Reading Ramblings – June 25, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 25, 2017

Texts: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 91:1-16; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

Context: All of the texts except for the Romans reading deal with the servant of God standing fast in the midst of trial and persecution, awaiting vindication from God. It is our prayer that should we be required to stand up for our faith, to give an answer for our hope, to maintain our fealty to Christ when we are demanded to recant, that we would remain faithful and steadfast, regardless of the consequences, firm in the knowledge that perhaps not this day, but some day, our God will vindicate himself and we will receive honor rather than the shame of the moment.

Jeremiah 20:7-13 – Jeremiah was a prophet in the late 7th/early 6th centuries BC, speaking God’s word near Jerusalem, in Jerusalem, and then to God’s people in dispersion after the fall of Jerusalem. He is called upon to speak words of terror and judgment in Jerusalem, for which he is abused (20:1-2). The words for this morning’s reading convey the suffering of Jeremiah, recently physically abused and publicly humiliated for faithfully speaking God’s Word. He is unhappy with the lot God has called him to because people only mock and insult him for speaking it. If he attempts not to speak God’s Word, he cannot hold out for long – it bursts out of him almost violently. He calls for God’s vindication and judgment against his enemies, even as he worries about their plots against his life. Before continuing on to strong words of despair, Jeremiah breaks forth in praise to God, perhaps divinely mandated and ordained praise!

Psalm 91:1-16 – What a beautiful psalm of hope and promise, calling the faithful to trust always in God who has the power to save against all odds, and who has promised ultimately to save us to himself for eternity. The psalmist uses vivid imagery to portray both the predicament of the speaker as well as the power of God. The speaker is beset by myriad threats, like bird with a snare, or a warrior facing the sword, or the warrior facing a barrage of arrows, or the vulnerable person stalked in darkness. The odds may not look good, but we are to always put our hope and trust in God, rather than ourselves or some other alleged source of protection or hope. Doing so promises us that we will see God’s glorious vindication, and the sorrow of those who persecuted us. The latter half of the psalm is familiar as Satan quotes it to Jesus while tempting him in the wilderness (Matthew 4:5-6). Satan omits one line which helps to clarify the context of the psalm, resulting in an interpretation which exaggerates the promise of physical protection in verse 12. The context is not so much physical protection (though the earlier verses of the psalm lend themselves well to this interpretation!), but rather protection in all the speakers ways, so that the speaker does not wander into areas of sin or danger to himself but rather remains guided and therefore protected by God’s Word.

Romans 6:12-23 – Last week’s reading from Romans 5 emphasized that Christ’s death saves us from our deepest and darkest moments of sin and helplessness. What does this mean for the one rescued in Christ? This week’s reading begins to explore this. First off, the one saved by Christ should flee from sin and not let it be the dominating force in her life (reining over her). This involves proactive choices – not presenting our bodies to opportunities for sin. This might mean the tongue and gossip or slander, or the hands with theft, or the eye with lust. Battling sin means taking steps to try and avoid it. The motivation for this is the knowledge of what God has made us through faith in Jesus Christ. We are his. We are bought with a price, and we do not exist simply for our own desires and self-gratification. We are now under the rule of grace, rather than the power of the law condemning us in our sin. We sin, but the result is no longer death because of faith in Jesus, but rather in forgiveness which creates a state of grace.

The wily hearer/reader might be inclined to think that this means we can sin more – all we want! – since it no longer leads to condemnation under the Law. Obviously this is not what Paul means. How we choose to utilize our bodies (all of our selves, not just our physical bodies) is indicative of who we desire to serve. If we continue to choose sin actively and consistently, we are showing that we really prefer the lordship of sin rather than the lordship of Christ. This is not the case for the one in Christ, because starting with our hearts, we are being made obedient to God’s teaching. Our heart strives for this and knows that it is best, even when our minds and our bodies betray us. Our heart is enslaved to righteousness in Christ, not to sin. This will work itself out from the heart, by the power of the Holy Spirit and our cooperation, so that the sin in our lives is weakened, reduced, and we find it no longer holds the power over us it used to. This is a difficult and painful process! Perhaps it was easier before we came to Christ! Certainly – but our ease and comfort in our sin was leading us only to death and destruction. The harder road of sanctification by the power of the living God within us leads us to life. It builds us up, rather than tearing us down to nothing.

Matthew 10:5a, 21-23 – Jesus continues to instruct his disciples regarding their mission trip that He is sending them on. His words mix in this chapter, referring at some points to their immediate, short-term mission trip, and in other areas to the larger mission work they will embark on after his death, resurrection and ascension. The words in this section indicate that He is speaking now in this latter sense.

What is the effect of the Gospel? It brings hope and life to those who hear it and accept it with gladness as the truth. But many will be unwilling or unable to hear and receive it as such. This creates tension and conflict which will unfortunately play out not just on the larger societal level but within individual families as well. One might easily think of Muslim converts to Christ who are discovered and prosecuted or killed by their families. But one might also easily think of loved ones closer to home who have rejected Christ and reject their families as well. Satan’s power and deception in this world inevitably will create conflict where the Gospel is preached, heard, and where the kingdom of God is thus established visibly. Those who dare to speak and cling to the Gospel will be hated, because they will refuse to embrace the standards the world insists on, refuse to compromise with evil, and will be persecuted even to death in order to keep them from speaking the hated Word of God which reveals truth and convicts sin.

Persecution will come to those who share the Gospel, and we see this readily in the Book of Acts as the apostles suffer for their faithfulness and desire to share the good news of the resurrected Son of God with others. They do indeed flee from town to town for their very lives! Their mission work will remain by and large to the lost sheep of Israel, even though they will also be spreading the Gospel beyond. Jesus seems to have in mind the personal evangelism of his disciples, indicating that before they are able to preach in all the Jewish towns and cities, they will see God’s judgment. Scholars almost universally see this as the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD by the Romans. Jesus indicates in multiple places (such as Matthew 23:34-39) that something terrible is coming to Jerusalem. So Jesus’ words here in Matthew 10 speak to the disciples’ mission work in their lifetime (corporately not individually, since some of them are martyred prior to the destruction of Jerusalem).

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