Wednesday, September 26, 2012

EXILES



EXILES

As the Jews in Jeremiah 29 were in exile in Babylon, we Christians are exiles in the world. We are citizens of God’s kingdom (Ephesians 2:19).  But we forced to live here in the kingdom of the world. That makes us exiles.

Hebrews 11:13 says of the faithful of the past: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”  Peter addressed his first letter “to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…” (1 Peter 1:1). In 1 Peter 2:11, he said   “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul”.

We are not to become citizens of this world and act like them. That is why he said to abstain from the passions that the citizens of the world indulge. 

But, what are we to do while we are in the world?  How do we relate to the world. Jeremiah’s advice to the Jews in exile gives us advice. Jeremiah 29:5-7 says:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.


God wanted his people in exile to live in their world. They were to marry, have children, marry off their children to have more so that their families would grow. They were to work. And, they were even to seek the welfare of their city and country. They were to pray for it. For, if their country prospered, so would they.

In contrast to this, there have been movements that taught total withdrawal from the culture and world around them. The Anabaptists during the time of the reformation preached that the world was evil so Christians should withdraw from it. Although they are intensely political now, the early Fundamentalists in America preached the same thing. But God said to seek the welfare of the place you live, just don’t become part of its values.

Jesus preached this dichotomy also. In John 17, Jesus referred to his disciples as in the world but not of the world. He did not preach withdrawal from the world. He said “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
           
(John 17:15 ESV) In other words, he wanted them to live in the world but not be absorbed by it.

If we withdraw from our world by not engaging our culture or seeking its welfare, we cannot influence it for Christ as he wanted. He said:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
           
(Matthew 5:13-16 ESV)

So, Christian, live in your world but resist its corruption. Pray for your city and your country. Do good works to improve your community. Live a holy life and speak the gospel.

And, while you do all these things, look for the consummation of God’s kingdom, where you will be at home with full citizenship and all of its benefits.


 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

GOD'S LETTER TO THE EXILES


GOD’S  LETTER TO THE EXILES
JEREMIAH 29:1-24


29:1-7
Instructions For The Exile

This message from God came in the form of a letter from Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon. At this point, all of the people had not yet been taken to Babylon. Some remained in Judah and in Jerusalem. Jeremiah was one of those.

This is commonly called “Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles”. But Jeremiah wrote as the prophet (29:1) and the letter starts with “thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to the exiles whom I have sent into exile” (29:4). So the letter is from the Lord.



But many had gone to Babylon. They lived outside the Promised Land.  Their family allotment was abandoned. There was no Temple. They were thrust from the presence of God and his land and they did not know if they would have any relationship to him any more, or if they would continue to be a people, or return to their land.

Verse 2 says this was after King Jeconiah and his mother (the queen mother) were taken from Jerusalem into Babylon. This refers to the events of 2 Kings 24:8-17. (Jehoiachin is Jeconiah)

Archaeology has validated the existence of Jeconiah and his exile. Excavations in Iraq, where Babylon is located, found records of Jeconiah's existence. These are called “Jehoiachin's Rations Tablets”.

These tablets were excavated near the Ishtar Gate in Babylon. Archaeologists date to around 592 B.C. The exile is believed to have happened five years before, in 597 B.C. The tablets are written in Cuneiform. They list Jeconiah ("Ia-'-รบ-kinu" in Cuneiform) and his five sons as recipients of food rations in Babylon. 

Think Babylonian food stamps.

The Lord had Jeremiah write this letter to those in Babylon to reassure them that God had not forgotten them.  He also gave them instructions on how to live in Babylon. They were not to be rebels or terrorists. They were not to escape. Rather they were to settle in and be good citizens.

In verse 5, the Lord said to settle down and live in Babylon. They were to build houses, plant gardens and eat the produce. They were to have children and arrange marriages for their children to have children so that they would multiply rather than decrease.

Notice this twist on the normal command to be fruitful and multiply. Whenever God placed men and women in his sacred place, he told them to be fruitful and multiply and take dominion over the earth. In other words, they were to have children, spread out over the land and take care and control of it.

When God first made man and woman, he told them “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it”. Genesis 1:28. He said the same to Noah and his sons after the flood. Genesis 9:1. He promised to multiply Abraham greatly. Genesis 17:2. He also promised to multiply Ishmael. Genesis 20:9.

Isaac passed the blessing of Abraham down to Jacob in Genesis 28:4, including being fruitful and multiplying. Then the Lord himself later told Jacob to be fruitful and multiply. Genesis 35:11.Jacob recounted the story to Joseph in Genesis 48:4. At that time, they were living in Egypt.

Here in Jeremiah they are not in the Promised Land. They were not in Israel. They are in exile. They are more like Jacob in Egypt than Adam in the garden or Abraham. So, why would God command them to be fruitful and multiply? 

I can think of two reasons.

First, it was always God’s desire for those who love him and serve him to spread over the earth and rule it as his representative. Adam and all the sons of Adam have largely failed at this task. We have filled a lot of the earth, but have not generally ruled it as God’s representatives or in his image.  The second Adam will accomplish the task. The second Adam is Jesus. He began the task by giving the great commission to his disciples, to go into all the world and make disciples, or multiply. (Matthew 28:19)  When Jesus returns, he will complete the mission of bringing the whole earth under the reign and glory of God.

Even though God exiled his chosen people, he did not abandon his plan to bring his glory over all the earth and he did not abandon his people. By commanding them to multiply, he was preparing them to be able to return to Judah and take dominion over it. Many were killed in the wars and exile journey. A greater population would be needed to return and rebuild the land and city as God’s sacred place.

So, the second reason, was to tell them he had not abandoned them as a people, but would indeed continue to work with them to accomplish his will.

Interestingly, they were to seek the welfare of the cities in which they lived. They were to pray for it and for its welfare. Jeremiah 29:7 If the city prospered, the Hebrews in it would prosper. There is no command to rebel. There is not command to bring down the government or the country. God had all that in hand. He willed that Babylon would conquer and rule the countries of the Middle East for a time period and they were to cooperate with his will.

The word for “welfare” here is “shalom”. It means peace and prosperity. It the Hebrews prayed for the shalom of Babylon,  they were cooperating with God’s will to prosper Babylon. In turn, God would prosper them in preparation for their return to Jerusalem.

Reject False Prophets
Jeremiah 29:8-9



Some of the prophets did not agree with God’s plan. They prophesied that the Hebrews would be in Babylon no more than two years, so the people should not settle down as Jeremiah instructed them.  Chapter 28 relates the story of Hanaiah. He was a false prophet. He said the Lord would break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar withint two years. 28:13. Here in 29:8-9, the Lord instructed the people not to listen to this message because it was a lie and he did not send those prophets.

God’s Word On the Exile and Return
Jeremiah 29:11-14

God rejected the message of these false prophets because he knew what his plan was. This again shows God’s eternity, or timelessness. He knew what was going to happen and in fact willed what would happen. He had plans and he would bring them to pass.

This was his plan: he would keep them in Babylon for 70 years and he would keep Babylon in control for 70 years. At the end of that 70 years, he would keep his promise and bring them back to Canaan.

When did God make that promise? Well, look at Deuteronomy 30:1-10. This is a restatement of the blessings and curses. God said, after I drive you from the land because of your sin, I will bring you back and restore your fortunes. In addition, he would restore their hearts toward him.  God also stated this in Leviticus 26:40-42. He specified 70 years in Jeremiah 25:12. In Deuteronomy 4:29-30, God said Israel would worship idols, but when they repented and sought the Lord with alltheir heart and sould, they would return to the Lord.

Ezra also referred to Jeremiah when writing about the end of exile in Ezra 1:1.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a very well know verse. It is also an abused verse. I have heard many people “claim” this verse for the day or as their “life verse”. But this verse does not say you will have a good day today. It says God planned, before the exile, to bring the Jews back to their country and restore their fortunes, for they would call upon him and seek him. 

This promise is to God’s covenant people as a group. It did not mean every individual would come back to Israel. In fact, many would die during the 70 years of exile. 



Daniel knew from this passage that repentance was required, so he repented and prayed on behalf of his people. Daniel 9:4 says he made confession. He confessed all that Israel had done to disobey God and said God was righteous to punish them. Then he asked God for mercy and restoration.

But what about Christian hope?  Our hope is not that we will have a good day. Our hope is that we will have a good eternity! 1 Peter 1:13 says “…set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”.

“Hope” in the Bible is not a wish as it is in American vernacular. It is the encouragement that comes from knowing we have a certain future: eternity with Christ.








Sunday, September 09, 2012

THE RIGHTEOUS BRANCH - PART 2


THE RIGHTEOUS BRANCH PART 2
Jeremiah 23:5-6

Third, the king will deal wisely and execute justice and righteousness in the land. (5) These are the characteristics of the Godly king. To “deal wisely” and “execute justice” is likely a parallelism. It is saying the same thing two different ways. A king of Israel demonstrated his wisdom by executing justice.

Your mind should jump to the image of Solomon here. He was the wise king of Israel and a type of Christ in this area. (Remember, the “type” prefigures the “antitype”) The writer of 1 Kings went to great lengths to show this. When Solomon became king, he prayed for wisdom. In the ESV, it  says “an understanding mind to govern your people”. (1 Kings 3:9) He wanted to discern between good and evil. God granted that fully. He said “behold I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.”

The book then goes on to demonstrate Solomon’s wisdom. The first story is that of two women claiming the same son. Solomon reveal’s the real mother by offering to split the child in half. (1 Kings 3:16-28) So we see that his wisdom allowed him to execute justice.

The renewal of justice in the land was a important concept. Much of the prophecy of the Old Testament is a condemnation of injustice. Most of that is directed at the way they treated the poor and defenseless members of their society. Instead of caring for them, they took advantage of them.

God decreed justice as part of the law of the covenant. Justice means that all people were judged according to the standard of the law. No one is given a pass. No one is judged more harshly than the law requires.

The 10 Commandments summarize the law. But there were many regulations that explained these laws that were contained in the books of the law, the first five books of the Old Testament. Every area of life was regulated according to God’s rules.  The idea was not to make life miserable. It was to make society just. It did not mean that everyone had the same success in life. Some were rich, some were poor. Some were free, some were slaves. Some were Jews, some were aliens. But each was to be treated justly under God’s law. A rich man could not take a poor man’s wife, land or cattle. (see 1 Kings 21 where Ahab is condemned for taking Naboth’s vineyard) If you harmed someone, you had to make it good. If you took a life, you had to pay with your life.  

Much of the prophecy of the Old Testament is a condemnation of injustice. Most of that is directed at the way they treated the poor and defenseless members of their society. Instead of caring for them, they took advantage of them. Read the words of Amos. First,
Amos 5:24 says: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Micah 6:8 says:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Yet, being human, Israel violated the law. Israel was not just. Amos 6:12 says “Do horses run on rocks? Does one plow there with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood.”

The Messiah was to come and restore justice. Isaiah 11:1-10 also describes this. It speaks of the righteous branch also. One of the signs of this righteous branch will be that “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his hears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth”. (Isaiah 11:3) Isaiah was saying the Messiah would not judge by appearance, but with righteousness. Every prosecutor will tell you it is harder to convict a good looking person than an ugly person. You have seen on television how actresses and actors get light sentences for their crimes. You have seen prominent, wealthy families get their kids off for serious crimes.

He would judge the poor and the meek in righteousness. He would not show partiality to the rich and he would protect the poor and the meek.

The Jews saw concern for social justice as a sign or verification of the identity of the Messiah. So, when Jesus came, the disciples pointed out his actions that fulfilled the Old Testament scripture’s teaching of the Messiah’s justice.  When Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, then healed all those who came to him, Matthew wrote “this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah “…he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles…” (Matthew 12:15-21)

Unfortunately for the religious leaders, Jesus did not criticize the Romans on the issue of justice. He criticized God’s people, especially their leaders. He told the Pharisees in Luke 11:42: “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

In Isaiah 42:1, God the Father says his servant will bring forth justice to the nations. Then in verse 4 he says this servant, the Messiah, will not grow faint until he has established justice in the earth. In other words, Jesus will not quit working until he has established justice on earth. He did not do this while he was on earth. But when he returns, he will finish this work. When we live under Christ’s reign, we will see the perfect leader and ruler. Of course, the execution of justice will first mean the punishment of those who have rejected Jesus as king. They will be exiled from his kingdom and removed to Hell. This is the picture of Revelation 20:11-15. All of the dead stand before Jesus the righteous judge. And the books are opened. Those books are the records of the deeds of all men and women for all time. Those whose names are not written in the book of life are judged by their works and they are condemned for breaking the law of God. The death penalty is imposed. Only those who are left, those whose names are written in the book of life remain to live in the New Earth. Only then will perfect justice prevail. No one will be mistreated in the new earth. No one will suffer because of partiality.

Fourth, the Lord said “in his days Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell securely.” (6)

Again we see Solomon as the type here. When he governed wisely and executed justice, Israel lived in peace, security and prosperity. 1 Kings demonstrates Solomon’s wealth in all his building projects and possessions. His fame spread so far that the Queen of Sheba came to see if he was as wise as she had heard. He took her breath away. (1 Kings 10:5)

When does this happen again? We know that Israel did not dwell in security, for Israel was already gone into captivity and few returned. A remnant from Judah returned, although many stayed in Babylon. But Judah was not saved either. Many came and conquered their land and eventually drove them from it again.  The Romans banned Jews from Jerusalem in 132 A.D.

“In his days” would mean when Jesus comes. But this did not happen physically at his coming, because the Romans ruled Judah and Jesus made no effort to change that. He even told them to render unto Caesar what was his. (Mark 12:17) So how did it happen?

I think this is a symbol for the church (or a prophesy of the church). It is the only way Israel and Judah could be united, for Israel, as in the Northern 10 tribes, basically ceased to exist in captivity. The church unites everyone who believes in Christ. When Jesus came, he broke down all barriers. There is one Lord or shepherd. There is one body of believers, whether you call it Israel or the church. Ezekiel 37:15-28 paints a picture of this. Galatians 4:26 says

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”.

Ephesians 2:19 says of the gentiles:” Now therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

Salvation comes to those who believe and follow Christ. They dwell in safety and security in a spiritual rather than a physical sense. They may lose their physical life due to their faith in Christ.

But they cannot lose their salvation. Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39) The people of God dwell securely in the protection of God.

Jesus said:

I give them eternal life and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them out of the father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:28-29)

The ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise of security in Christ comes in the New Earth. Revelation described the New Jerusalem like this: “its gates will never be shut by day and there will be no night there.” (Revelation 21:25). 

The gates may be left open because there are no enemies. All of God’s people dwell in safety in security in the earth that is governed by the Lord Jesus in the presence of the Father.

  


Sunday, September 02, 2012

THE RIGHTEOUS BRANCH - PART 1


The Righteous Branch: God’s Promise of a Righteous King
Jeremiah 23:5-8

PART 1
In these verses, God promised Judah a righteous king. Jeremiah picked up the theme in 23:5. The promise of a king comes in contrast to God’s condemnation of the past and present kings. Josiah was the last good king. His sons were evil kings.

Jeremiah 22:11-12 is a condemnation of Josiah’s son, Shallum. He was also known as Jehoahaz. He only reigned for three months. (2 Kings 23:31-33)

The next king, Jehoiakim, is condemned in Jeremiah 23:13-23. He built a great house for himself while his people suffered.

Then, verses 24-30 condemn Jehoiachin, or Jeconiah, who also reigned only three months before Babylon deposed him and put Zedekiah on the throne. None of these kings were righteous. In Jeremiah 23, God refers to them as shepherds, for they were to take care of God’s flock, his people. But they did not. In verse 2, God said “you have scattered my flock and have driven them away and you have not attended to them.” The king was supposed to lead Israel in worship of and obedience to God.

David was the model for the righteous king. Although he sinned, he never worshipped idols. He retrieved the ark and brought it to Jerusalem. He built a tent for it and put it in a prominent spot. He assigned priests to care for it and to make the sacrifices. He regularly went down to worship. He wrote songs for worship. He provided funds for the instruments used in worship. He provided funds for the temple that his son would build.

Josiah was another model. He led the last reform of worship in Judah. He read the law and led the nation to repent. He destroyed altars and idols. But his sons did not carry on his work. They worshipped idols, they did not keep the covenant and led the people to abandon the Lord. Many other kings of Israel and Judah were evil.

In contrast to these unrighteous kings, God promised Israel a righteous king. 

God said “I will raise up for David a righteous Branch and he shall reign as king”. (Jeremiah 23:5) In just two verses, God told the Jews, and now us, much about this figure who would be king.

First, God would give them a king in the line of David. In this metaphor, David’s line is a tree. The promised king will be a branch of that tree. Zechariah 6:12 uses this same image. He is the Branch and he will sit on his throne.

 We know from our previous study that God made a covenant with David. It is recorded in 2 Samuel 7:4-17. God said David’s throne would be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:16)  Yet there was no king of the Jews in Babylon. They served the Babylonian kings, then the Persian king.

Even when the Jews returned from exile, there was no Davidic king. Zerubbabel, a descendant of King Jeconiah, returned and is even listed first by Ezra among those who returned, but he did not reign. (Ezra 2:2)

The temple was rebuilt, but not the palace. There were priests and Levites, but no king. There were prophets, such as Haggai and Zechariah, but no king. They were initially ruled by a governor (Ezra 6:6) and subject to the Persian king. No descendants of David are even mentioned despite all the listings of families.  But God promised a king.

 Zedekiah was the last Davidic king in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 36:11). After the Persians, the Greeks ruled the area, followed by the Selucids and finally the Romans. The Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in 70 A.D. Then, in 135 A.D., the Romans drove the Jews completely out of Jerusalem. Next the Arabs controlled the area. Then the Turks took over in 1071, then the Egyptians. 

The Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 and held it until 1187. They did not allow Jews to live there. Saladin conquered the city in 1187. The Mamelukes from Egypt took over in the 1200s. The Ottomon Empire conquered the Mamelukes in 1517. They held the area until the end of World War 1, which they lost after joining Germany against the Allies. The British were given control over Palestine after the war and let Jews return to Palestine. But there was no king of the Jews. Then the United Nations created the Jewish state. But there was no Davidic king. The Jews rule themselves in a parliamentary democracy. It is a secular state.

But God kept his covenant with David and he fulfilled this word he spoke to Jeremiah. He sent a king of the line of David. He just did not do it in the way they expected or that we would expect.

That king, of course, is Jesus. Matthew, in particular, wrote to reveal this fact. That is why Matthew wrote the first words of his gospel: “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David.” The Messiah had to be the king. So he had to be of David’s line. Matthew knew there was no point in discussing this if he did not show that Jesus was in the line of David. He often referred to Jesus as “the son of David”.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Luke reminds us that it was David’s home town (Luke 2:5). Since Joseph was of David’s lineage, he had to go there and register in the census.  

The wise men who came from the east were looking for the “king of the Jews”. They came to worship him. (Matthew 2:1-2) It is interesting that these pagan kings understood the situation when God’s people did not.

Paul declared to the Romans that Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh. (Romans 1:3)  

Jesus preached his kingship. After his baptism and temptation, Jesus immediately began to preach “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Matthew 4:17. He did not defend his birthright, he simply preached with authority.

Verse 5 of Jeremiah 23 says he shall reign as king. Does Jesus reign as king? Yes! We know he has a throne in heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:25 says he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. Then he will deliver the kingdom to the Father.

We are given a vision of this in the book of Revelation. It shows Jesus exercising his kingly authority over mankind, over the beast, over Satan and over death. At the end of chapter 20, he has defeated all of these foes. Then the Father makes all things new.

Hebrews 1:8-9 says Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The writer of Hebrews applied the words of Psalm 45:6-7 to Jesus.

The second thing God said is that this king would be righteous. Jesus was righteous. Israel sinned when tempted in the wilderness, but Jesus overcame Satan in the wilderness and did not sin. (Matthew 4:1-11) Even Pilate’s wife called him a righteous man. (Matthew 27:19) Peter, in his sermon at Solomon’s Portico called Jesus “the Holy and Righteous One”. (Acts 3:14)

2 Corinthians 5:21 says Jesus knew no sin. Hebrews 4:15 says Jesus has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Look at Hebrews 1:8-9 again. It says The scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;

God gave a fuller explanation of this doctrine of Christ’s righteousness in Jeremiah 23:6,  when he said “he will be called the LORD is our righteousness.” We know that only the righteous will get into God’s kingdom. Jesus even said “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. (Matthew 5:20) That statement would have scared all who heard it, for the Pharisees were the most outwardly righteous people they knew. And the words of Psalm 14:1-3 would echo in their minds: none is righteous, no not one.

So, how do we become righteous? When we receive Christ, his righteousness is credited to us. This is the argument presented in Romans 4 and 5. Paul reminded the Romans that Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness.  Then he says it applies to us also, who believe in him. That faith will be counted to us as righteousness. Our sin is put on Christ and his righteousness is put on us when we believe and trust Christ.

Paul said it most succinctly in 2 Corinthians 5:21:

For our sake he made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

If you have received Christ, rejoice that this great exchange has been made for you.

If you have not received Christ, do it today. Exchange your guilt for his righteousness.