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!

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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 165: Two Prayers

Jeremiah 13-15; John 17

Key Verses

Jeremiah 14:20-21
We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord,
and the iniquity of our fathers,
for we have sinned against you.
Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
do not dishonor your glorious throne;
remember and do not break your covenant with us.

John 14:3
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

In today’s reading, Jeremiah continues to faithfully preach God’s words to Judah. He warned them of Babylon’s invasion (chapter 13) and he described the drought that would ensue (chapter 14). Then God, knowing Jeremiah’s compassionate heart, told him not to pray:

The Lord said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence” (Jeremiah 14:11-12).

Jeremiah was devastated.

Have you utterly rejected Judah?
Does your soul loathe Zion?
Why have you struck us down
so that there is no healing for us? (Jeremiah 14:19)

Jeremiah prayed for the people anyway! He repented on behalf of the nation. He asked God to remember His covenant. Just as Moses and Samuel had interceded for the people, Jeremiah asked God to save the people for His name’s sake (Jer. 14:20-21). But God would not relent. His mind was set on judgment. It was the only way to bring true repentance from his people.

Then Jeremiah’s life went from bad to worse. The people of Judah began to treat him as a debtor and his life was in danger (Jer. 15:10). Jeremiah cried out to God, accusing Him of abandoning him just as He had abandoned Judah. But God would not be accused of wrongdoing! He condescended to Jeremiah and assured him…

I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
to save you and deliver you,
declares the Lord.
I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless (Jeremiah 16:20-21).

God would not cast off His faithful. We learn from Jesus’ high priestly prayer that God is passionate about the lives of his disciples. He keeps them, He guards them, He sanctifies them, and most of all He loves them.

As we read Jesus’ prayer in John 17 – we can have confidence that, unlike Jeremiah’s prayer for Judah, God listened to Jesus’ prayer for us. We are his children, and He keeps us, He sanctifies us, and most of all, He loves us!

Day 163: Abiding in the True Vine

Jeremiah 9-10; John 15

Key Verses

Jeremiah 9:23-24
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

John 15:1-2
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

The Old Testament uses the vineyard or vine as a symbol for Israel – especially in the book of Isaiah.

In today’s passage from John, Jesus begins chapter 15 by saying that He is the True Vine. In other words, Jesus is the True Israel. Isaiah 5 describes God as the Vinedresser – planting his vineyard and hoping to yield grapes…

My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines […]

What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes? (Isaiah 5:1b-2a, 4)

Israel was a vine which yielded wild fruit. We know from our readings in Jeremiah that Israel was an apostate people – whoring after other gods and ignoring the warnings of invasion.

John contrasts the fruitlessness of Israel with the fruitfulness that comes from abiding in Christ.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).

Abiding is a mysterious and difficult concept. It involves consistent seeking, repenting, praying and obeying. It is a dependence on Jesus for everyday living. Jesus says that abiding is mutual, “abide in me and I in you.” It is the partial fulfilling of the promise made throughout the Old Testament, that God will dwell with his people. As we abide in Christ and He in us, He makes his dwelling in us. This promise will find its ultimate fulfillment in the new earth as He will make his dwelling place with man. In other words, today, He dwells in us through the Spirit, but in the new earth – we will see Him face to face. Oh Lord, hasten the day…

Day 162: Saved from the Last Day

Jeremiah 7-8; John 14

Key Verses

Jeremiah 8:18-19
My joy is gone; grief is upon me;
my heart is sick within me.
Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people
from the length and breadth of the land:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?”

John 14:26-27
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

In the Old Testament, Jeremiah grieves over the hard-heartedness of his people.

In the New Testament, the disciples worry when Jesus says he’s going away. Thomas and Philip quiz Jesus. They ask him to show them where He is going. They just don’t understand.

In the Old Testament, God berates the people for worshipping in the temple with hearts void of devotion.

Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? (Jeremiah 7:9-10)

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches the disciples that obedience is evidence of devotion to the Father:

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him (John 14:21).

In the Old Testament, God promises Judgment: Utter destruction of Jerusalem.

In the New Testament, Jesus prepares to receive the Judgment.

We are no better than the people of Jeremiah’s day. Look no further than Jesus’ crucifixion for evidence that we also deserve Judgement.

One difference is that we have the Helper (John 14:26), the promised Holy Spirit. The Spirit lives in us and convicts us of the Truth and empowers us to repent. We still have the choice to obey or disobey – but the Spirit also works to sanctify our character so that we are better able to obey.

There will be another Judgment. The Final Judgment on the Last Day. A far greater Judgment than Jeremiah wept over in the final verses of Chapter 8… And here’s the truth, I deserve that Judgment. Yet, because of the gracious, loving-kindness of God – He poured out judgment on His Son instead of me. I don’t understand that kind of love, but I’m grateful for it.

Behold the man upon the cross
My sin upon His shoulder
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

-2nd verse from “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us” by Stuart Townend

How Deep the Father’s Love For Us

Day 161: Motivated by Love

Jeremiah 5-6; John 13:21-38

Key Verses

Jeremiah 5:1
Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,
look and take note!
Search her squares to see
if you can find a man,
one who does justice
and seeks truth,
that I may pardon her.

John 13:34-35
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jeremiah 5-6 concludes a series of sermons Jeremiah probably gave during Josiah’s reign (3:6). Chapter 5 opens with God asking Jeremiah to find one man who does justice – one man who seeks truth – so that He might pardon him. And Jeremiah can’t. The people are so absolutely corrupt that not one person could be found. God laments…

How can I pardon you?
Your children have forsaken me
and have sworn by those who are no gods.
When I fed them to the full,
they committed adultery
and trooped to the houses of whores.
They were well-fed, lusty stallions,
each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.
Shall I not punish them for these things?
declares the Lord;
and shall I not avenge myself
on a nation such as this? (Jeremiah 5:7-9).

God desires to pardon his people – but what good would that serve? When he blesses them, they despise him. Even in judgment, there is grace, for God could never utterly destroy his people. God says twice in these chapters that he would destroy but “not make a full end” (5:10; 18). He will preserve a remnant. A remnant of people from whom the Promised One would come.

The Promised One… Jesus, betrayed by his own disciple. Jesus, abandoned by his closest friends in his darkest hour. Jesus, taking the punishment for our apostate selves, accomplished what Israel could not – perfect obedience motivated by love for the Father.

Not motivated by duty, or self-preservation – but by love.

God sent Babylon to destroy Judah because he loved them. God sent his only son to die on our behalf because he loves us. Even Jeremiah was motivated by love – love for God and love for his brethren.

Jesus – in the face of betrayal – gave his disciples a “new” commandment – a commandment to love as Christ has loved.

How does Jesus love us? Not in a sweet, sentimental way – but in a sacrificial – other seeking – sort of way. This is the sort of love God calls us to. This was the sort of love Jeremiah was called to. And even though we are not called to be prophets as Jeremiah was, we are called to love our neighbor sacrificially… so the world will see – that the world might be saved!

…Now if I could only practice what I write! Lord, help me to love others as you love me. Please pry my eyes off of myself and help me see the broken and lost – and give me compassion – and the grace to love them well.

Day 160: A Humble King

Jeremiah 3-4; John 13:1-20

Key Verses

Jeremiah 3:12-13
“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
for I am merciful,
declares the Lord;
I will not be angry forever.
Only acknowledge your guilt,
that you rebelled against the Lord your God.'”

John 13:3-5
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Servitude. Is that a characteristic you would expect from God? This is the same God that spoke the world into existence. Are we to expect the mighty, sovereign, all-powerful God to be a servant?

According to traditional Jewish teachings, Jesus, the Messiah, was not supposed to come into the world to wash people’s feet and then die. No. That was a servant’s job. That was a criminal’s job. That was not the Messiah’s job.

But was it? The people didn’t understand this crucial part of God’s character… humble servitude.

What motivated Jesus to wash the dusty feet of his disciples? Humility. It was also humility that motivated God to condescend to the stiff-necked Israelites. In today’s passage from Jeremiah, most of Chapter 3 was God’s invitation to exiled Israel to repent and be forgiven. After all of the Baal worship, child sacrifice, and faithless living, God was still willing to forgive the penitent heart. We do not serve a Haughty God. No! We serve a Humble King.

Where is their room for pride in the presence of this God? His sheer power should cause us to tremble in fear. But his humility causes us to wonder – and to repent – and… to worship.

Humble King

Day 159: The Final Prophet

Jeremiah 1-2; John 12:20-50

Key Verses

Jeremiah 1:18-19
“And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.”

John 12:23-25
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

We begin Jeremiah today and will spend the next 23 days in this book, the longest book in the Bible!

Jeremiah prophesied during the most tumultuous period of Judah’s history. He began his ministry halfway through the reign of Judah’s last good king, Josiah. Jeremiah continued prophesying through the reigns of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. These last evil kings of Judah looked to Egypt and Assyria to save them from the dominant Babylon. We know from our readings from 2 Kings, that God gave them over to the Babylonians as his judgment for their apostasy. Jeremiah was God’s mouthpiece during this grievous period.

We read of Jeremiah’s calling in Chapter 1… God’s sovereignty is center stage as he tells Jeremiah in vs. 5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Consider the weight of Jeremiah’s calling. He was to preach against sin to a hard-hearted people. He was to warn of the impending judgment. And mixed throughout the prophecies of judgment, were promises of hope and renewal.

In his role as a prophet, Jeremiah was a precursor to Christ.

In John 12, Jesus was not delivering messages of judgment – but preparing to receive the judgment on our behalf…a judgment so great that he asked to be saved from it…

Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? (John 12:27)

He endured the cross willingly for our sake! He rescues us from the judgment of the last day. His great love compels us toward obedience, and He is our hope and source of renewal! He is the Final Prophet – setting us free from the power of sin and death!