Luke 4 – Wilderness

Read Luke 4

The theme of “wilderness” is something that is quite prevalent throughout Scripture.  From the very beginning, Scripture records people heading into the wilderness as a part of their journey.  One of the more famous of these is that of the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years between their captivity in Egypt and entering the promised land.  King David also spent time in the wilderness being chased by Saul before finally ascended to the throne.  The people of Israel also experienced a “wilderness” type event in the Babylonian Exile.

All of these events have something in common, though, as they are all intimately related to the shaping of identity.  Israel leaves Egypt as a group of slaves and enters Canaan as a nation, the people of God.  David enters into the wilderness as an anointed shepherd but emerges as Israel’s great king.  Jesus is baptized, given His identity by the voice of God Himself, and enters the wilderness for 40 days before emerging to begin His ministry here on earth.  Each of these Old Testament events points forward to Jesus and brings meaning to His identity as the Messiah.

We too are a part of this story.  We find our identity in Jesus Christ and that identity is continually shaped and molded through the work of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives.  Our lives too contain times of “wilderness” experience when God seems distant and life seems hard.  Yet these often serve much the same purpose as those of the Bible, to develop and establish our identity and to teach us dependence on God.

Have you ever experienced a time like this in your life?  Sometimes we spend that time asking “where is God?”  Perhaps a better question is “what is God teaching me in this time?”

**Many of the colored words here are Links to other posts related to this topic.  Feel free to click and explore other writings on this subject!



Day 351: Hebrews 1-4; Introduction to Hebrews

Today we make a transition out of the Pauline Epistles and into what is known as the “general epistles.”  These books, Hebrews – 2 Peter, and Jude, are books that are written not to a specific church or person, but rather to the general audience of the Church throughout the Roman empire as it continued to grow and address a variety of issues and subjects, which compliment Paul’s writings well.  Paul is not considered to be the author of any of the general epistles either.  Most of the authors’ names show up in the title, with the exception of the book of Hebrews, whose author is anonymous.

The book of Hebrews is the first and longest of the general epistles.  There has a been a great deal of debate throughout the years about the authorship of this book.  Dr. Robert VanVoorst, in his book Reading the New Testament, points out that there have been many suggestions as to who Hebrews was written by.  Some, though this is not generally accepted anymore, suggest that Paul wrote this book.  This has been largely dismissed due to the major grammatical and stylistic differences between the writing in Hebrews and that of the Pauline letters.  VanVoorst writes, “The first author to cite this epistle was Clement of Rome (around 96 C.E.), although he does not say who wrote it… From the Earliest times in church history, whenever Hebrews’ authorship was mentions there has been great dispute about it.  Tertullian (in the second century) was the first to suggest Barnabas as its author.  The Protestant reformer Martin Luther in the sixteenth was the first to suggest Apollos, and this is a common conclusion today.  Adolf von Harnack, the greatest church historian of the nineteenth century, proposed that Priscilla was the author, which if true would make Hebrews the only NT book to be written by a woman.  (This makes an intriguing explanation for Hebrews’ anonymity.)   All in All, the argument about authorship is full of conjectures.”

While the author may not be known, it is very clear that this letter is written to the Church in general, and especially to Jewish converts to Christianity that might have been backsliding into Judaism.  It could also be that Jewish pressure on the Christian Church was on the rise and this was a letter written by one of the leaders of the Church to encourage those who were facing persecution from the Jews.  Many people think this letter was written in the mid 60’s A.D. because of its many references to the Temple which was destroyed when the Romans put down a Jewish revolt in A.D. 70 and destroyed for the final time, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple.  However, it isn’t abnormal for those writing after A.D. 70 to write as if the Temple of God is still standing, something common because of the beliefs that the Jewish people held about the house of God and the deeper nature of God’s existence and presence.

Though it is fun to know the context in which the letter is written, it is the content which is significantly more important and to which we turn now and for the next couple of days.  In some ways, Hebrews could be seen as an exposition on the speech that Stephen gave in Acts 7, when he was before the counsel of Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Remember how he walked through the story of the people of Israel and God’s faithfulness, how it all led up to God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, their Messiah?  Well, we see a great deal reference to the Jewish religious systems here in the book of Hebrews as the writer references God’s work in the past and how it points to Jesus as the Messiah and then continues on into what that means for the believers, the Church, and the world.

You can see this general trend even in the beginning chapters of this book, our reading for today.  The author begins by making the point that God isn’t doing something new here, He has always been speaking through various means.  Whether Abraham, Isaiah, Moses, David, or any of the priests that Israel had, God used them to reveal Himself.  Yet now “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”  It is not as though God is doing something different here, He continues to speak and reveal Himself, the truest revelation of which comes in the form of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Word made Flesh.

We see also that the author is making tons of references to Old Testament Scriptures and again, to Jewish religious systems.  He talks about the high priests, the prophets, Israel’s rejection of God, Joshua, Moses, and Abraham in the first four chapters.  Obviously, whoever was writing this was very acquainted with the Scriptures.  In many ways, one of the messages of the book of Hebrews is the understanding that we can’t fully know or understand Jesus without understanding all that God had been doing in redemptive history to work up to His coming.  As we have said time and time again, the who religious cult of Judaism and the sacrificial rites, the religious structures, the providence of God in their lives, and even the giving of the law all point towards this greater event in the coming of the Messiah.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.



Day 296: Luke 2-3; The Birth of Jesus

The Gospel of Luke contains the highest degree of detail surrounding the account of Jesus’ birth.  Like we talked about yesterday, Luke’s whole goal and purpose in writing this Gospel was to “compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us”  as he writes in his intro to Theophilus.  Luke wants to know the facts, which is why there is so much detail surrounding His birth and also why there is very little mention of the Scriptures that these events are fulfilling.  Unlike Matthew, this is not the emphasis of Luke’s writing.  Yet if we read the Old Testament and Luke’s account of Jesus’ life carefully, it becomes quite clear that He is familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and is showing that there are definite similarities and much fulfillment that are taking place.

Luke’s account of the immediate details of Jesus birth are probably the most familiar of all four Gospel narratives.  Of the Scriptures that are read on Christmas day in my experience, Luke 2:1-20 was probably there over 75% of the time.  Very often we get caught up in the commercialized version of Jesus’ birth, focusing on the star and the three wise men (Magi) that come to visit Him, which is recorded in Matthew.  Yet today I notice that this particular detail is left out of the passage in Luke.  As a matter of fact, Luke records something that would be considered the exact opposite of Magi as he tells of the visit of the shepherds.  Rather than being honored by the highest of the high, baby Jesus is worshiped by the lowest of the low.  Only the diseased would have been considered lower in Jewish society.  Yet these are the people that God chose to reveal the “good news of great joy.”  I think this difference in the two Gospels marks both the significance of Jesus’ birth and the broad scope of who it would impact.  As the angels say, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people!”  Both the high and the low from Israel and abroad were drawn to worship Him.  More than that, even the priests and prophets of that time are moved by God’s ‘invasion’ of planet earth.  Truly Christ’s incarnation is for “all the people.

In today’s reading, we also get the account of Jesus’ interactions with the priests at the Temple during the Passover.  We are seeing that Jesus is not just some ordinary kid, but that He is growing up as the Son of God and even at this young age He is “being about His Father’s business.”  It is clear that His parents do not quite fully understand all that is going on in Jesus’ life.  They are astonished that He would act like this, making them worry and search for Him, yet Jesus seems relatively un-phased by the whole thing as if it were only natural for Him to be in the Temple.

Finally today, we see John the Baptist come on to the scene.  Luke makes a point to link John’s ministry in the desert to the passage of Isaiah 52, talking about the one who would come to prepare the way for the Lord.  There is much to be talked about that has to do with Jesus’ preparation for ministry, including His baptism and wilderness experience, however I think today it is important to recognize the preparation that John is doing in the name of the Lord.  We read that “the Word of the Lord came to John” in much the same language that is used to talk about the prophets in the Old Testament.  Though Luke doesn’t always make a point to link what he is writing to the Old Testament Scriptures, in chapter 3 He does it several times making sure that the reader knows that this isn’t something entirely new that is happening, but instead is a continuation of what has already been foretold.  John is preparing the way by calling people to repentance, a voice calling in the desert after several hundred years of what seemed like silence from God.  This direct link along with Luke’s linking Jesus to all of Israel’s history all the way back to Adam is a very specific attempt to show that God has been at work throughout history to bring all of this to fruition in the person of Jesus Christ.



Day 295: Luke 1; Introduction to the Gospel of Luke

The relationships between the three synoptic g...

The relationships between the three synoptic gospels. Source: A Statistical Study of the Synoptic Problem by A.M. Horore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Gospel of Luke is the third and last of the “synoptic” Gospels.  Along with Matthew and Mark, the Gospel of Luke seeks to tell the story of Jesus’ life in a fairly similar sequence, often with somewhat similar wording.  In fact, almost half of the content of the books of Luke and Matthew are found in the book of Mark, and about a quarter of the content of Matthew and Luke are the same, though independent of Mark.  The book of John is also one of the Gospels, however it does tell the story of Jesus in quite the same order as the others for various reasons mostly relating to the purpose of John’s writing and his audience.  These “discrepancies” are sometimes sighted as a way of showing that the Gospels are not entirely reliable when it comes to the facts and timeline of Jesus’ life.  However, in many ways this is similar to having four people that were at an event tell you about their experience, not one would be exactly the same as the other, but all would be true from their particular perspective.  If you combine this with the differences in purpose for writing these Gospels, I think that we are blessed in that we can see a several different perspectives of Jesus’ life and ministry, all working together to give us a more in depth view of our Savior.

Though we don’t really know much about Luke as a person, tradition holds that he was a doctor and a contemporary of Paul.  It is also likely that he was a Gentile Christian convert, not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus, but who did considerable research into His life and ministry.  If Mark was the “News Report” version of Jesus’ life, Luke would be the documentary.  Luke is the longest of the Gospels, and has really contains the most detail.  Apart from the Gospel of John, Luke also holds within its texts, the highest percentage of unique material of the four Gospels.  Connected to this book is the book of Acts, which we could call “2nd Luke” because it is a continuation of the story as the Apostles transition into the early Church after Jesus is taken to heaven.

Our reading today begins the narratives of both John the Baptist and Jesus, talking about their conception and the miraculous events surrounding them  If you read closely the story of Zechariah, you’ll notice several similarities between his story and the story of Abraham and the birth of Isaac.  Both are hold and have barren wives who miraculously conceive in an advanced age.  Both births are foretold by God and are doubted by those that hear them.  More than this though, both births signal the fulfillment of God’s word in both the Covenant and the Prophets and show the reader that God is at work and on the move in a way that only God can be.

Luke 1 also contains the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise for all that has been going on.  Take a moment to think about all that had been going on in Mary’s life.  She had been taken out of her ordinary existence and thrust into the very center of God’s working on earth.  She had been visited by Gabriel, one of the Archangels that has been in the very presence of God almighty.  She now is carrying a baby, still a virgin, of whom she has been told that “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  What is her reaction in all of this?  A song of praise to God for all that has happened.  While she could have been afraid, uncertain, and even upset, she recognizes that God is doing something in her life and she trusts Him, and lifts up this song of praise, one of my favorite in the Bible:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.



Day 279: Matthew 1-4; Intro to the New Testament, The Gospels, and Matthew

The New Testament Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

The New Testament
Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

And so we come to it at last, the New Testament, the fulfillment of God’s promises to send a Messiah, the fulfillment/expansion of the covenant that God made with His people.  In the New Testament, the term “God’s People” also takes on a new meaning as the promise of reconciliation and redemption extends outward from the people of Israel to encompass the whole world!  In addition to this, we see the culmination of God’s work throughout the whole of the Old Testament to bring about the coming of Jesus in the New Testament and the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies and covenantal promises that had been spoken of for over 1000 years, all coming to fruition in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

The Gospels are the first books of the Old Testament, four books that recount the life and work of Jesus Christ from His birth all the way to His ascension.  Each book is written by a different person, two Apostles, Mark who was an associate of Paul, and Luke (also the author of Acts) who was a doctor and one of the first gentile Christians.  Each of the Gospels is written to a different audience with a different purpose.  This will become apparent as we read through each of these books, however here is some basic information about each of the four Gospels, taken from both the NIV Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House Publishing, 1991) and Reading the New Testament Today by Robert E. VanVoorst (Wadsworth, 2005).

Wordle of the Gospels Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Wordle of the Gospels
Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Matthew: Written specifically to the Jews in an effort to prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah that the prophets foretold and was the eternal King in the line of David.

Mark: Written to Christians in Rome to encourage the Christians who were undergoing persecutions by relating the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Mark is said to be the first of the Gospels written.

Luke: Written to “Theophilus” which mean one who loves God, but also to Gentiles and people everywhere in an effort to present an accurate account of the life of Christ and also to present Christ as the perfect human and Savior.  Luke also makes an effort here and in Acts to challenge believers to be more devoted to the faith, especially its growth and defense.

John: Written to Christians and searching Non-Christians to prove that Jesus is the divine Son of God, the Word of God incarnate, and also to deepen faith in Jesus as Son of God and the giver of life, and to encourage readers to confess this faith  openly in the face of threats from synagogue authorities.

The Gospel of Matthew Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

The Gospel of Matthew
Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

As I said, the book of Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish audience, which is apparent right from the beginning of the book.  If you remember some of the culture we learned about the Hebrews, which are now referred to as “the Jews,” the orientation of their lives was towards God, which for them meant looking backward to creation and backing into the future.  This is a bit different than contemporary orientation of looking toward the future.  So naturally we being with a genealogy, a way of linking Jesus Christ with the ancestors of Israel, all the way back to Abraham and the original calling of the people of God by God Himself.  In effect, Matthew is proving right off the bat the Jesus is a decedent of Abraham and from the house and line of King David, two prerequisites for the coming Messiah which, as was said earlier, was one of the purposes of Matthew: to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the predicted King that was to come, in the line of David, to set up God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Saint Matthew Icon Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Saint Matthew Icon
Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Matthew does a great deal of linking the Old Testament Scriptures to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  There are multiple ways in which he does this.  The genealogy which we just talked about is just one way.  Matthew’s account of the angel visiting Joseph also signifies a divine happening, a message directly from God.  Matthew points to this as well, something he does throughout his book.  He writes, “All this took place to fulfill…” In this case, the happening of Mary’s conception took place to fulfill with Isaiah wrote about in Isaiah 7, “The virgin will be with child…”  Interestingly enough, the course of Jesus’ life in the book of Matthew actually mirrors that of the course of Israel’s life as well going to Egypt to escape death while he was very young, a wilderness experience which lasted for 40 days (a mirror of Israel’s wilderness wanderings), and a Baptism before he began His ministry (which is reminiscent of Israel crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan before entering the promised land).  This too, we see was “to fulfill all righteousness” as Jesus says.

Today we also see a taste of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as well.  The very route the Jesus took, Matthew says, was to fulfill what is written in Isaiah 9 about those being in darkness who have seen a great light.  From there he begins calling disciples, preaching and healing the sick.  For one reason of another, the work of Jesus as it has been preached in the Church is often boiled down to His work on the cross to die for our sins.  While this is a very major part of the work of Jesus, we also need to remember that His work was also with the sick, the poor, the homeless, and all those who were downtrodden.  As we will see in the coming chapters of books, Jesus work in the world is the very embodiment of what Israel was suppose to be, an assault on the powers of darkness in the world.   In many ways, Jesus too is an example of the outpouring of the wrath of God against sin, disease, and all forms of injustice.  He has come to bring healing, forgiveness, and restoration… the true nature of the Kingdom of heaven.



Day 238: Lamentations 3-5; Hope for Restoration

As we come to the final writings of Jeremiah, I think it is important for us to see where Jeremiah places his hope.  As we talked about yesterday, it is important for us to place our hope in God when we are faced with times of struggle and trial, when our live seems to be left in ruins.  Whatever it is that we have endured, we must continue to bring it before the Lord and allow our grief and struggle to be laid at His feet.  Jeremiah follows this path of Lament, crying out over the devastation that he has witnessed.

However, he doesn’t just stop his prayer or questioning of God at complaining and crying our over all that has happened.  Like Job, David, and many others before him, Jeremiah continues on in his prayer to speak of the righteousness, the goodness, and the faithfulness of God.  He acknowledges that the people of God needed this and that the Lord was right and just in His actions.  It is for the people of God that these things have been done, even though they hurt now they will lead to great things.  Jeremiah points out that the people need to examine their hearts and their ways as they go through this time, to see what God is doing within them.

It doesn’t stop there either though.  Jeremiah says that the people need to lift up praise and thanksgiving to the Lord in this time.  Even in the midst of all these struggles, the Lord has been good to them and continues to be faithful to them as well.  We often have the tendency too see only the negative things in our lives, the struggles and trials that take place day in and day out.  When we do this, we fail to look at the rest of life.  If we are only focused on the 5% of things that are difficult and terrible, we are neglecting the other 95% of our lives where God continues to be faithful and bless us.

Jeremiah doesn’t stop there either though.  Again, like Job, David, and so many others, Jeremiah prays for restoration.  It isn’t bad for us to ask God to put things back together for us.  I think that this is a very important part of this prayer and a great way to end this section of the writings of Jeremiah.  Reread chapter 5 and see the words that Jeremiah uses.  He asks God to remember all these things, to see the plight that has come upon His people, and to bring about restoration to them.  I think it is interesting that Jeremiah also asks God to return the people to “the days of old.”  Something tells me God chuckled a little bit when He heard Jeremiah say that.  It wasn’t to how things used to be that God was going to bring His people to, it was to a new day, a glorious day, when all things would be made right and restored!  This is the day that God is working toward in us as well.  When we face times of testing and we wish that things were just put back to the way they were, remember that God is working in us and doing a new thing within us, shaping and sculpting us as a potter shapes a new clay pot.  It takes a lot of work, but eventually we will be made into the image of God in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us each and every day.



Day 237: Lamentations 1-2; Jeremiah's Lament

The book of Lamentations is the record of Jeremiah‘s visceral and guttural reaction to the witnessing of the City of Jerusalem and the Temple of God being burned.  Written as a series of poems, each chapter chronicles Jeremiah’s grief, questions, and ultimately the request for God to bring about restoration.  In many ways, this book reminds me of a great Psalm of Lament, the cry of one who feels forsaken by God in the midst of tragedy and sorrow.  Jeremiah’s writings follow the pattern of lament, something he would have been familiar with as a part of Hebrew worship practices.

Today’s reading is very dark in nature.  Jeremiah is looking over what is likely the burning or smoldering city that he once lived in and loved and is weeping for her.  He looks and sees the Temple of God, the very center of the universe for him, lying in ruins, broken and burned beyond recognition or repair.  For Jeremiah, this is complete and utter devastation on a scale that was previously unimaginable.

We have all experienced times in our life where we feel like Jeremiah, looking over the broken pieces of what used to be our live and weeping over them.  Sometimes I think, especially for men, we don’t feel as though we can cry, weep, or mourn for a loss because it shows weakness and even a lack of faith.  Jeremiah’s reaction here would seem to communicate otherwise.  There is no lack of faith in Jeremiah’s voice, no doubt at  God’s existence or His work through all of this.  What is important here, I think, is Jeremiah’s attentiveness to God and God’s work in this crisis.

Life is rough and times can be tough.  There is no doubt that we will face time when we feel like the world that we are living in has been smashed to ruins.  As we learned from David, it is ok to be upset and even to go to God with the problems.  In fact, in times like that the most important thing for us to do is indeed go to God with our questions and our trust.  For the people of Israel, this was a time for them to be broken down and purged of their sins, punished for what they had done but also learning from it as well.  Not all disaster in our lives may take on this form, but there is no doubt at all that in any stage of life, God wants us to place our trust and our hope in Him.  Whether we are bringing our praise or our questions, or perhaps both, we need to make sure, as Jeremiah did, that our hope and trust lie solely on God.



Day 236: Jeremiah 51-52; Babylon and Jerusalem Fall, God is Faithful

Today’s reading, the last two chapters of the book of Jeremiah, lay in succession the utter contempt that God has for the nation of Babylon and her fall that will take place.  This if followed by the description of the Fall of Jerusalem, a non-prophetic narrative that describes for us again the events of God’s judgment on the city of David.  These events, particularly the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple are the setup for the book of Lamentations, also written by Jeremiah, which is an account of his witnessing the destruction of his city and the burning of the Temple.

What I want to focus in on today is the last part of Jeremiah 52, that talks about the release of Jehoiachin from prison in Babylon.  This is a part that is largely overlooked in the whole story because it is almost a footnote at the end in many ways.  Yet this is one of the greatest testaments of God’s faithfulness to the line of David, a promise He made to King David hundreds of years prior.  There is really no reason why Jehoiachin should have been released from prison.  We are not told that he was out on good behavior or anything of the sort.  The simple fact is that God continues to be faithful to His people and His promises even in these dark and difficult times.  No one knew what was to come next for God’s people, but it is clear in reading this that God is still at work in His own ways to fulfill His own purposes.

A story like this stands as a testament to God’s faithfulness to us as well.  We certainly haven’t done anything in our lives to warrant the unmerited grace that we receive from God each and every day, and we definitely do not deserve the blessings that He pours out into our lives every day.  Even in the darkest of times, those times when we feel lost and alone, we have the hope that God is still with us and still working in us.  It may be difficult to see; it might even be impossible for us to see, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t active in the situation walking with us, holding us up, sustaining us, and even refining us to make us more and more like the image of Christ each and every day.



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 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.