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Fourth Quarter 2015 October–December)
COMMENTARY ON JEREMIAH
Week 7: November 7–13
COMMENTARY ON THE CRISIS CONTINUES
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Day 1: Saturday, November 7, 2015—Introduction
Overview from the "Teacher's Edition"
"Know: Study the biblical concept of what it means to know God and what happens when there is no knowledge of Him.
Feel: Appreciate why Jeremiah chose the form of a lament to communicate God’s deep sorrow over a people who have chosen to worship the creature before their Creator.
Do: Reflect on the areas in his or her life that cause God pain and practice repentance in the true biblical sense...
Knowing or not knowing God is clearly reflected in practical ways in our lives. It is foremost a relational knowledge that translates itself into Christian behavior. Where knowledge of God is lacking, idolatry in all its forms sets in, and there is need for true repentance." (Teachers Edition Page 93)
There is good information in this lesson regarding Jeremiah's time, struggles and message.
There also is misunderstanding with regards to the cause of idolatry and the nature of our relationship with God. This is stated in the objectives listed above for teachers.
First, there is no practical information of what it means to know God. Later in the teacher's guide there is a well-known reference to the kind of knowing meant by the Bible writers, but no how-to.
Second, the focus on repentance completely misses the truth of a person's eternal identification as a forgiven child of God. Once a child of God, always a child of God. We do not lose the relationship over behavioral failures. More on this later.
For today, please know that when knowledge of God is lacking, idolatry is the ONLY result. It does not “set in.” It is the ongoing state of things. If I am not worshiping God I am, by definition, worshiping myself. This is idolatry. Everything to which we typically point is merely symptomatic of the root problem.
Sunday, November 8, 2015—Let Him Who Boasts...
“What does the Cross tell us about the loving-kindness, the justice, and the righteousness of God?” (Standard Edition Page 57)
What a great question! It tells us everything.
The loving-kindness of God (for which the New Testament writers used the word grace) is his initiative to resolve the sin and death problems on our behalf. The justice of God is his demonstration of the consequences of sin. The righteousness of God is the All-Consuming Sponge that wiped away sin without becoming sinful itself.
All three of these, and many more, are wholly contained in Jesus Christ. He is the grace, the justice and the righteousness of God. He took away our sin by dying the death we deserved (justice). Now, as a result of the resurrection, he has given us his own righteousness in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit (grace). Paul described it this way: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Personally, I don't envision God suffering the pain of every sin we commit. To me, that would indicate some amount of surprise as the result of a missed expectation. It would be as if God said, “I had such high hopes for these people, but they failed. What design flaw did I miss? What communication went wrong?” This is too anthropomorphic.
On the contrary, I envision a God who knows every possible decision and every possible result of every possible decision, including every interaction among the decisions and results, for every being in the universe. Nothing surprises him. There is not even the barest hint of an unrealistic expectation. As a result of this omniscience he has a perfect plan for every, every eventuality.
He didn't send Jesus to salve his own pain. He sent him to save us. We didn't deserve it. We didn't even want it, but he did it anyway. This is love: A God who saves us, the most grotesquely guilty, in order to heal our pain. We don't respond to the Christ-Event in order to help God feel better, but because we are overwhelmed by his love.
Jeremiah could not see what we see, because it hadn't happened yet, but he did prophesy the truth of the upcoming future. We truly reap what we sow, but God's grace super-abounds regardless!
Monday, November 9, 2015—Creatures or the Creator
“Instead, though, it’s still so easy to put our trust in things that can no more save us than these idols could save Judea on the day of judgment.” (Standard Edition Page 58)
This is another excellent day. We always are faced with a clear choice. Will we worship the one and only God as revealed in Jesus and the indwelling Holy Spirit, or will we worship something less?
As Jeremiah 9 so aptly describes, worshiping “something less” is to worship nothing at all.
As I stated in the introduction, idolatry is a heart issue, not a “things” issue. Idolatry is humanity's default position. This is the direct result of Adam's and Eve's rebellion. They chose to substitute themselves for God, and all of mankind inherited this most inglorious trait.
In the absence of a vibrant relationship with Jesus every one of us declares ourselves to be god. This is why the worship of man-made things, ideas, systems, and the like is, at its core, the worship of self. “I made this.” “I invented this.” “I can afford this.” “I want this.”
Notice how this reality was spelled out in the Ten Commandments. Number 1 is “You shall have no other gods before me.” Number 10 is “You shall not covet...” Everything in between is an explanation of what happens when we substitute ourselves (#10) for God (#1).
Jesus expounded on this in his mountainside sermon (Matthew 5-7). The issue was not that people were committing physical adultery at every waking moment, but that they were thinking about it every waking moment. They were setting themselves up as god and identifying likely candidates who could “benefit” from their ministrations. Every issue Jesus touched upon in that sermon is the same. We will assert our own “godness” every time, unless and until we accept Jesus.
It is no different in our day. Idolatry remains the Number One problem. Without a connection to the Vine we are left to fend for ourselves, and we do so with sadly predictable results.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015—A Call to Repentance
“No matter what we have done, we can repent of our sin and be forgiven. This is the great provision of the gospel. What sin, or sins, do you need to repent of right now?” (Standard Edition Page 59)
This is where this week's author slips into the typical arguments used by most Christian denominations today.
Here's how this story goes. Susan accepts Jesus as her Savior. She spends the next several weeks in the joy of her salvation. On Tuesday of Week 7 she is cut off on the freeway and aims some well-chosen invective, including some decidedly off-color references to the driver's parentage and sexual proclivities, at the car. Now what? By any reasonable definition this is a sin. What happens if the result of the other person's driving is an accident in which Susan is killed?
Typically, Susan would be told that this sin resulted in damaging her relationship with Jesus. This relationship needs to be repaired. The way to repair it is to 1) repent of the sin, 2) confess the sin, 3) ask forgiveness for the sin and 4) ask for God's help to avoid this particular sin in the future.
Note that this process only works if Susan is alive. If she was killed in the resulting accident, then what? Usually, at this point God's grace is claimed on her behalf.
This is a farce.
Why? Because Susan's problem is not her behavior. Susan's problem is her flesh, that part of her who wants to be god, regardless of the strength of her relationship with God. At any given moment, all of us are capable of falling back into idolatry and displaying the behaviors consistent with that idolatry.
Our relationship with God is not damaged at such times. Our relationships with each other may be, but not with God. Jesus died once, and only once, for all sin. He rose from the dead once, and only once, for life. When we accept Jesus we receive both forgiveness and life. Both of these are eternal. They cannot be lost, because Jesus' victories cannot be lost.
I'll put it slightly differently. If there is one iota more forgiveness to be obtained in my life as the result of my idolatry, then Jesus MUST die again, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).
This is why repentance is a salvation issue, not a forgiveness issue. I must repent of my desire to be god in order to accept Jesus as the only true God. Just as Adam's and Eve's idolatry resulted in death for all of us, so Jesus' victories result in life for everyone who accepts him. This is a once-for-all-time decision on my part. Jesus doesn't save partially or provisionally. He saves completely.
It is only from this position of strength, Jesus' strength, that I can face my failures. I confess, that is agree about, them with God AND confess, that is agree about, the truth of being his child, a fellow heir with Jesus. Repentance is not part of this conversation.
Neither is asking for forgiveness. I don't need to ask for something I already have. I thank him continually, but I never need ask again.
Finally, the indwelling Holy Spirit, who is the indwelling Grace of God, teaches me to say No to ungodliness. There is no promise on my part to do better. Instead, there is the ongoing discipline of the Spirit renewing my mind, revealing the truth about Jesus and convincing me to choose more wisely in the future.
There is no condemnation, guilt, shame, self-loathing, or anything else associated with this process. All of this, which was the result of idolatry in the first place, has been replaced by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control, which are the result of having had the Spirit restored to us.
Up to this point, the lesson has done a wonderful job of explaining the reality of idolatry, but behaviorism is merely a more socially acceptable form of idolatry, so tying oneself in knots with constant repentance in the vain attempt to restore what hasn't been lost is a waste of time. We should not be surprised when people eventually reject the bankrupt systems built on this foundation of sand.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015—The Call for Death
“When was the last time you had to stand faithfully, at a personal cost to yourself, for the truth as it is in Jesus? If you never have had to do that, what’s wrong?” (Standard Edition Page 60)
Jeremiah faced death straight on. God gave him a message. He delivered it. The leadership reacted badly.
Jeremiah wasn't standing there saying, “I double-dog dare you to touch me, God's servant.” He did say that he brought the exact message God gave him, and that he was in their hands to do with as they saw fit. Here's the surprise: He told them not to add innocent blood to their list of sins.
This was not a taunt. It was a plea to whatever faithfulness remained in them to take God at his word and humbly return to him.
The author gets this correct.
Why, then, the question quoted above? If you or I never have been called to stand faithfully, regardless of the consequences, does that mean there is something wrong with us?
This being an Adventist lesson, there must be an assumption that you never stood your ground regarding the Sabbath, or some other cherished SDA belief. Once again, behaviorism rears its head.
Can the church not imagine God keeping someone on the shelf, so to speak, until a time and situation uniquely suited to that person's gifts and for which the Spirit has been preparing him or her? According to Ephesians 6, we are called to stand, but only when dressed completely in God's armor. We are not to seek out confrontation, but when it comes looking for us God's armor is enough.
The question suggests an approach similar to the old survey: How many Bible studies given? How many witnessing opportunities taken? How many days worth of quiet time?
You mean you've never lost your job or been punched in the face? What kind of so-called Christian are you? You need to get out there and stir things up in order to earn your red badge of courage.
This is the idolater's way, not God's way.
And Jeremiah was the weeping prophet, not the whining prophet. Are we to assume that David, the other psalmists and the other prophets were mere whiners when they laid out their complaints before God?
Real children of God flinch when threatened. They scream when tortured. They deal with hellish hatred when they see their families murdered. They have every right and responsibility to take this anguish directly to the only One who can help them deal with it.
And so do you. There is nothing you can do in your own strength to withstand cancer, divorce or any of a thousand other daily realities. Trying to do so will yield only bitterness. But taking it all to Jesus, warts and all, is the first step toward healing.
This is what Jeremiah did. He was living at the very end of Judah's existence. Their final kings were ridiculous puppets in the hands of their Egyptian and Babylonian masters. Their kings insisted on rebellion, and paid a heavy price. God laid all this out for Jeremiah, gave him messages of judgment and put him in seemingly no-win situations. He wept for his unrepentant people. He yelled back at God when it got to be too much. In short, Jeremiah had a living, breathing relationship with YHWH.
Would that we were honest enough to do likewise.
Thursday, November 12, 2015—Jeremiah's Escape
Overview from the "Teacher's Edition"
“We can stand up with conviction only for someone or something we know. Knowing God is an experiential and relational exercise, which leads away from any form of idolatry. Instead, it leads to strong biblical convictions and ethically correct behavior. It is heartening for our own faith to see that Jeremiah was not completely alone but had those who stood up for him.” (Teachers Edition Page 97)
This “Just for Teachers” paragraph goes a long ways towards solving the problem created in yesterday's question. This is the living, breathing relationship I was hoping for.
Jesus gave us a direct explanation of this experiential and relational reality.
Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:1-3 NASB)
Knowing God and Jesus is the definition of eternal life. Notice the absence of rules, regulations and fear. This is possible because such a relationship is the very antithesis of idolatry. I am so overwhelmed with Jesus as he is ever more completely revealed to me by the Spirit that I literally have no time or interest in my own worthless posing.
This is what Paul meant when he wrote in Galatians 5:16 - “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” The only solution to idolatry is to be consumed with Jesus. That's why there is no law against the fruit of the Spirit.
Friday, November 13, 2015—Further Thought
“But at the cross, veils were torn off, and the world was given the starkest and sharpest revelation possible of that love—a love so great that it led to what Ellen G. White called 'the sundering of the divine powers.' “ (Standard Edition Page 62)
This “sundering” is not in scripture. I believe Jesus' cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” came from the realization that he now had become sin. It was not the result of the Godhead being torn apart.
Remember, Jesus was given authority both to lay down his life and to take it up again. “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” (John 10:17, 18 NASB)
Jesus never ceased to be fully God, even as he lived fully human. He did lay aside his Godly prerogatives (see Philippians 2), but he was no less God for the exercise.
This “sundering”, if it exists, could be related to God's promise in the New Covenant to remember our sins and lawless acts no more. How can an omniscient God not remember our sins? Apparently, it is only because he chooses to do so.
Similarly at the cross, Jesus took on the sin of all of human history, even that “history” still future to the crucifixion. His final act of faith was to commit his own spirit into his Father's hands. This is not the destruction of God, but rather a demonstration of the strength of the bonds that held he and the Father together.
Friday's thoughts are the culmination of the Teachers Edition learning goals that we talked about at the beginning of this commentary. If my sins cause God pain, then Jesus becoming sin must have caused God so much pain that he broke his relationship with the son.
This is false. By contrast, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” (1 John 3:1 NASB)
Again, God's love, not his pain, resulted in the Christ-Event. His initiation of forgiveness and salvation is his overthrow of Satan's deception of Adam and Eve. Satan intended death and destruction. God overruled with grace. Note that I didn't say God responded with grace. God does not respond to Satan, or to any other being.
It is important to understand this because it is the only way to avoid the idolatry described so well by the lesson's author. Anything, even the smallest, seemingly least significant thing, that leads me to trust myself in the battle between flesh and Spirit will result in self-worship. Anything that leads me to believe I have something to prove to God or that God expects me to do in order to receive his blessing must result in self-worship. Self-worship, by definition, is idolatry.
The ugly truth is that even the very best of our behavior – saving lives in an operating room, leading people to Jesus, raising children who are a blessing to everyone around them – is the result of damnable idolatry if we do so in our own strength. God overrules our arrogance for the benefit of others, but he absolutely rejects our pitiful actions.
Jesus is our only safety. The indwelling Spirit is our only guarantee of salvation. If we will lose ourselves in God's glory within and without, we will experience victory. We can know Him, and one of these days we will see him as he is.