Sermon Date: 
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Peter Hoytema
Scripture: 

Purpose: to remind listeners of God’s call to holiness and to invite them to receive the gift of righteousness that God graciously provides through Jesus Christ.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Peter Hoytema, Strathroy, Ontario

Sermon

Dear People of God,

What comes to mind when you hear the words bound for glory?  Most people who hear those words probably think about what will happen to us after we die.  We are bound for glory—that means heaven is our ultimate destination and our greatest hope.  There is great comfort in knowing that the glorious presence of God is what awaits every believer.  In Romans 8:18, Paul announces the truth of the gospel when he writes, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  Knowing that we are bound for glory, a glory so great that it outweighs “our light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:17), is of enormous comfort indeed.

But what does this glory have to do with our lives here and now?  Is there a way of hearing the words bound for glory that speaks to how God calls us to live in this life?  Indeed there is, and to get at that, let’s consider the dominant image found in today’s Scripture reading—the linen belt.  This is a different kind of belt than the ones we are familiar with.  It wasn’t a thin strip of leather with a buckle at one end that we loop around our waist to keep our pants up.  Jeremiah’s linen belt was larger than that.  It was more like a waistcloth or a short apron that would cover a person from his waist to the middle of his thigh.

So what does an archaic article of clothing have to teach us about how the glory of God impacts our lives today?   Well, it has a lot to teach us about who God is and who God calls us to be.  So let’s reflect further on the image of the linen belt, and let’s do that under three headings:  First, what the linen belt represents.  Second, what the linen belt often becomes.  Third, what God intends the linen belt to be.  Or, to put it in other words, let’s look at what the belt is meant to be, what it often becomes instead, and what, by God’s grace, it can become again.

FIRST:  WHAT THE LINEN BELT REPRESENTS

There’s not much to go on in this passage as far as the significance of the belt is concerned.  But there is one important clue provided in verse 1.  That’s where we read that the belt was made of linen.  That may not seem that significant at first, especially since it’s the only place in this passage where the belt’s material is indicated.  But it’s actually a very important point.  Linen was the fabric of clothing worn by the priests.  We don’t have time to read all the instructions God gave about the priests’ clothing—they’re recorded in passages like Exodus 28 and 39—but if we did read them we would discover that God gave very specific details about the kind of clothing priests were to wear.  Their clothes were very regal and ornamental.  They were made by skilled craftsmen who mounted precious stones onto the articles of clothing and who wove gold into the fabric.  And they were made of linen.

Exodus 28:2 provides an introductory statement that indicates the nature and the function of priestly clothing.  In that verse, God tells Moses to “make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, to give him dignity and honor.”  I prefer an alternate reading of this verse found in other translations, which indicates that the priests’ clothing is for glory and for beauty.  That’s a better translation because it more accurately makes the connection between the priests’ clothing and the glory of God.  It is God’s glory and beauty—not Aaron’s dignity and honor—that the elaborate clothing would convey. 

What’s more, the glory and beauty of the priests’ clothing was to be a visual reminder to the people of what God called everyone in the community to be.  Do you remember what God said to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai soon after he delivered them from Egypt?  It’s recorded in Exodus 19:5-6, and it’s a foundational passage in the Bible that gets at the identity and purpose of the whole community:  “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  When the people of Israel saw priests dressed in beautiful and ornamental clothes, they were shown what God called them to be.

I hope you’re beginning to see that there’s a lot more to Jeremiah’s linen belt than we may have initially thought.  The belt was a priestly garment.  It was a symbol of what God called his people to be.  What was true of the priests’ clothing was supposed to be true of every aspect of life in the community of faith.  Everyone was to be fully devoted to God, each one pursuing a common mission statement:  for glory and for beauty.  That’s what the linen belt represented.  Now let’s consider what happened to it—what often happens in the lives of those God calls to be holy.

SECOND:  WHAT THE LINEN BELT OFTEN BECOMES

God tells Jeremiah to take the linen belt he had been wearing for some time and go to a place called Perath, where he is to hide it in a crevice in the rocks.  It seems like an odd thing to do, but if you think about it—especially now that you know what the linen belt represents—God’s instructions don’t seem that strange.  The belt served to remind the people of the call to holiness that everyone in the community had from God.  They were to be a kingdom of priests, and by wearing the linen belt for a while, Jeremiah is indicating that at first Israel was true to God’s call.  Early in their history, Israel did display the glory and beauty of God by being faithful to the covenant.

But we all know what happened.  The people called to be set apart from all the other nations of the world intermingled with them.  The men of Israel took foreign wives, and the people called to be dedicated to God alone worshiped foreign gods.  Soon, the kingdom was divided, and rulers in both Israel and Judah turned their backs on God by making political alliances with the surrounding nations.  Even the priests became corrupt.  They perverted justice by taking bribes and by neglecting the poor.  There may have been lots of religious activity in the land, but it was all empty formalism—all show with no substance.

It’s all laid out for us in the historical narratives found in the Old Testament.  By Jeremiah’s time, the northern kingdom of Israel had already been invaded and laid to waste by the Assyrians, and the Babylonian empire was now threatening to do the very same to the southern kingdom of Judah.  Judah was economically, politically, morally, and spiritually bankrupt.  And so, the linen belt is removed from Jeremiah’s waist.  The priestly garment designated for glory and for beauty is taken off and taken away.

Jeremiah buries it in the rocks in Perath—the exact location of this place is uncertain.  Perhaps it’s a reference to a place that went by that name a few miles from where Jeremiah lived, but notice the footnote in verse 4.  The footnote indicates that Perath could also refer to the Euphrates River.  In fact, the Hebrew word translated as Perath is most often translated as the Euphrates River in the Old Testament.  That translation is problematic here because the Euphrates River was in Babylon, hundreds of miles away from where Jeremiah lived.  A return trip to the Euphrates River would have consisted of more than 700 miles.  Is it conceivable that Jeremiah would have made such a trip twice, once to bury the belt and another to retrieve it?

Whether this passage is meant to be taken literally or not isn’t the main point.  Interestingly, in his commentary on Jeremiah, John Calvin suggests that this passage was a vision Jeremiah received, and that he did not literally follow God’s instructions.  Whether that’s true or not doesn’t diminish the main point of this passage: the people God called to be holy abandoned their divine appointment and as a result, they would be uprooted, removed like a belt, and taken to the Euphrates River, where they would live as exiles in Babylon.

What happened to the belt in Perath, would soon happen to the people by the Euphrates River.  When Jeremiah retrieved the linen belt he had previously buried, he discovered that it had become ruined and completely useless.  It’s a graphic depiction of what sin can do to those God calls to be holy and set apart as priests for glory and for beauty.  In verse 10, God himself makes that clear when he connects the ruined belt to the spiritual status of the people: “these wicked people who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them will be like this belt—completely useless!”

So what does all this have to do with you and me today?  Sometimes it’s easy for us to presume that we’re nothing like Old Testament Israel—we don’t refuse to listen to God and worship other gods, right?  We’re not wicked people with stubborn hearts like them, right?  Maybe not in the same way, but we face the same spiritual battles they faced, and we have the very same calling from God to live up to as they did.  If you need any proof of that, just listen to how the New Testament describes our calling and identity as the people of God.  It’s recorded in 1 Peter 2:9, and it sounds very similar to the passage in Exodus 19.  “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  That’s a New Testament description of the people of God that is rich with Old Testament history and imagery.

So here’s an important question I’d like to ask you:  “What does your linen belt look like?”  Is what was true of the Old Testament priestly clothing true of your life—that you are set apart for glory and for beauty?  When people see you, what do they see?  Do they see a beautifully adorned and skillfully crafted tapestry graciously woven by God?  Or do they see something else—something tattered and frayed by your rebellion against God, a once beautiful garment now rendered useless by a stubborn heart? 

We’re really no different from the people of Jeremiah’s day or any other stage of redemptive history.  We face the same spiritually corrosive influence they did, that of spiritual pride.  Did you notice in verse 9 that pride is the issue God specifically identifies as being the most damaging to the relationship between him and the people?  After Jeremiah retrieves the ruined belt, the Lord says, “In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.”  In every generation, spiritual pride threatens the identity of God’s people.  Called to be a kingdom of priests, set apart for his glory, God’s people in every age face the same chronic temptation: that of presuming that the glory and the beauty God has adorned us with is really a product of our own goodness.  Preoccupied with our acts of obedience, we become smug and self confident.

Just consider the Pharisees whom Jesus denounced as being whitewashed tombs (see Matthew 23:27) and you have a picture of what spiritual pride looks like.  They had all the appearances of piety—long, public prayers, regular fasts, generous offerings, extravagant religious garb—but they were on the wrong side of heaven’s gates.  So many acts of righteousness, but what did it amount to?  It was a beautiful linen belt ruined by spiritual pride.  It’s what can happen to any of us if we don’t keep our focus squarely on God.  The moment the gospel of grace is eclipsed in our lives, we no longer live for glory and for beauty.  Our lives become more about us than Him.

There’s an article that addresses some of the dangers “over-churched kids” face.**  I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of being “over-churched” as a problem, but the article has a lot of good things to say about young people who have “too much religion and not enough actual interaction with Jesus.”  According to the writer of this piece, “this is an issue we need to address now, before we raise the next crop of Pharisees.” 

What are some of the dangers over-churched kids face?  Here’s a sample: 

Familiar Stories Lose Their Power: When kids hear the same Bible stories year after year they can become a little boring…they no longer connect with the characters or feel moved by the plot resolution. 

They Have Learned to Pretend Pray: Many (children) don’t realize that something cosmic is happening when we address our words to God.  They don’t feel the presence of God or even expect that they should. 

They Don’t Feel Their Lostness: Many over-churched kids don’t know what life is like without the comforts of faith.  Their brain says ’forgiveness’ before their heart feels ‘I’m sorry.’  Because they know about grace, they have never really struggled much with guilt. 

The Ugly Side of Church: Kids who hang around Christians know the yucky side of the church.  They hear the complaining.  They know Jesus didn’t fix daddy’s temper yet.  They know that church is not always the safest place in their lives.  Beyond all this they notice when adults are being fake or doing religious role play.”

Now what does all this have to do with the passage we read from Jeremiah?  Quite a lot, actually.  It all goes back to the question I asked earlier: “What does your linen belt look like?”  Is your relationship with God more show than substance?  Is holiness something you think you can take off and put on again like an article of clothing, so that sometimes you act like a Christian—like in church, for example—and sometimes you don’t?  Are there times when letting others know you’re a Christian makes you uncomfortable, so you go through a kind of spiritual “wardrobe change” because you don’t want to be seen as different?  Just how serious are you about living a life fully dedicated to God—for glory and for beauty?

If you are serious about that, you know the amazing power of the gospel that changes hearts and fills us with more beauty and glory than any life lived apart from God can ever promise.  You have experienced the powerful grace of God that is able to take anything that sin has ruined and make it beautiful again.  This leads me to my third and final point:  What the linen belt can become again.

THIRD:  WHAT GOD INTENDS THE LINEN BELT TO BE

Verse 11 captures the beautiful reality of what a life of genuine fellowship with God looks like:  “For as a belt is bound around a man’s waist, so I bound the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah around me, declares the Lord—to be my people for my renown and praise and honor.”  What a lovely depiction of God’s grace!  Can you see how the words “bound for glory” not only address our future destiny, but also shape the way we live here and now?  God, in great humility and grace, desires to bind Himself to us so that His glory may permeate our lives and empower our witness.  Despite the fact that He is the Lord of glory and we are rebellious sinners, God wants to pull you close to Himself.

What God did for Adam and Eve when they sinned, God wants to do for you.  He wants to dress you in clothing He graciously provides to cover your nakedness and shame.  He wants to wrap the robe of His love around you.  What sin has stained and torn, God wants to repair.  He does this by weaving forgiveness into the fabric of our lives.  God does this by stitching His grace and goodness into the frayed fabric our disobedience has made of His priestly garments.  God wants to adorn us with His own glory and beauty, setting them like costly jewels in tattered rags.

All of this can happen because of what God has done for us through Jesus, His Son.  Can I point you to another reference of linen hidden in a rock?  It’s found in Matthew 27:59-60, where we read about Joseph of Arimathea. He’s the man who went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus after he had been crucified.  “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock.”  How the pierced body of Jesus must have stained and defiled that clean linen—but notice the incredible depiction of grace found in this gospel reading.  Contrary to what we would expect, the clean linen cloth wrapped around the crucified body of Jesus is not rendered useless by the stains of our Lord’s blood.  That blood is precisely what renders all those ruined by sin useful for God’s purposes once more.  The very ones who were defiled by sin are re-commissioned for glory and for beauty!  This is why the great multitude of saints John sees in the vision recorded in Revelation 7:14 are said to be wearing white robes, “washed…and made white in the blood of the Lamb.” 

Only the blood of Jesus can make what sin has defiled clean again.  It’s what the fabric of your life can look like—and will graciously become—if you turn to Jesus in repentance and faith.  All you need to do is what Joseph did: bury Jesus in the tomb that belonged to you.  Jesus died the death we were supposed to die, so we could live the life we were supposed to live.  That’s the heart of the gospel.  And that’s the glory and beauty of God that adorns our lives.  Amen.

Order of Worship

GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP

    Welcome and Announcements

     Call to Worship (from Psalm 51)

          Leader:  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love.  According to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.

          People:  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

          Leader:  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

          People:  Restore to me the joy of your salvation.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.

          Leader:  O Lord, open my lips,

          People:  And my mouth will declare your praise.

     Prayer for the Service

     The Lord Greets Us:  “May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all.  Amen.”

     Opening Hymn of Praise: “Holy God, We Praise Your Name” PsH #504

WE CONFESS OUR SIN AND ARE ASSURED OF GOD’S GRACE

     Call to Confession:  Isaiah 64:6  “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

     Prayer of Confession (spoken in unison):  Gracious Lord, when we remember the death of Jesus your Son, we can only wonder at the greatness of your love.  We confess our reluctance to follow His example of obedience.  Our love is too selective, our excuses too frequent, our blaming too quick, our forgiveness too slow, and our gratitude too rare.  By your mercy, deepen our love for you.  Help us to serve others as those who have been so graciously served by Jesus, our Master.  Turn our pride into compassion, our fear into courage, and our prayers into actions, however small and simple.  Do this, we pray, in the name of Jesus, who loved us and gave himself for us.  Amen.

     Assurance of Pardon:  Galatians 3:26-27 “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

     Guide to Thankful Living:  Ephesians 4:22-32.

     Hymn of Thanksgiving:  “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian” PsH #264

GOD SPEAKS TO US IN HIS WORD

     Prayer for Illumination

     Scripture Reading:  Jeremiah 13:1-11

     Sermon:  “Bound for Glory”

WE RESPOND WITH PRAISE

     Prayer of Application:  “Gracious God, thank you for sharing your glory with us, your children.  Thank you for giving us the gospel, which announces the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, and for filling us with the transforming power of your Holy Spirit.  Help us to live as those who have been set free from bondage to sin, and who joyfully wear the robes of righteousness you have provided through Christ Jesus, your Son.  We pray in His name.  Amen. 

     Hymn of Response:  “And Can It Be” PsH #267:1,2,4

     Congregational Prayer

     Offering

GOD SENDS US INTO THE WORLD

     Closing Hymn: “By the Sea of Crystal” PsH #620:1,2

     God’s Blessing:  Jude:24-25 “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen.”

     Doxology: “By the Sea of Crystal” PsH #620:3

**This article can be found on the internet at the following web site:

http://ministry-to-children.com/angers-for-over-churched-kids/