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.
““Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:23-24 ESV
Through the Bible: Jeremiah 23-25
Immanence and Transcendence. Two big words; neither of which actually appear in the Bible, but nevertheless describe two opposite traits of God that are somehow both true.
First, God’s immanence. Immanence means presence. It is God’s “at hand-ness” to use the phrase from Jeremiah 23. Throughout Scripture, God’s nearness is highlighted. His Word is immanent in Deuteronomy 30:
““For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. Deuteronomy 30:11-14,ESV
God’s presence is also immanent. In Isaiah 43:2, He is the God who is with us when we pass through the waters. In Daniel 3, He is the fourth man in the fire with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego.
Of course, nowhere is God’s immanence more apparent than in the Incarnation of Jesus. Although, like I said, the word “immanence” isn’t in Scripture, it almost is:
““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” Matthew 1:23 ESV
As much as every page of Scripture resonates with God’s nearness, though; God’s transcendence is just as apparent. He is high and exalted in Isaiah 7. He dwells in unapproachable light in 1 Timothy 6:
“who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” 1 Timothy 6:16 ESV
God’s attributes are also transcendent. He does not share His omniscience, omnipotence, or omnipresence with anyone else. He tells Isaiah—remember him? The same prophet who revealed that Messiah would be called Immanuel—he told Isaiah,
“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’” Isaiah 46:9-10 ESV
Finally, God’s character is transcendent. While He is with us, he is altogether not like us. Numbers 23:19 tells us that “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”
And in Psalm 50, God gives this stunning word of rebuke to a people that had apparently become too familiar with Him:
“These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.” Psalm 50:21 ESV
This, apparently, was how the lying prophets viewed God in Jeremiah’s day. They thought nothing of “committing adultery and walking in lies” (Jer. 23:14). They had gotten so comfortable with speaking on God’s behalf that they were telling lies about him. So through Jeremiah, God reminded them that he wasn’t just immanent. He was also transcendent.
“But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds. “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away?” Jeremiah 23:22-23 ESV
Praise God that He is with us. But fear God because He is not like us. We have to keep both these truths in tension. Focus too much on God’s transcendence, and you will never approach Him. Focus too much on God’s immanence, and you will recast Him in your own image.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word
or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.
Through the Bible: Jeremiah 18-22
Jeremiah had such a tough ministry assignment. Caught between a people who didn’t want to listen and a God who was so fed up with the people that He told Jeremiah not to even pray for them.
God, if you wanted a prophet who wouldn’t pray for the people, why didn’t you send Jonah?
But Jeremiah loves God’s people, so he prays for them even when God says not to (see 14:19-21). And he loves God’s Word so much that he speaks it even when the people don’t want him to (see 20:9).
Jeremiah 20:9 could be seen as an inspiring verse for a preacher who won’t quit. I actually quoted this verse when I was interviewed by the Pastor Search Committee for the church I serve now. When they asked me why I wanted to be a pastor, I told them, “I have to preach,” and quoted this verse.
I got the job.
But, as we talked about a few days ago (see Day 221: On Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth), we can’t just pick a verse that says what we are trying to say. God’s word isn’t a rack of greeting cards. Thus, when you read Jeremiah 20:9 in context, you realize that it isn’t the triumphant cry of a fearless preacher. It’s the discouraged admission of a burnout who hates his job:
7 O Lord, you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
everyone mocks me.
8 For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
9 If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
(By the way, have you ever had the guts to begin a conversation with God by saying, “Lord, you deceived me.”? No? Me neither.)
Jeremiah is at his absolute lowest in chapter 20; cursing his birthday, even cursing the man who brought his dad a cigar and said “It’s a boy.”
“Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, “A son is born to you,” making him very glad.” Jeremiah 20:14-15 ESV
What’s the lesson for me in Chapter 20?
Maybe it’s that no matter how hard ministry gets, it will never be as tough for me as it was for Jeremiah.
Maybe it is to be so burdened for people that I never stop praying for them, and so burdened for the Word that I never stop speaking to them.
Or maybe it’s that I don’t have to be afraid to pour out my heart to God, even when it’s ugly, and even when I say things I don’t really mean.
I don’t think Jeremiah really thought God deceived him. I don’t think he really wished he had never been born. But he could pour that out to God because there was absolute security in that relationship. He trusted God even with the darkest corners of his heart. And we can too.
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
Through the Bible: Jeremiah 14-17
When a fighter jet locks in on a target, the computer helps the pilot stay on target, no matter how many shots the enemy fires at him. If he gets off course, the targeting computer corrects him.
I am a huge Star Wars fan. And if you’ve seen the original movie, you remember the scene of Luke making his final attack run on the Death Star. His targeting computer is locked in on the tiny exhaust port. He’s about to launch his photon torpedoes. Suddenly he hears the voice of Obi Wan in his head: Trust your feelings. So he switches to manual and lets the Force guide him.
It would be tempting to stop there and say, “See– that’s the Holy Spirit!” But there’s that troublesome line: Trust your feelings. And that’s the problem. Your feelings will get you in trouble. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things.” So following your heart might sound great for a Disney princess, but it isn’t good advice for a child of God.
I need to not do what Luke Skywalker did when he switched off his computer and trusted his feelings. My feelings can and will lead me astray. If (in this very random analogy) the Holy Spirit is my targeting computer, then I’m never gonna blow up the Death Star by switching to manual.
God, bless children, parents, teachers, administrators, bus drivers, guidance counselors, lunch ladies, coaches, custodians, academic advisors, and youth ministers, as another school year begins.
Bless kids that are driving for the first time. Keep them safe.
Bless kids that are going to their first parties and their first dates. Keep them safe, too.
And God, I beg You; let this be a year without a school shooting. Make yourself real and present for any kid that would consider hurting himself or others. Overcome hate and darkness, anger and loneliness, bullying and prejudice and desperation. Replace them with love and light and peace and community and friendship and understanding and hope.
Let this year be the year that anonymous small towns stay anonymous. I wish to God I had never heard of Uvalde. Or Parkland. Or Columbine. So Lord, I beg You: put a friend in the life a a kid in a town somewhere that I’ve never heard of, so that at the end of this school year, I still will have never heard of it.
I know you can do it Lord. These thoughts and prayers are going out before the tragedy. Before the makeshift memorials. Before the news helicopters. Because the thoughts and prayers that go out after feel hollow. So Lord, let this be an unusual year, simply because it’s normal.