Vows of God

When God makes a vow, He swears by Himself and it will be done. Always.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 51-52; Hebrews 6

14 The Lord of hosts has sworn by himself:
Surely I will fill you with men, as many as locusts,
and they shall raise the shout of victory over you.

15 “It is he who made the earth by his power,
who established the world by his wisdom,
and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. Jeremiah 51:14-15

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. Hebrews 6:19-20

Just when it seemed like all was forever lost, Jeremiah delivered a message from God to the exiles from Judah in Babylon. Babylon, by God’s command, had desecrated and destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. All that was precious to Judah was in ruins. The kingdom was humiliated.

But God called them to turn their thoughts back to Him and back to Jerusalem. Babylon would pay for her devastation. Babylon was about to go into ruins. God had sworn by Himself to bring about this prophecy. This God is the One “who made the earth by his power…and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.” Nothing can stop Him. He does all that He decrees. He swears by Himself for there is nothing and no one greater.

The Hebrews also needed to be reminded of God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness as exemplified in His keeping of His covenant promises to Abraham which He swore by Himself. God’s covenant with Abraham was made unilaterally as a smoking pot and flaming torch passed between the severed carcasses of a heifer, a female goat, and a ram. [See Genesis 15].   Like the displaced Jews of the Babylonian captivity and the aging childless Abraham, the readers of the epistle were faced with tremendous pressure to discouragement and even to renounce their faith. They needed to remember that God proved true then, and He would prove true again.

If there is anything we can learn from the history of God’s dealings with His people, it is that He always fulfills His vows. He swears by Himself and He cannot fail. Do you wonder if God will complete His promises in your life? Do not doubt. You do not know how or when, but all that He vows to do, He will do. Trust Him.

 

The Everlasting Covenant

Jesus Christ is the High Priest of a new covenant, an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten. His ministry brings eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 49-50; Hebrews 5

4 “In those days and in that time, declares the Lord, the people of Israel and the people of Judah shall come together, weeping as they come, and they shall seek the Lord their God. 5 They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, saying, ‘Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten.’                                                                                                  Jeremiah 50:4-5

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 5:7-10

Jeremiah watched while Judah followed Israel into ruins. God had decreed severe discipline upon His people who shamefully broke His covenant. Clearly, the old covenant and the old priesthood was not sufficient to save the nation. But God showed Jeremiah that there would be a new covenant (ch. 31). That covenant would not fail. It is the covenant made with the sacrifice of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who paid the ransom for all the sins of all who would obey Him.

The Aaronic priesthood failed to save, although, we can now see, it was meant only to reveal the need for a better priesthood and a better covenant. The old covenant was not a failure. It actually fulfilled its limited and designated function of pointing to the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, who alone could make atonement for sins as He had none of His own for which to atone. The old covenant was not a failed experiment on God’s part but a plan to reveal the greater glory that would come through the eternal covenant that would not be forgotten.

The failures of Judah and Israel to obey the old covenant mirror our own failures to live in perfect holiness. Like Ancient Israel we have all fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But by faith in Christ, we have a high priest, appointed by God, who will minister forever not under the weak old covenant and Aaron’s priesthood but under the order of Melchizedek. Be sure you are not dull of hearing but firmly and clearly grasp the basis of your salvation. Eternal life or death depends on it.

 

 

Confidence in the Worst of Times

God’s people can be confident in the midst of any kind of trial, because He keeps His hand upon them and uses the worst circumstances for good.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 46-48; Hebrews 4

27 “But fear not, O Jacob my servant,
nor be dismayed, O Israel,
for behold, I will save you from far away,
and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
and none shall make him afraid.
28 Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
declares the Lord,
for I am with you.
I will make a full end of all the nations
to which I have driven you,
but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
and I will by no means leave you unpunished.”                       Jeremiah 46:27-28

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.                         Hebrews 4:16

Jeremiah delivered God’s messages of judgment on the nations. From chapter 46 to 51, beginning with Egypt and ending with Babylon, the prophet declares both God’s sovereignty over and His judgment upon the neighbors of Judah and Israel. But in the midst of these pronouncements, God reassures them of His salvation which He will accomplish. Jacob has nothing to fear. He “shall return and have quiet and ease.”   Jacob is still God’s servant and will be kept while the other nations are laid low. Israel will be disciplined but not destroyed.

The original recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews seemed to be struggling with fear. The writer tells them not to be like those of another generation who doubted God and rebelled against Him in the wilderness. There are similarities with the New Testament believers who face giants in a Promised Land of rest. We, too, need to learn from those who fell in the wilderness, not to doubt God. Jesus is our High Priest. We can come to Him and find mercy and grace to help in the worst of times.

The trials you face today are not beyond God’s knowledge and control. He will use them to discipline you for good. He will hear your pleas for mercy and grace. He will help you. Trust Him. Seek Him in prayer. He is able and willing to save you.

 

The Confusing Faces of Sin

Good defensive units in football confuse their opponents by showing many different lineups, leaving the offense wondering what to expect. Satan is just as devious in hiding the true nature of sin, so that we confuse evil with good and good with evil.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 43-45; Hebrews 3

“You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ 3 but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.” Jeremiah 43:2b-3

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.                                                                                                     Hebrews 3:12-14

Sin is deceitful. It appears to be good when it is really evil. The deceitfulness of sin produces a hardened heart that is less, not more, sensitive to temptation.

When Jeremiah gave the remnant of Judah the message from God that they should not seek protection and security by going into Egypt, the leaders responded by accusing Jeremiah of lying. They even furnished him a motive for lying, that Baruch had pressured or bribed him into giving a false prophecy from God. Thus, those who were preparing to disobey God attacked the messenger, rejecting the message and impugning his motives. They deflected their own guilt by accusing the faithful prophet. So they marched themselves down to Egypt filled with self-assurance and indignation towards Jeremiah.

The writer to the Hebrews warns his readers, whom he calls “brothers”, to “take care.” He is concerned that they are about to fall away from the living God as a result of evil, unbelieving hearts, hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. In today’s reading he describes various “faces” of sin: evil, unbelief, hardness of heart, rebellion, and disobedience. Our enemy does not want us to detect our own sin, but to see it as a good thing. God, however,  calls sin by all those negative descriptors.

Are you taking care to not be deceived by sin? Let us “exhort one another every day” but begin by exhorting ourselves through listening to God’s Word. Take care. Do not be hardened by the deceitful and confusing faces of sin.

A Warning to Drifters

Few set out purposely to disobey God, defying His commands and truth, but many, who are not careful, can drift away from Him or neglect His Word.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 40-42; Hebrews 2

For you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the Lord our God, and whatever the Lord our God says declare to us and we will do it.’ 21 And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God in anything that he sent me to tell you. 22 Now therefore know for a certainty that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to live.” Jeremiah 42:20b-22

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? Hebrews 2:1-2

The remnant of Judah, poor people and some armed bands, left after the fall of Jerusalem had seen the land devastated by war. Nebuchadnezzar allowed them to stay in the land under the appointed governor, Gedaliah. They were allowed to enjoy reaping whatever harvest there was. Jeremiah also chose the option offered to him and remained in the land. Gedaliah was assassinated and the remnant got nervous. They went to Jeremiah for advice. “Should they go to Egypt?” They promised to do whatever Jeremiah said the Lord wanted them to do. They had good intentions. But when the answer came, it contradicted their preferences and they decided to go anyway. Jeremiah warned them of the grief they were bringing on themselves by their disobedience, but they would not listen.

The writer to the Hebrews warns his readers of the dangers of disregarding the gospel of salvation through the Son of God. There was a definite danger of drifting from it or neglecting it. We will learn that these readers were facing persecution and the author fears for their spiritual well-being.

It is easy to set out on a path of faith and obedience that it is to continue on that path when the trials and temptations arise. Jesus warned of this in His parable of the sower. The remnant had Jeremiah telling them to stay in the land according to God’s will. The Hebrews had the message of salvation “declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit…” (vs. 3b-4a).

Beware of drifting away, of neglecting God’s great salvation disclosed in His word. Read it and heed it, every day.  Fellow drifters, we have been warned.

The Longed-For Kingdom

The reign of Jesus Christ, unlike that of Zedekiah, is founded on righteousness and will endure forever. This is the eternal kingdom to which all God’s people belong.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 38-39; Hebrews 1

6 The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah at Riblah before his eyes, and the king of Babylon slaughtered all the nobles of Judah. 7 He put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. Jeremiah 39:6-7

8 But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” Hebrews 1:8-9

As I write this, it is Election Day in the USA, the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. National Public Radio this morning reported on the rapid decline in religion in this nation. Belief in God is down. Identification with a particular church is down. It appears that hostility and disrespect frequently characterize public conversation about the political, social, and spiritual state of affairs in this country.

But we, reformed, evangelical Christians, do share some common dreams and longings even with those who do not agree with our theology. I think it is fair to say, we all long for a government led by honorable, just leaders, with laws that facilitate the flourishing of every person. Can anyone doubt that, if we somehow could achieve this utopia, we would want it to endure till the end of time?

Israel was not that utopia. The kingdom first established under King Saul benefited from the reigns of David and Solomon, but split in two, under foolish King Rehoboam. Neither the populace nor many of the rulers loved righteousness. Captivity devastated both kingdoms ending with the shameful capture and blinding of King Zedekiah.

But there was a promise. That promise was that a righteous king would rule on an eternal throne. That promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. His kingdom is forever!

The readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews were painfully aware of the failure of their nation to establish a permanent, just kingdom. We, too, should know that our nation is not the fulfillment of the promised kingdom. The writer points us to the Only One who could fulfill it, the One who is the Son of God, the radiance of His glory and the exact imprint of his nature. I long for His return and the final fulfillment of the promise. Do you? If so, pray that we will be faithful until that day, and that it may be soon.

Use and Abuse of Authority

All authority comes from God, but it must be used in God-honoring ways.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 36-37; Philemon

23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. 24 Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. 25 Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. Jeremiah 36:23-25

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9 yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. Philemon 8-10

There is a stunning contrast between King Jehoiakim and the Apostle Paul when it comes to their use or abuse of authority. Notice the differences. There are lessons to be learned.

Jeremiah received a message from God for the people of Judah. By God’s instruction, he had Baruch, his scribe, write the message down on a scroll. Since Jeremiah had been banned from the temple area (by order of the king?), the prophet sent Baruch to read the message to the crowd gathered to worship on a fast day. Word came back to the king’s servants about this reading and they investigated further. As these officials of the king listened to Baruch read, they were gripped with fear (Jeremiah 36:16). They knew the king needed to hear the message, so they arranged to take the scroll, send Jeremiah and Baruch into hiding, and have the scroll read to Jehoiakim.

The king listened to the reading, but had the scroll cut into sections and burned. Such was Jehoiakim’s abuse of God-given authority. He would pay for it with the end of his royal lineage and a shameful death without so much as a pauper’s burial.

Paul, on the other hand, shows great restraint in the use of his authority over Philemon. He appeals to his friend to take kind and forgiving action toward his slave, Onesimus. In God’s providence, Onesimus had met Paul and, through him, met Christ. Paul wrote to the Colossian church, possibly about the same time, as to the proper attitudes of a master toward a slave (Colossians 3:22-4:1).

As king, Jehoiakim discouraged his officials from what appears to be an initial desire to obey God’s word. Paul encourages obedience to his friend but without being heavy handed.  Beware of ungodly authorities. Beware of the abuse of authority. Submit to God and, when appropriate to His authorities. Use your authority with grace and restraint.

God’s Love

Two things are true of those who find God’s forgiveness and restoration, they recognize their sinful unworthiness, and they recognize God’s goodness and loving kindness.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 33-35; Titus 3

“‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts,
for the Lord is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!’ Jeremiah 33:11b

3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us… Titus 3:3-5a

Jeremiah’s prophecy is peppered with indictments for Judah’s persistent rebellion against God, His Law, and His prophets. But these lists of failures are also accompanied by reassurances that God will ultimately restore the people He has chosen for Himself. They will be blessed and they will be filled with praise and thanks to the Lord.

Paul wrote to Titus who had the unenviable task of organizing and teaching the congregation in Crete, a society known for being “liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.” Indeed, Paul identifies himself with a list of vices and character flaws that rivals that of the infamous Cretans. He says he and others who have now been saved could be described as “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” It is not a flattering resume, to say the least.

Then God intervened. Everything changed. God the Savior came with His goodness and loving kindness and saved Paul and all upon whom He set His love.

Many, like me, will agree that the more we know of God and of ourselves the more amazed we are of the goodness and loving kindness of the Lord. Words cannot describe the relief of sins forgiven, of salvation assured, of adoption as God’s son, and of purpose and calling to serve God. Days spent in malice and envy are now filled with gratefulness and service. No, none who know Him would claim to be sinless or perfect, far from it. But it is all of God’s grace and He will complete what He has begun.

Be sure you know the goodness and loving kindness of God who saves. If you do, lift up His praises today in all you do.

Good Attitudes about Good Works

God demonstrates that good works must be done with the right attitudes of delight and enthusiasm, not begrudgingly or resentfully, and He commands that we also do the same.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 31-32; Titus 2

40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. Jeremiah 32:40-41

13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:13-14

Jeremiah had a message from God that gave hope and perspective for the people of Judah in the midst of imminent captivity. God promised to restore them to their land, no matter how far He scattered them. Their disobedience had brought His anger and wrath. They deserved His punishment. But His commitment to them could not be terminated. He would do a new thing and bring them back and establish them. They would have His word in their hearts in that day. They would be stable in their faith and obedience. He would give them a new covenant to replace the old one they had so miserably disregarded. But God would not just do His people good. He would rejoice to do them good. He promised to plant them in the land “with all [His] heart and all [His] soul.”

That promised new covenant was brought about by the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul had met Christ in a dramatic way and spent the rest of his life proclaiming the good news of salvation through Him. He wrote to Titus to remind him that God’s people were redeemed from lawlessness so that they would belong to God and be “zealous for good works.”

It is not enough to merely do the right thing if that action is not accompanied by a correct attitude. Seek to do good and to do it with a God-honoring spirit.

Why False Teachers Abound

False prophets and teachers are everywhere, but why do so many follow them?

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 27-28; 2 Timothy 4

15 And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. 16 Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.’”

17 In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died. Jeremiah 28:15-17

3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:3-5

The answer is simple. People listen to false prophets and teachers because they prefer their message to the truth even when they suspect it is false.

In Jeremiah’s day, he was opposed by those who claimed to be speaking for God. One such person was Hananiah. He directly contradicted what Jeremiah was saying. The false prophet told the people that Nebuchadnezzar would not suppress them or anyone else. He assured them that the king would be returned from captivity and the stolen items from the temple would all be brought back and replaced. Jeremiah said not only would Judah be subjugated but all their neighboring kingdoms would as well. Someone was lying. Jeremiah was proven right when he prophesied of Hananiah’s death and it occurred on schedule. Would this convince everyone that Jeremiah was to be trusted? Read on and find out.

Paul was writing his final words to Timothy and to us. His warnings and charges are urgent. There would be difficult days ahead. People would not listen to sound teaching. Timothy would have to focus on fulfilling his ministry of preaching the word, including, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting. After all, that is what the Word of God does (2 Timothy 3:16).

Things have not improved in our time. Vast numbers of people still listen to those who tell them what they want to hear without checking to see if this is what the Scriptures teach. “God is all love and everyone is going to heaven.” No! That is not what Jesus or the rest of the Bible says. “God just wants you to be happy and healthy.” No! God calls you and me to repentance and faith in Him. He looks for people with broken and contrite hearts, not presumptuous self-esteem. [See Psalm 51:17; Mark 1:15.]

Study God’s Word. Watch out for the false teachers and phony prophets. They will end up like Hananiah.