Reading Rambling – February 21, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday in Lent – February 21, 2016

Texts: Jeremiah 26:8-15; Psalm 4; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

Context: The enemies of God are always active, always seeking to silence his Word. Their means are sometimes subtle, and sometimes overt. They hate to hear God’s Word, and hate the life that it brings to those who hear it.

Jeremiah 26:8-15 – Jeremiah is working around the end of the 7th century BC, around 627 BC, and we suspect that his ministry lasted perhaps 40 years (to 587 BC in Egypt). The northern kingdom of Israel has been destroyed, and the southern kingdom is threatened with destruction now as well. However warnings to this effect are not well received!

The reading picks up with the response of the other priests and prophets to Jeremiah’s warning about the demise of Judah and Jerusalem. The ruckus that ensues gets the attention of the officials, who come to sit in judgement and hear what has been going on. Jeremiah’s opponents argue that he should be executed for speaking ill of God’s city and people. Jeremiah’s defense is simply to argue that he has spoken as the Lord has directed him. He directs them to repentance as a means for avoiding the punishment to come. He also acknowledges his vulnerability – they are free to kill them and he cannot stop them. But the result will be innocent blood on their hands and heads. Those who serve God and follow his leading expose themselves to risk sometimes.

Note that it is the priests and prophets who demand Jeremiah’s death. The officials and the people will rule in Jeremiah’s favor, affirming that he is speaking on behalf of the Lord, and referencing other prophets who said similar things.

Psalm 4 – This psalm is a request for God’s rescue and vindication from falsehood (v.2). As with many psalms, the speaker begins with invoking God’s assistance based on God’s assistance in the past. Because God has helped the speaker in the past, the speaker is bold to pray for God’s assistance now (v.1). Verse 2 indicates the nature of the problem – people who lie about the speaker, ruining his reputation. Verse 3 is a reminder that the Lord is not absent or uncaring – the Lord responds to the prayers of his people!

It may be that God has already answered on behalf of the speaker, so the speaker exhorts his enemies to right behavior (vs.4-5). The psalm concludes with confidence and joy. The Lord has given the speaker cause for joy, as the source of the speaker’s security and safety. For those who suffer for their faith, they can have confidence that they are never alone or forgotten. God remains with them always, strengthening them in their witness, and promising that one day – sooner or later – their faith will be vindicated!

Philippians 3:17-4:1 – There are many who walk contrary to (or in ignorance of) the way of Christ. We are not to focus on these people. This is to be expected, after all! Rather, our focus should be on those who seek to walk in the way of Christ. Those who strive to walk after Christ walk in new life, as opposed to the destruction those contrary to Christ are destined for. As such, what we look forward to is a reward and life beyond this one. So we should stand firm in the faith even when those opposed to it seem to gain advantage and be rewarded in this world. We should not be surprised or dismayed by this, but rather fix our eyes on the faithful who have gone before us and who walk beside us.

Luke 13:31-35 – Jesus faces his share of threats as well. Here the Pharisees come to warn him, leading one to suspect whether or not their accounts are true or not. Thus far the Pharisees as depicted by Luke have been anything but solicitous towards Jesus. Is this an indication that they would rather side with him than the Romans? Or are they simply trying to silence him?

Whether they are sincere or not, Jesus is unperturbed. His way is already dicated and laid out for him by God the Father, and Herod or any other earthly power will not dissuade him from that course (remember Satan’s temptations last week). Jesus moves towards Jerusalem but He is not going there yet, as it will be there that He will endure his suffering and death, just as the prophets did before him. Herod might plot against him, but Jesus moves in obedience to God the Father, and the Father’s will cannot be gainsayed.

But again, Jesus does not come in anger and judgement (John 3:17). His desire is that his people (represented as Jerusalem) would welcome him, would turn to him and live (Ezekiel 33:11). Perhaps because of Herod’s ill will, Jesus will not attempt to come to Jerusalem until his final visit (Palm Sunday), when the people will indeed shout out the acclamation He indicates here.

It is easy for the people of God to obsess and focus on those who array themselves against the Gospel and perhaps even against us. A few vocal critics can easily loom large despite dozens of calmer supporters. We are to focus on being faithful as the Holy Spirit of God directs us. Perhaps we are called to speak the Word of God in the face of opposition like Jeremiah. Perhaps we are worried about possible repercussions and threats similar to the ones Jesus faced. These are not to be concerns of ours. We do not seek out opposition but we should not be surprised or intimidated by it when it comes.

Our promise is that the Word of God will not be stifled and cannot be negated. Opposition may arise but that opposition will fall by the wayside, sooner or later.

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