Day 228: Jeremiah 30-31; Promised Restoration

There is a lot of interesting juxtaposition that is going on in today’s reading.  Thus far, with a couple exceptions, Jeremiah‘s prophesies have been primarily negative and judgmental in nature.  While tends to be what Jeremiah is often remembered for, he also interweaves the message of hope and the promised restoration that is to come.  Like Isaiah and many of the other prophets, Jeremiah is relating events that are near at hand with events that are yet far off.  There is the promise that the nation of Israel would be restored.  This is fulfilled somewhat with the return of the exiles from Babylon, but the full restoration of Judah still has yet to take place, referring to the coming Kingdom of God.

Jeremiah also speaks of several things that will be changed about the earth “in that day.”  He points out that there will be unity among the people, righteousness and peace will reign in their hearts.  At one point Jeremiah says “The Lord will create a new thing on earth – a woman encircles (seeks out, protects) a man.”  This is a direct reference to the weak protecting the strong, or rather the last of need for physical protection because of the peace that will surround all things.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

This too is an interesting juxtaposition, relating Jeremiah’s reference to the sin that was engraved on the heart of the people of Israel like the engraving of Iron (Jeremiah 17) with what is going to happen in the days that are coming.  Rather than sin being the primary thing that is on people’s hearts, it will be the Law of God, His very Word that will be written/engraved on their hearts, not just stone tablets.  Ultimately Jeremiah’s vision and message here is referencing the coming of Jesus Christ and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God, something which God must do on His own initiative because we are incapable of doing it on our own.  Notice that Jeremiah points to the truth of the matter in that He says that God will be the one doing the writing and the transforming of the lives of His people.  This is the experience we too have when we experience new birth in Christ Jesus, a decision that we make, but a process that is started and continued by God Himself through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Day 227: Jeremiah 27-29; Give the People what They Want?

There are really two messages that we read about today from largely opposing worldviews and motivations.  One comes from a false prophet and the other from the true prophet of God.  One is a message the people want to hear and the other is rather unpopular with the people.  One carries Truth, the other carries with it lies, deceit, and the desire for attention only.  Today we get to observe as Jeremiah, the prophet of God, and Hananiah the false prophet square off as they give their respective messages to the people of Judah.

As I was reading this I found myself, much like Jeremiah, wanting to agree and believe Hananiah’s message of deliverance.  His message centered around the idea that God was going to relent from His judgment and restore the people of Israel.  Taken at face value this message is great!  I’m sure there were a lot of excited people that were very motivated and thought they would just need to hold out a bit longer.  In some ways I’m sure that the people thought that this was obvious because of how loving and merciful God is, and probably along the lines of a “better late than never” situation.  But if you look a bit deeper, there are some very glaring problems.  The people have disobeyed God and sinned repeatedly.  As is spelled out by the Law, the people would first actually need to repent from their sins and turn from their evil ways for God to relent from the punishment that is prescribed.  Hananiah’s message would seem to contradict that.  Like Jeremiah, I wish this was what would have come true.  I too wanted to say “Amen!” to his message.  But the simple fact is, it wasn’t true, even if it was what the people wanted to hear.

On the other hand, the message of Jeremiah was absolutely an unpopular one, yet it carried with it the Truth and assurance of God.  Jeremiah’s message shows up in a letter written to the exiles in Babylon, those that had been taken in the first exile in 593 B.C.  He tells them to hunker down, prepare for the long haul, be ready to stay for a while.  This, as you can imagine, was not what the people wanted to hear at all.  I’m sure the response to the first part of the letter went something like this: “Stay in Babylon?  Build a life for ourselves in a foreign land?  God has truly forsaken us.”  However, neither God nor Jeremiah leave them with that hopeless message.  One of the most famous verses in the Bible and its subsequent explanation is spoken here, leaving the people with a message of hope and an understanding that God has indeed not left them, but has everything under control and is working His will through them even in this time and in this foreign land.

For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Two messages delivered.  Only one is popular and only one is true.  It makes me think about many of the sermons and messages that are being preached in churches today, about the rise of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, and about how people flock to hear sermons from pastors with very poor theology.  It makes me wonder about the message of the Church as a whole in culture today.  Are we going along with the ideas of relative truth?  Spiritualism?  Civil religion?  Or are we listening for the Word of God in all that we do and in ever situation that we find ourselves in?  I sure hope its the latter…

Day 226: Jeremiah 24-26; The Good and the Bad

Today we read all about the 1st exile to Babylon.  Yes, I said the first.  See, Nebuchadnezzar actually attacked Jerusalem twice, first when Jehoiachin was king of Judah and then again 10 years later when Jerusalem and the Temple were utterly destroyed.  Jeremiah is living in this time, speaking to the people about the troubles and hardship they are about to endure, the judgment and exile that are taking and will take place in the coming years.  What is interesting about this message of Jeremiah’s is that it contains no call to repentance to the people of Judah nor does it give any good way out.  Jeremiah has turned the focus of the message from avoiding the disaster to the proper and appropriate response to it.  This is what the vision of the figs is all about in chapter 24.

The good figs represented the exile to Babylon, oddly enough.  This didn’t have anything to do with the good that was in them, but because their hearts were open and would respond to God in this time of difficulty.  Because of their openness and because they would be transformed and refined by this time, God would preserve them and eventually bring them back to the land.  God, through Jeremiah, makes the point of saying time and again that He would watch over them while they were in exile.  There is no where they could go that would be too far for His watchful eye.  There is a promise here in chapter 24:6-7 of God’s work to bring them back to the land and to rebuild His nation through them.

The bad figs, however, are the people who did not go as captives to Babylon.  They remained in the land somehow or escaped to Egypt, a rather obvious irony if you ask me and a blatant act of disobedience against the Law of God as well.  But that would have been par for the course for these people, and that’s really the point.  They are choosing to not trust in God’s providence of faithfulness in this crisis.  In many ways, it seems like they are thinking that they would actually be blessed because they didn’t go into exile, that they could somehow escape the judgment and the hardship that is to come.  Interestingly, one of the commentaries I read suggested that the people believed that their blessing was tied solely to the land itself, not the God that gave it to them.

I wonder if we too don’t sometimes think that way as well.  We strive desperately to maintain a comfortable lifestyle, a happy equilibrium where we feel happy and blessed.  While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, the sole pursuit of this can actually pull our hearts away from God.  We begin to pay more attention to the holding on to our things than we do to God who gave them to us.  “Trouble,” this commentary points out, “is a blessing when it makes us stronger, and prosperity is a curse if it entices us away from God.”  Perhaps, like the people of God, we need to not look at trouble as being completely bad, but as an opportunity to embrace God’s moving and work towards growing us up in Him.

Day 225: Jeremiah 22-23; The Burden of Leadership

Though it is a small section in our reading for today, there is a very important message that Jeremiah delivers in chapter 23.  It is a short section about the “righteous branch” and Jeremiah has two main points: Leaders are responsible for the direction that their people are going, and there is one coming who will lead in righteousness and justice.  This of course is referring to the coming of Jesus and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God.  This is one of the first times in the book of Jeremiah that a message of hope is delivered to the people of Judah.  So far it has been fairly negative, talking about destruction and judgment, but here we see a glimmer of hope in this prophecy of the coming Messiah.

Today’s reading raised an interesting question for me though about leadership.  As a Church leader, I understand that I am responsible for leading a group of people, in my case the praise team, and should be doing the best that I can to be a faithful, Christ-like leader for them.  What was most troubling for me here is the notion that I am responsible, as a leader, for their growth… or lack thereof.  Jeremiah is point out that the burden of leadership is great and the people that are leaders have a great responsibility to those that they lead.  It made me stop and think… am I doing a good job of leading?  I certainly would like to think that I am, but I guess I’m not the judge of that.

This also made me think about other leaders of the Church, of local, state, and national governments, their burden seems so much greater than mine.  I wonder how much of the moral decline in a country like the United States actually falls on the responsibility of the leadership?  If we are looking to our leaders to lead and all we see is squabbling, deceit, greed, and infidelity, does that lead us to think that it is more acceptable now to do such things?  Perhaps the greatest threat to the moral fabric of America is the mere fact that things like this are becoming common place in the news… Sports stars use drugs and kill people, Government officials text inappropriate pictures of themselves, movie stars cheat and divorce at an alarming rate… if the past is any indicator (and it usually is) and the Bible is at all true (which it definitely is) these people that we have set up as leaders will indeed lead us somewhere, unfortunately it seems as though they aren’t pointing us in the right direction at all.  Which brings up another very important point: the need to pray for our leaders.  We need to be in prayer for our bosses, pastors, elected officials, sports stars, movie stars, and the like.  These are the people that the American people seem to be looking to (sad as that may be), these are the people that will lead us, and we need to be in prayer that it would be God that is leading them.

Day 224: Jeremiah 18-21; The Unpopular Message

Jeremiah certainly did not carry with him the most popular of messages, and we see today that it did not earn him the “Judah stamp of approval” from any of his neighbors.  In fact, it action brought on him some very real persecution from his contemporaries, many of those that heard his message.  Can you blame them though?  Does anyone really like to receive bad news especially when it is the fault of the receiver?  I know I sure don’t.  I hate being told that I’m wrong.  I don’t like being forced to examine myself at times.  I would prefer to just live in a world where the things I do are at worst, not as bad at those “other people” that I know do bad things all the time.

I’m sure there were a number of people in Jeremiah’s day that probably thought the exact same thing.  “I’m not really that bad.”  Perhaps it was more along the lines of, “my neighbor is worse than I am, he’s got three idols in his house.”  However it was for the individuals, it is clear that all of Israel, specifically Judah in this instance, has collectively thought or said, “This message isn’t for us.  We are God’s people and He won’t turn on us.  Look at how bad those other nations are anyway.”  Sadly, I think that this is somewhat of the way that we operate in today’s culture as well.  Even Christians are thinking to themselves, “This isn’t so bad.  Look at the other people who do this sinful act many times more than I do.”

This movement towards the idea that one just needs to be a bit better than the worst person is one that has sickened culture and Christians across the globe.  Whether it comes from living a caviler lifestyle because you know you are forgiven or if you have truly bought into the idea that sin is a relative thing, the fact is you probably don’t want to hear a message like Jeremiah’s… or the Church’s either.

It probably doesn’t help all of us, Christian and non-Christian alike, are put off by people standing on the corners yelling at people to repent before God wipes them out.  Unfortunately this has in many ways been how people envision the church and it is entirely unattractive.  However, the Church does carry with it a message like this.  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  It’s the truth of human existence, we are all sinful by nature and therefore condemned under the Law of God.  No amount of good deeds, positive living, or charitable giving will change this at all.  But the Church also carries with it a much greater message: the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Salvation that is found in Him.  So very often we get caught up in a game of judgment, looking down on those that aren’t a part of the Church or those living somewhat suspicious lifestyles.  Yet we need to remember the emphasis of the Church’s message…  We do indeed carry the message of sin, that we are sinful, broken people, this is a message that people don’t want to hear and will probably sneer at you for.  However, in Christ Jesus that message is turned around!  We are forgiven not through our own deeds or actions, but by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Day 223: Jeremiah 15-17; Engraved on Their Hearts

Today Jeremiah is contrasting the judgment and punishment of the Lord with the way things could be and should be if they had not lived their lives in sin and rebellion against Him.  Jeremiah is also contrasting the nature of God with the actions that God is saying that He is going to take against His people.  We pick up the text in the middle of a conversation that Jeremiah and God are having about the coming day of judgment.  The prophet of God finds himself a part of this coming judgment and then asks the Lord to remember Him in the midst of all of this, to which the Lord does what is completely natural and normal for God’s nation, He forgives Jeremiah.  This forgiveness comes with a warning though.  God warns Jeremiah not to associate with people that are wicked because he too will be drawn into it.

God points out a fact that we don’t often think about I think.  My mom used to say about the friends that I chose, “if you jump in the mud with clean gloves on, the mud doesn’t get all glovey.”  This seems to be essentially what God is telling Jeremiah, an echo of a commandment to the Israelites not to intermarry with the people of the surrounding nations.  Yet they don’t listen and the final results are very clear… judgment is coming.  Why?  Because even in the midst of the many messengers and warnings that God sent, the people were so much a part of the sinful culture that they perpetuated that it was engraved on their hearts like iron engraved with an iron tool… AKA permanent, at least for them.  There was nothing that would have been able to remove an iron engraving except the destruction of the piece which would have meant melting it down and starting over.  An apt metaphor to be sure.

Jeremiah goes on, though, to show in some ways what the people should have been like.  A couple days ago we heard about the broken covenant.  Today Jeremiah goes through that again only this time he is taking quotes from other places in Scripture.  He would have been familiar with the writings of David and Solomon and as such he takes pieces from the Psalms and Proverbs and puts them in here as a way of pointing to the Word of God to show the people how it is that they should have lived.  In many ways, this would have pointed them all the way back to the Shema, the summary statement of the law on which, as Jesus points out in Matthew 22, all of the law and prophets hang on.  Jeremiah quotes Psalm 34 and Proverbs 16 in chapter 17 verse 7 and then Psalm 1 in verse 18.

I wonder if Jeremiah would have the same message for the Church of the 21st century?  Have we truly surrounded ourselves with Scripture?  Are we like a tree planted by streams of water?  Do we have God’s Word engraved on our hearts?  Or is something else taking that place?  Have we succumbed to the lure of culture and the false idols of technology, music, and individualism?  This is certainly a difficult question to have to answer, but most definitely one that we need to be aware of and asking ourselves often.

Day 222: Jeremiah 12-14; Destruction We Deserve?

As all of Scripture is linked together and the whole of the Bible’s message is primarily the grace of God that we find in Christ Jesus and the salvation that is offered though Him by His death on the cross, I couldn’t help but think about the ruin and disaster that is being prophesied about here.  Jeremiah’s message of what is to come for the people of God is dire, even shocking at times.  We are not talking about a petty attack from the Philistines, or even a prolonged drought and famine, we are talking about complete and utter devastation on a scale that these people would scarcely understood.  Sometimes I think that the messages of these prophets about the coming judgment were received in the same way that Noah’s warnings about the coming flood would have been.  Apart from not wanting to hear such a negative forecast of the future, I’m sure that the people just found it plain hard to believe because of the enormity of how bad it would be.  I’m sure if we were to go back to the year 2000 and tell someone about 9/11 or hurricane Sandy, they wouldn’t believe it either because of the sheer magnitude of the disaster (not saying that those were judgments, just making a comparison).

Yet as I was thinking about this, I wonder if this is not exactly that, a prophecy of exactly what we as sinful humans deserve.  As I was reading yesterday and today there were a couple times where I thought he was pointing out that we just can’t help but sin, it is our very nature.  However, this is no excuse and because of our continual sinning, we deserve this judgment too.  We deserve nothing less than total destruction; exile from the blessings of God.  Yet we know, and Paul tells us in the second chapter of Ephesians that there is another narrative that is going on here as well, the narrative of grace:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Paul’s letter, though I doubt it was meant to be this, is a counter for us to the reality of what we deserve because of our sins, that which is described in detail here.  We live in a different reality though, the reality of salvation.  We do not need to fear the wrath of God on us because we have been washed in the blood of the lamb.  Our sins our atoned for and washed away.  Thanks be to God!

Day 221: Jeremiah 9-11; Learn Not the Way of the Nations…

Apart from Jeremiah‘s continuing lament about the coming judgment on Judah and Jerusalem, today’s Scripture reading is largely about the idols that the people of Israel turned to when they should have been worshiping God.  Much of chapter 10 and 11 talk about this.  The people of God had turned from the worship of God to the idols and gods of other nations.  They had taken up witchcraft, sorcery, astrology, consulted with mediums and other oracles rather than looking to God in their times of plenty and times of want.  God, through Jeremiah, talks about the people being concerned about the “signs of the heavens” or the images that come from trees cut down in the woods.  They have no power, they cannot speak, they do not listen.  Yet it seems that the people have been and are bound and determined to have their idols no matter what.

This kind of timely actually, for a couple of reasons.  You may laugh a little bit at me for this, but lately I have been hearing more about conspiracy theories and signs of bad things to come than I remember in recent years.  Sadly, I have been hearing these things despite my being purposeful about ignoring things such as this.  But it seems as though there are many people that are either really paranoid or really board and are looking for coincidences… everywhere.  I won’t lie to you and say that I give all news a fair shake; I tend towards a more conservative view point which beings it own color to the mix.  However, across the board there are people claiming the very things that God is telling His people through Jeremiah to avoid.

The thing that I have found most laughable, and sadly, the most followed by some revolved around the recent birth of the new royal prince and all the things that come along with it.  If you are interested in, or unsure of what I am talking about, you may refer to this article, though I can’t really say that it entirely worth the read… unless you like a good comedy.  From a the radio host of a program called “Ground Zero” named Clyde Lewis, this is an article called “Babylon Done.”

Now apart from the many ridiculous things that he draws together, things that are clearly not linked at all, he also draws from a great deal of what one could consider “the signs of the heavens.”  He even makes references to the star of David, that which the wise men followed to see Jesus.  Clyde also speaks about the different astrological formations that are on the rise in the sky during this time and how the Royal Couple has done this or that to make sure that they are able to have a baby during this time.

True or not, I think there is a very specific response that we as Christians should take to things like this.  What is true in this article is that there are those out there who believe in these things and are willing to talk about it and spread that message.  Yet we know that there is nothing to it, that indeed star formations and constellation alignments do not give anyone power.  As we have read and will read many more times, the only power that anyone has if given to them by God Himself.  He alone holds the world in His hands and grants nations to rise and fall.  There is only one Savior, one who was able to affect the ultimate change in the world, and that is Jesus Christ.  We know too that in this time, as Satan is roaming to and fro on the earth, there will be those that would seek to sway us with idols and signs of the heavens, and we need to resist them, proclaiming the truth of the Gospel to all.  Things like this article may present an opposing worldview, but it also presents us with the opportunity to once again renew our faith and remind ourselves and all those around us where our hope truly lies: in Jesus Christ alone.

Day 220: Jeremiah 6-8; Backward or Forward?

A section of today’s Scripture reading really struck me as I was reading it, the section about the people’s stubbornness while caused them to move backwards and not forwards located in Jeremiah 7.  It started me thinking about the Church in America as it is struggles to find its identity in the 21st century.  There have been many comments about the Church being asleep lately, how people are leaving the church in droves resulting in a major decline withing the western Church.  To accompany that, there have been a lot of articles written about how exactly we as the church should confront that.  Along with this comes what I would assume would be a myriad of  differing opinions about how churches should handle themselves and how they should act in the culture around them.  This is, as it has always been, largely an identity issue, one that is being readdressed as the western Church wakes up in a “post-Christendom,” culture in which its overall influence is shrinking, not growing.

While I would hate to draw an inappropriate parallel between the 20th-21st century church in America and the people of Israel during the time of the latter kings, I think that there are some striking similarities and we could definitely identify with.  We have talked before about how the church today, as it tries to pull itself out of the decline that it has been in, is increasingly turning to various outside sources and influences to help improve its image in America and around the world.  Many people have viewed the church as outdated, lagging behind culture, and irrelevant so in response the church is working on improving its influence by becoming more modern using technology, generation based worship, and even compromising some of its beliefs for the sake of a greater acceptance.  Some churches have “branded” themselves as this or that, trying to reach the people around them.  Many churches have turned to consulting groups to do the legwork of researching the population around them and give them advice on how to best advertise themselves to “reach” their neighbors.  Yet I wonder if this is the answer.

Jeremiah points out here that, despite the many prophets and servants that God had sent them since the time that they came out of Egypt, the people did not listen to the voice of God or obey His commands.  In fact, they did not know God, listen to God, or obey God.  They did not recognize Him nor did they even know God’s Word or recognize God’s voice.  This is evident in how the people treated prophets like Jeremiah, not listening to him and even persecuting him because of the unpopular message that he carried from God.  Yet unpopular or not, it was still a message from God, one that they needed to heed.  I wonder, in our present context if this is not happening once again.  Do we as a church recognize the message of God?  Are we listening for His voice each day?  Or are our days over-crowded and our minds too full for us to hear what God is saying?  Do we spend time in God’s Word, getting to know and recognize God’s voice, or do we simply do what we want, pandering to the current cultural movements that are taking place.

The one place that I have seen this most is within the corporate worship setting.  There are movements within the Church to create a more “inviting” atmosphere, replacing theological “jargon” with simplified versions of the Bible and the Gospel.  While I am not opposed to this, in fact I think we the Church need to know how to communicate to our neighbors, perhaps we are losing more than just technical terms.  Maybe I’m wrong here, but I wonder if now more than ever, we need to know well the Word of God and the Gospel of salvation.  I wonder if, instead of trying on various cultural trends in our church like we try on clothes at the mall, we should go back to our well worn, seasoned clothes of the Gospel, Salvation History, and the good news of Jesus Christ.  Maybe its time for us to stop attempting to be so much like culture that we are no different than it, working to make ourselves so relevant that we become irrelevant (moving backward, not forward), and focus on the Gospel message and the love of God and His grace for all who believe in His name.

Day 219: Jeremiah 4-5; The Coming Judgment

Like Isaiah, the beginning of Jeremiah’s message has a lot to do with the coming judgment that will take place on the people of Judah for their disobedience to the Lord.  Yesterday, we heard Jeremiah picking up the notion of the people of Judah prostituting themselves before other gods, carvings and images that were made by man and had no power.  Interestingly, this message comes to us right after the commissioning of Jeremiah, a commissioning that actually is representative of the greater nation of Israel as well.  They were meant to be what Jeremiah is, the voice of God among the nations.  They too were blessed, touched and saved by God for the work that He had for them, yet they would not and did not follow His commands, neither did they fulfill the purpose to which they were called.

Apart from the book of Isaiah, this theme of what will happen to the people of God if they didn’t follow God’s commands is covered in the early books of the Bible as well, in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.  As God is laying out the laws for His people, the covenant which they are supposed to follow, He lays out a section of Blessings and Curses which spells out very clearly these things that Jeremiah, and Isaiah before him, prophesied about.  While it may seem like this is coming out of the blue for the people of Judah, they have been warned before and really, for the extent of their existence as a nation, they have worked under this understanding of the covenant.

Fol.148. Detail of God addressing Jeremiah

Fol.148. Detail of God addressing Jeremiah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This message, again like the message of Isaiah, seems so logical and calculating.  God is saying through His prophet that the people have not followed His commands.  They have not lived out the Shema, they have turned to other gods.  He reminds them that they have been warned time and again and that they have still not listened.  It all seems so emotionless, and kind of sets God up as this rather fist of iron ruler with no mercy or willingness to forgive.  Clearly the people have sinned and that seems to be all there is to it.  Herein lies the main thing that sets Jeremiah apart from the other prophets, emotion.

Too often, I think we take the emotion out of the message; Jeremiah doesn’t though.  While he is a human and likely reacting to the visions and messages that God is giving him about his home country, we also see in him some of the emotion that God exhibits in this message as well.  We always chalk God up to being a God of love, which is entirely true, but I don’t think we often give him credit for all of the other emotions that God has and clearly shows in the book of Jeremiah.  This judgment isn’t simply an emotionless decision.  Like a father disciplining a child, there is hurt on both sides, even if the father knows it is in the best interest of the child.  God knows that his children need to learn, and we have seen in Isaiah that this punishment is part of the process of refining the people of Judah, but it doesn’t make the pain any less great for God the Father either.  It is important for us to understand that, though God is indeed omniscient and knows all that is to come, the actions of punishment and judgment that He takes against His children are difficult even for God, even if He knows the punishment is necessary and the outcome will be good.  These are the actions of a loving God who wants what is best for His children, a love that can be seen in an entirely different light through the emotions of Jeremiah.

Day 218: Jeremiah 1-3; Intro to and Call of Jeremiah

Jeremiah is one of the more interesting and dynamic of the prophets, leading an emotionally tortured life but still holding to the message that the Lord gave him; a call to repentance and the coming judgment of Judah.  The book of Jeremiah takes place in the latter part of the 7th century and the early part of the 6th century, over the reign of the last 5 kings of Judah.  In relation to Isaiah, Jeremiah wrote and prophesied after his life, but probably takes place in between the writing of the first and second sections of Isaiah.  Towards the end of the book, and in to his second writing, the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah prophesies about the coming judgment and finally witnesses the fall of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple of God.  He takes part in the exile of Judah, finishing his writings of lamentation as one of the exiles of Judah.

"Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Je...

“Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The call of Jeremiah happens is similar fashion to that of Isaiah.   It is interesting that the call of these two prophets revolves largely around the touching of the mouth to represent the giving of speech to these two great voices.  Jeremiah’s calling also revolves around a promise and assurance from God that He knows and has known Jeremiah since before he was even formed, a testament to Jeremiah’s preordained purpose set out by God.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”  But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,

“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.

Stories of calling like this should cause us to think about our own callings as well.  While we often struggle with the concept of free will in relationship to the fact that God has a plan for the universe, we should not become bogged down in the details.  It is difficult for us to understand how these things all work together, but the fact remains that God has a plan for each of us, a plan that He has and will set in place.  For some it may be to be a CEO, others a factory worker.  Some of us may be Doctors and other pastors.  However, whatever God has called us to, He has done so that we may honor Him in our work.  We too have been touched, filled with the Holy Spirit that through our words and deeds we may bring glory and honor to God.  As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Day 217: Isaiah 65-66; As If It Has Already Been Accomplished

The last chapters of Isaiah continue along the theme of the last days and what the world and life will look like when all things are made right.  The writer, likely a student of Isaiah’s teachings a few generations removed and a returned exile from Babylon, is painting in broad brush strokes an image of “the day of the Lord.”  Yesterday we spoke about some of the different ideas about how that is going to take place.  My conclusion, if you remember, is that our focus should not so much be on the how and the when, but on the hope and assurance of the actual event happening.

This thought process is continued here in these last chapters of Isaiah, which do a great job of drawing the whole book and the themes contained therein together.  The writing here is written in a very particular format, one that the Hebrew people would have recognized.  Isaiah, or rather pseudo-Isaiah, is likely writing about a vision that he has or is receiving from the Lord, a message that is being given to him by God through the Holy Spirit.  For the Hebrew people, such messages and images were considered glimpses into the greater reality of the universe.  Time isn’t necessarily the linear thing that we know it as, not for God anyways, who stands outside of time and sees all things from beginning to end.

What this meant to the Hebrew people and what it means, or at least should mean for us in our present context is that these things are assured.  How assured?  So assured, that the writer is speaking about these future things as if they have already been accomplished.  Indeed these events, as they have been foreseen in a vision from God are so certain, that the Lord can say it as if He actually had done them already.

Talk like this is hard for us to understand.  How is it possible that these things have already been done if they haven’t come to pass yet?  For us, this calls into question things like free will and autonomy.  How can we truly be free if the future is already set.  I cannot say that I have those answers today.  I can say that the Hebrew people would not have been as concerned about this, that the paradox of the Divine interaction with the Created order had things that would simply not be understood and would have to be taken on faith.  I know that this is not something that we, especially in the Western culture, want to hear.  We don’t like to have questions, but prefer to have things explained away.  Yet this isn’t always how God works.  Not all the mysteries of God will be revealed until that day… a day which is so sure to happen it is as sure as the breath I took a moment ago.

And it is in that day that we see the miraculous things that will happen.  Unity… Peace… Restoration… Joy… All the world made right as is should be once again.  We wait in eager expectation for that day, the glorious Day of the Lord.  Amen!  Come Lord Jesus!

Day 216: Isaiah 61-64: The Coming Day of the Lord

There is a lot to be said about the end times.  Especially now as we see things and around the world get progressively worse (depending on your point of view), and culture take a moral nosedive, the talk of the time that Christ returns and when God makes all things right is greater than it ever has been before.  We’ve seen cults come and go, denominations split over eschatological views, the books upon book being written about what things will be like, when these things will happen, and how it will all play out when they do.  Often times we find people quoting Isaiah, Daniel, and Revelation as source material for their views on specific events and timelines for how the return of Christ will be ushered in.  Some people have even gone so far as to predict dates and times, all of which have failed of course, that Christ will come back.  Laughably, to date, we have survived well over 100 end of the world scenarios as well as, what could be considered countless dates in which Christ was to supposedly return.

Yet this topic is one that is rather heavy in the Bible.  It is spoken of quite frequently throughout the Old Testament, in the prophets especially, and is addressed at length in the New Testament (specifically in Revelation) and by Jesus Himself while He was still on earth.  There are few topics that are more controversial and have been more divisive in the Christian Church than that of eschatology.  However, in that same vein, there are few topics that are truly less important from a salvation aspect than that of Eschatology.  As a member of the Reformed Church, growing up in the Reformed tradition, and studying the Bible at a Reformed Seminary, I know what my denomination believes, and I also know the arguments for different denominations and thought processes for the 4 main eschatological views of the Church.  However, it is not my intent to promote one over the others here today.  In fact, I truly believe that the divisiveness that this topic has had in the Church has really come from us making central a belief or viewpoint that is truly peripheral to the Christian faith.  Isaiah, Daniel, Revelation, and the myriad of other places in the Bible that this is addressed would seem to substantiate this opinion as well.  Instead of talking about what is going to happen and how, these Scriptural texts paint an image for us of what life will be like when it happens.  Today’s reading is just one of those passages.

Our text today starts our with Scripture that Jesus Himself reads at the beginning of His ministry:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…

Jesus says, in Luke 4, after reading this text that it is indeed fulfilled by His reading it and the people hearing it.  Knowing this, we have to believe that this text in Isaiah is directly linked to the Incarnation of Jesus.  With this in mind, we have to also understand all of these texts, which seems to contain the same themes, are inexplicably linked to Jesus Christ as they are all about the day of the Lord.  Sure, these passages talk about many different topics about the day of the Lord, namely Salvation, vengeance, mercy, and freedom, but these are all subtopics of the same event, the coming of the Lord.

Some may ask though, if this passage was fulfilled when Jesus came, why has not all of this happened yet?  Clearly the world is still quite messed up, things are obviously not as the should be.  They would be right in saying this.  Salvation has come; Jesus came and lived the life that we could not and died the death that we deserve.  He opened for us the path to God once again so that we could be in relationship with Him.  Jesus’ actions in healing the sick and driving out demons was but a foretaste of the judgment and wrath against sin that is to come.  However, the same healing, love, mercy, and forgiveness that Jesus showed people is a foretaste of what is to come in when He comes again.  Sin was defeated; sin is defeated.  What we are experiencing now can only be described as the death throws of one whose doom is assured.  Restoration is coming and all will be made right on that great and glorious day when we will see Jesus face to face and the dwelling of God will be here on Earth (oops, that is a bit of Reformed Theology – reference Revelation 21).  We do not truly know when this will happen, or the specific series of events.  Will there be a rapture?  Will there be a literal 1,000 year reign?  We’ll explore these topics around Christmas time.  What is important is that we know and have hope in the fact that Jesus has promised that He will come back.  His return is assured.  The restoration of the world is assured.  As the Church, we should be working to usher in this Kingdom here on Earth, and leave the details of how and when to God alone.

Day 215: Isaiah 58-60; Authentic Actions

Today’s reading starts out with a subject that is near and dear to my heart.  As a worship leader, I spend a rather large time thinking about Christian worship and the actions behind it.  Moreover, I don’t just think about what we do, but why we are doing it and how we are doing it.  Are the things that we do on a Sunday morning (and I speak of Sunday morning because our corporate worship is a reflection of our worship in day to day living) actually bringing us into an encounter with God.  Are the songs that we sing, the actions that we take, the posture that we assume all things that are bringing us closer to God?  Or are the simply the things that we all feel like we are doing?  Are we just taking these actions because we’ve always taken these actions… is tradition actually the god we are worshiping?  Are we more concerned about whether we like the song… the beat… the instruments?

In many ways, this is a question that has been asked of the people of Israel, God’s chosen, for many hundreds of years, and is one that is focused in on when it comes to the prophets.  If you remember back to the narrative history, there were a lot of things that pulls the people away from the Lord.  No matter what it was though, it all wound up being idolatry because it pulled them away from worshiping the Lord.  Interestingly enough though, we don’t hear of these things creeping in by way of the Temple.  No, usually corporate worship is the last thing to be affected by the actions of Satan as he tries to lead us astray.  It starts of with little things at home.  Busy schedules lead to a desire for ‘me time,’ not that me time is bad but it does often tread the line of selfishness.  Selfishness has a tendency to snowball into a lifestyle of ‘me-centered activity’ which then ends up showing up in how we worship, wanting songs that fit our style of music and sermons that are about what we want to hear.  Christians today “church shop” until they find the church that is “just right for them.”  Culture doesn’t help this at all because we live in a very individualistic society where we can have anything we want at any time…  Sound familiar?

Yet they seek me daily
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
    and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
    they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
    and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
    will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
    and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
    and a day acceptable to the Lord?

While there are a myriad of other things we could look into as far as idols go, the fact is that how we worship corporately is a reflection of how (and what) we worship individually.  God addresses this head on here (and in many other places in the Bible as well) pointing out that what the Israelites were doing was so self focused that it meant nothing to Him.  Even their worship had become about them.  The writer is addressing fasting in chapter 58, but fasting is an element of worship, a way of humbling oneself before God.  Yet it is clear that the people of Israel missed the mark, as we too are missing the mark.  God goes on to say,

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

The Church today is falling victim to a selfish and individualistic culture.  The ‘Worship Wars’ that took place and are still taking place are just an example of this.  Churches divided because of selfish desires.  Congregations that are worshiping separate just to keep people happy that they can have “their own music.”  The right had of the body is trying to eat while the left had is covering the mouth.  The left foot is trying to walk while the right leg drags behind.  We need to get beyond ourselves and seek after God once again… is your church’s worship centered on God?  Or is it about keeping people happy?  Is your worship centered on God?  Or are you only concerned with keeping yourself happy?

Day 214: Isaiah 54-57; Third Isaiah and the Lord's Covenant

Starting at chapter 56, we enter into the third part of the book of Isaiah.  Before we move on to that though, let’s recap what we have heard and seen.  The first section of Isaiah, chapters 1-39 were largely prophetic oracles against the nations intermixed with messages of hope for all people in the coming “day of the Lord” and the Savior that God would send after these judgments happened.  The second section of Isaiah, chapters 40-55, is considered to be written much later, after these judgments have taken place and the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah had been taken captive.  In this section we find a considerable amount of comforting messages from God to His people regarding the situation that they are in.  These messages are also messages of hope, lessons of the past and how they got here, and prophecies of the coming Messiah, the “servant of God” who would bring with Him a reign of righteousness, justice, and peace.

As we move into the third section of Isaiah, chapters 56-66, the tone of Isaiah somewhat changes again.  It is thought that this section is actually an anthology of 12 different passages that were written at different times, for different reasons, likely by students of the prophet Isaiah a few generations removed.  These were writings to the captives as they returned from exile to Judah, specifically to Jerusalem, and found themselves in yet another foreign situation.  Likely these students couple have been priests or religious leaders that were contemporaries of Ezra and Nehemiah.

The messages of the second and third section of Isaiah flow well into each other though as the focus shifts from the covenant of God in its current context, to what He will do in sending ‘His Servant,’ who we know as Jesus, and then into the future and a look at how God will indeed complete this restoration.  Along with this we are once more given a glimpse into the worldview of the people of Israel, how they view God and how they Divine and the Terrestrial are so intimately linked together.  In some ways too, the people of Israel, specifically the Kingdom of Judah who are the only people left of the once great nation of Israel, are going through a time in which their worldview is being dramatically changed and transformed as they are discovering that the center of the universe is not actually a physical place, like the Temple or the Tabernacle, but rest in God who is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.

All of this, the whole message though, as we can see today, rests once again on what some would consider to be one of the central themes of the Bible: God’s covenant relationship with His people.  We have seen this covenant develop from the simplicity of God’s promise to Adam, to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David.  Here, now as the people of Israel are returning from their exile, the judgment that they endured, God is reiterating once again that He is their God and they are His people and, despite the all that has happened, their relationship is not changed.  Like a father who has to punish his children, even when they don’t fully understand, God’s loving words after the fact are quite clear, “I still love you more than you can possibly understand.  Our relationship has not changed.  The Covenant I made with you is everlasting, nothing you do will ever change it.”  This message is not only for the people of Israel though, but for us as well.  Acts 2 says “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  Through Jesus Christ we too are members of God’s people, heirs to this and all of God’s promises and we too find ourselves caught up in this everlasting covenant relationship with God.