You Can Burn the Paper but You Can’t Burn the Word (Jeremiah 36:1–32)

“It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them” (Jeremiah 36:22–25).

In 1820 Thomas Jefferson completed a work he titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. The title tells all. Jesus’ life, not his death or resurrection, is the concern. The significance of this is further brought out by the word “morals.” It isn’t that Jesus teaching doesn’t concern morality, but that He is merely put on the level of other great moral philosophers. And though Jesus was from Nazareth, here this functions as the identifier of His person, rather than that He was from Heaven, the eternal Son of God.

In 2005 Christian Smith, a sociology professor at Notre Dame, described American religious belief as “moralistic therapeutic deism.” We are a young nation. It was a short journey. With Jefferson, you can see that the seeds for much of this were sown as early as the Revolution. Scratch out “therapeutic” and you’ve got Jefferson’s religion—moralistic deism.

books-4733993_1280.jpgWhat I haven’t told you yet, but what you may well be aware of, is that Jefferson didn’t write one word of this book. It was a cut and paste project. Jefferson literally took knife and glue to New Testament, purging the miraculous and the supernatural. The work is commonly known as the “Jefferson Bible” and is held by the Smithsonian Institute. Jefferson didn’t burn the Bible as a whole, he simply relegated the parts he didn’t like to the wastebasket. Neither was his act a public one as Jehoiakim’s. It was made and kept for his own private use. One can understand why he didn’t broadcast what he had done in that era. Still, though his actions were less violent and more reasoned, they were just as wicked and blasphemous.

Liberal theology of the 19th century replicated the Jeffersonian method, searching for the historical Jesus. They didn’t use a physical knife, but with the knife of the tongue they told us what parts of the Bible could not be true and gave explanations for how the Jesus myth grew. On the other side of their little project, like Jefferson, what was left was a kind of moralism labeled the “social gospel.”

While the evangelical church held firm against the intellectual elite’s attack on the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, she compromised to the masses regarding the sufficiency of Scripture. Though the Bible is so revered and never subjected to scissors or fire, it is instead left to be buried under the collected dust of neglect. The Bible, in many churches, is little more than a prop. When it is referenced, it’s only to prop up our own ideas. Say what we will about Jefferson and liberal theologians—at least they rigorously read and studied the Bible. That’s much more than can be said for a great swath of Evangelicalism today. We may believe in the miraculous, but like Jefferson, we like our Bible’s cut and pasted. We fool ourselves that we’re not as vile as Jehoiakim, throwing the parts we don’t care for into a fire of oblivion. 

Evangelicalism says she’s friends with the Bible, but you sense she’s embarrassed. She wants her friend present but silent. When Scripture is allowed to speak freely and fully, it’s given the cold shoulder, or what we might call a soft burn. But like Jehoiakim, she’ll find all her efforts futile. She tries to burn the word with pyrotechnics. But her light show is only impressive in the dark. When the Sun blazes, no one will ooh and ahh. She tries to pin the Word with a wrestling show. This is like one imagining they’ve pinned a rhinoceros who happened to be sleeping; the illusion won’t last long. She waters down the word and juices up the music; but her tunes will run dry and she’ll be made to drink of the cup of God’s judgment, undiluted.

God’s words come out the fire unscathed every time. Man can burn some paper; that is all. Fear Him who is able to destroy body and soul in hell. Tremble at His word.

“A voice says, ‘Cry!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:6–8).

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 36:1–32 || Writing And Reading || Josh King

Obedience School (Jeremiah 35:1–19)

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Go and say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will you not receive instruction and listen to my words? declares the LORD. The command that Jonadab the son of Rechab gave to his sons, to drink no wine, has been kept, and they drink none to this day, for they have obeyed their father’s command. I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me. I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to you and your fathers.’ But you did not incline your ear or listen to me. The sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have kept the command that their father gave them, but this people has not obeyed me” (Jeremiah 35:13–16).

We live in an age where a child spouting a four-letter word is not so much regarded as disobedience as obedience is regarded as a four-letter word. When I say the “o” word, what sort of image pops into your noggin? Whatever the image, is it more along the lines of an ugly tyrant demanding obedience, or a beautiful child offering obedience? I’d venture that the collective moral imagination of society today leans heavily toward thinking of “obedience” as something the villain demands. The heroine of the story is the one who defies authority to live freely. Disney much?

True, there are tyrants to be defied; but how often is the authority an outright tyrant? How rarely is obedience to a good authority praised? Our age may believe it has progressed a great deal so that stories of “courageous disobedience” are delighted in, but the plot is an ancient one. It repeats the very lie told to our mother in the garden. We have been dying, literally dying to believe it ever since.

dachshund-672780_1280.jpgC.S. Lewis, in his preface for Milton’s Paradise Lost, wrote, “Everything except God has some natural superior; everything except unformed matter has some natural inferior. The goodness, happiness, and dignity of every being consists in obeying its natural superior and ruling its natural inferiors.” Our goodness, happiness, and dignity are to be found in obedience. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the duty which God requireth of man?” The answer, “The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will.” That answer is not only true, it is good and beautiful.

When God says, “Places everyone!” we should not only know our place, we should know that our place is the best place for us to be. We believe it is a good thing that the sun keeps its course, but when it comes to our own course, we’d like to think we know better. We don’t want to know our place, we want to make it. We don’t want to be a stage hand, we want to own the stage. We don’t want to shine the spotlight, we want to be in it.

Of course a fish cannot be happy on land, but, surely man must be happier outside the ethical orbit he was made to live in. Man is evolving. This is why one man thinks he will be happier if he were a woman. With this, what man is saying is that he would be happier if he were God and God were man. He would rather make God in His image than be made in the image of God. The former seems so freeing; the latter constraining. When a child doesn’t obey their parents, they demonstrate that they’d really rather not have parents. They’d like big people who coddle them and commend them, but not command them. One reason children do this to their parents is that their parents model it before them—this is how mom and dad relate to God. The parent planets cannot get out of orbit without carrying their little moons into an irregular orbit with them. Yet, because the parents think they are god, they can’t imagine why little Timmy would behave as though he were. The only real solution is for everyone to assume their places as told and delight in them.

God planted man in a garden of delight, and if man would have obeyed, he would have stayed. As a result of disobedience, man was driven from the garden to live out his days on this cursed crust. It is this cosmic story that is played out in microcosm with Judah.

The story of the Rechabites recalibrates our consciences according to truth so that we see obedience for the virtue that it is. If the Rechabites obeyed a fallible earthly father, should we not listen to our infallible heavenly Lord? Jonadab spoke and died. Our Lord lives and speaks. Jonadab offered a probability of wisdom should they obey. The Lord speaks sure and certain promises should we obey.

But rather than obey God, whose law is true and whose promises are sure, we turn to do our shopping from shady pop-ups making lifetime guarantees but which only deliver fall-apart knockoffs made in China. We not only ignore God’s commands, we ignore His promises. Or, perhaps we think we can disregard his commands and still gain the promises. Worse yet, like Eve, we think we can get even more than God has promised by disobedience. How foolish of us to trust the hiss of the serpent and disbelieve the roar of the Lion. It is God we should fear and God we should trust. 

Obedience is true, because He is true. Obedience is good, because He is good. Obedience is beautiful, because He is beautiful.

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 35:1–19 || Listen And Obey || Josh King

Using the Right Hammer Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Smack Your Thumb (Jeremiah 33:1–22)

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:3)

A critical rule in Biblical hermeneutics (the art of interpreting a text), is that Scripture interprets Scripture. But there is a perversion of this rule that can go horridly wrong. When one uses a bad interpretation of one Scripture to interpret another two negatives don’t make a positive. Interpretation works more like addition than multiplication here. Applying a good rule poorly doesn’t fix or justify incompetence. Using the right tool is not the same as using the tool rightly.

hammer-1629587_1280.jpgIf one is assembling a table from Ikea, misidentifying one piece may lead to misidentifying another. The first instance may seem to work, and so you’re oblivious that anything is amiss. With the second part you may recognize a problem. Hammering harder isn’t the solution; repentance, that is, disassembling and starting over is. But sometimes a man is so deep in and his pride so great, that hammer away we do.

A self-intoxicated interpretation of Jeremiah 29:11 is bad enough, but mix it with Jeremiah 33:3, and you’ve got some stout poison. “God has great plans for you. Call out to Him and He will reveal them.” Now a mystical element has been added. In the first, you make God to be your concierge. In the second, you become a prophet. This is why, unlike the prophets of old, all the revelation you “receive” from God centers on you. These hidden things are indeed identical to the future and hope of Jeremiah 29, the problem is, when A = B, if A ≠ 2, though you say it does, then B ≠ 2 either. Erase your work. Start over.

Deuteronomy 29:11 tells us that the secret things belong to God, whereas the revealed things belong to the people fo God that they may do them. John is worried about whether he should marry Jill or Jane, so he cries out to God. But what John should worry about are the revealed things. If neither Jill nor Jane is a Christian, or if he is dating them both at the same time, then it is not marriage, but repentance that is God’s will. No mystical speculation is needed. Obedience is. God has shouted in His word, but we’re crying out for whispers.

Sometimes what is hidden is revealed. Sometimes God makes his plans known. But such revelation concerns the major plot line, not minor characters like ourselves, at least not directly. Rather than the shout, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased,” we’d rather hear a whisper about what career would be most fulfilling and blessed.

The great and hidden things here concern revelation. They concern the redemption and restoration of God’s people. They concern the righteous Branch springing up from David. They concern the “coming days.” They concern the new covenant. These hidden things are the mystery that Paul says has not been revealed to the church (Ephesians 3:1–12; Colossians 1:25–27; 2:2–3).

God’s revelation is always mediated. He raises up apostles and prophets. But we want God to speak to us and about us. God, in mercy, speaks far better. He spoke to the prophets and the apostles about Jesus for us.

The proper appropriation of the command given to Jeremiah then is secondary and derivative. It isn’t unmediated revelation of great and hidden things that we should seek, but illumination of the prophetic and apostolic word—the mystery that has reached its fulfillment in Christ.

“But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:7–16).

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 33:1–26 || Great and Hidden Things in the Righteous Branch || Josh King

When God Flips Creation (Jeremiah 32:1–44)

 “And I bought the field at Anathoth from Hanamel my cousin, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions and the open copy. 12 And I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my cousin, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13 I charged Baruch in their presence, saying, 14 ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time. 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.’ —Jeremiah 32:9–15

The Book of Consolation is like the one great win in a season that otherwise seems a total wash. There have been some great plays, some scattered promises here and there, but here is their solitary “W.” Chapter 32 opens the second half of this four quarter game, and like the first chapter (chapter 30), though immediate judgment is confirmed, still final restoration is promised. They’re going to take some devastating hits, but they shouldn’t doubt they’ll come out ahead in the end.

In the second half, the approach changes. We move from poetry to prose, and in that prose we have a narrative concerning another sign-act. What is a sign-act? Let’s review. In chapter 13 Jeremiah was commanded to purchase a linen loincloth and make a long journey (somewhere in the ballpark of 600 miles) to the Euphrates and bury it there. Likely he then returned home only to sometime later be told to go back and retrieve the loincloth. We won’t take the time to rehearse the meaning of this sign-act, but suffice it to say it spoke of Judah’s judgment and it was a costly act for Jeremiah and thus acted like a bullhorn, magnifying his message. In chapter 16 Jeremiah was forbidden a family. Again, this was a costly act and one that foretold judgment. In Chapter 19, Jeremiah was to purchase a clay pot and smash it. While not as costly as some of the other acts, this was far from a great investment and again foretold judgment. Most recently, in chapters 27–28, Jeremiah makes yoke bars, only for the false prophet Hananiah to take them from his neck and break them. Jeremiah made his craft project and brought it to show and tell where a bully breaks it so that he has nothing to bring home.

As we are now in the Book of Consolation, you may well expect the sign-act not to speak of judgment, but of grace. Indeed it does. And so, instead of this act resulting in a personal loss for Jeremiah, you might expect some gain. Instead, this sign act appears to be his worst investment yet. Jeremiah receives insider trading advise, but it doesn’t play out how you’d expect. It’d been one thing if Jeremiah had been told to buy some property in and around Babylon at the beginning of his ministry. Instead he’s purchasing property in Judah on the eve of her destruction. This is like investing in a French Chateau in 1940 when the German Blitzkrieg has already breached the Maginot Line.

house-2169650_1280The plot of land is in enemy occupied territory. Jeremiah is in jail. He has preached the fall of Judah and a seventy year exile to follow. He has no family or offspring to inherit the land. All this is clearly on the table when Hanamel seemingly comes insisting Jeremiah redeem the land. Hanamel strikes one as that cousin that comes to the funeral to sell Amway. Family reunions to him are a business opportunity. In this, God’s hot tip isn’t “Be on your guard. Get ready. Don’t fall for it.” but instead, “Buy! Buy! Buy!”

Our puzzlement betrays our American eyes. The point of acting as a redeemer wasn’t to benefit you personally, but to honor Yahweh who allotted the land by family and love your kin so that they keep an inheritance in Israel (Leviticus 25:23–28). Jeremiah’s obedience to the covenant law is a sign that God is not through with His people. He is their Redeemer. Because God won’t pull up short on His promises, we need not pull short on obedience. Righteousness doesn’t always make sense as an investment in this life, but if you live unto God, this is not your concern. It isn’t short term temporal gain, but long term eternal reward that is your aim.

Jeremiah here made the best deal ever, not because of what he got on this earth, but because of what God promised in the next. As Derek Kidner comments, “Seventeen shekels of silver were surely never better spent.”

Meridian Church · Jeremian 32:1–44 || Redemption of the Land || Josh King

Behold! Days Are Coming! (Jeremiah 31:27–40)

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“Behold, the days are coming…

Behold the days are coming…

Behold the days are coming…”

—Jeremiah 31:27, 31, 38

Saints, behold, days are coming. Days are coming when Yahweh “will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast,” (v. 27). Days are coming when Yahweh “will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” (v. 31). Days are coming when “the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD,” (v. 38). These days are the focus of what is called “The Book of Consolation” (running from Jeremiah 30–33). The Book of Consolation is a bright star in the dark night of Judah’s judgment. Jeremiah has long warned Judah of the darkness of exile, but here, he tells them that they do not go into exile without a light of hope.

The same key phrase introduces the book in 30:3: “For behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the LORD, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.” Later in our text, the same hope is expressed with the phrases, “it shall come to pass” (v. 28), and “in those days,” (v. 29). Jeremiah 30:24, after speaking of the fierce judgment that is soon to break upon them, promises, “In the latter days you will understand this.” In Jeremiah 31:1 we read, “At that time, declares the LORD, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be my people.” In 31:6 God tells them, “For there shall be a day when watchmen will call in the hill country of Ephraim: ‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the LORD our God’ ” (all emphasis mine). These coming days are the fulfillment of that frequently mutilated promise of Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” This future, this hope, is so much more epic than what many make of it.

These days, all these promises of restoration, the fullness of the consolation held out for the people of God—all this is to be realized in the Christ, God’s king, the Son of David.

“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them” (30:8–9; emphasis mine).

Though “The Book of Consolation” is theologian speak, a label invented by men for this distinct portion of Scripture, it is a near perfect one, for these promises and the comfort extended therein are exactly what Simeon looked forward to.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:25–32; emphasis mine).

So then, these days have come and they are coming. They are here now, but not fully here yet. The eschatological promises were inaugurated with the first advent of Christ and will be consummated at His second advent. This age is fading away, and the age to come is breaking into the present. John Mackay opens commentary on this passage writing, “The clause begins with ‘Behold!’ … , probably to emphasize the reality and imminence of what is being talked about. The significance of the time reference in this phrase is much debated, but it seems to point to a future scene, the precise time of which is not revealed, but which is certain because the coming events are already rising out of present circumstances (30:3). What will happen will be a development of factors that are already at work. Therefore those who by faith accept the divine analysis of the situation can be confident that what is foretold will come to pass.”

Judah could be sure of these future promises because of how they arise out of the present. If Judah could be confident and take comfort in these promises, as they saw them arising out of God’s present doings, how much more may we?

Because these days have come, we may be certain they will come. The Christ was born the Second Adam. The Christ lived to be our righteousness. The Christ died bearing our sins. The Christ rose conquering our foes. The Christ ascended and is seated at the right hand of the Father with all things being put under His feet. The Christ will certainly come again. Oh how much of the comfort promised here has already come in part and so how much more may we take comfort that the fullness certainly lies ahead? Oh saints, let us now with the eyes of faith behold! days are coming!

Meridian Church · 7.5.20 Jeremiah 31.27–40 Days Are Coming Josh King

The Patristic Interpretation: A Maternal Mystery (Jeremiah 31:22)

“How long will you waver,
O faithless daughter?
For the LORD has created a new thing on the earth:
a woman encircles a man.” —Jeremiah 31:22

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St. Jerome in His Study (1480), by Domenico Ghirlandaio

That the promises of restoration given in the “Book of Consolation” (a name given to Jeremiah 30–33; cf. Jeremiah 30:1) involve more far more than was realized with the return to Zion under Cyrus is made plain in that the “new thing” spoken of here is soon unfolded as the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34). Now that’s a whopper of a sentence to open with but it’s good prep for what’s to come. We’re dealing with something enigmatic here.

Israel is not to waver in receiving the comfort her God extends because of the new thing He is doing. As to what this new thing is, I want us to look not to DC Talk, but to an ancient interpretation that has been widely disregarded by contemporary scholars. As this “new thing” is only briefly explained, and then with a mysterious metaphor, there are interpretations aplenty. I think the best modern opinion is that striking language is used by Yahweh to speak of the virgin Israel now clinging to Him in covenant love. Though this image flips the relational roles between husband and wife (“encircles” has connotations of protection) I can go with this interpretation, but I still don’t think it best.

Perhaps another enigmatic statement can help us make sense of this one—another instance where startling masculine language is used of a woman. In Genesis 3:15 man’s hope is to be found in the seed of the woman. The ESV can obscure this a bit, but note the little footnote explaining that the word for offspring is “seed.” The King James’ wins points for more than elegance at this point. Compare the ESV with the KJV.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (ESV).”

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (KJV).”

A woman’s seed! That’s not something to gloss over with “offspring.” Though the Biblically astute student may meditatively stop here, recalling that “offspring” in the Scripture are always recorded in reference to the father, “seed” makes the point emphatic. Something surprising, miraculous, mysterious is afoot.

Further, the “new thing” Yahweh does is not just any doing. A peculiar word is used for God’s doing. He creates. That falls a bit flat in translation as well, but no English translation can do justice in this instance. In the Hebrew tongue, God gets his own verb. There is a kind of doing God does that only He can do. He is the only one that does this kind of creation. The identical verb is used in Genesis 1:1. This new thing is new creation, and it involves a woman on earth. See where this is going?

The work of the Holy Spirit in the conception of our Lord is spoken of in terms that recall Genesis 1:1 where we are told that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” When Mary asked “How will this be since I am a virgin?” the angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:34–35).

New creation begins with the Second Adam, conceived in the womb by the Holy Spirit, made out “nothing”—the seed of the woman. A women encircles a man. Mysterious? Enigmatic? You betcha. But for those very reasons, this old interpretation doesn’t seem a bit out of date to me.

“Concerning her we read of a great miracle in the same prophecy—that a woman should compass a man, and that the Father of all things should be contained in a virgin’s womb” (Jerome, Against Jovinianus).

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 31:1–26 || Rest || Josh King

Restoration vs. Reconstruction (Jeremiah 30:1–24)

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“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them” (Jeremiah 30:8–9).

I’m no Rushdoony Reconstructionist, nor a Bahnsen Theonomist but I do believe the law of God informs the Christian concerning justice and truth. It tells us, with absolute authority, what to advocate for and what to protest against. Still, and here’s the kicker, the cultural mandate is a mandate, not a promise. So, if you’ve got a few of those fancy five dollar theology words in your back pocket, you might venture I’m not a postmillennialist. Roger that. But don’t then libel me a pessi-millennialist. I am opti-millennialist. I am optimistic; fully believing that the kingdom has broken in and will fully come. This age is fading away like a mist. The age to come is raining down and a deluge is coming. God will gather every soul which the blood of Christ has ransomed and not lose one. His glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea and His praises will be sung in every language. Nothing happens but that which advances His kingdom according to His plan. Our God never sounds retreat. His strategies may confound us, but we privates shouldn’t doubt the strategy of the general. After all, He did deal the deceive blow by clothing Himself in weakness and dying on the cross. In other words, I’m not optimistic about man’s obedience to the cultural mandate. I’m optimistic concerning the church’s obedience to the great commission, though not because of the church herself, but because all authority has been given to Christ who has promised to be with her.

This world is a Babylon and it is doomed. Whist we remain, let us seek her welfare, for in it, we will find our own. Our hope is not in a Babylon built up, but torn down. Our hope is not in Babylon redeemed, but destroyed. Our hope is not Babylon lifted up, but Jerusalem coming down (Jeremiah 29:10).

When the bonds of Babylon are burst, we then serve Yahweh our God and the Son of David, our King, whom He has raised up for us. These burst bonds do not result in any Bolshevik Revolution. The tyranny of the one is not to be replaced with the anarchy of the many. Neither is the hope a democratic republic founded on God’s law. No, the hope Jeremiah speaks of is a monarchial theocracy. Our hope is neither that of Animal Farm, nor Manor Farm, but of Narnia. As Trufflehunter explained to the irascible Nikabrik,

“I’m a beast, I am, and a Badger what’s more. We don’t change. We hold on. I say great good will come of it. This is the true King of Narnia we’ve got here: a true King, coming back to true Narnia. And we beasts remember, even if Dwarfs forget, that Narnia was never right except when a son of Adam was King.”

Yes, our King sits at the right hand of the Father ruling the nations, but things will not be made fully right until those nations are ultimately broken with a rod of iron, Zion descends, and His throne is manifestly established on earth. Then, things will be put to right. Then, all will be restored. This mountain is built, not by the nations, but on top of their crushed rubble. Our part is to be faithful to God’s law within the city of man, preaching His gospel, our hope—the gospel of Christ and the city of God ruled by His King.

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 30:1–24 || Restoration || Josh King

Drinking out of the Mug Auntie Gertrude Bought You (Jeremiah 29:1–32)

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Would you buy one?

What is that thing that you like or want to like, but you can’t admit it because you know that person likes it? This isn’t the same thing as a guilty pleasure. There, the thing itself embarrasses you; like a dude admitting he enjoys the music of a particular boy band. What I’m speaking of is shame felt because of who or what is associated with the thing. It isn’t that you like the boy band; it’s that you don’t want to like the thing that the boy band likes. Or, perhaps you’d like to buy a certain product, but you don’t, not because of the product itself, but because liberals are known for endorsing it.

Say you are in a small group and folks are mentioning passages that are dear to them. No one wants to say Psalm 23 because everybody knows and loves that one. No one picks that one because they want to be unique and original. That is one kind of sin. I’m aiming at another. The exact same reasoning might happen with Jeremiah 29:11 if you were in a prosperity gospel preaching church. Frequent flyers over these skies probably don’t visit such destinations. Still, Jeremiah 29:11 will go unmentioned because it is so associated with that movement. In the first instance, when you mention Psalm 23, people may think, “He said that because it’s the only [eye roll] passage he knows.” In the second instance, when you mention Jeremiah 29:11, people suspect you’re a heretic.

Prosperity gospel preachers are guilty of ignoring huge chunks of the Bible. Though less dangerous, let us not ignore the few—oh the very few—that they have picked up as if they are guilty by association. All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable, even the parts that those guys seem to really like. How clever of the enemy: if he cannot get you to forfeit the truth for love of a lie, he may get you to forfeit the truth for fear of the lie.

And thus we have distanced ourselves from this promise. Some have tried to justify the distance by arguing that this text has nothing to do with us. But is this so? This kind of relegating of Old Testament promises to the wastebasket smells dispy-ish. The specifics of the promise do sound very Jewish and ancient. “It happened to them; it happened back then,” so we reason. Yes, but did it fully happen?

This chapter transitions from false prophets to true promises. Chapters 26–29 record a number of showdowns between Jeremiah and the false prophets. In stark contrast, Chapters 30–33 are known as the “Book of Consolation.” Here, some of the sweetest promises in all of Scripture are recorded, the very “plans” Jeremiah is speaking of. What are these plans? The apex of them is spoken of as a “new covenant” or “everlasting covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31–34; 32:36–41). Do these verses have anything to do with you? The author of Hebrews thinks so (Hebrews 8–9). Read all the promises of restoration held out here and see if the new covenant is not what ties them all up with a bow.

So then, when you’re afraid to drink out of that coffee mug with Jeremiah 29:11 printed on it that your auntie Gertrude gifted you, know that you already drink of the cup of Jeremiah 29:11. It is the cup of the new covenant of Christ’s blood poured out for the forgiveness of your sin.

The exiles who returned to Jerusalem only came to the hills of this promise. We have come to the heavenly Zion. We have come to the mountain, but yet, we are only at the base. And so it is that we look back, or should, to the shadows cast by this mountain, so that we might better know the peak that awaits us in Christ. Jesus is gathering the exiles from all over the earth. They are His people. He is their God. He has redeemed us out of captivity and He will restore all that was lost by sin and its curse. He will bring us home where He will dwell in our midst forevermore. This is our hope. This is our future. This is His plan.

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 29:1–32 || True Promises And False Prophets || Josh King

When They Both Wear a White Hat (Jeremiah 28:1–17)

“Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Hananiah the prophet in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD, and the prophet Jeremiah said, ‘Amen! May the LORD do so; may the LORD make the words that you have prophesied come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the LORD, and all the exiles. Yet hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet’ ” (Jeremiah 28:5–9)

cowboy-gunman-1419969-1279x1705In Jeremiah 28 we have a showdown between a true and a false prophet. There are a number of such face-offs in the Scriptures. The most memorable is perhaps that of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. In that instance it was 450 to 1, as far as mere human ratios go (1 Kings 22).  A less well known instance, not very far into the future from this one, is that of Ezekiel and Pelatiah. Pelatiah wasn’t a prophet, but a leader who gave wicked counsel and devised iniquity; so he pretty much functioned like a false prophet. Ezekiel is commanded to prophecy against him. As he does so, Peletiah dies (Ezekiel 11). In the New Testament, one thinks of Ananias (also not a prophet), who lied about the gift he gave to the church. When Peter confronted him saying, “you have not lied to man but to God,” Ananias fell down and breathed his last (Acts 5:4–5).

This episode is a bit more subdued, but the results are the same. There is a face-off, and though everyone walks away, one does so certain to die. In all of these instances, ultimately, the bad guy is on the ground and the good guy lives to ride on.

This is not the theme of every story. Sometimes the good guy gets killed. But this does speak to the way things play out ultimately. In Matthew 5:11–12 Jesus tells his disciples, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Winning in this life isn’t guaranteed. Persecution is to be expected. And the reward is to be found in heaven. But it’s episodes such as these that let you know with whom truth really lies. Men kill true prophets. In these instances, God kills the false prophets. When YHWH decides to draw, He wins every time.

What is peculiar about this showdown, is that if you immerse yourself into it as a single episode, you can’t distinguish the good guy and the bad guy by quick glance. When Elijah had a showdown with he prophets of Baal, they were wearing different colors. Both of these men speak in the name of Yahweh. Both of them are wearing white hats.

Here, Jeremiah and Hananiah both use the same formulas of expression. Much of what Hananiah speaks of, Jeremiah has also promised. Jeremiah too has said that the vessels will return (27:21–22) along with the exiles (24:4–7). He also has promised that the yoke of Babylon will be broken (27:7). 

In order to tell them apart one can’t just look. Nor can you casually listen for certain markers of orthodoxy. You must listen and you must listen carefully. We come to this story knowing who wears the white hat. But immerse yourself into the moment. Or, think of a parallel situation today. Two teachers stand opposite one another. Both make Biblical arguments. Both cannot be right. The differences are not negligible. Theirs is no gentleman’s argument over tertiary matters, but  a truth war, a matter of life and death. So how do are we to discern?

Deuteronomy outlines two tests concerning false prophets. First, if they make a prediction and it doesn’t come to pass, that prophet is not to be feared but executed (Deuteronomy 18:20–22). Second, when a prophet calls for them to go after other gods, to break covenant, he is to be executed (Deuteronomy 13:1–5). Obviously, Jeremiah applies the “wait and see test,” but I believe he does so in a way that says they don’t really need to wait and see.

The prophets were raised up by God to call the kings, the priests, and the people back to covenant faithfulness when the strayed. If mercy, grace, and peace were held out, they were promised on the other side of repentance or judgment. This is the precedent Jeremiah sets forth in this chapter, the precedent which Hananiah deviates from.

So how can you distinguish between the false and the true when they look similar, sound similar, and yet stand on opposite sides of critical issues? Yes, we must test them against the Scriptures, but false teachers are good at wrapping up heresy in Biblical paper so that we think they’ve handed us a gift. Before you tear in, look to see if some Biblical truth is exaggerated while another is absent.

Many false teachers have an over-realized eschatology, which is a fancy way of saying they’ve got their cart way in front of the horse. Eschatology is the study of the end. Prosperity teachers over-realize the end. They put the very end well before the very end. With Jesus’ first advent and resurrection, the future kingdom began breaking into the present; but that future is not fully present yet and the present is not yet fully past. Still, many false teachers today promise no pain, no suffering, and no sickness. All health! All wealth! All happiness! All victory! Some will even promise victory over sin in this life. A great deal of what they say the saints have in and because of Jesus is true. Like Jeremiah, we could say “Amen!” to much of their message, if we too add qualification. The problem is timing. The reason they get the timing wrong is because their hearts are wrong. They don’t really want Jesus, so much as they want His stuff, and like the younger brother, they’ll have it right now thank you! False teachers take God’s good gifts, paint “god” on them, and with faux piety, demand that God give them their “gods” in the name of God.

What is absent? Sin, judgment, righteousness, repentance, and wrath for starters. While their eschatology is over-realized, their Christology and soteriology are under-emphasized. They say Jesus’ suffering liberates us from suffering. It certainly will, one day, but do they speak of it as a propitiation, a sacrifice placating the righteous wrath of a holy God against our sins? Do they glory in the cross of Christ as a place of substitution, where the ransom of Christ’s blood was spilt to redeem us out of our bondage and pay our debt? Do they speak of Jesus life as one of obedience so that His righteousness might be imputed to us by faith? When they glory in the resurrection, do they mention that we were dead in our trespasses and sin, but by grace, we were raised with Christ? Do they speak of adoption as the highest privilege of the redemption we have in the only begotten Son, or do you sense that it is not really the Father they want, but an inheritance? And as evidence of this supreme love for God himself, do you ever hear them say with Job, “Though he slay me yet I will hope in him” (Job 13:15), or “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21)? 

Perhaps exaggeration was the wrong word though. It isn’t that the false prophets can promise more; they can only promise wrongly. They offer cheaply. There is so much less to their teaching. Less God. Less Jesus. Less suffering. Less beauty. Less meaning. Less glory.

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 28:1–17 || Showdown || Josh King

Do Not Listen! (Jeremiah 27:1–22)

“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon,’ for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you. I have not sent them, declares the LORD, but they are prophesying falsely in my name, with the result that I will drive you out and you will perish, you and the prophets who are prophesying to you” (Jeremiah 27:14–15).

Poison is just as deadly if you change the label. Speaking lies in the name of Jesus doesn’t make them true. Slapping the label “Christian” on the world’s product and cleaning it up a bit doesn’t make it beneficial. It doesn’t even make it benign or neutral. Not everything “Christian” is Christian. For the Christian, the most dangerous poisons are the ones labeled “Christian.” It’s the pills labeled with our name that we mistake as intended for our health.

The saint would likely never consider buying into the advertisements of bottles labeled secularism, humanism, new age, paganism, or Buddhism; but change the label, modify the phraseology, and now you’re curious. Let me give just one example, perhaps it is the most pernicious one there is—Christian music.

Slapping the adjective “Christian” on the noun “music” doesn’t make it so, any more than one could change the nature of a demon by calling him a holy demon. When you see the label “Christian” what is often concealed is nothing more than a slightly “modified” poison.

people-2562222_1280Bethel Church in Redding California is a cesspool of false teaching where angel dust falls from the ceiling, members practice grave soaking (soaking up the anointing of the deceased), and prophets declare fresh apostolic revelation from God. Though their following is huge, I venture that many professing Christians wouldn’t want anything to do with such poison. But Bethel Music, directly connected to the church, has multiple albums at the top of the Christian music charts. They have one won four GMA Dove Awards. Jeremy Riddle is associated with Bethel Music and has “led worship” for them. Heard “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury? Yes, that hose is connected to this cesspool. Still want a drink? Phil Wickam has also recorded songs with them and taught at their school.

Vineyard Music is, you may have guessed, part of the Vineyard Movement. See the pattern? They’re not making it hard. Vineyard shares more than sharp naming skills with Bethel. They like to jam together sometimes. You’ll see some of the same artists associated with Bethel here as well. Their churches share much of the same theology.

Kari Jobe is a member of Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas which preaches a slick hip version of the prosperity gospel and also has ties to Bethel Church. Todd White has preached there! Enough said. What Joel Osteen was to Benny Hinn, Robert Morris (their pastor) is to Joel Osteen—a repackaged product to market to a fresher demographic.

Finally, consider Hillsong United coming out of Hillsong Church (yep), which not only preaches the prosperity gospel but has waffled on issues regarding gender and sexuality. It was the pastor of Hillsong New York, Carl Lentz, who baptized Justin Bieber. No comment.

I’m not aware of one song from any of these sources that explicitly preaches their more heretical views, but the worldview of the lyrics is frequently and thoroughly alien to the Scriptures. Their message apes that of pop psychology, self-help, and humanism. Such music is the bait Satan uses to hide the hook. Many evangelical protestants likely never become prosperity gospel charismatics as a result of listening to such music, but they do become experiential, feelings-driven, and mystical in their approach to God. Satan doesn’t mind diluting a deadly poison and sweetening it up with some truth, or even adding some beneficial nutrients, so long as it remains poison just the same.

It is true that sometimes false prophets can speak truth, but such instances are very rare and not to be sought. God used Balaam. But how are you to know when God is using Balaam? Are you too going to claim to be a prophet? Ah, let’s test is according to the Word right? If it’s Scriptural, all truth is God’s truth, right? We’ve done such with Horatio Spafford’s “It Is Well with My Soul.” He drifted into heresy. We use his song. Yes, but very few know this and virtually no one is led into Spafford’s heresy by his enduring hymn. The danger of Bethel Music and Hillsong is different. The virus is living. Throngs are attracted to their ministries by their music. The appeal is to bypass the mind go straight for the emotions. It is not truth but the aesthetic that is the attraction. It isn’t a theological commitment, but a taste of genre that draws one in.

What should we do then? I believe the answer is clear from Jeremiah 27. Do not listen to them! If for no other reason than this, can you not sense the narcissism, the self-centeredness, the self-obsession that dominates the music? The music is full of lies that will drown you in the image of your own reflection. Do not listen! It is a lie that they are prophesying to you.

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 27:1–|| 22 Bear the Yoke and Do Not Listen || Josh King