Isaiah 7:14, Acts 7:9-10, Judges 2:18

O Come, O Come…

Immanuel! We hear this word a lot during the Christmas season. In Isaiah 7:14 the Lord promised Ahaz a sign, “behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” It means “God with us.” This verse has been a key one for establishing the deity of Christ. Jesus was not a created being but the “only begotten son” of God himself. Jesus was God in the flesh and he left his home on high to pitch his tent “tabernacle” with us, to be with us, to enter into our experience. Jesus was in a very real sense God with us in the flesh. But what does it mean for “God to be with us.”

Acts 7:9-10, tells us that God was with Joseph when his brothers sold him into slavery. That verse says, “God  was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom…” The book of Judges teaches us that “God was with” all of the Judges. Judges 2:18 says, “Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies…” The name “Immanuel” might mean a lot of things but we have good reason to believe that it means God will rescue us from our afflictions and he will fight for us and give us victory over our enemies.

My favorite Christmas Hymn is “O Come, O Come Immanuel…” One of the lessor known verses of this hymn is the prayer for the Christ, the Messiah, to rescue us from our afflictions. It goes like this, “O come, O Bright and Morning Star, and bring us comfort from afar! Dispel the shadows of the night and turn our darkness into light.” Another verse addresses his victory over our ultimate enemy. It goes like this, “O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny. From depths of hell Thy people save And give them victory o’er the grave.” My point is that “Immanuel” has come in the person of Christ. He is indeed with us through faith as he was with Joseph in his trials and as he was with the Judges in bringing them victory.  In Christ we find eternal comfort amidst our trials. In Christ we find eternal victory over the last and greatest of our enemies.

Luke 6:46

Why did you do that?

I remember doing some pretty stupid things as a kid. I stole some ball-bearings from a neighbors garage to use as ammunition for my sling shot! I was to find out they were precision bearings used for sophisticated machinery and were very expensive. My dad asked me “what in the world were you thinking?” I was caught cheating on a midterm exam while taking a makeup summer school course in bookkeeping at Tech High School back in 1961. My dad asked, “why would you do such a thing?” My answer for both of these questions was “I dunno.” I’ve heard my kids answer similar questions that I’ve asked them about “why” they did or did not do what they were supposed to and the answer was, “I dunno.”   But the question is not really a question seeking an answer, is it? It’s a condemnation of said behavior and when you hear that question you don’t think about the answer.  You understand the question to be a rebuke to drive home the “errors” of my ways to inspire me to try harder.

After teaching about loving enemies and doing good to those that wrong you and the folly of judging others and other difficult instructions, Jesus asked his followers a question.  In Luke 6:46, He said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you to do?” Almost every commentator I read on this verse suggests in one way or another that this is a question of condemnation. It’s not a true question calling for reflection and self-examination.  I think they are all wrong! I think Jesus was pointing out a truth about ourselves that would shake us to our very foundation.  Why don’t we obey Jesus’ commands? It’s really very simple! We can’t! We might want to and long to but the truth of our very make-up makes it impossible for us to do so. This is what the Bible means by true “repentance.”

The commentators suggest that Jesus is asking this question to guilt us into becoming better people. I think that’s what my father’s questions to me and my questions to my kids were. But I do not see Jesus doing that. I see him lovingly prodding us in our thinking to come to understand a state of affairs in this life that He had to manage for us on the Cross of Calvary. As long as we keep reading the Bible as instructions for becoming better people, we’ll never understand God’s loving interaction with us through His Son that can save us from ourselves.

Jeremiah 7:9, Genesis 3:1, 2 Corinthians 11:14

All That Glitters is not Gold!

As I was studying Jeremiah Chapter 7, verses 8 and 9, I remembered some lyrics from an old song from 1970.  I remember way too many of the popular songs from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. I’ve always enjoyed Linda Ronstadt’s music. One of my favorite songs that she made famous is titled, “A Long, Long Time.” In this song she sings to a man she has loved for a long, long time but who had never loved her back. She says she has been living in the memory of the “love that never was.” In the course of her indictment of her false lover she says, “I can’t say you hurt me when you never let me near, and I never drew one response from you, all the while you fell all over girls you never knew.”

The last phrase of verse 9 is what brought this to mind. Jeremiah is speaking to God’s false lovers. God wanted nothing but an intimate loving relationship with his people but they weren’t interested. He did not draw the kind of response He wanted from them. They focused on ritual and rites and religious expressions but had no true heart for God. Jeremiah says that the people of Judah had forsaken their one true God and have been chasing “…after other gods that they have never known.”

That’s the hidden core of all temptation – the mysterious unknown! And what is even more attractive is the forbidden unknown! We are all there in some way and it began with Adam and Eve. We often wonder what was so attractive about a talking snake. But that was not the case. The Hebrew word in Genesis 3 that introduces us to Satan literally means “to shine.” As a noun it means “the shining one.” I guess that’s why Paul called Satan an “angel of light” in 2 Corinthians 11:14. Genesis calls him the most deceitful and beguiling creature in the world. He promises one thing but delivers another. He presents sin as something desirable hiding its ultimate destructive nature. But Jeremiah ends his indictment of Judah with the warning that following enticing, forbidden lovers will always end badly. It did for Judah and it will also end badly for us. Truly, all that glitters is not gold!

Jeremiah 7:5-7

Religion Kills – Jesus Gives Life!

Religion has been the deadliest thing throughout the entire history of the world. It’s the ugliest thing today as well. Convictions around specific doctrines, practices, and ideas coupled with intolerance for any other doctrine, practice or idea, has shed more blood and aroused more hatred between peoples, countries and races than anything else except maybe money. If you want to get a picture of that just study the progress of Christianity from the first Century to the present. Fox’s book of Martyrs tells the protestant side of the story but consider Constantine’s bloody conversion of the world in the name of Christ, the Holy Roman Empire’s battle with heresy and the inquisition. The Islamic move to convert the world with the sword, an effort not totally abandoned in some circles today.

Jesus did not come into the world to set up another religion that would put itself at odds with all the rest of them. He hates a system which promotes war between Protestants and Catholics or Christians and Muslims. I am convinced that Jesus hates religion! God loves the whole world. He loves all of His children, red and yellow, black and white; Hindu, Buddhists, and every other title you might slap on a “religious” system. He came, apart from Religion, to bring every one of His children into a loving relationship with the Father. No religion is any better than any other. They all fail! That’s why Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man can come to the father but through me.” Salvation has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with God’s love for us as expressed on the cross.

Only grasping the Love of God will change us or the world. God’s greatest command has always been to love Him and each other. But it’s not that we loved Him, but “He loved us first.” We cannot give love away if we don’t have it. God lifts up His son on the cross and says to us “I love you with an everlasting love.” There will be a time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. We will have a new Jerusalem; a new order when He is acknowledged as the king of kings and Lord of Lords and will dwell together in harmony as intended from the very beginning. It’s not religion and rituals that God wants! Jeremiah doesn’t applaud their religion. He condemns it and explains that God truly wants love. Consider this when you read Jeremiah 7:5-7. It says, “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.”

Jeremiah 7:4, Romans 5:8

Don’t Kid Yourselves…

Many preachers like to say that biblical Christianity is not a religion but a relationship. I’ve always been one of those preachers. I do believe that is true and has always been true of God and man. God wants us to be open and honest with Him. He is always open and honest with us. Before Jesus speaks, He often says “truly, truly I say to you…” But we are not always open and honest with God. That’s strange to me because it’s truly impossible to hide anything from God. He is omniscient! That means He knows everything. But “omniscience” is not merely a theological doctrine; it’s a truth about God meant to bring about an open and loving relationship. When we say that God knows “everything” we must realize that it is a truth designed to draw us to Him, not drive us from Him in fear and guilt. We read that God knows the number of hairs on our head. That statement is presented to convince us of how close attention God pays to us. That’s a loving relationship.

The truth of God’s omniscience is something that lets us know that He knows all about our past. We have no skeletons in the closet with God. He loves us anyway. He knows all about our future! He knows how many times and in what ways we will fail Him tomorrow and He has chosen to love us in spite of it all. He knows all about our present. He knows that we all are failing Him in some way right now! Romans 5:8, says “while we are sinning” he demonstrates His love for us on the Cross. Everything about God and His revelation of Himself to us on Calvary in His Son shout “I love you with an everlasting love.” But unfortunately, most of us are satisfied with a connection with God founded in rituals, rites, ceremonies, and religious recitation of some formulas.

This is what Jeremiah indicted the people of Judah for. Religion was really not what God desired. It was an honest, open, and close relationship with His people. But the word of the day from the religious leaders was that we are safe in our rituals, rites, and ceremonies. “Don’t worry,” the Priests were telling the people, “we have the one true religion with its rituals and rites and we’re safe.” In Jeremiah 7:4, he tells them in so many words, “Don’t kid yourselves…” He writes, “Do not trust in these deceptive words: this is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.” God is not out for rituals, rites, rules, and religious words. He wants a loving relationship with each of us. If we can’t see that in all our blessings in life, surely we can see it on the cross of Calvary. But we so often miss it and look to some religious observations or rituals to be our connection with God. That’s too bad.

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