David, a member of the pastoral staff when I came to First Baptist Church a quarter of a century ago, preached a sermon I have never forgotten. He concluded with a simple question:
“How do you spell relief?”
You may be scratching your head at this point, saying something like, “Where is Syd going with this?”
Let me explain. Back then there was a television commercial for an anti-acid medication that asked, “How do you spell relief?” The answer was, R O L A I D S. David, however, put a new twist on the commercial. More about that in a moment.
Recently I preached a sermon from Jeremiah 9:23, 24 where the people of Judah were facing the imminent invasion of world power Babylon. God cautions His people against finding their identity or security in options that can never really deliver—things like human wisdom, physical ability and wealth. The message is still relevant today since these are the Big Three pursuits our contemporary culture values so highly.
- Wisdom or knowledge
We admire men and women with academic degrees earned from prestigious universities. We value best-selling authors and scientists who make discoveries that curtail deadly diseases. We value Nobel prize winners, but most of us can’t remember a single one. (Didn’t Alfred Nobel invent dynamite?) When the ink on the death certificate has dried, what difference will our academic prowess make?
- Physical strength and athletic skills
We value Olympic medal winners who have earned bragging rights for the next four years. We celebrate MVP athletes, and may even wear their jerseys. Years ago, little boys wanted to grow up to “be like Mike,” but learned all too soon they couldn’t jump like Michael Jordan, or duplicate his smooth moves to the basket.
We admire the men and women who earn a place on the front cover of Forbes Magazine. Today, the wealthiest man, as of April 2019, is Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon. They say he is worth upwards of 170 billion dollars—or at least on paper. But I suspect that I am just as happy and contented, perhaps more contented, than Jeff.
Consider God’s priorities listed in Jeremiah 9:24:
- To understand and know God:
To understand God is to begin to comprehend who He is as a Person—not just to be able to rattle off a few of His attributes. To know God is to love Him and enter into a day-by-day, moment-by-moment relationship with Him. The Hebrew word translated “know” is the same word used in Genesis 4:1, where “Adam knew his wife and she bore him a son.” That is intimacy.
- Loyal love:
God’s love is unending and unbreakable. He always keeps His covenant with His loved ones.
God desires justice. He hates injustice and punishes the powerful who abuse the vulnerable.
God always does the right thing. We can trust Him to do what is appropriate, wise, and good—even when we can’t begin to understand what He is doing at the moment.
Those are the things God values and wants us to value. Wealth, athletic skills and academic achievements will be forgotten. Caps and gowns with be discarded. New athletic records will be set. Best-selling books will fade from the charts and end up on bargain tables. Academic degrees will no longer open doors after the ink has dried on our death certificate. Every rich person, even Jeff Bezos, leaves it all behind. Everything stays; nothing is taken with them to the next chapter of life.
If all this sounds a little morbid, it was meant to. Jeremiah’s message was delivered to people who could hear the rumbling of Babylonian chariots and the hoofbeats of war horses in the north of Israel. Jerusalem was already being sacked. Corpses lay unburied. The grim reaper slithered through closed windows in Jerusalem’s finest palaces and peasant hovels.
Isaiah had a similar message for Israel. In chapter 40, with the Babylonian invasion imminent and the citizens of Jerusalem living in utter fear, God’s voice calls out in Isaiah 40:1: “Comfort, comfort my people. Speak tenderly to them.”
A voice in verse 6 responds, “What shall I cry?” The prophet wants to know what he can tell his people to comfort them in their desperate situation.
Listen to the answer. Hear it as if Isaiah was writing today. “Go up to a high mountain…say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold Your God!’”
That’s it! That’s the message for the contemporary church in America that seems to be losing its way. That’s the message for America. “Behold your God!”
A fresh, biblical understanding of God—as He is, not as we would like to re-make Him—is the antidote.
So how do you spell relief? The answer is as simple today as it was 2,500 years ago.