Day 175: The End and The Beginning

Jeremiah 38-39; Acts 3

Key Verses

Jeremiah 39:16-18
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. But I will deliver you on that day, declares the Lord, […] because you have put your trust in me, declares the Lord.

Acts 3:6-7
But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

The end. The fall of Jerusalem. The burning, the slaughter, the slavery – it could have all been avoided if the people had listened to the word of the Lord given through Jeremiah the prophet.

It did not please God to destroy his beloved city. He tried to spare his people from such extreme suffering…

Thus says the Lord: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live. He shall have his life as a prize of war, and live (Jeremiah 38:2).

But they didn’t listen. They chose to believe the flattering words of false prophets who promised peace and prosperity. In the end, the real truth was revealed. Even Zedekiah king of Judah came to see the truth as his eyes were gouged out and he was led away to Babylon.

Contrast Jerusalem’s bitter end to its new beginning at the onset of the new covenant age. In Acts 3, the Spirit’s mighty work continues…

We see Peter and John. The Peter and John – who just three years prior – were ordinary fisherman leading ordinary lives. The gospels revealed their babe-like-faith as they walked with Jesus – questioning, doubting, denying, loving and following. Now we find them, empowered by the Spirit, healing and preaching with authority. You know Jesus had to be looking down with a father-like pride as the Spirit worked to build His people… as the worldwide church began with the sermons of a few fisherman in the hands of a mighty God!

Day 174: Two Sermons

Jeremiah 36-37; Acts 2:14-47

Key Verses

Jeremiah 36:3
It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.”

Acts 2:37-38
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Both of today’s readings contain sermons – which resulted in two very different responses…

In Jeremiah, we learn that Jeremiah had been banned from the temple grounds. So he dictated his message to his faithful friend, Baruch, who wrote down on a scroll God’s message to the people. Baruch went to the temple and read the scroll which gave an account of the people’s sins and called them to repent so that the Lord’s judgment might be averted. God, himself, wanted the message preached so that He “may forgive their iniquity and their sin.

Amazingly, this scroll found its way to the king. Surely, as the scroll was read in his presence, the fear of the Lord would cause him to repent and lead the people back to God! But no. Jehoiakim’s heart was hardened…

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 (Jeremiah 36:23).

The king had no fear of God. His pride ensured the destruction of Jerusalem.

Now let’s consider Peter’s sermon from Acts 2.

Peter’s sermon was remarkable. The Holy Spirit opened his eyes to see how Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He quoted Joel and David. He used logic to prove that Jesus was the Messiah mentioned in David’s 16th Psalm. And after he proved that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, he accused the people of killing him!

This wasn’t some sweet “come to Jesus” message. No! He accused the crowd of murdering the Son of God! I’m surprised there wasn’t a riot. But the Spirit was at work and the crowd was “cut to the heart.” Amazing. They didn’t make excuses or get defensive. They didn’t try to kill Peter or the other disciples, but they actually took responsibility for their sin and asked, “What shall we do?”

What should they do? What should have the king of Judah done when he heard the warnings in Baruch’s scroll? What should we do when we feel the prick of conviction – when we know we’ve done something offensive to God? What is the one thing that God has desired in every human heart going all the way back to Adam? Repentance. This can only be done through the power of the Spirit. In other words, we need God’s help to repent.

As we turn to God, he is pleased to help. God loves the penitent heart!

What was the result of the people’s repentance after Peter’s sermon? 3,000 people were baptized that day! The first church began and it was characterized by self-sacrifice and generous giving to others. The repentance of the crowd changed the course of human history!

Imagine what God could do through us today – if we humble ourselves, and repent?

Day 173: A mighty work

Jeremiah 34-35; Acts 2:1-13

Key Verses

Jeremiah 34:2
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.”

Acts 2:4
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Today we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise from Acts 1:8… “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

John Piper asserts that this power of the Spirit is “an extraordinary power. The experience promised is beyond the power of the Spirit in new birth and gradual sanctification.” He goes on to explain,

This promise that the disciples would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8) and that they would be clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49) was a promise given to sustain the completion of world evangelization, and all the ministry that supports it. The context of both texts makes that plain. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . . to the end of the earth.” (Excerpted from Tongues of Fire and the Fullness of God By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org)

Every now and then throughout the New Testament and church history, the Spirit comes in an unusually powerful way. Even though it manifests itself in different ways (i.e. the building shaking in Acts 4), it typically comes for the purpose of evangelization… In today’s reading, the Spirit comes as tongues of fire and enables the disciples to speak in different languages – all for the purpose of expanding the Kingdom!

This coming of the Spirit at Pentecost signifies the beginning of the New Covenant age.

In Jeremiah 34-35, we see why we need a “New” Covenant. The Old Covenant was dependent on the people’s obedience – which they miserably failed to do. Similarly, our hearts are exceedingly sinful, and it is impossible for us to meet the demands of the Covenant.

So God in His mercy made a New Covenant. A covenant dependent on Jesus’ obedience and Jesus’ sacrifice – and this New Covenant is available to anyone who believes – people from all nations and languages. This was evident at Pentecost as Jews were gathered from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5)…

Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome.

It is fitting that the first converts to Christianity were Jews representing every nation in the world! This work of the Spirit has so affected history that we are still affected by this event 2,000 years later. That’s one, mighty work!

Day 172: When, O Lord?

Jeremiah 32-33; Acts 1

Key Verses

Jeremiah 32:40-41
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.

Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

In the tenth year of Zedekiah, when Nebuchadnezzar had Jerusalem under siege, Zedekiah imprisoned Jeremiah. Then God did something, well, strange. He told Jeremiah to buy a field, which made no sense, but Jeremiah did it anyway.

Then Jeremiah did something smart. After he obeyed, he prayed to God for understanding… “Why would you want me to buy a field when the whole land lies in waste?” And God in his mercy answered Jeremiah.

Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first (Jeremiah 33:6-7).

Jeremiah’s land purchase was a sign that God would restore the land and its people. God promised to make them dwell in safety and restore the fortunes of both Israel and Judah. The promises of good were both thorough and extravagant (just as God’s judgment was thorough and extravagant!)

Were these prophecies fulfilled just 70 years later when the people would return from captivity and rebuild the temple and the wall? Well, partly – but not to the extent that Jeremiah described….The world definitely did not fear and tremble at the good of Jerusalem…

What about when Jesus came? Interestingly, in the beginning of Acts, we read that the disciples wondered this same thing…

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority (Acts 1:6-7).

Jesus basically said, “Sorry, I can’t tell you.”

But He did give insight into how the prophecy would be fulfilled in our present age in Acts 1:8. In other words, Jesus would expand his spiritual Kingdom on earth through the building of the church. But. We live in very dark times. The prophet Joel called this time the “last days.” We live in between the first and second coming of Jesus. We have not seen the fulfillment of all things!

In summary, I believe Jeremiah’s prophecy of the restoration of Israel is one of those “already, not yet” prophecies. It was fulfilled partially after 70 years, and even more so after the first coming of Jesus, but it won’t be completely fulfilled until Jesus comes again and establishes His Kingdom in the New Earth.

Personally… I can’t wait!!!

Day 171: A New Covenant

Jeremiah 30-31; John 21

Key Verses

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Hope. Restoration. Renewal. This is the aroma of Jeremiah 30-31. It is in these verses that we find the promise of a New Covenant – the only time this phrase is used in the Old Testament.

God makes a new covenant through Jesus. The Law that was written on stone tablets and so easily forgotten would now be written on the heart. The Law becomes internal so that it can never be lost or destroyed. It is a permanent, forever-type-of Law – that flows from God forgiving iniquity and choosing to remember our sin no more.

Jeremiah could not have known the far-reaching implications of his words. We know that forgiveness of sins is only possible because of Jesus and His Sacrifice. The gospels and epistles of the New Testament teach that Jesus is the mediator of this New Covenant – a covenant based on grace – not on our ability to keep the covenant demands. Yet the purpose of the New Covenant remains the same as the Old… “I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

In the final chapter of John, we see our God… kneeling on a sandy shore, cooking fish for his friends; restoring Simon Peter and commissioning him to lead the church. Just a typical day in the life of the Master.

I’m going to miss the gospels. I love reading Jesus’ words and picturing his life on the move. The beauty of the New Covenant is that Jesus’ teaching is written on the tablet of our hearts. He is close. And I am grateful.

Day 170: Power to Break the Yoke

Jeremiah 27-29; John 20

Key Verses

Jeremiah 29:11-12
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.

John 20:18
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

God often commanded his prophets to be living “word pictures” to his people. In Jeremiah 27:2, God told Jeremiah to: “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck.” Jeremiah wore the wooden yoke as a sign to the people that they would endure the yoke of slavery under Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.

We have a yoke as well. Our yoke is spiritual – the yoke of sin – which leads to death.

Some time later, Hananiah the prophet broke Jeremiah’s yoke and declared the people free from the yoke of the king of Babylon.

Hananiah was a false prophet and had no power over the yoke of slavery.

In John 20, we see the Only One who has the power to break the yoke of slavery. He appears first to Mary, and then to the twelve. He has broken the heavy yoke of sin and death and given us a new yoke…one that is easy and light.

Jeremiah, in Chapter 29, sends a message from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon. He takes away any hope that their stay will be short. Seventy years – the people would be in Babylon – and Jeremiah encouraged them to settle down and seek the welfare of the city.

But Jeremiah also gives a message of hope to the exiles – a message that is relevant to us today, as we too are spiritual exiles living in a foreign land. He reminds the people in Jeremiah 29:11-12 of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love in the loving promise of a “future and a hope.”

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we, too, have a future and a hope. He has rescued us from the yoke of slavery. He has plans for us, and these plans are good…He is our hope!

Day 169: …that I may relent

Jeremiah 24-26; John 19:23-42

Key Verses

Jeremiah 26:3
“It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent.”

John 19:30
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

What a heavy passage. This is the fourth time I’ve had to write about Jesus’ death. I think John’s account is the saddest to me because John wrote as an eyewitness. He was the only disciple – that we know for certain – who was there, watching as Jesus died.

John’s description of Jesus’ mother standing by her son’s cross – it’s just heartbreaking. And Jesus’ care for his mother as he entrusts her to John is heart-wrenching.

John sprinkles evidence throughout his eyewitness account that everything happened according to Scripture…the division of Jesus’ garments, the soldiers casting lots, the offering of vinegar, the unbroken bones and the piercing of His side… they were all done in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.

Jeremiah 24-26 goes backward in time… he begins with Nebuchadnezzar taking one of the first groups of exiles back to Babylon. And then in Chapter 26, Jeremiah “flashbacks” to the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign where he stands in the temple and begs the people to repent so that God’s impending judgment might be averted. Listen to the people’s response…

And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

At first, it seems like Jeremiah might be killed by the same type of angry mob as Jesus was… But by God’s grace, the people came to their senses and determined not to kill Jeremiah – so that they might not “bring great disaster upon themselves.”

What is this world that we live in?

Have you ever wondered why God subjected Jeremiah to such hardship? Why did God even bother with the people??? God answers in Jeremiah 26:3, “It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent…”

All God wants is repentance. But the people refused to hear the truth. Their pride blinded them to their need for change.

Jesus died because of this pride – this hatred in every human heart for the truth. But Jesus also died to vanquish this pride and darkness found in every human heart.

Have you ever wondered why God subjected Jesus to such hardship? Why does God even bother with us??? God’s answer is the same as it was in Jer. 26:3:

“It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent.”

Day 168: A Righteous Branch

Jeremiah 21-23; John 19:1-22

Key Verses

Jeremiah 23:5-6
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.'”

John 19:14-15
Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?”

In Jeremiah 21, Jeremiah begins to jump around chronologically. He starts with Zedekiah, Israel’s last king and then goes backward to address Judah’s earlier kings.

Zedekiah was asking Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord, for Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, was preparing to invade Jerusalem. It’s almost humorous to think Zedekiah thought God might give him a favorable message, for Jeremiah had been preaching destruction for years… starting in Josiah’s reign, (Judah’s last good king) and continuing through three generations after Josiah. Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz (Shallum), his son, Jehoiakim, and grandson, Jehoiachin (Coniah) were all evil kings. Jeremiah writes in Chapter 22 of all the ways they turned against the Lord.

At the end of Chapter 22, God says through Jeremiah,

“Write [Jehoiachin] down as childless, a man who shall not succeed in his days, for none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah” (Jeremiah 22:30).

This presents a severe problem: Would God keep his promise of 2 Sam. 7:16, that David’s throne would endure forever? And if so, how?

God answers this question in today’s Key Verses, Jeremiah 23:5-6, where he promises that a “Branch” would save Judah. He would be called, “The Lord is our righteousness.”

This is one of several Messianic prophecies that promised a future king. It was these prophecies that the disciples misinterpreted to mean that the Messiah would rule as a political king. Imagine their confusion and despair as they heard the crowds chant, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” and saw the inscription on the cross that read, “King of the Jews.”

The irony was cruel. They couldn’t understand that Jesus came to be so much more than just a Jewish political king. He came as King of Heaven, establishing a new spiritual Kingdom over the entire earth.

Eventually, Jeremiah’s prophecy of a righteous Branch will be fulfilled in the new heaven and the new earth, when the Kingdom of God is established in the new earth forever! Until then, we live in the times between the “now” and “not yet” of prophecy. We have the benefit of hindsight combined with the mystery of the future. Just like the disciples, I’m sure God will fulfill His word in ways so wonderful that we could never imagine!!!

Day 167: Hope in a Broken Flask

Jeremiah 19-20; John 18

Key Verses

Jeremiah 20:11
But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble;
they will not overcome me.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.

John 18:12
So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him.

Picture the scene… Jeremiah acquires a clay vessel, a flask of some kind, and assembles all of Jerusalem’s civic and religious leaders to meet him at… the dumping ground. It would be like an unpopular preacher asking the mayor to meet him at the dump! And what was Jeremiah’s message? He holds up his flask and breaks it – and says that Jerusalem will be reduced to pieces and thrown away – like the piles of broken vessels that surrounded them. Great message, eh?

Hidden in the message of brokenness is a message of hope. For Israel points forward to Jesus. Yes, Israel would be broken – but only to bring forth repentance and restoration. Jesus is the true Israel. And he was broken for our sakes…

We also read of Jeremiah’s brokenness in Jeremiah 20. He was broken by his circumstances as he was captured and beaten. We read of his sorrow and anguish as he doubts his call and he doubts his God. Jeremiah’s struggle is but a whisper compared to Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane – as the synoptic gospels say he prayed so fervently that blood dripped from his brow.

In today’s reading, we see the results of those prayers as Jesus stands – strong and sovereign – in the face of arrest. The soldiers can only approach him when He allows it. Even throughout Jesus’ multiple trials, He seems calm and determined. His purpose was to die, His purpose was to be broken.

Just as Jeremiah broke the flask, and Jerusalem was destroyed – so would Jesus be broken and destroyed so that we might be repent and be restored! There is hope in a broken flask. There is hope in Jesus!

Day 166: Clay in the Potter’s hand

Jeremiah 16-18

Key Verses

Jeremiah 17:7-8
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Yesterday, we read of Jeremiah’s complaint to God as the people of Judah sought to ruin his life and his message. God instructed Jeremiah, “If you return, I will restore you” (Jer. 15:19).  Jeremiah had a choice to make…side with God or side with the people? We learn from today’s reading that Jeremiah chose to side with God (Jer. 16:19).

Jeremiah’s proclamation of faith in the midst of turmoil gives him the strength to persevere and continue to obey God’s calling. Listen to his cry of faith…

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved,
for you are my praise.
Behold, they say to me,
“Where is the word of the Lord?
Let it come!”
I have not run away from being your shepherd,
nor have I desired the day of sickness.
You know what came out of my lips;
it was before your face.
Be not a terror to me;
you are my refuge in the day of disaster (Jeremiah 17:14-17).

Jeremiah’s life was extremely difficult. Who could stand under such fierce and relentless opposition? On every side, people were seeking to kill him. God was truly his only refuge. And God proved himself faithful to Jeremiah.

Have you noticed the messages of hope sprinkled throughout the warnings of judgment? God promised to restore Israel in Jer. 16:15, and in Chapter 18, God sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house. Here God reminded both Judah and Jeremiah that He is the Potter, and He can take a spoiled vessel and rework it to make it whole again. The Potter’s job is not to destroy, but to create. Sometimes, when a vessel is spoiled, the only way to make it whole is to tear it down and rebuild it. This is the picture of Judah. In the short-term, it is a message of destruction, but long-term, it is a message of restoration!

Jeremiah’s personal journey of faith mirrors this restoration story of God’s people. He is the potter. We are the clay – and as we surrender to the Potter’s hand, He reworks our spoiled, sinful hearts and He makes us whole!