What is the very worst news that you could receive today? What news do you fear the most to hear?
The answer to this question will differ for each one of us here this morning.
What makes news bad or terrible, reveals a number of things. It reveals what is important to us, what we care about, what we have placed our security in, what we depend upon and what we love.
What is the very worst news for one person, may not be that bad for another. The fact that the stock market crashes may well be the very worst news for somebody. For me, it is not bad news – I do not own one stock. Maybe it’s that you have lost your job, or that your house will be repossessed
Or maybe the very worst news is the word that many of us may fear – cancer, or some other disease or dangerous health issue.
Maybe it is to hear that your spouse has been unfaithful; or that a parent has died, or that your child has died.
All these things can be news we fear.
But I would suggest to you that there is even worst news than any of these things. It is the news that Judah received in our Old Testament reading this morning. Well actually, our lectionary reading has left it out. Our reading is from Jeremiah 14:1-10, 19-22. But v11 says Then the Lord said to me “Do not pray for good to come to these people. Even if they fast, I will not hear their cries for help. Even if they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings I will not accept them. Instead I will kill them through wars, famines and plagues.”
And even worse than that appears in chp 15v1 – where God says Even if Moses and Samuel stood before me pleading for these people I would not feel pity for them, Get them away from me! Tell them to go away.
Judah, like Israel, had walked away from God – had lived their lives and done things totally contrary to God’s commands and now God gives them the news – the most tragic, horrendous news ever – that He is going to reject them. Just as Israel was over run in the north because of their rebellion so now Judah, including Jerusalem and the Temple, will be given over to Babylon, despite the pleas of the prophet Jeremiah.
Sadly, today, to be in rebellion against God is not regarded as bad news by many. In fact it is not regarded as news. Ask people on the streets how they feel about God rejecting them and they shrug their shoulders and say “I don’t care.” Or they may tell you that you are nuts and that God loves everyone. Or, for some extreme people, they say great, I want to go to hell because that is where the fun is.
For the majority of those in Judah including their leaders and religious leaders, their existence was now built on a lie – they were rebelling against God – ignoring him – and even their prophets were living a lie – v13 of chp 14 tells us that the prophets were saying “hey, everything’s going to be OK – God is not angry with you – you will not experience war or suffer famine. Everlasting peace and prosperity is coming to the land.”
Only Jeremiah was standing against the tide – standing up and saying, No – this is wrong – listen to God’s word – listen to me – you are is a very bad place – repent or you will go into exile.
The issue was not that the Jews were sinning – God knew Israel would sin, that is why he gave the law, the sacrificial law, to reveal to them their sin, and a way of living that enabled them to stay in relationship with God through the sacrifice of animals and the day of atonement. The issue was not they were sinning – but that they did not think that their sin, their actions was bad news. They did not acknowledge that their lives were far, far from God.
The very worst news for these Jews revolves not around the fact there was drought, or that they could not find water, or that the crops were not growing, but around the fact that their life was a lie – that they had listened to false things from those claiming religious leadership – that they had ignored God. And now, having sent his prophets to tell them they were heading down the wrong path, having tried desperately to warn them that they were heading for disaster, God was now going to exercise his judgment.
This is the very ‘worst’ news that we can receive. No other news comes close to being bad, than the realization That we are ignoring God – that we are listening to people who are not really God’s representatives because they are distorting what God has said to mean something which is not true and that our lives, all that we think is important, all that we think is real, is actually a lie because God is not at the center of it all.
Is this what you would regard as the worst news you could possibly receive? Do you regard the news that you are separated from God as worst news than a diagnosis of cancer, or that a parent or sibling, or spouse or child has died?
The Israelites in Jeremiah’s day needed to come to understand this bad news. They need to come to the place whereby they recognized that actually, the worst place in the whole universe to be is in a place without God – and so do we today.
Because it is only when we have reached that point that we can then accept and grasp onto the good news – that God has a rescue plan that has an answer and a solution to the bad news.
This good news is the what we call the gospel. The news that God has acted in such a way that we need never be in a place where we are separated from God – and that rescue plan is Jesus Christ. Let Jesus into your life – fall in love with Jesus and the very worst news is eradicated. You will NEVER, ever be separated from God again.
And then, all other news which the world may see as bad, is no longer bad news – it’s just news …even the news that you will die is no longer bad news when you have accepted the good news….
Jeremiah knew the good news. He had a glimpse into the promised new covenant of the hope to come. In Jeremiah 23:3-5 God reveals to Jeremiah his plan to gather a remnant and that from the house of David the righteous branch will be raised up – of course he means the Messiah. And then in jeremiah 31:31 we have that famous passage which says The days are surely coming says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Jeremiah new the good news, which is why he was able to go through what he went through. He was a prophet hated by the Judah’s leaders. He was suffered continual rejection, imprisonment and physical abuse during life. But this was not bad news for him – bad news would be to reject his God. In the end, Jeremiah sees what was unthinkable for a jew to see – Judah defeated by gentiles and the temple desecrated. But he does so safe in the knowledge he is in God’s hands. We see this in Chp 39, v11-12 where King Nebuchadnezzar gave orders that Jeremiah was not to be harmed – and they allowed him to stay in Judah with the remnant that remained.
Knowing the good news does not keep us from going through tough times – but the good news should give us a perspective which is has an eternal focus – that being in Christ, with God we are in right place – the safe place – regardless of what we experience.
Paul exhibits this in the epistle reading. Again, not in our lectionary reading but just before our reading begins Paul, prepares Timothy – there is a time coming when people will not listen to sound teaching – they will ignore the truths in the Bible – they will listen to teachers who are not true – but is Paul worried about this? No. Timothy is there – he will carry on. Paul has mentored timothy and Timothy is to mentor others into leadership. Paul knows he is about to die. He is writing this from a Roman Prison. Is this bad news for him? No…. He trusts in only one piece of good news… the gospel…. And so even the bad news that he is about to die is not bad news. He tells Timothy in v5 to endure all hardship and do the work of an evangelist – in other words don’t worry about the tough times – that is not bad news – but tell everyone THE ONE PIECE OF GOOD NEWS THAT IS ETERNAL – that Jesus Christ died for you to pay for everything you ever done wrong and ever will do wrong and was raised to life that all who trust in Him will live for all eternity with God.
Can you not sense the joy in Paul’s words as he wrote about the fact he was about to die and what that mean’t? That he was going to receive the crown of righteousness which was waiting for him – as Paul says in Philippians – to die is gain, to live is Christ.
Paul knew that the only way to get the good news is to understand the bad news. That is what the tax collector had grasped… that is why he went home saved from the temple and not the Pharisee … he realized the bad news… he realized who he was without God.. and he approached God and looked to God for the good news.
The bad news in this life is not that we may lose our jobs… or have our house repossessed…. Or that we may be poor… or that we will lose family members… or that we may get a disease which will kill us…the bad news is are we living a life which is against God? Are we living a life which does not have God at the center? Have we asked God to come and take our lives, that we may live it for him, in the safety and knowledge that in Him we have the GOOD NEWS which eradicates all the bad news.
Just read the Psalm this morning – Psalm 84V1-6. This is what the good news should gives us – that our souls have a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord; that our hearts and bodies rejoice in the living God – that we are happy to be praising the Lord – that our strength is in Him and that we want, long to walk the way of Jesus, that even though we experience a desolate valley we will find it a place of springs.
Have we this good news? Do our hearts cry out – better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere – would we rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than to dwell in the world?
I pray that the gospel – the good news of Christ Jesus will so impact our lives that we will be able to say, will the Apostle Paul, The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. AMEN