Pride Goes Before Destruction

1 In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariah the son of Amaziah, king of Judah, began to reign. He was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. And the Lord touched the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death, and he lived in a separate house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the household, governing the people of the land.’ Now the rest of the acts of Azariah, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? And Azariah slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the city of David, and Jotham his son reigned in his place.

In the thirty-eighth year of Azariah king of Judah, Zechariah the son of Jeroboam reigned over Israel in Samaria six months. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 10 Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him and struck him down at Ibleam and put him to death and reigned in his place. 11 Now the rest of the deeds of Zechariah, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. 12 (This was the promise of the Lord that he gave to Jehu, “Your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.” And so it came to pass.) 2 Kings 15:1-12 ESV

Reading this chapter can become a bit confusing because it seems to chronicle the lives of two different kings serving over Judah at the very same time. In verse 1, we are introduced to Azariah, the son of Amaziah. Then in verse 13, we’re told that Shallum became king of Israel during the reign of Uzziah king of Judah. There is a simple solution though. The king of Judah went by two different names. Chapter 26 of the book of 2 Chronicles uses this alternate name exclusively when recording the history of his reign. But they are one and the same man.

As the opening verses indicate, Azariah (Uzziah) ascended to the throne of Judah after the death of his father, Amaziah. He was only 16-years-old at the time of his coronation and would reign for 52 years. Only one other king of Judah would enjoy a longer tenure on the throne of Judah: Manasseh.

Azariah’s lengthy reign brought stability to a nation that had been reeling after the assassination of its prior king, Azariah’s father. It was a time of blessing and prosperity because, unlike so many other kings of Judah, Azariah chose to seek the Lord.

…he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper. – 2 Chronicles 26:4-5 ESV

But there are three qualifying words in the above statement: “as long as.” Azariah’s prosperity and success were directly tied to his faithfulness. It was God who made him prosper. And as long as he remained faithful to Yahweh, he experienced His blessings. And, according to the book of 2 Chronicles, those blessings were many.

God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabians who lived in Gurbaal and against the Meunites. The Ammonites paid tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong. – 2 Chronicles 26:7-8 ESV

Azariah built cities within the territories he confiscated from the Philistines. He also ordered the construction of fortified towers throughout the land of Judah and had cisterns dug to provide water for his growing herds. Azariah had large land-holdings, consisting of farms and vineyards. He was wealthy, successful, and powerful. His army was well-trained and equipped with the latest weapons technology. And the city of Jerusalem was protected by state-of-the-art fortifications. As a result:

His fame spread far and wide, for the Lord gave him marvelous help, and he became very powerful. – 2 Chronicles 26:15 NLT

Azariah was enjoying the blessings of God. He had it all: Wealth, power, and fame. But you can almost sense that he was ripe for a fall. And the author of 2 Kings cuts to the chase, revealing that Azariah’s days of enjoying the blessings of God were going to be short-lived and followed by a time of judgment and despair.

Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. And the Lord touched the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death, and he lived in a separate house. – 2 Kings 15:4-5 ESV

The book of 2 Chronicles provides us with the details surrounding Azariah’s fall. And it’s an all-too-familiar story of the pitfalls of pride.

But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. – 2 Chronicles 26:16 NLT

Azariah was a man who became used to getting what he wanted. He had enjoyed unprecedented success. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. His victories were many. His landholdings were great. His wealth was extensive. And his power was unsurpassed. But all of this led to a pride problem. He became to believe that he could get away with anything. But when he entered the sanctuary of God and attempted to usurp the role of the priests, he overstepped his bounds. He violated the Mosaic law and incurred the wrath of God. And it is not as if Azariah didn’t know any better. He was confronted by the high priest and 80 other men of God.

They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!” – 2 Chronicles 26:18 NLT

But rather than repent of his sin, Azariah became angry. He didn’t like being told what he could or could not do. And so, God struck him with leprosy. In just seconds, Azariah’s entire life was turned upside down. He was immediately removed from the temple and, because of his leprosy, would never set foot in the house of God again – for the rest of his life. He would spend the last 11 years of his reign in quarantine and isolation, as his son ruled the nation as his co-regent. Eventually, Azariah died, and his son took his place as king of Judah. He was buried and the only lasting legacy he left behind was his failure. The people would say of him, “He had leprosy” (2 Chronicles 26:23 NLT).

Azariah had fallen prey to the age-old sin of pride. He had failed to heed the warnings of his predecessor, Solomon. In his book of Proverbs, Solomon included the wise but often ignored saying, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs16:18 ESV). And Azariah learned a painful lesson on the pervasive power of pride. Because he had enjoyed the seemingly endless blessings of God, he had wrongly assumed that he could do no wrong. But God has standards, and He expects His children to live according to His will and in keeping with His commands. The king was not exempt from God’s rules, and Azariah learned that lesson the hard way. 

About three years before Azariah’s fateful decision to play priest and offer sacrifices to God, Zechariah, the son of Jeroboam II, became king in Israel. And the assessment of his reign is a familiar one.

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done. – 2 Kings 15:9 ESV

Unlike Azariah, Zechariah’s reign was brief, lasting only six short months. And it would end with his assassination by Shallum, who would take his place on the throne of Israel. But Zechariah’s abbreviated reign fulfilled a promise that God had made to Jehu, king of Israel. Jehu had obeyed God’s command and destroyed the house of Ahab. Not only that, he ordered the execution of any who worshiped Baal and turned the temple of Baal into a public latrine. As a reward for Jehu’s cleansing campaign, God made a vow:

“You have done well in following my instructions to destroy the family of Ahab. Therefore, your descendants will be kings of Israel down to the fourth generation.” – 2 Kings 10:30 NLT

Zechariah was the fulfillment of that promise. But his reign would only last half a year. His murder would usher in an era of intrigue, deception, and instability. Over the next 20 years, the northern kingdom of Israel would have six different kings, and only one of them would die a natural death. The rest would be assassinated. It would be a time marked by pervasive wickedness, rampant idolatry, and increasing resistance on the part of the people to heed God’s call to repentance.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Broken Beyond Repair

1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” – Matthew 27:1-10 ESV

509px-judasThe rooster crowed and the sun came up, just as it always does. Yet, this would be anything but just another morning. Jesus, the Son of God, had been betrayed, denied, libeled, mocked, and falsely condemned. Now, He was being dragged before Pilate, the Roman governor, because the Jews were going to demand His death. They were forbidden by Roman law from practicing capital punishment on their own. In John’s gospel, he records the Sanhedrin’s response when Pilate demanded that they judge Jesus according to their own law. He saw this as nothing more than a petty religious squabble. But they made their true intentions known when they demanded, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” (John 18:31 ESV). They weren’t interested in a trial. They were intent on seeing Jesus put to death. These men had already pronounced their judgment against Jesus, when they stated, “He deserves death” (Matthew 26:66 ESV). And with the opening of this chapter, Matthew makes it clear that their plans were aimed at having Jesus crucified, the primary means of capital punishment practiced by the Romans.

…the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. – Matthew 27:1 ESV

But then, Matthew provides a brief detour from the journey of Jesus to the cross. He changes scenes and brings his readers up to speed on the whereabouts of Judas. His last appearance had been in Gethsemane, where he had betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Evidently, Judas had not gone far, having followed the guards who had arrested Jesus and taken Him to Caiaphas, the high priest. There are some who speculate that Judas was the second disciple John refers to in his gospel.

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. – John 18:15-16 ESV

Judas would have been known by the high priest. And it might explain why this particular disciple had not received the same treatment as Peter.

But somehow, Judas received the news that Jesus had been condemned, and Matthew states that he had a change of mind. The Greek word is metamelomai, and it is similar to metanoeō, the Greek word for “repent.” Judas had a change of mind. He regretted his decision to betray Jesus. It would appear that the news of Jesus’ death sentence was far more than he had anticipated. It is likely that Judas never expected the Sanhedrin to take things that far. We will never know what was in the heart of Judas when he made his fateful decision to betray Jesus, but Matthew makes it clear that he lived to regret it. But he wouldn’t live long.

Judas, in a state of despair, returned to the high priest and the Sanhedrin, bringing his 30 pieces of silver with him. Attempting to return the blood money, Judas confessed his guilt before these religious leaders: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4 ESV). But they showed no compassion and exhibited no remorse of their own. They simply replied, “What is that to us? See to it yourself” (Matthew 27:4 ESV). These so-called religious leaders could have cared less about the emotional or spiritual well-being of Judas. They had one thing on their minds: The death of Jesus. The only semblance of conscience they revealed was their refusal to return the money Judas had returned to the temple treasure.

“It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” – Matthew 27:6 ESV

So, when Judas cast the tainted money onto the temple floor, the Sanhedrin took the 30 pieces of silver and purchased “the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers” (Matthew 27:7 ESV). This would have been a field outside the city gates where the potters discarded their broken or marred products. It was a landfill for broken pottery. Matthew reveals that this decision by the religious leaders was in keeping with Old Testament prophecy. He references Jeremiah but then quotes from a passage found in the book of Zechariah.

And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter. – Zechariah 11:12-13 ESV

But why did Matthew mention Jeremiah? It is probably because he was combining the two prophecies of Zechariah and Jeremiah into one composite prophecy, fulfilled in the actions of the Sanhedrin. In his book, Jeremiah records a message he received from God.

Thus says the Lord, “Go, buy a potter’s earthenware flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you.”  – Jeremiah 19:1-2 ESV

Jeremiah was to purchase a clay pot and then take it to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. In Hebrew, this place was called ge-hinnom. The Greek transliteration was gehenna. This valley south of Jerusalem had a sordid history, having been the location where the ancient Israelites “passed children through the fire” (sacrificed their children) to the Canaanite god Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3). Because of its reputation, it became a site dedicated to the disposal of waste. The smoke of the fires used to burn the city’s refuse could be seen rising into the sky, marking this area as unclean. Jesus would later speak of Gehenna when referring to the reality of hell.

This is where God told Jeremiah to take the pot he had purchased. And it was in Gehenna that he was to break the pot “in the sight of the men who go with you” (Jeremiah 19:10 ESV). This was to be a visual illustration of what God was going to do to the people of Judah and Jerusalem for their rejection of Him. And God made the details of their guilt quite plain.

“…the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents…” – Jeremiah 19:4 ESV

Matthew saw the parallel. And he describes the actions of the Jewish religious leaders of his day as having fulfilled these two ancient prophecies. The high priest and the members of the Jewish high council were as guilty as their ancestors had been. They had forsaken God, and they had done so by rejecting the Son of God. And they had profaned the temple of God by actually worshiping a god of their own choosing. While they claimed to be faithful to Yahweh, the God of the Jews, Jesus accused them of having no relationship with God at all.

“Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” – John 8:19 NLT

“…you don’t even know him. I know him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But I do know him and obey him.” – John 8:55 NLT

These men could not truly know God if they were incapable of recognizing the Son of God. The Messiah, the one they had longed to see, had shown up in their midst, but they had refused to accept Him. All because Jesus did not come as they expected or desired. They were blind to the reality of who He was, and Jesus pointed out their problem.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” – John 5:39-40 NLT

Yet, these men had no regrets. They showed no remorse. And they displayed no repentance. Like their ancestors, they remained stubbornly defiant. And they would end up like broken pots, discarded, and of no use to God. And yet, consider these comforting words written by the apostle Paul. He would pick up the theme of the clay pot and give it a whole new perspective. Having in mind all those who place their faith and hope in Jesus as their Savior, Paul wrote:

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT

Faith in Christ can transform broken clay pots into vessels of honor. When the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ takes up residence in a sinner’s life, the power of God is revealed through the cracks and flaws. Rather than being discarded as useless and of no value, the sinner is redeemed and made acceptable to God by the presence of the righteousness of Christ.

But what about Judas? After three years with Jesus, he would end up a broken man. And, in his desperation, he would take his own life. His time with Jesus had not resulted in the great power of God shining through his life, but with his life snuffed out and his legacy of betrayal sealed for generations to come. Like the religious leaders, Judas had been blind to the reality of who Jesus was. He had spent three years of his life with Jesus but had failed to recognize Him and accept Him as His Messiah and Savior. He would die a broken and shattered man.

But all those who place their faith in Jesus as their Savior will live eternally. Their brokenness is the key to their healing. Their recognition of their own unworthiness is the basis of their hope in Christ. It is through our brokenness and inherent uselessness that God chooses to reveal His great power. By placing our faith in Jesus, we become “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Morning Light From Heaven

12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
    on them a light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:12-17 ESV

Once again, it seems that Matthew fast-forwards his account of the life of Jesus, skipping over about a years worth of ministry. A comparison with John’s Gospel reveals that not long after His baptism and temptation, Jesus had made His way to Galilee (John 1:19-2:12), where He began His public ministry. But then He returned to Judea in order to attend the Passover in Jerusalem (John 2:13-3:21). John reveals that sometime after Passover, Jesus made His way into the Judean wilderness, where He performed baptisms, just as John had been doing.

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). – John 3:22-24 ESV

After this brief time in the Judean wilderness, Jesus and His disciples made their way through the region of Samaria, where Jesus encountered the woman at the well (John 3:22-4:42). It was after this that they returned to Galilee, and this is the point at which Matthew picks up the story.

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. – Matthew 4:12 ESV

It seems rather significant that Matthew would choose to begin His recounting of Jesus’ earthly ministry with the arrest of John the Baptist. The arrest and imprisonment of this well-known cult figure would have been the talk of all Judea. If you recall, John had amassed quite a following.

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Matthew 3:5-6 ESV

Even the religious leaders of the Jews had been showing up in the Judean wilderness, seeking to be baptized by John. So, his arrest would have caused quite a stir, especially when you consider the reasons behind it.

…it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. – Mark 6:17-20 ESV

This has all the trappings of a modern soap opera script. Herod had married his brother’s wife, and John had called him out on it in public. And while Herod had a healthy fear of John, Herodias wanted him silenced. So, Herod had him imprisoned. And this is the point at which Matthew picks up the story. But why?

The apostle John provides us with at least a partial answer, and he does so by relaying the words of John the Baptist himself.

At this time John the Baptist was baptizing at Aenon, near Salim, because there was plenty of water there; and people kept coming to him for baptism. (This was before John was thrown into prison.) A debate broke out between John’s disciples and a certain Jew over ceremonial cleansing. So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”

John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” – John 3:23-30 NLT

It’s unlikely that  John the Baptist knew the prophetic nature of his words. He fully understood that Jesus was the Messiah and that his own role was subordinate and subservient. He knew his job had been to prepare the way for the anointed one. Yet, when John the Baptist found himself in jail and heard all that Jesus was doing, he seemed to have second thoughts or at least some doubts about Jesus’ actions.

John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” – Matthew 11:2-3 NLT

Perhaps John was a bit surprised and disappointed that Jesus was not displaying the characteristics of a Messiah. Like the rest of the Jews of his day, John may have been expecting a slightly more regal demeanor from the long-anticipated Messiah. But Jesus seemed to be doing the very same things John had done before His arrest. He was even preaching the very same message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV).

But the arrest of John the Baptist provided an immediate end to his ministry. He was removed from the scene, and his followers would now be forced to choose between following him or Jesus. John had performed his role faithfully and well. He had done what he had been sent to do. Now, the focus was shifting from the preparatory work of John the Baptist, who heralded the coming King, to the King Himself. The Messiah had come.

And Matthew records that this inaugural phase of Jesus’ ministry was accompanied by a change in ministry headquarters.

And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali… – Matthew 4:12 ESV

Once again, Matthew wastes no time in linking the details of Jesus’ life with the Old Testament prophecies that told of a miraculous future for the nation of Israel. He picks up a key passage found in the writings of Isaiah and associates it with Jesus’ decision to relocate His ministry headquarters to Capernaum.

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

The people who walk in darkness
    will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
    a light will shine. – Isaiah 9:1-2 NLT

And the apostle John would recognize and relate this prophetic link between Jesus and the light.

The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. – John 1:9 NLT

And Jesus would pick up this theme, describing Himself in terms that reflect His understanding of His prophetic mission.

“I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” – John 8:12 NLT

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” – John 12:46 NLT

But Jesus provides a sobering assessment of the world’s response to His arrival.

“God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” – John 3:19 NLT

The Light of the world had come, but the residents of the world preferred the darkness over the Light. And Jesus makes it clear that there will be those who will run from the Light out of fear of having their sins exposed. But there will be others who will find life in the Light invigorating and liberating.

All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:20 NLT

In a sense, John the Baptist’s light was fading. His job was complete, and now it was time for Jesus to shine. Even Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, had been given a Spirit-inspired insight into his son’s future role. At the news of his son’s birth, Zechariah had prophesied:

“And you, my little son,
    will be called the prophet of the Most High,
    because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
You will tell his people how to find salvation
    through forgiveness of their sins.
Because of God’s tender mercy,
    the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    and to guide us to the path of peace.” – Luke 1:76-79 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Praise to the Righteous One.

14 They lift up their voices, they sing for joy;
    over the majesty of the Lord they shout from the west.
15 Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord;
    in the coastlands of the sea, give glory to the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.
16 From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise,
    of glory to the Righteous One.
But I say, “I waste away,
    I waste away. Woe is me!
For the traitors have betrayed,
    with betrayal the traitors have betrayed.”

17 Terror and the pit and the snare
    are upon you, O inhabitant of the earth!
18 He who flees at the sound of the terror
    shall fall into the pit,
and he who climbs out of the pit
    shall be caught in the snare.
For the windows of heaven are opened,
    and the foundations of the earth tremble.
19 The earth is utterly broken,
    the earth is split apart,
    the earth is violently shaken.
20 The earth staggers like a drunken man;
    it sways like a hut;
its transgression lies heavy upon it,
    and it falls, and will not rise again.

21 On that day the Lord will punish
    the host of heaven, in heaven,
    and the kings of the earth, on the earth.
22 They will be gathered together
    as prisoners in a pit;
they will be shut up in a prison,
    and after many days they will be punished.
23 Then the moon will be confounded
    and the sun ashamed,
for the Lord of hosts reigns
    on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
and his glory will be before his elders. – Isaiah 24:14-23 ESV

In this second half of God’s oracle concerning the earth, we have an interesting and seemingly misplaced song of praise and joy. In the midst of all the destruction that God will bring in the end times, there will be some who rejoice. The will be a remnant who are spared from God’s judgment. These individuals will praise God for His intervention into the affairs of men, expressing gratitude and great joy over His salvation. “They lift up their voices, they sing for joy; over the majesty of the Lord” (Isaiah 24:14 ESV).

We know from the book of Revelation that there will be many who come to faith in Christ during the last days. Even during the darkest days of the Tribulation, God will redeem 144,000 Jews (Revelation 7) who will become His witnesses to the nations. And their efforts will result in “a great multitude” coming to faith in Christ. The apostle John describes seeing them standing before the throne of heaven.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

And John is given a clear explanation as to who these people are.

“These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.” – Revelation 9:14 NLT

They will be martyred for their faith. But there will be others who God spares, allowing them to remain on the earth all the way through the final days of the Great Tribulation. And they will be alive when Christ returns to earth. That seems to be the scene described in this section of Isaiah 24. From the east to the west and as far away as “the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise, of glory to the Righteous One” (Isaiah 24:16 ESV).

The prophet Micah describes this same end-times event.

In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house
    will be the highest of all—
    the most important place on earth.
It will be raised above the other hills,
    and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.
People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
    and we will walk in his paths.” – Micah 4:1-2 NLT

Both passages picture a scene of universal reverence for God. The day is coming when all who remain on the earth, having been spared the judgment of God, will worship Him alone. But, in the midst of all the rejoicing, Isaiah seems to pull the emergency brake, reminding his readers of the judgment that still must take place before rejoicing can begin.

But my heart is heavy with grief.
Weep for me, for I wither away.
Deceit still prevails,
and treachery is everywhere. – Isaiah 24:16 NLT

From his vantage point in Judah, nothing has changed. The people are not worshiping God. They are not repentant and continue to live in open rebellion against God. And Isaiah warns them: “Terror and traps and snares will be your lot, you people of the earth” (Isaiah 24:17 NLT). He describes the windows of heaven opening up and the earth trembling, the moon being confounded and the sun being ashamed. Then God will punish all those who oppose Him, including the kings of the earth and the fallen heavenly host, whom Paul describes as “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT).

Isaiah is distraught because he knows that judgment is coming. The return of Christ, while a cause to rejoice for many, will be a time of unprecedented destruction for most. The prophet Zechariah provides us with further insight this event that will bring an end to the reign of sin in the world.

Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. You will flee through this valley, for it will reach across to Azal. Yes, you will flee as you did from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all his holy ones with him.

On that day the sources of light will no longer shine, yet there will be continuous day! Only the Lord knows how this could happen. There will be no normal day and night, for at evening time it will still be light.

On that day life-giving waters will flow out from Jerusalem, half toward the Dead Sea and half toward the Mediterranean, flowing continuously in both summer and winter.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped. – Zechariah 14:3-9 NLT

Notice the similarity between the final statement of Zechariah and that of Isaiah.

…the Lord of hosts reigns
    on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
and his glory will be before his elders. – Isaiah 24:23 ESV

Both of these men were prophesying about events they did not fully understand. They were being given a glimpse of the distant future, into a day when God is going to conquer all those who stand in opposition to Him. He will do so by sending His Son, the Messiah, to defeat the kings of the earth and the prince of this world, Satan. And when He is done, Jesus will set up His earthly Kingdom in Jerusalem and sit on the throne of David, all in fulfillment of the covenant promise God made to David centuries earlier.

Isaiah, Zechariah, Micah, Daniel and all the other prophets who spoke of the coming day of the Lord, did not fully understand the nature of what they were prophesying. Even Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, many prophets, and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it” (Matthew 13:17 NLT). Peter went on to say that the prophets did not fully comprehend the nature of the salvation that God was going to bring through Jesus Christ.

This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. –  1 Peter 1:10 NLT

But Peter would go on to validate the words of the prophets. While these men did not have a complete and comprehensive understanding of how the end would come, they were speaking on behalf of God. And Peter, looking back on his experience when Christ was transfigured before he, James and John, he wrote:

Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God. – 2 Peter 1:19-21 NLT

He was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. He was sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus was the one the prophets had predicted. And he was fully persuaded that Jesus had come into the world to shine in the hearts of men, providing salvation from sin and a restored relationship with God the Father. But He would also come back one day to restore God’s fallen and sin-damaged creation. And on that day, you will “hear songs of praise, of glory to the Righteous One” (Isaiah 24:16 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A New and Better Covenant.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 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. 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.”

Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
    and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
    the Lord of hosts is his name:
“If this fixed order departs
    from before me, declares the Lord,
then shall the offspring of Israel cease
    from being a nation before me forever.”

Thus says the Lord:
“If the heavens above can be measured,
    and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel
    for all that they have done,
declares the Lord.”

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the Lord. It shall not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.” Jeremiah 31:31-40 ESV

There is a day coming – a future day when things between God and His people will be different. While they have been His covenant people ever since the day He called Abram out of Ur, and made a promise to make of him a great nation, the people of Israel had long ago broken that covenant. They had failed to live up to their end of the bargain, consistently breaking their word and refusing to live in obedience to God. They had pursued other gods. Not only that, they had failed to pursue justice, righteousness and mercy. While they had gone through the motions of keeping God’s laws, their hearts had been far from Him. Their allegiance to Him had been nothing but a show, a facade of religious ritualism, but lacking in any kind of true devotion to Him. God had spoken through the prophet, Isaiah, to indict the people of Judah for their hypocrisy.

And so the Lord says,
    “These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
    is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites
    with amazing wonders.
The wisdom of the wise will pass away,
    and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear.” – Isaiah 29:13-14 NLT

But God tells Jeremiah that He is going to make a new covenant with His people. It is not that god is going to break the old one, but that He is going to do something even better than before. The people had violated the old covenant. They had failed to keep it. But God had remained faithful to maintain His commitments to them, including His promise to punish them for their sins if they failed to remain obedient. But this new and future covenant was going to be different.

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” – Jeremiah 31:33 NLT

This covenant would not be left up to the whims of the people. It would not be dependent upon their ability to remain faithful and obedient. Instead, this time, God is going to do for them what they were incapable of doing on their own. He is going to change their hearts. He is going to give them the capacity to remain faithful to Him, because this covenant will not be based on external law-keeping, but an internal transformation of their entire beings – their hearts, souls, minds, and emotions.

“The Lord your God will change your heart and the hearts of all your descendants, so that you will love him with all your heart and soul and so you may live!…Then you will again obey the Lord and keep all his commands that I am giving you today. – Deuteronomy 30:6, 8 NLT

Heart change is only possible through the work of God. Men cannot change their hearts. God had made this perfectly clear to the people of Judah earlier in this book.

Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin?
    Can a leopard take away its spots?
Neither can you start doing good,
    for you have always done evil. – Jeremiah 13:23 NLT

Their hearts were evil. Their sin natures were too powerful and stood in the way of them listening to and obeying the commands of God. So, God was going to do for them what they could have never done for themselves.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:252-7 NLT

True, lasting heart change is a work of God. Anything else is nothing more than behavior modification. Anyone can correct their external behavior for a time, but unless their hearts are changed, they will eventually find themselves resorting back to their old ways of living. It was Jesus who said, “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you” (Matthew 15:19-20 NLT).

Earlier in the book of Ezekiel, God made a plea to the people, begging them to change their ways.

“Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live!” – Ezekiel 18:30-31 NLT

But God knew that what He was asking was impossible for them to do. He knew they could not change their hearts. He knew they couldn’t alter their behavior, at least not on a permanent basis. But God was letting them know that, for them to escape His ultimate wrath and permanent destruction, they were going to have to have new hearts and new spirits. Without them, they were doomed. But that’s what makes God’s good news so good. In spite of all they had done to sin against Him, God was not going to desert them. He was not going to break His covenant commitments to them.

“I am as likely to reject my people Israel
    as I am to abolish the laws of nature!” – Jeremiah 31:36 NLT

That doesn’t mean they were going to escape His judgment. He isn’t saying that they were going to be held accountable for their sins. But He is promising that a day is coming when they will be restored and He says, “I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins” (Jeremiahs 31:34 NLT). Not only that, He promises, “I will not consider casting them away for the evil they have done. God is going to restore the people to favor with Him and rebuild the city of Jerusalem, making it holy once again. And it never be under threat of capture or destruction again.

When would this all take place? How would this new covenant be instituted? Jesus gives us insight into these questions when He said to His disciples at the Passover meal He shared with them: “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20 NLT). The author of Hebrews provides further insight into this new covenant:

But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.

If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, he said:

“The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.” – Hebrews 8:6-8 NLT

He goes on to write:

Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant. – Hebrews 9:13-15 NLT

Jesus is the source of the new covenant. He will be reason the Jews receive new hearts and the internal capacity to live in obedience to God the Father. It will because they place their faith in Him as their Messiah, that a remnant of God’s chosen people will be renewed and restored. The prophet Zechariah tells us of that day.

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” – Zechariah 12:10 ESV

In the very next chapter of Zechariah, God makes it clear that not all of Israel will be saved. Not all will receive new hearts and a new spirit. God, in His mercy and sovereign grace, will save some. He will spare a remnant. None deserve His mercy. All are worthy of destruction. But God will save some.

“They will call upon my name,
    and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” – Zechariah 13:9 ESV

They will call on Him because He will give them the capacity to do so. He will change their hearts so that they can respond to His offer of mercy, grace and forgiveness. It is God who saves. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot redeem ourselves. The new covenant will be based on the sacrifice of God’s own Son, and will be available to all those who place their faith in Him. A new day is coming for the people of Israel because a new covenant has come.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

That Day.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you. For behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.”

These are the words that the Lord spoke concerning Israel and Judah:

“Thus says the Lord:
We have heard a cry of panic,
    of terror, and no peace.
Ask now, and see,
    can a man bear a child?
Why then do I see every man
    with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor?
    Why has every face turned pale?
Alas! That day is so great
    there is none like it;
it is a time of distress for Jacob;
    yet he shall be saved out of it.

“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

“Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the Lord,
    nor be dismayed, O Israel;
for behold, I will save you from far away,
    and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
    and none shall make him afraid.
For I am with you to save you,
declares the Lord;
I will make a full end of all the nations
    among whom I scattered you,
    but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
    and I will by no means leave you unpunished.”
Jeremiah 30:1-11 ESV

Jeremiah is going to write a book. Not the book that bears his name, but another book that has come to be known as “The Book of Consolation.” In actuality, it is God who will be the author of the book and Jeremiah will act as His scribe. God tells the prophet: “Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you” (Jeremiah 30:2 ESV). But a better translation would be that found in the New English Translation Bible (NET): “Write everything that I am about to tell you in a scroll.” God is not asking Jeremiah to write down everything He has said over the last 29 chapters. He is instructing the prophet to put down in a scroll all that He is about to say. And God gives Jeremiah the purpose behind this book of consolation he is going to help create.

“For the time is coming when I will restore the fortunes of my people of Israel and Judah. I will bring them home to this land that I gave to their ancestors, and they will possess it again. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 30:3 NLT

God was creating a permanent record of His promises and prophecies, so that when the people of Judah and Israel returned to the land, they would have tangible proof of
God’s faithfulness. There would be a written record of all that God had said He would do. It would contain a recounting of the people’s sins against God and a reminder of how all His predictions of judgment had come to pass just as He had said.

While this record is referred to as “The Book of Consolation”, it starts off an a fairly negative note:

“I hear cries of fear;
    there is terror and no peace.
Now let me ask you a question:
    Do men give birth to babies?
Then why do they stand there, ashen-faced,
    hands pressed against their sides
    like a woman in labor?” – Jeremiah 30:5-6 NLT

God provides a highly descriptive picture of how bad things are going to get. There will be pain and suffering like nothing the peoples of Judah and Israel have ever experienced before. Men will look like they are going through labor pains. God describes it as “a time of distress for Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7 ESV). It’s interesting that God uses the name “Jacob” rather than “Israel”. If you recall, there was a time in the life of the patriarch, Jacob, where God renamed him Israel. Jacob’s original name meant “taking hold of the heal, supplanter, layer of snares”. He had lived his life as a conniver and deceiver, cheating his brother out of his birth right and living in self-imposed exile as a result. When God had commanded him to return home, He also chose to rename him. His new name meant “God prevails”. And along with a new name, Jacob received a promise from God:

“I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! And I will give you the land I once gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and your descendants after you.” – Genesis 35:11-12 NLT

So, in His book, God refers to the peoples of Judah and Israel as Jacob. Perhaps He did so as a not-so-subtle reminder that they had lived most of their lives as deceivers and supplanters. The word, “supplant” means “to take the place of (another), as through force, scheming, strategy, or the like” (dictionary.com). In essence, the people of God had been trying to replace God with false gods. They had been attempting to be their own gods. So, God warns them that they are going to go through a time of great distress. But there’s good news: “Yet in the end they will be saved!” (Jeremiah 30:7 NLT). And God gets very specific about what that salvation will look like.

“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.” – Jeremiah 30:8-9 ESV

Now, this is where we need to stop and think about what God is saying to them. We have to ask the question: Has any of this taken place yet? Has this prophecy been fulfilled. You might conclude that it was fulfilled when the 70 years of captivity in Babylon was complete and God allowed the return of a remnant to Judah to restore the city of Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. But while that would be true, it would only be a partial fulfillment, because the people of Israel never had another king from the line of David. The next king they would have would be Herod, during the time of Jesus, who was an Edomite and a puppet-king of the Romans. He was not a descendant of David. So, this prophecy must have an as-yet-future aspect to it. It is not yet fulfilled. Whenever you see the reference to “that day” in Scripture, it is referring to future event.

The prophet, Zechariah, also spoke of this coming day of the Lord.

“I will pour out on the kingship of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. – Zechariah 12:10 NLT

Do you see the Messianic aspect to this prophecy? It contains a clear reference to Jesus, the Messiah, the one who was pierced for the sins of mankind. In his great messianic chapter, Isaiah wrote of the coming of Jesus as the Messiah and of His sufferings on behalf of mankind.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:4-6 NLT

The prophet, Zechariah goes on to say:

“In that day there will be a fountain opened up for the dynasty of David and the people of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and impurity. And also on that day,” says the Lord who rules over all, “I will remove the names of the idols from the land and they will never again be remembered. Moreover, I will remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land.”Zechariah 13:1-2 NLT

God has Jeremiah write down on the scroll the following words of comfort to the peoples of Judah and Israel:

“For I will bring you home again from distant lands,
    and your children will return from their exile.
Israel will return to a life of peace and quiet,
    and no one will terrorize them.
For I am with you and will save you” – Jeremiah 30:10-11 NLT

And while God did eventually return a remnant of the people of Judah to the land, they would be without a king. Their lives in the land would not be marked by peace and quiet. They would be surrounded by enemies and constantly harassed by foreign powers, even up until the days of Jesus. They would find themselves under the constant rule of other nations, like the Romans. So, it is clear that this prophecy has only been partially fulfilled. But “that day” is coming. God is not done yet. That is why He was having Jeremiah put the words He was speaking on paper. He wanted a written record that the people could turn to and be reminded of what He had said He would do. The return of the remnant to Judah from Babylon was just a small glimpse into the greater good that God has in store for His people in the future.

There was more godly discipline coming for the people of God. He was going to continue His judgment of them. Even today, Israel finds itself under the judgment of God. They are back in the land, but they are surrounded on all sides by enemies and face with constant threats against their sovereignty as a nation. They have no king. There is no temple and, therefore, no sacrificial system. But “that day” is coming. God is not done yet. His plans for Israel are not yet complete. As God had prophesied through Jeremiah in the preceding chapter:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:11-14 NLT

The captivity of Israel has only partially ended. Their fortunes have only partially been restored. But the days of God’s testing will come to an end. He will one day complete His plans for the people of Israel and restore them completely to a right relationship with Himself. And the prophet, Zechariah gives us an exciting glimpse of that day.

“I will refine them like silver is refined
and will test them like gold is tested.
They will call on my name and I will answer;
I will say, ‘These are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” – Zechariah 13:9 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Exodus 39-40, Luke 1

The Redemption of the Lord.

Exodus 39-40, Luke 1

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people. – Luke 1:68 ESV

The Tabernacle was completed and on the first day of the first month in the second year since their departure from Egypt, they erected it for the very first time. After many months of hard work and painstaking attention to detail, Moses and the people were able to see all the various pieces of the Tabernacle come together. They consecrated and anointed it so that it might be holy – set apart for God’s use only. They cleansed and purified Aaron and his sons, then anointed and consecrated them as well, so that they might serve God as priests in His Tabernacle.

Then when all the work was done and the Tabernacle was complete, the glory of the Lord descended and took up residence. God confirmed the work with a visible sign of His presence. “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34-35 ESV). What an incredible day that must have been. What an amazing sight to have witnessed. The visible glory of God descending in the form of a cloud and filling the Tabernacle. And His glory would rest above the Mercy Seat which sat on top of the Ark of the Covenant, in which were contained the Ten Commandments. “For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys” (Exodus 40:38 ESV). God was among them. His presence was visible to them.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God mercifully made Himself known to the people of Israel. He appeared in a form that allowed them to know He was among them, but was not His true essence. If God had appeared to them in all of His glory and revealed Himself to them as He truly is, they would have been destroyed. So the Tabernacle became symbolic of His holiness, majesty, glory and power. The cloud by day, hovering over the Tabernacle, and the fire by night glowing from within the inner recesses of the Tabernacle, became the representation of His presence among them.

“Finally God was dwelling among His people. His redemption of them was now complete. He had liberated them from bondage in Egypt (chs. 1-15) and adopted them as His special treasure (chs. 15-40). He had made a covenant with them and now blessed them with His presence. He would guide them from then on ‘throughout all their journeys’ (vv. 36, 38). The descent of God to take up residence in the midst of His people is therefore a fitting climax with which this book closes” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Exodus, Page 160).

What does this passage reveal about man?

While designed by God, the Tabernacle was a man-made structure. Without the presence of God it would remain nothing more than a man-made structure. In and of itself, it was beautiful, but incomplete without God’s presence. It was His presence that assured their redemption was complete. Had God left them at any moment, they would have become just another people worshiping in just another building, but to a god who did not exist. Moses knew that God’s presence was essential. Just a short time before this, he had prayed to God, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16 ESV). Without God’s presence, their sacrifices would be in vain. It was His presence hovering over the Mercy Seat that made forgiveness possible. Without God’s help, man is incapable of coming into His presence. Without God’s intervention, sin would permanently block man’s access and keep him in a perpetual state of isolation and condemnation. But God showed up. He came down and appeared to men in a form they could comprehend and offered redemption on their behalf.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Which is exactly what God has done for me. He sent His Son, born of a virgin, and in the form of a man. God took on human flesh and walked among us. He came in a form we could comprehend, but with the intention of providing us with redemption. By sending His Son as a man, God provided a way to pay the penalty due for our sin. He would offer His own Son as the sacrifice for the sins of man. His Son would do what no other man had been able to do – live a sinless life, in keeping with God’s commands. He would become the spotless Lamb, the ultimate sacrifice for sins. John the Baptist, whose birth is described in Luke 1, would later say of Jesus, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

Regarding this aspect of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Paul tells us, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7 ESV). God sent His Son to dwell among us. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us: (John 1:18 NLT). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV).

God’s plan all along was to send His Son. The Tabernacle was temporary. It was a symbol of something far greater to come. And Luke describes the advent or coming of Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, at his son’s birth, prophesied, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:68-69 ESV). He knew that his son was only the herald of someone far greater to come – the Messiah Himself. He prophesied that John would “give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:77-79 ESV).

I have received the knowledge of that salvation. I have been given access into God’s presence by the sacrifice of His Son. I have been the recipient of God’s love and mercy. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). I have had the darkness of my life transformed by the Light of God, the Light of the world. And my redemption is complete.

Father, it is amazing to see the parallels between the Old and New Testaments and see how You have been working all throughout history, preparing mankind for Your redemption plan. You have mercifully revealed Yourself over the centuries in so many ways, but the greatest expression of Your reality is the gift of Your Son who not only made you visible, but made our restored relationship with You possible. Thank You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 3 – Luke 1:5-80

In the Fulness of Time.

Luke 1:5-80

“For nothing is impossible with God.” – Luke 1:37 NLT

Galatians 4:4 tells us, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” At just the right time. The imagery here conjures up pictures of a pregnant woman ready to give birth. Her day has come. After months of preparation, the day of delivery finally comes. Something long-awaited and highly anticipated is about to take place. The same is true of the situation in Israel as we read Luke’s account of the coming of Jesus. For more than 400 years, the Hebrew people have been waiting anxiously for a word from God. They have been desperately and eagerly waiting for the promised arrival of the Messiah. But unlike a pregnancy, they have no timeline to go by. They have no idea when the Messiah might come. During the period between the close of the Old Testament and the time recorded in the Gospel accounts, God has been silent. He has cut off communication with His people. There have been no prophets and therefore, no word from God. There have been no miraculous manifestations of God’s presence. It is a dark period, a virtual blackout, void of God’s abiding presence. And it would have been easy for the people of Israel to have lost hope. During those 400 years they had suffered considerably. They had had to endure repeated invasions by various enemies, and it culminated with the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans. By the time Jesus came onto the scene, the Jews were living under Roman rule, subject to Roman laws and Roman taxes. Herod the Great sat on the throne, having been appointed “king” over all of Palestine by the Romans. He was wicked, oppressive and a political schemer who had clawed his way to the top. Things could not have looked worse for the average Jew living in Judea at that time.

But at just the right time, God put His long-awaited plan into action. Luke records it for us. Breaking the long silence, suddenly God begins to speak again. He sends angels to Zechariah and Mary. He begins doing works of power and wonder. An elderly and barren couple miraculously give birth to a son. A young virgin girl becomes pregnant – by the Holy Spirit. Luke records for us the birth of John the Baptist, the conception of Jesus, and the foundational events that would set up the birth of Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of the World. At just the right time – God acted. When things looked bleak and impossible – God did the impossible. “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 NLT). Mary echoed this sentiment when she sang, “For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49 NLT). “His mighty arm has done tremendous things!” (Luke 1:51 NLT). Zechariah praised God saying, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David” (Luke 1:68-69 NLT). God was fulfilling the promises He had made centuries ago to Abraham and David. He was doing exactly what He said He would do, at just the right moment in time.

Nothing is impossible with God. Circumstances are no match for Him. Wicked kings and powerful nations can’t stand in His way. Barrenness and old age are no problem for God. Normal human biological and reproductive requirements don’t limit God. Mary’s virginity, Elizabeth’s barrenness, Zechariah’s old age, Herod’s wickedness, Rome’s dominance, and Israel’s weakness were not going to keep God from accomplishing His will and unleashing His redemptive power on the world.

“Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace” (Luke 1:78-79 NLT).

Father, nothing is impossible with You. You are limitless in Your power and unstoppable in regards to Your will. Yet I tend to place limits on Your effectiveness and doubt Your ability to handle all that goes on in my life. Forgive me for my fear and floundering faith. Use the story of Your Son’s coming to remind me of Your sovereign control over all. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org