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

 

Compare, Contrast, and Transition (Exodus 18)

Why is this story here? “Well, it happened,” one retorts. Indeed, but the Biblical authors are selective. We’re never told everything, so why are we told of this event? Why is it given such attention? I believe this story primarily does three things. It compares, it contrasts, and it transitions.

It compares Moses and Israel, showing how they are similar.

It contrasts Amalek and Jethro, showing how they are different.

It transitions us to Sinai.

But to heighten and emphasize this, let me ask again, why is this story here? Often in the Scripture we find that events are arranged generally in a chronological way, but also, immediately in a theological way. As you read through the Gospels you will sometimes find a different order of events. The intent of the gospels isn’t to tell you the exact historical chronology, but to reveal the theological truth the episodes teach us about Christ. Generally, in the big scope, things are presented chronologically: Jesus’ birth, then His ministry, then His crucifixion, then His resurrection. But immediately, the arrangement is theological. This is often the case in all the Bible.

In Deuteronomy 1:8–19 there’s a very similar account to this one. Similar, I believe, because it recalls the same instance. There we have an account that complements this one, looking at it from a different perspective and tells us when exactly this takes place chronologically. When you read the context before and after, notably Deuteronomy 1:6, 19, it’s clear this happens as Israel readies to depart from Sinai. So, in Exodus, why here now? To compare Moses and Israel at this point, to contrast Amalek and Jethro, and to transition to Sinai.

Moses’ exile is a mini-exodus. Moses departs Exodus with Pharaoh wanting kill him. He was a sojourner in a foreign land, Egypt, but God brought him the place of his father’s wanderings to dwell among distant cousins. He comes to Horeb where he sins against God’s commands. Finally compliant to journey where God commands, he first returns to the mountain to be reunited with Aaron.

Now again, at Horeb, there is a reunion with family. Israel too has been delivered from the sword of Pharaoh. Having sojourned in Egypt, they’re traveling to the place promised to them, but first they come to Horeb, where they too will disobey the God who reveals Himself in fire.

Moses and Israel are compared. Amalek and Jethro are contrasted. The nations oppose Israel, but they also are grafted in. Amalek came and fought (17:8); Jethro came and inquired of Moses’ welfare (18:5–7). In 17:9 Joshua chooses men to fight, in 18:25, upon Jethro’s advice, men are chosen to judge. Previously Moses sat with the staff of God in his hand (17:12), now he sits in judgment (18:13). In both instances Moses does this all day and needs help. The parallels draw out the contrast. Amalek does not fear God (Deuteronomy 25:17). Jethro rejoices (18:9), blesses (18:10), and glorifies Yahweh (18:11). Then he offers sacrifices to God and has a covenant meal with Moses, Aaron, and the elders (18:12).

This compare and contrast sets up a a transition to Sinai. Jethro’s good advice helps Moses apply the law of God. But as this law is applied, don’t miss this, this mountain is surrounded by grace. We’re reminded of the grace shown to Moses, and to Israel, and we see a Gentile graciously grafted into the olive tree of Israel in the shadow of Sinai. Jethro’s wisdom helps the law be applied so that God’s people go to their place in peace (18:23). For the redeemed of God, His law is surrounded by grace.

Missing the Feast for Choking on the Numbers (Exodus 12:29–51)

Why the additional Passover instructions trailing the report of the Exodus (12:43–51)? To understand one reason, dial these digits: 600000 (12:37). Add in estimates for women and children and we’ve got a nation of approximately 2 million leaving Egypt.

Attempts are made to shrink this number, even by conservative evangelicals who own up to all that’s proceeded. The best efforts demonstrate how the word for thousand here is translated a variety of ways including cattle, clans, divisions, families, and tribes. Indeed. Then they pontificate what we really have is six hundred divisions of fighting men; thus bringing the estimated total down to a manageable thirty five thousand. It’s funny to see a scholar deal so deftly with this text, but then so dumbly with Exodus 38:26 where we get the more exact figure of 603,550. Their prime retort being to quietly mumble “I dunno?” They have an even harder time with the census figures in Numbers 1, 2 and 26 where Moses shows his work and teases this out in greater detail.

Israel left big and they left big just as their big God had promised. God had promised Abraham descendants as the sand and stars (Genesis 13:16; 15:5). God told Jacob that it was in Egypt that He would make him a great nation (Genesis 46:3). Exodus begins by telling us “the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them (Exodus 1:7).” Pharaoh tries to stomp the vine of Yahweh to death, but he only plants more seeds. “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel (Exodus 1:12). It’s laughable to see one own up to a river turning to blood, frogs covering the land, dust turning to gnats, flies filling houses, livestock dropping dead, boils tormenting flesh, hail devastating crops, locusts finishing off what was left, darkness terrifying for three days, and the firstborn being stricken dead, but then choke on the number 600,000. The point of the big number is to show us again God’s big faithfulness and big sovereignty by making Israel a big nation.

But how does this relate to the Passover? This big group leaving Israel wasn’t solely comprised of ethnic Israelites. “A mixed multitude also went up with them (Exodus 12:38).” The new Passover material concerns who may partake of the Passover. While no foreigner may (vv. 43, 45) a slave, stranger, or sojourner who wishes to, may, if he is circumcised identifying with the people of Israel. This isn’t racial bias, it’s religious bias. This is a feast for Israel (cf. Romans 2:29), the people of God, and thus, it is a feast for the nations.

Centuries later a centurion would express faith in Jesus. Jesus responded, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:10–12).” When foreigners were excluded from the Passover it wasn’t ethnic prejudice. When Israelites are barred from the feast of the kingdom, it’s not ethnic prejudice. A great host from every tribe, language, people, and nation is being redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. This isn’t biased prejudice, it is gracious election, and it is big because our God is big.

The Gospel Sandwich (Matthew 28:16-20)

Matthew 28:16–20 is made like a sandwich where it’s the bread that excites you more than the stuffings. More than the meat, cheese, sauce, or anything else in-between, it’s the bread-brackets that make this sandwich so delicious. Take away the bread and the meat is unpalatable, but with it, it’s unsurpassed.

Jesus said that His meat was to do the will of the Father. The meat, the will of the Father we are given to do in this text is known as the Great Commission, but it is surrounded by bread. Take away the bread and you can’t handle this sandwich, it all falls apart. Without the bread this task is beyond you, but with the bread, the Great Commission becomes doable and a delight. The bread is the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ.

The Great Commission is surrounded by the great declaration (“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”) and the great promise (“I am with you always, to the end of the age”)—the only bread that can hold this sandwich together. If the Great Commission were not sandwiched by the great declaration and the great promise it would be the great impossibility.

Actually this sandwich is Bread all the way through; Jesus from top to bottom. Jesus is on top as the authority, He is underneath empowering, and He is all through the middle. He is the gospel we declare—the Savior we call for them to trust, the Rabbi we call for them to follow, the King we call them to obey. This isn’t a sandwich, it’s a loaf; it’s Jesus all the way through. Let us eat with joy and let us tell others of this all-satisfying Bread. The eating will lead to the telling.

Tolle Lege: 10 Who Changed the World

Readability: 1

Length: 178 pp

Author: Danny Akin

Sometimes brevity is a virtue. Sometimes exhaustiveness is. Context can be a determining factor. When ripping off a bandaid or doing a graveside service in freezing weather, brevity is a virtue. When doing intricate surgery, brevity is not called for, exhaustiveness is.

Other times brevity and exhaustiveness have a more subjective basis, as regards biographies. I believe I remember reading the Doctor (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones) giving reasons why he believed long biographies were best. He had some good reasons and I tend to align with Him, preferring lengthy biographies myself, but I believe the best biography is a well read one. By all means, read biographies, short or long, and read them well. The virtue lies in how you read, not how much you read. Whatever your fancy concerning length, read of great men of God, and learn from both their mistakes and their virtues, prayerfully seeking to be conformed to the image of Christ. Most especially read missionary biography.

Danny Akin has put together a smattering of short biographies of missionaries in 10 Who Changed the World. These biographies are also expositions of Biblical texts, so know that you will get just as much of one as you will the other. This isn’t my favorite kind of biographical material, but it could be yours, and it most certainly can be well read.

I leave you with a single temptation to read it. A letter that Adoniram Judson, the second foreign American missionary (you will have to read the book to find out who was first), penned to his future father-in-law.

I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left is heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteous, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?

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Matthew 13:31-35 & Marvel at the Shrub

No good Jew doubted that the Kingdom would be glorious, that was expected. What was a shocking stumbling-block, and what Jesus was communicating here, is that it would grow from the smallest, most humble and insignificant of beginnings.

I am not an optimist in regards to history or the future. I don’t suspect that humanity is steadily progressing, nor that the kingdom will ultimately win over the world before Jesus’ return, but I am not a pessimist either. What can we expect in the future? I think things will get both better and worse. The parable of the weeds reminds us that the kingdom hasn’t come in all its fullness yet; and that until the end of the age, evil will grow and our salvation will not be complete. But the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast remind us that the kingdom is growing, and that God’s mission is global.

Our Western eyes too often look on the 20th century as a time of decline for the church; as though she has lost her power and influence. We are missionally myopic judging the whole of Christianity in light of ourselves. I think our arrogance is displayed when speak in such ways as this, “Things are so bad here – Jesus must be coming soon!” Indeed He may come soon, but from a global perspective Christianity has flourished as never before. Consider the following figures (taken from Let the Nations be Glad by John Piper and Operation World by Jason Mandryck):

  • At the beginning of the twentieth century, Europeans dominated the world church, with approximately 70.6 percent of the Word’s Christians. By 1938, on the eve of World War II, the apparent European domination of Protestantism and Catholicism remained strong. Yet by the end of the twentieth century, The European percentage of world Christianity had shrunk to 28 percent of the total; Latin America and Africa combined provided 43 percent of the world’s Christians.
  • In 1900, Africa had 10 million Christians, representing about 10 percent of the population; by 2000, this figure had grown to 360 million, representing about half the population. Quantitatively, this may well be the largest shift in religious affiliation that has ever occurred, anywhere.
  • The number of African Christians is growing at around 2.36 percent annually, which would lead us to project a doubling of the continent’s Christian population in less than thirty years.
  • “This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined.”
  • “The number of practicing Christians in China is approaching the number in the United States.”
  • “Last Sunday . . . more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called ‘Christian Europe.’”
  • ‘Live bodies in church are far more numerous in Kenya than in Canada.”
  • “More believers worship together in Nagaland than in Norway.”
  • “More Christian workers from Brazil are active in cross cultural ministry outside their homelands than from Britain or from Canada.”
  • Last Sunday “more Presbyterians were in church in Ghana than in Scotland.”“The survival and growth of the Church in China are two of the decisive events of our generation. The staggering recent growth of the Chinese Church has no parallel in history – from 2.7 million evangelicals in 1975 to over 75 million in 2010.”

Some look at these figures and say, “Yeah, but they’re not all truly regenerate.” I agree, but many are sons of the kingdom; and oh how sad it is if you don’t have eyes to see the glory of the kingdom and rejoice in it.

We need to be aware, and we need to praise God. We need to be kingdom-minded people. The mustard seed is a shrub – marvel at it!

Matthew 10:16-23 & When His Promises Are Precious

When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

If you are not zealous for the glory of Christ, but only concerned for your own skin, this promise does not relieve anxiety, it causes it. Only someone burning with the prayer, “hallowed be Thy name,” derives any peace from this promise.

This is not an exhortation to preach extemporaneously as some have made it. There is nothing wrong with extemporaneous preaching per se, as long as it is expository preaching, but that is not what this text is about. Nor is this a promise that we will be given clever words to weasel our way out of pain, but rather that we will be given bold words despite threat of pain. This is a promise for anointed preaching when persecuted.

Preaching in the power of the Spirit is always the goal of all Christians when they herald Christ, and of course Christ promises to be with His church as they go forward faithful to the great commission (Matthew 28:20), but to those who go zealous for His glory to the hard places of the earth He gives this special promise of anointed preaching. Do you want the Spirit to anoint your preaching? Go to the hard places of the earth in zeal for His name and compassion for souls and you are promised it! We see several instance of this in the book of Acts, here are just a couple:

Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.  -Acts 6:9-10

On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’  – Acts 4:5-12

This promise relieves anxiety only if you treasure Jesus more than life. It gives peace only if your greatest fear is belittling, disowning, or maligning the name of Jesus. This promise is precious to you if Jesus is precious to you.

If worship is not our goal, we will not be martyr-minded Christians faithful to the great commission, and if we are not martyr-minded Christians, we are not worshippers of God, but of our own lives.

Matthew 10:5-15 – His Mission Is Not Ours, but Ours Is His

A Christian seeking significance, meaning, or purpose is a contradiction. It would make more sense for Winston Churchill in the midst of the Second World War to think, “I really wish I had a task, a mission, something to do.” As Christians we don’t get to live where we want, we don’t get to proclaim what we want or how we want, and we don’t get to determine the response to our message or how we should respond to those responses. We get something infinitely better, cosmically bigger, and eternally glorious. We don’t need to find our own mission, Jesus has folded us into His.This mission isn’t elective Christianity for God’s nerdy children, but essential Christianity for all His children.

Contrary to any impressions you may have gained on your high-school mission trip, Jesus does not send us as an affluent and indulgent father might send his bohemian child to venture the world aimlessly in an attempt to discover himself. Jesus doesn’t just send, He instructs. He tells us where to go, what to do, and how to do it. We don’t make or discover our own mission, He gives us one.

His mission is not ours, but our mission is His. We don’t saunter up to Jesus and co-opt His mission, saying, “I’m here to help, and here’s what I’m going to do.” We are not co-redeemers. Jesus’ mission was not just to proclaim the gospel, but to be the gospel. Our mission is not to be the gospel, but to proclaim the gospel Jesus is. We don’t saunter up to Jesus; He comes after us, calls us out of darkness, and makes us messengers of light. He makes us ambassadors such that when we herald the gospel, the glory of Christ is set before souls calling for a response of submission or rebellion. We herald something so glorious that an opportunity for great salvation or great sin is set before them (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). When we proclaim the good news, we must also share the bad news – that they abide under the wrath of God, and that should they reject this message, the wrath they will have to endure will be even greater (Matthew 10:15). This is so because as ambassadors sent by the King they are not responding to us, rather, God is making His appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Jesus’ mission is over, under, and through ours. He is over our mission calling and sending us. He is under our mission sustaining and empowering us. And He advances His kingdom not because of us, but through us.

His mission is not ours, but our mission is His. He is over, under, and working through our mission.