October 30th – God is Love

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (ESV)

So we return to where we began, the inspiration for this whole month of meditations.  After a month of studying the Old Testament, does this verse look different?  Is John 3:16 more or less important than it was?  Taken in the context of Scripture as a whole, what can we learn from this most famous verse?  For one last time, let’s dive in.

It’s not clear whether these are words from Jesus Himself, or John’s interpretation of His words.  Either way, they come in the context of a conversation with Nicodemus, a teacher of the Law.  He would have been intimately familiar with the passages we have spent a month exploring.  And he was flabbergasted by what Jesus was saying to him.  In a clandestine nighttime meeting, Jesus spoke of being born again by the Holy Spirit and the Son of Man coming down from God.  The only coherent question Nicodemus can stammer out regards the anatomical impossibility of crawling back into your mother’s uterus.  The Old Testament is a visceral thing, a book concerned with the physical realities of sacrifice, war, sex, menstruation, circumcision, disease, hygiene, etc.  Jesus speaks of such things, too, but He is much more concerned with the soul.  For a Jew like Nicodemus, the body mattered more than the soul, and outward adherence to the Law more than inward renewal.  Jews didn’t really even have a concept of heaven and hell.  They believed that the dead went to a sort of amorphous place called Sheol, or “the grave”.  Eternal life would have been seen more as living on through your descendents (hence the genealogies).  With this verse, Jesus, as he so often did, shattered the traditional Jewish interpretation of the Law.  In its place, he revealed a God who loves.

Love is far from absent in the Old Testament.  When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he responds by quoting two Torah passages about loving God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and loving your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), concluding, “on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).  So if Jesus had to sum up the last month of verses, he would use the word “love”.  Would you?  Looking back, I see passages about suffering and injustice, about righteousness and vengeance, about wealth and pride, about blessings and curses.  I feel like summing it up in one word would require the word “holiness”.  God called His people to be holy, to be set apart for Him.  Love mainly meant loving other people who followed the Lord.  But look at John 3:16: “for God so loved the world“.  The world!  That’s a revolutionary statement.  When God looked at the world in Noah’s time, he destroyed it.  And now Jesus says that His Father loves the world.  As the (undeservedly) less famous John 3:17 puts it, “for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  There are no qualifiers here, no requirements to follow the Law or not be a jerk.  God does not condemn the world; God loves the world.  He loves it so much that, while they sinned, He sent His only Son to die for them (Romans 5:8).  In the past, God sent judges and priests and prophets to speak to just His people.  For the rest of humanity, there was only judgement.  But now, God sends His Son, not just to the Jews, but to the world.  The striving for holiness through legalism has been replaced with a gift of love and grace found in the Son of Man.  No wonder Nicodemus couldn’t pick his jaw up off the ground.  Everything he thought he knew about God was wrong (or at least incomplete).  “Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’” (John 3:9).  The reply, standing in front of him with a scraggly beard and tattered clothes, was Jesus Himself, the Son of God, offering eternal life.

If I had to sum up how this past month has recontextualized John 3:16, I would say it shows how radical the message of the gospel is.  Much of the Old Testament is concerned with religion — practices, ethics, philosophy, government, even architecture.  But these words from Jesus are not about religion at all.  They are about a relationship.  You can hear God’s yearning for relationship in the background of all the verses we’ve covered.  Then Jesus arrived and tore down the whole edifice that had been constructed by the Jews to get to God, to earn that relationship.  In its place, there is only the amazing grace of God and the free gift of salvation to all who believe.  Of course, Jesus did not just throw out the Law, indeed He demanded even greater righteousness than the Torah (see Matthew 5:17-18).  But, as Paul puts it, “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).  The Law existed to lead us to a relationship with Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:24).  The prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah.  All of Holy Scripture points in one direction, to the Cross of Christ, where justice and mercy met and the Law was both nullified and fulfilled.  He died once for all that we might have eternal life, and rose from the dead to be prophet, priest, and king forever.  On the cross, Jesus said, “it is finished” (John 19:30).  And it is.  Christ has completed the work that we have spent this month reading about.  Now God dwells with us, in our very souls, forever.  All we have to do is believe.

Maybe I should reconsider how to sum up the message of the verses we have read.  Maybe the one word that summarizes it all is “believe”.  Look at how often we have been told that God sees, God remembers, God cares, God forgives, God blesses.  It is all about the work and the sovereignty of God.  The only thing He asked of His people, the only thing he ever asks, is that we believe in Him and His ability to accomplish His purposes.  For He has kept His promises time and again, even (or especially) when we were unfaithful.  New and eternal life awaits us if we only turn to Jesus and believe in Him.  No, Nicodemus, we do not have to crawl back inside our mother’s womb to be born again.  It is as simple as saying “yes”.  If you have never said it before, Jesus invites you to say yes to Him and begin eternal life today.  If you have said yes before, say it again today, for each day we must begin anew.  And, in doing so, we will discover the greatest truth, the fulfillment of all the Scriptures: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

October 29th – Remembering the God Who Remembers

Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.

Malachi 3:16 (ESV)

What a ride!  The Persians, who conquered the Babylonians, have allowed the Jews to return home.  Under Nehemiah they have rebuilt the walls of the city, and under Ezra they have reinstituted the Law.  Now what?  Faithfulness and justice still remain the exception in Judah, and the promised Messianic age seems far away indeed.  The two verses preceding this one sum it up: “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?  And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’” (3:14-15).  If the Jews thought that returning to the Promised Land would solve all their problems, Malachi has disabused them of that idea.  Where is the hope?

Following the Lord can feel like a lonely struggle.  So the opening sentence in this verse holds special importance.  By speaking to one another, the faithful can encourage and strengthen each other for the journey.  If nothing else, such conversation reminds us that we are not alone.  “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).  Much as Malachi anticipated the “day of the Lord” and the coming of the Messiah, we await the second coming of Our Lord by encouraging our brothers and sisters.  This is why “me-and-Jesus” Christianity doesn’t work.  We need each other.  “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing”  (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  Corporate ministry, prayer meetings, Bible studies, spiritual direction/counseling, and, most importantly, weekly church attendance are all ways that we can benefit from the Body of Christ.  As Paul puts it, “if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  You don’t have to suffer alone, and corporate rejoicing is that much more joyful.  Christ will be with us, as He promised: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).  Which leads us to the next point.

Our verse says that “the Lord paid attention and heard them”.  God is always paying attention, of course, but there is special power when His people come together in prayer.  Go back one verse in that Matthew passage I just quoted and you’ll read: “I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (18:19).  What a promise!  If we find ourselves in times of trouble and in an unfaithful land, we must come together as one and turn to the Lord.  “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (1 Chronicles 7:14).  The Lord hears our prayers at all times.  But when we come together, He knows that we are serious about following through, and He “pays attention”.  There are blessings untold in store for those who believe, and the Lord wants to pour them out on us.  All we have to do is gather together and ask for them.

This verse ends with God writing the names of the faithful in a “book of remembrance”.  The Persian kings had such books written to record who had rendered services to the kings and, thus, who should be rewarded (see e.g. Esther 6:1).  The Bible mentions that the kings of Israel and Judah kept similar annals as well (see e.g. 1 Kings 11:41).  We talked in the meditation on Numbers about God remembering each of us by name.  We’ve also talked about how the books of Chronicles exist in order to remind the people of God’s faithfulness.  The Bible is filled with prayers asking God to remember the covenants. And God promises to do so.  In fact, it seems that God has a book of His own for that very purpose: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8).  The book of Daniel envisions the last judgement as a court room in which the Lord opens His book (Daniel 7:10).  And, of course, in Revelation there is the Book of Life: “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life” (3:5).  More intimate still, God says, “behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16).  Like a student cheating on a test, God writes only the most important information on the palm of His hand.  And that information is your name.

More important than God’s memory, which is infallible, is ours, which is not.  God often is not asking us to learn anything new, but to remember what we’ve already been taught.  Since I can’t seem to write one of these meditations without a bullet-point list of Scriptures, here’s a sampling of Biblical calls to remember:

  • Then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:12)
  • Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come. (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
  • Remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations. (1 Chronicles 16:15)
  • O LORD, I remember Your name in the night, and keep Your law. (Psalm 119:55)

It’s a cycle – when we remember the Lord, the Lord remembers us, which causes us to remember….  Notice also how remembering leads to action, to keeping the Law and avoiding evil.  And there is one action we can do most of all to remember the Lord:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

In the sacrament of Holy Communion, we remember and, in a sacred mystery, participate in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf.  This is why we must keep meeting together.  In the Word and the Sacraments, we are reminded of God’s love for us found in Jesus.  For God’s book is not just in heaven, but here on earth.  And I don’t just mean the Bible.  God’s “book of remembrance” is revealed each time the people of God gather to celebrate or mourn or worship.  God remembers us and sees our faith.  Let us gather together in rememberance of Him.

October 28th – Fear Not!

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.

Zephaniah 3:16 (ESV)

I don’t know if it’s true, but apparently the Bible has 365 “fear not” statements, one for every day of the year.  In any case, it is one of the most frequent commands in Scripture.  The Biblical message about fear is summed up best in this familiar verse: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4).  We have much to fear in this world, and it all ends in death.  But God is with us to discipline us and guide us.  You know the rest of it.  He prepares a table for us with overflowing abundance.  Goodness and mercy follow our every step.  And we will dwell with God forever.  Faith in the promises of God, in His goodness and provision, is the only lasting antidote to fear.

The book of Zephaniah begins with judgement.  He was prophesying to Judah as it fell into degeneracy and idolatry.  Much like Joel, Zephaniah foretells the coming judgement not just for Judah, but for the whole world, the “day of the Lord”.  But the book ends with a luminous passage that promises restoration and salvation.  Verse 15 promises that God will be a king of peace, while verse 17 contains one of the most beautiful images in Scripture: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing”.  When my kids are upset or fearful, one of the easiest ways to calm them is with singing.  And the Lord does the same for us.  His love conquers our fears.  As John puts it “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18).  We need not fear the “punishment” of the Lord, because He loves us and will save us.  I could quote scripture about fear until this post is book length, but the Lord’s love and care is the point of all of them.  There is, however, a second command in Zephaniah 3:16…

The command is easy to miss, but vital to understand: “let not your hands grow weak”.  Fear causes us to give up, to drop our hands and stop working.  This renders us unable to fight our daily battles.  In Jeremiah, when the people hear of a coming invasion it says, “we have heard the report of it; our hands fall helpless; anguish has taken hold of us, pain as of a woman in labor” (Jeremiah 6:24).  Their fear has put them in such psychological pain that they are unable to function.  No wonder the Bible reiterates the command to “strengthen feeble hands” in both the Old Testament (Isaiah 35:3) and the New (Hebrews 12:12).  For the Lord has given us work to do and hands with which to do it.  This is why Satan wants you to remain in fear, for then you can do no work for the kingdom.  Trusting in the Lord strengthens our hands, because, after all, it is really His hands that hold the world. 

In Joshua chapter 1, the Lord commands His people three times to “be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (1:9).  Why does he give them this command?  Because they were about to cross into and possess the Promised Land.  When the Lord calls us into something new or asks us to change, fear can take over.  But there are promised lands ahead of us if we take courage and strengthen our feeble hands.  The Lord is not some Zeus-like figure sitting on a cloud ready to smite us for the slightest mistake.  No, He rejoices over us with singing and sets out a feast for us.  As Jesus Himself said, “fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).  The kingdom!  Jesus is in the process of making all things new, of restoring the rightful King to His throne.  And we are heirs of that kingdom (Romans 8:17).  So what are you afraid of?  Is it something big like nuclear war or terrorism or economic collapse or a pandemic?  Or is it something more personal like an illness, marital problems, money trouble or unemployment?  No matter, the message is the same:  fear not!  Whatever you face, whatever we all may face, the Lord will be with us.  Let us love with abandon, driving out fear and proclaiming a new kingdom of hope and peace.  To close, I leave you with this incredible promise that ends the book of Zephaniah (3:19-20):

Behold, at that time I will deal
    with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you in,
    at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
    among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
    before your eyes,” says the Lord. 

October 27th – Vengeance is the Lord’s

I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.

Habakkuk 3:16 (ESV)

My first day of college classes was September 11th, 2001.  I attended my 10 a.m. class and then headed to the student center with my roommate to buy some posters to decorate our dorm room.  At the sale, I overheard one student talking about an “attack” and “thousands of people dead” and (the gut-punch moment) “New York”.  My roommate and I looked at each other and said, “we better get back to the dorm”.  Walking down that hall was one of the eeriest feelings of my life.  Usually you could hear different sounds coming from the rooms: video games, music, AOL IM “beep-boops”, SportsCenter.  On that morning, every room had the news on.  I walked down the hall, and all I could hear was Tom Brokaw describing a scene of unimaginable horror.  We gathered in one room and watched the tv in stunned silence.  Then we started seeing the pictures from the Pentagon, and one student said, almost under his breath (pardon the language), “holy shit, we’re under attack.”  Being an 18-year-old male and watching your nation get drawn into a war is terrifying.  My whole body felt like it was vibrating; I had a sick feeling in my stomach that didn’t leave for days.  In that room, we held an impromptu prayer session, because what else could we do?  2600 years ago, Habakkuk wrote today’s verse, an evocative description of the exact same feeling.  History doesn’t repeat, but it certainly rhymes.

Habakkuk prophesied in the years leading up the Babylonian invasion of Judah.  The book begins with a vivid back-and-forth between the prophet and God where Habakkuk complains about God’s “inaction” while God assures Habakkuk that He is in control.  God promises to bring Babylon to justice.  As for Judea, God reminds them that “the righteous shall live by faith” (2:4).  Habakkuk takes this to heart, and in 3:16 he waits patiently for God to do the work (there’s that waiting thing again).  He concludes the book with a famous passage worth quoting in full (3:17-19):

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
 God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

Even if he sees no evidence of God’s saving work, Habakkuk will rejoice.  And, indeed, a Judean 9/11 happened anyway.  But the righteous shall live by faith.

In the weeks following the 9/11 attacks, fear was replaced by another emotion: anger.  President George W. Bush summed it up in the biggest applause line of his now-iconic “bullhorn speech” at Ground Zero:  “the people who knocked down these towers will hear from all of us soon!”  The president spoke before Congress and said, “whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.”  Then America proceeded to bomb Afghanistan (and later Iraq) into oblivion.  The desire for revenge is natural and human, stemming, as President Bush said, from our desire for justice.  We want to inflict pain on people who hurt us or those we love.  Under attack, our prayer is often “O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth!” (Psalm 94:1).  “God of vengeance” – there’s a title worth exploring…

The Bible is clear about revenge – don’t do it:

  • You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).
  • Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)
  •  See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
  • Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. (Romans 12:17)

 

Notice the pattern here?  Instead of revenge, we are to do good to our neighbor, blessing and honoring them.  Do I even need to bring up Jesus’ commands to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and pray for them (Luke 6:27-28)?  This command is difficult, but clear.  So how do we square this with the need to see justice done?  We serve a God who avenges.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19).  We don’t really like to talk about the wrath of God much these days, but there it is (in the New Testament!).  We do not have to take vengeance because God is in control and He is even angrier than you about injustice.  He, and only He, knows what true justice requires.  It is up to Him to decide who should be punished: “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8, NIV).  As we saw in the Ecclesiastes reading, God will end injustice and judge the evildoers.  But be careful.  One of the reasons we ought to forgive our enemies is that we deserve punishment, too.  “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25).  It behooves us to “live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18) in order that our conscience may remain clear when our day of judgement comes.  If it makes you feel any better, the Bible says that doing kindness to your enemy will “heap burning coals on his head and the Lord will reward you” (Proverbs 25:22).  Vengeance inevitably backfires, and while it may taste sweet at the time, it leaves a bitter aftertaste.  The only way to overcome evil is with good (Romans 12:21).  If we truly wish to see justice done, we should live by faith, forgiving as Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).  Our God of vengeance and justice will fight our battles for us and bring us to our reward.  So let us, like Habakkuk, rejoice in the Lord, the God of our salvation.

October 26th – Trusting in Wealth

You increased your merchants more than the stars of the heavens. The locust spreads its wings and flies away.

Nahum 3:16 (ESV)

Do you own more than one pair of shoes?  Did you have a choice about what to eat today?  If you answered yes to these questions, you are rich by world standards.  It’s important to remember that when approaching Biblical condemnations of wealth.  We live in a wealthy time among wealthy people (at least in America), and, all too often, we rely upon that wealth to save us.  But how fickle it can be!  One natural disaster, one medical diagnosis, one recession, and it’s gone.  This is just as true for nations as it is for individuals (remember 2008).  So many American Christians falsely equate the expansion of God’s kingdom with the success of the American empire.  Some early Christians made the same mistake about Rome, and we know how that ended.  Why do we think it will be any different this time?  A nation that judges its worth in GDP and aircraft carriers rather than justice and mercy will soon be judged.  It’s happened before.

Nahum prophesied the downfall of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire.  As you might remember, it was Assyria that conquered the ten northern tribes of Israel in 722 B.C.  Nahum’s prophesies occurred sometime in the 7th-century (600’s) B.C. at the height of Assyria’s power.  His thunderous, poetic declarations of doom must have seemed like the rantings of a lunatic.  Imagine if a homeless man from, say, Haiti started telling the United States that we would be utterly destroyed and our memory wiped from the earth.  I doubt it would even make the news.  Assyria was a military, economic, artistic, and cultural powerhouse unlike anything seen before in Mesopotamia.  And yet, in 612 B.C., it all came tumbling down.  Outside invaders (including the Babylonians) and a flood (cf. Nahum 1:8) destroyed Nineveh so completely that when Alexander the Great marched through the area in 331 B.C. he didn’t even know there had been a city there.  Ruins of Nineveh were not discovered by archaeologists until 1850 (before that date, the city was thought by many scholars to be a myth).  “Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?” (Nahum 3:7).  It’s not clear whether the locusts in our verse are literal or metaphorical, but either way they, like the locusts in Joel, represent complete destruction.  A swarm of locusts can strip a field bare, destroying a livelihood and instigating a famine.  No wonder this is the image Nahum used to tell Nineveh that its end was near.  The Lord may have used Assyria to judge His people, but He will judge all unjust empires, no matter how powerful.  It is a lesson we would do well to listen to.

Proverbs, as usual, puts it succinctly: “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf” (11:28).  The Bible frequently warns against trusting in wealth to save you, particularly if that wealth leads to taking advantage of others.  “Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them” (Psalm 62:10).  Notice how this is a matter of the heart.  I’m sure you’ve heard the Bible quote “money is the root of all evil.”  But that’s not how it goes.  “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:10).  Money is not the problem; greed is.  If love of money causes us to wander from faith in our Lord, then many evils will beset us.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).  Nineveh built up for itself perishable treasures and it, well, perished.  But the treasure that lasts, treasure like faith, hope, and love, cannot be bought.  It is a matter of the heart.  As Jesus said:  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 16:21)

But, you might say, I need money to buy necessities like food, clothing, and shelter.  Is that so bad?  Again, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25).  Our Lord says that pagans run after these things.  It’s a matter of faith, of trust.  “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7)  Nineveh trusted in its great merchant vessels, and look where it got them.  It all comes down to this: where is our focus?  Jesus concludes, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).  If we seek the will of the Lord, the expansion of His kingdom (His kingdom), and His righteousness in our lives, we have nothing to be anxious about.  The Lord will provide.  If we put our trust in the government or corporations, they will fail us, for they do not love us.  But God loves His children, and He wants to bless us (Luke 11:11-13).  “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).  Did you catch that?  “Everything to enjoy“.  He wants to bring us not just subsistence, but joy.  Riches can buy many good things, but they cannot buy peace of mind.  “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).  So let us put our focus and our trust not in our bank accounts (or in America) but in Jesus Christ.  Only then will our hearts and minds be at peace.

      

 

October 25th – Our God Is For Us

The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.

Joel 3:16 (ESV)

I’ve already covered the Lord causing suffering in the meditation on Lamentations, while I discussed God as refuge in the Nehemiah meditation, so I won’t rehash any of that here.  Joel is interesting for a different reason.  From a plague of locusts in the first two chapters to the Lord’s thunderous, earthquake-inducing voice here, Joel is filled with apocalyptic imagery.  Just look at the two verses preceding this one: “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision!  For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining” (3:14-15).  Now this is what we expect when we hear “Old Testament prophet”, fire and brimstone and the baddies getting theirs.  Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The 21st-century evangelical Church is obsessed with the end of the world.  Walk into any Christian bookstore and you will find a thriving end times section, complete with prophesies that link books like Joel and Revelation to events ripped from the headlines.  Just look at the popularity of the Left Behind books and movies or watch (or, better yet, don’t watch) t.v. preachers like John Hagee.  They tell us how to spot the anti-Christ and the mark of the beast, how natural disasters surely mean the world is ending, and to expect Holocaust-level persecution of Christians to arrive in America any minute now.  Fear, just as much as sex, sells.  But is it Biblical?  Of course, the world will end someday with the triumphant return of Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead.  Passages in Joel about the “day of Lord” refer both to a restoration of Judah from exile and to the restoration of all things under the Messiah.  The wicked will be punished and the righteous rewarded.  Taken together with the Lord’s promised refuge (see today’s verse), all of this strikes me as good news and no reason for fear.

In Matthew 24, Jesus says that the end times will produce false messiahs, wars and rumors of war, earthquakes, famines, and religious persecution.  Oh, my gosh, all of that is happening now!  It must be the end of the world!  Well, if you look carefully, all of these things happen all of the time.  Here’s the point: ever since Christ came, we’ve been living in the end times.  Peter wrote in the 1st century, “The end of all things is near” (1 Peter 4:7, NIV). It’s as true now as it was then.  So listen to the second half of that verse: “therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray”.  Our response to these events should be prayer and watchfulness (see the Ezekiel meditation).  Alarmism and a persecution complex are not the hallmarks of faith in an almighty God.  And quit trying to guess when Christ will come again, as Jesus said, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).  If even Jesus doesn’t know when He’s coming back, that book or website or preacher certainly doesn’t.  Relax.  Trust and obey.  Whatever may come, God will be a refuge for us.

Of course, such prophesies sometimes lead to the opposite problem.  Instead of panicking about persecution, evangelicals often believe in the Rapture that will save the righteous before the Great Tribulation.  Now, I’m not going to touch the various theories of the end times because they’re all just that: theories.  But I will say that Rapture theology has contributed to the bunker mentality of many modern Christians.  We just have to survive this evil world long enough for God to snatch us out of it.  This leads to a sort of complacency and “us-vs.-them” mentality with regards to the world.  But how on earth are we supposed to follow the Great Commission if we are hiding out waiting for the end of the world?  Also, why do you think that you’re going to be one of those raptured?  You sure have a high regard for your personal holiness.  If you read Joel carefully, you will see that God’s judgement started with the Jews, not their enemies.  “Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar…consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly.  Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord” (Joel 1:13-14).  The refuge that the Lord offers is for those who repent.  The coming apocalypse should be a call not for us to point out the evils in the world, but for us to root the evils out of our own hearts.  “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)  The judgment of God begins with the Church.

This all sounds rather dire, but Joel ends with a promise.  “And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord” (3:18).  To quote Veggie Tales, “sounds sticky!”  But it also sounds like a promise of abundance and new life.  There is hope in our God of love and grace.  He wants to lavish us with blessings.  So let us live neither in fear nor complacency, but in faith.  “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)  God is on our side and will give us everything we need.  Though the locusts come and the earth quake and the mountains fall, our God is for us.     

October 24th – If You’re On Fire, Show Me

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter”.

Daniel 3:16 (ESV)

At the beginning of the second act of the musical My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle is fed up.  Ignored by Henry Higgins, she instead has to put up with the lovestruck (and kind of stalker-y) Freddy Eynsford-Hill singing about his devotion to her.  In response, she belts out the lines “Don’t talk of stars, burning above / If you’re in love, show me / Tell me not dreams, filled with desire / If you’re on fire, show me”.  Like most single women, Eliza has heard plenty of words about love, but seen precious few actions to back them up.  I’m sure God feels the same way sometimes.  Think of Jesus’ parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32) in which one son says he will not work for his father, but eventually he does, while the other son says he will go to work, but doesn’t.  Only the first son actually did the will of his father.  Words are cheap and easy to manipulate; action is difficult and reveals the heart.  “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (or Rack, Shack, and Benny to you Veggie Tales fans) were Jewish exiles in Babylon.  They suffered under the tyrant king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar (or Mr. Nezzar, if you prefer).  Even their names had been taken from them – their Jewish names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (why we use their Babylonian names instead, I’ll never know).  But they and Daniel remained faithful to the Lord, and their wisdom and Daniel’s prophesies led them to high positions in the king’s court.  However, in chapter 3, Mr. Nezzar pushes things to a breaking point.  He builds a 90-foot high (!) image of himself in gold and demands that, when music is played, all should bow before it in worship.  The punishment for not doing so is to be cast into a fiery furnace.  Rack, Shack, and Benny refuse to bow and are brought before the king.  He threatens them with the furnace, concluding “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (3:15).  The response of the three men is fascinating and instructive.

When we speak about evangelism, we generally think about argument.  There is a whole cottage industry in evangelicalism devoted to refining rational arguments to bring people to faith in Christ.  Many of these books and resources are wonderful (I own quite a few myself), but they only go so far.  If human beings were purely rational, and if we were offering a religion rather than a relationship, apologetics by itself would be fine.  But words are cheap.  Most people who don’t follow Christ are not doing so out of ignorance.  They’ve heard the message.  They just remain unconvinced that it’s true.  Like Eliza, they are saying to us, “show me”.  And if you look at the book of Acts, you will see that the words were always accompanied by actions, by healing, deliverance, works of mercy, and the like.  As Paul himself put it, “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).  Without the gifts and power of the Spirit, our words fall flat.  Peter’s sermon on Pentecost brought 3,000 people to Christ only because they had first seen the power of the Holy Spirit.  Peter’s job was simply to explain what had just happened.  Words should follow action, not the other way around.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (fine, I’ll use their full names) demonstrate this perfectly.  Rather than try to convince the king of God’s might, they call Nebuchadnezzar’s bluff.  They simply say that God can save them from the furnace, and, even if he doesn’t, they still won’t bow down to the idol.  You know how this ends.  The three men are thrown into a fire so hot that it kills the men throwing them in.  But when the king and his counselors look in they see four men walking around the fire, unharmed.  All present know that the fourth man is God.  As Peter reminds us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed”. (1 Peter 4:12-13).  God’s glory was revealed in the fire as Christ Himself (in pre-incarnate form) walked with these three faithful men.  This miracle caused Nebuchadnezzar to make an about-face. He promised to punish anyone who would speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  The prophetic message was undeniable, for it was proven by actions taken in faith.  They were right when they said “we have no need to answer you in this matter” because God answered on their behalf.

As far as I can tell, St. Francis never actually said, “preach the gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words.”  This misquote is often used as an excuse for not sharing the gospel when we ought to.  He did say:

But as for me, I desire this privilege from the Lord, that never may I have any privilege from man, except to do reverence to all, and to convert the world by obedience to the Holy Rule rather by example than by word.

St. Francis, like Daniel and Paul and Jesus, had nothing against words, per se.  Sometimes we must open our mouths in order to share the gospel.  But actions are far more important.  Our words only have meaning, and our faith is only compelling, when our actions back them up.  You can sing beautiful songs to the Lord and preach beautiful sermons and talk about how much you’re on fire for God.  But, as Eliza said, “if you’re on fire, show me”.  Rack, Shack, and Benny were on fire for the Lord, so no human fire could touch them.  Let us follow their example, in word and action.

 

October 23rd – Waiting on the Lord

And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me:

Ezekiel 3:16 (ESV)

Ezekiel has visions in the first few chapters of his book so bizarre that people have suggested he was either seeing aliens or on drugs.  Bright creatures with multiple faces and wings; wheels within wheels; a metallic man on a throne surrounded by fire; a voice in the clouds.  To top it all off, the voice tells him to take a scroll and eat it.  Amidst all this, Ezekiel is given a call to be a prophet to Judah in exile and a thunderous voice extols the glory of the Lord.  Ezekiel says, “it was the sound of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them, and the sound of a great earthquake” (3:13).  With that, he returns to his people in exile. “And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days” (3:15).  I can imagine.  What was Ezekiel supposed to do with all of this?  The wait must have seemed much longer than seven days.

In the Bible, the number seven represents completion or perfection.  God created the earth in six days, “and on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day” (Genesis 2:2).  Because of this, God commanded that His people set aside every seventh day as a day of rest, a Sabbath.  Noah took seven pairs of each clean animal onto the ark (Genesis 7:2).  Animal sacrifices had to be at least seven days old (Exodus 22:30).  Joshua and the people marched around Jericho for seven days (and seven times on the seventh day), and God toppled the walls (Joshua 6).  God healed Naaman’s leprosy when he dipped himself in the Jordan seven times (2 Kings 5).  You get the idea.  God waited seven days before giving Ezekiel his call because those seven days were completing a perfect work within the prophet.  God then told him, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (3:17).  If Ezekiel is to be a watchmen, he’ll have to learn how to watch and wait.  The seven-day wait, just as much as the word itself, was a part of Ezekiel’s training and Ezekiel’s call.

I don’t like waiting.  We live in a world that values efficiency and why not?  Life is short.  Why sit around when you could be doing something?  We like to brag about how busy we are, all the while judging those we perceive to be “lazy”.  With global business supply chains and a 24-hour news cycle, the world never sleeps.  A Sabbath is a backward concept, time lost to our competitors (whoever that may be).  After all, time is money.  Even in parenting and schooling, we schedule our kids lives down to the minute lest they fall behind.  Unstructured play doesn’t have an obvious educational output, so we cancel recess.  All this and we wonder why we have such problems with mental health, substance abuse, heart disease, and suicide.  We are literally killing ourselves by trying to gain that which we cannot keep and earn that which we have already been given.  Patience is a lost virtue because we do not trust the Lord to run His world.  Of course, the problem isn’t new.

Scripture is full of reminders to wait upon the Lord.  Just a sampling:

  • Wait for the Lordbe strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:14)
  • Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. (Psalm 25:5)
  • Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. (James 5:7)
  • The Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. (Isaiah 30:18)
  • They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Those who wait receive a blessing, and the waiting itself can be a blessing because it brings courage, faith, and strength.  To receive this blessing we must, like Ezekiel, be watchmen.  “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning” (Psalm 130:6).  In fact, our mission as Christians is to wait on God.  Jesus said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42, NIV). The way to prepare for the Lord’s coming is not to be busy, but to watch for the Lord.  This is not a passive activity, for we are still at war.  As Peter says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  We are to stay alert and awake to all that the Lord (and His enemy) are doing around us.

All this watching and alertness seems somewhat contradictory to the idea of resting in the Lord.  Jesus artfully shows how they go together in a parable: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  Resting in the Lord involves taking up a yoke.  In obedience, we have work to do.  But we are trying to do it under our own power, and that yoke is breaking our back.  Let me repeat:  IT IS NOT YOUR JOB TO SAVE THE WORLD.  That position is already filled.  Our job is to trust and obey the Savior, to watch and pray and listen for His voice.  Like Ezekiel, we must wait while the Lord brings us (and the world) to perfection and completion.  In the words of Jesus, “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!'” (Mark 13:37, NIV). 

 

 

October 22nd – When God Brings Suffering

He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes;

Lamentations 3:16 (ESV)

This just feels wrong.  We know that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34:6), indeed that He is love (1 John 4:8).  So, how can he do this?  How can God cause us to suffer?  Because, make no mistake, the Bible clearly says that God brings calamity.  And lest you think this is just that mean “Old Testament God”, Jesus himself asserts that God “sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).  It’s bad enough that a good God allows suffering, but the idea that He would cause it feels intolerable.  As always, when we come across a difficult verse, let’s start with the context.

Lamentations…well…laments the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. and the subsequent exile.  Chapter three is the most personal of these laments, focusing on the individual suffering of one man (maybe Jeremiah).  This verse may actually have a literal meaning.  It’s possible that the Jews were forced to eat bread mixed with dirt or sand during the exile, because it had to be baked in pits dug out of the ground.  And covering yourself in sackcloth and ashes was a way to show great distress, mourning, or repentance.  That’s the first point.  This suffering is in direct relation to the events that have occurred.  God is not capriciously adding suffering by throwing rocks at their teeth and dumping ashes on their heads.  Also, as we have seen, God had warned of the consequences of apostasy and idolatry.  This did not happen suddenly.  From the Torah down through the prophets, God had patiently called His people back to Himself, and time and again the people of God returned to sinning.  And sin has natural consequences.

Parents know all about natural consequences.  My one-year-old son likes to dump the water from the dog’s water bowl out onto our hardwood floors.  He has been told repeatedly not to do this, and knows he’s not supposed to, but he keeps doing it anyway (because that’s what toddlers do).  Sometimes, I will hear a thunk and then a cry.  And sure enough, there he is in a puddle of water, crying, because he slipped on the wet floor and fell.  I pick him up and comfort him, saying “this is why we don’t dump the dog’s water out”.  And he will give me a look like “why did you let me slip and fall?  How could you do this to me?”  I did, in some sense, cause his suffering by not saving him immediately from the wet floor.  But what happened to him was a natural consequence of his disobedience.  Eventually, he will learn not to spill water on a floor because it is dangerous – it will hurt him or someone else (and the dog will be thirsty).  Much of our suffering is like this.  Sin can be simply defined as that which hurts us or someone else.  If we sin, we will hurt someone.  If someone else sins, we might get hurt.  To be sure, it’s not always fair who gets hurt when sin is committed (I’ve slipped on those wet floors, too), but that’s why God takes sin so seriously.  Rain falls on the just and the unjust.

This explanation may feel like a cop-out to some people.  Clearly, Lamentations 3 says that God has brought about the suffering of His people through a positive choice and not just natural consequences.  Perhaps, then, we should talk about sovereignty and omnipotence.  God’s sovereignty means that he rules over the earth:

  • The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein (Psalm 24:1).
  • The Lord sits enthroned as king forever (Psalm 29:10).
  • Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all (1 Chronicles 29:11).

God’s omnipotence means He has the power to accomplish anything He wishes:

  • Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you (Jeremiah 32:17)
  • Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. (Psalm 135:6)
  • [God says] My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. (Isaiah 46:10-11)

In short, nothing happens on God’s earth without God having caused or allowed it.  “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:38).  We Christians tend to blame Satan for every bad thing that happens to us.  We give the devil more than his due.  The ancient Jews, on the other hand, knew that God is sovereign and that good and evil both fall under His providence.  “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol [the grave], you are there!” (Psalm 139:8)  Even Hell is not outside God’s power.  God respects human free will to allow us to even choose our own damnation, to suffer eternally.  This is difficult to accept, but it’s necessary for free will to exist.  If we are free to love, we must also be free to hate.  Ever since Genesis chapter 3, suffering has been a part of existence.  But thanks be to God that He is sovereign and omnipotent over it.

But we haven’t asked one really important question: how does Lamentations 3 deal with this problem?  First, the author prays.  “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!” (verse 19)  Then he recalls God’s love and mercy, concluding “great is your faithfulness” (23).  This past faithfulness leads him to have hope, and so he determines to “wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (26).  In direct relation to our verse, he says “let him [man] put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope;” (29).  Through perseverence, hope can be found.  Then, the crucial passage (31-33):

For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.    

The Lord sometimes uses pain to get our attention, but it is only that he may show His great love and compassion.  Suffering, the chapter continues, is an opportunity to repent of sin and return to the Lord.  Lastly, the author concludes by turning toward his enemies: “You will repay them, O Lordaccording to the work of their hands” (64).  As we saw in the Ecclesiastes passage, the Lord will deal with injustice and oppression.  Suffering is temporary, but with God there is eternal life.  “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime” (Psalm 30:5).  Perhaps we should be less concerned about why we are suffering or who is responsible than what we can learn through it.  For in repentance and faithfulness, we will have joy again, and we will see the Lord.  Great is His faithfulness.  

October 21st – Proclaiming a New Covenant

And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again.

Jeremiah 3:16 (ESV)

In the climactic finale of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark (36-year-old spoiler alert), the Nazis finally have their hands on the Ark of the Covenant.  It contains a weapon of unimaginable power that will make the Third Reich unstoppable.  They open it, the music crescendos, and…it is filled with sand.  One of the Nazis cackles with resignation while the sand slips through their fingers.  Then their faces melt off.

The power represented by the Ark and the tablets of the law never came from the objects themselves.  God commanded in that very law not to worship images made by hand (Exodus 20:4-5) so that we would remember that these things only point to a greater power, a Who not a what.  Nowadays, the lost Ark, if we ever found it, would probably contain sand.  But it would still contain power, for it represents the glory of the eternal God.  In this verse, Jeremiah reminds us that the temple, the sacrifices, and even the great Ark itself were all means to an end.  All the covenants God ordained from Noah to Abraham to Moses to David were not enough.  God would craft a new and everlasting covenant.

In the passages we have looked at from Joshua and 2 Chronicles we have seen how central the Ark was to the life of the ancient Jews.  To suggest that it would not be missed must have sounded like lunacy.  In the context of this passage, it would seem even stranger, for Judah was experiencing the greatest revival of temple worship in their history.  King Josiah, who ruled from 640 to 609 B.C., removed pagan idols and their altars from the temple and throughout Judah (see 2 Kings 22 & 23).  The people rediscovered the Law, wept over their sin, and repented.  His reforms were so successful that there was even an effort to spread them to the conquered lands of Israel in the North.  That is the hope underlying this passage.  The original readers of this verse would have envisioned the twelve tribes reunited under Josiah’s gracious rule.  Alas, it was not to be.  Josiah would die in battle during a war Jeremiah warned against, and Judah would be ruled by a succession of weak kings.  Babylon conquered Judah, and exile followed.  Clearly, this verse has a wider meaning.

Thankfully, it is Jeremiah himself who provides this meaning in chapter 31.  It’s worth quoting verses 31 to 34 in full:

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

The upshot of this is that the Law was never an end in itself – it pointed to a relationship with the Lawgiver.  Knowing the Lord is not just for priests and prophets but for all of God’s people.  And notice that the foundation of this covenant is the forgiveness of sins.  This was the passage that would have jumped to mind for the disciples when Jesus said at the Last Supper that “this cup is that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).  Through Christ’s blood sacrifice, the entire sacrificial system was rendered obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), the veil was torn, sin and death were conquered, and all were invited into God’s kingdom.  Jeremiah was right:  we don’t miss the Ark or the temple, for “someone greater than the temple is here” (Matthew 12:6)

The one thing we haven’t talked about yet is the beginning of the verse.  The Jews would have taken the message to multiply and be fruitful literally (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more).  As Christians, we multiply the kingdom through the message of salvation that we bring, and the fruits we bear are the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  Our message is not one of laws to follow or religious ceremonies to perform, but of grace freely given.  We offer to the world a relationship with God the Father through His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.  As Paul puts it, God has made us “ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).  We could never keep the old covenant of the Law represented by the Ark, and we were condemned to die (we all deserved face melting, you might say).  Thanks be to God for the new covenant of grace, forgiveness, and salvation found in our Lord Jesus Christ!  Let us, like Jeremiah, declare this good news today.