Sunday, November 11, 2012

God's Dream For You

"Cheer up, Zion! For the LORD your God has arrived to live among you."  Zephaniah 3:16

God is a dreamer.  He has BIG plans and BIG dreams.  He doesn't give up easily, and He never gives up for good.  I wouldn't say that all of His dreams come true, but that doesn't stop Him from dreaming them.  And He's not afraid to share His dreams.  

I've been reading things in the Old Testament lately, specifically during the time prior to the people of Judah being exiled to Babylon and returning to Israel seventy years later.  God delivers two types of prophecy through His messengers.  First He lays out the dream: The way He wants things to be.  The way it could be if everyone listens to His instructions and is obedient to His ways.  Many of these passages are familiar to us in a "heavenly future" sense.  Like God is talking about something that isn't possible on this earth but will magically happen in His "heavenly" Kingdom.  Things to give us hope for after this life is over, but not something to expect before then.

The other type of prophecy falls into the category of what happens because no one listens.  Warnings about what's coming if the disobedience continues.  And it's horrible stuff.  Things that certainly should give the people the incentive to change their ways, but for the most part, they don't.  But even these "doomsday" prophecies aren't the final word.  God doesn't end the story there.  He says, 'Yes, these horrible things will happen, but "The LORD Almighty has not forsaken Israel and Judah.  He is still their God, even though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel." (Jer. 51:5)  "Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel.  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!  For the LORD will remove his hand of judgement and will disperse the armies of your enemy.  And the LORD himself, the King of Israel, will live among you!  At last your troubles will be over, and you will fear disaster no more." (Zeph. 3:14-15)

We see these things happening later too.  Not in an "afterlife" way, but in an earthly kingdom way.  God speaks to the kings of Persia after they conquer the Babylonians, and the Persian kings set God's people free to go back to their homeland.  In fact, they give the freed exiles everything they need to return and rebuild the Temple of God in Jerusalem!  The new generations return and rebuild the Temple and enjoy a time of peace in their land as some of their ancestors who followed God.

The best way to describe the way God functions during this time is this: "Let's try this again.  Same rules as before.  Same promises as before.  Same warnings as before.  Same choice as before: Listen and live; Don't listen and...But I really want you to listen!"

I was thinking today about what happens when Jesus comes on the scene.  The last report we have about the people of Israel is they have rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem to protect the city and the rebuilt Temple, and the people are living in obedience to God.  400 years pass before Jesus is born in Bethlehem.  Israel is now under the rule of the Romans and the Jews are facing oppression.  The current king of Israel is not a God-fearing man, the religious leaders are corrupt and placing heavy burdens on the people, the poor and needy are "like sheep without a shepherd".  (Mark 6:34)

From God's promise of prosperity and peace for the ones who obey, we know this generation was falling short.  They were on a dangerous course leading to eventual destruction and exile, but before that can happen, God intervenes, not only with a promise of salvation if they turn things around, but a means of salvation even if they don't.  This is new.  This is God saying, "Let's not go through all that again.  I know where this is headed, and I'm going to step in.  This Temple and this city are going to fall again, but before that happens, I'm going to give the people a new way to return to the Promised Land and remain forever secure.  Not with their righteousness, but with Mine.  With My love, My mercy, and My grace, I will rescue them.

Jesus comes to share the good news. "Change your thinking!  God's got a new plan.  A new dream.  A new covenant!  You are headed in the wrong direction, but still, the Kingdom is near.  In fact, it's here among you.  Cheer up, Zion!  Don't be afraid!  For the LORD your God has arrived to live among you.  He is a mighty savior.  He will rejoice over you with great gladness.  With his love, he will calm all your fears.  He will exult over you by singing a happy song." (Zeph. 3:16-17)

The gospels tell us that Jesus proclaimed the good news to all the towns and villages in Israel, from Jerusalem to Galilee to his hometown of Nazareth.  He raised up disciples to travel with him and sent them out to share the message too.  He backed up His credibility by healing the sick and driving out demons.  He told stories of hope and shared His dream of this new Kingdom.  God's Kingdom.  A place of prosperity and rest and love and peace.  A perpetual life-altering, heart-altering Kingdom.  

Forty years later, Jerusalem and the Temple fall once again.  The Jewish Nation at large: the kings, priests, and many of the people were living in rebellion to God, and they were driven away from their land into exile just like their ancestors.  Since that time, 2000 years later, the Temple has never been rebuilt.  But it doesn't need to be.  God's dream went beyond a Promised Land and a Temple City.  It went beyond a place where people could worship Him, be in His Presence, and live in peace and prosperity.  A country is no longer necessary.  A building is irrelevant.  A Holy City is no longer a physical earthly location on a map.  

It's a heart-thing now.  It's wherever you are.  The prophecy given in Zephaniah has taken on new meaning.  God dreamed a bigger dream, and it comes true for those who cheer up, fear no more, and rest secure in His love.  Not "someday" but today.

Are you living the dream?

"I have set the LORD always before me.  Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad, and my tongue will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." (Psalm 16:8, 9, 11; NIV)

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189.  All rights reserved.