I would like to remind you of two notes that have worked their way into the popular culture psyche of America, bringing more foreboding, more are more ominous, perhaps, as signs of more fear and threat than any other two notes in the musical scale. They are an E followed by an F. When they were first played in a particular score, they were played by six cellos and three basses. If you are not musical and cannot imagine yet what I am talking about, let me imitate it for you. It is John Williams's score from Jaws. Williams, now 68, wrote these words. "I was looking for something that would describe the shark to the listener in an unconscious way. The music would have to be very, very primal and unstoppable." Roy Scheider, the star of the film said, "The score has become as popular as the national anthem." I think that's a little overstated, but nonetheless it is true that those two notes have worked their way into our psyche. If you saw the film, you can barely hear them without remembering the fear of the first viewing.
Williams successfully took two simple notes that somehow struck at the depth of people's thinking and feeling, and I believe Jeremiah is really doing the exact same thing. Only instead of choosing two notes from the musical scale, he chose two words from the biblical account. Here they areformless, empty. Did you hear them? Verse 23, chapter 4. Where did he get them? He took them from place that every Jew in Judah/Israel would have known. It's Genesis 1:13. Listen to it.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light."
Jeremiah, excellent preacher that he was, seemed to take up the words of John Williams to do the same thing. He was looking for something that would describe not a shark but the disfavor of God to the listener in an unconscious way. It would have to be very, very primal and unstoppable. Stylistically, Jeremiah is leaning across the pulpit in the midst of God's sermon and saying, "I interrupt this sermon to speak to you, Judah, and to ask you, do you understand what your sin is causing?" Here it is in a statement. Disconnection from a gracious God brings the disfavor of that God and begins the utter decreation of that which is created good.
Disconnection from God begins the decreation process.
Let me put it another way. Distance from the Creator of creation by his creation initiates the deconstruction or the unmaking of that which is made. Jeremiah leans across the parapets of time and says, "Judah, can I tell you what your religious mediocrity is volunteering for?" You are asking for your world to unwind like a bad polyester suit. Judah, in essence, in your practical theology, though it may not be your spoken one, you don't want the presence of God. It's so controlling and so narrow. You don't want the Word of God. It's too bothersome and unsophisticated. You don't want God interfering.
God withdraws his favorable presence. When he is near he says, Hebrews 1:3, he holds all things together by the word of his power. Well, if he withdraws his favor, everything unwinds. Are you really willing to get that?
In essence, he is saying, "Do you understand, Judah, that the disfavor of God isn't a little pat on the, a little spank. Go stand in the corner. You've been a bad boy. It is much more than Babylon's displeasure or the loss of life or the loss of land. It is the unmaking of what is made."
That brings us to the theme. Jeremiah warns those who wear the name Christian. He is speaking to God's covenant people. Please remember that. If you are our guest and don't know Jesus, he's taking [Christians] into the woodshed in these passages. He's telling us that when we volunteer to disconnect from him, we also volunteer for the deconstruction, the decreation, of life itself. That's quite a mouthful. It is really only one point made by various biblical images taken from Genesis. I'm going to leave it at one point. We're going to look at it three ways.
First, I want you to see what he is doing in the text. Initially, Jeremiah takes a CD of Genesis 1 and plays it backwards. He is taking all that God added to life and shows that he takes it from life.
He begins with the first day of creation. In the first day of creation God is described in Genesis 1 as hovering over formlessness and emptiness and speaking into it order. Now in this first day of judgment, he is speaking into order disorder. He is taking it back. The first thing that is made when God speaks in Genesis 1 is light, and the first thing that Jeremiah says is "Gone is light."
He then skips to the second and third day. In Genesis you have the land and the water separated from one another. When you turn to Jeremiah, the land, the mountains are quaking. There are earthquakes, and the hills are swaying as if they're ready to crumble apart, disappear into the water and be gone. The distinction between land and water may be disappearing.
He seems to jump ahead to the sixth day because he mentions humans. He says in Jeremiah 4 that what in Genesis 1 is the crown of and Jeremiah says they're gone. Community, relationship, people, individualsthey're gone.
And then he goes to the fifth day. Having gone to the sixth, he steps back and describes the birds. In the fifth day in Genesis they're created and so are the creatures that move along the ground, but here Jeremiah looks in the air and says there's not a bird in the sky. He says, "They have all flown away." That's important because God will say in the next verse, "I'm not destroying everything." But what does happen to humans who volunteer to disconnect from God? There is creation elsewhere. The birds are over there, but in our vicinitynear us, in us, around usdecreation, deconstruction takes place.
God goes further in Genesis 1. He speaks of every fruit on the whole face of the earth and "every tree and all seed I give to you." Jeremiah says, "The fruitful 's a desert. All towns are utterly ruined. Judah," Jeremiah is saying, "stand back and realize what you are actually asking of God when you choose to wander."
This warning is no mere hyperbole.
Let me stop a minute and say this. I'm guessing that some of you who come regularly and know me say, "Joe, I know why you're being so dramatic with this passage. You like this. You're dramatic. I got it. That's why you're doing this. It's just another preacherly hyperbole, right? You sin, and life decreates. Oh, boy, that's a neat image, Joe. You can go a long way with that one." No. I suggest to you, Jeremiah is dead on the money. Let me prove it to you.
If you have come here knowing there's a quadrant of your life, a particular sin you have no plan to get rid ofmaybe it's pride, you have taken a position over other people or over a sphere of life and have become critical of anybody who doesn't measure up to you; you've accepted a judgmental, sarcastic way of looking, you're right and the rest of the world is wrongcan I tell you something? Just hold that inside of you for a little while, and I make you a promise. You'll start to decreate. You watch. Your blood pressure will go up. You'll get ulcers. Watch what happens in your relationships with people around you. They'll decreate. People will start to say, "You know what? You are so edgy. I don't even like to talk with you. I don't even like to be near you." Wife, husband, kids will start walking on eggshells. "Can I go in? Can I go in to see Dad? Is it okay now?" Just hold pride or a critical spirit. Nurture it and let it fester inside of you, and your metabolism will be affected. You'll lose sleep.
Let's pick another one. Decide to not let lust go in confession. Hold onto it, Christian. Oh, I know, initially you'll get a sense of not disintegration but integration. Whoa. I finally feel what I've wanted to feel. But mark my words. If you harbor lust and cross sexual lines in a way that God forbids, inside, a deep understanding of loving givingly, sacrificially, for the honor and nobility of another will seem like unsophisticated silliness to you. It won't connect with your soul. True honoring love will dissipate. It's not going to be long before those that you're leeching your lustful joy off of will start to go, "You know what? All you do is suck from me. This is not love. You are exploiting me." That relationship will degenerate.
Take another thing. This is close to my bone. How about worry or fear? Just mask it with words of humility and it won't be long before people are saying, "You know, it's wearying to be around you. You are never optimistic." You'll find that being near you is difficult for them and difficult for you, so life itself and you are constantly coming apart.
One more. Take any part of creation that God said we should only treat moderately, whether it be alcohol or food or work, and you do it at your pace, not his. You decide. You know what will happen? You do it with alcohol, your brain will rot. You do it with food, your circulatory system will break down. Your heart will attack you. Do it with work, joy will disappear. You will have profit but friends and marriage and family collapse.
Jeremiah is not being hyperbolic. He is dead on the money. He interrupts God and says, "Judah, do you understand this is real?" I can almost hear Jeremiah saying, I know. He's already revealed how frightened he is. I know what it's like, people. I have had fear tear me apart inside.
In The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis, he speaks of the sin of being critical or grumbling and explains this dynamic of decreation this way, paraphrasing. He says when you first become a grumbling person or critical and always have a sarcastic thing to say, initially you can objectify from it. You can stand back and say, "Boy, you know, I really shouldn't have said that." But unless God intervenes in his grace and begins to show you how wrong it is, soon that grumbling and critical spirit will take over. He says it's an encroachment of hellthat's a powerful worduntil you are gone. You decreate, and the only thing left is a critical being. You can't objectify from it any more; for you, it's life. No. It's death. You've decreated so completely that conviction is now not even in you. That's Lewis's picture, and it is a strong one. I think Jeremiah would have said, Dead on, Lewis.
So there it is in the text, and there is one of the applications. This is a central theme in the Scripture. Disfavor with God creates decreation.
Reconnection with God produces recreation.
In Genesis after God gives you every seed, he says, "Across the whole earth, every plant, all the fruit," he says, "are for you." Then they sinned. What happens? Immediate decreation, a fight where there had never been a fight between Eve and a serpenther offspring and hiscurse, deconstruction. The blessing of work becomes toil. Three steps forward, four steps back. Thorns and thistles. Pain in childbirth. [This occurs] immediately after God graciously pours out creation.
Please remember, when Adam and Eve did obey, their obedience did not merit, cause, nor pay for creation. It was grace in which God voluntarily gave it to them. In thankful response, perfect humans could be obedient, and God said that obedience would be a condition for further blessing. Listen. One of the commands he gave them is the first human job description. This is before they sinned. While they were perfect God gives them the first job description. It appears in two placesGenesis 1:2628, and Genesis 2and implied elsewhere. God said, "Let us make man in our image. Let them [since they're going to reflect their image] be very, very talkative about God. Let them be exceedingly ." No. "Let them rule over fish, birds, livestock, earth, all creatures." Then he said, "Be fruitful. Multiply. Fill the earth. Subdue it." Rule and subdue are same word really. Then in chapter 2, God put them in the garden and said to work it and take care of it. Rule, subdue, work, care for. It is the first job description, given while they were perfect.
Folks, that is a gracious thing. As they're obedient, the incredible promise of God was that creation would continue to prosper. Do you know what a gracious gift this is? Utterly unlike a picky artist who creates a work and says to people, "Don't you dare touch what I've made. Don't you dare. I'm the artist. You just look." What God does is the equivalent of Michelangelo getting a bunch of elementary school kids, even though Adam and Eve are perfect, giving them and saying, "You add to the Sistine Chapel. Put stuff up there I missed." To a teenager, "I'll give you a hammer or a chisel and you do a little work on David or Moses. Would you?" It's an unbelievable gift.
God wants us to work with him in recreation.
It's inescapable that God has said, "I want my people to touch creation." But then sin hits, and it begins to decreate. Does what's called "the cultural mandate," this job description, disappear? No. It changes, though. On one hand, it becomes more difficult because as we steward God's creation, care and work and rule and subdue, we do it against a tide of decreation. On the other hand, it's more glorious because we join him in great restitution to bind up the brokenhearted, to speak the gospel, to apply it in every realm, to bring justice where there's injustice, mercy where there's none. This is why there are so many commands about care for the poor. Throw open your arms in hospitality. Be willing to die for those who hate the gospel and hate you. Why? The believer is not just a of creation. We're emissaries of utter recreation.
So you see in Genesis three principles:
Disconnection from the gracious creation of God creates or causes decreation.
Reconnection to the gracious giving of God causes recreation.
When God redeems a people he invites them to join in the great process of recreation.
Isaiah and Revelation promise decreation and recreation.
Let's move ahead from Genesis. I'm going to jump ahead to Isaiah, and hear how God speaks through Isaiah to Israel, who will be taken into captivity by Assyria. Judah will follow [in being destroyed] by Babylon. Listen to what Isaiah says as God brings justice in Isaiah: See the Lord is going to lay waste the whole earth. The earth will be completely plundered, dried up and withered. They have disobeyed the law so a curse consumes the earth. All merry makers groan. The gaiety of the tambourines, the noise of the revelers has stopped. Gaiety is banished from the earth. Laughter, joy, music is gone. All the stars of the heavens are dissolved like withered leaves from the vine that people are destroyed. Even streams are turned to pitch. Thorns overrun the citadels and they become the haunt of jackals.
But he speaks of recreation in equally graphic terms, of completely adding blessing and creativity. Isaiah speaks this way: He will send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground. The food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. There will be streams of water flowing on every high hill. The moon will shine like the sun. The desert and the parched land will be glad. The wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus it will burst into bloom. It will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it. The splendor of Carmel and Sharon, they will see the glory of the Lord. The eyes of the blind will be open. The ears of the deaf unstopped, and the lame will leap like dear. They'll enter Zion with singing everlasting joy, the crown of their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
I'm going to jump all the way to Revelation where, in one of the last pictures of revelation, God shows Eden, the garden. It was perfect creation that God cursed by decreation and now it is recreation. Listen to Revelation 22: 13:
The angel showed me the river of the water of life [This is not just a perfect river. This is the water of life.] as clear as crystal flowing right from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. And on each side of the river stood the tree of life bearing twelve crops of fruit yielding its fruit every months. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.
Here the tree from Genesis is so big it's like a redwood arching across a road, and down the center of the road runs a river. The tree is huge and it never stops bearing fruit, and it's constantly healing in its proportionate power. You see the constant theme all through the Bible. I could have shown you more.
Decreation, when we disconnect from God. When he reconnects us to him, recreation, and he actually invites his people to participate.
We anticipate rebirth and restoration.
There are some things that you may need to start to look at a bit differently in the Scripture. Could this be why he calls when he enters our lives and transforms us, not just "a new beginning," he calls it "rebirth"? From the curse the decreation made you dead, and now I recreate you.
The Holy Spirit's marks on aren't called qualities or characteristics, but they're called fruit because he causes the restoration. Is this why the first Adam is in an absolutely perfect garden and utterly fails, and the one whom Paul calls the second Adam, Christ, doesn't enter a garden but an absolute desert and fasts 40 days to face Satan just like Adam and Eve did, and wins? They failed; he wins. When he finishes his ministry it says in Matthew he shines like light to the nations. The light's back, and all of his miracles are the recreation. He gives life where there's death, sight where there's blindness. He even takes storms in the chaos of natural disasters and quiets them and brings joy and thanksgiving and fills with abundance. This is why he gave to his apostles the ability to do miracles, to say, "When my kingdom comes we recreate."
And is it also why this second Adam, named Jesus, when he ends his ministry goes back to a garden and this time doesn't face Satan but his Father? Never forget, Satan didn't make him sweat blood. His Father did. In that garden he asks, Must you decreate me? Must I take on formlessness? Isaiah 52: "His form marred beyond human likeness." Must I become empty? Philippians 2: "He emptied himself and became as nothing." In order that they be formed and be full? What's the answer? Yes. Then decreate me so you'll be recreated. Formless so you're formed. Empty so you are made filled.
When you see redemption hitting people, you know what you see? Where there once was death, there is life. Look at Israel as they're brought out of Egypt. They're in the middle of the wilderness. Death, 120 degrees Fahrenheit is a good day. What happens? Water comes out of a rock. Bread comes from. Their shoes and their clothing don't wear out. They keep working for 40 years.
You're learning a principle here. The second thing I want you to see is a good test between the difference between a real Christian and a religiously superficial person. Listen. A Christian can be in the midst of death, maybe even their body corroding, their family unwinding, their job blowing to bits, maybe their colleagues can be in the midst of decreation, and you know what they bring? Life. Reconciliation. Insight. Peace. Help. Joy.
Now watch the religious person. You can dump all the blessings from a pulpit, all the goodness of a church, all the prosperity of business and it's never enough. I don't like this. I don't like them. I don't want that. No matter how much life you give them, they are walking death. No matter how much death you put a true Christian in, they bring life. Not all perfectly, but we do.
Have you ever been near a great follower of Christ, a lover of Jesus for many years when they're dying? I had the honor of knowing the man who took Billy Graham to the crusade where he became a Christian, Albert McMachan. I watched him die of cancer. I remember he used to say, "Pastor, every time people come they always ask me the same question, 'How are you?' You know what the answer is? I'm not doing good. But I figured out a way to answer that so I can be a help to people."
I asked, "How is that, Albert?"
"When they come in and ask, 'How are you?' I say, 'I'm saved.' If they're a Christian, they say, 'Me too.' And if they're not they say, ',' and I know where to start."
I watched him even as he lost consciousness. If you ever see people when death encroaches entirely, they begin to lose consciousness and their mind gets caught in one thought or one idea. His mind wrapped around the Bible verse that says, "We know we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren." And he just repeated it for weeks, moment after moment. I want to tell you, that man brought life even when he was unconscious and babbling.