The Monastery at Mont St. Michel, Normandy

The Monastery at Mont St. Michel, Normandy

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Daily Bread for Aug 20, Jer 30-31

Today's readings are Jer 30-31

As we have seen before, despite their stubborn rebellion, God will redeem his people! This will be an act of a sovereign God that has little to do with the behavior of His people and much to do with who He is. He will redeem because of His steadfast faithfulness and holiness. As examples, look at Jer 30:3, 8, 12, 21.

"Jeremiah 30:3 For behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.”

"Jeremiah 30:8 “And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him." 

"Jeremiah 30:12 “For thus says the Lord: Your hurt is incurable, and your wound is grievous." 

"Jeremiah 30:21 Their prince shall be one of themselves; their ruler shall come out from their midst; I will make him draw near, and he shall approach me, for who would dare of himself to approach me? declares the Lord." 

The Lord will relieve their burden and restore the fortunes of His people. The yoke they wear is captivity, brought on by their own actions. They are hopeless and incurable, separated from God. Yet, there will come a day when God will raise up a new leader that will bring them back into his presence, something only God can do for they are unable to do it themselves. This is a beautiful expression of His grace, the same grace that saves people like us when we are equally hopeless and separated from God.

We see Israel personified in the likeness of Rachel and Jacob in Jer 31, who will mourn bitterly and cry out to God for mercy. Although some will die, God will initiate a new covenant. One in which there will be deliverance from death. 

At this point, Jeremiah is looking even further down the road than Israel's return from captivity in Babylon. That captivity and redemption is temporary and does not address the fallen nature of God's children. It is, however, symbolic of an ultimate deliverance for God's people and a rewriting of the old covenant, something only God can do. This is not God coming to the bargaining table to renegotiate His terms with His people. It is God moving sovereignly, revealing His glory in both those He redeems (His chosen people) and those He condemns (the ones that oppress them and reject Him).

In God’s actions toward Israel, we see that, like Israel, our only hope, is in God's goodness and faithfulness. Just like Israel, we are, in and of ourselves, incurable and solely dependent on God's grace and mercy. If we understand this fully, we will have a deeper and more profound appreciation of grace. We can believe we have received it because He is God and is true to His word that He will redeem His own. 

Here's the beauty in all this, when we embrace this biblical truth, we become precious in His sight and experience His great love, a love that brings us closer to Him not based on who we are or anything we've done, but based on Christ in us.

Israel's story is our story. It is a story of unmerited favor flowing freely from a loving and merciful God, a God who owes nothing to no one and does everything for His own sake, revealing His own glory. The beautiful blessing is that the vessels He reveals His glory in and through are His children, everyone who repents and calls upon the name of Christ as Lord and Savior. We who are believers are the blessed benefactors of God's self-revelation and glorification.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Daily Brad for Aug 19, Jer 26-29

Today's readings are Jer 26-29

Jer 26 bounces around in time a bit, as many Jewish writers do. The year is 608 BC, almost 10 years before the sacking of Jerusalem. Jeremiah prophesies, asking for repentance and is threatened. Some leaders are cautious, remembering previous prophecies that came true, and prevent Jeremiah from being executed.

In Jer 27, Zedekiah (another name for Jehoiakim) who was placed in leadership by Pharaoh, hence the reference to Egypt, listens as Jeremiah encourages him and the Judeans to submit to the authority of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. The last few chapters have revealed that God will bless some of the exiles taken by Nebuchadnezzar and bring them back to Jerusalem as “good fruit”. Here we see God’s prophet, Jeremiah, encouraging His people to submit to God’s plan even though it is objectionable to the Jews. The very last thing the Jews would want to do is surrender to the Gentiles. Frequently we will find ourselves being called to do the very last thing we want to do to garner God’s fullest blessings. This is the essence of “dying to self” and surrendering to the Lord and His word.

God says He is going to place an iron yoke on the nations. It is God's plan. Yet, Hananiah, a false prophet comes against Jeremiah, claiming the yoke Jeremiah describes is a lie. Hananiah prophesies that any exile or defeat will only last two years (Jer 28:1-5). Undoubtedly, that sounded good to the Jews, far better than Jeremiah’s message of surrender and yielding. Hananiah dies after Jeremiah prophesies that God will end his life for being a liar.

This is another point to be pondered. In a day when we hear prophecies about the end of the world, earthquakes, various colored moons, even massive revival--it would be wise to consider the fruit of the ministries of those prophets. In the middle of Jeremiah’s section on poor fruit vs. good fruit, we find this anecdote about a false prophet whose poor fruit is his own death. While many modern self-proclaimed prophets may not die, it would be wise and prudent to judge them by their fruits. Good questions to ask about anyone claiming to prophesy on behalf of God would be:
  • Exactly what are they prophesying? Are the details vague and subject to many interpretations or are they precise and easy to understand?  
  • Do they have a track record of accuracy? 
  • If they have been inaccurate in the past, what was the explanation? Supposedly they spoke the word of God. What happened? Do they blame the inaccuracy on the prayers or faith/lack of faith of others? Do they write it off as some un-measurable occurrence, “Oh, it happened in the heavenlies so we can’t see it down here!” What impact do previous inaccuracies have on how we view their current predictions? 
  • Are their prophecies scripturally sound? 
  • Do their prophecies line up with what we know about the character and nature of God as revealed in the Scriptures?
In Jer 29, we see a letter Jeremiah sends to the remaining exiles in Babylon somewhere around 589 BC, after the fall of Jerusalem. He tells them to settle in. They will be there for seventy years not two. Their lives among the Gentiles will last nearly two generations before God brings them home. This is the context for a familiar verse,

Jer 29:11 "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."

This is a verse frequently used out of context. Clearly, the Hebrews have 70 years of trial ahead of them. The preceding chapters have been preparing them for the long haul and cautioning them against the false prophets who are guaranteeing comfort, victory and a short exile.

Notice this, Jeremiah's ministry, so far, has few, if any converts. Jeremiah gets whatever affirmation he receives from the only source that truly means anything, his Father in heaven. He's certainly not getting it from those around him.

This is a valuable lesson to all of us. If our disposition is determined by how well received or how well-liked we are, we are likely to be disappointed.  

Daily Bread fopr Aug 18, Jer 23-25

Today's readings are Jer 23-25

Jer 23 begins with a woe. God warns the leaders (shepherds) of Israel that if they don't properly tend to His people, He will. This warning bears echoes of Ezek 34, showing that there is accountability for leaders who are given spiritual responsibility for those they lead. God will care for His children by raising up a "righteous branch," a wise king who will be a righteous judge (Jer 23:5-6).

God will ultimately take care of his sheep but will hold the shepherds responsible for how they tend to them in the meantime.  This is emphasized by the revelation that there is particularly harsh judgment in store for those prophets and leaders that lead the people in an ungodly direction (Jer 23:9-40). Even today, these are sobering words for anyone called into a leadership position in the church.

Jer 24 can be challenging. 2 Kings 20 told us of good king Hezekiah's invitation for envoys from the king of Babylon to come and see the riches of the temple and the king’s storehouses after the miraculous defeat of the Assyrians outside of Jerusalem. That prideful invitation comes home to roost as the new king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, envious of the riches of Judah, takes Judah and Jerusalem captive. Jer 24 describes this invasion and its consequences by drawing a contrast between good fruit and bad. God describes some of the exiles taken away by Nebuchadnezzar as good fruit that will be returned to Jerusalem. God will do this in a spectacular display of His sovereign power shown in Jer 24-25. As for the good fruit, God says

Jeremiah 24:7
I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
As for the bad fruit,

Jeremiah 24:10
And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they shall be utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.”
The methods God uses to accomplish His purposes in the lives of His people can be startling. We hear the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, as evil a king as there ever was, is really serving God (Jer 25:9). He is being used by Him to refine His people. Even more surprising is that Nebuchadnezzar does not operate independently of God, God is the one who sends Babylon and other warring nations against Judah (Jer 25:8-9). Furthermore, the nations who come against Judah will be judged thoroughly and harshly (Jer 25:10-29), showing that they are not unwilling pawns being manipulated by God, but unrepentant, rebellious people who are acting according to their own evil natures and desires.

The surprising element of all this is that God uses the wicked hearts and intentions of the ungodly to accomplish His purposes in the hearts of the godly. It is no wonder that one of the most frequently repeated phrases in the Bible is "fear not," appearing in some form over 200 times. God is always in control, always moving toward His goal for his people and always drawing them closer to Himself regardless of how we may feel about our situations.

Daily Bread for Aug 17, Jer 18-22

Today's readings are Jer 18-22.

Jer 18 brings up the imagery of the potter and the clay, a metaphor Paul will explore in greater depth in Rom 9.  We hear God claim the right and privilege to do whatever He wills with all He has created as it all belongs to Him. Jer 18:11 is a chilling verse that may be a challenge for some to hear.
Jeremiah 18:11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’
But, even as God prepares to bring disaster upon His own children, the disaster can be averted by their repentance. 

Notice the changing role of Jeremiah in these chapters. Earlier, he has been an advocate of Israel. At times, he is a judge. Jeremiah can be both the bearer of hope and the bearer of judgment. In many ways, he is a type of Christ, perhaps an imperfect shadow of the One to come, but a type nonetheless. 

If we see Jeremiah as a type of Christ, then we should see ourselves as a type of Jew. Seeing the Jews as a shadow of ourselves, it's easy to understand that their stumbles and failures can be a mirror to our own shortcomings. In those cases, the grace God shows to them is a hope and a promise of the grace we have received and will continue to be blessed by. So, we should see ourselves in the story of the Jews. 

But, if we limit our understanding of Jeremiah's role to this portent of Christ, we may miss another key point. Yes, we should see ourselves in the Jews as a way to understand how God's grace has been so abundant in our lives. But, we should see ourselves in Jeremiah as well. Doing so can tell us much about our role in the culture today. Jeremiah has been chosen by God as His representative. While the judgment God is about to unleash on the people of Judah, Jeremiah has the promise of God's preservation and protection. He has but to speak God's truth and leave the judging to God.

In much the same way, we are like Jeremiah. We have been chosen and equipped to be a people who proclaim God's truth to a dying and doomed culture. Neither Jeremiah's message of pending judgment nor the people's need for repentance has changed. We bear that message and are the evidence of how the repentance can transform and preserve. While those around us will suffer the wrath of God, we will be protected. Christ has been the object of God's wrath in our place, taking on our sins and paying the price for them. We have but to speak God's truth, in the same manner, Jeremiah was called to speak. 

This call will not always be appreciated. We see that in Jer 20. As those who oppress Jeremiah reject God, He, once again, describes the wrath to come and urges them to repent. Jer 21-22 are saturated with God's grace, giving His people every opportunity to turn from their wicked ways.

From all this, we should hear our call to speak the truth. We should also see the immensity of God's grace and His willingness to spare those who repent and turn toward Him, no matter how dire the situation and no matter how dark their sin.

Daily Bread for Aug 16, Jer 14-17

Today's readings are Jer 14-17

Jeremiah hears of the complete devastation of Judah in Jer 14. Confessing his people's unworthiness, he appeals to God for the sake of His reputation and asks they be redeemed for God's own namesake (Jer 14:7-9). God refuses (Jer 14:10-16)!

Jeremiah is persistent, crying out to God for the redemption of His children (Jer 14:17-22).

In Jer 15, God more graphically describes the fate of Judah. But, by the end of the chapter, God offers a way of averting the suffering and destruction. It is in the people of Judah repenting of their ways and turning back toward God. 

This has been the purpose of the dialogue. Whereas at first, it seems God is going back on His word to preserve and protect a remnant of His people, this is not the case. He is taking the time to say something about Himself, "There is a severe consequence for sin." We've heard this before, but in this case, God lays the consequences out in detail. They are devastating! As the severity of sin is graphically portrayed, though, we find that heartfelt repentance will spare His children the consequences of their own sin. 

This is a sobering hint of things to come. Jeremiah is a mediator between God and His people. As God continues to reveal Himself and the details of His plan for the ultimate redemption of His children, we will eventually learn that the way of heartfelt repentance and redemption is through the ultimate mediator, His only Son, Jesus Christ. 

God gives Jeremiah symbolic charges in Jer 16:1-11. They are designed to demonstrate the separation that has occurred between God and the people of Judah. Yet, God will be gracious to them (Jer 16:12-21), and they will be restored. His judgment and His grace, both firmly established, are designed to teach something about who God is and how He functions,
Jeremiah 16:21 “Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord.” 
The dialogue between Jeremiah and God continues in Jer 17. This time it focuses on where man places his trust. Those who trust in men are cursed. Those who trust in God are blessed. The lesson being taught is to trust in God, not worldly power or influence as both the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom have done by allying themselves with pagan nations. 

As believers, we can make the same mistake by placing our trust in our jobs, our friends, our 401Ks, etc., anything other than God. One of the recurring themes in Jeremiah is the contrast between concern over the immediate circumstances and concern over eternal circumstances. Scriptures caution us not to trade immediate comfort or security for those that are eternal.

One of the ways to exhibit trust in God is in keeping the Sabbath as a holy day of rest and reflection upon God and His goodness (Jer 17:19-27). This would be particularly difficult as Jerusalem prepares for war. They must be diligent but must not sacrifice their honoring of God to protect themselves. This should cause us to consider whether there is an area in our lives that we place above honoring God.