JEREMIAH 1:12B [YHWH, (or the LORD) SAID] “I AM WATCHING OVER MY WORD TO PERFORM IT” (ESV)
I want to take this verse, and use it as the basis for an overview of God’s word. If you like, I am going to give you a whistle-stop tour of the story of the Bible.
Our text tells us that Yahweh is watching over his word to perform it. That word “perform” conjures up an image in our heads that I want to develop. The image is of a theatre. I wonder if you enjoy going to the theatre, or if it just seems a little too posh for you! I did A level English Literature, so I’ve seen quite a lot of plays in my time: mostly William Shakespeare, Arthur Miller and Christmassy productions. I love the theatre to bits. So I’ll run with this illustration of the theatre.
In the imagery it is as though God is performing a play. The play we could call “History”. God is the one who performs it. God is the playwright of this play History; he is the one who writes it. He is the boss, and he’s in control. What he says happens. God is also the one who performs it- he is the main character in this play of History.
So for the introduction of the play we need the narrator to explain: who is God? We are given a clue in Jeremiah chapter 1. His name as translated in English is “the LORD”. “The LORD” means he’s the one in control and he’s the boss. Jesus when he was on earth was called “the Lord”. He proved this by his teaching, his healings and his other miracles. Jesus is therefore God himself. So God isn’t just a mathematical oneness like the Allah of the Quran. God is Father, and also the Son, and God is also Spirit. There are three who are God, but there’s only one God. The Father isn’t the Son who isn’t the Spirit who isn’t the Father; but they are all fully God.
God is perfect, and he’s satisfied with himself. The Father, Son and Spirit are perfectly united and happy with each other. He didn’t need to create us because he is totally fulfilled within himself.
Our word translated “LORD” is the word YHWH in Hebrew. In English this means, “I am who I am” or “I am the self-existent One”. This illustrates the fact that God is completely satisfied with himself- he doesn’t need us. God exists in a perfect, united community of love, joy and peace. He is compete. God didn’t need to create this play of History. But because God is love, he wanted to share his love with others, which is why he created us.
This play of History has five acts. Let me take you quickly to the first act. We’ve had the introduction where we met God. Now we come to quite a short act, although it covers the period of a week. The first act is called “Creation”. God is watching over his word to perform it. His word is powerful. This first act is powerful, impressive, full of special effects, awe inspiring, and encourages worship of God.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And God said, let there be light, and there was light. God created sky, land and sea. God created the sun, moon and stars. He created the plants. God created fish, birds and land animals. And at the pinnacle of everything God made (for he made everything) is mankind.
Genesis 1 says,
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Psalm 19 says,
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands
Romans 1 says,
For the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and deity; so that they are without excuse
The conclusion of the act is that God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. The play gets off to a good start. It’s majestic, beautiful, and praiseworthy. Surely nothing could go wrong. Sadly, as you know, it does go horribly wrong.
We move on to the second act, which is called “Shadows”. In Genesis 3 a dark shadow falls across the pages of History- a shadow that is as black as a starless and moonless night. Adam fell into sin. He disobeyed God. Sin is rebellion against God. Adam chose to listen to that deceiver the serpent, rather than the God who made and loved him. In that one act of disobedience Adam plunged the whole human race into darkness and the curse of God.
The second act isn’t just called Shadows because Adam plunged us into darkness. As we know from Psalm 119- Yahweh’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Scripture is supremely a revelation of the light of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is full of shadows of the light of Christ, and they are all designed to point us to Christ. All the ceremony and ritual of the temple worship point forward to their fulfilment in Christ.
The shadows I want to consider this evening are the shadows of the Old Testament prophesies about Jesus. There are literally hundreds of prophesies about Jesus in the Old Testament. But I’ve been very restrained, and I’ve limited myself to 7 [?]- which in Biblical symbolism is the perfect and complete number.
1. After the fall God said to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed, he shall crush your head, and you shall strike his heel”. In some ways this play History is a bit like Romeo and Juliet. In this, one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, there are two rival families- the Montagues and Capulets. It’s also a bit like the musical West Side Story with the rival gangs the Sharks and the Jets. In our play the rival groups are the offspring of Satan the serpent and the offspring of the woman Eve.
Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil!” Human history is divided between those who are set in their sinful ways, however religious, and those who trust in Christ, the seed of the woman. Jesus crushed Satan’s head on the cross when he paid the price for our sins and freed us from Satan’s control. And of course the resurrection on the third day guarantees Christ’s victory.
2. The Lord said to Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. The Pharisees claimed to Jesus that they were sons of Abraham, but as I’ve already mentioned, Jesus told them that they were of their father the devil.
We become the seed of the woman and the offspring of Abraham by faith. It’s just the same as it was for him, who believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. We are justified through faith in God’s word of promise, not through obedience of the law. No-one is declared righteous in God’s sight through obedience of the law, rather, through the law we become aware of sin. Jesus is the offspring of Abraham through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed. The work of Christ on the cross is applied to the nations through our obedience to the Great Commission- go into all nations and make disciples of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
3. We are still in the act called Shadows. We are looking at the prophesies that reflect something of who the Christ, the promised Saviour is. We come now to Isaiah chapter 9, where the theme of light and dark shines through strongly. [v1-7]
Immanuel, or God with us, came to us in poverty, humility and danger. But God preserved him. He enjoyed the worship of the shepherds and the wise men, before his family fled from Herod to Egypt. God is with us, he tabernacled among us, he made his dwelling with us.
“He walked my road and he felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet his righteous steps give me hope again-
I will follow my Immanuel.”
(Stuart Townend- From The Squalor of a Borrowed Stable- Immanuel)
4. We stay in Isaiah for the next prophesy and we move to chapter 53 [v1-12]. Christ bore the full force of the rod of God’s anger at our sin on the cross, taking the place of guilty sinners. All we need to do to avoid God’s wrath is to trust in Christ. If we do this his righteousness is reckoned to our account and not only do we avoid hell, but we also gain heaven. Heaven is a place where we will worship and adore our Saviour forever.
5. My final three Shadows, or prophesies of Christ are all linked. Theologians tell us that Christ is our Prophet, Priest and King. I want to take each of these titles of Jesus in turn and explore from the Bible why we attribute these titles to Christ.
So firstly Christ is our Prophet. In Deuteronomy we are told, “Yahweh your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers- it is to him you shall listen”. Muslims claim that this prophesy points to Mohammed, because his ancestor Ishmael was brother to the Jew’s ancestor Isaac. This can be quite easily refuted however, even from the passage itself- the Prophet will be from “among” the Israelites. By “brothers” it means the descendents of the sons of Jacob, or Israel as he was also called.
Jesus himself claimed to be the promised Prophet. When he was rejected in Nazareth, he said, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown”. Not only did Jesus claim to be a prophet, but he was also recognised as such by many people. In John 6, when the people witnessed Jesus feeding 5000 of them with a young lad’s packed lunch, they said “This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world”.
As a Prophet, Jesus foretold his death. Death is unnatural in this History play. God introduced it as a curse because of our sin. As the sinless Son of God, Jesus didn’t need to die, but he chose to be crucified. This was so that we, even though we still die, can enjoy eternal life. Jesus said “We’re going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him, and spit on him, and flog him, and kill him. And after three days he will rise”. Jesus also prophesied that when he returned to the right hand of the Father in the glory, he would send his Spirit of Truth to empower his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.
6. Not only is Christ the Prophet, but he is also our Great High Priest. The book of Hebrews is an epic exposition of who Jesus is as our Priest. As I’ve already mentioned, Jesus is ascended at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He is interceding with God on our behalf. He makes our prayers acceptable to the Father- sinful though they are. He is our advocate before God. He is able to plead his blood as the power to cleanse us from our sins and make us acceptable before God.
Hebrews 4 says,
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[f] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Not only is Christ our high priest, our go between with God, but he is also the perfect sacrifice.
Hebrews 10 says,
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
7. In this second act of Shadows in the play History, we come to one final shadow of who Christ is from the Old Testament. Christ is our king. God promised David in 2 Samuel 7:
“‘The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me[b]; your throne will be established forever.’”
Throughout the gospels Jesus is referred to as the Son of David. In saying this, people were testifying to the fact that Jesus is the king whose kingdom will never end. We will learn more about this kingdom in act 4 because we are subjects, servants and citizens of this kingdom of heaven. As such we have a great gospel work to be done.
Now, if we’re picturing History as a play, one thing that plays always have is an interval. So at this point we will have an interval. A lecturer of mine always paused his lectures to tell a joke and have a pause. Apparently it improves concentration. I’ve also known a preacher do something similar.
What we’re going to do in our interval is go back to that hymn that I quoted: From The Squalor of a Borrowed Stable, or Immanuel. Technically it’s a Christmas carol but it links in quite nicely to the next act so I will sing it!
So where have we been so far? We’ve been introduced to God. We have seen him perform his word firstly in Creation. We have seen that his word is powerful and perfect. We have also seen his word in the Shadows of Christ. We have seen that his word is faithful and true, as told in the prophets.
We now come to the third act- which is simply called The Word. Here we finally meet the hero of the story, of whom we have only had shadows previously. God comes onto the stage to perform the part of the leading actor. We have already seen his shadows, but now we see him in the dazzling light and splendour of his glory. We’re like the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, getting a view of the glorified Christ.
God is watching over his word to perform it. In this third act we see a revolutionary reality- the Word, who we have heard so much about and is exalted in heaven, the Word became flesh. The shadows melt away in the light of the glorious word become flesh.
John 1 says,
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus Christ is the supreme revelation of who God is. God isn’t some distant, heartless, unfeeling deity who doesn’t care about having a relationship with us. God is not (thankfully) the Allah of the Quran. God loves us, cares for us, and has made his dwelling with us.
Though Christ is eternally glorified with the Father, he “being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
That’s from Philippians 2
Thomas asked him to show the disciples the Father, and that would be enough, he said. Jesus said, “you’ve seen me, that’s pretty much as good as seeing the Father!” Jesus lived a perfect life on earth. The people were amazed at his teaching because he taught as one with authority unlike the scribes and Pharisees. John the Baptist was a faithful herald of Christ, but when he was put in jail by Herod he began to have his doubts. He sent messengers to Christ asking, “are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus replied “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” That’s from Matthew 11 by the way.
4. Our play started in eternity past with the introduction of the eternal delight of the triune God. In Act 1, Creation, we went back thousands of years to the beginning of time. Act two, Shadows, covered a period from several thousand years ago to 400 years before Christ. Act 3, the Word, took place 2000 years ago. Act 4, which is called “Go!” takes us from 2000 years ago to the present day, and on to the end of time.
Christ has gifted us with his Holy Spirit to empower us with his strength to go out and make disciples of all nations. Jesus said in Matthew 28“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We have a gospel to proclaim. The fall plunged us all into darkness. The fall would be better described as the Jump- Adam didn’t fall, he jumped! The Old Testament as we saw in Act 2 is full of shadows of the bright and morning star, the Son of God. Act 3- the Word- reveals Christ fully as our substitute- the one who bears our punishment and gives us eternal life.
Act 4 reveals to us the mission of the church of Christ here on earth. Are you a church member? Are you part of God’s family? If so you are a partner of this great gospel work! As Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers into his harvest field”. You need to be careful about praying for God to send out workers into his harvest field because his answer might well be to send you! He sent the disciples out immediately after he told them this.
It is not just for preachers, evangelists, missionaries and “full time” Christian workers to witness; it is the duty of every Christian. We are called to gossip the gospel as it were. In Acts it talks about Christians scattered by persecution preaching the gospel wherever they went. These were the lay-people, so when it talks about them preaching the gospel it would perhaps be better translated as “gossiping the gospel”. Our speech is to be seasoned with salt. We are to fill our conversation with Christ, so that we leave people thirsty for more.
We are told that we must give a reason for the hope we have within us. However, this doesn’t mean to say we are to simply wait for the opportunities to come to us. We are not just to be witnesses. We are to actively create opportunities. We are called not just to speak a word in season, but called to actively make disciples, people who are prepared to leave everything behind and follow Jesus.
So we too are actors in this play History. We have a part to play, given to us by God. This great story includes us as believers, as we spread the good news to the world.
Let me tell you a story of the Great Commission in action in Australia. This true story takes place in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. A very traditional church called a Welshman, named David Norman Jones, to be their pastor. He feels that Christians today are overfed spiritually and under-exercised missionally. So he said that they were going to have one meeting on a Sunday and one congregational prayer meeting mid-week. He wanted the prayer meeting to become the hub of church life. He wanted it to be the beating heart of the church. He said that if people wanted their fingers on the pulse of the church, they would have to attend the prayer meeting. He emphasised the importance of praying very specifically for conversions. And guess what? God answered their prayers!
They put on an evangelistic event. Only one girl turned up. But she became a Christian, the boyfriend she was living with became a Christian and his best friend became a Christian. There was like a domino effect among the young people of Hobart, until about 80 people were converted! They used to invite their friends to church and if they saw them at the other end of the church, they would climb over the pews to get to them before they ran away. Some of them had dreadlocks and nose rings; one who is now a pastor used to turn up in his pyjamas! The pews had doors on them, so to try and make things more inclusive, one day they decided to open the doors on them. An elder went round after them and shut them!
The very people who had faithfully prayed for conversions were the very people who found it hardest to integrate and welcome the new converts into the church. There was almost a church split, but people came from the denomination, and told them to do a church plant with the new converts. So they did. The minister, David Norman Jones, has now seen 8 church plants in Tasmania, with more still to come.
It’s the Great Commission at work! We’re not here to build our own little empires, to service our own church gatherings. We’re here to go out into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Maybe you’re saying that you can’t go out to be a missionary in Africa or Asia. What you can do is start where you are. Get to know your neighbours; witness to your friends and family. I’m sure you do this already- but will you commit to praying for conversion? Will you seek to be the answer to your own prayers, and watch to see Yahweh to perform his word?
The final act is called Recreation. Because all of God’s promises have always come true, we can trust that he will create a new and perfect world for us to enjoy him forever. When Jesus says he is going to prepare a place for us he is telling the truth. In his Father’s house there are many rooms, if it were not so he would have told us.
Revelation 21 says,
“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.””
God is watching over his word to perform it. His word is powerful, it is good, it is faithful and true. The word made flesh is the Lord Jesus Christ, who humbled himself in order to save us. The word of the gospel has been entrusted to us to share with the world. God’s word tells us that there is a glorious new creation for those who trust in Christ. This new creation will enable us to love and enjoy him forever.
So as the curtain descends on God’s play of History, I wonder if you will become part of the story. Will you take the bait and join in on this awesome gospel adventure, this Great Commission?
Maybe you already have come on board with Jesus. Let me encourage you not to grow weary, because those who persevere to the end WILL be saved. Hallelujah, amen. Let’s pray!