Archive for July, 2010

July 30, 2010

Do you shoot the messenger?

by Bethany

This Weekend’s Readings: Jeremiah 26-28, Mark 12-14

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

The threat of injury or death was an occupational hazard for the bearer of bad news in classical times.  Sophocles wrote, “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news” [1].  Similarly, Shakespeare wrote, “Yet the first bringer of unwelcome news hath but a losing office” [2] and, “Though it be honest, it is never good to bring bad news” [3].

The Prophet as Messenger

No one knew this better than the prophets of the LORD.  Some were threatened and even killed for communicating God’s unfavorable message to His people after they repeatedly denied Him [4].  The LORD called Jeremiah to communicate a harsh message to His unrepentant and stubborn people.

  • If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you, to listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again, but you have not listened; then I will make this house like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse to all the nations of the earth. [5].

As expected, the people hated and even wanted to kill him.

  • You must die! … A death sentence for this man!  For he has prophesied against this city as you have heard in your hearing.” [6].

Although Jeremiah is spared from a death sentence in this instance, the people later imprison him [7] and even throw him in a well to die of starvation in another instance [8].

The Spirit as Messenger

How ludicrous that those who don’t like the word of God don’t like its messenger!  If someone calls with bad news, does it make sense to hang up or take out the hearing aid?  Does it make the news any less bad?

Yet, this is what we do.  Rather than embracing a pricked conscience, we silence it.  We turn on the TV, go to the gym or grab a drink at happy hour.  But one day, as Israel discovered, we will hear the Lord’s message – either for healing or for judgment – even if we silence the Spirit.

Do you silence those who speak uncomfortable truths into your life?  Have you made peace with your sin and set up camp so that you’ve thrown the Word into a “prison” or a “well”?   How have you recently responded to criticism?  Do you pray for a teachable and humble heart to hear the Spirit?

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[1] Antigone (c. 442 BC)  |  [2] Henry IV, Part 2 (1596 – 1599)  |  [3] Antony and Cleopatra (1606-07)  |  [4]  e.g., Micah of Moresheth, Jeremiah 26:18-19, and Uriah the son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim, Jeremiah 26:20.  |  [5]  Jeremiah 26:4-6 NASB  |  [6]  Jeremiah 26:8, 11 NASB  |  [7] Jeremiah 37:11-21 |  [8] Jeremiah 38:1-16

July 29, 2010

Is life nothing more than a battle of wits with God?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Jeremiah 25, Mark 11

Battle of Wits

In The Princess Bride, the Dread Pirate Roberts allegedly puts poison (iocane powder) into one of two cups of wine and challenges Vizzini to choose between them.

Dread Pirate Roberts:  Alright.  Where is the poison?  The battle of wits has begun.  It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right.  And who is dead.

After deceptively switching the cups, each man drinks from his respective cup.

Dread Pirate Roberts:  You guessed wrong.

Vizzini:  You only think I guessed wrong!  That’s what’s so funny!  I switched glasses when your back was turned!  Ha!  You fool!  You fell victim to one of the classic blunders!  The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line! Ha!

After Vizzini keels over dead, however, Roberts explains that, although both cups were poisoned, he lived because he “spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.” [1]

Cup of Judgment

Is God like Dread Pirate Roberts – tricking us into thinking we have two options when, in fact, we’ll suffer regardless and He won’t either way?  Is life nothing more than a losing battle of wits against our Creator?

God tells Jeremiah that every nation will drink from the cup of God’s wrath on account of their disobedience [2].

  • Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand and cause all the nations … to drink it … You will not be free from punishment; for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth. [3].

Yet, as we saw yesterday, God isn’t manipulative; He clearly identifies which cup has mercy and which has judgment.  Moreover, God Himself voluntarily drinks the cup of judgment and offers us the cup of mercy.

On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus was overcome with the thought of drinking from the cup of God’s wrath.

  • Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done. [5] [4]

God’s will was done when Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath so that the nations wouldn’t have to.  Yet, how do you see God – as abusing His power to see us suffer or suffering as a servant for us?  Have you accepted His cup of mercy?

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[1] YouTube: The Princess Bride excerpt |  [2] He starts with His own people and ends with the Babylonians. Jeremiah 25:18-26  |  [3] Jeremiah 25:15-16, 28-29 NASB  [4] See Luke 22:17-18 NASB  [5] Luke 22:41-42 NASB

July 28, 2010

Do you love the injustice of God?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Jeremiah 24, Mark 10

In Support of Injustice

No one wants pure justice.  We may beg for it when we’re treated unfairly to our detriment, but we don’t want it when we’re treated unfairly to our benefit.  As The Merchant of Venice’s Portia reasons:

  • Though justice be thy plea, consider this –
    That in the course of justice, none of us
    Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy … [1]

God’s Injustice

God warned His people for 23 years [2].  First, He told them to either worship Him or idols.  When they chose idols, justice required punishment for disobedience, but God mercifully gave them another choice – repent of their idol worship or continue in their unfaithfulness.  When they remained unrepentant, they again merited just punishment.  Finally, however, He gave them another choice – be restored by submitting to His discipline (i.e., exile in Babylon) or receive judgment.

In 597 BC, when King Nebuchadnezzar deported 10,000 captives from Jerusalem to Babylon [3], the LORD sent Jeremiah to a fruit stand and showed him two baskets, one with good figs and the other with bad ones, to symbolize those who accepted His discipline and those who didn’t.

Bad Figs

The bad figs were those who would refuse exile, staying in Jerusalem or fleeing to Egypt.  Their punishment would be severe.

  • I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms … And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they shall be utterly destroyed … [4]

Although their aim was to suffer less, they would suffer more.  While those who stayed in Jerusalem suffered by sword, famine or plague, those who fled to Egypt returned to their harsh captivity [5].

Good Figs

The good figs were those who would accept God’s discipline through exile.  Their blessings would be bountiful.

  • I will set my eyes on them for good … I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. [6]

Although the exiles were just as rotten and, therefore, merited the same punishment as the disobedient bad figs, God chose to “regard” them as good because of His mercy [7].

Have you recognized the persistent theme in Jeremiah – namely, God doesn’t demand perfection, but repentance?  How do you spend your days – accumulating good deeds or acknowledging your sin and begging for the great and awesome injustice of God’s mercy?

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[1] Act IV, Scene I  |  [2] Jeremiah 25:3  |  [3] 2 Kings 24:14 NASB  |  [4] Jeremiah 24:8-10 NASB  |  [5]  God rescued His people from slavery in Egypt through the miracle of the exodus.  Yet, here, they choose to return to their former way of life.  Thus, as the parable says, “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11 NASB).  |  [6] Jeremiah 24:5-7 NASB  |  [7]  Jeremiah 24:5

July 27, 2010

Do you hear his voice?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Jeremiah 23, Mark 9

Bad Shepherds

Although God appointed leaders to embody His wisdom and kindness, they became “stupid” and did not seek Him [1].  Rather than caring for His people, these political [2] and spiritual [3] leaders “scattered” [4], lied to [5], and killed them [6].

  • My heart is broken within me … For both prophet and priest are polluted; Even in My house I have found their wickedness … They … led My people Israel astray … [8]

Therefore, God determined to punish them.

  • You who have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds. [9]

Good Shepherds

Yet, God Himself would care for His people when His appointed leaders would not.  Although He would exile them for their unrepentant hearts, He would bring them home.

  • I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock … and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply.  I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing. [10]

Their land would be a paradise regained [11] and His rescue would be even more tremendous than the exodus – a defining event for Israel and the LORD [12].

  • … they will no longer say, “As the LORD lives, who brought up … Israel from the land of Egypt,” but, “As the LORD lives, who brought up and led back … Israel from [Babylon] … where I had driven them.” [13]

The Good Shepherd

When God rescued His people from exile, they returned to greener pastures with better shepherds [14].  In fact, Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s long lists of returning exiles show that not one sheep was missing [15].

Yet, His people remained vulnerable to self-seeking and arrogant shepherds who could never finally save their sheep.  In Jesus, however, God Himself became their shepherd.

  • I am the good shepherd … and I lay down My life for the sheep.  I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd [16].

On resurrection day, when our exile is finally over and we’ve returned home to our Father, none of God’s people will be missing.  Do you hear His voice?  Do you trust in His shepherding?

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[1] Jeremiah 10:21 NASB  |  [2] Jeremiah 22:13-14  |  [3] Jeremiah 5:30-31  |  [4] Jeremiah 10:21 NASB  |  [5] Jeremiah 23:9-22  |  [6]  Jeremiah 2:34  |  [8] Jeremiah 23:9-14 NASB  |  [9]  Jeremiah 23:2 NASB  |  [10]  Jeremiah 23:2-4 NASB  |  [11]  Genesis 1:28  |  [12]  The LORD repeatedly describes Himself as He who brought His people out of Egypt, see, e.g. Exodus 13:9, 13:14, 13:16, 16:6, 16:32, 20:2, 29:46, 32:4, 32:7, 32:8, 32:11, 33:1; Leviticus 11:45, 19:36, 22:33. 23:43, 25:38, 25:55, 26:13, 26:45; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 4:37, 5:6, 6:12, 8:14, 13:5, 13:10, 16:1; Hosea 12:9, 13:4  |  [13] Jeremiah 23:7-8 NASB  |  [14] e.g., Ezra, Nehemiah  |  [15] Ezra 2, Nehemiah 7  |  [16]  See John 10:1-21 NASB

July 26, 2010

Who is your king?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Jeremiah 22, Mark 8

The Last Kings

Even though the LORD wanted to be His people’s only King, He answered their request for a monarchy [1].  After a hundred years, however, it fell apart.  Here, in chapters 21-22, Jeremiah tells of Judah’s final four kings.

After only three months, Shallum was deposed and carried off to Egypt.

  • He will never return there; but in the place where they led him captive, there he will die and not see this land again [2]

Then, Nebuchadnezzar marched through Jerusalem and destroyed Jehoikim as king.  Yet, no one mourned his passing and his body was treated like an animal carcass.

  • They will not lament for him …
    He will be buried with a donkey’s burial,
    Dragged off and thrown out beyond the gates of Jerusalem. [3]

After Coniah [4] ascended to the throne, he was handed over to his enemies.

  • As I live … I would pull you off; and I will give you over into the hand of those who are seeking your life … and there you will die. [5]

Finally, as a puppet of the Babylonians, however, Zedekiah only remained in power until he crossed them.

  • Behold, I am about to turn back the weapons of war which are in your hands, with which you are warring against the king of Babylon … [6]

Presumptuous Subjects

Although the LORD spent forty years warning His people of their coming judgment for unrepentant sin, they didn’t turn to Him for help until these kings failed, the Babylonians were at their gate and death loomed ahead.  They ignored Him completely in their prosperity and presumed upon His mercy in their distress.

  • I spoke to you in your prosperity;
    But you said, “I will not listen!” [7]

Yet, the LORD still offered them a choice.

  • Before I set you the way of life and the way of death [8].

The Ultimate King of All

Again, hundreds of years later, God’s people rejected the LORD as their gentle king in favor of their tyrannical earthly king.  Pilate brought Jesus before the chief priests and said, “Behold, your King! … Shall I crucify your King?” Yet, the chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar” [9].

Has much changed over the past two thousand years?  Have we chosen the way of life or the way of death?  Do we hope in Christ the King or other earthly leaders?

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[1]  1 Samuel 8  |  [2]  Jeremiah 22:11-12 NASB  |  [3] Jeremiah 22:18-19 NASB  |  [4]  Also known as Johoichin  [5]  Jeremiah 22:24-26 NASB. Those who sought his life included the Babylonians and the Chaldeans  |  [6]  Jeremiah 21:4 NASB  |  [7] Jeremiah 22:21 NASB  |  [8]  Jeremiah 21:8 NASB  |  [9] John 19:14-15 NASB

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