Reading Ramblings – July 2, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, July 2, 2017

Texts: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 119:153-160; Romans 7:1-13; Matthew 10:34-42

Context: There is familiarity here, as the lectio continua moves on to the next chapter of Romans, continues Chapter 10 in Matthew, and revisits Jeremiah again (not for the last time!).

Jeremiah 28:5-9 – Jeremiah lamented the difficulty of his position in last week’s reading, and here we see him tasked with taking to task the false prophet Hananiah. While Hananiah prophesied beneficial things to Jerusalem, Jeremiah reminds him that prophets of the past warned God’s people about bad things to come, and insists that the prophet who foresees only peace and prosperity will be vindicated only when peace and prosperity come to pass. Jeremiah is only reiterating what Moses told God’s people hundreds of years before – a prophet will only be known as speaking the Word of God when what that prophet foretells comes true (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). It is easy to say what people want to hear, to affirm them in the pleasures of their hearts and their desired course of action. It is harder to speak contrary to prevailing attitudes, and this is traditionally the work of God’s prophets – and his Church.

Psalm 119:153-160 – Psalm 119 is the longest psalm, an acrostic where each section begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and extols the beauty and truth of God’s Word. These particular words of the psalmist would be well appreciated by Jeremiah many years later. How often does speaking God’s truth result in persecution and affliction! In such times we call to God for deliverance, knowing that remaining true to his Word is more important than the commendation of those around us. Life and salvation are contrasted with the fate of the wicked who seek their own pleasures and purpose rather than seeking wisdom in God’s Word. It may seem scant comfort in the moment, but we cling to God’s Word as the Word of truth, the only source of life and hope, knowing there can be no greater truth or comfort elsewhere (John 6:68). Sinful and self-seeking words may prevail for the moment, but only God’s Word is truly eternal.

Romans 7:1-13 – Paul has argued that the Christian is free, a slave to Christ rather than a slave to the Law of condemnation. While the Christian still sins, that sin is no longer held against her, but rather forgiven through faith in the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God, Jesus. In our baptism, we die with Christ and are raised with him as new creations, and therefore the Law does not have the same hold on us. It isn’t that the Law is irrelevant, or that we can ignore it. Rather, the Law no longer has the power to condemn or to kill. How can this be?

Paul uses an analogy from real life to show that this concept is an easily understood one. Laws apply only to the living. A spouse is bound to their spouse as long as they are both alive. But if the spouse dies, the surviving spouse is no longer bound to them in marriage, and is free to remarry without bringing the shame and sin of adultery upon themselves. Paul’s point is that we were once wed to the Law, or perhaps more accurately the Law was bound and wed to us. In that relationship we could not leave the Law, and the Law could only condemn us for failing to obey it. But in faith in Christ, we share in his death. The analogy here is not perfect, but it still conveys the basic idea. We have died and been raised as new creations. We are not bound to the Law as we used to be, and are free rather to serve Christ rather than obsessing about fulfilling every nuance of the Law. Before this, nothing we could do was ever good enough, never actually worked towards our benefit because the Law still condemned us for our failures. But raised in Christ and freed from the Law’s condemnation, what we do has real value and merit to us. Not for salvation – Christ accomplishes this alone – but rather for our sanctification, our being made gradually more and more Christ-like.

Paul now has to guard against a misconception. He is not saying that the Law is bad. Far from it! The Law teaches us what sin is. It isn’t that the Law is bad, but rather sin in us is bad, seeking to drive us towards disobedience to the Law and therefore to death. It is not the Law that killed us, but rather the sin in us. The Law has always been and will eternally true and good because it is the Word of God. Rather it is sin in us which is shown to be the true villain here. In recognizing my sin, my inability (and often times my lack of desire) to fulfill the Law’s demands, I recognize my need for a Savior, and this is ultimately the best good for me!

Matthew 10:34-42 – Jesus completes his instructions and prophesies to his disciples that began at the end of Chapter 9. Having explained that his disciples will face rejection, He takes a moment to clarify. It might seem that preaching the good news of the inbreaking Kingdom of Heaven would be universally well received. However this is not the case because of the power of sin and Satan in the world. The result then, will be that wherever the Gospel is preached there will be strife. Perhaps subtle, perhaps overt, perhaps mild, perhaps deadly. But strife there will be because of the enemy of Christ and us, Satan. The result is division. War. Each person who encounters the Good News of Jesus Christ must respond to that Good News. Those who accept it maybe persecuted for it, and that persecution may come from those closest to them, even members of their own family. While we may naturally imagine this for Muslim converts to Christianity in Muslim-dominated countries, the reality is that even within Christian nations families are often bitterly divided over the Gospel. In such situations we are encouraged, as with the psalmist, to cling to the Good News of God rather than giving in to the demands of even those closest to us.

We must, therefore, be ready to bear whatever suffering comes our way because of Christ. Jesus uses the strongest language and imagery here – the language of the cross, the ultimate form of shame and agony in the first century. He is saying that we must be prepared to remain faithful even if slated for execution. Such words no doubt rang in the ears of the disciples as they were martyred, and they continue to ring in the ears of martyrs today.

The world will laugh when we are dead and claim that it has won and demonstrated the folly of our faith by snuffing out our life. But the reality is that we are victors through faith in Jesus Christ, and God will be faithful to his promises to raise us to new life and joy for eternity. Jesus’ words in v.42 are encouraging, because in sharing the Gospel, we are sharing Jesus, and Jesus is with us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Are we worried about what to say, or how it will be received? Do we worry our words will be inadequate, our theological and Biblical acumen inadequate? No worry! God is with us! The power is in his Words, not ours! We are not isolated and alone – never! What power is with us, what amazing possibilities through Jesus Christ who strengthens us through the Holy Spirit!

While scholars debate if Jesus has in mind three separate groups or levels of individuals (prophet, righteous person, little ones), it seems best to presume that these are not distinctions but rhetorical repetition. Jesus is not creating a tiered system of rewards, but rather indicating that all of God’s faithful – both those who are sent and those who receive – will be blessed. The world may try to erase our memory, but it will not succeed. Our reward is assured.

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