The Superiority of Eating Ripe Peaches (Jeremiah 17:19–27)

Thus said the LORD to me: ‘Go and stand in the People’s Gate, by which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem, and say: “Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. Thus says the LORD: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers. Yet they did not listen or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck, that they might not hear and receive instruction” ‘ ” (Jeremiah 17:19–23). 

I believe the paramount application of Jeremiah 17:19–27 is this, for the sake of your lives, hear the word of Yahweh. Listen. Do not stiffen your neck. “Yeah, but what does this mean for us today in connection to the Sabbath?” Towards finding an answer, there are three ways of reading the Scriptures that will lead to three different answers. Frequently, before we can address our disagreements as to what the Scripture says, we must first agree on how we are to listen.

First, there is the dispensationalist view, which, to put it simply, would say that the Sabbath and the old covenant do not pertain to the church at all. On a scale of discontinuity to continuity, the dispensational hermeneutic (their way of interpreting the Scriptures) would be in the red, heavy on discontinuity.

Second, there is the classical reformed or covenantal view. Historically, covenant theologians have strongly emphasized continuity between the old and new covenants. This is even true of our baptist forefathers who thought their presbyterian brothers overemphasized continuity in connection to circumcision. Despite this, they were in agreement concerning the continuity of the Sabbath, celebrated by the church now, because of Christ, on the Lord’s Day. For example, the Second London Confession differs very little from the Westminster Confession on this point. Chapter 22, section 7 of the 1689 Baptist Confession reads:

“As it is of the Law of nature, that in general a proportion of time by God’s appointment, be set a part for the Worship of God; so by his Word in a positive-moral, and perpetual Commandment, binding all men, in all Ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the World to the Resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week which is called the Lord’s day; and is to be continued to the end of the World, as the Christian Sabbath; the observation of the last day of the week being abolished.”

This is known as the Sabbatarian position. Additionally, some argue for a seventh-day Sabbatarian position, to gather for worship on Saturday. These positions lean toward continuity side of the scale.

Third, there is what we might call the fulfillment position. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17–18). Contrary to the dispensationalist, Jesus didn’t say the law was irrelevant for His disciples. Yet, contrary to the classic covenant view, Jesus didn’t say He simply came to ensure the law’s unaltered perpetuity. He came to fulfill the law. Craig Blomberg captures the significance this has for how we read the Old Testament well.

“Pervasive throughout the NT is the concept that Christians live in the era of the fulfillment of everything to which every part of the Hebrew Scriptures pointed. Every portion of the law remains an inspired, relevant authority for believers; but none of it may be applied properly until one understands how the new covenant has fulfilled that particular law or part of the law. A new age has been inaugurated that potentially changes everything. In some cases the application of a segment of Hebrew Scripture involves appreciating how it is fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus so that we obey certain OT laws simply by trusting in Christ for our salvation. In other cases, especially with broad moral principles, applications may remain virtually unchanged. In many instances there will be both continuity and discontinuity of application. We dare not assume in advance where on this spectrum Sabbath observance in the NT era will fall by some methodological presupposition that would a priori push obedience to this command to a particular place on our spectrum of possible applications. We must rather turn to the specific NT texts that impinge on the issue of Sabbath-keeping and see what pattern, if any, emerges from their teaching”‘

In recent years I’ve encountered some, who I think are reacting against the densely dispensational atmosphere they grew up under, who say evangelicals today set aside the law altogether. They are as equally offset by my bacon eating as my Sabbath breaking. They will accuse both of dispensational and covenant theologies of antinomianism, though, I think in general, they know far less of covenant theology. While I share their distaste for dispensational theology’s shoddy dismissal of the law, I think they do so as well.

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Fulfillment is not about less, but more. I agree that the law is written on the heart, but shadows are also replaced by substance. Noon has all the Sun that was present at dawn, plus some. When I turn from the shadow of my spouse to embrace her, I haven’t lost but gained. To continue staring at the shadow would be the loss. When the bud blooms into fruit, I have all that the bud was and more. I don’t want to eat sour buds. I appreciate the bud because it will become fruit. It’s the fruit I’m after. So when I speak of the Sabbath being fulfilled, there is a way that I believe I keep it better than those who insist that a day be kept. I am zealous to celebrate the Sabbath. I believe it is a critical matter of life and death. One must take care or they will die.

What fulfillment means is that there is both continuity and discontinuity. Jesus Christ and His accomplished work is now the lens through which we must read all the Old Testament. The kind of approach I’m advocating here is that which I believe the New Testament itself models. It’s akin, though not identical, to the approach our Baptist forefathers used when considering the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant—circumcision. I only wish wish that when it came to the sign of the Mosaic Covenant, the Sabbath, that they would have been consistent. The issues are more complex than this, but that is another discussion.

The Sabbath is a sign (Exodus 31:12–12). As a sign it looked back to creation (Exodus 20:8–11) and to Israel’s redemption (Deuteronomy 5:12–15). Still, as a sign, the Sabbath is also a shadow. It not only looks back; it looks forward. Paul warned the Colossians, who were in danger of being influenced by a kind of Jewish mysticism, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16–17, emphasis mine). The Sabbath anticipates. It is the bud. Where is the flower? The substance belongs to Christ.

If you want to learn how to read your Old Testament, read Hebrews. Hebrews takes you again and again from shadow to substance. For instance, why don’t we have priests? Because we have the Great High Priest. Why don’t we offer sacrifices? Because the point of all those do-nothing sacrifices was to point to the do-all sacrifice of Christ. Hebrews makes this plain. Concerning the rest which Israel was to enjoy in the land, and the warning to listen, lest they fail to take part in it, Hebrews tells us:

“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:8–11).

Where is this rest found? It is found in Christ. Sabbath is found, not in a particular day, but in the risen Son. The day was a sign and a shadow. Christ is the substance. He worked so that we might rest. Still, I must add the caveat, there is a day, when the Son will shine in glory and the saints will fully enter the rest they already partly enjoy in Christ.

In the New Testament every command from the decalogue is repeated save this one. This makes sense because it is the only one of the ten that is also a sign of the old covenant. In the new covenant two signs are expressly given to the Church in light of Christ fulfilling the promises of the old—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Church, here’s your signs.

So then, what does it mean for us to hear, to listen, and to take care in the light of Christ and His accomplished work? Chiefly it involves gathering in obedience to our Lord as a church, to rest in Christ, worshipping Him as He is ministered to us by God’s Word and the sacraments. The author of Hebrews, having unpacked the priesthood of Christ, admonishes us:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:19–25).

Saints and sinners, hear this. Listen. Take care, for hearing God means rest. Our Lord Jesus Christ today by His word says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29). Truly the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. There is rest in Him, and Him alone.

The Don: The Cosmic Summer Just Around the Corner

“The miracles that have already happened are, of course, as Scripture so often says, the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on (Romans 8:23; 11:16; 16:5; 1 Corinthians 15:20; James 1:18; Revelation 14:4). Christ has risen, and so we shall rise. …To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that. Two thousand years are only a day or two by this scale. A man really ought to say, ‘The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago’ in the same spirit in which he says, ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’ Because we know what is coming behind the crocus. The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that the corner has been turned.” —C.S. Lewis, “The Grand Miracle”

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The Prognosis of Humanity’s Heart Disease (Jeremiah 17:1–18)

“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars, while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, on the mountains in the open country” (Jeremiah 17:1–3a).

rock-80074_1280.jpgSin being engraved on the heart isn’t so much the diagnosis as the prognosis. Here we’re not told the disease itself as of its advanced stages. Jeremiah will soon speak of humanity’s heart condition in verse 9. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” At the beginning of the chapter though, we see what happens when the sin-sick heart pumps sin after sin after sin.

Man, born totally depraved advances toward being utterly depraved. The more the heart flows with wickedness, the darker the flow of wickedness becomes. Sin, having flowed out of the heart, is then engraved on the heart. Heart-hardening is the result of our hereditary heart disease.

But it is not the heart being likened to a tablet which speaks to this hardness. The father of Proverbs pleads, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:1–3, emphasis mine). The heart is a tablet. It is what is written on it that is indicative of hardness.

In an oral culture the important and that which was to be preserved were written. Writing something on paper indicates was significant; engraving it on stone far more. Judah’s sin is indelible, ineffaceable, ineradicable.

This is humanity’s prognosis. We are all terminally ill. And because our hearts are deceitful, we are in denial. Our only hope is that the Great Physician, in mercy, grant us new hearts in the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34; 32:36–41; Ezekiel 36:24–32).

The Don: The Story of One Grand Miracle

“One is very often asked as present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who ask it say, ‘freed’ from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or at least the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity. In a religion like Buddhism, if you took away the miracles attributed to Gautama Buddha in some very late sources, there would be no loss; in fact, the religion would get on very much better without them because in that case the miracles largely contradict the teaching. Or even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles. You could have a great prophet preaching his dogmas without bringing in any miracles; they are only in the nature of a digression, or illuminated capitals. But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, which is uncreated, eternal, came into Nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing Nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left. There may be many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian.” —C.S. Lewis, The Grand Miracle

Home Alone (Jeremiah 16:1–21)

“For thus says the LORD: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the LORD. Both great and small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them or cut himself or make himself bald for them. No one shall break bread for the mourner, to comfort him for the dead, nor shall anyone give him the cup of consolation to drink for his father or his mother. You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will silence in this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride (Jeremiah 16:5–9).

city-1868530_1280.jpgJeremiah was not to enter two houses: the house of mourning and the house of feasting. Both fasting and feasting with his countrymen were forbidden. The most expected social conventions were off limits—the mourning of a funeral and the mirth of a wedding. Jeremiah was home alone. “Jeremiah,” writes Phil Ryken, “spent his Friday nights at home, alone. There were three things he did not do—go out on dates, send sympathy cards, or sit down to fancy dinners.”

Though these commands as given to Jeremiah are circumstantial and prophetic, there is a principle underneath that is not alien to us today. There is mirth and mourning in which we should not mingle.

Weddings are celebrations. There are “unions,” attempted unions, that we cannot celebrate. When the world tries to make the north ends of two magnets stick, we should not join their jolly madness. We can love the persons involved, but we may not celebrate their attempted union, because nothing is being joined. In such, there is no peace, no covenant, and no mercy (Jeremiah 16:5). There are also times when north and south do click in earthly covenant, and yet, heavenly covenant is maligned. When two folks play like they know Jesus, and want a Christian wedding, but only with a white dress on the surface and not clean hearts by the blood of Christ underneath, the name of Jesus is blasphemed therein. There are unions that we can recognize as legitimate, but not celebrate as Christian.

While there’s still enough sanity for some professing Christians to see we can’t make merry over “same-sex mirage,” mourning with the bereaved seems trickier. This is because we’re looking at the other person instead of ourselves. We don’t go to the north–north wedding because of their sin. We go to the funeral, because dead men are no longer sinning. What we need to ask is if by our presence we are sinning. 

Frequently our Lord is as blasphemed in funerals as He is in weddings. We have transitioned from funerals in which we grieve, looking to the blessed hope of the resurrection, to celebrations where we take comfort in the beauty of a life lived. Let’s be honest, the editing skills of funeral slide shows rival that of Hollywood, though not in production, truly in bias. As R.C. Sproul says, what many really believe in is “justification by death.” When the dead are preached into heaven while their souls are surely in hell, we should desire no part in endorsing that message. Problem is, most often we have no idea what that message will be. One of the elders I am honored to serve alongside attends primarily only visitation now for this reason. 

Regardless, let us express our condolences, and weep with those who weep, and let us also make clear that the blessed hope is the death and resurrection of Christ. Sometimes we must merely grieve over the dead, and not with the living. That is, we must be clear what our comfort is. Or, to put it yet another way, sometimes we must grieve over the dead and not be comforted with the living when their comfort is a false one. Again, if Christ is not known, there is no peace, no covenant, no mercy.

Understand, all this is a digression from the thrust of Jeremiah 16. The focus isn’t on Jeremiah and his actions, but the word of God thereby. Jeremiah is cut off from the most expected of social conventions to make this word emphatic. This is a severe word of judgment, radically portrayed through the prophet. A judgement is coming on Judah so severe, that not only will the mirth of marriage be silenced, there will not even be a proper lamentation and burial for the dead.

God’s commands to his prophet may seem hard, but is the judgment portrayed thereby that is truly unbearable. Sinner, if you don’t know Christ, you stand under such judgment. It is because Christians love you that they don’t want you to think otherwise. It is because we are earnest for you to know His love that we speak of His wrath. Saints, may we not confuse by our presence those who have no peace, no covenant love, and no mercy into thinking that they do. Let us love them more and better than that.

A Drink from Brooks: Seek the Mother to Get the Daughter

Man’s holiness is now his greatest happiness, and in heaven man’s greatest happiness will be his perfect holiness. Assurance is the daughter of holiness; and he who shall more highly prize, and more earnestly press after the enjoyment of the daughter than the mother, it is not a wonder if God shuts the door upon him, and crosses him in the thing he most desires. The surest and the shortest way to assurance is to wrestle and contend with God for holiness… When the stream and cream of a man’s spirit runs after holiness, it will not be long night with that man; the Sun of righteousness will shine forth upon that man, and turn his winter into summer, and crown him with the diadem of assurance. —Thomas Brooks, Heaven on Earth

Lamentation and Mediation (Jeremiah 15:1–21)

“Then the LORD said to me, ‘Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go!’ ” —Jeremiah 15:1

In Jeremiah 14 Judah laments twice and she laments well, insofar as the words themselves go. That her cries are duplicitous, with YHWH being near her lips, but far from her heart, is made plain by Yahweh’s replies, the most stinging of which comes chapter 15. In chapter 14 God says he will not hear Judah’s cries and Jeremiah is commanded not to pray for them. Now, he says that even should Moses or Samuel intercede, He would not turn toward his people.

When the people sinned by worshipping the golden calf, Moses pled for them so that YHWH relented of the disaster that he had spoken (Exodus 32:14). Also, when Israel balks at taking the promised land, expressing her desire to return to Egypt, YHWH tells Moses he will strike them and make a nation out of Moses. Moses pleads that God have mercy for the sake of his name and covenant. Yahweh pardons.

Regarding Samuel, when Israel is in the land but harassed by the Philistines, the people confess their sin and ask that Samuel intercede for them they they might be delivered. Samuel prayed. The Philistines were defeated. When the people sin by asking for a king, again they ask Samuel to act as mediator. He prays and they are promised grace.

Psalm 99:6 says, “Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called upon his name. They called to the LORD, and he answered them.” But now, Judah’s sin is so great and God’s long-suffering has been so extended, it matters not what they say, nor Jeremiah. No, even should Moses or Samuel intercede for them, His heart would not turn toward this people.

Following this, Jeremiah laments two times himself and each time he receives a rebuke mixed with grace. In v. 19 the prophet who has so often declared “return” is told to return himself, and promised that should he do so, he will be restored.

In these two chapters we have two laments. The first is met with a reply that there is no hope for redemption; the second, holds out hope for restoration. And the irony is this, if you only listen to the laments, Judah’s, which sounds good, is rejected, while Jeremiah’s, which sounds bad at times, is heard. What makes the difference? We might say that whereas Judah’s prayers sounded good, her heart was false, and though Jeremiah’s prayers sounded bad at times, his heart was true. Or, we could demonstrate how Judah had continually hardened her heart to the word of the Lord, whereas Jeremiah, though sinful, consistently showed a tenderness toward it. Further, we might reflect how this book shows that judgment was determined for this generation of Judah just as grace was determined for Jeremiah. But behind all this, we might say that whereas Judah didn’t have a prayer, Jeremiah did.

For the elect, a mediating High Priest and Sacrifice is given. As their Priest He bears their names on His heart and as their Sacrifice He bore their wounds in His body. You cannot pray well enough. Foremost, it matters not how you pay, but Who prays for you. If Christ is not your mediator, you do not have a prayer. If matters not who you are or who you might have in your corner if you have not Jesus. The mediation of Moses and Samuel were only a shadow. The Son who cast them has risen. “There is one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 2:5).