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

 

The Don: Doctrinal Books are the Best Devotional Books

caleb-woods-i6pKVDldgVA-unsplash.jpg“Now the layman or amateur needs to be instructed as well as to be exhorted. In this age his need for knowledge is particularly pressing. Nor would I admit any sharp division between the two kinds of book. For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” —C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), pp. 149

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

The Don: WARNING: “Second-hand” Books Often Impoverish Your Learning

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“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modem commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.” —C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), pp. 149

Singing While the Bombs are Falling (Habakkuk 3:17–19)

This post was originally published on January 12th, 2015. It was lightly revised and republished on April 19th, 2020.

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I think anyone can get the general sense of Habakkuk 3:17 from an initial reading, but reading that verse in light of the entire Old Testament and then seeing what Habakkuk goes on to say is like hearing the “Hallelujah Chorus,” within the entirety of Handel’s Messiah—it makes it soar.

Figs, grapes, and olives were the choicest produce of the land. They’re iconic; frequently used in the prophetic corpus. There seems to be an increasing severity to the images Habakkuk uses. The absence of figs by itself hardly suggests privation. From grapes they received their daily drink, but these wouldn’t be essential for life. From the olive they resourced oil not only to anoint their faces, but to fuel their lamps and cook their food. The fields yielding no food transitions from frills to necessities. The flocks being cut off not only means the absence of another food source, but also of clothing. Finally, the cattle being absent from the stalls suggests not so much that beef isn’t now an alternative to mutton, but that their tractors have been stolen. Now there is not only no food, there is no possibility of food. David Prior paints the canvas well:

Everything has been destroyed. There is no grain, oil or wine. There is no meat or wool. There is no food of any kind—fruit, vegetables, cereals, milk, meat. It is not simply a devastated economy. It is the end of everything that can keep body and soul together. There is nothing, absolutely nothing—and an invading army takes possession of the land, pillaging and raping with indiscriminate violence. It is Bosnia, Vietnam and Rwanda rolled into one. ‘How could life be sustained at all in such conditions?’ Nothing to eat, nothing to drink, nothing to wear. Not just poverty, but the enemy stalking the land. Nowhere to hide.

But this is only the general sense that a good reading of the text itself can give us. There is a much deeper significance. Our story begins in a garden of plenty and peace. It is the story of a kingdom: God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. Man rebels against God’s rule and is driven from the garden, separated from God—not His people. The earth is cursed. Thorns grow. But God calls Abraham out for Himself. He promises to make from Abraham a people for Himself, to give them a land, and to bless them—to reverse the curse.

Habakkuk gives us a picture of the curse gone full bloom, consuming all so that nothing blooms. Habakkuk is saying that though there is not one tangible evidence to His senses of the covenant God made with His people, yet he will rejoice in Yahweh. When the only part of God’s promises that you have is God Himself, that is all you need. Just like Abraham, Habakkuk can’t see the promises, but greets them from afar (Hebrews 11:8–16).

Picture a devastated village within German occupied territory during the second great war receiving news that the tide has turned. The war isn’t over, but they believe it will be soon. In the midst of the bombed out buildings and stripped gardens, with tattered clothes they sing and dance with joy. When there is not one tangible sign of the kingdom come, when all you have is the Scripture’s declaration of Christ’s victory, this is all faith needs to rejoice because it is all that faith ever has. When faith sings in the midst of darkness it demonstrates that the joy of the kingdom isn’t in the people, the place, or the rule (peace and righteousness) themselves in isolation from God as though that were possible. The joy of the kingdom is that it is God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.

Turn off the Phone and Turn a Page

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“Our upbringing and the whole atmosphere of the world we live in make it certain that our main temptation will be that of yielding to winds of doctrine, not that of ignoring them. We are not at all likely to be hidebound: we are very likely indeed to be the slaves of fashion. If one has to choose between reading the new books and reading the old, one must choose the old: not because they are necessarily better but because they contain precisely those truths of which our own age is neglectful. The standard of permanent Christianity must be kept clear in our minds and it is against that standard that we must test all contemporary thought. In fact, we must at all costs not move with the times. We serve One who said, ‘Heaven and Earth shall move with the times, but my words shall not move with the times’ (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).” ——C.S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), pp. 149