For the North End Community Ministry / food pantry visit or call (616) 454-1097.

We meet for worship at 214 Spencer Street NE. Directions.
Service begins Sundays at 10:00AM.

polish brass on a sinking ship?

Imagine the scene. The prophet Jeremiah has been arrested for prophesying that Babylon would conquer and destroy the city of Jerusalem and take its king, Zedekiah, as a prisoner to Babylon. Outside the city walls is the massive Babylonian army, fresh off a resounding defeat of the Egyptian army who had come to drive them out of the land. There is one world power, and it was surrounding the city of Jerusalem. Zedekiah, of course, was not pleased with this “word from the Lord”: “Though you fight against the Chaldeans (Babylon), you shall not succeed” (Jeremiah 32:5). For proclaiming the word of the Lord to the people of Jerusalem, Zedekiah had him arrested and imprisoned in the court of the guard of the palace of the king of Judah. This was better than a dungeon, for it afforded Jeremiah a bit of freedom, yet he was in every way a prisoner. While he was imprisoned, the Lord spoke to him.

Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me: Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you and say, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’ Then Hanamel my cousin came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.

Jeremiah 32:6–8 ESV

According to the covenant God made with Israel, each tribe was allotted land—except the tribe of Levi. The priests of Israel came from Levi and rather than give them a specific land, they were given cities and fields throughout the land of Israel. One of these cities was Anathoth, located in the land allotted to the tribe of Benjamin. Under the covenant, land had to remain in a family, for land was the means of production and sustenance. If a person had to sell land, it had to be sold to the nearest kinsman. Apparently others did not want to buy the land so it was offered to Jeremiah, who was the next nearest kinsman redeemer.

Think of the situation. The Babylonian army was surrounding the city. There was famine and suffering everywhere inside the city, for no one could leave the walls to work in fields or to buy goods—food—from traveling merchants. The Lord had revealed to Jeremiah that the city will fall. It will be burned and destroyed. The king will be taken into captivity. It was only a matter of time before land ownership became meaningless. While in prison, God told Jeremiah that his cousin would visit him to offer a field to him. Then his cousin showed up, offering the field to him. His cousin wants him to buy a field knowing full well that God has made clear that the capital city would soon be destroyed, with many of the cities throughout the land already captured and destroyed. What would you do? Would you buy land knowing that you would not be around to ever get any real benefit from owning it? Here’s what Jeremiah did:

And I bought the field at Anathoth from Hanamel my cousin, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions and the open copy. And I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my cousin, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. I charged Baruch in their presence, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”

Jeremiah 32:9–15 ESV

While in prison during a siege by an army that God has promised would be victorious and destroy his city, Jeremiah went through the elaborate legal steps necessary to buy a field he would likely never see with his own eyes, let alone work and earn an income from it. Why? God said that though the city and the entire nation would be destroyed, the destruction would be temporary. God would once again bring the people back to the land, and made this promise for the future:

Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.

Jeremiah 32:37–41 ESV

In chapter 31 God promised his people a new covenant that would be unlike the covenant given at Mount Sinai in a very particular way: this new covenant would guarantee the faithfulness of his people. The old covenant did not. Most of the members of the old covenant did not know the Lord. This is why God was angry and brought Babylon to destroy the city. They worshiped false gods right in Jerusalem, in the very temple of the God of Israel! No more. In the new covenant “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:34).

Today we still await the promise of land, only this time it is not the promise of a narrow strip of land in the Middle East. This time we await the new heavens and new earth. We wait for the cosmic restoration of all things.

Many years ago J. Vernon McGee asked his radio audience this question: “Do you polish brass on a sinking ship?” The expected response was, “No.” His reason was that the Lord would one day return to this world in judgment and as the apostle Peter said, this world will be destroyed by fire. Why engage in work that makes this world better if it’s all going to be destroyed? Why not simply focus on saving souls by preaching the gospel and let the world go down like a sinking ship? Because of what Peter actually said!

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:10–13 ESV

We wait for new heavens and a new earth! While this present world is destined for the fires of judgment, we must “buy land”, knowing that God will recreate this world. It’s important to say that the Lord will not replace this world; he will recreate it. The new earth is not new in quantity but in quality. The corruption of sin and death will be forever removed. Just as Jeremiah purchased land in hope-filled expectation of God’s future work, so we must invest in this world and in our community, knowing that one day God will restore it. He will rescue it. Even when you and I cannot see the fruit of our labors, we must continue laboring, knowing the Lord’s promise. Whether you share the gospel with someone who has no immediate response or you pray for years for a loved one with no apparent change in him or her, we “buy land”, we invest in the world, knowing that God will accomplish all he has promised to do, even if we do not see the results in our lifetime.

We “buy land” when we provide meals for the faculty at Palmer School during Parent/Teacher conferences. We “buy land” when we serve students alongside Urban Transformation Ministries in the “Learning Pod” we host in our building. We “buy land” when we partner with North End Community Ministry in our building as they care for the poor and needy through their food pantry and various other services. We “buy land” when we care for the environment and work to improve our homes and our community. Doing these things does not obviate the need to preach the gospel, to tell others about who Jesus is and what he has done. We must do both, but sometimes serving others is simply an investment in the future where someone else will have the opportunity to share the gospel and see the fruit of our labor, long after we are gone.

As the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3, some plant and some water, but God is the one who causes the growth. At various times we plant while at other times we water. Sometimes God lets us see the harvest. We must never forget, however, that he causes the growth. As we seek opportunities to serve the Lord in our next ten years as a church, let us seek opportunities to “buy land” and proclaim the word of the Lord, knowing that it will all result in the fulfillment of God’s wonderful promises.