Leaving the Door Cracked Open (Jeremiah 52)

“Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. For because of the anger of the LORD it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence. And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.

…And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, until the day of his death, as long as he lived.” —Jeremiah 52:1–3, 31–34

Chapter 52 of Jeremiah is an editorial epilogue, a compiler’s coda, a historical appendix, a postscript. The final words of Jeremiah 51, “Thus far are the words of Jeremiah,” should assure you of the authorship of all that has preceded, but what are we to make of chapter 52? Where did this stuff come from? Most of the material, almost verbatim, is drawn from 2 Kings 24:18–25:21, 27–30.

When Scripture borrows from Scripture, we may be confused, but we shouldn’t be utterly confounded. If you want to know who added this postscript, well, perhaps it was Baruch. But really the best answer is the same as to who wrote 2 Kings. Not that they are necessarily the same person, but the answer is the same. Who wrote this coda? We don’t know.

The far more important question is not who the author is, but what was the author’s intent. C.S. Lewis lamented that the literary criticism of his day took a turn from focusing on the literature to the author. To find out what an author meant, you must read the author, not his book, so they say. The critic acts as a detective tracing the sources of inspiration, or as a psychologist unearthing desires and motives. Lewis demonstrated how, in his case, the critics were almost always wrong. 

So instead of puzzling uselessly over who wrote this epilogue, let’s ask why it was attached? What does the author mean to communicate? What does God mean to say to us? I believe the answer is plain and harmonizes beautifully with the message of Jeremiah—God is good on His word. Or to borrow from Jeremiah chapter 1, God indeed watched over His word to perform it.

So while most of this chapter looks back, to see God’s word of judgment vindicated, it also looks forward, anticipating God’s word of redemption as true. The vessels that have been taken (52:18–19), will one day be restored (27:21-22). The people who were deported (52:28–30), are the good figs that Yahweh will plant in the land (24:4–7). And with Jehoiachin’s release (52:31–34), hope is kindled that indeed a righteous branch will spring up for David (33:14–17). 

As the book of Jeremiah closes, know that God didn’t completely shut the door on His children to leave them in darkness. He left the door cracked. And the Son was shining bright on the other side.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WARNING: Non-evaporative Water (Jeremiah 6:1–15)

“Thus says the LORD of hosts:
‘They shall glean thoroughly as a vine
the remnant of Israel;
like a grape gatherer pass your hand again
over its branches.’

To whom shall I speak and give warning,
that they may hear?
Behold, their ears are uncircumcised,
they cannot listen;
behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn;
they take no pleasure in it.
Therefore I am full of the wrath of the LORD;
I am weary of holding it in.

‘Pour it out upon the children in the street,
and upon the gatherings of young men,
also; both husband and wife shall be taken,
the elderly and the very aged (Jeremiah 6:9–11).’ ”

water-1370297-1600x1200.jpgThe word of Yahweh doesn’t fall to the ground to evaporate into nothing. God’s word never falls idle, but accomplishes His purposes. None of His words are written to be forgotten, lost in some book, rotting away along with the perishable paper on which they were recorded. If the rains of grace are not received, they accumulate behind the dam of God’s long-suffering as a flood of wrath.

God here is conforming His messenger to His message. The repeated warnings Jeremiah has given are met with no reception. Because the people scorn the word, he is full of the wrath of Yahweh. God has been pouring His message into Jeremiah, but as it finds no release by Judah’s receiving it in repentance, it builds inside Jeremiah, ready to burst as wrath. God has made Jeremiah a dam with no release. Now, God commands him to pour it out. Rejected warnings accumulate wrath. If God’s words are not received as a rain of grace, they will destroy as flood of wrath.

As someone has said, “the same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay.” Likewise, the same rains that refresh with grace, will wash away the wicked. For some, Christ is the aroma of life unto life, for others, death unto death (2 Corinthians 2:14–16). The word of Christ will either serve to your salvation or your condemnation. It doesn’t evaporate. If the rain of grace is not received with faith and repentance, it will one day burst as a flood of wrath.

Remember, Remember, Remember… (2 Peter 1:12–21)

“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:12–15 ESV)

Though the saints instinctively know they need the word of God, I’m afraid many go astray in realizing how it is they need it. Many go to the Bible seeking some kind of mystical experience. It is as though they’d rather hear something through the Word rather than simply understand the intended meaning. Certainly, reading the Bible is a supernatural experience. Through the word God creates life. Through His word He sustains life. But what if I told you that one of the principal reasons you should read and study the Bible is to remember? Would you be let down? Are you wanting something more? Is this too plain and simple for you?

When I take time to seriously study the Bible I almost always learn something new, and yet, more than that, I am remembering afresh. Approaching the Bible always looking or something new is a dangerous venture. Heresies are born that way.

Here Peter writes to remind those who are established in the truth. Unfortunately, many have sat under such poor teaching that they are not established in the truth. Even so, those who are truly children of God know enough so that their biggest problem is not what they don’t know, but what they’ve forgotten.

We all need to grow in knowledge, a knowledge that is essential to our spiritual vitality, still, the greatest threat to our spiritual health isn’t what we have yet to learn, but what we might forget. How many of your sins involve forgetting that God is holy? How often do you act as if God were not omnipresent? How frequently do you respond to life as though God were not sovereign? Likewise, how often do you forget the Father’s unfailing covenant love and mercy to you in the Son? How often do you forget that the saints stand justified by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ?

Oh how great is our forgetfulness. It is not as though these are minor details. We’re not forgetting to brush our teeth. We’re forgetting to breathe. Beyond forgetting the weather forecast, we forget that the Sun has risen. Indeed, our greatest problem isn’t ignorance, but forgetfulness.

But there is grace. A grace to remind us of grace. The Bible is a book of reminders. Gather on Sunday to sit under the preaching of the word to be reminded. Sing to one another to remind each other. Partake of the Lord’s table to remember. Read good books to remember. Listen to and sing songs rich in Bible theology to remember. Read and study your Bible every day to remember. Meditate on the Scriptures throughout the day so that you remember. Memorize Scriptures so that you might recall them. Work through your catechism again and again to remember. Listen to good sermons or podcasts while you drive, exercise, or work to remember.

Martin Luther knew all to well our propensity to forget. I leave you with these words from his commentary on Galatians.

“It [the gospel] is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”

No Backwater Fishing Hole (2 Peter 1:1–2)

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“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” (2 Peter 1:1–2 ESV).

2 Peter is regarded by some as a backwater fishing hole, aptly, but inaccurately attributed to the uncouth fisherman from Galilee. “2 Peter has been termed the ‘ugly stepchild’ of the NT,” writes Peter Davids. “It is not just that the extended prophetic denunciation is unpalatable to some people and the apparent description of the destruction of the universe in ch. 3 is disturbing, but that many readers wonder whether the book is genuine and belongs in the canon at all.”

It might be surprising to learn that the first two seemingly innocuous words of this letter are likely it’s most controversial and among some of the most contested in the New Testament. There are multiple arguments against Petrine authorship, but I’ll just pick out only a couple since they’re all equally ridiculous.

Some say there are too many unique terms in this letter for it to have been written by Peter. Some 57 words are found here and nowhere else in the New Testament. We have two short letters bearing Peter’s name, each with a different focus, and from so small a sampling can we draw such a conclusion? When R.C. Sproul received his first assignment for doctoral studies in Holland it included 25 titles in Dutch, a language of which he knew nothing. He painstakingly began the task by consulting his Dutch-English dictionary and writing each Dutch word that he came to on one side of a card with a corresponding English word on the other. The first day he worked through just over a page. The first two books Dr. Sproul read in this way were by the same author on the same subject and when the final tally was in, there were over 5000 words in the second volume that were not in the first. Such objections make me think of Dr. Budziszewski’s remark that, “Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to achieve.”

Akin to this, others say that the style of 2 Peter is too different from 1 Peter for him to have written it. Many critical scholars also argue that the Greek of 1 Peter is too refined for Peter to have written that letter. So we have the same pool of scholars telling us that Peter couldn’t have written 2 Peter because its style is too different from that other letter he didn’t write. Huh? Further, it is not as if the church has never known someone who could write children’s fantasy, adult science fiction, popular apologetic works, and critical academic pieces. No, C.S. Lewis could not have written the Narnia tales, the Perelandra series, Mere Christianity, and Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature.

Let’s turn from the opinions of modern scholarship to that of the church. The best Biblical scholarship has historically been done within the church. The Trinitarian orthodoxy of the early creeds cannot be improved on or matched and it was produced not by some isolated scholars operating in institutions of education, but by churchmen serving the church. Michael Allen and Scott Swain argue that “Christian theology flourishes in the school of Christ [meaning the church]… The Spirit of Christ teaches the church in sufficient and unmixed verity such that the church need not seek theological understanding from any other source or principle.” They liken the church to the Spirit-cultivated field God designed theology to grow in.

Though some in the church have wrestled with the authenticity of 2 Peter the overwhelming testimony has been that of affirmation. We should listen to this testimony not because the Bible is determined by majority vote, nor because the church stands over the Word as Rome argues. We should listen to the opinion of the church because it is to her that the self-authenticating Word bears witness. Sheep shouldn’t ask goats for their opinion concerning food. 

Scholars who deny the authenticity of 2 Peter are the scoffers Peter goes on to speak of.

“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:1–4 ESV).

Such scoffers speak with a snake’s lisp asking, “Did God really say?”

This is no backwater fishing hole. It is an ocean of grace upon grace (1:2). It is scoffer-scholars who would have us drink from the stagnant waters of human autonomy.

Nicely Packed (1 Peter 5:5–14)

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed… Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ —1 Peter 5:1, 5 (ESV)

Do not make the mistake of thinking that the authors of the Bible are as bad of Scripture-writers as we are Scripture-readers. We often read the Bible as if it were a buffet, looking for what we like, picking a bit here and there. So it is that lo mien comes to sit alongside mac and cheese.

The Bible’s authors planned feasts. There is a theme to the meal. Things are tied together. There is a logical order to the courses.

As you come to the end of this letter, you may think Peter is just filling the empty space on his plate with the victuals he’d like. You theorize that Peter had some extra space on this parchment and means to fill it up like the poor preacher who looks at his watch and thinks, “Hey, I’ve got twenty more minutes!” and conjures up the favorite bits he returns to again and again.

Peter began a new section in 5:1 addressing the elders, but that section starts with “so” linking it back to the previous one where Peter was again expounding the theme of the letter, nicely summarized in 4:19, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” Elders are to do the good work of shepherding the flock of God among them, despite present suffering in hope of eternal glory. Peter then ends his exhortation to elders holding forth this promise of glory (5:4)

In 5:5 Peter turns to address the saints as a whole. He begins with the word “likewise.” He is now exhorting the church for the same reason he exhorted elders, because of present suffering, and future glory, and the good they are called to do. Peter ends his exhortation to the church holding forth the same hope of glory (5:10).

Peter has not neatly packed his suitcase up to this point only to randomly cram the remaining empty space with whatever else he thinks might be handy. Even in every element of his closing (5:12–14) Peter relentlessly returns to his theme. I would unpack this for you, but my exhortation here is simply for you to notice that things are exquisitely packed. Let’s endeavor to be as tenacious in our reading as Peter was in his writing.

Moody Bible Literacy (1 Peter 1:13–17)

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The Bible is moody, in a perfect way, and you need to know what sets off the mood swing. Sentences have moods. In the original language 1 Peter 1:3–12 is a single elephantine sentence. Some sentences really should run on. Clarity, brevity, and simplicity are virtues, but sometimes the subject is too grand to distill. Sometimes the matter really is that complex, deep, and wondrous. When we enter into salvation in all it’s fullness, I believe such run-on sentences of praise will be commonplace.

This whopping sentence is in the indicative mood. It indicates. It simply states the facts. But this is no stoic, “just the facts, ma’am.” This is good news. This is the gospel.

Following this hefty sentence are three lightweight ones in vv. 13–17. These sentences are in the imperative mood. They command. But the mood of this mood is still joyful.

When the Bible changes moods, you shouldn’t. For this to happen, it is essential that you see how the imperative and the indicative relate. A “therefore” lies between them. One mood produces the other, and it should always be the indicative first. The imperatives follow the indicative.

This is always the case for God’s people. Covenant, promise, and redemption came before Sinai. When God gave the law he prefaced it saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Here you have the same two kinds of sentences and the same “therefore” is implicitly understood to lie between them.

As the commands of God are planted in the soil of God’s grace, they are a tree of life. Try to plant them somewhere else, and you’ll only get poison apples.

Sinner, if your life has been nothing but one long stuttering incomplete imperative sentence, hear this gospel exclamation. What you cannot do, Christ did. He kept the law and bore the wrath of God for sinners so that all who trust in Him might have their sins removed and His righteousness imputed to them. If the Spirit takes that sentence deep into your soul and causes you to be born again, then you’ll find that your mood has changed, a mood that loves all the moods of the Scriptures.

The Exegetical Systematician: Scripture Isn’t Deficient, We Are

“It is here that the doctrine of the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit enters. And this doctrine is to the effect that, if faith in the Word of God is to be induced, there must be the interposition of another supernatural factor, a supernatural factor not for the purpose of supplying any deficiency that inheres in the Scripture as the Word of God, but a supernatural factor directed to our need. Its whole purpose is to remedy that which our depravity has rendered impossible, namely, the appropriate response to the Word of God. In this respect the internal testimony is co-ordinate and consonant with the Scripture itself. The Scripture is pre-eminently redemptive revelation; it is remedial of sin. The internal testimony is but another provision of God’s redempdve, and therefore supernatural, grace, directed to the correction of that which sin has effected.” —John Murray, “Fatih”

Teaching the Enemy How to Shoot

*This article was originally appeared on the Christ-Centered Churches blog.

The church is laughing at the salvoes of the enemy while poisoning herself with an addictive narcotic. The bad guys are outgunned but the American church is so hopped up on laudanum she couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Indeed, our opium delusion has got us teaching them how to shoot—at us. “No, that’s not the way you take out the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. You’ve got to shoot here.”

The greatest threat to the doctrine of the Word of God comes from those who own it. How many Southern Baptist Churches, who confess the authority of the Word of God, are so drunk on success-by-numbers that they’re blasting away at their own foundational documents? We survived the bullets of the moderates and liberals only to become our own greatest threat. We own the doctrines of Scripture on paper and then use that paper for target practice. We’ve demonstrated for our enemies that the way to destroy the authority of Scripture isn’t by aiming at it directly, but by setting your sights on the sufficiency of Scripture.

We say the Scriptures are sufficient, but drummers fall from the ceiling on Easter, chain saws are given away on Father’s Day, and our songs ape the world more than they eco the Word. Do we really believe the gospel is the power of God unto salvation? If so, why do we try to dress it up so much? If the gospel is power, why are our amps cranked up so loud as to obscure it? In the church band, the Scriptures are an un-amplified acoustic guitar, while our programs and production are plugged in hot and loud. Thus, the Scriptures are not the authority that drives the activity of the church, but the “vision” of the leaders who determine the next big stunt. We look not for faithful expositors of the text, but analyzers of culture who can tell us when to ride the next wave of cool.

We say the Scriptures are sufficient, but how many of our churches have a group of ladies studying Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling? Therein she writes,

“This practice of listening to God has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline, so I want to share some of the messages I have received. In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and Peace. The messages that follow address that felt need.”

The experiential, the personal, and the direct are preferred to God’s holy, inspired, infallible, mediated Word concerning Christ. Many baptists excel Joel Osteen in their knack to dress up charismatic heresies in less gaudy and more acceptable garb. Extra-biblical “prophecies” usurp the Scriptures as the real authority of the church because the Bible by itself just isn’t impressive enough. We’re children who pass on God’s well refined ancient vintage for a cheap juice box with the picture of the latest superhero emblazoned on the front.

We own the Word of God on paper but are so delusional no one notices how absent it is. Our cool videos transform church into a self-inflicted reeducation camp. We’ve indoctrinated ourselves with bad doctrine while thinking we’re holding to orthodoxy. The walls still hold against secular humanists, but we’ve destroyed the foundation from the inside.

The Bible is the authoritative revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is all we need because all is in Christ. The Scriptures are sufficient because Jesus is sufficient. If the Word isn’t sufficient, this means we have another authority source. If the Word isn’t sufficient, this means Jesus isn’t sufficient. When we undermine the sufficiency of the Word, the authority of the Word comes down with it. When we undermine the sufficiency of the Word, the gospel comes down with it. Once the foundation has fallen, how long will the walls hold?

Certainly, the Church herself will not fall. God will build her and purify her by His Word. But good things may be lost if we do not fight the good fight. The church will endure, but ours may become apostate. Even so, I am confident of greater things. I am hopeful God is raising up many pastors to lay down the world’s cools guns and to take up once again the sword of the Word. We may be laughed at when we bring God’s Sword to the world’s gunfight, but that’s far more noble than our current hysteria.

The Exegetical Systematician: God Needs No Notary

“It will readily be seen how necessary this principle is. If Scripture is the Word of God it must bear the marks of its divinity. This is parallel to the argument respecting God as Creator drawn from the visible creation. The invisible things of God omnipotence, divinity, eternity—are clearly seen (kathoratai), being understood (noumena) by the things that are made (Rom. 1:20). Just as the heavens declare the glory of God and bear wimess to their Creator, so the Scripture as God’s handiwork must bear the imprint of its divine authorship. In other words, only the evidence of God’s hand could measure up to the requirements necessary to authenticate his handiwork. This is just saying that the evidence upon which faith in divinity rests must itself have the quality of divinity.” —John Murray, “Faith”