- Romans 8:18-27
- Jeremiah 14:1-22
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
During the time of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, a friend of mine took a tour of that country. There was a visit to the magnificent Victoria Falls, Lake Kariba, the world’s largest man-made lake, game reserves, and other attractions. Upon his return, he told me how impressed he was with what he saw. He could not speak highly enough of the friendless of the people.
Well, his plane took him to the airport, from where his air-conditioned bus took him to his international hotel where he could pay for services by credit card. He did not have to queue up for food or fuel, the places he visited had their own electricity plants so that he never noticed the continuous power disruptions. The tourist camps had private security guards, while the towns and suburbs experienced ongoing raids by government terrorists. Citizens who were fortunate to have a $100 billion banknote discovered that the 79.6 billion percent month-on-month inflation rate eroded its value between days, making it impossible to buy anything with it.
To experience a country as a tourist is light-years away from living in it.
In Jeremiah 14, the people thought God only a traveler.
O you hope of Israel, its Saviour in time of trouble, why should You be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night? (Jeremiah 14:8)
Has God become like a tourist who is not interested in the day-to-day suffering of his own people in the land He gave to them as an inheritance?
Finding our bearings
The topic of our sermon today is “May we pray for rain?” Before we attempt to answer, we need to be clear about who the “we” is.
Our land is not the Promised Land
We need to make a clear distinction between nation and church. In the Old Testament, there was no need to make this distinction. The kingdom of Israel was simultaneously God’s people and his church. Their land was God’s Promised Land. To them, the promise of God had a direct impact:
If my people who are called by my Name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14, ESV)
After the completed work of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we need to make a clear distinction. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are God’s people. They are called out of darkness to become a holy people (1Peter 2:9). They don’t live within the borders of the Promised Land; their Promised Land, as Paul puts it in Philippians 3, a “citizenship in heaven.” Australia is not the church’s Promised Land; it is the place where we, by the grace of God, may live to enjoy all the privileges and gifts He bestows on us on our earthly journey. For this country, we may and should pray that God will continue to gather his people, for as long as we understand that we are not God’s chosen people.
Common grace and saving grace
Let’s not fall into the moral misconceptions of the Pharisees who saw disaster or adversity as a direct result of sin. We can’t see all sickness, pain, floods, or droughts as God’s punishment on sin. There are times that we must understand that God’s ways are not our ways. He is sovereign, and He acts according to his own eternal designs.
This is not to say that we must discount all national disasters as God’s hand of discipline and punishment upon covenant-breaking and rebellion against his holiness.
Having said that, it will do us well to know that about all references in the Bible to rain or drought stand in connection with God’s blessing or punishment.
It is also critical to understand that the world and the fullness of it belong to God. By his common grace, God provides in the daily needs of all people on earth. If they reject his saving grace in Jesus Christ, according to Psalm 2, will be shattered like pottery. Local and global disasters, therefore, undoubtedly contain a message from the living God.
Jeremiah 14 describes “the drought”. Most probably when Jeremiah wrote, he described the effect of ongoing dry seasons. What he describes are scenes not unfamiliar with what we have experienced over the last three of four years in Australia.
In Lamentations Jeremiah describes the drought:
The tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the children beg for food, but no one gives to them. Those who once feasted on delicacies perish in the streets; those who were brought up in purple embrace ash heaps. Now their face is blacker than soot; they are not recognized in the streets; their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as wood. (Lamentations 4:4-5, 8)
Were the people better off dead?
Happier were the victims of the sword than the victims of hunger, who wasted away, pierced by lack of the fruits of the field. (Lamentations 4:9)
Every level of society felt the effects.
The nobles send their servants for water; they come to the cisterns; they find no water; they return with their vessels empty; they are ashamed and confounded and cover their heads. (Jeremiah 14:3)
Those on the land experienced it:
Because of the ground that is dismayed, since there is no rain on the land, the farmers are ashamed; they cover their heads. (Jeremiah 14:4)
“Ashamed” in these verses has undertones of “failure” and being “dismayed”. Expectation is replaced with despondence. We hear of farmers in the outback blaming themselves that farm which has been in the family for generations might slip out of their hands. They see themselves as failures; and, sadly, there are accounts of some who take their own lives.
Jeremiah witnessed how the animals suffered. The doe deserts her newborn because there is no feed or water. Here in Australia, farmers shoot their sheep and cattle because they can’t stand the sight of suffering animals. Kangaroos and another wildlife drop dead in the sweltering heat. Day after day, week after week, eyes are focussed on the horizons to see if there are any clouds forming. Instead, dust storms turn bright daylight into darkness. Bushfires sweep through the dry plains, causing more tragedy.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20–21, ESV)
City-dwellers are feeling it too. Towns are running out of water; the big reservoirs of cities are running dry. Lawns and gardens are turning into brown dust bowls.
Is God sleeping?
Jeremiah, like others even in our day, blames God:
Why should You be like a man confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot save? Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not leave us.” (Jeremiah 14:9)
Is God not supposed to help? Has the omnipotent God become impotent? Has the omniscient God developed amnesia? We thought we can count on Him, but it seems He has forgotten us. He said He will be among us, but He has turned into a tourist, just passing through.
The world is currently in a panic. Some people worry about their precious mansions on the cliffs of the mighty rising oceans. Others are scared because it seems islands are going to disappear under the waves of the sea. The news media screen huge icebergs breaking off and slipping into the blue, causing sea levels to rise. Scientists warn that we can expect regular wild weather and even worse droughts and cyclones. Major rivers are dry.
This hysteria causes young children to develop “climate change depression”, a mental disorder which should be covered by the National Disability Scheme. School students over the world are marching the streets claiming that their future has been stolen from them, demanding action from world leaders. A mentally ill girl receives a $200,000 in Nobel prize for delivering scripted speeches at the United Nations.
The Climate Change frenzy has swept the world and is keeping us panic-stricken. In weather bulletins “never”, “ever,” “recorded history” and “all-time records” have become regular expressions, even if “ever” only means last season.
Where is God in all of this? Does He care?
One commentator remarks, “There is no prayer which goes unanswered with God.” The question is, “What is prayer?” James writes:
You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:2–3)
God answered Jeremiah’s petition, but in an unexpected way. If the people thought God was the nightly wandering tourist, they should look at themselves.
“They have loved to wander; they have not restrained their feet; therefore the Lord does not accept them; now He will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.” (Jeremiah 14:10)
They are the ones running from one idol to the other; their feet are carrying them from one spreading tree to another, worshipping the false gods of the surrounding heathen nations. God’s covenant with them demanded that they worship Him and Him only, yet they made of his temple a guesthouse as they pass through to the next place of idol worship. They only dropped in to perform meaningless and hollow worship when they felt a material need. God’s house became their hotel where they went for a meal and temporal comfort.
The fatal mistake
It is a fatal mistake to blame God when things go wrong, only to wash our hands as if we are guiltless. Hear the charge of the Lord:
…therefore the Lord does not accept them; He will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.” (Jeremiah 14:10)
But what has the drought and sin have common? Don’t mix politics with religion; don’t try to spiritualize things, our need is rain!
No, our problem is a spiritual drought. It is not climate change or global warming, neither is it financial instability of unstable world powers and financial markets. Burning less carbon-dioxide, having more wind turbines and more electric motor cars, or taxing farmers for clearing land—all these things are not going to solve anything.
In the final analysis, it’s a matter of our sin separating us from the One, who by grace cares for us. It is a matter of either worshipping Christ or rejecting his authority.
Who can make rain, but God? Will desalination plants come to our rescue? What will the seeding the of clouds help if there are no clouds to seed? Will paying taxes restore weather patterns? Who is it who has the power “to make the heavens over our head like bronze, and the earth under us to be iron.” Answer:
The Lord will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven, dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed. (Deuteronomy 28:23–24)
This sermon asks the question: Can we pray for rain? If the Christian can ask his Father for daily bread, he can surely pray for rain. But that’s not the starting point. Jeremiah knew it. Turn with me to Jeremiah 20-21:
We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against you. Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us. (Jeremiah 14:20–21, ESV)
Our prayers must not center on us but on the glory of God. Elijah prayed for God to withhold the rain for his glory. Even before God did send the rain, the people were put before the choice of whom they would serve, God or Baal.
“For your Name’s sake,” Jeremiah prayed. The road to running rivers, full dams and green pastures begin on our knees where we confess our sins, where we submit to God in Jesus Christ, and, more than anything, pray for his glory to be known.
“The credibility of God’s name, the honor of God’s throne, and the stability of God’s covenant depend upon his salvation of his people. If he does not forgive his people, his name will be brought into disrepute, his throne will be dishonored, and his covenant will be broken. God cannot be God unless he saves his people.” (Ryken, Philip Graham. 2001. Jeremiah and Lamentations: from sorrow to hope. (Preaching the Word). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)
Dr. FB Meyer writes:
“Whenever we so lose ourselves in prayer as to forget personal interest, and to plead for the glory of God, we have reached a vantage ground from which we can win anything from Him.” (F. B. Meyer, Elijah (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1992), p. 87.
How is the glory of God known? Only in Jesus Christ! How are our sins forgiven? Only in Jesus Christ. Praying for rain takes us to Christ where we meet God’s glory, justice, mercy, and righteousness. It’s only when we kneel at his throne in worship of Him as Lord and Saviour, that we may pray for our daily bread. Amen
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 29 September 2019