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Tim Keller Sermon Notes — Series: The Necessity of Belief — Sermon # 5: The Meaning of the City

This sermon was preached on October 5, 2003.

The teaching is based on Jeremiah 29:4-14

Please note that these sermon notes are provided only to encourage, and that any or all parts of the notes may contain errors or omissions, due entirely to the note-taker. Full audio of the sermon may be found at the Redeemer Sermon Store.

You can also find this particular sermon at Redeemer’s Free Sermon Resource, located here.

Intro:

We’re looking at the book of Jeremiah because Jeremiah’s times were quite a bit like ours. The great Babylonian power had come to Israel, invaded, and taken Israel as exiles of Bablyon. In Babylon, they found a huge, hostile, brutal city filled with all of these different people groups with radically different visions of nature, morality, and the nature of the world. How do you respond to a fragmented society?

We live in a society so that it’s getting so that most people in our society feel like exiles. For example, liberals feel like this country is becoming so conservative that they’re pulling their hair out. Yet, at the same time, conservatives are pulling their hair out because they feel that this country is becoming so liberal. That’s a fact. But how can that be? How can both liberals and conservatives feel like exiles? The answer is that we live in a fragmented society where there is no consensus about what is right and what is wrong — this is very much like the city the Jewish exiles entered into. So here’s the question: how do you respond to that kind of society? The answer of God to the exiles is astounding.

If you think you’ve heard me preach on Jeremiah 29, you’re wrong! I’ve never preached on it, but I’m always referring to it. Jeremiah 29 is one of the most important texts to Redeemer’s history.

Outline: How do you respond to a fragmented society? How do you relate to the city?

I. The wrong way

II. God’s way

III. How to get the power to do it

I. The Wrong Ways

  • The Babylonian Agenda:
    • The Babylonians were experts at dealing with uncooperative nations:
      • Expel them / drive them out: The Babylonians found that if you did this, they came back madder than before
      • Subjugation: You don’t drive them out, you push them down; you enslave them. The problem with this is that they keep having these uprisings madder than ever.
      • Assimilation: Here the Babylonians found what they were looking for. They said, “You can live with us, you can have the best jobs, as long as you live like us.
        • Ex: Daniel
        • Within a couple generations, a people group is gone, their distinctiveness is worn away.
        • v. 6 “Increase there, do not decrease.” Assimilation sought to have them decrease.
    • Tribalism: v. 8 “God says, ‘Don’t listen to the other prophets — they’re telling you things I didn’t tell them to tell you!'”
      • Assimilation means that I go into the city and engage it for my own power and wealth.
      • Tribalism means that I smile at the city on the outside, but inside I disdain it. I exploit it.

II. God’s Way

  • v. 5-7 — Build homes! Move in! Build gardens! Increase! And seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon. This was a city whose hands were dripping with the blood of Israel’s people!
  • This must have been utterly astounding for God’s children to hear. He wanted them not just to engage the city as a tribe, but he wanted them to seek the shalom of the city! The peace and prosperity of it! He wanted them to pray for it!
  • St. Augusten, The City of God: He says that the whole Bible is basically a tale of two cities — the city of man and the city of God.
    • People go into the human city to make a name for themselves, to get a self, to get power and achievement, “then I’ll know I’m somebody.”
      • This makes it a place of exhaustion: they go into the city needing to get — love, power, recognition, a resume
      • This makes it a place of oppression: we’re working so hard to get up the ladder that we’re willing to step on people
    • In contrast, the city of God works not on the basis of pride, but of peace; not on the basis of human effort, but on God’s grace
      • This makes it not a place of exhaustion, because the people enter it looking to give, not looking to get, because they already know who they are. It’s a place of joy.
      • This makes it not a place of oppression, but a place of justice.
    • City of Man: Your life to benefit me; City of God: My life to benefit you
    • Very often these cities are referred to as Jerusalem and Babylon
  • So, we live in the city of man, right? Someday God will come and destroy the city of man.
  • Up until Jeremiah, everyone thought that was how it was. Then, all of a sudden, God says, “Move into Babylon and seek its peace.” But that makes no sense! I thought God was going to destroy the city!?”
    • Matt 5: Jesus says to his disciples, “You are a city on a hill! Let your light shine before men.” The good deeds Jesus is talking about are living and service.
  • Every city is two cities. The city of God is a mini-city in every city, they are an alternate city in every city, in which they take sex, money, and power, and instead of using them for exploitation and pride, they use them in life giving ways.
  • The way you bear witness in the earthly city to God’s city, is that you don’t go in there to work for your sake (assimilation), don’t work their for your tribe’s sake (disdain), work in the city for the city’s sake.
  • St. Augustine says that the minute you’re born again you get dual citizenship in these two cities.
  • Citizens of the city of God are the very best citizens of their earthly cities. They don’t move in to make themselves or their group stronger, they move their for the city’s sake.
  • When Jeremiah talks about shalom, it’s worth thinking. “Peace” isn’t strong enough. Shalom means total flourishing in every dimension: socially, economically, spiritually, physically. God is saying that if you are a child of God this has got to be your attitude toward the earthly city in which you reside.
    • You’re working for the social peace of your city, helping the different racial groups get along.
    • You’re working for the economic shalom of the city, not having a career just to advance yourself or your cause, but to bring everyone in the city up, to seek the prosperity of everyone in it. If you don’t feel that way about New York City, you’re not thinking out the implications of this passage.
  • God is saying don’t lose your difference in the city, but at the same time don’t guard jealously your difference in the city. He’s saying, “Use your difference to serve the city!” Your difference is that you belong to the one true God — use that to serve them.
  • Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, describes early centuries of Christianity and the plagues that occurred in many cities…
    • If you live in a city for yourself or your tribe, you get out when bad things happen — you don’t want to die!
    • But that’s not what the Christians did in early Christianity. They lost their lives happily for the sake of their neighbors.
    • Stark is trying to figure out how this one little religious group of Christians eventually shaped an entire empire.
      • When the dying pagans recovered from the plagues, they were faced with the question, “Wait, what are you here for?”
      • The Christians said, “We’re not here for money, we’re not here to make a name for ourselves, we don’t need money, we don’t need acceptance, we don’t even need to live!”
      • As a result, the Christian gospel captured the imaginations of the people. Christianity did not capture their imaginations by trying to take over or trying to get their people into office! They got power by not trying to get power.

III. The Power — How can it be that Christians did this?

  • Centuries after Jeremiah, Jesus entered Jerusalem, the city of God — and he gets executed and thrown out. You never executed anybody inside the holy city, because it was necessary to send them out to die, because it was symbolic of the consequence of sin; you lose the community, you lose the blessing, because you’re thrown out.
  • It wasn’t a symbol of Jesus; it was a reality. Hebrews 13:12-14.
  • On the cross, Jesus was cosmically thrown out so that you and I could be brought in. Sin deserves to be thrown out of the city, but Jesus Christ took it for us, so that when you believe in Jesus, you become automatically enrolled in the city of God–and that makes us salt and light in the city that is.
  • Why? Because if you know who you are, you move back into the earthly city not needing anymore and being ready to give.
  • Frank Sinatra was wrong; he said that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. But Jesus gives you something better. There is a mansion in the truly greatest city in the universe, there is applause, acclaim, a ticker-tape parade waiting for you. If you know that, you can move out into the city with poise!
  • Michael Foucalt, the post-modern theorist, says that we create and bolster a self through the exclusion of the Other. E.g., If I feel good about myself because I’m a hard worker, I have to despise people who are lazy.
  • But what if you’re identity is in Christ? What if it’s not in being a good Christian who goes to church and reads the Bible, but in Christ? Because Jesus Christ, when I was doing all the wrong things he died for me! If that’s the basis for my whole life, then how do I look out at the city filled with people who are doing the wrong things? I love them! Because Jesus dying on the cross was dying for them, and for me.
  • Here in NYC, there is a saying that you need to get rid of your idea that there’s one truth. If you believe that, I’ll accept you; if not, I won’t. You’ve got to assimilate to be accepted. But Jesus gives you a resource for that, because he died for people who didn’t believe in him. Christianity gives you the power to love people who don’t believe like you do, who are not like you.
  • Do you see this? Do you understand it?
  • Jesus lost the city that was, so that you and I can be citizens of the city that is to come.

Practical Applications:

  1. Live in the city: when Paul wanted to capture a region, he went to the city, because he knew that if you captured the city you captured the region. The way to capture the imagination of the United States is to capture the imagination of its cities. The Bible says history began in a garden, but it will end in a city. What does Revelation say: I see the suburb of God coming down? No, it’s a city coming down! A diverse, artistic, energetic city. If you hate the city, I don’t know what you’re going to do with the New Jerusalem. When we all get to the New Jerusalem, you’re going to have to show people how to use the subways.
  2. Don’t live in the city selfishly: If you are so driven by your ego or your family expectations, if you’re working so hard in your career that you’re not thinking of the poor, then you have to wonder if you’re really living for the city, or are you just using it. If you’re just using it, you having come to grips with your identity in Christ. God won you over not by taking power, but by losing it. He won you not with a sword in his hand, but with nails in them. That’s why the hymn goes like this:

Not with swords loud clashing nor roll of stirring drums,

but with deeds of loving mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.

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About davestuartjr
Dave Stuart Jr. is a full-time teacher who writes about becoming better, saner teachers at TeachingtheCore.com. He is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Crystal, and a father to Hadassah, Laura, and Marlena.

One Response to Tim Keller Sermon Notes — Series: The Necessity of Belief — Sermon # 5: The Meaning of the City

  1. Pingback: Alex and Brett Harris Point to Keller’s “Meaning of the City” Sermon « The Other Criminal

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