Thursday, May 22, 2014

"How to escape the vengeance of our God …"

Day #146:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 23rd

Scripture Reading:  Jeremiah 42 - 46 …

"Vengeance" and GOD do not go together in most people's vocabulary.  Most people have never read through the Old Testament; and if they have, they believe that Jesus came to remove the need for judgment so that God's love could overrule His justice and all people, or at least most, could be saved.  In fact, the majority of people today (even those who claim to believe in the God of the Bible) do not believe in an eternal judgment where God will pour out His wrath on those who have not believed in Jesus.  So why should we even talk about God's vengeance??

The obvious answer is because GOD does!  And it is not only the Old Testament prophets who speak about God's coming judgment.  Jesus and the New Testament writers point to God's wrath being poured out even now and about a future judgment that will be carried out by Jesus Himself.  So let's look at that word, "vengeance," and see why God speaks so clearly of His coming vengeance upon those who worship other gods, and how to escape His coming judgment on the whole earth.  Since these things are true there can hardly be a more important subject.

Jeremiah lived during a period of obvious judgment.  In fact, Jeremiah himself was the bearer of the bad news.  Other prophets were telling the people of Judah that everything would be all right, but God gave Jeremiah a different message.  Finally, the people came to Jeremiah and said to him, "Please hear our petition and pray to the LORD your God for this entire remnant. … Pray that the LORD your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do" (42:2-3).  Did you notice that they asked Jeremiah to pray to HIS God?  In verse 6 they promised to obey "OUR God," but it is significant that they did not really know God as THEIR God.

God had previously told the people to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar and to go to Babylon.  King Zedekiah had disobeyed and tried to run and his sons had been killed and his eyes put out before he was taken in shame to Babylon.  Now God instructs Jeremiah to tell the few people who were left to stay put and not to flee to Egypt.  But once again "all the army officers and all the people disobeyed the LORD's command to stay in the land of Judah" (43:4) and the result was that they faced the same fate. God said, "None of the remnant of Judah who have gone to live in Egypt will escape or survive to return to the land of Judah" (44:14).

Why?!  Why were the people so stubborn?  Why couldn't they see that God's judgment was a direct result of their idolatry and their sin against Him?  Because they were spiritually blind and had become convinced that it didn't matter who or how they worshiped (as so many believe today).  Listen to what they said to Jeremiah:  "We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD!  We will certainly do everything we said we would:  We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our fathers, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem.  At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm" (44:16-17).  They might as well have slapped God in the face!

The "Queen of Heaven" could have referred to one of several foreign "goddesses" worshiped by those who did not know the true God.  That some today call Mary, the mother of Jesus, the "Queen of Heaven" and burn incense to her and make offerings in her name should be a concern when reading how God views such worship.  God's answer was, "Because you have burned incense and have sinned against the LORD and have not obeyed Him or followed His law or His decrees or His stipulations, this disaster has come upon you, as you now see" (44:23).  Cause and effect … what is true in the physical realm is also true in the spiritual realm.

As God begins to give Jeremiah a message of judgment upon the surrounding nations, He says, "But that day belongs to the Lord, the LORD Almighty - a day of vengeance, for vengeance on His foes" (46:10).    Yet, listen to what God says to those who trust in Him … to the true remnant:  "Do not fear, O Jacob my servant; do not be dismayed, O Israel.  I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile.  Jacob will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid.  Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, for I am with you … I will not completely destroy you" (46:27-28).  God had not forgotten His promises to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, even though He was bringing this horrible judgment upon them as a people.

God's plan for Israel and Judah was not … and is not … yet complete.  He will save the remnant, those whom He has chosen, as the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the believers in Rome several hundred years later:  "So, too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace" (Romans 11:5).  The vengeance of God WILL be poured out and those who declare that this is not so, along with all who believe their message, will perish.  There is only one way to escape the judgment of God, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ, the "Deliverer,"  the "Messiah,"  the "Savior!"

The prophet Isaiah wrote, "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God …" (Isaiah 61:1-2a).  When Jesus came and began His ministry He went to His home town of Nazareth and went to the synagogue and was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  He went to this passage and read it … and said "Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing!" (Luke 4:21).  But He stopped after the words, " … proclaim the year of the Lord's favor …"  Why?

Because Jesus came the first time to usher in "the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 2:2).  This is why some today believe that God is no longer like He was in the Old Testament … a God of wrath and vengeance.  They apparently believe that Jesus took away that part of God's character by shedding His blood on the cross (though some even deny this) and now God is just love, love, love.  Of course Jesus, in the Gospels, along with the rest of the New Testament writers, says otherwise.  Even in John 3, after declaring God's love and His offer of eternal life to those who believe (John 3:16-17), Jesus goes on to say that those who do not believe in Him are condemned already and remain in spiritual darkness (3:18-20).

The Apostle Paul quotes God speaking to the people of Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy 32:35 when he writes, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written:  'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19).  The New Testament writers throughout speak of God's coming judgment and finally, John's "Revelation" uncovers the frightening details of God's coming wrath and vengeance upon all who worship other "gods." No one will escape except those who "hide" in Jesus … who confess their sin and who trust in His sacrifice on the cross for forgiveness and life.  "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (I John 5:12).

The message of the prophets and all of God's Word speaks with one voice:  escape the coming judgment by coming to the promised Savior, the One who came to give His life as a ransom for many, for the remnant … those chosen by God from every people, tribe, nation and tongue.  As He promised deliverance to the remnant in the day of Jeremiah, so He promises deliverance, salvation to those who worship Him in the name of Jesus today.  I pray that you will be found in HIM!

"My Father and my God, You alone are worthy of worship and praise.  In Your great mercy and compassion You have provided a way of escape from Your vengeance and wrath through Your Son Jesus Christ.  I thank You for Your grace to me and I ask You to use ME, even as You used Jeremiah, to call people away from their idols to worship You alone and to trust in You … to lead them to the cross for forgiveness and life!  In Jesus' name, Amen"  

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