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The Demand for a Sign May 20, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 16:1-4.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus returns to Jewish territory, where His enemies attempt to publicly discredit Him.

Jesus responds by asserting that while they are experts in physical matters, they are mere dilettantes in spiritual matters. Moreover, since they have abandoned God, He has abandoned them.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus reiterates the point that He made in Matthew 12:39. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

This repetition shows us that our Lord was in the habit of saying the same things over again. He did not content himself with saying a thing once, and then never repeat it. It is evident that it was his custom to bring forward certain truths again and again, and so impress them more deeply on the minds of his disciples.

When I work through an inductive Bible study, I highlight recurring words and phrases, as they usually facilitate my search for the central point of the passage at hand. Indeed, recurring words and phrases reveal points of emphasis for the original audience of a particular passage. Perhaps this principle can be applied in other settings. For example, do praise songs contain recurring words, phrases or themes? Does your pastor emphasize certain points in their sermons? I should note that while applying this principle enables us to comprehend what God is saying to us, we still need to put His words into practice – and that is where I continue to struggle.

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The Parable of the Net April 27, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:47-52.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells a parable. He states that His kingdom can be represented by a large net that captures all life in front of it. A group of fishermen then:

  • place the captured fish in water-contained vessels
  • discard the other captured creatures.

Similarly, at His Second Coming, His angels will capture those who are not His subjects and discard them to hell.

He then asserts that His disciples are now equipped to teach others, as they grasp the unifying principles of the Old and New Testaments.

Thoughts: This passage inspired me to read about instances where fishermen caught more than they had bargained for, including:

I have actually never gone fishing, so I can only imagine the shock that these fishermen experienced when they inspected their respective catches. In any event, these accounts reinforce the main point of this passage. Just as a denizen of the deep cannot be consumed by a fisherman, so those who do not belong to Christ are useless to Him at His Second Coming. We must heed this warning and find our value in Him.

The Parable of the Weeds Explained April 21, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:36-43.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus explicates the Parable of the Weeds. In particular, He states that the:

  • sower represents Him
  • good seed represent the children of His kingdom
  • field represents the world
  • weeds represent the children of the devil.

He also states that the children of His kingdom must not judge the children of the devil before the Second Coming – as that is God’s prerogative. Indeed, at that time, He will:

  • place all of the children of the devil in eternal hell
  • enable the children of His kingdom to dwell with Him.

Thoughts: The Parable of the Weeds and Jesus’ explication of it in this passage are actually on separate pages in my Bible. When I read that parable, I assumed that Jesus had not explicated it to His disciples; thus, I pondered it for quite some time. I leveraged my understanding of similar parables to grasp the gist of it, yet two points baffled me:

  • it was evident that the weeds represented unbelievers, yet I wondered: were these unbelievers in the visible church, or unbelievers in general?
  • did the act of weeding represent an attempt to purge the visible church of unbelievers, or an attempt to proclaim God’s judgment on unbelievers in general before the Second Coming?

The summary that I have provided above is drawn from John MacArthur’s sermon on this passage. Yet Ryle offers some contrasting thoughts on these two points:

The visible church is pictured as a mixed body: it is a vast “field” in which “wheat” and “weeds” grow side by side (verses 24-26). We must expect to find believers and unbelievers, converted and unconverted, “the sons of the kingdom” and “the sons of the evil one” (verses 38-39), all mingled together in every congregation of baptized people.

Thus, I am unsure as to the correct interpretation of these two points. I hope to meet Ryle in the next life and hear his response to the thoughts expressed by MacArthur in his sermon.

The Workers are Few March 10, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 9:35-38.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus travels throughout Galilee and:

  • exposits the Old Testament
  • proclaims salvation
  • performs miracles.

He knows that the people to whom He ministers are in danger of being condemned by God at the final judgment. Thus, He prays to God – through His disciples – that He would send forth workers to save them from His judgment.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus healed “every disease and sickness.” Ryle offers some insights on this point:

He was an eye-witness of all the ills that flesh is heir to; he saw ailments of every kind, sort and description; he was brought in contact with every form of bodily suffering. None were too loathsome for him to attend to: none were too frightful for him to cure.

Admittedly I do not offer the same response to all who are in need. For example, while I assist underprivileged children in strengthening their reading comprehension skills with alacrity, I recoil from transients who ask me for spare change. Yet this passage – and Ryle’s comment – raise the following question: in order to truly follow Christ, should we display genuine compassion for all who are in need? If so, then I would need the assistance of the Holy Spirit in this regard, as my biases often influence my responses to the needy, e.g. transients.

Strolling Through the Book of Lamentations September 29, 2017

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I recently strolled through the Book of Lamentations with the aid of a commentary by Calvin.

This post includes a summary of Lamentations and my thoughts on that challenging – yet important – book.

Summary: In this book, the author presents a plethora of laments concerning:

  • the decline and fall of Jerusalem and Judah
  • the desecration – and destruction – of the temple by the Babylonian soldiers
  • the executions of nobles
  • random killings by the Babylonian soldiers
  • widespread famine
  • the suffering of infants – and their deaths at the hands of their mothers
  • widespread rapes
  • child slavery
  • the exile of his compatriots
  • the glee of the enemies of Judah in response to her downfall
  • the insults of those who oppose his ministry.

Yet he asserts that these calamities are the natural result of the sinfulness of his compatriots, as God cannot ignore their evil deeds.

Thus, he exhorts his compatriots to:

  • reflect on their evil deeds
  • repent of them
  • beseech God to forgive them of their sins.

It should be noted that he wrestles with God throughout this book. On the one hand, he:

  • struggles with the fact that God has brought these calamities on His people
  • wonders if these calamities constitute an overreaction on His part
  • wonders if He has permanently abandoned His people.

On the other hand, he:

  • declares his confidence in God – given His permanence
  • entreats Him to punish the enemies of His people – especially the Edomites
  • entreats Him to punish those who oppose his ministry
  • entreats Him to restore His people to His favor.

Thoughts: This book contains many haunting phrases, including, “The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed festivals” and “He made ramparts and walls lament; together they wasted away.” Perhaps one could argue that anthropomorphisms are a valuable tool in the hands of a poet. On a related note, I wish that I could read Hebrew – as that would have given me an even greater appreciation of this book. For example, each of the first four chapters constitutes an acrostic poem in Hebrew; the beauty of that structure is lost in translation, though. Clearly, it is praiseworthy when the Holy Spirit works through His servants to leverage the power of language for His glory.

In verse 10 of chapter 3, the author compares God to a bear and a lion. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Harsh is the complaint when Jeremiah compares God to a bear and to a lion. I have already said that the apprehension of God’s wrath terrified the faithful of that day so much that they could not sufficiently express the depth of their calamity. We must also bear in mind that they were expressing themselves in a human way. They did not always curb their feelings but said some things that they deserved to be rebuked for.

Calvin’s thoughts raise the following question: when we, as believers, wrestle with God in our prayers, what constitutes appropriate dialogue in that context? Clearly God has given us the ability to think and reason; how much latitude, then, does He allow us in terms of questioning His will? He knows that we are not omniscient and that we lack His ability to see the future; does He account for those limitations when evaluating our difficulties in comprehending His will? How can we properly struggle with God in our prayers while maintaining our confidence and trust in Him? One must wonder if God disapproved of at least some parts of this book…

This book is replete with jarring images of the pain and suffering that pervaded Judah after the Babylonian invasion. While these images make for unpleasant reading, one thought is that they provide us with a better understanding of the infinite holiness of God. While we cannot measure the extent of His holiness, we can learn more about it in light of His response to sin. Indeed, it is evident that the people of Judah had committed a plethora of sins before the Babylonian invasion. Each of these sins had offended His infinite holiness – compelling Him to respond in a manner that defended His holiness. As modern-day readers, this book should spur us to ponder the extent of His holiness; moreover, in light of His permanence, we should consider whether our words and deeds properly reflect His holiness.

Overall I found this book to be a challenging read, as it contains seemingly contradictory messages. On the one hand, the author expresses his confidence in God in verses 21-24 of chapter 3:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.

On the other hand, the author seems to express doubts concerning God and His faithfulness in verses 19-22 of chapter 5:

You, Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.

Perhaps these seemingly contradictory messages are included to highlight the emotional turmoil within the author as he wrote this book. While the power of the Holy Spirit was upon him at that time, he was not immune to human weaknesses and frailties. As modern-day readers, we cannot ignore the extent of his pain concerning the downfall of his nation. On a related note, those of us who live in First World countries may have difficulty feeling empathy with the author. We often hear of calamities in less prosperous nations, yet since we often do not know those who have been directly affected by these events, it is relatively easy for us to gloss over them.

A Message About Babylon September 1, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 50-51.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah to declare His comprehensive judgment on the Babylonians.

He states that they have committed the following offenses:

  • worshiping false deities – especially Marduk
  • displaying pride and arrogance – especially in relation to their military and their economy
  • plundering the land that He gave to His people
  • genocide against His people
  • desecrating the temple.

He then asserts that their nation will be invaded by the Persians. At that time, He will use the Persians as His sword to:

  • expose their false gods
  • cause them to be paralyzed with fear
  • slay their mercenaries
  • plunder their land
  • commit acts of genocide against them.

Their demise will elicit horror – and scorn – from neighboring countries.

He intersperses words of comfort to His people. In particular, He asserts that He will:

  • preserve them as a nation during the Persian invasion of Babylon
  • enable them to return to the land that He gave them
  • enable them to praise Him as their deliverer from Babylon
  • enable them to praise Him for His justice in punishing the Babylonians
  • establish a new covenant with them.

Jeremiah concludes by instructing a staff officer, Seraiah son of Neriah, to proclaim this message of judgment in Babylon itself.

Thoughts: This lengthy passage displays the holiness of God, as He proclaims His comprehensive judgment on those who attempt to besmirch His name by plundering the land that He gave to His people and committing acts of genocide against His people. It should be noted that while the language in this passage is reminiscent of previous passages that describe His judgment of other neighboring nations, a novel feature of this passage entails the five references to “the north.” These five references compel the reader to recall His declaration in Jeremiah 1 that, “from the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land.” As Babylon had brought judgment on Judah from the north, the Medes and Persians would bring judgment on Babylon from the north. This demonstrates His justice; He properly repays the Babylonians for their offenses.

On a similar note, this lengthy passage offers additional encouragement to believers around the world who endure persecution. These verses remind them that God does not turn a blind eye to their sufferings; indeed, He will vindicate them – displaying His holiness in the process. As believers, we trust that just as He vindicated the people of Judah – through the successful invasion of Babylon by the Persians – He will vindicate His people who suffer for His name. As a believer who is not being persecuted for their faith, I believe that this passage compels me to continue to pray for my brothers and sisters who lack the legal and social protections that I enjoy. I pray that they would have the strength to glorify His name in the midst of their sufferings, and I pray that God would grant them a significant reward in the next life.

In verses 61-64 of chapter 51, we see that Jeremiah commands Seraiah to proclaim God’s message of judgment in Babylon itself. I am curious as to whether the Babylonians learned of this message of judgment – whether they witnessed Seraiah’s declaration or heard it secondhand. If so, how did they respond to the forceful words in this message? Did they place their trust in their deities and the strength of their empire, dismissing this message as mere bluster from a vassal state? Did they attempt to punish Seraiah – and, by extension, Jeremiah – for their treasonous declaration? Did they recall this message when their land was invaded by the Persians? Did they ever acknowledge the sovereignty of the God of Judah?

A Message About Elam August 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:34-39.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the Elamites.

He will compel their enemies to:

  • massacre them
  • drive the survivors into exile.

Yet He concludes with a note of encouragement, stating that He will eventually restore the Elamites to their land.

Thoughts: I am also curious as to why God pronounced His judgment on Elam in this passage. Had the Elamites attacked Israel and/or Judah? Did the Elamites render assistance to Nebuchadnezzar during his invasion of Judah? Was God primarily punishing them for worshiping false gods? Did He intend to send a powerful message to His people that they should not place their trust in any entities other than Himself? Had Israel and/or Judah been tempted to form an alliance with the Elamites? How did His people respond to the news concerning the downfall of the Elamites? When did He bless the Elamites and restore them to their land?

A Message About Kedar and Hazor August 26, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:28-33.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on Kedar and Hazor.

He will compel Nebuchadnezzar to attack these nomads. Indeed, the Babylonians will:

  • defeat them
  • plunder them
  • ravage their territory.

Thoughts: I am curious as to why God pronounced His judgment on Kedar and Hazor in this passage. Had these nomads attacked Israel and/or Judah? Did they render assistance to Nebuchadnezzar during his invasion of Judah? Was God primarily punishing them for worshiping false gods? Did He intend to send a powerful message to His people that they should not place their trust in any entities other than Himself? Had Israel and/or Judah been tempted to form an alliance with these nomads? How did His people respond to the news that these nomads had been defeated?

A Message About Damascus August 14, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:23-27.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the kingdom of Syria.

He will cause the denizens of Hamath, Arpad and Damascus to be paralyzed with fear – before they are slain by their enemies. Moreover, He will compel their enemies to raze their cities.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God plans to judge the kingdom of Syria. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 23:

The Syrians had from the beginning been very hostile to the Israelites and had often attacked them. The kings of Israel then made a treaty with the Syrians in order to attack their fellow Jews in Judah. In this way the Syrians caused great trouble to the Jews and were friends to the Israelites until both kingdoms were attacked by the Babylonians.

This passage is yet another reminder of the futility of not placing one’s ultimate trust in God Himself. Israel – and Judah – repeatedly sought deliverance from their enemies by forging alliances with their pagan neighbors; while these alliances may have yielded short-term benefits, the people of God were inevitably ruined by their long-term costs. Here, God demonstrates to His people that He is sovereign over their pagan neighbors – and their false deities; moreover, He will exercise His sovereignty over their pagan neighbors by destroying them. Thus, His people should acknowledge His sovereignty in their words and deeds. As modern-day believers, this passage challenges us to consider whether we, too, acknowledge His sovereignty in our words and deeds.

A Message About Edom August 12, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:7-22.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the Edomites.

He states that they have offended him with their pride and arrogance.

Thus, He will compel foreign powers to crush them by sacking their cities. Moreover, He will enable their attackers to drive the survivors into exile.

Their demise will elicit horror – and scorn – from neighboring countries.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God punishes the prideful and arrogant Edomites. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 7:

Here Jeremiah turns to the Edomites, who were inveterate enemies of the chosen people although they should have been kindly disposed to them, for both had Abraham as their ancestor. The Edomites gloried in their holy descent and also had circumcision in common with the Jews. It was a most impious cruelty for the Edomites to show such bitter hatred toward their blood relatives.

This passage reminds me of a particularly challenging section of Scripture: Romans 9:10-13, where God states that Jacob would be blessed at the expense of Esau – according to His sovereign choice. Those who are familiar with the story of Jacob and Esau may have difficulty comprehending the rationale for God’s favor toward Jacob – as he essentially deceived Isaac on two separate occasions to obtain the blessings that were intended for Esau. One thought on this point is that since God is sovereign, our inability to comprehend His sovereignty does not detract from it. As He is perfect, His perfection cannot be marred by the failings of our imperfect minds. While He gives us considerable latitude to wrestle with Him on thorny issues, in the end He calls us to worship Him and acknowledge His supremacy – despite our inability to grasp it.

In verse 11, we see that God commands the Edomites to place their orphans and widows under His protection. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

The prophet goads the Edomites when God says, mockingly, that he will protect their orphans and widows.

One of the questions in my NIV Study Bible actually concerns the meaning of this verse; the answer that is provided in that text references God’s intention to mock the Edomites as a potential explanation in that regard. Thus, I am curious: did God actually intend to harm the orphans and widows of the Edomites? If so, did He intend to prove that the sins of the Edomites were so great that He had to punish their entire community? Also, if God did harm these orphans and widows, did they ultimately enter His kingdom? Admittedly, it is difficult to reconcile this verse with our understanding of God and His concern for those who are disadvantaged. Indeed, in this book we see that He punishes the people of Judah for their mistreatment of those who are disadvantaged.