JEREMIAH 14:7-10, 19-22
It seemed like a good and simple plan. God created our world. Then, he created us. He gave us some guidelines for living our lives. He did all this so we could be in a loving relationship with him. The people of God in Jeremiah’s time claimed to love Him, but did not show it in their daily lives. I did a quick scan of chapters 1-13. Several verses popped out, showing the situation:
Jer. 3:1 If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not such a land be greatly polluted? “You have played the whore with many lovers, and would you return to me?” says the Lord.
Jer. 3:19-20 I thought how I would set you among my children, and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful heritage of all the nations. And I thought you would call me My Father, and would not turn from following me. Instead, as a faithless wife leaves her husband, so you have been faithless to me, O house of Israel, says the Lord.
Jer. 7:8-10 Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, “We are safe!”— only to go on doing all these abominations?
The book of Jeremiah is not a happy book. Last week, we studied how God listens to our prayers, and is willing to change his mind to lovingly grant our petitions. In today’s reading, God is fed up. He is tired of seeing His people run off and do anything else but be in a loving relationship with Him. He has turned a deaf ear to their pleas.
- This reading begins with a confession by the people that they have sinned against God. The word “apostasy” means the act of refusing to follow God’s path. (v. 7)
- The people call out to God. They beg Him not to be a stranger, and not forsake them. (vv. 8-9)
- God acknowledges their philandering ways. “They love to wander.” Don’t we all know someone who is like this in their marital relationship? Don’t they always come back, begging for mercy, and professing undying love, only to repeat the cycle? God does not accept their empty words. He’s fed up. It’s time to take action, (v. 10)
- In the next verses, God uses the word “we” to refer to Himself. We Christians quickly to jump to the conclusion that He is referring to the Holy Trinity. But this was written hundreds of years before Jesus and before the concept of the Holy Trinity was formulated. God was using what is called the “Majestic Plural”. Kings and queens use “we” instead of “I”, when making proclamations. It seems weird to us, but it was a common practice. When God uses the Majestic Plural, he is ascending to his throne to make a proclamation. Verse 19 is full of “we” and “us” referring to our Lord as our king.
- The dialogue shifts back to the people in verse 20, so the “we” here is the wayward people of God, begging for forgiveness once again. In the end, God says no. It’s too late. It is time to do something about it. (vv. 20-22)
Sometimes, things go haywire, in the world of computers. The first thing you should try, when you have a problem is to turn the computer off, and restart it. We call it hitting the reset button. Quite often, that is all it takes. I like to say that when God created the Flood in Noah’s time, he was hitting the reset button. Things had gotten bad on earth, and He wanted to start over. In Jeremiah’s time, things had gotten out of control again. It was time for God to hit the reset button, and send His people into exile.
Fortunately for us, God has taken a new direction. Since then, He decided to send His only Son to us, to clarify the Law of Moses, teach us The Way, and die for our sins. There will be no more reset buttons, at least until Jesus’ second coming!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
We no longer worship the Canaanite god named Baal. But many other things threaten to crowd God out of the #1 spot in our lives. What other “gods” interfere with our relationship with our Lord?
2 TIMOTHY 4:6-8, 16-18
Paul is concluding his letter to his beloved friend Timothy. Paul is writing this from a Roman prison cell. Increasingly, it appears that he will not survive imprisonment this time, and will be put to death soon.
- Paul calls himself a libation—a sacrificial drink-offering. He knows that his time has come. He offers his life’s work as a sacrifice to God. (v. 6)
- He lists his accomplishments three ways in verse 7. Let’s look at each separately. He has:
- Fought the good fight. Being an evangelist in Paul’s time was a constant struggle. Because of his work, he had been beaten, imprisoned, and thrown out of towns.
- Finished the race. His work is complete. He does not say “won”, but finished. There is still much work to be done, but it must be left for others like Timothy to do. For us, to do, also.
- Kept the faith. Paul has stuck to the basics of the faith. While other evangelists of his day have strayed into the weeds with their preaching, Paul has remained true to the teachings of our Lord.
- Having thus summarized his life’s work, he is ready for his crown. Not only does he get one, but all those who long for Jesus’ reappearing. (v. 8)
- In the second paragraph, Paul appears to be talking about the first hearing he had, due to his current imprisonment. Even though others came to support him, it did not matter—the Lord stood by him the whole time. He vows to continue putting his trust in the Lord, focusing on the promise of Jesus. (vv. 16-18)
We, too, are called to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith. We can finish the race, trusting in the promises of Jesus.
In the following parable, Jesus contrasts the attitudes of two people. In order to gain the full impact of the message, it is good for us to understand how society in Jesus’ time regarded these two figures.
- A tax collector was local person, who was a government employee. In other words, they were a local Jew, employed by the Roman government, whose job it was to exact taxes from the local Jewish populous. Often, they would exact more than required, and keep the difference for themselves. They were considered dishonest traitors to the Jewish community.
- We often have a distorted perception of Pharisees. Because they clashed so many times with Jesus, we think of them as the villains of the story. In some ways, they were the villains. But in fact, Pharisees were considered the cream of the crop, religiously speaking. In Jesus’ time, there were several special religious sects, for those who wished to set themselves apart from the common religious community—Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. All three followed a stricter faith walk than the average lover of God. Some theologians even suspect that Jesus came from a Pharisee family. This might explain why Jesus was extra critical of their ways. He knew all too well the pitfalls of that faith-walk. He had insider information.
- Jesus notices that some of those around him “trusted in their righteousness, and regarded others with contempt”. They had an attitude problem. Jesus tells them this parable to challenge their thoughts and actions. (v. 9)
- So, a tax collector and a Pharisee come to the temple to pray. (v. 10)
- The Pharisee prays first. He has worked hard in his faith-walk. He is proud of his accomplishments. “Other people” have not worked as hard. He is confident that he has pleased God with his hard work. (vv. 11-12)
- The tax collector, on the other hand, is keenly aware of his failure to live up to God’s expectations. He stands “far off” in the back of the temple. He displays penitent body language, and pleads for God’s mercy. He knows that he is a sinner. (v. 13)
- Then, Jesus turns conventional thinking on its ear. He says that the sinful, traitor of a tax collector is the one to go home forgiven (“justified”), not the holy man! (v. 14a)
- Jesus summarizes why this is. It’s all about attitude. Humility is to be treasured. If you want to exalt yourself, you can expect to be humbled by God. (v. 14b)
I have heard people say things like “I’ve been a Lutheran my whole life”, or “I’m Baptist to the bone!” God knows and treasures our hearts. He is looking for us to walk humbly, rather than proudly.