Friday, December 25, 2015

“Lessons From Jeremiah”

"Lessons From Jeremiah"
For the week of December 26, 2015

Last week's lesson began with the suggestion that one could summarize a good portion of the book of Jeremiah as an example of the limits of grace.  While it is true that we cannot experience the full benefit of grace if we refuse to accept it, perhaps a better summary of Jeremiah's message is the extent of God's grace.  Chapters 40 through 44 of Jeremiah describes the establishment of Gedeliah as the governor of Judah under Babylonian rule, his subsequent assassination, the promise of the people to obey the Lord and their subsequent about face when the word of the Lord from the prophet does not agree with their desire.  It is noticeable that, even in his punishment of Israel, God was merciful in taking measures to discipline them without utterly destroying the nation if they would submit to the correction resulting from long years of rebellion and idolatry.

This week's lesson points out principles applicable to God's people in every generation, specifically faithfulness to God and obedience to His commandments.  No one enjoys chastisement and correction, but contrition and humility of heart must constantly be cultivated to receive and comply with the message of the "True Witness."  Until the end of time there will be the need of revival and reformation among God's people.  Such revival and reformation is a result of being reminded of God's goodness in contrast to and in spite of our unfaithfulness. 

A most important insight referenced is the Adventist understanding of the Bible in the context of the great controversy theme.  The central issue was, is, and always has been the character of God.  It is easy for us to think that the plan of salvation revolves around us, but such a subjective perspective misses the larger issue of what led to the entrance of sin and the ongoing drama of the ages.  The question for every human being to decide is, "What is God really like?" In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve voted for the enemy's depiction of God.  The break in the relationship between God and man revolved around the issue of whether God could be trusted and, ever since the fall, God has continually sought in multiple ways, by the revelation of His character of love and compassion, to re-establish the relationship lost in the Garden of Eden.

The ultimate expression of God's love and trustworthiness came at the Cross.  A wonderful quote from Great Controversy reads, "That the Maker of all worlds, the Arbiter of all destinies, should lay aside His glory and humiliate Himself from love to man will ever excite the wonder and adoration of the universe."

You might say God is in a catch twenty-two in the sense that He along will all the heavenly intelligences are working tirelessly to present to our understanding the length and depth and breadth and height of the love of God to inspire our trust and confidence in Him and yet because of the effects of sin and our darkened understanding, we are limited in our perception of the great and grand reality of the plan of salvation.

A further conundrum is that the perversity of human nature leads us to take God's kindness for weakness and because of His love and grace we do not realize the depths of degradation from which we have been spared because of Christ's sacrifice.

Great Controversy page 651 reads, "In this life we can only begin to understand the wonderful theme of redemption. With our finite comprehension we may consider most earnestly the shame and the glory, the life and the death, the justice and the mercy, that meet in the Cross; yet with the utmost stretch of our mental powers we fail to grasp its full significance. The length and the breadth, the depth and the height, of redeeming love are but dimly comprehended. The plan of redemption will not be fully understood, even when the ransomed see as they are seen and know as they are known; but through the eternal ages new truth will continually unfold to the wondering and delighted mind. Though the griefs and pains and temptations of earth are ended and the cause removed, the people of God will ever have a distinct, intelligent knowledge of what their salvation has cost."

Jeremiah must have sensed the divine dilemma, seeing how the messages he brought to Israel - warning of the consequences of their repeated rebellion, idolatry would ultimately lead to destruction, and that their alliances with other nations would be productive of no good - only resulted in greater persecution for himself.  Jeremiah recognized God's love in the warnings that were repeatedly sent, in spite of the fact that they were disregarded.  While God knew that Jeremiah's messages would be rejected, Jeremiah did not.  In the process, God is saving the messenger as much as he is saving those to whom the message is sent. Such is the message of the book of Jonah as well.  While Jeremiah was faithful, he was also human and did not refrain from expressing the lament of his heart for the anguish that came with fulfilling his divine office.

Tim Keller suggests the entire Bible is about marriage in that it begins with the union of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and ends with a wedding in Revelation 19 between Christ and the church.  Much of the story in between is of the unfaithfulness of God's people to the marriage covenant.  Interestingly enough, the word adultery appears in the book of Jeremiah more than any other book of the Bible.  However on just about every occasion when the word adultery appears in Jeremiah, it is not referring to infidelity between husband and wife but describes the spiritual adultery of God's people in departing from Him and serving other gods.

The lesson points out that in the book of Jeremiah, the Lord was seeking to get people away from the cold dead rituals that came to dominate their faith.  Even today, religious rituals serve to quiet the conscience and appease the unregenerate, providing a salve and sense of morality and propriety while avoiding the stark reality and undeniable assessment of our true spiritual condition.  God is too kind and merciful to be less than honest with us.  He will provide no band-aid for cancer and is obligated to be truthful that we may avail ourselves of the only remedy of a desperate condition.  Revelation chapter 3 assesses Laodicea as "poor, blind, wretched, miserable and naked."  

It is essential that we dispense with every form of religion that passes as a means of remembering God which is in reality a method of forgetting God.

In Jeremiah 7:9-10 the question is asked, "Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?" The lesson author calls this a classic example of "cheap grace".  It is indicative of a false gospel which is pervasive, if only at a subconscious level, providing perpetual pardon for sin but no power over sin.  Heart religion is rooted in an understanding of the cost and expensiveness of grace.

Numerous verses of scripture address Israel and Judah in a corporate sense.  Many appear as terms of endearment even as God warns through His prophet. Yet the point is made that salvation is personal and "not a corporate issue." Would that we could see and emphasize the aspects of salvation that are corporate and be so inspired to respond individually.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  John 3:16

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 2 Cor 5:19

For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.  1 Tim 4:10

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Cor 15:22

Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.  Romans 5:18

No doubt, what Christ does in us is individual and subjective; but what Christ has done for us is universal and objective. God gave His only begotten Son because He loved the world. Jesus' suffering was on behalf of every man or woman born into the world.  His mission to earth was to be the Savior of the world and "in Him we live and move and have our being" Acts 17:28.

~Mike Duncan

Raul Diaz