9 I looked, and I saw beside the cherubim four wheels, one beside each of the cherubim; the wheels sparkled like topaz. 10 As for their appearance, the four of them looked alike; each was like a wheel intersecting a wheel. 11 As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the cherubim faced; the wheels did not turn about[b] as the cherubim went. The cherubim went in whatever direction the head faced, without turning as they went. 12 Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels. 13 I heard the wheels being called “the whirling wheels.” 14 Each of the cherubim had four faces: One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a human being, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle. (Ezekiel 10:9-14)
I’ve always kind of written off the visions in Ezekiel as bizarre imagery that I would never understand. Especially the four creatures carrying the throne of God that are described in Chapters 1 and 10. (Side note: in the 70’s, there was a cultural obsession with UFO’s and extra-terrestrials, and I actually heard a Bible teacher argue that Ezekiel was describing flying saucers. If you are too young to remember the 70’s, you missed one funky decade!)
Anyway, on this read through, I’m seeing some meaning to the imagery that I have never seen before. I am not claiming any special knowledge that this is the definitive, be all and end all interpretation for Ezekiel’s vision. I’m just saying this made sense to me during this season of my life.
Ezekiel is sitting by a canal in Babylon when he first has his vision. I would imagine he’s having a moment. After all, it’s his 30th birthday, and he’s not supposed to be in Babylon. As a priest, he was supposed to be beginning his service in the Temple, instead of sitting by this smelly canal in downtown Babylon.
So maybe he’s in his feelings a little. Wondering where God is. Wondering what his purpose in life is, as a priest without a temple.
As a pastor, I had a lot of moments like this during the pandemic lockdown when we weren’t having worship services.
But then, Ezekiel sees the glory of the Lord, represented by a throne sitting on the backs of four living creatures, each with four faces— angel, man, lion, eagle—balanced on wheels within wheels that go in all directions but never turn; which are covered with eyes.
But here’s the word God showed me this morning. I think every detail of this vision was intended to reassure Ezekiel in that season of Ezekiel’s life. For example:
God goes everywhere! Ezekiel sees the glory of the Lord, in Babylon. Not in the temple. That’s what the wheels are for.
God sees everything! Even when we are far from home and wondering what our purpose is, there is nothing that escapes his notice. That’s what the eyes are for.
God’s glory is reflected in all creation. Over and over, the Psalms talk about how every creature in heaven (angels) and on earth (man and beasts) and the birds of the sky express God’s glory. See Psalm 8, 19, and 103 for example. That’s what the four faces are for.
God’s character never changes. The vision is specific in that regardless of which direction the throne is going, the wheels never turn. James describes God as “the Father of lights, in whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. No matter where we are or how long our exile might feel, God’s face will always be toward us.
“And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord. And behold, at the entrance of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east.”Ezekiel 8:16 ESV
Ezekiel 8 is all about the corruptions of temple worship. In a vision, God brings Ezekiel to the Temple. God shows Ezekiel idols that are set up in the inner court (v 5-6). And God essentially says, “But wait. It gets worse.”
Then God shows Ezekiel seventy elders burning incense within the temple. But rather than the smoke of the incense rising up to God, the elders are in the dark, “each in a room of pictures” (v 12). In other words, offering incense to graven images. And again, God says in verse 13, “It gets worse.”
Next, God shows Ezekiel a room full of weeping women. This sounds like a good thing. Maybe they’re repenting. Sadly, no. They are weeping for Tammuz, a fertility God.
And for the third time, God says, “It gets worse” (v 15).
Finally, God shows Ezekiel 25 men (24 priests + the high priest) standing between porch and altar, but with their backs to the Lord and worshiping the rising sun.
In all this, there’s the appearance of doing what you are supposed to do in the Temple, but with completely and utterly the wrong focus. Elders with censers—yay! God set that up in Numbers 11:16-17. But though they have the title and the equipment, they are offering their incense to idols. They are literally just blowing smoke.
The women in the temple are weeping. Good! But they are weeping over Tammuz. Bad! They have the right emotion, but in service to the wrong thing.
The priests are in the right place. Between porch and altar, which is where they would have stood to make intercession for the people. Awesome! But they are turned away from the only One who could hear their prayer. Not awesome.
What a word as we get ready to worship on Sunday. We can be in the right place but with the wrong focus. We can have all the appearance of doing godly, pious, religious things, but in reality, we are in the dark, each in our room of pictures, or weeping over our idols.
We can be dressed for worship, show up at church, yet still turn our backs on God. And when that’s the case, we face the same judgment as the people of Ezekiel’s day:
“Therefore I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.””
Ezekiel 8:18 ESV
God, have mercy on us. Let us turn our faces to you and not away. Bring us out of the darkness and into your marvelous light, and receive our worship. Amen.
3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. (Ezekiel 2:3-5)
Several years ago, I was ticketed for driving solo in the HOV lane in Nashville, Tennessee. I wasn’t in the lane for very long, and it sure didn’t seem like a big deal. But when I studied the traffic ticket, to my surprise it said that I was required to appear in traffic court! There was no wiggle room. The law said I must go, so I went.
Our justice system assumes that we will show proper respect to the governing authorities. I obey the law because of the respect I have for the lawgiver. I answer the summons because of the authority of the judge.
In many respects, Isaiah and Ezekiel have very similar stories. Both men are priests-turned-prophets. Both had breathtaking visions of God in His glory. Isaiah’s was in the temple, while Ezekiel’s was on the banks of the Chebar canal in Babylon. Both men had their vision of God in the midst of national crisis. For Isaiah, King Uzziah had just died. For Ezekiel, the crisis was the deportation of the Jews from Jerusalem.
In addition, both Ezekiel and Isaiah had ministries that were destined to fail from the start. Isaiah was sent to a people who would be “ever hearing, but never understanding; ever seeing but never perceiving” (Isaiah 6:9). Similarly, God sent Ezekiel to Israel, a “rebellious nation.”
Ezekiel was under no illusion that the people would automatically listen to his message. In fact, God found six different ways to describe the people as rebellious in just three verses (Ezekiel 2:3-5)!
For all their similarities, however, I see one big difference between Isaiah and Ezekiel. In Isaiah 6, God asks the question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8). But in Ezekiel 2, God doesn’t ask; He commands:
And he said to me, “Son of man,[a] stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2 And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day.
In other words, Isaiah volunteered; Ezekiel was drafted. Not that it makes that much of a difference. God never asks a question He doesn’t know the answer to, so His “question” to Isaiah was probably more of a Godfather moment– it was an offer Isaiah couldn’t refuse.
Nevertheless, perhaps that is why the Lord gave Ezekiel such an awe-inspiring vision of Himself on His throne. Knowing the people would probably question Ezekiel’s authority, God wanted to make sure Ezekiel would have no question about God’s authority. When God summons, you obey. No questions asked.
What about you? When the Lord gives you instructions, do you obey without question? Perhaps all of us need a renewed vision of God on His throne from time to time. He has the authority. We need to answer His summons.
Sermon preached August 28, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama. James Jackson, Pastor
[I am grateful to the teaching of Skip Heitzig at Calvary Church Albuquerque. His sermon, “The Steady Hand of a Caring God” provides the outline and structure of this sermon.]
I promise I didn’t plan this. We’ve been in Romans for over eight months now, taking it almost verse by verse. We’ve taken a couple of breaks here and there, times I’ve been out of town, or days we had a special emphasis that took us out of Romans. I say all that to tell you I don’t think I could have planned this.
But here it is. Today is August 28. 8-28. And today, we are going to spend nearly the entire sermon on Romans 8:28. And Romans 8:28 tells us that God causes all things to work together for His purposes.
You can’t make this stuff up! And in a way, this “coincidence”—if you even want to call it that—is a perfect illustration of what Romans 8:28 is all about.
Romans Chapter 8:28 is one of the most well-known verses in the entire Bible. Many of you know it by heart. When Biblegateway.com published a list of their most read verses, it was #3, behind John 3:16 and Jeremiah 29:11.
There is a good chance you have a pillow or coffee mug or T-shirt with Romans 8:28 on it.
But while many of you know every word of Romans 8:28 by heart, there’s also a pretty good chance that you haven’t really taken every word of Romans 8:28 to heart. And even if you have, there are a lot of people who claim Romans 8:28 out of context. They love 8:28, but they don’t know 8:29 and 30. And the truth is, Romans 8:28 really doesn’t make any sense without Romans 8:29-30. Let’s look at these three verses together. Normally, I read from the ESV, but I’m going to switch to the New American Standard version this morning, mainly because that’s what I first memorized 8:28 from. I’ll have it up on the screen too, because I know that’s not a translation a lot of people use. Let’s stand, if you are physically able, for the reading of God’s Word:
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
Romans 8:28-30 NASB1995
We’ve talked before about how, if the entire Bible was a necklace, then Romans would be the pendant on that necklace. Romans 8 would be the cluster of diamonds in the middle of the pendant. And verse 28 would be the brightest diamond in the cluster.
When a jeweler grades the quality of a diamond, he looks at five C’s: cut, color, clarity, carats, and certification. Recently, they’ve added a sixth C— conscience, which is whether or not the diamond is ethically sourced. So this morning, So we’re going to look at Romans 8:28 phrase by phrase, and I want to point out the six C’s of the diamond that is Romans 8:28.
The First C stands for Certainty. “We know” is how verse 28 starts.
Paul’s not scratching his head saying, “We think,” or “We hope,” Or, maybe God causes all things to work together for good. He says, “We KNOW.” The verb is in the perfect tense, which means it is a completed, once and for all, never to be repeated action. And it is in the indicative mood, which means it is a simple statement of fact. So we could translate “we know” as, “this is settled. We know it with absolute knowledge and complete certainty. As sure as the sun rises, We know this.”
Several times in the book of Romans, Paul talks about things that we can know with this kind of certainty.
We know that God is just (Romans 2:2)
We know that suffering produces endurance (Romans 5:3)
We know that our old self was crucified (Romans 6:6)
We know that Christ will never die again (Romans 6:9)
These are all things we can know with certainty. So add to that the certainty that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God.
The Bible is honest about the fact that there are things in life we don’t know. Both Habakuk and Job wondered why God would allow bad things to happen. Isaac said that he didn’t know the hour of his death. And neither do we. We don’t know the day Jesus will come back. And according to Mark 13:32, neither does Jesus Himself.
But there are certain things we do know or we should know. And one of them– and it should never be a question in your mind– is that God loves you. Sometimes our assurance the God loves us takes a hit when things are happening to us that don’t make sense. When we doubt the basis of Romans 8:28, that God is causing all these things to work for your good, it’s usually because you are doubting either God’s love or his power. These bad things are happening, you reason, either because God isn’t able to do anything about them, or because God doesn’t care enough about you to prevent them.
Dear friend, you never have to question where you stand with someone who was willing to die for you. God’s love for you is absolutely, once and for all, settled, as is His absolute, sovereign power. Psalm 62:11-12 says, “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.
Beloved, never abandon what you do know because of what you don’t know. Romans 8:28 begins with certainty: We know.
Well, what do we know? That brings us to the Second C: Control— “God causes”
You can misquote Romans 8:28 just a tiny bit and come off sounding more like a Buddhist or a Hindu, or even an atheist. All you have to do is leave out “God causes.” Then you have “All things work together for good.” And you get karma. Or you get some kind of vague moralistic deism that suggests that if you keep doing good things things will turn out well for you. But that isn’t what Romans 8:28 says. The idea is not that all things just happen to work out for good on their own. So it’s not a statement of fate. It’s a statement of faith, that God is providentially bringing events together according to his plan.
Before you get to “all things,” you have to deal with “God causes all things.”
At the root of everything that happens is the First Cause. The unmoved Mover. And since we looked at the verb tense for “we know,” let’s do the same thing with “causes.” This verb is present active. “Causes” is a present active verb, which means it is an ongoing activity that is orchestrated by God.
So if we were going to be more accurate, our translation so far would read, “We know with absolute certainty that God, on an ongoing basis, is causing.” This is one of the keys to understanding what you are observing in your life right now. It’s a work in progress. It isn’t finished yet.
The Third C is Comprehensive.“We know that God is causing all things”
Not “some things.” It might actually be easier to believe in God if that’s what the verse said. If you believed that, then you could at least have a God that was a little more understandable. You could give God credit for good things, and let Him off the hook for things like earthquakes and natural disasters and the Holocaust and mosquitoes.
But it doesn’t say God causes some things or most things or 99% of things to work together for good. It says “all things.”
It doesn’t say all good things work together for good. Nor does it say all prayed about things work together for good.
It says all things. The Greek word translated “all things” is panta. And guess what it means? It means all things. There are no qualifications. There are no limitations. There are no caveats.
That’s hard. Christianity isn’t for sissies. It takes faith to look at our world and say that God is causing all things to work together for good. It’s one thing to praise God that you got the job you applied for, and say, “See, God causes all things to work together for good.” But do you have the faith to say that when you didn’t get the job? Or when the pregnancy test is negative? Or the cancer screening is positive?
All things means all things. In his commentary on Romans, William R Newell sad that this includes “dark things, bright things, happy things, sad things, sweet things, bitter things, times of prosperity, times of adversity, all things.”
The Fourth C: Cooperation— “work together”
“Work together,” two words, one word in Greek language, sunergeo. You might be able to guess the word we get from this Greek word sunergeo. It’s synergy. Synergy is the interaction and cooperation of two or more things. It is the working together of various elements to produce a result greater than the sum.
So it’s not that you just have all these random things that happen. It’s that God superintends the mixture of all things.
So it’s the right combination. Here’s an example. Yesterday, we made brownies for a Sunday school party.
There are certain things in life in and of themselves are evil, horrible, bad, terrible. They’re not good. But in God’s kitchen, God is mixing all the ingredients together in the right amount.
And then, God subjects the ingredients to the two most important components—heat and time—the result is something good.
One of the best examples of this from Scripture is the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. You know the story. Joseph was one of twelve sons of a man named Jacob, and he was his father’s favorite son. Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him, so they kidnapped him and sold him into slavery. Then they led their father to believe Joseph was dead.
Then there was a famine in the land. His other sons go to buy grain in Egypt, where Joseph is now in charge. Put a pin there, because we will come back to that in a minute.
Joseph puts one of the brothers in prison and tells the others to return home and bring back the youngest brother Benjamin. When they tell this to Jacob, Jacob throws up his hands and says,
“You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.” (Genesis 42:36)
So that’s one perspective. One worldview. “All these things are against me.”
But let’s compare Jacob’s worldview to his son’s worldview. Joseph was indeed sold into slavery. He became the chief servant in the house of a rich man named Potiphar. He was falsely accused by his boss’s wife and then thrown into prison. He spent years there. Then, through a series of circumstances that only God could orchestrate, he rises to a position in the government second only to Pharaoh. And so, when his brothers come to him for food, he is able to preserve his family by providing for them. Otherwise, they would have starved. Years later, after Joseph has moved the entire family to Egypt, Jacob dies, and Jospeh’s brothers are afraid that Joseph will now get revenge on his brothers. But in Genesis 50:20, Joseph says,
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:20 ESV
Think about it: Jacob and Joseph are living the exact same story with the exact same ingredients over the exact same amount of time. What is the difference between “all these things are against me” and “all these things are working together?” The difference is between looking at all the individual ingredients—the raw eggs, the flour, the salt, and saying, this is terrible—and looking at the result when everything is put together and subjected to heat and time, and saying, this is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. Heat, time, and the right ingredients mixed by a master chef.
The Fifth C: Culmination
We know that God causes all things to work together for good
I cannot think of another statement that brings more assurance, more joy, more confidence to the Christian than this. Now, be careful.
He does not say we know that all things are good in and of themselves. Because that would be an absurd statement in view of natural disasters that happen, human tragedies that occur.
It’s not just absurd, it’s offensive. The death of a child– that’s not good. Cancer is not good. Suicide is not good. War is not good. Terrorism is not good. Rape is not good. Sex trafficking– all of those things are not good.
Do you want to stand over the casket of someone who died of a drug overdose and say “all things are good?” Of course not.
What 8:28 says is that God causes all things to work together for good. Let’s consider those two words, “for good.” There is a difference between “for good” and “for comfort.” Not all good experiences are comfortable experiences. Any of you that have been through boot camp can tell us that. Certain experiences are very uncomfortable. All things do not work together for our ease, or our prosperity, or our physical health.
Know this, though, God is always working toward a supreme good as God defines good– as God defines good.
Many of you know the story of Joni Eareckson Tada. When she was 18 years old, she was paralyzed in a diving accident in the Chesapeake Bay. She’s 72 years old now, and has been confined to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic for nearly all her life.
Joni is often asked why she thinks God allows suffering. Listen to her short but profound answer. She said, and I quote, “God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.” That’s profound. “God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”
The true Christian is not naive about suffering, and pain, and heartache, and tragedy. We know we’re not automatically healed as Christian believers.
Jerry Bridges writes, “God never allows pain without purpose in the lives of His children.”
And it’s not always easy to think about the fact that God allows pain at all. But get this: God allows pain, but He never wastes pain. He always causes to work together for our ultimate good, the good of conforming us more to the likeness of His son. Did you hear that last part? God has a goal, conforming us into the likeness of His son.
I want you to read it for yourself. Verse 29, “for whom He foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son.”
The good for which God causes all things to work together is making us, His beloved, more like Jesus. God desires our lives to be sweeter, and richer, and better, and deeper. That’s the good. In every trial, God has two things in mind: your highest good and His greatest glory.
There will always be parts of it we won’t understand. And I go, what’s up with that thing? Why that part of it? I don’t get it all. I don’t get it all.
But I’m OK with that. You know what the apostle James said? He said, we should even get to this point, “count it all joy, brothers, when you fall into various trials.”
Why would you be excited about that? Because God has got something up His sleeve. Count it all joy when you fall into various trials knowing that the trial of your faith produces patience. Let patience have its perfect work, that you might be complete and entire, lacking nothing. God has something going on. The trials of your faith produce steadfastness, and that steadfastness is making us more like Jesus.
Now, let’s look at the last C of Romans 8:28. We’ve seen certainty, cause, comprehensiveness, cohesiveness, and the culmination. But there’s one more. And that is the condition. You see, the promise of Romans 8:28 isn’t for everyone. It is “to those who love God and are allied according to His purpose.
You see, we can’t take Verse 28 and just quote the part of the verse we like, “we know that all things work together for good.” Because that’s not what it says. It’s given to someone.
It is given to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. That’s the definition of a Christian. One who loves God and is called according to God’s purpose. Most of us only think about half of that definition. A Christian is someone who loves God. That’s the human definition. But God’s definition of a Christian is someone who called according to His purpose.
And what is that purpose? See, this is why you can’t quote Romans 8:28 without quoting Romans 8:29. Look at verse 29:
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Romans 8:29-30 ESV
Now we get the big picture. We go from eternity past to eternity future, from predestination and election all the way to glorification.
He foreknew. He predestined. He called. He justified.
He will glorify. The first four have already happened. You were known from very beginning of eternity. You were predestined to be God’s kid. God called you to Himself when you became a Christian. God justified you when you surrendered your life to the Lordship of Jesus.
And everything that happened to you leading up to your decision to follow Christ was God calling you. Everything that ever happened to you was so you would respond to God’s call, and so He could justify you.
So what about now? Everything that has happened to you since has been for the purpose of making you more like Jesus. God’s purpose is to form Christ in you. But look at the last one. Whom He justified, these He also what? Glorified. Well, guess what? That hasn’t happened yet.
This is not a glorified body!
So why does God write about it in the past tense. Because that’s how sure He is that it’s going to happen. Your glorification is as certain to God as Him choosing you before the foundation of the world, and electing you, and calling you, and justifying you. The next step, glorification is a done deal to Him.
This is why we can say with certainty that all things work together for the good of those who love God—because God is already writing about the end result as if it has already happened.
One of mine and Josh’s favorite things to do together is jigsaw puzzles. We’ll take a new puzzle and dump all the pieces out on the table. Then, we throw away the box, because we don’t need it anymore. The next step is to turn all the pieces over so that the picture side is facing up. After that, we’ll try to find the four corner pieces, and then all the edge pieces. And once we get the boundaries in place, we will start trying to complete the puzzle.
Now, one of the things I just said to you is not true. One of the steps I walked you through is not the way any sane person puts a jigsaw puzzle together. Did you hear what it was?
That’s right. You don’t throw the box away. Because it’s only by looking at the picture on the box that all of the little details make sense. Right now, you might be holding a pretty dark piece of your puzzle. Where does this go? Why would God allow this to happen? He sees the whole picture. Can you rest in that today?
Note: While I was trying to find an image to go along with this post, I stumbled on a fascinating tidbit from American history. Around 1835, an organization was founded that would provide fellowship for working class men, similar to the Masons or the Elks, called the “Independent Order of the Rechabites.” You can read more about them here.
5 Then I set before the Rechabites pitchers full of wine, and cups, and I said to them, “Drink wine.” 6 But they answered, “We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, ‘You shall not drink wine, neither you nor your sons forever. 7 You shall not build a house; you shall not sow seed; you shall not plant or have a vineyard; but you shall live in tents all your days, that you may live many days in the land where you sojourn.’ 8 We have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he commanded us, to drink no wine all our days, ourselves, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, 9 and not to build houses to dwell in. We have no vineyard or field or seed, 10 but we have lived in tents and have obeyed and done all that Jonadab our father commanded us.
Today the Rechabites got my attention. When Tara-Leigh said, “They have a heritage of obedience that puts Israel to shame,” I wanted to dig deeper.
According to Jeremiah 35:6, the Rechabites’ strict rules were put in place by a son (or descendant) of Rechab named Jehonadab (or Jonadab). He forbade his sons to drink wine, build houses, or plant crops. Scholars speculate that he was trying to preserve the nomadic lifestyle of their ancestors the Kenites, so he commanded his sons to live in tents.
In 2 Kings 10, we meet Jonadab (aka Jehonadab). He helped Jehu rid Israel of Baal-worship after the time of Ahab (2 Kings 10:15–27).
So now the descendants of Jonadab/Jehonadab show up again, two centuries later, as an object lesson for the Israelites. It’s interesting to me that their obedience is to their human ancestor and their family traditions, and not necessarily to God. In fact, their obedience could be seen as contradicting the specific command of God. God told Jeremiah to offer them wine. They refused.
Now, in fairness, Jeremiah didn’t say to them, “Thus saith the Lord, drink wine.” So we can’t speculate what they would have done with a direct command. But if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rechabites also refused to live in houses when a few years later, when Jeremiah did say, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel… Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce (Jeremiah 29:5). Jeremiah 35 repeatedly emphasizes that the Rechabites are obedient to the command of their earthly father (verses 6,8,10,18).
So it isn’t the specifics of the Rechabites obedience that we are meant to apply here. In another context, they might even have been rebuked for holding on to the traditions of their fathers instead of obedience to God (see Mark 7:8).
No, the lesson is that this is what obedience looks like. Faithfulness to the command of your father, passed down from generation to generation, even when all the world is going in a different direction.
Oh, Lord, give me the faith to live like a Rechabite today, but with one difference. Let me hold fast to the commands of my Heavenly Father. And let me pass that on to my sons.
27 Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah's dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 28 “Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. Jeremiah 36:27-28
Through the Bible: Jeremiah 35-37
Thomas Jefferson was a great writer. He is the chief architect of one of the founding documents of our nation, the Declaration of Independence.
But even the best writers don’t get to write their own Bible. Yet Jefferson attempted to do just that. Like King Jehoiakim in today’s reading, Jefferson took a penknife to the New Testament and cut out any verse that didn’t align with his rational, naturalistic worldview. The result, an 84-page book entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, contains no miracles, no resurrection, and no references to Jesus as the divine Son of God.
There are parts of the Bible that are hard to obey. There are things that are hard to understand. And there are truths in God’s Word that are inconvenient or make us uncomfortable. But we must always remember that it is God’s Word, not ours. We are accountable to what the Bible says, not to what we wish it said.
I am so thankful for Jeremiah 36:28, because it reminds me that even after the king burned God’s word, the Lord prompted Jeremiah to write it again. No matter how human beings ignore it, revise it, or discard it, the whole truth of God’s Word will abide forever!
Father, thank You for Your perfect word. Every single word of it!
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah a second time, while he was still shut up in the court of the guard: 2 “Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: 3 Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. (Jeremiah 33:1-3)
Through the Bible: Jeremiah 32-34
Jeremiah 33:3 is a great promise from Scripture. When we call on God, He will answer us. What could be better? But don’t be so quick to jump to the promise of verse 3 that you skip over the treasure in verse 1.
The prophet Jeremiah was still imprisoned in the court of the palace of the king of Judah, where he had been since King Zedekiah locked him up for prophesying the word of the Lord (see Jeremiah 32:1-3). It must have been a discouraging, confusing time for the prophet. Perhaps he wondered why he was being punished for being obedient and speaking truth. Maybe he wondered if he was being punished because he accused God of deceiving him (see Day 224: A Fire in My Bones ).
There’s a quirk in the language when you look at Jeremiah 33:1 in the ESV. The phrase “still shut up” means exactly what it says— Jeremiah continued to be locked away in the court of the guard. Other translations say “still confined.” You don’t need to go looking for a deeper meaning.
But my brain is weird. I love puns and wordplay and double entendres. So I look a the phrase “still shut up, ” and I see some basic instructions for how to hear from God.
You want to hear from God? Be still (Psalm 46:10). Still and quiet your soul (Psalm 131:2).
You want to hear from God? Shut up. How can you expect to hear from Him if you are doing all the talking? Remember the lesson from Job, how Job didn’t hear from God until he shut up.
Given what happened the first time the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, I wonder if he had some misgivings about God’s word coming to him “the second time” (Jeremiah 33:1). But God assured Jeremiah that great and mighty things were still to come (verse 3)!
There are times when we wonder if God has forgotten us, or we question why things are turning out the way they are. Take comfort in knowing that just as He came to Jeremiah, God comes to us in the midst of our suffering. He invites us to call to Him, and He promises to answer. He has great and mighty things to show us, even when we have no concept of His great and loving plan.
3 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)
Through the Bible: Jeremiah 30-31
I will be the first to tell you, I don’t have a great memory. A few years ago, my wife gave me a great birthday present: a key ring with an embedded Bluetooth chip. When I can’t remember where I left my keys, all I have to do is push a button on my phone, and my keys will start playing a little song until I find them.
It’s a great gift, but there were two problems. First, when I couldn’t remember where I left my phone (which was often the case), then I couldn’t push the button to play the song. Or (as was even more often the case), when I don’t plug in my keyring to recharge, it won’t respond when I tell it to play its little song.
In verse 34, when Jeremiah says that God will “remember our sin no more,” it isn’t because He has a bad memory. It’s because He chooses to forget! When God forgives our iniquity, He makes a deliberate decision no longer to remember our sin.
But this is just the second of two great promises in today’s passage. In verse 33, God promises to put His law in our inward parts so that we will never forget it. Like that Bluetooth chip in my keyring, God causes my heart to always sing out to Him! But, also like that key ring, if I don’t consistently recharge by spending time with God in His word, my heart won’t sing when God calls to me.
Father, You help me remember Your law, and You choose to forget my sin. What a great trade! Thank You!
Several years ago, while our house was being built, my family came to the construction site late in the day, after the workers had left. We went from room to room, writing Scripture on the beams and on the concrete.
“Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13) went in the dining room.
“I have found the one my soul loves” (Song of Solomon 3:4) was written in the bedroom my wife and I share.
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) is on the beam above the door to the bonus room, where lots of games have been played and lots of time with the Lord has been observed.
Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it” went above the door to the guest bedroom.
Our younger son, Joshua, wrote his life verse above the door to his bedroom: “Be strong and courageous!” from Joshua 1:9.
And our older son wrote his life verse above his bedroom door:
11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
We didn’t think twice about applying the promises and commands God gave his people thousands of years ago to us. We believe that God knows the plans He has for us just as much as He did His people long ago.
Of course, it matters that this particular promise (Jeremiah 29:11) was given to God’s people while they were in Babylon, while they were in the midst of seventy years of exile. It matters that it was spoken through a prophet that had been rejected and mistreated by the very people to whom he was sent to minister.
All of those details contribute to our understanding of the text. But they don’t keep us from being able to apply it to our own family. Here’s why, line by line:
I know the plans I have for you: God is just as sovereign and just as omniscient for us as he was for the exiles of Judah. If He knew the plans He had for them, He knows the plans He has for us.
Plans for welfare and not for evil... Nothing that comes from God can be evil. It is contrary to His nature. And we know that our heavenly Father delights to give good gifts to His children. In Luke 12:32, Jesus told His disciples (and yes, that is us!) that it is “His Father’s good pleasure” to give us the kingdom. God delights in us, and so His plans for us will be to prosper us and not to harm us.
Now, this does not mean we think that the prosperity God plans for us is prosperity in the way well-orthodonticked television preachers talk about prosperity. The Hebrew word is shalom. It is a bigger concept than any single English word can convey, as this screen cap from the Blue Letter Bible app shows:
To give you a future and a hope: We have a future in God. We have placed our hope in God.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a specific promise to a certain group of people in a certain circumstance. But because of the nature of the One making the promise, it is also a general promise to all God’s people at any time. While we can’t do this with every one of God’s promises recorded in Scripture, I praise God that we can with this one.
This week, I asked several people around me if they knew what a DTR was. My suspicion was that if you were a college student or young adult, you knew exactly what a DTR was, but that if you were older, you didn’t. And as it turned out, I was right. When I asked a few people around my age what DTR stood for, and I heard “Don’t Trust Russia;” “Don’t Throw Rocks; Donald Trump Rocks; and even Dang Tide Roll—kind of a mashup between WDE and RTR.
But if you ask a twentysomething, they will tell you that the DTR is when you and your significant other sit down and DEFINE THE RELATIONSHIP. Where is this heading? What are we to each other? Are we just hanging out, or are we shopping for rings?
It’s a fair question. As a relationship progresses, it changes. A DTR is necessary so you know where you stand.
I want to suggest that Romans 8:12-17 is God’s DTR with His children. Because of what Jesus has done for us, our motivation for serving God has changed. So has our status— who we are. Finally, our expectations have changed— where is this leading. So that’s what we’re going to talk about this morning.
Join me in prayer, and then we are going to go verse by verse through this passage.
Now, we are going to be talking about how our relationship has changed, but before we get to that, I want to talk about how our motivation for relationship changes:
Verse 12 starts with the phrase “so then:”
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.
“So then” is a conditional clause. It’s like “because of this.” There has been a change of motivation. We used to do something for one reason; now we do it for a different reason. And because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, We are no longer debtors to the flesh, but to the Spirit.
A debtor is someone who is in debt to someone else. Someone to whom we owe something. For example, Max credit union loaned as money for the renovation of our sanctuary several years ago, and this week we paid off the debt. We finished paying what we owed to Max credit union.
So what do we owe God? Aren’t all our debts paid? Isn’t salvation by grace? Why are we still debtors if Christ paid the debt?
The New International Version makes this a little more clear when it says “we have an obligation, but not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. Our new obligation is to the One who assumed the payments for our debt.
Paul goes on in verse 13 to say,
13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Our obligation is to put to death the deeds of the body. This is what the Puritans called the mortification of the flesh.
Tim Keller says,
This means a Christian doesn’t play games with sin. You don’t aim to wean yourself off it, or say, “I can keep it under control.” You get as far away from it as possible. You don’t just avoid the things you know are sin; you avoid the things that lead to it; and even the things that are doubtful. This is war!
(Romans 8-16 For You; p. 22)
Grace doesn’t change the need to put to death the deeds of the flesh, it just changes the motivation. Your motivation isn’t to earn your way to heaven or avoid the punishment of hell. Because of grace, your motivation is love and gratitude toward the One who gave everything up in order for you to become part of his family. So if you are filling in the blanks on your listening guide, you can say that the motivation changes from duty to delight.
When I was dating Trish, I did things to impress her, or so she would like me. Or (and this is the worst), I would do things for her so that she would feel obligated to do things for me. That’s the great advantage to having a birthday two days after hers. I might pull out all the stops and get her something really extravagant on her birthday, with the thought that she would feel obligated to do something even more extravagant for mine.
But now we’ve been married for 30 years. And even though I’m still in my flesh a little bit and I will do things for her to make her feel obligated to me, when I am at my best I am serving my wife because I love her and I want to honor her, not because I am afraid of her or I want to manipulate her.
In 1986, Dr. Robertson McQuilken, president of Columbia Bible College, resigned from the presidency in order to provide round-the-clock care for his wife, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I want you to listen to a portion of his farewell address to the student body:
Now let’s look at how the relationship itself changes: from being sons to being slaves.
Look at verses 14-15:
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Paul teaches that we are children of God, by adoption.
Now according to pop culture, we are all God’s children. Tina Turner in “We Are the World: “We are all a part of God’s great big family…” And that’s true, in the sense that God created us all.
Paul himself, when he was speaking to pagan philosophers in Acts 17, quoted one of their own poets and said “We are all God’s offspring.” But while it is true creatively, that every human being is created by God in His image, it isn’t true redemptively.
You see, before you were saved, your relationship with God was only as your Creator. God loved you, but your sin separated you from Him. He was your creator, but He wasn’t your Father.
Once, some Pharisees came to Jesus and confronted Him about His teachings. They said to Him in John 8:41, we have one Father—even God.” Look how Jesus responded:
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me… 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.
I’m almost positive “We Are the World” would not have been nearly as popular if Michael Jackson had sung, “You’re of the world… your dad’s the devil…”
But according to Jesus not everybody is a child of God. In fact, there’s only one way to become a child of God. And that is by receiving God’s son as Savior into your life. That’s the only way.
12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13)
So we are born—not of blood; that’s a biological birth; or of the will of man—that’s us choosing God; but by the will of God—God choosing us. The word Paul uses in verse 15 is adoption. The Greek huiothesis, which literally means “son-making.” We have received the spirit of “son-making” by whom we cry out, Abba, Father.
Adoption—being placed as a son– is different from being born as a son. When a child is adopted, his or her identity shifts from their biological parents to their adoptive parents. Our biological parents are Adam and Eve. We are, according to Ephesians 1, by nature children of wrath. But God placed us as sons and daughters into a new family. His family.
One time a teacher was trying to explain adoption to her class of kindergartners. One little girl shot her hand up, and said, I can tell you what adoption is. I’m adopted, and my mom explained it to me. “Adoption is when a child grows in your heart instead of your tummy.”
What a beautiful description of adoption. And from a theological perspective, it’s an accurate description of biblical adoption. You see, God had you growing in his heart for years.
In Ephesians 1 Paul said, that God chose us in him before the foundation of the world having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to himself according to the good pleasure of his will. That’s the doctrine of election. God picked you. God chose you. God wanted you to be part of his family.
I love this quote from Charles Spurgeon. He said,
I believe in the doctrine of election. I’m quite sure that if God had not chosen me I never would have chosen him. Furthermore, I am sure God chose me before I was born, because he never would have picked me afterwards.
When God adopts you, the relationship changes and you are now allowed to call him Abba, Father. That’s a Hebrew word that means daddy.
Did you know that more than 70 times in the gospels Jesus either called God His Father or instructed us to think of God as our Father. That’s how Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father in Heaven hallowed be your name.”
That came as a shock to the people of the first century because Jews did not refer to God as their father. In fact, you can do a search of the entire Old Testament and only find two verses where anyone addressed God as Father. They are both in Isaiah: 63:16-17, and 64:8-9 if you want to look them up.
But that’s pretty much it from the Old Testament. So when Jews prayed, they didn’t refer to God as Father. They would say, “Blessed are you Lord, God, King of the universe.” Beautiful, and true, but also distant, and unapproachable.
But Jesus said call Him Daddy, call him Father. That’s what adoption does. God has redefined the relationship. According to verse 15, we’ve gone from slaves to sons.
Now, just a few weeks ago, we read in Romans 6:19 that we are to present the members of our body as “slaves to righteousness.” So which is it? Are we sons or slaves?
Paul never says we aren’t slaves. He says we don’t have a spirit of slavery. It goes back to our first point. What is your motivation for serving? A slave serves from duty. A son serves from delight. We have not received the spirit of slavery that makes us fall back into fear.
Flash back to a time you really messed up when you were younger. Maybe you wrecked your car. Maybe you got a speeding ticket. Maybe it was something worse. Depending on the relationship you had with your earthly father, you probably had one of two responses.
You might have said, “Oh, man, I have really messed up. I hope my dad doesn’t find out.” If your biggest screw up leads you to be terrified that your father might find out, then your relationship with your father is characterized by the fear of punishment. This is the spirit of slavery. Your motivation to do good is based solely on not wanting to face the punishment if you mess up.
But here’s the second option. You wrecked the car. You got a speeding ticket. You got arrested. What if your response was, “Man, I’ve really messed up. I’ve got to call my dad.” That is the spirit of adoption. If you understand who you are as a son or daughter of a loving father, then he is the first person you cry out to when you are in trouble.
Now, one way or the other, your dad is going to find out. And you are either terrified by that, or you are grateful for that, based on your relationship with your father.
How do you know God really is your heavenly father? How do you know that you really are His son or daughter?
The answer is in verse 16:
16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
We know we are children of God because of the Holy Spirit Himself. Not itself, but Himself. The Holy Spirit isn’t an impersonal force. He is a person, and He bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
When I was preparing for this sermon, I texted Kristie Graves, because I knew that both Hazel and Elaina are adopted. I asked Kristie, “Hey, when you adopted the girls, were you required to have witnesses?” And she answered, “Oh, yes. We had to stand before a judge and take an oath. And we were surrounded by lawyers and family members and case workers and anyone else who would either share responsibility for raising the girls or anyone who had been responsible for vetting us as potential parents during the process. All of them were asked to stand with us as witnesses before the judge.”
Why is that important? Well, suppose the biological father decides to come forward and challenge the adoption. What if one day he comes and says, “this child still belongs to me. She isn’t yours. She’s mine!”
Beloved, don’t you see that this is what Satan tries to do all the time! Satan is our biological father. We inherited a sin nature from Adam and Eve. Like the Pharisees, we are of our father the devil, what Ephesians 2:3 calls children of wrath.” Revelation 12:10 calls the devil the accuser of the brethren. That’s literally what satan means in Hebrew: Ha Satan: the accuser. This was actually the legal term for the one bringing charges. So the satan brings the charges against you before the Judge, the Heavenly Father. And he says, “This one doesn’t belong to you. Look at her! Look at her thought life. Look at all the times she’s screwed up. That’s my girl.”
And so Satan does everything he can to try to drag you back home.
That’s when the Holy Spirit comes forward and says, Nope. The Father adopted this child into His family. I was there before the foundation of the world, when the Father predestined her for adoption (Ephesians 1:5). I was there when God Himself allowed His only begotten Son to shed His blood to seal the adoption.
So You’ve got the witness of the Spirit. But notice that verse 16 says that the “Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” That’s why Revelation 12:11 says that the accuser was overcome by the blood of the lamb and by their testimony.
We can be confident in our salvation. We can have assurance. How does this happen?
Years ago, Trish’s sister and her husband adopted our nephew Drew from Guatemala. Now what assurances do we have that Drew is really Pam and Erdie’s son? Well, it’s pretty simple. He lives in their house. He doesn’t speak a word of Spanish.
There are some people who have even said they can see the resemblance between Drew and our brother in law. He may be biologically Guatemalan, but there is nothing about him that identifies with Guatemala anymore. I’m not even sure he could find it on a map! Drew has full assurance that he is their child.
But what if Drew decided he didn’t want to live in Pam and Erdie’s house anymore? What if he refused to learn the language or customs of his adoptive country? What if he never left Guatemala, and only ate Guatemalan food, and only hung around with other Guatemalans? People around him would start to wonder if he was truly Pam and Erdie’s adoptive son. He might start to doubt it himself. He would cut himself off from all the privileges of sonship. And although Pam and Erdie would never stop loving him, if Drew spent the rest of his life running away from them, then he might miss out on the whatever inheritance would have been his.
For the spirit Himself to bear witness with our spirit, we need to ask ourselves if we are willingly submitting to sonship. Are you acting like a son or daughter? Are you living by the values of your adoptive father?
So the motivation changes—from duty to delight.
The relationship changes: from slave to son.
Finally, our desired outcome changes. It changes from happiness to holiness. Here’s what I mean: Verse 17 says:
we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
That’s kind of a scary caveat, isn’t it? We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
A lot of people love the first part of verse 17, and ignore the second part. So please hear this: whenever the New Testament mentions the blessings and benefits of being a child of God, it almost always mentions suffering adjacent to it.
Philippians 1:29: 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
1 Peter 4:12-14: 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:16: If anyone suffers as a Christian let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
Romans 5:3-5: Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
So God’s goal for His children isn’t to make them happy. It is to make them holy. And that is going to mean we face challenges. And those challenges will take the form of suffering and persecution.
If you are indeed an adopted son or daughter of the living God, you aligned yourself with Him and you follow Him and you love Him, you should see suffering for Him as an indicator that you’re on the right path.
Anybody can endure suffering, only the Christian can endure suffering knowing there’s purpose for it and that is leading somewhere. So all of these experiences are because God adopted you. Meaning he chose you.
Now, this morning, I want to invite you to receive Him. God has chosen you, but it isn’t a forced adoption. You get to sign the papers.