maintain a balance of preserving their own peculiarity, along with a peaceful, constructive engagement with the dominant culture of the Babylonians. By the time the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem, thanks to individuals like Daniel and friends, history reveals that they left behind a powerful witness of the one true God of Israel! Some believe that those magi from the east who followed the star to the Christ-child, were from Babylon!
What is all of this to us as Christian city dwellers living in the 21st century? Like Jeremiah, Jesus has conveyed the same message to us. In His famous intercessory prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus prayed in verses 15-16, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” In His prayer for us, Jesus is saying, “You are to remain as exiles in this world until I return. Meanwhile, I want you to seek the welfare of the cities in which you live.”
In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made a city, the model of the kingdom of God. In Matthew 7:14 Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” As Christians, we are exiles, left behind to pray for, to occupy and influence our cities for the cause of Jesus Christ! We see this in verse 13 of Matthew 7. Jesus said, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” Jesus is commanding us to salt the city! Salt pictures the saving, preserving influence of Jesus Christ in the heart and life of a believer.
Three Distinguishing Marks In The Lives Of Early Christian City Dwellers
1. A separation from the world. Their sense of values, principles and purpose, was different from the rest of the world.
2. Unconditional love. Christians loved one another and lovingly helped non-believers who are in need, the sick, orphans, the poor, and the elderly.
3. Childlike obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ. To the early Christians, Christianity was more than verbal. They didn’t question God’s Word. They were willing to obey Jesus Christ, even if it meant suffering!
As Christians, we are to be salt in the cites where we live. But how? Our options are much the same as with the exiled Jews living in Babylon.
You can assimilate. The world of cities constantly say, “Live among us, and be like us.” If we are in the world and of the world, then something must be forfeited! Jesus says, “What good is salt that has lost it’s saltiness?” It is good for nothing! It is interesting that Lot’s wife was turned into a “pillar of salt,” as she left the city of Sodom. She and her husband failed to be salt and light in the city! They were conquered by the culture they were called to influence!
You can separate or withdraw completely. To do this, we must congregate to ourselves and stay to ourselves, as we live within the city. While it is good to keep salt contained so that it isn’t diluted, What good is salt if it never leaves the shaker? We’ve got to get the salt out of the church kitchen, and onto the table of our lives, as we go out into the city!
You can critically participate in your surrounding city, while maintaining your Christian difference and distinctiveness! Jesus is telling us to keep the salt of Christian influence pure, and sprinkle it generously over the city! Add the salt of Christlikeness to your speech. Add the salt of Christlikeness to your dress. Add the salt of Christlikeness to your conduct or behavior. Add the salt of Christlikeness to your business and business practices! Add the salt of Christlikeness to your relationships. Add the salt of Christlikeness to your attitudes. Always take the salt of Christlikeness with you to school, to work, to the store, to the ball game, to the band practice, to the soccer field as a player, coach, referee or observing parent! Why should you be salt in your city?
Salt adds flavor. It brings out the best. Job 6:6 asks the question, “Can that which is unsavoury (tasteless, unseasoned) be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?” Salt brings out the best. It makes things taste better!
The world will be better or worse because of us! Like salt on food, like a good coach and a team, Christians should bring out the best in others. Christians are in the world to be a good influence, to make things and people better! We are here to flavor the world with Jesus Christ! Adding salt, will make a marriage better. Adding salt with make family life better. Adding salt will make friendships better. Adding salt will make a church better! Adding salt will make a city better! Christians do this in a way that does not attract attention. Salt when added, loses itself, it disappears into whatever it is added, but the flavor is there!
Salt heals wounds. Salt is sort of like peroxide. It's an antiseptic. It kills germs fast. Salt can be used to clean wounds which are infected. This process is not pleasant, it is painful, but salt applied to an infected wound helps healing to take place. It is good to gargle warm salt water for an irritated throat. Salt solution is good for congested, irritated sinuses!
If you study the history of many cities, you will find Christians wherever there is suffering and hurt. The great hospitals and orphanages are founded and funded by Christians!
Salt melts and softens. In some regions, the water is loaded with calcium and magnesium which makes the water hard. What do you use to soften that water? You add salt. Salt will make the hardest water, soft. If there is ice on your doorsteps or sidewalk, even on bridges and overpasses in the winter, salt will melt the coldest ice.
As salt takes the hardness and the harshness out of water, Christ takes the hardness and harshness out of our hearts and thereby out of our culture. Jesus Christ softens the heart by melting resentment, bitterness, anger, envy and un-forgiveness. Paul writes about this in Ephesians 4:31-32. He reminds us of the salt of Jesus Christ in our lives! “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.”
Salt preserves. Long before there was refrigeration, people preserved meat by using salt. When salt is rubbed into or onto meat, it prevents the meat from decaying, and keeps it good to eat. It’s a practice used throughout the world, throughout the centuries.
Christians are here to share the life changing, life preserving gospel of Jesus Christ! Peter in I Peter 1 reminds us that the gospel is incorruptible. It lives and abides forever, preserving all those who believe! Peter says in verse 25, “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” When people are saved, they are preserved for eternity and become more salt in a tasteless city and nation!
Salt creates thirst! If you make yourself some popcorn, you might as well get something to drink at the same time. Eat a bag of salty chips and you will soon reach for a coke, a glass of water or tea, so to quench your thirst! Salt creates thirst.
Like salt, Christians are important to the world because of their power to create thirst. Have you ever made anyone thirsty for Jesus Christ? Does your joy for living, your actions and attitudes invite others to, ".... taste and see that the Lord is good?” If we are salty Christians, our lives will attract others to faith in Jesus Christ.
The Lord Jesus has left us as exiles in our cites to salt our world! We must not shy away from our responsibility to salt our city. As believers in Jesus Christ, we must saturate our lives with the Word of God and Holy Spirit, so that we will always have a ready answer for those who ask, “Why are you so different?” It is the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ that frees from sin and transforms lives!
The words of Jeremiah remind us that we must pray for the peace, the welfare of our city. Are you the salt in your city? The good news is that just a little salt can make a big difference. God has placed you in the city for a reason. Jesus still weeps over cities. Do you? Do you have a passion for your city? Everyday we must share and show Jesus Christ in the city! Someone in the city is looking for someone to be the salt that points to Jesus.