A Destroyer at Noonday

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 15-17

“Who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem, or who will grieve for you? Who will turn aside to ask about your welfare? You have rejected me, declares the Lord; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you – I am weary of relenting. I have winnowed them with a winnowing fork in the gates of the land; I have bereaved them; I have destroyed my people; they did not turn from their ways. I have made their widows more in number than the sand of the seas; I have brought against the mothers of young men a destroyer at noonday; I have made anguish and terror fall upon them suddenly. She who bore seven has grown feeble; she has fainted away; her sun went down while it was yet day; she been shamed and disgraced. And the rest of them I will give to the sword before their enemies, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 15:5-9

In a previous post, Who Says “I Destroy” – God or Satan?, I wrote that the New Testament reveals that Satan is the destroyer, at least when we are talking in terms of literally destroying, killing people.  In John 10:10, Jesus said that it was Satan that came to steal, to kill, and to destroy. In 1 Corinthians 1:9-11, Paul says that the Israelites were destroyed by serpents and the Destroyer, Satan, in the wilderness. And, Hebrews 2:14 says that Satan had the power of death.

So, if Satan is the destroyer, the one who kills and has the power of death, then what do we do with the following statements at the start of this blog:

  • “so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you”
  • “I have destroyed my people”
  • “I have brought against the mothers of young men a destroyer at noonday”

For Jeremiah assigns each of these statements to the Lord.

To understand what God is doing here and maintain the character of God that Jesus, and Jesus alone perfectly revealed, we need to keep the cross ever present in our mind.

It was on the cross that Jesus, as God, stretched out his hand against us. First, his arms were stretched out as wide as they could when Jesus hung on the cross. Second, the only way that Jesus’ hands could have been nailed to the cross was if his palms were open.

An open palm symbolizes someone who is ready to receive. On the cross, Jesus showed that God is open and wanting to receive us. From the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus’ open palms, symbolizing God’s willingness to forgive and receive us destroys our conceptions of an angry, vengeful God wanting to smite us and strike us down.

We sent another reference to Jesus on the cross in “her sun went down while it was yet day.” In Matthew 27:45 and Mark 15:33, we read that “from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land.” The sixth hour was the noon. It was the very middle of the day. Yet, while Jesus was on the cross, at the very middle of the day, there was darkness over the whole land as “the sun went down while it was yet day.”

Jeremiah records the Lord saying, “You have rejected me.” It was at noonday, when darkness fell over the whole land, that Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, Jesus, was complete. As Jeremiah wrote of Israel, “she has been shamed and disgraced” because Israel rejected the son of God who came to save her.

So, a destroyer at noonday had come. At the hour the darkness began, Satan, the destroyer, came to kill Jesus. Satan appeared successful.

But, in another sense, Jesus on the cross with an open palm, raised for all to see, was the real destroyer that day. Jesus was a destroyer at noonday. Because of Jesus on the cross, God said, “I have destroyed my people.”

Again, God’s destruction of his people was not literal in the sense that he killed them. But, God did destroy, God did not kill, every false notion of who he was through Jesus on the cross.

This is exactly what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

It is thoughts and arguments, ideas and opinions, that are against God’s true nature and character that need to be destroyed, not people. And every thought that is against the knowledge of God is destroyed by Jesus Christ, the son of God, on the cross. This is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

It’s when we grasp the full reality of Jesus on the cross, that God says, “I have made anguish and terror fall upon them suddenly.” This is just what happened to all those that heard Peter’s first sermon in Acts 2. Peter revealed to his hearers that Jesus was the son of God, whom they had crucified. Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Acts 2:37 says, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart.” That is, terror and anguish had come upon them suddenly.

Jeremiah writes of Jesus as this destroyer of every wrong thought of God in the last verse of chapter 16. Jeremiah 16:21 says, “Therefore, behold I will make them know, this once I will them know my power and my might, and they know that my name is the Lord.”

What is the power of God?

1 Corinthians 1:18-19, 24, 25 says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’…Christ the power of God…and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

So, who is the destroyer?

Well, what is being destroyed?

If what is destroyed is people, then Satan is the destroyer.

But, if what is destroyed is every wrong idea of who God is, then Jesus Christ, and him crucified, is the destroyer.

The Word of the Lord Concerning Drought

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 12-14

Jeremiah 14:1 says, “The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah concerning the drought.”

We all know that a drought is caused by a lack of rain. But, we want to see Jesus in Jeremiah 14. So, we want to go deeper than the obvious meaning. Therefore, what does a drought symbolize?

Amos 8:11 says, “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land – not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”

Symbolically, a drought is a lack of the word of God. We are famished and thirsty when we lack the word in our lives. And, only the word can quench that hunger and thirst.

In Jeremiah 14, the people do everything they can to find water. But, there was none to be found. Even the animals could not find water.

In verse 7-9, the people acknowledge that their backslidings have been many and that they have sinned against God. So, they ask God why he is like a stranger in the land to them, why is God like one that cannot be found, why is God like a mighty warrior that can’t save the. Even though they have acknowledged their sins, they are putting the blame for the lack of water, for their thirst, on God.

But, in verse 10, God says that he has not wandered. No, it is the people that have wandered from him. They are the ones that have left him, which is the reason for their thirst.

This brings to my mind Jesus’ encounter at the well with the Samaritan woman in John 4.

As a Samaritan, the woman had wandered away from God. Yet, she was seeking something to quench her thirst. This is why she had five husbands and was living with a sixth man. Ultimately, she knew the Messiah was coming, but she had no idea when or where.

So, she went to the well to get water to quench her thirst. But, the water she was going to get could quench her physical thirst. It would do nothing for her spiritual thirst.

The woman had been wandering everywhere, living with man after man, trying to get the thirst of her soul met. She was probably wondering why God left her. Why was she so despised. Why had she been married to five men who had either died or divorced her. Why was she with a sixth. Why did she have to come get water from the well at a time when no else would be there because her shame was so great. Surely, God has wandered off from her.

But, at the well, Jesus was there waiting for her. It was as if Jesus had always been there waiting for. He had not wandered off. Rather the woman simply was not ready or willing to see Jesus and what he had to offer. But, as soon as Jesus made the offer of living water that would quench the thirst of her soul, the woman asked, “Where do you get that living water?”

Jesus told the woman, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman asked Jesus for this water so that she would never be thirsty again.

Interestingly, it was at this point that Jesus told her to get her husband. It wa only after she asked for living water that she was ready and willing to truly acknowledge how she sought to quench her thirst apart from God. And, it was here that she told Jesus her fathers worshiped on this mountain.

But, Jesus told her about the true worship that was coming, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

So, the woman left the well and went back to the town to tell everyone that what had happened. Notice that John doesn’t say she told the people about Jesus’ living water. Rather, she said, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.” In effect, I think she was saying, “Come, see this man who knows my hurt. And, when I truly acknowledged it, he showed me how to quench it.” She was ready and willing for true worship

I think that is the case because of what we see back in Jeremiah 14. God tells Jeremiah not to pray for the people. Why would God do that?

God says that even though the people fast and offer burnt offerings and grain offerings he will not accept them. The people acknowledged their sin, but they were still trying to reach God through religious practice. They weren’t ready to worship in spirit and truth. They wanted God on their own terms.

Therefore, God told Jeremiah not to pray for them. The people still needed the drought, the lack of the word of God, to increase their thirst to the point that they would drop their religious practices and truly seek out God to quench their thirst.

After God says he will not accept them based on their religious practices of fasting and sacrificing, he says “I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.”

This is interesting to me because the sword, famine, and pestilence all have some relation to the word.

God’s sword is of the Holy Spirit, the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). It is sharper than any two-edged sword and can be pierce to division of soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12). God’s sword, the word of God, separates in us the carnal, or the natural, from the spiritual. This is just what Jesus means when he says came not to bring peace but a sword. He came to separate us from everything of the flesh so that we could worship God in spirit and truth. This is how God consumes by the sword.

Famine is a lack of food, a lack of bread. In Matthew 4, Jesus experienced his own famine, his own hunger. He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights and was tempted by the devil. Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread to end his hunger. But, Jesus responded, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

The famine consumes us in that it consumes our desire to meet our own hunger. The famine eats away everything in us that would seek to provide for ourselves on our own terms. This is what Jesus revealed. In his own famine, Jesus did not attempt to provide for his own hunger, even though it would have been quite easy for him to do. Instead, Jesus declared that he truly lived by the word of God.

Jesus tells us that he doesn’t cause famine. Rather, Jesus is the bread of life. In John 6:48-51, Jesus says, “I am the bread of the life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”

A famine is external, but a pestilence is internal. For, a pestilence, is a wasting disease, a plague.

The Hebrew word pestilence is deber. It comes from a root word meaning to turn one’s back, turn aside; to drive away, to pursue. It is very similar to the Hebrew word, dabar,  that means a word, a matter, a thing. (Remember Hebrew has no vowels so both words would be written dbr. I would think this is what allows for so many word plays in Hebrew.) Dabar can mean a spoken word or a command.

Perhaps we can see the pestilence as an internal plague that will not leave us. Perhaps it is a word from God that just gnaws at us, plagues us, until our hearts and minds are so sick that we turn the word of God, Jesus, for help.

This is what I’m thinking because we know that Jesus never put a plague on anyone. Rather, Acts 10:38 says, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” And Matthew 4:24 says, “So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them.” It was when people were so sick, so plagued, that they would do anything to get into Jesus’ presence (the paralytic man lowered through the roof, the woman with the issue of blood for 12 years that went through the crowd), touch him, or hear a word from him, that they were healed. In other words, God consumed them by pestilence.

I believe this is what Jesus, the word of the Lord, came to Jeremiah to say about the drought.

The Power and Wisdom that Makes the World

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 9-11

“It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom.” – Jeremiah 10:12

Until my junior of college, I considered myself an atheist. As such, I believed the big bang theory, the theory of evolution, etc. I believed in the theories that could explain the world without God. While I would never have said this, I think you could say that I put my trust, my faith, in those theories.

During my junior year of college, I came to believe in God. Over a period of time, I dropped all those theories about how the universe began. I changed my mind. I began to believe in creationism, that the earth was created in six literal days and the earth was 6,000 years old. I put my faith and trust in this. For, to not do so would be to deny the truth of the Bible.

But, did putting my faith and trust a big bang and evolution to explain the making of the world change how I live my life in any concrete way on a daily basis?

Did belief in God creating the world in six literal days and a young, 6,000 year old earth cause me to change the things I did and said from day to day?

Was my life different, better, because of either of these beliefs, these opposing faiths in how the world began?

But, just a few years ago, nearly 20 years after I first began to believe in God, God revealed something to me.

Job 38:1-4 says, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.'”

God continues to pepper Job like this with question after question about the creation for two whole chapters.

Just like Job, I was trying to answer questions that I could not answer. And, not only was I trying to answer those questions, but I was attempting to live my life according to how I answered those questions.

Was I there when God created the universe and all that is in it?

Can I even understand how God did it?

Does it even matter how God did it?

According to God’s questioning of Job and Job’s answer (he basically said I’m stupid and should just shut up now), the answer is no. How the universe came into being doesn’t matter.

So, nearly 20 years later, I have changed my mind again. I no longer put my faith in a big bang or evolution. I no longer put my faith in creationism. In fact, I don’t put my faith in any explanation of how the world came into being.

So, what is my faith in?

Why did I start this post with Jeremiah 10:12, which says, “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom?”

Because the power and wisdom with which God made the earth and established the world is now the center of my belief. But, based on my change of my mind, I no longer read Jeremiah 10:12 and think about how God created the world. Instead, my mind immediately turns to Jesus.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it please God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Now, when I read Jeremiah 10:12, I read it as God making the earth and establishing the world through Jesus Christ, more specifically, Christ crucified. And, it is Christ crucified that changes my life, making it not different, but better.

Jesus Christ is the sole focus of my faith and my trust.

I know realize that God made all of creation – material and immaterial – to point to him. And, God is doing so through the cross.

Ephesians 1:7-10 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite [another translation say summing up]  all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

God is making the earth and establishing the world on the power and wisdom of Jesus Christ on the cross. That is the only “theory” I need. That is what I put my faith and trust in.

To put my faith in how God made the earth – a big bang or creationism – misses the point. That debate takes my eyes off Jesus and focuses them on questions that I cannot answer. And, when something else other than Jesus becomes my focus, then that thing, that belief, that faith, becomes idolatry.

After speaking of God’s power and wisdom making the earth, it’s interesting what Jeremiah says a few verses later.

“Every man is stupid and without knowledge; every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols, for his images are false, and there is not breath in them. They are worthless, a work of delusion; at the time of their punishment they shall perish. Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob, for he is the one who formed all things, and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the Lord of hosts is his name.” – Jeremiah 10:14-16

Next to God, every one of us is stupid and without knowledge. Everyone who constructs idols, whether physical or mental, will be put to shame by those idols. Because those images are false and there is no breath in them. In other words, those false idols, again whether physical or mental, are dead and there is no life in them.

Ah, but there is an image that is not like the false ones. He is true – physically, mentally, spiritually. He is the one who formed all things. This image should be the sole focus of our every thought.

That image is Jesus!

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross.

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” – Colossians 1:15-23

Mercy and Not Sacrifice

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 6-8

The first seven chapters of Leviticus give, in intricate detail, the instructions for how Israel was to offer sacrifices. Moses wrote that God commanded these sacrifices. And, throughout the Old Testament, we read of Israel offering thousands upon thousands of animal sacrifices in seeming obedience to God’s commands.

Yet, Jeremiah 7:22-24 says, “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”

Well, which is it? Did God command Israel to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings and sin offerings and guilt offerings and wave offerings as Leviticus says? Or, is Jeremiah correct in saying that God did not speak to the fathers or command them regarding burnt offerings and sacrifices?

Leviticus 1-7 and Jeremiah 7:22-24 are diametrically opposed.

How do we resolve this?

The only possible way to resolve contradictory statements in the Old Testament about God is Jesus.

John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

John 5:37 says, “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, and his form you have never seen.”

John 6:46 says, “Not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.”

John 14:9 says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Jesus is the only one to have clearly seen the Father. Therefore, Jesus is the only one to know exactly who God is. Jesus is the only one to know exactly what God wills and desires.

So, what does Jesus say about sacrifice?

Amazingly, given all the detailed rules regarding Israel’s sacrifices and all the sacrifices Israel offered for more than 1,000 years, Jesus utters the word sacrifice just two times in all four gospels. (Interestingly, in the gospel of John, where Jesus as pictured as the son of God, the word sacrifice is never used.)

In Matthew 9:13, Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came to not call the righteous, but sinners.”

In Matthew 12:7, Jesus said, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

In both cases, Jesus is quoting the same Old Testament passage of scripture.  Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” This is the Hebrew scripture version of Hosea 6:6. Jesus actually quoted from the Septuagint version, which says, “Because I want mercy rather than sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than whole burnt offerings.”

The Hebrew and Greek version of Hosea 6:6 reveal that mercy and steadfast love are synonymous. You cannot have one without the other. And, Jesus said that God wants steadfast love, mercy, not sacrifice.

Jesus agreed with Jeremiah.

Jeremiah said God did not command Israel to offer sacrifices, but God did command Israel to “obey my voice.”

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the Jesus’ transfiguration before PEter, James, and John. And, in each account, God speaks from heaven, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35) Therefore, Jesus is the voice of God, the voice we are to obey.

So, if we are to obey Jesus, God’s voice, then what are the commandments we are to obey?

Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was. In Mark 12:30-31, he answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Interestingly, the scribe that asked Jesus which was the most important commandment responded to Jesus that these two commands were “much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And, Jesus told the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Now, regarding these two commandments of love that Christians are so familiar, Jesus did not just make them up. They weren’t something knew. God had spoken these commandments to Israel.

For the first commandment, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

For the second commandment, Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18, which says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

So, Jesus is God’s voice. Jesus says we are to obey two commandments: love God and love neighbor. And, Jesus showed us just where God spoke these two commandments to Israel.

So, Jesus reveals through his statement that God desires mercy, steadfast love, and not sacrifice, and that these two commandments of love are the summation, the entirety, of all God’s commandments. Jesus said in John 5:19, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

Therefore, when Jeremiah says that God told Israel to “Obey my voice” this is what he meant. God wanted Israel to show mercy and not offer sacrifices. God wanted Israel love him and love their neighbor. However, God said, “But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”

What’s the lesson?

If we make the Bible our authority over Jesus, then we will be stuck with these contradictions, these irreconcilable depictions of God. However, God is not the author of confusion.

Jesus always clears away any contradictions we read in the Old Testament. Jesus alone is our authority. Jesus alone removes the veil so that we can see God clearly.

God desires mercy, steadfast love, and not sacrifice. He always has. And, he always will.

(Keep that in my mind when you read about a new temple being built in Jerusalem to reinstitute the old Israelite sacrifices.)

As the Lord Lives, or Jesus Is Lord

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 4-5

“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and him shall they glory.'” – Jeremiah 4:1-2

If Israel was going to return to God and if they were to swear “As the Lord lives” in truth , justice, and righteousness, then the nations would be blessed and glory in the Lord.

Israel was originally called by God to be a witness of him, a light, to the Gentile nations. They had failed in that calling because they had become enslaved to idols and false gods. But, if they would return to God, turn from their false idols, then they would once again be a witness of God to the nations and the nations would be blessed through them.

A condition of their returning to God was to proclaim “As the Lord lives” in truth, in justice, and in righteousness.

What does “As the Lord lives” mean?

And, how do we see Jesus in this proclamation?

“As the Lord lives” was something Israel was to swear. Therefore, this phrase is an oath. And, it is used that way all throughout the Old Testament.

However, you could swear “As the Lord lives” falsely.

Jeremiah 5:1-2 says, “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her. Thought they says, ‘As the Lord lives,’ yet they swear falsely.”

Israel was proclaiming “As the Lord lives,” but no man could be found who did justice and sought truth in all Jerusalem. In other words, men were claiming “As the Lord lives” but their actions revealed that oath they swearing was not a reality in their lives. So, the profession “As the Lord lives” was false because their words did not line up with their actions.

Jeremiah 23 connects the oath “As the Lord lives” to Jesus.

Verses 5-6 say, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.'”

Remember that Israel was to declare “As the Lord lives” in truth, justice, and righteousness but not one man could be found to do so. However, in Jeremiah 23:5-6, we find just such a man.

Of course, these verses are referring to Jesus, the righteous branch, that came forth from David. This one man, Jesus, does not profess the oath, “As the Lord lives,” verbally, but he does profess it with his life. Notice that these verses say Jesus would reign as king and deal wisely and execute justice and righteousness. In other words, by the life he lived, Jesus professed “As the Lord lives” in truth, justice, and righteousness and all the nations are blessed in him, just as Jeremiah 4:1-2 says. Here is the one man in all the streets of Jerusalem that could not be found in Jeremiah 5:1-2.

In Revelation 1:18, Jesus said, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Jesus declared of himself that he is the living one, alive forevermore, the Lord that lives.

In the New Testament, we do not find the words “As the Lord lives,” but we find a similar oath.

Romans 10:8-9 says, “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

1 Corinthians 12:2-3 says, “You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

In the New Testament, instead of professing “As the Lord lives” we profess “Jesus is Lord.” This is our oath. This is the declaration we swear to live by. But, we can swear it falsely, just like in the Old Testament, if our the actions of our life do not line up with the words we say. This is why Paul says that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. Not because you can’t literally say the words “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit, but because you can’t actually live the life that reflects the reality of the words “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit.

How do we go about professing “Jesus is Lord?”

Notice that back in Jeremiah 4:3-4 it says, “For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.'”

Jeremiah stated that in order to swear truthfully “As the Lord lives” one had to break up their fallow ground and be circumcised, removing the foreskin of their hearts. In other words, one had to repent and be baptized.

This is exactly what we see in the New Testament. In Acts 2, Peter delivers the first sermon in church history. He closes it in verse 36, saying “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” In other words, Peter closed by saying, “Jesus is Lord.”

What was the response of the hearers?

Verse 37 says, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” The hearers had come to see that “Jesus is Lord” just as Peter proclaimed. What should they do in response?

Verse 38 says, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Just like Jeremiah 4, you need to repent and be baptized to truly profess “Jesus is Lord.” And, Peter says that you will receive the Holy Spirit to ensure that the profession of your mouth lines up with the profession of your life.

So, what will the life of one who proclaims “Jesus is Lord” with his mouth and the actions of his life look like?

I believe there are threes specific actions the flow out of allegiance to the oath “Jesus is Lord.”

Isaiah 53:9 says, “Although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

Daniel 9:9 says, “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness.”

Jesus lived a life that was marked by absolutely no violence and no lies. This is why he was also to go to the cross and be crucified to be free us from our bondage to sin, idols, and false gods. And, it was because Jesus lived a life marked by no violence and no lies that he was able to proclaim forgiveness, mercy, to us from the cross.

Jesus proclaimed that the same should be true of us. In John 8, Jesus said that Satan was the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning. He told the Jews he was talking to that Satan was their father, meaning their lives were marked by murder, violence, and lies. But, Jesus told them that those whom the son sets free are free indeed. Therefore, to say that “Jesus is Lord,” means that your life is no longer characterized by the works of Satan – murder of lies – but by Jesus, who did no violence and no lies.

In the context of loving your enemies, in Luke 6:36, Jesus said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” The ultimate display of that mercy was Jesus’ forgiveness of us even as we were crucifying him. Therefore, our lives should be marked by the same level of forgiveness.

Remember that Jeremiah 23 said that Jesus was the one man that was found who said “As the Lord lives” in truth, justice, and righteousness. And, that Israel would truly swear “As the Lord lives” if there profession was lived out in truth, justice, and righteousness.

To live in truth is to live without lies.

Righteousness is not the right moral action alone. It is more than that. Righteousness is setting things right. For Jesus, this meant bringing to life. In John 10:10, Jesus said he came to give life and life more abundantly. This will be fulfilled when the last enemy, death, Satan’s chief weapon, is defeated. To live in righteousness is to bring life and overcome death, murder, violence.

To live in justice is to give mercy. Mercy, forgiveness, was Jesus’ justice from the cross. James 2:13 says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Paul sums this profession, “Jesus is Lord,” in two ways for me.

First, in 1 Corinthians 1:31 and 2 Corinthians 10:17, he says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” And, in Galatians 6:14, Paul says, But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Second, in Galatians 2:20, Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Let me close with two final points.

First, “As the Lord lives” is used eight times in the book of Jeremiah. Eight is the number of new beginning or new creation. When we proclaim “Jesus is Lord” and truly live a life marked by no violence, no lies, and complete forgiveness as Jesus did, then we participate with him in ushering in the new creation and causing the nations of the world to be blessed and glory in Christ.

Second, “As the Lord live” us used 35 times in the Old Testament. The number 35 speaks to vindication and hope. Remember, we can say Jesus is Lord because he is the living one who died and is alive forevermore. That Jesus lives and is Lord is both or vindication and our hope.

1 Corinthians 15:13-14 says, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” In other words, if Christ has not been raised, then our faith would be without hope, without vindication.

However, 1 Peter 1:21 says, “God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Jesus has been raised, resurrected. He is the living one. “As the Lord lives” he is our vindication and hope.

Jesus is Lord!

Jesus Is the Word of the Lord

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 1-3

“The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.” – Jeremiah 1:1-2

“Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying…” – Jeremiah 1:4

“And the word of the Lord came to me, saying…” – Jeremiah 1:11

“The word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying…” – Jeremiah 1:13

“The word of the Lord came to me, saying…” – Jeremiah 2:1

“Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the clans of the house of Israel.” – Jeremiah 2:4

“And you, O generation, behold the word of the Lord.” – Jeremiah 2:31

In just the first two chapters of Jeremiah, the phrase “the word of the Lord” occurs seven times. In the entire book, “the word(s) of the Lord” occurs 58 times, which is the second most of any book of the Bible (Ezekiel uses the phrase 60 times). And, in the entire Bible “the word(s) of the Lord” is used 276 times, which is a curious number of uses of this phrase that I will get to by the end of this post.

Clearly, “the word of the Lord” is a significant phrase.

But, what is “the word of the Lord?”

For the vast majority of Christians, particularly western Christians, “the word of the Lord” is the Bible. Just listen to the way the average Christian talks. Or, listen to the sermons of almost any pastor or teacher at random. Almost without fail you will hear the phrase “the word of the Lord” or “the word of God” used synonymously with the Bible.

Ironically, that is not Biblical.

So, if “the word of the Lord” is not the Bible, then what is it?

Actually, the appropriate question is, who is “the word of the Lord?”

The answer is Jesus.

More specifically, the answer is Jesus Christ crucified.

John 1:1-3 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

In this passage, the vast majority of Christians understand that John is referring to Jesus as the Word, the logos. Therefore, as the Word, everything that was made was made through Jesus.

We tend to think that Jesus is the word of God that created everything is just New Testament stuff. That’s the revelation of the New Testament. But, not so fast.

Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.”

So, John 1:1-3 says that everything that was made was made by the word of God, Jesus. And, Psalm 33:6 says that the heavens, which are part of everything that was made, were made by the word of the Lord.

Further, Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

And, 2 Peter 3:5 says, “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God.”

Therefore, when Psalm 33:6 says that “the word of the Lord” made the heavens, I believe that indicates that Jesus is “the word of the Lord” in the Old Testament.

There is a second way to identify “the word of the Lord” as Jesus Christ crucified. Of the 276 uses of the phrase, 78 of them are related to hearing. Most of these 78 uses say, “Hear the word of the Lord.”

Why does the word of the Lord and its association with hearing reveal that the word of the Lord is Jesus?

In Matthew 17:5, when Jesus was transfigured in front of Peter, James, and John, “a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.'”

It’s important to note that on this mount Peter, James, and John saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus. Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophets or the entire scriptures, the Old Testament. But, these two disappeared when God said told Peter, James, and John to listen to Jesus. In other words, Jesus, and Jesus alone, is who you are to listen. Jesus takes sole authority and priority over anything written by Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets.

Who does God say we are to listen to?

Jesus.

So, when the Bible says “hear the word of the Lord,” I believe we are to understand that as “listen to Jesus.”

Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

The word of Christ, or the word of the Lord, when heard is what brings faith. Notice that Paul did not write that the scriptures or the Bible when heard brings faith. This does not negate the importance of scripture, as scripture points us to Jesus (even Jesus said so in John 5:39-40). But, the Bible does give us faith. Hearing the word of Christ, the word of the Lord, Jesus Christ crucified, is where faith comes from.

We must realize that even the specific phrase “the word of the Lord” is not isolated to the Old Testament. In fact, even the specific idea of hearing “the word of the Lord” is not just an Old Testament concept with an abstract meaning of hearing the scriptures or the Bible.

Acts 13:44-46 says, “The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.'”

There are some really key insights in this passage.

First, the word of the Lord is equate with the word of God. Most agree that the word of God is Jesus. Therefore, if the word of God is Jesus, then so is the word of the Lord.

Second, Paul and Barnabas said the word of God was spoken. This ties it into the word of the Lord because that’s what the whole city came to hear. The word of the Lord and the word of God are something that is spoken, implying that the word of the Lord, the word of God, is alive rather than written and therefore dead.

Therefore, Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:3-6, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

The letters written on stones kill. But, the Spirit “writes” on the heart, which brings life. How does the Spirit “write” on our heart? By actively, presently, continuously, speaking the word of the Lord to us.

This is what Hebrews 4:12-13 means when it says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Take note that in these two verses that “his” and “him” refer back to the word of God. The word of God, and therefore the word of the Lord, since Acts 13:44-46 equates them, is a person. And, that person is Jesus Christ crucified.

Back to Acts 13:44-46, a third insight is that the word of the Lord is very specifically Jesus Christ crucified. Had Paul and Barnabas merely been talking about the scriptures, the Jews would have had no problem. However, the Jews contradicted Paul and Barnabas because they were preaching a messiah that was crucified. A crucified messiah was not what the Jews believed their scriptures prophesied. They were waiting for a king that would conquer in war like the kings of the earth. Further, the Jews contradicted Paul and Barnabas because they were preaching a crucified messiah, Jesus Christ, that came to save not just the Jews only but also the Gentiles.

What was the response of these Gentiles to the preaching of the word of the Lord by Paul and Barnabas?

Acts 13:48-49 says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.”

The Gentiles glorified “the word of the Lord.” This is not the Bible. For starters, the Bible did not even exist at this time. Secondly, in all likelihood, none of these Gentiles would have ever seen or heard the Jewish scriptures. They heard Paul and Barnabas preach “the word of the Lord,” Jesus Christ crucified, and they glorified “the word of the Lord,” Jesus Christ crucified.

Also, “the word of the Lord” spread throughout the region. The Bible does not spread. To say that “the word of the Lord” spread throughout the region means that there more who believed the message of Jesus Christ crucified. Therefore, the church was growing. And, the church is the body of Christ. Therefore, Jesus was spreading throughout the whole region.

Now, back to the 276 occurrences in the Bible of the phrase “the word(s) of the Lord.” This is indeed a curious phenomenon.

John 2:18-21 says, “So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body.”

It took 46 years to build the temple that existed at the time of Jesus. This was the temple of Herod that replaced the temple of Solomon. This is the only time the number 46 is used in the Bible. So, we can clearly associate the number 46 with the temple of Herod.

It is commonly accepted that the number 6 symbolizes man.

What is 46 times 6?

276.

Paul was being transported by ship to Rome for a trial in front of Caesar. Acts 27:37 paranthetically says, “We were in all 276 persons in the ship.” It seems a rather odd and strange detail to include in the story. During the voyage, all 276 persons were shipwrecked. Yet, Acts 27:44 says, “And so it was that all were brought safely to land.” All 276 persons aboard the ship were saved.

Hmmm…

The number 276 is 46 times 6. Therefore, we could think of 276 as the temple of man.

But, all 276 passengers on the ship were saved.

What saved all 276 passengers?

“The word of Lord.”

Or, is it just a coincidence that “the word(s) of the Lord” is used 276 times in the Bible?

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

When Jesus said he would raise the temple in three days he was speaking of his body. When we hear the word of the Lord, Jesus Christ crucified, we are saved, becoming part of the body of Christ that was raised on the third day.

We hear the word of the Lord because our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and “writes,” or speaks the word of the Lord directly to our hearts. Again, this is what Paul was saying 2 Corinthians 3. Paul even said this was a new covenant.

What is this new covenant?

Hebrews 10:15-18 says, “And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’ then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

Not coincidentally, this passage from Hebrews is quoting Jeremiah 31:33. And Jeremiah is the book with the second most occurrences of “the word of the Lord.”

Here again we see “the word of the Lord” is Jesus Christ crucified.

For, what is the promise of the new covenant?

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

What did Jesus say as he was being crucified?

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Yes, Jesus is the word of the Lord.

Does God Really Destine You to the Sword?

TODAY’S READING: ISAIAH 64-66

“But you who forsake the Lord, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune, and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you to the sword.” – Isaiah 65:11-12

To destine means to decree beforehand; to designate, assign, or dedicate in advance; to direct, devise, or set apart for a specific purpose or place.

So, my question is – does God destine, decree beforehand, those who forsake him to be killed by the sword?

The Hebrew word translated destine actually means to divide into parts, count; to reckon as; to count out, remit; to apportion, allot; to send, appoint. It has more to do with numbering than decreeing something in advance.

Therefore, other translations use the word number (KJV, Douay-Rheims Bible, and Young’s Literal), remit (Lexham English Bible), and fate (The Good News Translation and The Message). Clearly, there is more than one way to translate this verse.

But, I think that Septuagint comes closest. It has God saying, “I will give you over to the sword.”

Why does God say that? What does that mean?

God says he will give those who forsake him over to the sword “because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not listen, but you did what was evil in my eyes and chose what I did not delight in.” (Isaiah 65:12)

When God speaks and we do not listen, we do what is evil in his sight and chose what he does not delight in.

What does God not delight in?

Isaiah 1:11 says, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.”

Instead of sacrifices, what does God delight in?

The Pharisees questioned the disciples why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. In Matthew 9:8, part of Jesus’ answer was, “Go learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” Jesus was quoting Hosea 6:6, which says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

God does not delight in our sacrifices, our religion. But, God does take delight when we show mercy, when we practice steadfast love as he does.

But, if God takes delight when we practice mercy, then why does he say he gives those who forsake him over to the sword?

Well, it’s not really that God is actively doing. In reality, if we are not answering God when he calls and not listening when he speaks, then we are not practicing mercy. And, if we are not practicing mercy, then we assuredly practicing some sort of violence. So, instead of giving mercy to those that have wronged us, we seek revenge, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Jesus put it another way in Matthews 26:52 when he said, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

Because we forsake the way of God and do not practice mercy and steadfast love, we live by the sword. And, if we live by the sword, then we will die by the sword. We will reap what we sow. The scriptures are chock full of people who did wicked and violent things only see to them come back on their own head.

So, it’s not that God is actively putting us to the sword. Rather, because we have chosen to go our own way and live by the sword, God has no choice but to allow us to live by the sword and then die by the sword.

Why do I say God has no choice?

Because God is love, and 1 Corinthians tells us that love “does not insist on its own way.” God doesn’t force anything upon you because love does not operate by force. Therefore, if you live by the sword, then you will die by the sword. Or said another way, God will give you over to the sword.

But, the situation is entirely different for those that are God’s people. Instead of not answering God when he calls and not listening to his voice when he speaks, Isaiah 65:24 says of God’s people, “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” For God’s people, God takes the initiative and they obey. Before God’s people even ask, God gives an answer. While God’s people are still speaking, God hears their need.

And, the result for God’s people is entirely different than those who chose not to practice mercy but live and die by the sword. Isaiah 65:25 says God’s people “shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” In other words, God’s people don’t use the sword and therefore won’t be given over to the sword.

As always, particularly with the Old Testament, we need to line up every supposed statement from God and about God with the life, character, and words of Jesus. For, only Jesus can help us see the truth about God.

Jesus Is Our Sprout

TODAY’S READING: ISAIAH 60-63

“For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all nations.” – Isaiah 61:11

A garden causes what is sown in it, the seed, to sprout.

A sprout is the beginning shoot of the seed that rises above the ground.

A sprout is the firstfruit of the seed.

In the same way a seed sprouts, God causes righteousness and praise to sprout before all nations.

Hopefully, the action of sprouting and the sprout that comes from the seed is bringing to your mind Jesus. Following is how I see Jesus in the action of sprouting and the sprout itself.

To sprout is the Hebrew word samah. Samah is used 33 times in the. In the Bible, the number 33 often symbolizes a sign. In Hebrew, the number 33 is written with the letters lamed and gimel. Lamed represents authority while gimel represents a camel, or one who is lifted up. Therefore, the number 33 represents the authority of one who is lifted up.

How old was Jesus when he was lifted up as a sign and given all authority to draw all men to himself?

33!

In Luke 11:29-30, Jesus said, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”

Jesus was referring to Jonah spending three days and three nights in the belly of a whale as typical of the sign he would give by spending three days and three nights in the belly of the earth after his crucifixion.

First Corinthians 1:22-23 says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.”

Jesus Christ crucified is the only sign given by God.

While samah is used 33 times on the Old Testament, it is used eight times in Isaiah. All eight of these uses occur in chapters 40 to 66, which I have likened to the New Testament portion of Isaiah throughout this series of blogs on Isaiah.

Eight is the number of new beginning or new creation. Jesus was resurrected on the eighth day after he was selected as the lamb of God to be crucified on the passover. Therefore, Jesus was the sprout of the new creation.

The root word samah, which is a verb, yields the word semah, a noun. Semah means a sprout. This is the Hebrew word translated branch in passages such as Isaiah 4:2 – “in that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious” – and Jeremiah 23:5 – “the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch.”

We tend to think of a branch as something larger or more fully formed than a shoot. So, I think when we read branch in these verses we should actually think of a shoot, the beginning, or the firstfruit of the seed that sprouts.

First Corinthians 15:20, 23 says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…But each in his own: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the firstfruits of life, of the new creation.

In Acts 26:22-23, Paul said, “To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying to both small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both our people and to the Gentiles.”

“Our people and the Gentiles.” That is all nations. Jesus Christ was the first to rise, the sprout, the firstfruits, so that he could proclaim light to all nations. The light Jesus proclaimed is righteousness and praise that Isaiah 61:11 says, “the Lord God will cause…to sprout up before all nations.”

We should also notice that Isaiah says “as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up.”

In John 12:23-24, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus is the grain of wheat, the seed, that would be sown into the ground after his crucifixion and death.

But, where did Jesus, the seed that was sown, sprout up?

John 20:13-16 says, “They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!'”

Why did Mary think Jesus was a gardener?

Because Jesus’ tomb was in a garden. Jesus, the grain of wheat that died, the seed that was sown, was sown in a garden.

So, what caused Jesus to sprout?

A garden.

“A garden causes what it sown in it to sprout up.”

We can do nothing to cause a sprout to grow. We can only plant the seed. We put Jesus, the grain of wheat that had to die, into the ground when we crucified him. But, once we planted the seed, God caused it to sprout. And, God caused this sprout, Jesus to bring forth righteousness and praise for all nations.

The Fast Jesus Chooses

TODAY’S READING: ISAIAH 57-59

“Is such the fast that I choose…Is not this the fast that I choose…” – Isaiah 58:5, 6

God is speaking in Isaiah 58. God asks, “Is this how I want you to fast?” Then God asks, “Is not this how I want you to fast?” For there are two ways to fast, one of which is truly pleasing God.

Verse 1 indicates that God is speaking to Jacob, which typically represents God’s people who are lacking the Spirit. In verse 2, we read that the house of Jacob seeks God daily and delights to know his ways. They ask God for righteous judgments and want to draw near to him.

In verse 3, the house of Jacob says, “Why have we fasted, and you see  it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”

The house of Jacob is abstaining from food, fasting, to draw close to God. In ancient near-eastern cultures, to fast was to abase, or to afflict, one’s self. The motive behind this fast was to show how the house of Jacob had humbled itself. Psalm 35:13 says, “I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest.”

But, despite their fasting, the house of Jacob knows that God is not acknowledging their self-abasement. They wonder why God does not see and take knowledge of how they are denying their physical body of food in a show of humility.

In verse 4, God answers, “Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.”

Whoa. Wait a minute.

The house of Jacob is asking God why he doesn’t see how they have humbled themselves through fasting. And, God answers that they only fast to quarrel and fight? Why did God say that?

The first time the Hebrew word for fast is used is in Judges 20:26-27, which says, “Then all the people of Israel, the whole army, went up and came to Bethel and wept. They sat there  before the Lord and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. And the people of Israel inquired of the Lord.”

So, Israel went to Bethel, which means the house of God, and wept, which is to say they cried out to the God. When they went before the Lord, they fasted as sought him for an answer.

But, what was the question Israel wanted answered by their fasting?

In Judges 20:27, Israel asked, “Shall we go out once more to battle against our brothers, the people of Benjamin, or shall we cease?”

Israel fasted to know if they should go to war against one of their own tribes, their own brothers. Therefore, in Isaiah 58:4, God said, “Behold you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.”

Indeed, in Isaiah 58:3, God said the house of Jacob fasted to seek their own pleasure. Therefore, fasting was not truly about humbling one’s self but about seeking one’s own pleasure, satisfying one’s own pride by having done something for God.

In Isaiah 58:4-5, God says, “Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?”

In other words, is denying yourself food really what God has asked for? Is this really the way to show your humility?

In Luke 18:10, Jesus says, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” They went to the temple, just like Israel went to Bethel, the house of God, in Judges.

In verses 11-12, Jesus  continued, “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Jesus shows that for this Pharisee to fast is to make a show of humility. And, the Pharisee’s fast was symbolic of how he stood by himself and against everyone else. In this sense, the Pharisee’s fast about seeking his own pleasure, to quarrel and to fight, just like God said in Isaiah 58.

In Isaiah 58:5, God also asked if this type of fast was really a day acceptable to the Lord?

A day acceptable to the Lord.

That’s an interesting statement. One that starts to bring to mind Jesus and what he was sent to do.

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In Luke, Jesus announced this at the start of his ministry. But, what Jesus said he came to do is somewhat reminiscent of the fast the God chooses in Isaiah 58.

If it is not the mere abstaining from food, then what is the fast God chooses?

Isaiah 58:6-7 says, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”

The house of Jacob fasted by denying itself food, but it was a seeking of one’s own pleasure. God says the fast that he wants from you is to deny yourself the means by which you get your pleasure – binding others by wickedness, putting others under a yoke, and oppressing others – and actively doing things – feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and clothing the naked – that relieve the very burdens put on others to fulfill our own pleasures.

The fast that God desires in Isaiah 58:6-7 is exactly the same as what Jesus says those who know him, those who inherit the kingdom will do.

In Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus said, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, i was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”

Do you see the similarities to what Jesus says those that inherit the kingdom will do and the the fast that God chooses?

  1. “I was in prison and you came to me” vs. “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free
  2. “I was hungry and you gave me food” vs. “is it not to share your bread with the hungry”
  3. “I was a stranger and you welcome me” vs. “bring the homeless poor into your house”
  4. “I was naked and you clothed me” vs. “when you see the naked, to cover him”

Do you see what Jesus is saying?

Those that inherit the kingdom are those that serve Jesus. Those that serve Jesus are those that do the fast that Jesus chooses.

The fast that Jesus chooses is not abstaining from food.

The fast that Jesus chooses is freeing the burdened, oppressed, and imprisoned, feeding the hungry with our own bread, bringing the homeless into our own home, and clothing the naked with our clothes.

So, the real question becomes, am I doing the fast that Jesus chooses?

Why Are God’s Thoughts and Ways Higher than Ours?

TODAY’S READING: ISAIAH 53-56

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

Why?

That is the all important question.

Why is an important question. It is a particularly important question in regards to these verses because these verses are a favorite of Christians.

I have heard Christians use these verses to justify the violence attributed (wrongly I might add) to God in the Old Testament. When I have asked if God would really have women raped, babies dashed against the rocks, or whole cities and everything in them burned to destruction, I have had Christians respond, “Well, God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts. So, yes, God can do whatever he wants and he really did those things.”

And, because many Christians believe God’s higher ways and thoughts can be used to justify a violent God, they then use God’s higher ways and thoughts to justify a God that would torment someone in hell in flames forever.

But, these Christians have completely missed the reason why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours.

Why are God’s thoughts and ways higher than our thoughts and ways?

All we need to do to know why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours is look at the previous two verses. Indeed, that is what the word “for” at the start of verse 8 is telling us to do. The “for,” which also means because, is telling us to look at what we just read to know why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours. For (linking back to what I just said), there is a very specific reason why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” – Isaiah 55:6-7

Why are God’s ways and thoughts higher than our ways and thoughts?

Pardon.

Which is a synonym for forgiveness. In fact, the Hebrew word literally means to be indulgent towards, to forgive.

But, not just forgiveness.

Abundant forgiveness!

God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts because of of one very specific reason – God’s abundant forgiveness!

Therefore, the reason God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours is actually just the opposite of the way many Christians use God’s higher thoughts and ways to justify a violent God maiming, torturing, slaying and destroying whomever he wants.

At least one of Jesus’ parables reveals that God’s abundant forgiveness was the reason God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours.

In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered Peter, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Some translations say seventy times seven.) While Peter thought seven times would be enough forgiveness, Jesus told Peter to forgive so much that you would lose count of how many times you had forgiven. In other words, Jesus told Peter to be life the Father, to make his thoughts and ways like God’s by practicing abundant forgiveness.

In the parable itself, Jesus showed how God’s abundant forgiveness, his thoughts and ways, is dramatically higher, higher as the heavens above the earth, than ours. In the parable, the king completely forgave the debt of the servant, which was an incredibly high amount that the servant could only have paid back if he had lived thousands and thousands of years. However, when the servant left the king’s presence, having received his forgiveness, he wouldn’t even forgive the relatively tiny amount that a fellow servant owed him.

So, Jesus revealed God’s abundant forgiveness in the parable of the wicked servant, but the Hebrew word for forgiveness tells us something about God’s abundant forgiveness as well

The Hebrew word for forgiveness is salah. According to the Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, the only individual in the Old Testament that is the subject salah, to forgive, is God. In other words, God is the only one the Old Testament associates with the capability of forgiveness. That right there shows that it is forgiveness that makes God’s ways and thoughts higher than ours.

The root word salah occurs 50 times in the Old Testament. The number 50 is significant because it was the year of Jubilee.

Deuteronomy 15:1-2 says, “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this it the manner  of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lord’s release has been proclaimed.” Israel was commanded to release, or forgive, the debts of their neighbor every seven years because God’s release, or forgiveness, had been proclaimed.

But, God magnifies this idea of the seventh year in Leviticus 25. Leviticus 25:8, 10 says, “You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years…And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.” In the 50th year, all debts were completely forgiven and liberty proclaimed to everyone.

Of course, this is linked to the day of Pentecost, which took place 50 days after Jesus was crucified. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted from Joel 2 that God was pouring out his Spirit on all flesh. This pouring out of the Spirit was a result of Jesus having been exalted because of his crucifixion.

And what is the supreme revelation from Jesus on the cross?

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34

On the cross, while we were maiming, torturing, slaying and destroying Jesus, the innocent and perfect man, the son of God, Jesus was revealing God’s abundant forgiveness. When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he was revealing exactly how God’s ways and thoughts  were higher than ours.

Also, tt was Jesus’ crucifixion, the moment of revealing God’s abundant forgiveness, that brought about our jubilee, the canceling of all our debts.

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” – Colossians 2:13-14

Why are God’s thoughts and ways higher than ours?

Forgiveness.

The forgiveness of all our trespasses.

Now that we know why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours – abundant forgiveness of every sin, every debt, complete and total – how is that God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours?

How is such abundant forgiveness possible?

“God is love.” – 1 John 4:8

God’s abundant forgiveness is possible because God is love.

How do we know God’s love?

Consequently, how do we know God’s forgiveness?

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.”- 1 John 3:16

We know God’s love, and therefore his abundant forgiveness, which reveals God’s ways and thoughts as altogether higher than our ours, because Jesus Christ laid down his life on the cross.

And, what does Jesus tell us about God’s love?

“But i say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:44-45

God’s love is indiscriminate. God gives his love to all, deserving or not, just as the rain and sun fall on every person, deserving of their blessings or not.

And, if God’s love is indiscriminate in its nature, and God’s forgiveness flows from his flow, then God’s forgiveness is indiscriminate too.

Notice that on the cross Jesus put no qualifiers on who he was praying forgiveness for. Jesus simply prayed for “them.”

How marvelous is God’s forgiveness, the very reason his thoughts and ways are higher than ours.

What a wonderful revelation from Jesus.