Day 231: Jeremiah 38-41; Fear and the Fall

Today, we come to it yet again, the fall of Jerusalem.  We have talked about it a couple of times already at the end of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  These two links will bring you back to these posts (over 100 days ago!).  Jeremiah‘s perspective on all that is happening is similar to what is recorded in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, but seen from a different point of view as he is still working desperately to save the city of Jerusalem and deliver the messages of the Lord of the Lord to King Zedekiah.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the fall of Jerusalem though.  It feels like we have covered this time and again through all of the prophesies and the accounts of its destruction.  There is another message for us today from the last conversation between Jeremiah and King Zedekiah.  The main theme of this?  Fear.

Jeremiah was punished for his unpopular message, imprisoned and thrown into a cistern because “he was going over to the Babylonians.”  I’m sure the public opinion poll of Jeremiah was pretty low at this point and the frustration level of all the Jews was super high.  This is a recipe for disaster for Jeremiah, one that winds up with him at the bottom of a cistern.  Clearly the people don’t want to hear what Jeremiah has to say… at least not until they are desperate, which is exactly what happens here.

The siege is almost over, the city has almost fallen, and King Zedekiah in a last ditch effort call for Jeremiah so he can hear from God one last time.  Jeremiah, knowing this game pretty well by now, doesn’t want to tell him anymore because he knows he’ll just get punished.  But after a promise, Jeremiah delivers one last message to him from the Lord, one that is, by prophetic standards, quite gracious.  I think that God recognizes that the King understands his folly and is seeking the Lord for repentance.  Yet even in that, Zedekiah is gripped with fear.  Jeremiah tells him to surrender… Zedekiah says he is afraid.  Ultimately, Zedekiah give into his fear and it costs him the entire royal court, his entire family, the whole city of Jerusalem, his eyesight, and his freedom.  All of this could have been avoided if Zedekiah had just listened to God.

Fear is a very powerful enemy, a gripping opponent, and a paralyzing emotion.  To often people in the world live (or rather don’t live) their lives because of fear.  I feel like there are times when I am even afraid to come before God because of the things that I have done.  I know my past and I know how God wants me to live and I see that these two things don’t match us.  In Zedekiah’s situation, the fear of what other people would think, say, and do if he followed God was what ultimately lead to his horrific capture and sentence.  Our culture pushes us to look and act a certain way so that people will like and appreciate us as well.  However, God calls us to live a certain way, a way in which He will indeed bless us, if we are faithful to Him.  Again, contrasting the Rechabites to Zedekiah, one will have a place serving God forever and the other will be completely cut off.  Sometimes faith and devotion to God may cost us a few worldly things, but those pale in comparison to the blessings we receive as faithful followers of God.

Day 230: Jeremiah 35-37; Rechabites and Obedience

The obedience of this clan of the tribe of Judah, those who were likely somehow connected to service in the house of the Lord is incredible admirable!  So much so that it warranted special attention in Jeremiah‘s book, even in the midst of the crisis that is going on during this time.  These folks had taken something like the Nazarite vow, like Sampson and others before him, to live a life wholly devoted to God and abstain from certain worldly things.  For Sampson, if you remember, it involved not cutting his hair, drinking wine, or eating leavened bread.  In this case, it meant simply abstaining from wine.  The vow, however, isn’t nearly as important as those that were (or weren’t) keeping it.  For roughly 200 years this family had kept this vow to the Lord throughout the times when the people of Israel were consistently and continually breaking the covenant.

The Rechabites Refuse Wine Photo Credit:

The Rechabites Refuse Wine
Photo Credit:

In the midst of all that is going on, this seems like a rather interesting side story.  However, Jeremiah is actually making a point here.  If you remember yesterday, we read about King Zedekiah releasing the slaves as a way of trying to appease the Lord by “following” the covenant.  He was trying to show some measure of faithfulness to God through his actions but had entirely missed the point.  It was a change of heart that God was looking for in His people and He hadn’t found it anywhere… except here.  In start contrast with the King of Israel and the people of Israel, the Rechabites had kept to the promise they had made to God for a long time.  This promise wasn’t to appease God, but was an outward sign of inward faith and commitment to the covenant.  In many ways, they were an example for the people of Israel, one that they could have learned a lot from.  God’s emphasis on them here, following the sad attempt by King Zedekiah, is His way of saying “this is what I want from you… devotion.”

You know, it seems as though it might be a good message for us today as well.  I don’t necessarily think that we need to be taking a Nazarite vow like these people, but they certainly are a good example as to how we should be living, not outwardly, but inwardly.  They demonstrated full devotion to the Lord and the covenant, the outward sign of which was their abstinence from alcohol.  Sometimes I wonder if the Church, especially in North America, might be heading in the same direction of the people of Judah, living however they want and thinking they can appease God when they need to.  It seems that more  and more, the Church is allowing people to do what they want, say what they want, live how they want, and then landing it under the umbrella of being saved by grace.  While that is entirely true, and thank God for that, I think we might be missing the point a little bit.  Paul speaks to this in his letter to the Romans, chapter 6:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

The example set for us by the Rechabites is one of total life transformation, one that starts with the inward commitment and is lived out in action.  We too need to walk in the newness of life, remembering that we once dead in our sins, but have been made live in Christ Jesus.

Day 229: Jeremiah 32-34; Prophecies Fulfilled

Unlike the book of Isaiah, the book of Jeremiah continues through the actual event of the judgment against Jerusalem by the hand of king Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army.  This is somewhat unique to the books of the prophets as most of them contain predictions, but few actually witness it, and only one truly chronicles it.  What is to come for the next couple of chapters is the interweaving of prophesies being made and prophecy being fulfilled, all from Jeremiah’s perspective.  The warnings have gone out, the people have been given their chance, but as the beginning verses of chapter 34 show us, the time has come for the judgment to be carried out.

There is a lot of mix between prophecy and historical events that are taking place here, but I think there are two main narratives that jump out of these three chapters.  The first is the account of Jeremiah purchasing the field.  The setting of this small account is that Jerusalem has been under siege for a year already and the land that Jeremiah buys is more than likely destroyed or occupied by soldiers.  On top of this, Jeremiah is a prisoner in the palace, likely because of all the negative prophesies that he has spoken against the king.  By all accounts, this is a bad investment.  All accounts that is, except those in the economy of the Lord.  Jeremiah is living into his faith that God would indeed fulfill His promise to bring the people back from exile.  Even in Jeremiah’s great faith though he struggles with doubts, which we see come out in his prayer to God.  After the prayer, God does not strike Jeremiah down for doubting, nor does He get angry, God simply answers Jeremiah’s doubts with honest and true answers, putting Jeremiah’s mind at ease.  We too are invited into this kind of a relationship with God in which our questions, doubts, and struggles are welcomed and given honest answers from our God whom nothing is to hard for.

The other short narrative that jumps out at me in the reading for today is that of king Zedekiah‘s actions to release the slaves in an effort to appease the Lord.  This account comes a bit later in the siege of Jerusalem, when the city is about to fall.  It seems as though Zedekiah finally realizes what he has done and tries to do some sort of a quick fix in order to win favor with God and avert the crisis that is looming.  However, it seems as though they weren’t to keen on this idea because they changed their minds almost instantly.  I kind of wonder if they were hoping that it would all instantly go away and when it didn’t they just took it back.

How much is this like us though as well.  We find ourselves in some sort of trouble and we try to make a quick fix in our lives so that God will be happy with us again.  Yet we know in our hearts that it is not the one or two things that we have done wrong in our lives that is the problem, our issue lies much deeper… its a heart issue.  King Zedekiah needed to change his heart before God, to come to repentance, not appeasement. There is nothing he could do to stay the judgment that God had brought on him.  I think the response of God is interesting here as well.  We so often fight for our own freedom, wanting the right to do whatever we want, but we don’t like the freedom of the consequences that come from our actions.  Yet this is exactly what God allows for Zedekiah.    In some ways, this idea just turns my stomach as I look at culture today and the push towards more and more ‘freedom’ to do whatever… I wonder when the ‘freedom’ of the consequences of culture’s actions will come rushing in.

Fortunately, our hope is in something much higher than culture and even sin… our hope is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  Nothing is too hard for Him.

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!