Thursday, May 15, 2014

"Obey the Lord and your life will be spared …"

Day #139:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 16th

Scripture Reading:  Jeremiah 37 - 41 …

Jeremiah and the people who remained in Judah as King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and his army approached had a decision to make:  Listen to the false prophets and resist, or listen to God as He spoke through Jeremiah and be carried off to Babylon, trusting that God would keep His promise to restore them after seventy years.  From a human perspective, it was a difficult decision.  The Egyptians appeared to be willing to help Judah fight against Babylon … maybe they could win!  So when Jeremiah came with his message from God, telling them to surrender, "neither he (King Jehoiachin) nor his attendants nor the people of the land paid any attention to the words the LORD had spoken through Jeremiah the prophet" (37:2).

Instead, the king of Judah sent messengers to Jeremiah with this message:  "Please pray to the LORD our God for us" (37:3).  Remember, God had already said to Jeremiah, "Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you" (7:16).  And God had repeated this to Jeremiah as it is recorded in 11:14 and again in 14:11:  "Do not pray for the well-being of this people."  Why had God told Jeremiah not to pray for them?  Because God had already determined to bring this judgment upon them and had sent Jeremiah with the message to surrender to King Nebuchadnezzar.  This was God's discipline on a people who had utterly and totally turned away from Him by rejecting His Word and turning to other nations instead of Him for protection.

How like the king of Judah and the false prophets and the people are so many today?  There are times when all of us need discipline from the Lord.  That doesn't mean every problem or trial or suffering we face is discipline, but God DOES teach us through all of these things to depend upon Him.  And if we have strayed from the path of faithful trust and obedience, such discipline is the most gracious thing we can hope for.  The writer of Hebrews says,  "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. …  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:7,11).

Jeremiah faithfully proclaimed to King Zedekiah the message that God had given him:  "If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live.  But if you will not surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, this city will be handed over to the Babylonians and they will burn it down; you yourself will not escape from their hands" (38:17-18).  Prior to speaking with the king, Jeremiah had been telling all the people, 'This is what the LORD says: 'Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live'" (38:2).  For that, Jeremiah was thrown in an empty cistern and left to die; but God sent someone to rescue him.

It took more FAITH to surrender than it did to stay and fight.  This was, in some ways, a unique situation.  God had already pronounced judgment on Judah ... a well-deserved judgment.  God had sent the prophet Isaiah to encourage those who still believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as He sent the Assyrians to bring judgment on them.  Isaiah was given words to speak that believers needed to hear in Isaiah's day and that WE need to hear today:

"'Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the LORD, and HE will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon.  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD.  'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isaiah 55:6-9).

That is good advice for believers in every generation.  And God goes on to promise that His Word "will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (55:11).  What God promised took place exactly as He had said.  King Zedekiah and the people of Judah refused to surrender and fled from Jerusalem, only to be captured.  Zedekiah's sons were killed in front of him and his eyes were taken out and he was bound and taken to Babylon.  The Babylonians then burned the palace and the temple and destroyed the walls of Jerusalem.  "All this happened because you people sinned against the LORD and did not obey Him" (40:3).

And judgment didn't stop there.  Judgment continued to fall on those who remained in Jerusalem, even after the king and and most of the people had been taken into captivity to Babylon.  Some might ask, "Why all of this judgment?!  What ever happened to God's love and mercy and forgiveness?"  Isn't it interesting that people always question God's judgment, but never His goodness and grace.  Why is God gracious?  Why does He forgive?  Why did He send His own Son to bear His wrath and judgment Himself on the cross?  People would answer:  "Because God is love."  But you see, God is also HOLY!  God is GOD, and He has revealed Himself and His character so that those who believe know BOTH "sides" of His character.  God is not God without either His love or His holiness.

One day soon God's judgment will fall upon this planet, just as God has said.  God has called all people to surrender to His Son ... not to an enemy, but to the One Who loved them so much that He gave His life for those who were HIS enemies (Romans 5:10).  Yet many think that God is their enemy and they scorn the name of Jesus.  They reject God's call to repent, as Israel and Judah did, and so God's judgment will come upon them.  Paul described his ministry in his letter to the church in Rome this way:  "Through Him (Jesus Christ) and for His Name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith" (Romans 1:5).

True FAITH leads to obedience.  Faith believes God's promises and acts accordingly.  We are not saved by our obedience, but rather, through faith that LEADS to obedience.  FAITH hears God, believes God, trusts God and obeys God.  Faith does not ignore God's Word.  The obedience God desires is FAITH! There's an old hymn that says, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."  We would do well to listen!

"LORD, You are perfect in all Your ways and just in all You do.  Your judgment comes because of sin and Your discipline comes because of love.  Give me wisdom to accept Your discipline and to turn from sin, trusting in Your promise to forgive through faith in Your Son Jesus Christ, my Savior and my Lord.  Help me daily to live in obedience to Your Word and so experience the joy of being reconciled to You.  In Jesus' Name, Amen"

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