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Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf
Silver Spring, Maryland
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Jeremiah, the reluctant prophet

#5
Streams of Living Water
Rev. Ron Friedrich
July 30, 2006
(This lesson is a compilation of three lessons.)

Jeremiah 17:5-8 
(New Century Version)
5 This is what the LORD says:
"A curse is placed on those who trust other people,
        who depend on humans for strength,
        who have stopped trusting the LORD.
6 They are like a bush in a desert
        that grows in a land where no one lives,
        a hot and dry land with bad soil.
They don’t know about the good things God can give.

7 "But the person who trusts in the LORD will be blessed.
        The LORD will show him that he can be trusted.
8 He will be strong, like a tree planted near water
        that sends its roots by a stream.
It is not afraid when the days are hot;
        its leaves are always green.
It does not worry in a year when no rain comes;
        it always produces fruit."

I. The bush in the desert.
II. The tree by the stream.
III. The fruit of the tree.

This message from Jeremiah echoes a message that God gave in chapter 2 of Jeremiah's story.

Has any nation ever exchanged its gods for another god,
        even though its gods are nothing?
Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God
        for worthless idols!
For my people have done two evil things:
[1] They have forsaken me--
        the fountain of living water. And
[2] they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns
        that can hold no water at all!
            (Jeremiah 2:11,13, New Living Translation)

Water is very important for life.  People who live in dry climates like Israel understand how important water is.  In Bible times, people often dug large pits (called "cisterns") for collecting rain water.  This was not as good as having fresh water from a stream or a spring.  But if you didn't have a spring or river nearby, then even stale rain water was precious. 

God uses this word picture to describe His life-giving relationship with Israel.  He was their life-giving spring water.  But the people of Israel refused to love and worship God.  Instead, they looked for life in dumb idols, who can offer no life.  God said that this is the same as refusing a supply of fresh water and digging leaky cisterns -- dry cisterns that offer only a false hope.

I. The bush in the desert.

Now, in Jeremiah 17, God uses a similar word picture to teach more about this principle.

"A curse is placed on those who trust other people,
        who depend on humans for strength,
        who have stopped trusting the LORD.
They are like a bush in a desert
        that grows in a land where no one lives,
        a hot and dry land with bad soil.
They don’t know about the good things God can give."

For the kings of Israel, this had a really simple meaning.

Israel often turned away from God to worship idols, and to also disobey the other nine Commandments.  Because they look for their blessings and protection from false gods and spirits, God let them experience the natural consequences of their decision.  He removed His protection and blessing, so they could get their "blessing" from the idols.   Then, when enemy nations attacked Israel, instead of turning back to God for help, the kings of Israel usually made alliances (treaties) with neighboring nations and asked the neighbors to help defend Israel.  Sometimes that neighbor was Egypt!  And what did the neighboring nation get for helping Israel?  Taxes and labor.  Often the kings of Israel stole gold from the Lord's temple to pay for their defense treaties. 

God's message to those kings of Israel was, "Don't look to other nations to help you.  Turn back to Me!"   Two kings who obeyed and trusted God, with wonderful results, were Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah
(see 2 Kings 17 &18 and 2 Chronicles 20).

That picture of the dry bush in the desert, and the experiences of the kings of Israel, also apply to us.   This picture applies on two levels.

First, like the people of Israel, our foolish and wrong decisions get into real messes.  Then, instead of confessing our sin to God and seeking His help, we figure out our own way to solve our problems, which only makes the mess worse.  We go deeper and deeper, while we wonder why God has let this happen to us.



I have a friend who is constantly making bad choices with her finances and her friends.  The result is that she struggles with overwhelming debt and people who use her.   The way she has tried to solve her problems is to take on more debt, kick out her husband, and move in a new boyfriend.   Once, when she realized this wasn't working, she asked me, "What should I do?"

My response was to simply ask, "What is the right thing to do?"

She rolled her eyes, and said, "I need to be practical.  God's way won't work."

I asked her, "How do you know God's way won't work?  You never tried it."



A more serious way we live out this word-picture in Jeremiah is when we tell ourselves that we will fix our separation from God.  We fool ourselves to think, "I can, and I will, do what I must to earn my place in heaven."  Sadly, many sincerely believe that they are succeeding.  If you ask them, "How are you doing that?", they often answer, "I am not as bad as some other people."    Will the sins of other people will save us?!   How foolish!  How unnecessary!

Just as God has a solution for the little messes we make in life, He has a The Solution for the Big Mess that we make with our eternity.   The name of the Solution is Jesus.  He took our mess -- and our foolishness and sin that caused that mess -- and took it to the cross.  There He, in His own body and soul, accepted the eternal consequences of our sin, so we can receive the eternal privilege of His holiness.

In both arenas of our mess-making -- daily life and eternal life -- our role is only to take our hands off and trust Him alone.  And that's the promise in the last part of our text...


II. The tree by the stream.

"But the person who trusts in the LORD will be blessed.
        The LORD will show him that he can be trusted.
He will be strong, like a tree planted near water
        that sends its roots by a stream."

What exactly is the "stream" here?  In this context, just as in Jeremiah 2, the stream is the Lord God, Himself!  And in both texts, we receive that life-giving flow simply through faith -- trusting Him.

Jesus used the "water of life" picture twice in His ministry on earth.  Once He used this word picture with a Samaritan woman, whose life definitely fit the description of the "dry bush."  She had been married five times, and at the time she met Jesus, she was living with a boyfriend.

Jesus said, "If you only knew the free gift of God and who it is that is asking you for water, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water... Everyone who drinks this [physical] water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give will never be thirsty. The water I give will become a spring of water gushing up inside that person, giving eternal life." (John 4:10,14 NCV)

Soon she discover who He is, and she received that Living Water -- that new life through faith in Him.


Now, I want you to notice carefully...  In this word picture in Jeremiah 17, where is the tree?  Near the stream, yes.   But in the wider landscape, where is it?

"It  is not afraid when the days are hot;
        its leaves are always green.
It does not worry in a year when no rain comes;
        it always produces fruit."

This tree is also in the desert, just like the bush!    Both the bush and the tree feel the heat of the scorching sun and the hot dry air.  But the tree has a source of water, the source of life, that comes through its roots.

Biology question: 

Compare trees that grow in dry climates and trees that grow in wet climates.  Which has deeper roots?

If it rains a lot, and the ground is wet, a tree growing in that kind of soil will have shallow roots.  A hard wind can easily blow it over.

But a tree that experiences long dry seasons will send its roots deep to reach a constant source of water that doesn't depend on the weather.

A mature Christian is the same as that tree. 

We experience the same troubles, the same problems that non-Christians face.  We feel the same heat from Satan and the world as the unbeliever.  We feel the same separation from God as everyone else.  But when long periods of difficulty hit, that forces us to trust God more deeply.  Our joy and our peace does not come from our circumstances (situation), but from the promises of God.



In my junior year in college, I discovered the joy of answered prayer.  It wasn't prayer for things on my wish list.  But the prayers that God answered in dramatic ways were prayers for God’s guidance:  "What do You want me to do?"  It was a time when the Scripture came to life. Every word seemed to jump off the page with insight and application.  It was a time of sweet fellowship with like-minded Christians who had dedicated their hearts and minds, their lives and their talents in wholehearted service to Christ. 

This season of thrills didn’t last forever.  There came a time when it seemed God became silent. 

I read the Bible as a scheduled discipline.  But the words just lay flat on the page.  The only insights I got from the Bible were the insights other people found and shared with me.

Prayer no longer appealed to me.  There didn't seem any point to prayer.  And for quite a long stretch of time, the only way I could get myself to pray, was to use a notebook, a journal, which forced me, with pen in hand, to do business with God.

I still had good fellowship with other believers.  But it seemed all that I could get was the spill-over from their joy. 

And God kept me in touch with people with needs, and they would report on how God had blessed and encouraged them through whatever it was that I had shared with them from God's Word in response to their need.  But my own spirit felt like it had dried up and I was living in a desert.

After this had gone on for two years, I came across this text from Jeremiah in a religious newspaper.

    "The person who trusts in the LORD will be blessed.
            The LORD will show him that he can be trusted.
    He will be strong, like a tree planted near water
            that sends its roots by a stream.
    It is not afraid when the days are hot;
            its leaves are always green.
    It does not worry in a year when no rain comes;
            it always produces fruit."

The text so grabbed me that I clipped it out, taped it to the closet door in my dormitory room, and there it stayed, like a small poster, for the rest of the year.

The picture of the tree in the getting life from the stream appears in the first Psalm in the Bible:

Happy are those who don’t listen to the wicked,
        who don’t go where sinners go,
        who don’t do what evil people do.
They love the LORD'S teachings,
        and they think about those teachings day and night.
They are strong, like a tree planted by a river.
The tree produces fruit in season,
    and its leaves don’t die.
    Everything they do will succeed.
But wicked people are not like that.
    They are like chaff that the wind blows away...  (Psalm 1:1-4  NCV)

Here the river is God's Word.  The child of God receives nourishment and life through studying His Word, and thinking about His Word "day and night."   From His Word we receive His promises, His encouragement, His comfort during troublesome times.  From His Word we receive wise counsel for guiding us through life's difficult decisions. 

But notice in Jeremiah's word picture, the tree by the river not only survives,

    ...its leaves are always green.
    ...it always produces fruit.

The tree by the stream feels the same heat as the dry bush alone in the desert.  But because the tree is receiving life from the stream, the tree can provide a cool shade, shelter, and even nourishment to other creatures.  

...just a mature Christian soaking up God's Word, soaking up Christ Himself, becomes a channel for God's comfort and nourishment to other people who are seeking refuge from the heat of their spiritual desert.

...all the while that same mature Christian is experience his own desert heat.   God uses him to bless other people.  Where is the blessing for him?

Jesus said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.   If anyone believes in me, rivers of living water will flow out from that person’s heart, as the Scripture says."  Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit.  (John 7:37-39)


The last promise offered in the Jeremiah text is a fruitful life, fruit that can only grow from the nourishment (Holy Spirit) a Christian receives by faith through his roots by the stream (the Word of God).


III. The fruit of the tree

The Bible tells us that "fruit" growing in a Christian's life is a picture of Christ's own character growing in us.

But the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their own sinful selves. They have given up their old selfish feelings and the evil things they wanted to do. We get our new life from the Spirit, so we should follow the Spirit.  (Galatians 5:22-25 NCV)

The Holy Spirit produces the fruit of

love
The World doesn’t know this love.
The world knows lust.
The world knows love only as a warm fuzzy feeling, without commitment.

Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than to lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  (Romans 5:8)

It wasn't a warm fuzzy feeling that sent Jesus to the cross.
    It was love.
It wasn't the nails that held Jesus to the Cross.
    It was love. 
Love for you and me.
     ...as He took the punishment we deserved,
    so that we may receive the life that only He deserves.

And now, as Fruit of the Spirit, Christ continues to express His love through our lives.   Love takes on a new wonderful meaing.  No longer is our motive for doing the loving thing simply doing what feels good.  Instead, Christlike love is demonstrated when we find ourselves doing something nice for someone when we don’t feel like it.

joy
If we believe the messages on billboards and TV advertisements,
    "joy" is found in a gambling casino!

The world understands happiness, which depends on circumstances. 
    It’s what happens that makes us happy.

But experience the fruit of joy only in knowing Christ, and knowing that His purposes are greater than our circumstances.

Then comes joy’s cousin:

peace
"...which surpasses all understanding."  (Philippians 4:7)

The world seeks its peace in chemicals.
True peace is found in Christ.

patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, 
        There is that commitment word again.
gentleness,
self-control.

John 15:1-5
    Jesus said, "I am the true vine; my Father is the gardener.   He cuts off every branch of mine that does not produce fruit. And he trims and cleans every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.   You are already clean because of the words I have spoken to you.   Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in me.
   "I am the vine, and you are the branches. If any remain in me and I remain in them, they produce much fruit. But without me they can do nothing."

    Jeremiah 17:7-8
    "The person who trusts in the LORD will be blessed.
        The LORD will show him that he can be trusted.
    He will be strong, like a tree planted near water
        that sends its roots by a stream.
    It is not afraid when the days are hot;
        its leaves are always green.
    It does not worry in a year when no rain comes;
        it always produces fruit."