The Don: The Perfect Church Service

“I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same.

To judge from their practice, very few Anglican clergymen take this view. It looks as if they believed people can be lured to go to church be incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain—many give up churchgoing altogether—merely endure.

Is this simply because the majority are hide-bound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best – if you like, it ‘works’ best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about your eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.” —C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm (Harcourt, 1992), p. 4

Don’t Miss the Landlord for the Harvesters (Jeremiah 51)

“Thus says the LORD: 
‘Behold, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer
against Babylon,
against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai,
and I will send to Babylon winnowers,
and they shall winnow her,
and they shall empty her land, 
when they come against her from every side 
on the day of trouble.’ “

—Jeremiah 51:1–2

Dear wheat, do not miss the Landlord for the harvesters. God has grown Babylon into what she is, and now, He sees fit to cut her down. He has grown her so that He might harvest her. She is ripe for wrath. She is a vessel of wrath prepared for destruction. First, Yahweh poured out His wrath on the nations through her (Jeremiah 51:7), but now, He will pour out His wrath on Her (Jeremiah 51:8). The equally wicked Persians harvest, but it is the Holy God who has sent them to do so. He stirs up. He sends. God is sovereign. He uses the Persians’ wickedness to vindicate His holiness. Do not miss the cursing harvesters for the blessed Landlord.

Nations rise and nations fall and this happens by God word.
“Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, 
‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.  
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, 
to pluck up and to break down, 
to destroy and to overthrow, 
to build and to plant’ ” (Jeremiah 1:9–10).

Don’t let economies or viruses, missiles or terrorists, elections or conspiracies blind you to this supreme fact—God plants and plucks up nations. We are not privy to our Lord’s secret counsels. We don’t know all the details of His plan, but we do know the end game. The kingdoms of this world will fall and the church will endure. The wicked will be judged and the saints will be delivered. The world is a doomed weed. The kingdom is like a well-tended mustard seed (Matthew 13:31–32).

So do not fear when the reports come in (Jeremiah 51:46). Though we reside in Babylon, Babylon shouldn’t reside in us. Seek her welfare (Jeremiah 29:7), but do not find your own in her. Our hearts should be bound to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 51:5. By God’s word, Babylon will fall. By God’s word, Jerusalem will rise. God speaks and nations are being broken down. God speaks and His holy nation, the church, is being built up. God will speak, and the kingdoms of this world will be plucked. God will speak and the kingdom of heaven will be planted.

This is not a sunken word, this is a word that sinks. God’s word endures. Nations plummet. Babylon was not built as stocky as this word. As Babel rises she totters. This word reaches to the heavens, and still it cannot be toppled. Its mass is such that it crushes kingdoms. Its mass is such that it doesn’t sink in the ocean, it displaces it. This word has sunk Babylon and it will sink her yet again.

“And Jeremiah said to Seraiah: ‘When you come to Babylon, see that you read all these words, and say, “O LORD, you have said concerning this place that you will cut it off, so that nothing shall dwell in it, neither man nor beast, and it shall be desolate forever.” When you finish reading this book, tie a stone to it and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and say, “Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disaster that I am bringing upon her, and they shall become exhausted” ’ ” (Jeremiah 51:61–64).

The Don: The Terror of Absolute Goodness

“[W]e know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. This is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort. He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger—according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.” —C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), p. 31

Nerf Darts Versus ICBMs (Jeremiah 50)

“The LORD has opened his armory and brought out the weapons of his wrath, for the Lord God of hosts has a work to do in the land of the Chaldeans.” —Jeremiah 50:25

Can there be any more terrifying thought than Yahweh opening up His armory against you? The apex of man’s military might is the nuclear missile. Sure, man can hurl a missile at 15,000 miles per hour causing 475 kilotons of damage (Hiroshima had 12 kiloton yield). That all sounds impressive, until you consider that God is hurling billions of balls of nuclear fusion at speeds of over 500,000 miles per hour,  each by itself producing every second as much energy as trillions of our missiles.

But sinner, know that He is not only has an armory to dispose of His enemies, He is also a refuge for those who trust in Christ crucified. If you are in Christ, God’s judgment is your salvation. Judgment fell on the Son to save you from your sins and it will fall on the wicked to save his people from sinners.

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: The people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah with them. All who took them captive have held them fast; they refuse to let them go. Their Redeemer is strong; the LORD of hosts is his name. He will surely plead their cause, that he may give rest to the earth, but unrest to the inhabitants of Babylon” (Jeremiah 50:33–34).

The Don: Disagreeing about the Degree of our Disagreements

“One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements. When two Christians of different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks whether such-and-such a point ‘really matters’ and the other replies: ‘Matter? Why, it’s absolutely essential.'” ——C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), p. x

Big Promises Stuffed into Little Boxes (Jeremiah 49)

Concerning the Ammonites. 
Thus says the LORD:
 
“Has Israel no sons? 
     Has he no heir? 
Why then has Milcom dispossessed Gad, 
     and his people settled in its cities? 
Therefore, behold, the days are coming, 
     declares the LORD, 
when I will cause the battle cry to be heard 
     against Rabbah of the Ammonites; 
it shall become a desolate mound, 
     and its villages shall be burned with fire; 
then Israel shall dispossess those who dispossessed him, 
     says the LORD.

—Jeremiah 49:1–2

When unpacking the oracles against the nations (Jeremiah 46–51) it is critical to realize that they come vacuum sealed. Though judgment has been delivered to these nations, it hasn’t been fully unpacked. Jesus adds water to all the Old Testament and in Him, it swells substantially. He fulfills them. In Him, they reach their full. In Him, that fullness is filled to the brim. On the day of His return and forever thereafter I’m certain we will be in awe of how much God packed into so small a space. The oracles against the nations are compressed files. Jesus unzips them. In Jesus we will find that each these bytes communicate terabytes of information.

These oracles do come with fences but the fences are temporary. They are not simply meant to contain a judgment, but communicate the judgment. Note how dissolvable these fences are in Jeremiah 25:15–32, which in the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) serve as the conclusion to the oracles against the nations.

“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. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.’ So I took the cup from the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the LORD sent me drink it: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and officials, to make them a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse, as at this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his officials, all his people, and all the mixed tribes among them; all the kings of the land of Uz and all the kings of the land of the Philistines (Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod); Edom, Moab, and the sons of Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the coastland across the sea; Dedan, Tema, Buz, and all who cut the corners of their hair; all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the mixed tribes who dwell in the desert; all the kings of Zimri, all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of Media; all the kings of the north, far and near, one after another, and all the kingdoms of the world that are on the face of the earth. And after them the king of Babylon shall drink. ‘Then you shall say to them, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.” And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the LORD of hosts.’ You, therefore, shall prophesy against them all these words, and say to them: “The LORD will roar from on high, and from his holy habitation utter his voice; he will roar mightily against his fold, and shout, like those who tread grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth. The clamor will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against the nations; he is entering into judgment with all flesh, and the wicked he will put to the sword, declares the LORD.” Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, disaster is going forth from nation to nation, and a great tempest is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth !” (emphases mine).

While the fences are up, this “all the earth” language is an understandable use of hyperbole, not to exaggerate but to communicate. Still, can’t you also see that these fences will one day come down such that the hyperbole will then be an understatement? When Jesus baptizes the world in the fire of judgment these fences will dissolve. Even so, we look to the past fences to get some idea of the shape of the future. By this, the future doesn’t become hazy, but clear.

For instance, Ammon is indicted for possessing the land Yahweh allotted to Israel. Despite appearances, His people are not without an heir. Though the northern tribes, including Gad, were largely assimilated and absorbed but he alien cultures to which they were driven by Assyria long before this prophecy, this land is not up for grabs. This same indictment is brought against all these nations (cf. Jeremiah 10:25; 12:10–14). So in the judgment of the nations a promise of salvation is being made to God’s people. They will dispossess those who dispossessed them. But who are these heirs? I’m simply going to leave you with some New Testament unpacking and I think you can begin to see all that was tied up in these Old Testament prophecies.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13).

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16–17).

“For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (Hebrews 10:34–35).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3–5).

See? Big promises. Little boxes.

The Don: Improbable? Nay.

“The fitness or credibility of the Grand Miracle [the incarnation] itself cannot, obviously, be judged by the same standard. And let us admit at once that it is very difficult to find a standard by which it can be judged. If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the Earth—the very thing that the whole story has been about. Since it happened only once, it is by Hume’s standards infinitely improbable. But then the whole history of the Earth has also happened only once; is it therefore incredible? Hence the difficulty, which weighs upon Christian and atheist alike, of estimating the probability of the Incarnation. It is like asking whether the existence of Nature herself is intrinsically probable. That is why it is easier to argue, on historical grounds, that the Incarnation actually occurred than to show, on philosophical grounds, the probability of its occurrence. The historical difficulty of giving for the life, sayings and influence of Jesus any explanation that is not harder than the Christian explanation, is very great.” —C.S. Lewis, Miracles, (HarperCollins, 2001), pp. 174

Gathered Dust No Sign of Being Well Aged (Jeremiah 47–48)

“Moab has been at ease from his youth
     and has settled on his dregs;
he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel,
     nor has he gone into exile;
     so his taste remains in him,
     and his scent is not changed.

Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I shall send to him pourers who will pour him, and empty his vessels and break his jars in pieces. Then Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh, as the house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel, their confidence.” —Jeremiah 48:11–13

Though man is dust, sometimes he gets to thinking the dust covers a rare and expensive vintage under it all. But just because the wine has aged doesn’t mean it’s aged well. It may have settled on the lees so long that it’s turned bad.

Moab was a dusty bottle of wine forgotten in the cellar. She has long enjoyed peace, but she hasn’t aged well. She’s settled on the dregs of her boasting and become ripe, not for consumption, but destruction. She’s never been mixed up; she’s never been poured from one vessel to another, going into exile as Israel did and she’s the worse for it. Whereas Israel was smack dab in the middle of a major trade route, Moab was just off the beaten path, a plateau to the east to the dead sea. But God is sending pourers. She will be poured, her vessels emptied, and smashed.

As a result she will be ashamed of Chemosh as Israel was ashamed of Bethel. When the kingdom of Israel was split under the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, Jeroboam, who then became king of Israel, erected a golden calf and an altar in Bethel for fear that his people would return to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh and thus defect to Judah (1 Kings 12:25–33). He also built a calf in Dan and dedicated both saying, “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt,” (2 Kings 12:28). Although these gods did serve to prevent the mass of Israel from going to Judah, more so they were the cause of their being obliterated by the Assyrians. These gods delivered Israel neither from Egypt nor from Assyria. In the same way, Chemosh will prove impotent against the human hands that the sovereign Lord sends against Moab.

The dust will be blown off. There will be shouting, but it won’t be because the wine is so good. They will be poured out only to drink to the full of the wine of God’s wrath.

“Make him drunk, because he magnified himself against the Lord, so that Moab shall wallow in his vomit, and he too shall be held in derision…

Gladness and joy have been taken away
     from the fruitful land of Moab;
I have made the wine cease from the winepresses;
     no one treads them with shouts of joy;
     the shouting is not the shout of joy.
 —Jeremiah 48:26, 33

Know that present insulation doesn’t mean immunization. In the west we have long lived off the last fumes of the Protestant Reformation. The accrued blessings we have enjoyed because of past faithfulness should not be misread by any as sign of God’s favor with us or as a guarantee of future blessing. Present insulation from judgment is no indication of future immunization.

If you don’t enjoy God’s goodness in Christ, unto His glory, you will enjoy His goodness only for a time and His wrath forevermore. Judgment is certain and the only sure refuge is the split rock of Christ crucified for sinners and risen for their life. Anything else that you now boast in will one day be your shame. 

The Don: The Archetype

“Even our sexuality should be regarded as the transposition into a minor key of that creative joy which in Him is unceasing and irresistible. Grammatically the things we say of Him are ‘metaphorical’: but in a deeper sense it is our physical and psychic energies that are mere ‘metaphors’ of the real Life which is God. Divine Sonship is, so to speak, the solid of which biological sonship is merely a diagrammatic representation on the flat.” —C.S. Lewis, Miracles, (HarperCollins, 2001), pp. 146

Swollen Rivers Subside (Jeremiah 46:1–28)

"About Egypt. Concerning the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah...

Who is this, rising like the Nile, 
     like rivers whose waters surge? 
Egypt rises like the Nile, 
     like rivers whose waters surge. 
He said, 'I will rise, I will cover the earth, 
     I will destroy cities and their inhabitants.'"

—Jeremiah 46:2, 7–8

With Assyria on the wane, Babylon waxes strong while Egypt enjoys something of a resurgence. Pridefully, Egypt swells like her Nile, ambitious to flood the lands around her. Assyria had acted as a buffer between Egypt and Babylon; so it is no surprise that Egypt heads north to aid Assyria. It was en route to do so that Pharaoh Neco was intercepted by King Josiah. Eventually Neco sets up his base at Carchemish. The two rising world powers of the age are set to clash. The Battle of Carchemish would prove a critical turning point in history.

The Nile’s resurgence proves to be due to nothing other than a flash flood. The waters will subside as quickly as they rose. All human glory, even that of nations, of superpowers, all of it fades. Their flow of glory can never surpass the ebb caused by God’s judgment. The nations can never rise so far as to mitigate their fall. It is futile for them to spread miles in hopes of keeping even a few inches. There can be no advance of human glory.

Humanity should remain humble before the Holy one, and this includes collected humanity as well. The Tower of Babel was not preserved despite man’s unified strength. The greatest judgements fall where pride is concentrated. Man’s collected power doesn’t dampen the blow; it intensifies it. So hear the Lord’s admonition in Jeremiah 9:23–26 afresh:

“Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh— Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart’” (emphasis mine).

Hear this admonition and resolve as Paul did to boast in nothing but “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to [you], and [you] to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:14–15). And having been crucified to the world, rejoice, even when you see superpowers fall. Even when it seems as though the world is being flipped upside down, rejoice knowing that it is being prepared to be flipped right-side up in Jesus. Remember, you are a citizen of heaven. When all the nations of this earth are manifestly put under Jesus feet, then heaven will come down, all things will be made new, and the citizens of the kingdom will humbly serve their Lord with joy forevermore.