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

Tuning In Only to Tune Out (Jeremiah 26:1–24

“It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds” (Jeremiah 26:3).

Chapter 25 of Jeremiah is situated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim; chapter 26 at the beginning of his reign. As reading the Old Testament in light of the New proves clarifying, so here, the future illuminates the past. Chapter 25, in illuminating chapter 26, darkens it. We read it knowing the hope held out in the third verse is not to be realized. Though Jeremiah lives, his voice is dead.

In chapter 25 Jeremiah recalls his ministering to Judah for twenty-three years. Twenty-three years in which he received and spoke the word. Twenty-three years for which they did not listen. How do we get to the hardened state spoken of in chapter 25? The answer of chapter 26 is alarming.

Though there are many who wouldn’t mind rubbing Jeremiah out, the masses are fickle. They hear. They may even hear with conviction. They hear with affirmation, acknowledging Jeremiah to be speaking the word of Yahweh. But this is as far as they go and it is not far enough. Jeremiah is tolerated. He is ignored. They’re typical conservatives. “Maintain the status quo!” They think they can play it safe and play with sin. They’ll hear Jeremiah and listen to the false prophets. If they execute Jeremiah, destruction is certain. But if they simply ignore him, maybe God will return the favor and ignore them.

The way God’s truth is dismissed by the masses isn’t predominantly with overt enmity but with apathy. Man’s hatred of God displays itself frequently in disinterest, indifference, passivity, lethargy, and unresponsiveness. God’s word comes to man with its total demands. Man responds with “Meh?” To dismiss God calmly instead of violently doesn’t avert disaster. Indifference is just as much an expression of hatred for God as is rage. Partial credit isn’t given for not persecuting the prophet. Just because you don’t kill the prophet doesn’t ensure God won’t kill you—eternally.

So how does one get from here to there? The most common highway taken to hell is the one where the Word is allowed to play on the radio while your mind drifts elsewhere. The word is heard but the people don’t listen. They can hum the tune, but they don’t know the words.

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 26:1–24 || Who Is On Trial? || Josh King

Salvation by Judgment (Jeremiah 25:1–38)

“For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.

Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste.

Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.”

—Jeremiah 25:3, 12, 15

eric-gilkes-DNbdk2BM0_I-unsplashJeremiah 25 is a stout drink. It’s all judgment, 200 proof. Or perhaps we should say it’s 99.9% judgment. There is a hint of grace, but it’s easy to miss because it is disguised as judgment. That grace can dress as judgment should come as no surprise. The protoevangelion, that is, the first preaching of the gospel, was good news in just this way. Genesis 3:14–19 is all judgment but nestled in the judgment of the serpent is the implicit hope and salvation of man. “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” (Genesis 3:15). That word of judgment was grace. Here, the disguise is simply harder to see through.

We shouldn’t miss the implicit salvation for the explicit judgement, for when salvation comes, it is certain to be salvation by judgment. What is subtle here is lurid in Jeremiah 29:10, “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” However God saves, know that it cannot be in any way that compromises justice or righteousness.

The judgment of God is inescapable and inevitable. Judgment will fall and it will fall on every sin. Every injustice, every iniquity, every idolatry will be judged. You see this in how Babylon is used by God for judgment, and then judged herself. God’s judgment cannot be evaded. His righteousness cannot be compromised.

We have no hope that our sins might be swept under the rug. We, like Judah and the nations, have not listened. For this reason the wrath of God is revealed against us (Romans 1:18ff). We deserve to drink from the cup of the wine of God’s wrath and nothing more. Our only hope is that God would somehow act so that judgment would fall on our sins and yet not fall on us sinners.

The cup of God’s wrath is a common metaphor. In Isaiah 51 Yahweh promises grace to His people by judgment saying, “Thus says your Lord, the LORD, your God who pleads the cause of his people: ‘Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more; and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors…” (Isaiah 51:22–23a). Again, salvation for Judah comes by judgment. But still, how can the cup be taken from us? 

We find the answer in a garden where the only servant of Yahweh to ever listen perfectly and deserve no judgment prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus took the cup of the wine of God’s wrath, not because He failed to listen, but for our failing to listen. He drained it; finishing it off down to the bitter dregs, bearing the judgment of His people. Again, when salvation comes, it comes by judgment. We are saved because our sins were judged on another standing in our place.

Because judgment fell on the Just one, for the sins of the unjust, there is now no condemnation for those who are in union with Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Saints, judgment has already fallen on this earth for our sins, but praise be to God, it wasn’t we who drank of that cup of the wine of wrath. It was drained for us by the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. Because He drained of the cup of the wine of wrath, we now raise the cup of salvation given to us by the exalted Christ.

Surprising Showers of Sovereign Grace (Jeremiah 24:1–10)

“Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans.

‘But thus says the LORD: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat Zedekiah the king of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt” (Jeremiah 24:4–5, 8).

Those God drove out, He will bring back. Those who remain, will be driven out.

landscape-2130524_1280.jpgThe Scriptures are often paradoxical and surprising. One reason for this is that they are a revelation of God’s grace and His grace is a surprise. Problem is, most are surprised for the wrong reason. Today, fallen man isn’t so much surprised by grace as he is shocked by judgment. The Bible still catches him off guard, but he’s like the pedestrian who is stunned that there are cars driving down the highway. Twenty three chapters into Jeremiah this much should be plain, man is rebelliously ignoring the crosswalk. He’s defiantly walking into the oncoming traffic of God’s judgment. What’s surprising isn’t that man is doomed to die, but that he lives as long as he does. It is judgment that is to be expected. Every second of life in this fallen world is an incredible mercy. How much more surprising then is His saving grace?

Judgment is due. Grace is the surprise. Grace is not only the surprise, but it comes in a surprising way. God reveals what He is going to do for His people and still they jump when He does it. God is like that friend that lets you know he is going to get you, and even though you are on guard, you’re still pleasantly jolted. It is as though God loves to rub his grace in in that way. “Gotcha!”

Part of the shock, is that we, like the world, sometimes think we can predict where the rains of God’s grace will fall. “Certainly God will save that soul” we think, but there is never an indication that He does. “That person is surely doomed for hell,” and then Saul becomes Paul. We might be more conservative in our forecast than the world is. We don’t think it will rain everywhere! Still, we’re often running the wrong metrics. Our models are skewed such that we’re left standing with an umbrella in the middle of the Sahara. It should be no surprise that when we try to predict the God’s surprise of grace we’re left surprised that it didn’t play out how we thought. 

Because judgment is expected and grace is a free surprise, there is no way we can predict where the rain may fall. None are owed grace. None are beyond it. We can expect rain. That is promised. We should labor and love in the hope of it. But we expect it not because of who we are or who they might be, but because of who God is, and He is not only gracious, but sovereign and free.

Do you meet the truth of surprising shower of God’s sovereign grace with humble gratitude? Or are you irately agape? To be delighted by the surprise of God’s grace, one must not only taste of it; they must drink deeply. Drinking deeply means recognizing that in this sovereign surprise, God remains above us and not below us; that is to say, He remains righteous and not unjust. This is not the kind of surprise where we come off looking like the innocent victim of God’s prank. In this surprise, God remains faithful to his covenant, not unreliable. He is immutable, not erratic. God does nothing out of character, and yet, we are surprised. The surprise is not that God judges many, but that he has mercy on any. R.C. Sproul deals with this masterfully,

“The saved get mercy and the unsaved get justice. Nobody gets injustice.

Mercy is not justice. But neither is it injustice. …

There is justice and there is nonjustice. Nonjustice includes everything outside of the category of justice. In the category of nonjustice we find two subconcepts, injustice and mercy. Mercy is a good form of nonjustice while injustice is a bad form of nonjustice. In the plan of salvation God does nothing bad. He never commits an injustice. Some people get justice, which is what they deserve, while other people get mercy. Again, the fact that one gets mercy does not demand that the others get it as well. God reserves the right of executive clemency.

As a human being I might prefer that God give His mercy to everyone equally, but I may not demand it. If God is not pleased to dispense His saving mercy to all men, then I must submit to His holy and righteous decision. God is never, never, never obligated to be merciful to sinners. That is the point we must stress if we are to grasp the full measure of God’s grace.

The real question is why God is inclined to be merciful to anyone?”*

Why? There are mysteries here we cannot probe, but this much God has made clear, the showers of grace fall where they do, so that our only boast is Christ.

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’ ” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31).


*R.C. Sproul, Chosen by God (Tyndale, 1986) p. 27

The State of the Church and the State of the State (Jeremiah 23:9–40)

 

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In the prophets of Samaria
I saw an unsavory thing:
they prophesied by Baal
and led my people Israel astray.
But in the prophets of Jerusalem
I have seen a horrible thing:
they commit adultery and walk in lies;
they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that no one turns from his evil;
all of them have become like Sodom to me,
and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.

—Jeremiah 23:13–14

In conversations concerning politics and religion, Americans frequently mention a wall of separation between church and state. That idea was intended by Jefferson as a one way street, yet most people today, ignoring the “Wrong Way” signage, are driving the opposite direction. The phrase was meant, not to keep the church from driving to Washington, but to keep Washington from driving a church—a state church on the republic.

Nevertheless, using my liberty to leverage the phrase in yet another manner, let us pray that the church is truly separate from the state in this—in holiness. Let us pray that there is a wall of separation between the sins of the state and the state of the church. Unfortunately, I believe the reason the state is full of lies is because the church is. The world is dark because the world is dark while the light has been hidden. When the world is rotting without pause, it means that which is posing as salt isn’t salty and therefore good for nothing but to be cast out.

In Israel there was to be no separation of church and state; rather, both were to be separate, set apart unto Yahweh. But both the state, that is the kings, and the church, that is the prophets and priests, had become defiled. In chapters 21–23 Jeremiah first denounces the kings and then the prophets. More time is spent on the kings in these chapters, but it’s highly likely more time is spent on the prophets in the book as a whole. Indeed, Jeremiah speaks concerning false prophets more than any other true prophet.

Whereas the main invective against the kings was their oppressing the poor, that of the prophets was their deceiving the people. The former fleeces the sheep, the latter leads them to destruction. John MacKay comments, 

“From the preceding section the impression might readily be gained that the problems facing Jeremiah had to do with the political institutions of Judah and its civil leadership. That unfortunately was true but they were by no means the exclusive source of opposition to him. Both church and state were corrupt in Judah, and in this section he focus is on the religious degeneracy of the land. …it was what they [the prophets] proclaimed in the name of the LORD that set the tone for church and state in Judah, as well as reflecting prevailing sentiment.” 

This section is “concerning the prophets,” but yet is speaks of the wickedness of the land. The implication is that the prophets are to blame. Where prophets are false, the church is false. When the church is false, the state of the state is sure to be one full of lies.

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 23:9–40 || Concerning the Prophets || Josh King

 

Playing Christianity without the Church (1 Timothy 3:14–16)

This post was originally published on August 11, 2014. It was revised and republished on April 27, 2020.

“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.”

—1 Timothy 3:14–16

cosmic-timetraveler-_R1cc2IHk70-unsplash.jpgThe church needs to behave herself; this is why Paul wrote to Timothy. Sadly, many professing Christians aren’t even in a church in which to misbehave. They are intentionally churchless. Occupying the number nine spot in Amazon’s “ecclesiology” category [when this post originally appeared] is Kelly Bean’s How to be a Christian without Going to Church. That’s as comprehensible as a baseball coach offering a clinic, “How to Hit a Home Run without Using a Bat.” Don’t want to use a ball either? Hakuna Matata, baseball leagues are certain to crop up everywhere, all playing the game according to their own desires.

Consider the case of Stott v. Miller and ask yourself which holds up in God’s court. The defendant, Donald Miller, questions himself, “So, do I attend church?” He answers, “Not often, to be honest. Like I said, it’s not how I learn. But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe.”  Before moving on to the prosecution let me interject that one thing that church can teach Miller, and every other soul, is to get over ourselves. The late John Stott then addresses the audience (there is no jury, only the Judge), “I trust that none of my readers is that grotesque anomaly, an un-churched Christian. The New Testament knows nothing of such a person. For the church lies at the very center of the eternal purpose of God.”* Unfortunately, the “un-churched Christian” isn’t so much of an anomaly now, and it certainly isn’t thought to be the grotesque thing that it is.

Paul has written “these things” so that the Ephesians Christians will know how to behave themselves in church. “These things” include praying together (2:1–8), which assumes gathering as the church. These things include elders (3:1–7), which necessitates teaching. These things include discipline (1:20), which means membership is necessary. If there is an out, there must be an in. Being part of a local church is necessary and normal—apostolically so.

We live in an age when it is popular, for “Christians,” to belittle or disassociate from the church. Admittedly, there is much to criticize, but tone is crucial. Any criticism we have for the church should sound like a loving and godly father imploring a wayward daughter. We would do well not to speak lightly of that which Jesus has purchased with His blood. Yet, many who are speaking so negatively about “the church,” aren’t speaking about the church at all, and they need to realize it. You can sharply and righteously expose “a church” that is posing, precisely because you love the church. Biting wit and satire can say, “I know the church, and that ain’t her.”

Many churches and church substitutes aren’t churches, or, at the least, they’re not behaving like one. They’ve lost their dignity. They behave like a silly tween girl at a faddish boy band concert instead of a queen ready to feast at the banquet hall of the King. The deep joys of reverence for the great I AM have been exchanged for the shallow pleasures of dancing before Baal, and, like Manasseh, they do it in “the house of the Lord.” For instance, recently I saw a video of a local church where, on the stage, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker had a lightsaber duel. Then, out of nowhere, Princess Leia jumped in and they danced to Michael Jackson’s thriller, inappropriate gestures and all.

Much of our problem—and let us not for a minute think we are immune as many have the disease but only mask the symptoms better—much of our problem is that we have forgotten who the church is. The church is the church of the living God. She is the household of God; a pillar and buttress of the truth. We don’t behave because we don’t believe. Theological erosion leads to moral corrosion.


*John Stott, The Living Church (InterVarsity, 2007), p. 19

Meridian Church · 1 Timothy 3:14–16 || The Church and the Mystery || Josh King