Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 31)

31This chapter is the high-watermark of the “Book of Consolation” (30-33) and the book of Jeremiah. It could be the high point of the entire Old Testament!  It contains an extended description of the joyful re-gathering and resettlement in the land after the exile.  Beyond that, it gives the promise of a coming New Covenant—a covenant later instituted by Jesus and applied to Gentiles as well as to “the house of Israel and . . . the house of Israel” (31).

new cov 2God’s abiding purpose in all this is reiterated in the opening verse:  “I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they will be my people.”  Here is another instance of the refrain the plays through the symphony of Scripture: God is seeking a people for Himself. The final chapters of the book of Revelation indicate how that, in the New Jerusalem, this ancient desire is finally, and fully fulfilled (Revelation 21:3).

The realization of this divine desire requires God’s enduring commitment to His own purposes.  Fueling that faithfulness is His “everlasting love” (“I have loved you with an everlasting love”—3).  This everlasting love is grounded in His glorious nature not the goodness of His people. Jeremiah has chronicled the spiritual defection of Israel in graphic and jarring words.  Certainly, God had every right to reject and destroy this wayward, rebellious nation.  But because He does not change, His compassions never fail and His people are not consumed (Lamentations 3:22). After uprooting and tearing them down (1:10; 31:4, 27-28), He still pledges “to build and to plant” (28).  His love, though not undiscerning, is unfailing and everlasting.

The blessings of God are pictured in physical and spiritual terms.  God gathers the people He has scattered among the nations (10). He strengthens and supports them as they stream, weeping, back into the land (9).  Once returned, they dance and sing for joy, rejoicing in the crops and herds that God has given (12-14).  Realizing that all this goodness is the blessing of God, they praise Him (7) and speak blessings in His name (23).  They enjoy His gifts without forgetting the Giver (see Deut. 8:11).  They are His people and He is their God (1, 33).

The nation is pictured as God’s “firstborn son” (9).  Though Israel is “the child in whom I [God] delight” (20), the nation admits it was “disciplined” for acting like an “unruly calf” (18). God also refers to His people His “daughter” (a “Virgin” daughter and “unfaithful” daughter—21-22).  As Israel’s father (9), the Lord “often speaks against” His wayward nation, but “still remembers him” (20).  His heart “yearns” with “great compassion” for Israel (20).  Here we see what the Fatherly love of God is like:  it does not condone disobedience but denounces and disciplines it severely.  However, God’s heart of compassion does not change.  He loves Israel with a covenantal love and stays faithful to them in spite of their infidelity towards Him.

The promised blessings of a national return to a peaceful, prosperous land produce singing, dancing and great joy.  Still, these are not the greatest promises made in this chapter.  The summit of God’s grace and goodness is reached in verses 31-40 where the Lord promises He will “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (31).  A covenant with Israel that will endure forever (35-37).This New Covenant will “not be like” the Mosaic covenant which Israel had broken in spite of God’s loving care (“though I was a husband to them”—32).  This new covenant will accomplish God’s relational goal:  “I will be their God and they will be my people” (33).

The New Covenant, like Israel’s return from exile and rise to international prominence (“foremost of the nations”—7), will be God’s doing.  Five times in verses 31-34 the phrase “I will” is used:  I will make a new covenant; I will make; I will put my law in their minds; I will be their God; I will forgive their wickedness. The Lord Almighty is the initiator and source of all these blessings.  God’s incredible grace is revealed in the New Covenant as it is made with a people who have broken His former covenant and His heart.  The first two “I will” statements promise a new covenant; the final three explain three key blessings of it:  a new heart for God (33a), true knowledge of God (33b-34a); full forgiveness from God (34b).

new covThe heart of the New Covenant is a new heart for God (33a). Whereas the Old Covenant was external, written on tablets of stone, the New Covenant is written on “minds” (literally “inward parts”) and “hearts” (33).  This does not mean God’s people no longer need to study or learn His Word, but that there will be an inner inclination to obey!  Ezekiel adds that God removes the old, stony heart and replaces it with one made of flesh, a heart shaped by His Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The New Testament expands on this distinctive feature of the New Covenant—the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to enable closeness with God and empower obedience to Him (John 14; 16).

The result of the New Covenant is a true knowledge of God (33b-34a). God’s long-standing desire (“I will be their God and they will be my people”) is realized as a result of the New Covenant.  This relationship is characterized by a true knowledge:  “they will all know me from the least to the greatest”(34).  New hearts have a true desire to know God, a desire that is internally produced not externally enforced (“No longer will a man teach his neighbor . . . saying, ‘Know the Lord’”—34).

new cov 3The basis of the New Covenant is full forgiveness from God (34b).  The Lord promises to “forgive” sins and “remember their sins no more.”  While there was a kind of forgiveness under the Old Covenant (a covering for sin), full forgiveness comes under the New Covenant that was inaugurated by Jesus’ death. At the last supper, Jesus told His disciples, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).  His death makes possible full forgiveness for our sin (1 John 2:2).

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Prayer Update December 7, 2018

I’m writing this update from the Hespeler Library.  Linda and a group of Heritage students are downstairs leading an ESL (English as a Second Language) class for new Canadians.  It’s been a wonderful way for Heritage students to serve the community as part of our Love Hespeler initiative.

carolers cbLast night groups of Heritage students went carolling throughout the neighbourhoods around Hespeler village.  One group stopped by our home so Linda invited them all in for hot chocolate and freshly baked cookies. It was a grand time.

As the fall semester comes to a close, I have a deep sense of gratitude in my heart to God. He has given us the privilege of investing our lives in students who will serve Him in communities across Canada and in other parts of the world.  What a joy!

Here are several prayer requests I’d ask you to remember this week.

Pray for our students and faculty as we finish the semester.  The next few weeks will be filled with papers, final projects and exams.  Ask God to supply us with the strength to finish well. Pray that students would be deeply impacted by what they have learned this semester.

Pray the relationships our students have formed through ESL classes and our Love Hespeler initiative will open doors for us to share the love and light of Christ.

Pray for the financial resources need to sustain and grow the school.  This week I sent out a letter giving an encouraging update on the school and inviting people to partner with us financially. Ask God to move many people to invest in this ministry that impacts so many churches and communities.  (You can read a copy of my letter here:  Letter from President Rick Reed).  If you would like to donate to the work of Heritage College and Seminary, you can do that here)

Those of you who regularly pray for us play a vital part in all God is doing in and through the students at Heritage.  Thank you so much.

 

 

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Leaders are Readers

Here’s a  post I recently wrote for the Heritage Seminary Blog.

hendricks

One of my seminary profs, Dr. Howard Hendricks, was known for his pithy, memorable statements.  Here’s one of my favourites: “Leaders and readers.”  I’m convinced Dr. Hendricks had it right.  To be effective in ministry we must become life-long learners.  That means, among other things, remaining life-long readers.

At this point in the semester, I realize many seminary students are feeling buried by the reading load that comes with their courses.  If that’s your situation, pray for grace—not only to get through it but to get the most from it.  Our professors seek to select books that will shape students for Christ’s service.

Also, remember there will come a time when courses are finished, when assigned reading gives way to discretionary reading.  What should you be reading when the choice is up to you?

At the top of our reading lists, one Book should tower above all others.  For the rest of our lives, our primary, go-to book must be God’s Word.  Each day we should make time to read Scripture, communing with the God who reveals Himself in His Word.  Like Jeremiah, we should be able to say, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16).

bioWhat else should we read as we seek to lead? I would commend to you the biographies of Christian leaders.  As I reviewed the books I’ve read in 2018, I realized a good percentage of them were biographies of effective leaders.  These leaders served as pastors (Martin Luther), seminary presidents (J.P. Boyce), politicians (William Wilberforce), and missionaries (Jonathan Goforth).  Some of these leaders are still well-known today (D.L. Moody); others are often overlooked (John Broadus; Ernie Keefe).  Some of the biographies were short, easy reads; some were long and detailed.  But all of them inspired and instructed me on being a better leader.

John Piper, a champion for reading both the Bible and biographies, says it well:

Christian biography, well chosen, combines all sorts of things pastors [and other Christians] need but have so little time to pursue. Good biography is history and guards us against chronological snobbery (as C.S. Lewis calls it). It is also theology—the most powerful kind—because it bursts forth from the lives of people. It is also adventure and suspense, for which we have a natural hunger. It is psychology and personal experience, which deepen our understanding of human nature (especially ourselves). Good biographies of great Christians make for remarkably efficient reading. [1]

As I write this post, we are heading into the Christmas season.  So here’s a suggestion for your gift giving this year.  Why not give a well-chosen biography to someone you love?  While you’re at it, do yourself a favour and pick up a good biography for yourself as well. Remember:  Leaders are readers.

[1] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/brothers-read-christian-biography.  Accessed November 21, 20

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List of biographies referenced (most are in the Heritage library!):

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, by Eric Metaxas.
A Gentleman and a Scholar: Memoir of James P. Boyce, by John A. Broadus
William Wilberforce, by Stephen Tomkins
Jonathan Goforth, by Rosalind Goforth
Moody: The Biography, by John Pollock
Life and Letter of John Albert Broadus, by A.T. Robertson
God in the Midst of the Events that Shook Quebec; The Autobiography of Ernest Keefe, by Ernie Keefe

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 30)

30Chapters 30-33 are sometimes called “the Book of Consolation,” a unit within the larger book that shines with hope for the Israel’s future. Given the fact that most of Jeremiah’s prophecies are dark and dire, these four chapters are especially bright. The grouping of chapters 30-33 is due to the theme of restoration that begins in 30:3 and runs to the start of Jeremiah 34.  These chapters can be seen as a “book within a book,” especially if the command in 30:2 (“Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you”) refers specifically to “all the words” about God’s plans the nation back to their land and back to Himself.

consolationChapter 30 does not deal exclusively with the future blessing promised to Israel but contains many references to their present pain. It’s clear the Lord is aware of the distress of His people, their “cries of fear” and “terror” (5).  He speaks of Israel’s fatal wounding (“your wound is incurable; you injury beyond healing”—12) and abandonment by the nations they thought would help them (“All your allies have forgotten you; they care nothing for you”—14).  Though Israel has been brutalized by foreign powers, the Lord asserts that He is behind their pain:  “I have struck you as an enemy would and punished you as would the cruel” (14). He has dealt with them harshly because their “guilt is so great” and “sins so many” (15).  Because God is just, He tells His people, “I will discipline you but only with justice” (11).  Though He may completely destroy nations around them, He promises not to “completely destroy” them.

In spite of their past apostasy and present desolation, God had “plans to prosper” them to give them “hope and a future” (29:11). Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles indicated the exile in Babylon would last seventy years (29:10).  In chapter 30, we see what God has planned on the far side of those seventy years.  Jeremiah’s description of God’s severe discipline (striking, punishing and wounding them—14-15) followed by His gracious restoration and blessing (“I will restore you to health and heal your wounds”—17) echoes the words of the prophet Hosea:  “Come let us return to the Lord.  He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds” (6:1).

The promised blessings contained in chapters 30-34 are all presented as coming in the future:  “The days are coming” (30:3); “in that day” (30:8); “At that time” (31:1); “The time is coming” (31:31); “The days are coming” (34:14); “In those days and at that time” (34:15). These references to a coming “day” (8) are a shorthand way of pointing to the “Day of the Lord.” This “Day” is a major theme in O.T. prophetic writings.  It speaks of a time when God intervenes to purify and refine His people (“time of trouble for Jacob”—7), punish the nations and establish His kingdom rule. The ultimate “Day of the Lord” awaits the finale of history when God dramatically intervenes to bring in His eternal kingdom. The New Testament continues the anticipation for this coming Day, linking it to Christ’s return and the establishing of His visible, eternal reign.

The language of the “day of the Lord” is used of precursors or foreshadowings of the final Day.  So the refining and rescuing of Jacob from Babylon after the seventy-year exile can be described in “day of the Lord” terminology.  As is often the case, Jeremiah 30-34 combines elements of a near-term preview as well as elements of the ultimate fulfillment of the Day of the Lord.

covenantWhile the original readers may have assumed that all these promises would be fulfilled at the end of the seventy-year exile, the rest of Scripture and the results of history indicate otherwise.  For example, the promised “new covenant” (31:31) is not inaugurated until the time of Christ’s death (Luke 22:20).  Further, the promise that Jerusalem will “never again be uprooted or demolished” (31:40) is still awaiting fulfillment.  Thus, it seems the promises in these chapters, as is normative in prophetic writings, compress blessings from different future time periods into the same prophetic vision. Some of the promised blessings in these chapters were fulfilled in the return from Babylon; some of the blessings await the final consummation.

The blessings spoken of are birthed in travail. Deliverance from their enemies comes through “a time of trouble for Jacob” (7) and a time of turmoil for the nations (23).  Israel is not pictured as valiantly winning their own deliverance but being rescued from the “storm” of God’s wrath on the nations (23-24).  God is the warrior who breaks the “yoke off their necks” (8). He is the physician who restores them to health and heals their wounds (17).  He is the benefactor who restores their fortunes (18) and increases their numbers (19).  Deliverance and blessing are God’s doing; glory goes to Him alone.

Throughout the “Book of Consolation” God refers to His people by several names.  Here in chapter 30 He begins by talking about “my people Israel and Judah” (3).  In the remainder of the chapter, God sometimes refers to the nation as “Jacob” (7, 10 [twice], 18).  In chapter 31 Israel is sometimes called “Ephraim” (31:9, 18, 20). The name Jacob reminds the people of their patriarchal past and, perhaps, their struggle and toil on the way to blessing.  Just as Jacob had to be wrestled to the point of dependence, so the nation of Israel has to be “disciplined” (11) before it will enjoy “peace and security” (10).  The name Ephraim is a reminder of God’s sovereign choice and “cross-handed” blessing; as Jacob crossed his hands and blessed Ephraim first instead of his older brother Manasseh, so God has chosen to bless the nation far more than they could naturally expect or hope.

A central reason for the nation’s consolation is the promise of a restored Davidic rule.  God promises to liberate His people from foreign rulers.  “In that day” they will “serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them” (9).  Their king will be “one of their own” and will “devote himself to be close to me” (21). God will keep the promise made to King David that “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).

This promise will be fully realized in the eternal reign of David’s greater son, Jesus (Matthew 1:1; 22:41-45).  He will rule over His people as well as over all the nations, bringing justice and righteousness to earth in a glorious, unending way.

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Prayer Update November 30, 2018

decAs we move into December, our fall semester is moving to its finale.  Students are working hard to finish papers and prepare for final exams.  Professors are gearing up for all the grading that comes when the students turn in those papers and exams!

Last week I asked you to pray for Linda’s ESL class, our Christmas banquet and upcoming Board meeting.  Thank you for praying!  God graciously worked through the ESL gathering and gave us a wonderful, Christ-honouring Christmas banquet.  Our Board meeting had to be cancelled; several of our Board members experienced a death in their extended families and were unable to attend (see prayer request below).

Would you please join me in praying for these specific requests:

boardPray for the members of the Heritage Board.  Each of these men and women have a deep love for the ministry of the school. Several are walking through deep waters, having just lost a member of their extended families.  Pray for God’s comfort and strength for each one who serves on our Board.  (We are looking forward to a Board Strategic Planning Day on January 24th).

bibleI (Rick) have several speaking opportunities in the coming days.  On Sunday, I’m scheduled to preach at Bethel Baptist Church in Strathroy.  On Tuesday, I have been invited to speak to the pastors and staff at Harvest Bible Chapel in Oakville.  Please ask the Lord to enable me to serve these churches through preaching His Word.

Thank you for continuing to support us through your prayers!

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 29)

29This chapter consists of prophetic letters sent between Jerusalem and Babylon.  Jeremiah wrote two of the letters (4-23; 31-32), Shemaiah wrote the other (24-28). The letters highlight the continuing conflict between Jeremiah and false prophets—a conflict emphasized in chapters 27- 29 (Hananiah in 27-28; Ahab, Zedekiah and Shemaiah in 29).

The theme of the exchanged letters is God’s plan for Israel’s future.  Both Jeremiah and the false prophets proclaim God plans to bring the exiles home. However, whereas the false prophets are saying this will happen very soon, Jeremiah says it’s 70 years away. Where the false prophets essentially encourage the exiles to keep their bags backed, Jeremiah tells them to settle in for the long haul.  No wonder the people encouraged the false prophets to keep dreaming up their messages (8; 2 Tim. 4:3)

As in the previous two chapters, we see tension and trash talking between Jeremiah and the false prophets.  Jeremiah names names.  Shemaiah calls Jeremiah names (“mad man”—26).  Shemaiah seeks to have Jeremiah locked up on the stocks. Jeremiah announces impending defamation and death for Ahab and Zedekiah and punishment for Shemaiah and his descendants.

Here we see the stark reality that Jeremiah’s calling involved calling out those who were peddling false hope.  It involved being verbally attacked and targeted for physical attack.  It involved being the bearer of good and bad news.  It required large amounts of perseverance and courage.  Speaking for God is no easy calling!

29 11Jeremiah’s message from “the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel” (4) was both disappointing and hopeful. Unlike the pronouncements of the false prophets, Jeremiah indicates the exile would not be brief: it would last 70 years (10).  This must have dashed hopes and clashed with expectations of a quick return to Jerusalem.  Those who received the message were being told that they would never see Jerusalem again; they would die in captivity, as would many of their children.  However, the hopeful news was that God had “plans to prosper” future generations of the exiles by bringing them back to Himself (“you will seek me and find me”—13) and back to their homeland.  He was not forsaking them and was not finished with them.  He had “carried” them into exile (4, 15; God was behind Nebuchadnezzar’s actions in verse 1); He would bring them home.

God’s statement of His plans to “prosper you and not to harm you” should not be taken as a statement of God’s unconditional goodwill. Jeremiah 18 reveals that God can also make plans to discipline and bring disaster (18:8).  Though God’s covenant love and promises do not fail, we cannot presume on His grace and expect only good to come.  Here in this chapter, God reveals the plans He has for Zedekiah, Ahab and Shemaiah, false prophets who had “done outrageous things” (23), inciting people to “believe a lie” (31) and “rebel” against the Lord (32). God has been “witness” (23) to their antics and plans to deal with them severely: Zedekiah and Ahab will be burned to death (22); Shemaiah and his descendants will not “see the good things I will do for my people” (32).  God doesn’t deal with all false prophets in the exact, same way, but He does deal with them all!

It may have seemed that God was especially punishing the exiles and that those “lucky” enough to remain in Jerusalem were being blessed; in reality, the reverse was true.  While neither of the two groups had listened and obeyed (19), God’s “gracious promise” (10) was given to the exiles.  The remnant in Jerusalem would be handed over by God to “the sword, famine and plague” (a phrase mentioned about 15 times in the book).  They would be the “bad figs” pictured in the vision of chapter 24.  The exiles would be preserved by God and would prosper in His long-range plans.  The exile was not only a divine punishment (Deut. 28:64); it was a divine protection for future blessing (Deut. 30:4).

While in exile in Babylon, the Jews are instructed to settle down, raise families (“increase in number there; do not decrease”—6) and seek the shalom of their new homeland by praying for it (7).  The call to pray for the Babylonian’s welfare would have been a bitter pill for many to swallow.  Psalm 137 recalls the Babylonians trash talking of the exiles and mocking their pain.  This psalm ends with an imprecatory call for violent retribution.

seekHere in Jeremiah 29, God calls the exiles to actively pursue good for captors—contributing to the welfare of the city and praying for God’s blessing on it.  The reason given is so that the Jews will prosper as well (“because if it prospers, you too will prosper”—7).  In addition to praying, seeking the welfare of the city would have included using their gifts and abilities to contribute to the community. Some of the exiles were “court officials . . . craftsmen and artisans” (2).  Daniel and his three friends used their God-given abilities to help serve the king’s government.  Jeremiah 29:7 is a preview of the New Testament call for Christians to love and pray for their enemies (Luke 6:27) and to make a positive contribution to society through prayer (1 Tim. 2:1-2), paying taxes (Romans 13), work (Col. 3:22-25) and witness (Acts 1:8).

The exiles’ promised return to their true homeland would be preceded by a spiritual return to the Lord.  They would “come and pray” to the Lord (12) and “seek” Him with all their hearts (13).  Seeking Him would involve listening and obeying His words, something they had not been doing for years (19).  Seeking Him would be shown by a patient waiting for His timeline and active obedience to His instructions (7). Their spiritual return would result in their ultimate physical return to Jerusalem (14).  Here we see the amazing truth that God’s good promises are fulfilled in conjunction with His people’s faith and obedience.  He moves our hearts to seek Him and find Him which leads to our experiencing His promised blessings.  God’s plans work through our choices to accomplish His purposes.

In a sense, God’s people today still live in exile, away from our True Homeland.  We are called to seek the welfare of the places we live, praying for God’s favour and living lives of obedient trust (1 Timothy 2:1-4).  We are to be witnesses for Christ while we wait for His return. In His time, He will bring us home to our heavenly homeland (John 14:1-6).

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Prayer Update November 23, 2018

thanksYesterday was Thanksgiving in the US.  As Linda and I are dual citizens, we often celebrate both Thanksgiving holidays.  You can’t be too thankful.  We also have much for which to thank our Lord.

We are grateful to God for the privilege of knowing Him and serving Him through Heritage College and Seminary.  We’re thankful for many opportunities to help equip men and women for ministry.  I’m grateful for God’s enabling grace in recent preaching opportunities:  I spoke at a Promise Keepers National Conference last Saturday and also in the Heritage chapel this past Tuesday.

I’m also thankful for friends like you who follow our blog and pray for us.  Here are some requests for the coming days.

globeToday (Friday), Linda and a group of Heritage students lead an ESL (English as a Second Language) class in the local library.  This has been an open door for our students to serve new Canadians with God’s love and light. Please pray that the Lord will continue to keep this door of opportunity open!

christmasTonight (Friday) we have our all-school Christmas banquet.  Chuck Schoenmaker and his Student Services Team give leadership to this wonderful event in the life the school. Please pray for a rich time of fellowship and worship for our students, faculty and staff.

 

Next Wednesnday (November 28), we have our quarterly Board meeting at Heritage.  Would you join me in thanking the Lord for the men and women who sacrificially serve on our Board.  Pray that God would give our Board members wisdom as they give oversight to the school’s ministry.

While Thanksgiving (Canadian and US) is offically over.  May our thanksgiving to God continue to overflow!

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