Tag Archives: jeremiah

God’s surprising arrival [Second Sunday of Advent, part 1]

10 Dec
Ruining a perfectly good road

How many of you love road construction?  I mean how many of you get excited when you’re driving and the traffic slows to a stop, and you look at your phone and it tells you there is roadwork ahead?  We recently had roadwork outside Faith Church as they were working on curbs for a new complex going in across the street.  From my house, if I took the long way, I could skip most of the roadwork, but I would often forget, and end up waiting in a long line that backed for more than a mile.  It is very normal hate road construction, but this week, we’re going to get a whole new viewpoint on road construction!

With this post we start a week-long series studying the Lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent…and road construction?  And first up is a reading from another Old Testament prophet, Malachi 3:1-4.

Remember last week when one of readings was from the prophet Jeremiah, and the reading told us of the time Jeremiah bought a field when the armies of Babylon had surrounded the city of Jerusalem with siege works?  Today, we travel 150 years or so after the time of Jeremiah, and we come to the ministry of the prophet Malachi. 

A lot happened to the people of Israel in that 150 years. They were defeated by Babylon, exiled, and their land was ravaged.  Eventually the Persians defeated the Babylonians, and allowed people to return to Israel.  You can read about it in the books of Haggai and Zechariah, Ezra and Nehemiah, where we hear stories of the people clearing the land and starting to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and the temple. 

Nehemiah was a Jew who had risen in the ranks while in exile in Persia.  He was cup-bearer to the Persian king, who allowed Nehemiah to return to Israel to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.  Nehemiah was an amazing leader and under him the people returned not only to Israel, they also returned to the Lord.  Eventually Nehemiah had to go back to Persia.  Some years went by and Nehemiah traveled back to Jerusalem to find the people had turned away from God yet again.  Malachi is writing somewhere close to that time.

So think about this:  Israel has its past memories of glory.  Memories of prominence, and especially memories of their God residing at the temple. But that is no more.  God removed his glory and presence from the temple. Thus the big question on the people’s hearts and minds, then, is, “When will God return?”  They have returned to the land, they have started to rebuild.  But when will God show up?  That brings us to Malachi 3.

What word do you see repeated in verse 1?  Take a look, and you will see there are two instances of the word “messenger” in verse 1. The first messenger we read about is one who will prepare the way for the Lord’s arrival.

Then suddenly the Lord will come to his temple, and we find out that the Lord is the second messenger.  But where the first messenger has a job of preparing the way for the Lord’s arrival, the second messenger, the Lord himself, has a job of being the messenger of his covenant.

God had his covenant with Israel long before this.  We have been studying that covenant in our Deuteronomy series.  He made the covenant with Israel, under the leadership of Moses, but Israel broke the covenant, and God allowed their nation to be destroyed and exiled, and God removed his presence from them.  Through God’s prophets, like Malachi, though, God introduced the idea of a new covenant. 

Here in Malachi 3 we are hearing about two messengers that will arrive in the future to usher in this new covenant.  One messenger prepares the way, and the next messenger is the Lord himself.  Malachi says that the people are looking for the arrival of these messengers.  The people are described as seeking and desiring the arrival of messengers. 

But look at verse 2 where we read the description of the second messenger’s arrival. In verse 1 Malachi has already said that that the second messenger will arrive suddenly.  Now he asks some disconcerting questions about his arrival: “Who can endure it? Who can stand when he appears?”

Do those questions make you feel good or bad about his arrival?  When we think of the Lord arriving, we think of cheering crowds and salvation and hope and joy.  But this description in Malachi 3 is not like that at all.  These questions verse 2 sound ominous!  Endure it?  Who can stand it?  It seems like the Lord is telling the people, “Brace yourselves, people, because I’m about to come in like a hurricane, a tornado, a tsunami.”  Is that the kind of arrival you want God to make?

While it sounds uncomfortable, it might be the best thing for us.  But how? Tomorrow we’ll learn more about this surprising arrival of the Lord. And what about road construction?  We’ll get back to that too!

The surprising value of repentance [First Sunday of Advent 2019, part 2]

4 Dec

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash

I don’t like to be in the wrong.  It feels terrible.  When my wife points out something I did wrong, inwardly I immediately start thinking of ways to respond to justify my actions.  Sound familiar?  Today we learn about the right way to handle it when we are confronted about being wrong. 

In part 1 of this series on the lectionary readings for the First Sunday of Advent 2019, we learned that there is hope in dark times.  In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, life was grim in the city of Jerusalem, as the armies of Babylon held the city in siege, slowly choking it to death.  We read in Jeremiah 33 of the prophecy of a new day, of hope for a savior to come from David’s line.  And in Luke 1, about 600 years later, we read about a poor peasant girl, Mary, astounded at the news from an angel that she was going to have a son who will be on the throne of David!  And he would have a kingdom that will never end.  What does it mean?

To get some perspective, let’s turn to the second reading: Psalm 25:1-10.

With all this talk of David, it is quite fitting to read a Psalm written by King David himself, talking about repentance for sins, trust in God, and a plea to God to teach David God’s ways.  This is a psalm that shows us David’s honesty and humility.  David is aware of his own sins, and he calls out to God for repentance. He wants God to act in mercy.

The attitudes and actions that David describes are ones that the king and people in Jeremiah’s day should have been practicing but didn’t.  God is rightly very upset with his people in Jeremiah’s day because they turned away from him.  But look how David describes God: “Truth…great mercy and love…you are good, O Lord…Good and upright…all the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.”

David, like Jeremiah, had plenty of times in his life when he could look around and feel like his world was falling apart.  Read the life of David sometime in the biblical books of 1st and 2nd Samuel.  It’s basically a historical thriller. David knew well what it was like to have his life threatened.  And many times in his poetry, what we call psalms, David writes things like “Where are you God?  Why are you taking so long to rescue me?”  And yet here is David reminding the people of who God is.  David went through so much hardship in his life he could have easily turned bitter toward God, but in Psalm 25 we see David calling us to dwell on God’s love and mercy and faithfulness.

Therefore David tells the people to hope in God, to be humble, to obey.  With this kind of teaching, and with an example like David leading them, you’d think that his descendants would follow David’s lead, so there would be a Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem for a long, long time. 

But even David’s own son Solomon turned away, in part.  Right after Solomon, the nation had a civil war and split in two, north and south.  The kings in the north, which became known as the Kingdom of Israel with a new capital city, almost to a man turned away from God.  The kings in the south, which became known as the Kingdom of Judah, which was the tribe David was from, still ruled from the capital of Jerusalem where the temple was.  Those kings were a mixed bag, some good, some bad.  But by Jeremiah’s time, there had been a string of evil kings in the south, kings who turned away from God. God, through his prophets like Jeremiah, tried to call them to repentance, but they still turned away.

So David’s reminder in Psalm 25 was needed badly then, and we need it today too.  We need repentance, to turn to God.  Do you need to repent of anything?  Ask God’s Spirit to examine you, to see if there is anything you need to confess to him or to others.  Advent is about preparing ourselves spiritually for the coming of the King, being ready for his return, and God calls to being the readying process through the act of repentance.  Take some time to repent to God, and ask him for the strength to obey him, just as David teaches in Psalm 25.

And perhaps that’s what the Apostle Paul had in mind in our third reading, which we will look at in the next post.

There is hope in dark times! [First Sunday of Advent 2019, part 1]

3 Dec

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

For Advent 2019, Faith Church will be following the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary.  Each Sunday we’ll look at how the four readings tie together thematically, all supporting the goals of the season of Advent.  Thus we are pausing our series on Deuteronomy.  We’ll return to that after the New Year 2019.  Why does Faith Church observe Advent?  This post explains our thought. And this post from the Deuteronomy series refers to it as well.

In this series of posts we start by meeting a guy who was living in a very dark time.  It was one of those difficult phases of life that most of us know by personal experience, times when you can look all around you and seriously question whether God is real, or if he is able to keep his promises.  You look around you and you wonder, “Why? Lord,Why?” 

I was talking to someone this week who was going through a difficult and painful time in their career, and they said that very thing, “Why is this happening to me?” At times like this, it can seems like there is no hope.

Maybe you’ve been there.  The worst is when the difficulty and the pain carry on and seem like they are not going away anytime soon.  As Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.”  And in the waiting game,you can be very tempted to have dark thoughts.  

So let’s meet Jeremiah.  He was in one of those dark times. Turn with me to Jeremiah 33:14-16.

To get a sense of the backstory of this passage, look back at Jeremiah 32 where we learn that Jeremiah is prophesying at the very end of the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (which was the southern kingdom of Israel).  The scene takes place in the capital of Judah, the famous city of Jerusalem.  A powerful enemy force of the superpower nation of Babylon has built siege works around the city walls, and they are starving the people.  It’s only a matter of time until the city gives up, and all is lost. 

So Jeremiah, directed by the Lord, buys his cousin’s field, as a prophetic sign. Kinda weird, right? At that moment when Babylon’s armies are surrounding the city, God wants Jeremiah to buy a field? The people inside the city walls, Jeremiah’s friends and family would have been thinking, “Jeremiah, what in the world are you doing?  This is a ridiculous time to buy anything.  We’re all going to die!” But God had a reason for Jeremiah to buy the field, and he sure got their attention.

God’s message was that, though things look dire now, one day people will buy and sell property in the land again.  Through Jeremiah, God says that Israel has turned its back on him, and so he is allowing Babylon to wipe Jerusalem from the face of the earth as punishment for Israel’s sins.  But one day in the future, there will be restoration.  And that promise of restoration is what we read about in Jeremiah chapter 33. 

Specifically looking at 33:14-16, we see the words, “The days are coming!” What days?  The days when God will fulfill the gracious promise he made to his people.  Look at verses 15 and 16.  There we read of the promise of a new king.  He uses the image of a branch sprouting from David’s line.  The famous second king of Israel, David was known as a “man after God’s own heart.”  Long before Jeremiah’s time, 400 or so years earlier, David ruled the land, and God promised David that, if his descendants followed the way of the Lord, David would always have someone from his royal line on the throne of Israel.  Well, as Jeremiah looked around the city, he knew the 400 year streak of having a Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem was nearly over.  The kings had turned away from God, and thus God allowed Babylon to capture them.  And that is what eventually happened soon after this passage.  Jerusalem was destroyed, and never again was a Davidic king on the throne. 

But here in Jeremiah 33 we have a new hope, a prophecy of a new Davidic king who will come, who will do what is right and just in the land.  A new day is coming, declares the Lord, a new David! And who might that be?

We find out about 600 years later,when God sends an angel to a humble unknown peasant girl.  In Luke 1:26, the angel Gabriel appears suddenly to a young lady named Mary in the Northern Israelite town of Nazareth,and the angel says Mary is highly favored, that the Lord is with her.  Mary’s life is about to change forever.  The angel tells her in Luke 1:31 that she is going to bear a child, and that child will be great, the Son of the Most High, and get this, God will give Mary’s son the throne of his father David,and her son will rule over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end.  Imagine Mary hearing that! 

Mary knew that she was of the line of David, but 600 years had gone by.  That would be like a descendant of George Washington in our day saying, “George Washington is my great, great, great,great, great, grandfather.”  The lineage is interesting, but it doesn’t mean anything anymore.  So there’s Mary, knowing that David is her great, great, great, great, great, grandfather. But what is God talking about?  She’s going to have a son who will be on the throne of David?  And he will have a kingdom that will never end?  What does it mean? To get some perspective, we’ll need to turn to the second reading of the day, and we do that in the next post.