Open Up and Say “Ah”

January 31, 2020 at 3:47 pm | Posted in Jeremiah | 3 Comments
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There have been many Jeremiahs, but two Jeremiahs really stand out in the history of the world. One was the famous prophet of the Book of Jeremiah in the Bible. The other one was a bullfrog featured in the 1971 hit song, “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night, which starts starts off with the lyric, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine.” Okay, I will admit I am little biased about the latter Jeremiah due to the fact that I performed that song, to much consternation, in front of my K4 class at the First Baptist Church preschool back in the day, along with dance moves that were more enthusiastic than graceful.

For now, we will stick with discussing the Biblical Jeremiah, whose book is found in the Old Testament section of major prophets between Isaiah and Lamentations. It was written by the Holy Spirit through Jeremiah himself.

The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.

Jeremiah 1:1-2

Jeremiah’s father was a priest, so this means that Jeremiah probably thought he was going to be a priest also, but the Lord had other plans for his life. The Lord spoke to him directly in Josiah’s 13th year as king, when Jeremiah was probably about 20 years old. The life of a priest was not necessarily easy, but it could be very mundane: teaching the law, overseeing temple sacrifices, inspecting lepers and other clean and unclean citizens, and a steady income. It was a noble profession, but it dealt much more with external religion than with the hearts of men and women. The job a prophet was way different.

Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

Jeremiah 1:4-5

Prophets were often unpopular. They had to say exactly what God told them to say. Their lives were unpredictable. They didn’t get a steady paycheck, or even room and board. Their provision came directly from God, but that requires more palpable trust. Additionally, prophets were needed when the people were disobeying and getting involved in idolatry. Whereas priests were concerned with external religion, prophets spoke directly to the heart. In a time when God’s people had forsaken His law, Jeremiah was supposed to tell them the truth about God’s justice, wrath, faithfulness to His promises, and, yes, His love.

In Jeremiah’s day, God’s people were engaging in fornication as a means of pagan worship, they were doing this in order to promote fertility in their agriculture, and they were sacrificing their own children. You might think, “How barbaric!” but I’m afraid their wickedness would not hold a candle to us today. Our culture promotes fornication (sex outside of marriage), which results in unwanted pregnancies, and, therefore, sadly, sometimes abortion and other complications and and cruelties, and this is now considered okay in order to keep the population down and protect the environment. The devil does not have lot of new tricks. He’s been lying and tempting people with the same sins since the beginning.

God told Jeremiah that He knew him before he was created: before he was “formed in the belly.” God chose Jeremiah way before Jeremiah even had any consciousness, much less an ability to decide whether he would choose God. God set him apart for a special purpose. He was sanctified to serve God with his life (“and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee,”). God chose his career (vocation) for him (“and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”). You and I need to recognize those same truths about ourselves.

God knew you before He made you. He chose you for himself before you were born. He is in charge of your life, so, whatsoever you do, you are called to do it for Him. But what was Jeremiah’s response?

Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.

Jeremiah 1:6

He did not receive this news with pride or even confidence. How would you receive it? Do you like to speak in front of large groups of people? How about when you know they are going to absolutely hate what you have to say? How about speaking before “the nations” – the whole world?

Jeremiah said, “Ah.” How do we read this? Did he sound like a patient having his tonsils examined by a doctor?

tongue depressor

Was he nearly speechless? Was the “ah” a gagging sound, an attempt to prove he wouldn’t be a good spokesman-prophet? Or was he saying “ah” in the tone of Sherlock Holmes finding a clue” “Ah-ha!”? Perhaps he sounded philosophical, like Confucius rubbing his beard thoughtfully and saying “ahhhh.” I don’t think so.

Like many of us, if suddenly God came to us and said, “Forget all your life’s plans, I need to you to get up and give a speech to the whole world telling them exactly what they don’t want to hear, and, by the way, as a prophet of God, if you get anything wrong, you have to die,” we would probably say “Ahhhhh!” in a terrified exclamation like the wide-eyed and open-mouthed passenger on the world’s scariest roller coaster.

roller coaster scream

That is probably closer to what the word means in the original Hebrew. It was used to express a grunt of pain. I hope you and I have not gotten so comfortable with the Word of God that it no longer produces in us a guttural, primal reaction – yes, even an emotional response – a palpable and passionate cry, depending on the condition of our heart when we read or hear it, that God is not pleased… or that God loves us… or that He has called us to the greatest service that we could never deserve… or that He would send His Beloved Son to die for a sinful worthless wicked wretch like me.

Why Not a Hospital?

January 29, 2020 at 11:08 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Question: If you say church is not supposed to be like a hospital, what about all the people who are hurting and come there to find acceptance and love, but instead only find judgment and hypocrisy? And keep it simple. Don’t write some long essay full of fancy words.

Answer: Okay, I’ll try. People who are really suffering SHOULD find kindness and love at their local Christian church. When people are mean to them, or treat them in ways that the Bible says is wrong, they shouldn’t do that. However, when that happens, the solution is not to stop going to church. The solution is to go to church with an attitude of honoring and obeying Christ, not depending on other people. You will always find people who don’t live up to your expectations, but you have never found anything in God Himself to cause you to go far from Him, or to walk away from Him. And, ultimately, anything that you are walking after in this life that is apart from God is vanity (emptiness, unfulfilling selfishness). See Jeremiah 2:5.

God is perfect. None of His people are. Even the best of people are only people at best. And even the worst of people cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ. When we stand before God one day, none of us will be able to blame someone else’s hypocrisy or bad behavior if we have disobeyed His direct commands to faithfully attend, and to serve in, a local assembly of Christians.

Overlooking the Kingdom

January 27, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Posted in Luke | Leave a comment
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And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

Luke 17:20-21

Jesus answered the Pharisees’ question, but He reserved the details for the Disciples. People were especially expectant for a deliverer around the time of Passover. Moses was the deliverer at the first Passover. John the Baptist showed some promise but he had ultimately not panned out as the deliverer. Jesus seemed like a strong possibility, and He was headed to Jerusalem! The Pharisees had been listening to Jesus for about three years and they wanted to know when the Kingdom of God would appear! How sad that they were so opposed or obtuse concerning Who Jesus was. They were like patrons walking into a serve-yourself buffet restaurant, hungry, but just sitting down and waiting for a waiter to bring food.

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

Luke 17:20 (emphasis added)

The Pharisees’ “observation” amounted to hiding and looking, following secretly, and faithless testing. They acted like James Bond, when any run-of-the-mill investigator could have told them Who Jesus was in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

Luke 17:21

The Kingdom was “within” their midst, but it did not penetrate the hearts of the Pharisees. The Deliverer was not some obscure person hiding in a monastery somewhere. He was the one Who had been healing blind people, raising the dead, curing lepers, saying, “I’m the One.

Christians should study future prophecy, but do not let the study of prophecy overshadow ACTIVITY. Expect the coming of the Lord Jesus not by waiting and watching idly, but by staying busy until He comes back.

A Less Lurid Account of the Crucifixion

January 21, 2020 at 5:09 pm | Posted in John | Leave a comment
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Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away. And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha:

John 19:16-17

Golgotha was also known as “Calvary,” which is from the Latin word for “skull.” It is possible that the place was named that because its shape bore a resemblance to a human skull.

Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.

John 19:18

The Biblical narrative of the events which commenced after Jesus’s arrest, and some of the historical records and information concerning the Roman penal system give us insight into some of the terrible beatings, humiliation, mockery, and abuse that Jesus suffered as a prelude to His Crucifixion. These things are difficult to talk about, especially knowing that He endured such suffering for you and me, unworthy as we were to receive the blessings of that kind of love and sacrifice. John 19:18 says, “Where they crucified him…” without going into detail about exactly what it meant to be crucified under the Roman penal system. If you’ve attended church long enough, especially around Easter or Good Friday, you’ve probaby heard a Bible teacher or preacher go to great lengths to describe just how horrible death by crucifixion was. Specific information about the nerve centers where the spikes were driven, the pain of asphyxiation, the agony of dehydration and muscle cramping, etc., is used to paint a very vivid picture which is largely absent from the Biblical account. This raises a question: “Why didn’t the Gospel writers go into more detail about the mechanics and nuances of Jesus’s Crucifixion?” I believe there may be several reasons, but the two that seem apparent to me are:

1. The Gospel writers knew that their original readers would have been very familiar with crucifixion since they were under Roman rule and subjugation, so there was no need to go into more detail.

2. While the physical torture of Jesus certainly plays a significant role in our redemption, and must never be minimized, it was not His physical suffering alone (or even primarily) that paid for our sins. Remember, the full weight of God’s wrath against the sins of every person who has been, or will be, saved was poured out upon Jesus in the eternal realm (Isaiah 53:10-12), and this was a type of punishment which no finite human could comprehend, and which no human eyes were allowed to see (Luke 23:44-46). It was a transaction between the Heavenly Father and His Divine Son (Romans 3:25; I John 2:2, 4:10), and it goes beyond the ability of mere mortals to put into words that could truly do it justice.

John mentions the two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus, but does not tell us that one of them trusted Christ before he died and was saved.

And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was Jesus Of Nazareth The King Of The Jews. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.

John 19:19-20

The title, “King of the Jews,” was intended as mockery, but it was a true statement about Jesus, and was written in three languages, proclaiming it religiously, culturally, and legally.

Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.

John 19:21 (emphasis added)

Suddenly the chief priests who had vehemently opposed Jesus as the true “I AM” were now more than willing to have those words appended to His name.

Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.

John 19:22

Pilate exacted a bit of petty revenge for what he felt they had forced him into doing.

Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.

John 19:23

The soldiers divided four of Jesus’s separate articles of clothing among themselves: His head covering, His belt/girdle, His outer garment, and His sandals. His seamless undergarment remained, and would have been ruined if torn, so they gambled for it.

They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

John 19:24-25

Four women remained near the Cross as Jesus was crucified: His mother, Mary; His mother’s sister (unnamed here, but traditionally known as Salome); another Mary, the wife of Cleophas, who was James’s and John’s mother; and Mary Magdalene.

When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!

John 19:26

Jesus again used the term “woman” as a public name of respect from an adult son.

Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

John 19:27

Joseph, Mary’s husband, was now deceased, and Jesus’s earthly brothers were not yet believers, so He appointed John to take care of Mary.

After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.

John 19:28-29

Having earlier refused the soporific wine, Jesus now drank the sour wine.

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

John 19:30 (emphasis added)

The Greek term for “it is finished” (tetelestai) means that Jesus’s work of redemption for His people on the Cross was acommplished. The sin debt had been paid in full. He then laid down His own life.

The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

John 19:31

God Hurts Those Who Help Themselves

January 17, 2020 at 4:04 pm | Posted in Jeremiah | Leave a comment
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Chapter 45 is a very short chapter in the Book of Jeremiah. Chronologically it can be paired with Chapter 36 because it deals with Baruch, Jeremiah’s faithful assistant who had written down Jeremiah’s prophecies in a scroll, only to have the scroll seized and burned by the king. Baruch subsequently copied them down again. Although not mentiond in Chapter 36, apparently Baruch got discouraged as he suffered through persecution with Jeremiah, because in Chapter 45 God had Jeremiah encourage him with a personal Word.

Baruch had a brother on the king’s staff, so leaving Jeremiah for a more comfortable position was an option for him, but God promised to take care of him because of his perseverance.

Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, unto thee, O Baruch: Thou didst say, Woe is me now! for the Lord hath added grief to my sorrow; I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest. Thus shalt thou say unto him, The Lord saith thus; Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up, even this whole land. And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the Lord: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.

Jeremiah 45:2-5

“I’m going to do what’s best for me.”
“Always look out for number one.”
“Make sure to build up your self-esteem.”

These statements are examples of selfishness masquerading as pop psychology, and, even for those of us who try to avoid talking this way, we have to admit that all of us have a tendency to think of our own best interest first and foremost. There is no more popular section in the library or bookstore than the “self-help” section. However, God, through the prophet Jeremiah, issued a strong warning against this mind-set: “And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not…” (45:5). It would not be wrong for you to pray that the Lord would use you in a great way, but neither would it be wrong to pray for God to use your friend in a great way and to let you carry his bags. Former church leaders who may have lost their qualifications to lead can still be great helpers and assistants, and God often greatly blesses those who labor behind the scenes. We might recognize Billy Graham or D.L. Moody in Heaven with all their crowns, but we might wonder who that anonymous church janitor or bus driver over there is with 10 times as many crowns.

As Jeremiah began to prophesy to the nations around Judah – nations which would also experienced defeat at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army – he used some striking imagery, describing them as stampeding heifers, slithering serpents, and chopped-down trees. This is a good reminder to parents and grandparents of young children, and those who work in children’s ministry, that we can draw spiritual lessons from the things we find in nature. Children are often drawn to animals, trees, flowers, and water, and these, being given to us as blessings from God, can be easily adapted as illustrations to make a point about faithfulness, obedience, provision, or courage.

Egypt was dealt with first because Egypt’s army looked mighty. The image used is of the Nile River overflowing its banks in a great flood.

Egypt riseth up like a flood, and his waters are moved like the rivers; and he saith, I will go up, and will cover the earth; I will destroy the city and the inhabitants thereof.

Jeremiah 46:8

However, God said that when the Babylonian army came their Pharaoh would be exposed as just a noise-maker (a “bigmouth”).

They did cry there, Pharaoh king of Egypt is but a noise; he hath passed the time appointed.

Jeremiah 46:17

Egypt is like a very fair heifer, but destruction cometh; it cometh out of the north. Also her hired men are in the midst of her like fatted bullocks; for they also are turned back, and are fled away together: they did not stand, because the day of their calamity was come upon them, and the time of their visitation. The voice thereof shall go like a serpent; for they shall march with an army, and come against her with axes, as hewers of wood. They shall cut down her forest, saith the Lord, though it cannot be searched; because they are more than the grasshoppers, and are innumerable.

Jeremiah 46:20-23

Chapter 47 deals with the Philistines – longtime enemies of God’s people  – even though they had actually tried to join the alliance with Judah and the other nations against Babylon. Their doom would be so scary that even fathers would run away, abandoning their children (which back then would be seen as the ultimate in cowardice, but today is just another Tuesday in America).

At the noise of the stamping of the hoofs of his strong horses, at the rushing of his chariots, and at the rumbling of his wheels, the fathers shall not look back to their children for feebleness of hands;

Jeremiah 47:3

Chapter 48 addresses the Moabites, descendants of Lot through his incestuous relationship with one of his daughters, who were another longtime enemy of Judah, and who had also joined the alliance, along with Ammon, against Babylon. Moab was a very proud nation, and of course God always opposes the proud.

How say ye, We are mighty and strong men for the war? Moab is spoiled, and gone up out of her cities, and his chosen young men are gone down to the slaughter, saith the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts. The calamity of Moab is near to come, and his affliction hasteth fast.

Jeremiah 48:14-16

They would turn into frightened doves hiding in a cave.

O ye that dwell in Moab, leave the cities, and dwell in the rock, and be like the dove that maketh her nest in the sides of the hole’s mouth. We have heard the pride of Moab, (he is exceeding proud) his loftiness, and his arrogancy, and his pride, and the haughtiness of his heart.

Jeremiah 48:28-29

There is a theme of the Lord opposing the pride that dwells in human hearts all throughout the Book of Jeremiah.

Chapter 49 is about the Ammonites, who were descended from Lot’s other daughter. They were related to the Jews by blood, but had been their enemies for centuries until tempted into joining the alliance out of fear of Nebuchadnezzar. Although their ancestor Lot had narrowly escaped the fire of his beloved Sodom, his descendants would experience it generations later.

Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will cause an alarm of war to be heard in Rabbah of the Ammonites; and it shall be a desolate heap, and her daughters shall be burned with fire: then shall Israel be heir unto them that were his heirs, saith the Lord.

Jeremiah 49:2

Next, Jeremiah prophesied againts the Edomites, descendants of Jacob’s brother, Esau. This was another nation consumed by pride, who thought their rock-enclosed cities were impregnable against outside attack.

Thy terribleness hath deceived thee, and the pride of thine heart, O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, that holdest the height of the hill: though thou shouldest make thy nest as high as the eagle, I will bring thee down from thence, saith the Lord. Also Edom shall be a desolation: every one that goeth by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss at all the plagues thereof. As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbour cities thereof, saith the Lord, no man shall abide there, neither shall a son of man dwell in it.

Jeremiah 49:16-18

Nebuchadnezzar would attack them like a lion.

Behold, he shall come up like a lion from the swelling of Jordan against the habitation of the strong: but I will suddenly make him run away from her: and who is a chosen man, that I may appoint over her? for who is like me? and who will appoint me the time? and who is that shepherd that will stand before me?

Jeremiah 49:19

A Hospital for Sinners?

January 15, 2020 at 12:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Question: What do you think about the expression, “Church is supposed to be a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints?”

Answer: Is that the expression? I’ve always heard that, “Church is a hospital for sinners, not a SHOWPLACE for saints.” Either way, though, I’m not that crazy about it, for a number of reasons. I’ll list some of these reasons.

First, it doesn’t do a good job of defining “church.” I’m as guilty as the next person of referring to “church” as the physical locale where we meet for scheduled worship services and activities, but when we’re talking about people who need a “hospital,” there is nothing inherently therapeutic about a building or a geographical address. The local “church” is really a called-out assembly of true Christians (the body of Christ), and it is made up of “members” that are analagous to your physical body parts and organs: some people are the arms, some the legs, some the eyes, ears, larynx, lower intestines, and pineal glands, just to name a few. Some are visibly serving and up front like foreheads, knee caps, and bulging biceps, and some are buried deep in the guts, doing really, really important jobs that nobody ever sees. Hospitals are sitting around waiting for sick people to show up, and then they treat them (and charge them an obscene fortune), and then hopefully send them on their way. Human bodies go forth and interact with their environment. They know their own weaknesses, but they also see the needs of others, and go to where they are. Bodies are guided by the “head,” and they go and do what the “head” tells them to do. Christ is the “Head” of His spiritual body. You really need to get that straight before you can try to evaluate the rest of the statement about hospitals vs. museums.

Second, the expression doesn’t do a good job of defining “sinners.” In a sense, we are all “sinners,” in that we sin against God often and egregiously. However, those of us who are truly born-again have had our status changed from “sinner” to “son” or “daughter” of God by the washing away of sinful guilt in Christ’s blood, and by His imputed righteousness having been credited to us by His grace. This is even more important to understand before moving on.

Third, the expression begs us to assume that “sinners” need a “hospital” without telling us the nature of their illness. Are we talking about people who are literally injured or sick, or are we taking about people who have given in to temptation, now reaping the spiritual consequences of what they have sown, OR are we talking about people who are in wanton rebellion against God, sinning intentionally with the full force of their energy (perhaps even calling calling it a “lifestyle choice” or their “identity”)? We need to know that before we can determine if “hospital” is a good description.

Fourth, the expression presents a logical fallacy known as a “false dichotomy.” By this I mean that it presents an “either-or” proposition as if there were only two possibilities. Who would reasonably admit that they think of church as a “museum” – just a place to stand around and be seen – or a “showplace” – an opportunity to come show off their clothes, wealth, good looks, or perceived self-righteousness? Oh, I’m sure there are people who THINK that way, but nobody is going to really argue that the showplace/museum option has some actual merit. In reality, though, if we agree it’s not a museum, then “hospital” is only one of many alternatives (and not even the best one). I can show from the Bible that the purpose of meeting together with God’s people in what we call a “church” service is for:
a. corporate worship
b. prayer
c. instruction in the Word of God
d. training for spiritual battle
e. fellowship
f. accountability
g. discipleship
h. exhortation to grow up from immature to mature believers
h. and more, including, I guess, some of the “healing” benefits you would expect to receive at a literal hospital (as long as it doesn’t turn into an extended convalescence that provokes apathy and a “woe-is-me” attitude)

So, to sum up, the expression probably has a good intention at its heart, but, if it is only a platitude meant to replace real hands-on ministry done in love, and done in different ways for different types of hurting and/or sinning people, then we are better off ditching it and replacing it with actual Bible verses that tell us the real purpose of the local “church,” like Ephesians 4.

Foresight

January 13, 2020 at 4:25 pm | Posted in Biblical Eyesight, Luke | Leave a comment
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And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them. For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Luk 17:30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

Luke 17:22-33

It is easy to get caught up in the affairs of everyday life – as in the days of Noah. We pass our time in a series of events, parties, weddings, celebrations, work, school, church activities… which are all good – but which tend to distract us from thinking about the future, when we know a day of judgment is coming. Foresight doesn’t ignore the present, and it doesn’t only look AHEAD to the future. Mainly, it looks UP to the God who will bring to pass His Word in the future.

It is also easy to get caught up in the past – like Lot’s wife. When things are not going all that great you may remember your pre-Christian days in a false light. You may remember them as days of carefree partying when you were not burdened with concern about weighty, eternal matters like the judgment of God – but that is a false memory. Your life wasn’t given to you to keep. It was given to you to be GIVEN BACK to God. The way – the ONLY REAL WAY – to control your life is to keep giving it to God. The second my life displeases God, He is well within His rights to take it from me. Enjoy life now, but live with the future and eternity in mind.

A Worker, a Worshiper, a Wrongdoer, and a Witness

January 10, 2020 at 10:48 am | Posted in John | 1 Comment
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At the end of John Chapter 11 the Sanhedrin had issued an APB for Jesus. They wanted to put Him to death, but if they could get it done before the Passover, they believed that a great crisis could be averted and they could return to the status quo: hireling business as usual. Six days before the Passover, Jesus was celebrating the resurrection of His friend Lazarus with the rest of Lazarus’s family, his sisters, Mary and Martha.

There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him,

John 12:2-4

Here are three key people at this supper: Martha, who was characteristically busy; Mary, who – also characteristically – was in a position of shameless worship; and Judas, who is mentioned – again characteristically – with an editorial comment about his treachery. These are Judas’s first recorded words in Scripture:

Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?

John 12:5

This puts a figure on the description of “very costly” in Verse 3. One hundred “pence” (denarii in the Greek) was a year’s wages for a typical hired worker! It’s hard to miss the idea that Judas was very interested in money. His first recorded words are mentioned above. His last recorded words were:

Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.

Matthew 27:3-5

So, at the supper in John 12, we see a worker (Martha), a worshiper (Mary), a wrongdoer (Judas), and a witness (Lazarus):

Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead.

John 12:9

We sometimes admonish people who beg off when it comes to vocal evangelism, chiding them that the witnessing method known as “lifestyle evangelism” is not enough, but here it does appear as if Lazarus was more of a “lifestyle” witness… as opposed to a “deathstyle” witness which he had been the day before! As Christians, we are called to witness verbally (primarily) and nonverbally (secondarily), but Lazarus can be excused for not being more vocal since Jesus Himself was there in person!

Ruling out Judas, the wrongdoer, and looking at the other three highlighted characters, which one are you? Are you a worker: somebody who stays busy doing practical and needful tasks for the sake of Christ and His people? Are you a worshiper: someone who expresses your love for Jesus openly, and longs to have a sense of being in His presence? Are you a witness: somebody whose words and actions show that Jesus brought you out of spiritual death into spiritual life? Hopefully, we would be a combination of all three.

The purpose of this supper was to celebrate Lazarus’s resurrection, but:

But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus. On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.

John 12:10-13

This was very unusual, and was the first time Jesus had allowed a public ceremony or proclamation about His mission, purpose, and true identity. He did it in order to fulfill prophecy. “Hosanna” meant “save now.”

The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD.

Psalm 118:22-26

Jesus allowed everyone – His followers, the patriotic and excited bystanders, the Jewish religious leaders, and even the Romans – to believe that He was on the verge of being crowned King and challenging Roman authority in Jerusalem, because this would bring about His sacrifice as the Passover Lamb at the perfect time.

And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.

John 12:14-15 (“As it is written” refers to Zechariah 9:9.)

The Consequences of Evil

January 8, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Posted in Jeremiah | Leave a comment
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Jeremiah 52 repeats much of the history recorded in II Kings 24 and 25, and is placed at the end of the Book of Jeremiah as a transition to the Book of Lamentations. It focuses on the reign of King Zedekiah, who was the final king of Judah (not counting Jesus).

And he did that which was evil in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done.

Jeremiah 52:2

“He did evil in the eyes of the Lord” could be a summary of all the kings mentioned in Jeremiah, except for Josiah, who is referenced only in hindsight, and it could be a summary of the majority of the kings of Israel/Judah, going all the way back to Saul. It would most certainly be a summary of your life, too – apart from Christ.

Chapter 52 also reminds us that Jerusalem was besieged by the Chaldean army, and ultimately conquered.

And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, and pitched against it, and built forts against it round about. So the city was besieged unto the eleventh year of king Zedekiah. And in the fourth month, in the ninth day of the month, the famine was sore in the city, so that there was no bread for the people of the land. Then the city was broken up, and all the men of war fled, and went forth out of the city by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, which was by the king’s garden; (now the Chaldeans were by the city round about:) and they went by the way of the plain.

Jeremiah 52:4-7

The Temple was destroyed.

Now in the fifth month, in the tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, which served the king of Babylon, into Jerusalem, And burned the house of the LORD, and the king’s house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, and all the houses of the great men, burned he with fire:

Jeremiah 52:12-13

The Temple treasures were carried away into exile with the people.

Also the pillars of brass that were in the house of the LORD, and the bases, and the brasen sea that was in the house of the LORD, the Chaldeans brake, and carried all the brass of them to Babylon. The caldrons also, and the shovels, and the snuffers, and the bowls, and the spoons, and all the vessels of brass wherewith they ministered, took they away. And the basons, and the firepans, and the bowls, and the caldrons, and the candlesticks, and the spoons, and the cups; that which was of gold in gold, and that which was of silver in silver, took the captain of the guard away.

Jeremiah 52:17-19

An overview of the sequence of these tragic events emphasizes:

1. Those who are the most religious are not immune to the worst corruptions.
2. Iniquity brings about destruction; God is more than capable of punishing the wicked.
3. Outward appearances provide a useless covering for wicked hearts in the sight of a God Who sees all.
4. God’s prophecies come to pass, and His Word shall go forth accomplishing all that He sets it forth to do.
5. There would be a restoration of the repentant remnant in Babylon; they would come back to Jerusalem.

Proverbs 22:6: Promise or Principle?

January 6, 2020 at 10:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Question: I’m a parent and I would like to claim Proverbs 22:6 as a promise from God, that if I train my children to follow Christ and to do what’s right, then, as they get older, they will continue on that path and not depart from it. But I’ve heard at least a couple of preachers say that Proverbs 22:6 is a principle and not a promise. Is that true, and how can I tell?

Answer: First of all, I want to commend you for thinking Biblically, and therefore correctly, about your responsibilities as a parent, and for your desire to take hold of promises from the Word of God.

The Proverbs are part of the Biblical genre known as “wisdom literature.” They are often described as a collection of “wisdom sayings” gathered by King Solomon and other writers, that are intended as guidelines to help people live God-fearing and God-pleasing lives because they are generally true. Since the Bible must be read in context in order to apply it correctly, it helps to know that the Proverbs are expressions of wit and wisdom designed to be memorable and evocative, while still being inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore inerrant and infallible. This tension has caused problems of interpretation for many Bible scholars and commentators. Before I get to your specific question, let me give you a couple of examples.

Proverbs 21:19 says, “It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman.” Is this a promise or a principle? The promise is that living with a quarrelsome and browbeating woman will always be a miserable experience, and, while living in the wilderness can be rough, it is actually better than the alternative. However, it is not a “blanket promise” in the way that a verse like John 3:16 is. For instance, there might be a rabid grizzly bear roaming in a particular area of wilderness. THAT would not be preferable to sharing a house with even the orneriest, big bad mama we can imagine. So, for this reason, we are tempted to use verses like this to support the argument that the Proverbs are only situation-specific promises, and are really more like principles.

However, look at Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Have you ever heard a preacher say, “That’s just a principle, and not a promise. Most of the time we should trust in the Lord and His direction for our lives, but not always?” I doubt it, and if you have, then I want to meet that preacher. No, we are quick to latch onto certain Proverbs as promises and to dismiss others are mere principles, when the Bible does not authorize us to be that cavalier with the Scriptures.

So, what does all this have to do with Proverbs 22:6? I’ll tell you what. The interpretation and application of Proverbs 22:6 is fraught with situational temptation.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it

Proverbs 22:6

Imagine you are a preacher preaching to a congregation where an older couple is present, and they have served faithfully in church for many years, having brought up their son from his birth to be faithful right alongside them. This couple was consistent with discipline. They attended services faithfully. They gave sacrificially. They weren’t hypocritical. They glorified God in church and out of church, and they did their dead level best to bring up their child in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. However, once Junior moved out on his own, he stopped going to church, got into trouble with the law, took up drugs, alcohol, and fornication, and is now living like the devil’s disciple. What does the preacher say when he gets to Proverbs 22:6? He can’t say God was wrong. The more political spin is to say it’s a principle and not a promise, and that, even though Dad and Mom did a fine job raising Junior, they can’t really be responsible for his choice to deviate from the general principle of Proverbs 22:6.

So, I think the most common answer to your question is that, while it is admirable that you want to claim a promise from God, you had better not be too hasty. You’re just a young parent, and you should do your best, but don’t count on your little tyke growing up to do what’s right. In other words, hope he falls under the general principle, but don’t blame God (or yourself) for breaking a promise if he goes astray.

I am not going to give you that answer, because I really don’t think it’s the right way to read or apply that verse, for two reasons.

1. We have to be careful about importing our modern word-usages into Bible verses that were translated a long time ago. We have a tendency to read “Train up a child in the way he SHOULD go” and place a moral value judgment on the word “should.” If I say, “We SHOULD treat people with respect,” then it is clear that I mean we ought to treat people with respect because it is the morally right thing to do. Likewise, we read Proverbs 22:6 and we automatically think that it means that the way a child SHOULD go is God’s way, and to go another way is the morally wrong way to go. That is a true statement, but I do not think that is the way the Holy Spirit intended for us to use “should” in that verse.

The other way to use “should” is to say, “A round ball placed at the top of a hill SHOULD roll down the hill.” This is not a moral judgment. It’s an expression of a natural tendency. I believe that this was the intention of the translators in Proverbs 22:6 (and the meaning that best matches the original Hebrew text). In other words, the verse is telling what happens if parents train their child in the way he has a natural tendency to go. I would never presume to correct the King James translators, but I think the modern wording (versus the 1611 wording) would sound more like, “Train up a child according to his way…”

This changes the whole dynamic of the principle vs. promise question. Because now we are talking about a couple of additional options for understanding the verse. For one, it could be telling parents to watch our children to see what sort of natural tendencies and talents they appear to have, and then to encourage them along those lines. Then, when they are “old” they won’t “depart” from doing what they love to do and have been naturally gifted to do. Or (and this is the option I really think is correct, although it is admittedly the minority view among Bible scholars), because children are naturally sinful, the way they “should” go (apart from our correction), or the way they have a natural tendency to go, unless they are changed by God, is toward evil and sin. Therefore, the verse would be both a promise and principle, but primarily a warning for parents of the consequences of reinforcing children in their own sinful ways, until they get to the (“old”) age when it would be too late for us to influence them to change.

Now, I will admit that, while I do not hold to the “moral value” interpretation of “should,” in Proverbs 22:6, nearly all other Bible teachers historically HAVE held to that view, and if you are inclined to agree with them, I would only caution you not to adopt a casual view of dismissing what seem to be God’s promises. If Proverbs 22:6 is TRUE (and it certainly is, regardless of whether it is a technical promise or a technical principle), then no parents of grown, and yet wayward, children can shake a fist at God, and accuse Him of not keeping His Word. God’s standards are always higher than ours, and even the best parents in the world have been far from perfect, and need God’s wonderful and amazing grace if they are to even have a hope of bringing up children that glorify Him.

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