Jeremiah was a prophet to Judah before and during the Babylonian exile. In the first 29 chapters of this book, we read of Jeremiah’s dire prophecies regarding Judah’s wayward life and what they can expect, if they do not repent and turn to God. They do not, and are conquered by the Babylonians. Many are deported, including Jeremiah. Judah is defeated and dispersed. They are broken-hearted. God sends a message of hope to His people through Jeremiah. Chapters 30-33 are this message of hope and consolation.
- God tells his broken-hearted people to shout with gladness and sing. They are to sing raises and pray for God to save a remnant of their race to continue on. Note that God calls his people “Jacob”. In the next verse of this passage He also uses the name “Ephraim”. These are characters from the old stories of Abraham, Jacob, and Esau. Using “Jacob” to refer to Judah and “Ephraim” for Israel reminds them of their long heritage and the promise of God’s continued love and care for them. (v. 7)
- Here is the promise: God is going to gather up His dispersed peoples from all over, and bring them back to the Promised Land. And not just those healthy and strong enough for the journey, but even the lame and women in labor. No one will be left behind. (vv. 7-9)
- Jeremiah now proclaims that “He [God] who scattered Israel will gather him [Israel]…” So, the same God who scatters is now the shepherd who will gather his flock. Sending his people into exile was seen by His people as a punishment. God was hitting the reset button, just like he did with Noah and the flood. Now, he’s a shepherd, gathering His people back together. (v. 10)
- Here is the key verse, in my opinion. God has ransomed and redeemed his people. They are not strong enough to do this themselves. God comes to the rescue. (v. 11)
- The remainder describes the joy those in exile will experience, when they return home. (vv. 12-14)
How many coupons have you received in the mail that you have thrown away? Most were useless slips of paper, not even worth the paper they were printed on. But it seems there is always one that you can use. It’s still just a piece of paper with ink on it. But if you take it to the store and redeem it, it has value. God’s promise to us is that if we put our trust in him, he will transform our worthless lives into something of value. He sends his son to redeem us and make us holy and happy.
This is the beginning of Paul’s letter to the young church in Ephesus. The omitted verses, one and two, are simply the opening greeting. Now, Paul writes a beautiful faith-witness story. Notice that it is God who does all the work. Paul and his disciples merely receive these blessings by believing. In verse 13, Paul tells us that we all get these blessings, too, when we believe in Jesus.
- Paul begins his letter by praising God for blessing us with “every spiritual blessing”. (v. 3)
- Next comes a long list of actions that God has done for us:
- He chose us… (v. 4
- He destined us for adoption… (v. 5)
- He bestowed grace upon us… (v. 6)
- He has redeemed us and forgiven us… (v. 7)
- He has made known to us the mystery of his will (v. 9)
- He has given us an inheritance… (v. 11)
- We, too, get all of this, when we believe in him. We are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit [in our baptism]. (v. 13)
God is great! By His generous grace, he freely gives us all these gifts. All we must do is believe in Jesus as our savior. What a wonderful Christmas gift that is!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Paul begins this letter by blessing God. We often talk about God's blessings for us. Is it possible for a mere mortal to bless God almighty? Perhaps we can bless God with our thanks and praise. And just maybe bless him with our actions.
This part of John’s gospel is called the prologue by biblical scholars. It is so rich that I believe we could spend the next four weeks studying it. This prologue clearly defines who Jesus is, as well as his place in history.
- In this prologue, John uses two nicknames for Jesus. He does this to make a point. The first nickname is the “Word”. It is even more poignant in Greek—Logos. Logos meant more than just “word”, it meant “the true word” or “the truth”. Later in John’s gospel, Jesus will say that he is the way, the truth, and the life. But here, Jesus is the Logos. Furthermore, John states that Jesus was there at the beginning of creation. Jesus existed at the beginning of time. He took an active part in shaping God’s creation. (vv. 1-4)
- In the last part of verse 4, John introduces his second nickname—Jesus is the Light. The Light of Jesus shines in the darkness, and this miserable, dark world cannot overcome his brilliant presence. (v. 5)
- We shift now to mention John the Baptist. The writer clearly defines John’s role. He wasn’t the Light, but he testified to the Light. (vv. 5-9)
- Now we switch back to talking about the Light, Jesus. Even though he created the world, most did not recognize or accept him. (vv. 10-11)
- Here is one of the key verses: But to those who did receive him, they became God’s beloved children. (v. 12)
- The next key verse is verse 14. “And the Word became flesh, and lived among us… full of grace and truth [Logos].” Jesus-God took on human form. He experienced life as a human being, including being tempted, rejected, criticized, and more. He truly has “walked in our shoes”. (v. 14)
- John the Baptist is again quoted, fixing John below Jesus in importance. In the early days after Jesus’ life, John the Baptist had many followers, too. This statement clearly defines the hierarchy of John to Jesus, making it clear who is on top. (v. 15)
- Here is the third key verse. We got the law through Moses, but we get the grace through Jesus. Thanks be to God! (v. 17)
- Finally, John says that while no one has seen God the Father, we clearly see what God the Father is like through the life of Jesus. One of Jesus’ missions was to show us who God is by living his life as a model for us. (v. 18)
- By believing in Jesus as our savior, we become God’s beloved children. (v. 12)
- During the 11 days that follow Christmas Day, we reflect on the meaning of his birth. God took on human form, and lived among us. For a time, we could see, hear, and touch God. What should we learn about God from this gift? (v. 14)
- My pastor defines “grace” as God’s love, freely given. The Law of Moses defines God’s high expectations for His people. Not one of us is capable of keeping all these rules. Through the gift of His son, we receive His grace. Our sins are forgiven! (v. 17)