Friday, October 30, 2015

Ye Must Be Born Again

John 2:23-3:21

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.  But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” (John 2:23-25)

While Jesus was in Jerusalem on this first trip, the miracles he did convince many he was the Messiah.  He didn’t make a point of it or call attention to the fact, because he knew human nature, and that they would be more firmly convinced if they came to that conclusion on their own as a result of watching what he did.   After all, actions speak louder than words.

“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. “ (John 3:1-2)

One night, while he was there, a man by the name of Nicodemus came to talk to Jesus at night,  He was a Pharisee and a member of the council, and knew many of the Pharisees opposed Jesus for having driven out the business men from the Temple.   Being seen talking to Jesus could well hurt his reputation, but he was sincere about his religion and couldn’t just dismiss what Jesus said out of hand.  He was convinced that Jesus could only do those miracles if he was empowered by God.

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?” (John 3:3-4)

The Jews, and especially the Pharisees were convinced that keeping the Law would enable them to go to heaven.   Jesus clearly challenged that long held belief, stating that without a rebirth, a person couldn’t see God’s kingdom.   People who are depending on their own efforts to get them to heaven live everyday with the possibility they have missed something, he was fully aware that he was not perfect, and Jesus’s comment struck at the heart of his concerns.  He asked how a person could be reborn since it was apparent one couldn’t go back into the mother’s womb. 

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.  The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

During pregnancy, a baby is carried in in the womb, surrounded by Amniotic fluid.  At birth, the membrane holding the amniotic fluid ruptures and the fluid drains away, enabling the baby to be born.  This is known as the water breaking, and when Jesus speaks of a person being born of water this is what he was referring to.  What Jesus said was that person must have both a physical birth, and a spiritual birth in order to go into heaven.   While the physical birth can be observed, the spiritual birth is like the wind.  One can see or hear the effects, but cannot see the wind itself. 

Paul makes a similar comparison between the Physical and the spiritual in I Corinthians 15:45-47.  “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.  Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.  The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.”  The physical birth must come before the spiritual birth. 

“Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?

Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?  Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.  If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?  And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” (John 3:9-13)

Jesus made the point that none Nicodemus’ studies preparing to lead the Jews had addressed this issue, because people can only teach what they know.   If it is hard to understand things when they are expressed in earthly terms we can visualize, how can we understand heavenly things we have never seen?  After all, one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who came from heaven.  This is the son of man also known as the Messiah.    We simply have to accept or reject those things by faith. 

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:14-17)

In Numbers 21, God sent serpents to bite the people because of their complaining.  Moses was instructed to place a brass serpent on a pole and anyone who took the trouble to look up at it would survive the snakebite.  Jesus used this as an illustration of what would happen when he was crucified.  Anyone who believed in Him would be saved because of their faith, just as anyone who looked at the serpent would be.  While God sent the serpents to punish the Jews he gave the brazen serpent to provide a cure.  In the same way, god sends judgment on the world, but because he loves people, he has provided that they can be saved by simply turning to Christ in faith.   The brass snake did not cause people to get bitten, but it provided a way of curing those who had been.  In the same way, Christ does not condemn people to hell, but provides a way for them to avoid it. 

“He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.  But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” (John 3:18-21)

A person who believes in Christ, like the person who looked at the brass snake, has already been healed.  The person who does not believe is like the person who had been bitten but refused to look, insisting it won’t work and he doesn’t want to see another snake.  People refuse to believe in Christ because their actions are wicked and they do not want to face that fact.  Wicked people refuse to acknowledge what they have done is wrong so they avoid coming to Christ, because he makes them aware of their sin. 

Those who want to do right come to Christ so they can have their sin taken away.  I John 1:8-10 states, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”  If we refuse to confess it, we are not saved and, and indicate we don’t believe in him, essentially calling him a liar.   

Though Nicodemus makes no profession of faith at this time, it is obvious he believed , albeit secretly, incurring the displeasure of the Pharisees in John 7:47-53.  “Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived?  Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?  But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.  Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?   They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.  And every man went unto his own house.” 

In John 19:39-42, he  also helped Joseph of arimathaea bury the Lord.   “And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.   Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.  Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.  There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Jesus Turns Water Into Wine

John 2:1-22

“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.   And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.

 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” (John 2:1-5)

Three days after the call of Philip, Jesus and his disciples were invited to a wedding in Cana, that Mary was attending.  When they ran out of wine, Mary told Jesus about the problem.  We have no idea about other things he had done over the years, but she had no doubt about his ability to resolve the problem.  Jesus pointed out that it was not yet time to demonstrate his power, but she told the servers to just do whatever he said. 

“And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.  Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.  And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.” (John 2:6-8)

The Jewish custom for cleansing was to wash out a container, then let it set for several days to allow it to dry and prevent the growth of mold or algae in the porous surfaces of the containers.  There were six large stone water containers sitting there awaiting their turn to be used, each holding two or three firkins of water.  A firkin held about eleven gallons, so these were in effect large water barrels.  Jesus commanded them to fill the pots, then serve it to the guests. 

“When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:9-10)

The water changed into wine and when the Master of Ceremonies tasted it, he was amazed by the quality of the wine.   He stated that normally the best wine was served first because later people would not be as aware of the taste of the wine.   He questioned why they had kept the best for last. 

“This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.  After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days.” (John 2:11-12)

This was Jesus’ first public miracle, although apparently He had done others at home that Mary had seen.  This miracle had a tremendous impact on his disciples, greatly increasing their faith.  After the wedding, Jesus, his mother, and his disciples went back to Capernaum for a few days.  It appears that Mark 1;21-36 took place during this period. 

“And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.  And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” (John 2:12-17)

Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.    Because people came from all over the region to worship, and it was difficult bringing the animals and food stuffs for the sacrifices long distances, the priests had begun to allow people to set up stalls and sell sheep, turtle doves, olive oil, meal, and salt for the sacrifices.  Since there were a number of nationalities came, bringing coins from various countries, there were various money changers on hand to convert the money to different currencies. 

Although this offered people a great deal of convenience, Jesus drove them out of the temple, stating that God’s house is not to be used as a place of business.  Later, just before his crucifixion, Jesus would again cleanse the Temple, accusing them of making it a den of thieves.  The priests were charging a fee for allowing people to sell in the temple, and those who sold there were charging more than the going rate because people needed the sacrifices.  Matthew did not become a disciple until Matthew 9. So he would not have remembered this incident, but he did record the one in Matthew 21. 

“ Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?

Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.

“Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?  But he spake of the temple of his body.” (John 2:18-21)

The Jews challenged Jesus authority to drive the merchants out of the temple and asked him to show a sign that he had such authority.  Jesus said that the sign would be that when they destroued the temple, referring to his own body, he would raise it again the third day.    They assumed he was referring to the building and made fun of him because it had taken them forty six years to rebuild it after Cyrus gave the order as described in Ezra 1:1-2.  “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,  Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.”    Legal challenges delayed the work in the days of Ahaseurus, also known as Cambyses, and in the days of Darius and Artaxerxes.  The building was finished in the days of Darius, but it was not fully equipped until later, in the days of Artaxerxes, when Ezra went to teach them the law. 

“When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.” (John 2:22)

After Christ was resurrected the disciples would remember his promise to be raised again on the third day.   Like Matthew, Mark and Luke record only the second incident.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Calling The First Disciples

John 1:35-51

“Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!  And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” (John 1:35-36)

Both Matthew and Mark tell us that immediately after his baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days.  During that time John had continued preaching.  Jesus had just returned when John was questioned by the Pharisees.  The next day, John was walking with two of his disciples when he saw Jesus and pointed him out to them.  They immediately followed Jesus. 

“Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye?

They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?

He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.   
One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.  He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.  And he brought him to Jesus.

And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone. ” (John 1:38-42)

When john’s disciples joined him, Jesus asked what they were looking for and they said they wanted to know where he lived so he invited them to go with him since it was late afternoon.   One of the two was Simon Peter’s brother who went and got his brother and introduced him to the Lord. 

A short time after Andrew and Peter met the Lord, He began preaching in Capurnaim.   It was then that Jesus called Peter and Andrew to follow him according to Mark 1:16-18)  “Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.  And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.  And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.”   A short distance away he found James and John and called them, as Mark 1:19-20 explains.   “And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.  And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.” 

“The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.  Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.  

And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?

Philip saith unto him, Come and see.

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!

Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me?

 Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.

Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” (John 1:43-51)

Jesus then found Philip and asked him to follow him.   Philip recognized the Lord as the Messiah and went to tell Nathanael.  Nathanael was a dedicated follower of the Law but he had forgotten the prophecy that Jesus was to be called a Nazarene mentioned in Matthew 2:23, “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”   It is important to understand that there were many prophets and prophecies that were never included in the scriptures, and this is one of them.   Jesus recognized Nathanael as a dedicated follower of god and his law, and that caught Nathaniel’s attention.   When Jesus said he had seen him while he was sitting under the fig tree where Philip found him, Nathanael was convinced he was the Messiah.  Jesus said he would witness far greater and more convincing sights that that.  Though he was never listed as one of the apostles, Nathanael would follow Jesus throughout his ministry, and was with the group who went fishing after Jesus’ resurrection in John 21.

Monday, October 26, 2015

John The Baptist’s Testimony

John 1:18-34

“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18)

John is quite definite in this statement, despite the claims of many to the contrary, and it is consistent with God’s statement to Moses in Exodus 33:18-20.  “And he said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.”  God is a righteous God and sinful man would die.  In scripture the references of seeing the Lord always present an indistinct description of a vision rather than of God himself, and without exception they resulted in the viewer filled with a sense of their own wickedness and unworthiness. 

Many of the supposed visions of our day describe it as wonderful and resulting in a great sense of peace and confidence, leading me to suspect most are not visions of God at all.   II Corinthians 11:14-15 warns not to be surprised that false teachers seem to be from God because “…Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.”   It is probable that many, if not most of the supposed visions of God are in fact visions of Satan instead. 

At the same time it is important to understand that Hebrews 1: 3 describes Jesus Christas Follows: “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.”  John 14:9 tells us, “Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?”  Jesus clearly manifested God to the world. 

“And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?

And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.

And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias?

And he saith, I am not.

Art thou that prophet?

And he answered, No.

Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?

He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.

And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.  And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?

John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.  These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. “ (John 1:19-28)

This is the record of John’s response when the Priests and Pharisees sent investigators to find out who he was and to question why he was teaching what he taught.  John was very clear that he was not the Messiah, the Christ.  He also was Elijah or another of the Old Testament prophets that the Jews were expecting to come before Christ came.  He was however the voice of one crying in the wilderness, partially fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3-5, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” 

“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.  This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.  And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.  And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.  And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)

The next day, john the Baptist saw Jesus and introduced him as the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world, describing how God had told him that he would know who he was when he saw the Holy Spirit coming down upon him.  Here John states he had seen it happen.  Matthew states what he saw in Matthew 3:16-17 describes the event.  “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Mark got the same story by interviewing others who were there in Mark 1:10-11.  “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  

Johns claim to have seen the Holy Spirit identify Jesus as the Messiah or Christ is supported by the testimony of Matthew and others who were present.  Under Jewish, a claim was not to be considered valid unless there were two or more testifying to the same facts.  Unfortunately that is a higher standard than our modern courts often maintain.   

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Basis For The Gospel

John 1:1-17

In the Bible, we have four biographical accounts of Jesus’ life.  Two of the, John and Matthew are by men who experienced Jesus Ministry first hand as his disciples.  Mark and Luke, on the other hand, were by men who were a little younger, but old enough to interview many of the people who had observed and been affected by Jesus’ life.  Details in the historical accounts differ slightly as a result of the varying perspectives of different sources.  The fact that they all agree on the basic events although they list them in different order indicates they are in fact what people observed.   As one former detective told me, since nobody remembers all the details perfectly, if the witness statements match too perfectly, it means their testimony has been compromised by discussing it and changing the memories to fit what they have been told rather than what they actually observed.   

While the other three focused on Jesus life and ministry, verifying each other, John focuses on his teachings, recording them in greater detail than the other gospels.  At the same time the other gospels share enough of his teachings to demonstrate that John’s record accurately reflect his teachings.   He starts by identifying Christ as the creator of the world, as God.    It is the basic premise of Christianity.  If Jesus is not in fact God, the entire system is meaningless.   

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.   In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:1-5)

The wording here closely resembles the wording in Genesis 1:1-2. “ In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”  John says the word both was with God and was God, implying that they were in fact two separate and yet united beings.  He goes on to say he was the creator of everything that exists, which Genesis 1:1 indicates was created by God.    When created, the world was in darkness, and waited to for God to produce light.  John paints a parallel picture of the spiritual world. 

In Colossians 1:12-17, Paul makes the same point that Jesus Christ is the creator of the world.  “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”  While we might not initially be sure that the “Word” John speaks of refers to Christ, Paul leaves no question as to who he is talking about, and John soon removes any doubt. 

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:  Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.  And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” (John 1:6-16)

Here the author is not referring to himself, but to John the Baptist.  He makes the point that John was not the Messiah, but rather a witness that that was who Christ was.  As verse 15 states, John did give such testimony, as recorded in just a few verses.  He went on to describe what Christ came to do, offering salvation to anyone who would believe him, and making them children of God.   He was able to do so because , though he was God he became a human, living among mankind so they could see what he was. 

“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

God gave a set of moral and practical laws to Moses demonstrating the moral standards a person would have to meet to even think of getting into heaven.  Unfortunately, as James 2:10 states, even one violation would automatically disqualify a person.  “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”  Romans 3:10 tells us there no one who keeps the law perfectly.   “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.”   As a result the Law could never save anyone.  Romans 3:20 tells us, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”  

Thankfully, Christ brought Grace and truth instead of just the law.  The word Grace means something on did not earn, in effect a gift.  Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  We receive salvation, not as a result of our own efforts, but as a gift from God through Christ as Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us.  “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  Titus 3:5-7 expresses the same thought.   “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

John has summed up the entire purpose  for Christ’s ministry in these few verses.  The rest of the book will examine the basis on which he made these claims in detail.    

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Asking God Not To Forget

Lamentations 5:1-21

“Remember, O LORD, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach.  Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens.  We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows.  We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us.  Our necks are under persecution: we labour, and have no rest.  We have given the hand to the Egyptians, and to the Assyrians, to be satisfied with bread.” (Lamentations 5:1-6)

Jeremiah was deeply concerned for the Jewish people, as he looked at their state.   He was asking God to have pity on them.  The fighting had ended and now life was just a daily grind, and they were humiliated before other peoples.  Some of the land had been given to people who had none of their own while other had been given those who served Nebuchadnezzar.  Many of them had lost their parents or mates.  They were charged for their water and firewood.  They were persecuted because they were Jewish, and forced as slaves to work at their master’s convenience.   They had to trade on the black market with Egyptians and Assyrian traders for enough food to survive.  It was a struggle just to live bay by day.    

“Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities.  Servants have ruled over us: there is none that doth deliver us out of their hand.  We gat our bread with the peril of our lives because of the sword of the wilderness.  Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine.” (Lamentations 5:7-10)

Their parents had done wrong and it resulted in their children suffering, like a family where the man has gambled away their money.   Their rulers had been men who had no concern about the needs of the nation, but were only focused on demonstrating their power.  Even going to fields to gather food was dangerous because of the robbers and thieves.  The results of malnutrition were visible in their skin color. 

“They ravished the women in Zion, and the maids in the cities of Judah.  Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders were not honoured.  They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood.  The elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their music.” (Lamentation 5:11-13)

In Jerusalem, no woman was safe and even in the smaller towns girls were raped regularly.  Business men and workers were executed and leaders were publicly humiliated.  Young men were forced into menial labor often reserved for animals, and young children were forced to gather wood to survive.  The older men could no longer assemble to discuss issues and they young men had no time for singing or making music. 

“The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning.  The crown is fallen from our head: woe unto us, that we have sinned!  For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes are dim.  Because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it.” (Lamentation 5:15-18)

The Jewish people no longer had anything to celebrate.  Thinking about the things they used to celebrate now make them cry and what they took pride in has been taken away.  These things have happened to them because of their own actions, and they no longer have hope or see any means of making things better.   Where the city of Jerusalem had once been a source of pride and commerce, it was now just a deserted ruin occupied by foxes and other wild animals.
“Thou, O LORD, remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation.  Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time?  Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.  But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us.” (Lamentations 5:19-22)

Jeremiah knows God is eternal and that he has the power to change the people’s hearts, but at this point, it seems like he has given up on them and turned away.  Obviously he is very angry over their continual rejection.    Jeremiah is praying but has little hope for change unless people’s attitudes change.     

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Suffering Of The Jews

Lamentations 4:1-22

“How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street.  The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!” (Lamentations 4:1-2)

Jerusalem had been destroyed.  Like tarnished gold the once glorious city had become just a ruin.  The Temple had been torn down and the stones lay in the streets.  The princes and priests that used to be so admired have been arrested, with many of them executed as if they were of no more value than a piece of broken potter, and others were carried away as slaves.  Jeremiah was deeply hurt to see Jerusalem in such a state. 

“Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.  The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them.  They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills.” (Lamentations 4:3-5)

Like most warm blooded animals, whales nurse their babies, caring for them until they are mature enough to fend for themselves.  Because of the siege against Jerusalem, the Jews had gotten so inured to suffering  they were like an ostrich in the desert, so busy trying food for themselves they forget about their children.  The children were dying of thirst and starving to death and nobody did anything about it.  People who had always had everything they wanted and had the best clothing were homeless in the streets. 

“For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.   Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire: Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick.  They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field.  The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people.” (Lamentations 4:6-10)

When Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed it was over in a matter of hours.   Jerusalem’s destruction was drug out for over a year and a half, and even after it was destroyed, the people were still captives and slaves.   Where those who had taken the Nazarite vow to serve God had once been healthy and admired, they were now sunburned and emaciated and no one paid any attention to them.   Many people had cooked their own children for something to eat.  Those who were killed in the battle were better off than those who died of starvation because their death was not dragged out. 

“The LORD hath accomplished his fury; he hath poured out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof.   The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem.  For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her, They have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood, so that men could not touch their garments.  They cried unto them, Depart ye; it is unclean; depart, depart, touch not: when they fled away and wandered, they said among the heathen, They shall no more sojourn there.  The anger of the LORD hath divided them; he will no more regard them: they respected not the persons of the priests, they favoured not the elders.” (Lamentations 4;11-16)

Knowing how God had protected and blessed Israel in the past, the rest of the world would find the level of suffering in Jerusalem unimaginable.  God was demonstrating his anger at their rebellion against him.  The prophets and priests who were supposed to teach the people to follow God’s law had forgotten the law and had become so corrupt they had been involved in the murders of those who were doing what they should.   They were telling people what God commanded was wrong and were fighting among themselves.  The people had lost respect for their leaders and the priests. 

“As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us.  They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.  Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness.  The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen.” (Lamentations 4:17-20)

The Jewish people had looked for their government to save them and discovered it wasn’t able.  They found themselves being hunted down and expected to be killed at any moment.  They had no hope of escaping their enemies and were sure they would be forced into slavery among people who hated them and their God. 

“Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz; the cup also shall pass through unto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked.  The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he will no more carry thee away into captivity: he will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; he will discover thy sins.” (Lamentations 4:21-22)

The Edomites better gloat over the destruction of Judah while they could because it was finished and their own destruction would soon follow.  There were no more Jews to be hauled to Babylon and the Babylonians would be free to turn on Edom for their rejection of God.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

Suffering For The Sins Of Others

Lamentation 3:1-66

“I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.  He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light.  Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day.  My flesh and my skin hath he made old: he hath broken my bones.  He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail.  He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old.  He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy.  Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer.  He hath enclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked.” (Lamentations 3:1-9)

Although Jeremiah was serving God, he was affected by the famine right along with the other people when God punished them.  He lived with the same problems and dangers the lived with, and was not free to come and go as he pleased. And he was just as upset when his friends were killed, and when he prayed for it to end nothing changed.  He had observed the effects of God’s anger. 

“He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places.  He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate.  He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow.  He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins.  I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day.  He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood.  He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes.  And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity.” (Lamentations 3:10-17)

Because of God’s anger at Israel, Jeremiah found his goals and desires constantly frustrated and was constantly having to change his plans, to point he felt like he was coming apart.  It was almost like he was the target for everybody, and the people around him were making fun of him for trusting God.  He felt like a total failure, and no one listened to his warnings.  He had reached a point where he could no longer even imagine a time when things would get better.   He spent several years in prison, being almost completely ignored, reaching a point where he didn’t think he’d ever get out. 

“And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD: Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.  My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.  This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.  It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.  They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.  The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.  The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.” (Lamentations 3:18-25)

Jeremiah had reached a point where he had no hope or strength to go on.  As he remembered the pain and suffering, he was humbled by the pride that had made him think he should escape all those things.  It was at that point he remembered there is none righteous and no one deserves God’s blessings.  It is only by God’s mercy, his willingness to forgive and not punish us like we deserve, that we have not been completely destroyed.  God never gives up on trying to reach people, allowing them to start over every day.  Because Jeremiah believed God loved those who would try to please him and would do good for them, Jeremiah decided to trust God and depend on his promises.  while Our suffering may be the result of other people's sin, we need to realize we deserved it as well.   

“It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.  It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.  He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.  He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.  He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.  For the Lord will not cast off for ever: But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.  For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.  To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth, To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High, To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.” (Lamentations 3:26-36)

It is good for a person to learn experience the struggles and deprivations while he is young so realizes he isn’t better and more deserving than other people.  When he realizes he deserves nothing and that anything he has is gift from God, he will not be complaining about not having things or getting upset when he is mistreated or taken advantage of, and is constantly aware of his own shortcomings.  At the same time he knows God will not go back on his promises but will eventually make things right.  He will understand that God takes no pleasure in punishing people and will not approve of deliberately harming those who cannot escape, to taking away people’s freedom, or forcing people to do things your way.  
“Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?  Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?   Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?  Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.  Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens. ” (Lamentations 3:37-41)

We must understand that there is nothing that happens unless God allows it to happen, whether it is good or bad.   What right do we have to complain for getting the punishment we deserve, and there are none of us who don’t deserve punishment.  Instead of complaining, we need to examine our own lives and correct our behavior.  Only then do we have the right to ask God to take away the punishment. 

“We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned.  Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied.  Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.  Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.  All our enemies have opened their mouths against us.  Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.” (Lamentations 3:42-47)

The people had broken God’s laws and rebelled against his authority, and God was not forgiving the, but was causing them to be killed and persecuted.  They were praying but God was not answering and their enemies were getting stronger and more aggressive.  They were inundated with problems and saw no hope, because they would not confess and forsake their sins.  I John 1:8-10 warns, “1jo 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.   If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

“Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people.  Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission,  Till the LORD look down, and behold from heaven.  Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.” (Lamentations 3:48-51)

A major part of Jeremiah’s pain resulted from seeing what was happening to the nation of Judah.  He saw no evidence of their being willing to change, and he hurt seeing how they were suffering, but could do nothing until they acknowledged their sin.

“Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause.  They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me. La 3:54 Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off.  I called upon thy name, O LORD, out of the low dungeon.  Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.  Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.  O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life.” (Lamentations 3:52-58)

Jeremiah had spent the last several years of Zedekiah’s reign in prison, part of it in the lowest dungeons where there was so much water he was in danger of drowning.  God heard his prayer and as a result Ebedmelech the Ethiopian had managed to get him relocated to the upper part of the prison, but he was still in prison and his enemies among the rulers were looking for an excuse to kill him. 

“O LORD, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause. La 3:60 Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me.  Thou hast heard their reproach, O LORD, and all their imaginations against me; The lips of those that rose up against me, and their device against me all the day.  Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their music.  Render unto them a recompense, O LORD, according to the work of their hands.  Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them.  Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:59-66)

He asks that God would act on his behalf, repaying them for the lies and false charges against him.  They laghed and celebrates at Jeremiah’s suffering and he asked God to give them a similar level of misery, based on their own wrong doing.   

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Conditions In Jerusalem

Lamentations 2:1-22

“How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger!  The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob, and hath not pitied: he hath thrown down in his wrath the strong holds of the daughter of Judah; he hath brought them down to the ground: he hath polluted the kingdom and the princes thereof.  He hath cut off in his fierce anger all the horn of Israel: he hath drawn back his right hand from before the enemy, and he burned against Jacob like a flaming fire, which devoureth round about.  He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire.” (Lamentation 2:1-4)

From the very beginning, God had warned Israel about the consequences of rebelling against him.  Despite the repeated warnings and the terms of their contract or covenant with God, they had ignored their responsibilities.  Finally He had been forced to take ultimate action against them.   They lost even their homeland, and their military power, leaving them with nothing.  He had actively participated in their destruction, not just passively allowing them to be defeated. 

“The Lord was as an enemy: he hath swallowed up Israel, he hath swallowed up all her palaces: he hath destroyed his strong holds, and hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation.  And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly: the LORD hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest.   The Lord hath cast off his altar, he hath abhorred his sanctuary, he hath given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; they have made a noise in the house of the LORD, as in the day of a solemn feast.” (Lamentations 2:5-7)

He became in effect Israel’s enemy, destroying their fortresses and moving out from among them.  He had caused the places of worship to be destroyed, and the old rituals and customs had been forgotten.   Even the priests and rulers were executed for their failure to serve God.  The very Temple itself had been destroyed and burned after having everything of value taken away by the Babylonians. 

“The LORD hath purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion: he hath stretched out a line, he hath not withdrawn his hand from destroying: therefore he made the rampart and the wall to lament; they languished together.  Her gates are sunk into the ground; he hath destroyed and broken her bars: her king and her princes are among the Gentiles: the law is no more; her prophets also find no vision from the LORD.  The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads; they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground.” (Jeremiah 2:8-10)

God had marked out what he wanted destroyed, and the very walls surrounding Jerusalem were torn down.  The gates of the city had been destroyed so completely they were buried in the rubble and the places where the troops fought from at the top of the wall were empty.  There was no one to enforce or even teach the Law God had given.   The king and political leaders had been captured and executed or imprisoned in Babylon.  Those who had claimed to see visions from God were no longer making such claims, and the remaining Jewish leaders sat quietly on the ground, unnoticed and unheard.  They were saddened by and humiliated by what had happened.  Even the young girls were ashamed. 

“Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people; because the children and the sucklings swoon in the streets of the city.  They say to their mothers, Where is corn and wine? when they swooned as the wounded in the streets of the city, when their soul was poured out into their mothers' bosom.” (Lamentations 2:11-12)

Jeremiah was deeply hurt over the plight of the people of Judah.  Infants and children were fainting in the streets from lack of food.  They were crying and begging for something to eat, and were fainting and dying alongside the wounded soldiers, dying in their mother’s arms. 

“What thing shall I take to witness for thee? what thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? what shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? for thy breach is great like the sea: who can heal thee?  All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth?  All thine enemies have opened their mouth against thee: they hiss and gnash the teeth: they say, We have swallowed her up: certainly this is the day that we looked for; we have found, we have seen it.” (Lamentations 2:13-16)

The city that God had made his own and been admired by the entire world had become just a ruin,  It had been wiped out more completely than most of the ancient cities, and there was no other group or city to compare.   Other people would look and believe they had destroyed the nation, celebrating the city’s destruction. 
“ The LORD hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word that he had commanded in the days of old: he hath thrown down, and hath not pitied: and he hath caused thine enemy to rejoice over thee, he hath set up the horn of thine adversaries.” (Lamentations 2:17)

They had no reason to complain because God has just done what he warned them would happen if they rejected his word.  He had thrown them down for their sin, giving their enemies victory over themand making them strong against Israel. 

“Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease.  Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.” (Lamentations 2:18-19)

The people had cried out to the Lord for help, but before help would be given they would need to make changes in their own lives.  They needed to turn to God full time, pouring out their heart to Him and seeking his help for the lives of their own starving children. 

“Behold, O LORD, and consider to whom thou hast done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, and children of a span long? shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?  The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets: my virgins and my young men are fallen by the sword; thou hast slain them in the day of thine anger; thou hast killed, and not pitied.  Thou hast called as in a solemn day my terrors round about, so that in the day of the LORD'S anger none escaped nor remained: those that I have swaddled and brought up hath mine enemy consumed.” (Lamentations 2:20-22)

He called on the Lord to consider who was suffering.  Women  were eating  their own babies and stillborn children and for the priests and prophets to be killed in the Temple itself.  Men and women of every age died of starvation, disease and violence and their bodies were just left lying in the streets.  Young men and women were killed in street fighting, and even those who they tried to protect were taken and killed without reason.  It was a terrible time for Jerusalem and Judah.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Jerusalem’s Sorrow

Lamentations 1:1-22

“How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!  She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.” (Lamentations 1:1-2)

To lament is to express one’s grief.  In this book, Jeremiah is expressing his and the people’s  grief at the judgment that is coming on the nation of Judah and the city of Jerusalem.  For almost four hundred years, Jerusalem had been the center of the Jewish religion and the capital of Judah.  Jeremiah’s prophecy describes the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the Jews as a result of their turning to various other gods. 

“Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest: all her persecutors overtook her between the straits.  The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness.  Her adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper; for the LORD hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions: her children are gone into captivity before the enemy.  And from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed: her princes are become like harts that find no pasture, and they are gone without strength before the pursuer.  Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old, when her people fell into the hand of the enemy, and none did help her: the adversaries saw her, and did mock at her sabbaths.” (Lamentations 1:3-7)

The nation of Judah had been dispossessed of their land and forced to from their homeland, living among people who do not worship God.  People no longer go to the Temple to worship God, or to consult the priests, and their lifestyle has been lost.  They are controlled by their enemies, who are gaining power.  Israel no longer has anything to be proud of because they have gone against God.   Their suffering is aggravated by the knowledge of what they had experienced in the past, and people throw it up in their faces. 

“Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed: all that honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness: yea, she sigheth, and turneth backward.  Her filthiness is in her skirts; she remembereth not her last end; therefore she came down wonderfully: she had no comforter. O LORD, behold my affliction: for the enemy hath magnified himself.  The adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things: for she hath seen that the heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom thou didst command that they should not enter into thy congregation.  All her people sigh, they seek bread; they have given their pleasant things for meat to relieve the soul: see, O LORD, and consider; for I am become vile.” (Lamentations 1:8-11)

Like a drunk or other addict, Jerusalem has time after time suffered the consequences of their sin but have gone right on, refusing to make any meaningful changes.  It has been their own choice, and they have ignored the harm they have done to themselves.  As a result they have lost everything they had, and have seen God’s judgment, even trading their most valuable possessions for a bit of food.  Finally they have realized how bad off they have become. 

“Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.  From above hath he sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them: he hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back: he hath made me desolate and faint all the day.  The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand: they are wreathed, and come up upon my neck: he hath made my strength to fall, the Lord hath delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up.” (Lamentations 1:12-14)

When they finally come to this point, they feel like no one else has ever had such trouble, because God has caused these things to happen to them.  They are only starting to understand that the problems are the result of their own actions, and they now realize they cannot escape his power. 

“The Lord hath trodden under foot all my mighty men in the midst of me: he hath called an assembly against me to crush my young men: the Lord hath trodden the virgin, the daughter of Judah, as in a winepress.  For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me: my children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed.  Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her: the LORD hath commanded concerning Jacob, that his adversaries should be round about him: Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman among them.” (Lamentations 1:15-17)

Judah had lost their entire army, and many of the population killed.  The survivors were carried away as slaves.  They no longer find any hope in asking god for deliverance because God has commanded that they be destroyed.  They are embarrassed by everything around them. 

“The LORD is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment: hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity.  I called for my lovers, but they deceived me: my priests and mine elders gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve their souls.  Behold, O LORD; for I am in distress: my bowels are troubled; mine heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled: abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there is as death.” (Lamentations 1:18-20)

When they are honest they realize God has every reason to turn against them.  They have followed other gods and ignored God like an adulterous wife chasing her lovers, only to learn that their love was just words and they had no commitment to her.  The priests and teachers of those other gods were only interested in their own gratification, and when she needs help, they turn their backs on her.  Suddenly they have no place to go for peace. 

“They have heard that I sigh: there is none to comfort me: all mine enemies have heard of my trouble; they are glad that thou hast done it: thou wilt bring the day that thou hast called, and they shall be like unto me.  Let all their wickedness come before thee; and do unto them, as thou hast done unto me for all my transgressions: for my sighs are many, and my heart is faint.” (Lamentations 1:21-22)

Everyone is aware of Judah and Jerusalem’s suffering and  her enemies rejoice to see how she is hurt.  The only consolation is that they will one day experience the same things because they have also rejected God.  

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Destruction of Jerusalem

Jeremiah 52:1-34

“Zedekiah was one and twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah.  And he did that which was evil in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done.  For through the anger of the LORD it came to pass in Jerusalem and Judah, till he had cast them out from his presence, that Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.” (Jeremiah 52:1-3)

The Babylonians had originally conquered Judah in Jehoiakim’s day.  Because he rebelled they had carried Jehoiakim captive and made his eight year old son Jehoiachin king.  The Jewish leaders continued to rebel, and three months later the Babylonians removed Jehoiachin and made his uncle Mattaniah king, changing his name to Zephaniah.  Zephaniah was just like his brother Jehoiakim, ignoring the warnings from god and going along with the Jewish leaders and continuing to antagonize the Lord.  He reigned a little over eleven years. 

“And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, and pitched against it, and built forts against it round about.  So the city was besieged unto the eleventh year of king Zedekiah.  And in the fourth month, in the ninth day of the month, the famine was sore in the city, so that there was no bread for the people of the land.  Then the city was broken up, and all the men of war fled, and went forth out of the city by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, which was by the king's garden; (now the Chaldeans were by the city round about:) and they went by the way of the plain. ” (Jeremiah 52:4-7)

Nine years and ten months after they made him king, because of the constant rebellion of the Jews, the Babylonians were forced to invade Judah and besiege Jerusalem again.  A year and a half later, the Jews ran out of food and were forced to surrender.  The Jewish army escaped by a secret gate at night even though the Chaldean army surrounded the city. 

“But the army of the Chaldeans pursued after the king, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho; and all his army was scattered from him.  Then they took the king, and carried him up unto the king of Babylon to Riblah in the land of Hamath; where he gave judgment upon him.  And the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes: he slew also all the princes of Judah in Riblah.  Then he put out the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him in chains, and carried him to Babylon, and put him in prison till the day of his death.” (Jeremiah 52:8-11)

The Chaldean army gave pursuit and captured Zedekiah near Jericho, before he could cross the Jordan, and the army scattered.  He was taken to Nebuchadnezzar’s field offices in Riblah, where his sons were executed while he watched, then his eyes were put out so that would be the last thing he saw.   When Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon, Zedekiah was taken to Babylon as a prisoner, where he would remain until his death. 

“Now in the fifth month, in the tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, which served the king of Babylon, into Jerusalem,  And burned the house of the LORD, and the king's house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, and all the houses of the great men, burned he with fire:  And all the army of the Chaldeans, that were with the captain of the guard, brake down all the walls of Jerusalem round about.

Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive certain of the poor of the people, and the residue of the people that remained in the city, and those that fell away, that fell to the king of Babylon, and the rest of the multitude.  But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left certain of the poor of the land for vinedressers and for husbandmen.” (Jeremiah 52:12-16)

A month after they seized Jerusalem, the Babylonians razed the city, burning the temple.the government offices and the homes, and tore down the city walls.  The poor people and the wealthy who had not escaped were hauled off as captives, except for a few of the poor who were left to manage the orchards and vineyards and care for the farms. 

“Also the pillars of brass that were in the house of the LORD, and the bases, and the brazen sea that was in the house of the LORD, the Chaldeans brake, and carried all the brass of them to Babylon.  The caldrons also, and the shovels, and the snuffers, and the bowls, and the spoons, and all the vessels of brass wherewith they ministered, took they away.  And the basins, and the firepans, and the bowls, and the caldrons, and the candlesticks, and the spoons, and the cups; that which was of gold in gold, and that which was of silver in silver, took the captain of the guard away.  The two pillars, one sea, and twelve brazen bulls that were under the bases, which king Solomon had made in the house of the LORD: the brass of all these vessels was without weight.

And concerning the pillars, the height of one pillar was eighteen cubits; and a fillet of twelve cubits did compass it; and the thickness thereof was four fingers: it was hollow.  And a chapiter of brass was upon it; and the height of one chapiter was five cubits, with network and pomegranates upon the chapiters round about, all of brass. The second pillar also and the pomegranates were like unto these.  And there were ninety and six pomegranates on a side; and all the pomegranates upon the network were an hundred round about.” (Jeremiah 52:17-23)

The huge brass castings Solomon had made for the temple were broken up and transported to Babylon.  The brazen sea was a cast tank or bowl some six feet deep and twelve feet across cast from brass about four inches thick, that sat on twelve brass castings resembling oxen.  The main pillars were twenty seven feet long and about six feet in diameter in the form of a hollow brass tube with three inch walls.  They had additional decorative tops and bases.    All of the serving utensils and tool from the temple were carried away as well,

“And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest, and Zephaniah the second priest, and the three keepers of the door: He took also out of the city an eunuch, which had the charge of the men of war; and seven men of them that were near the king's person, which were found in the city; and the principal scribe of the host, who mustered the people of the land; and threescore men of the people of the land, that were found in the midst of the city.  So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them, and brought them to the king of Babylon to Riblah.  And the king of Babylon smote them, and put them to death in Riblah in the land of Hamath. Thus Judah was carried away captive out of his own land.” (Jeremiah 52:24-27)

In the process of destroying the city, seventy three officials were discovered hiding in the city and were carried to Nebuchadnezzar’s field office where they were tried and executed for their part in the rebellion against Babylon. 

“This is the people whom Nebuchadrezzar carried away captive: in the seventh year three thousand Jews and three and twenty: In the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar he carried away captive from Jerusalem eight hundred thirty and two persons: In the three and twentieth year of Nebuchadrezzar Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive of the Jews seven hundred forty and five persons: all the persons were four thousand and six hundred.” (Jeremiah 52:28-30)

When Nebuchadnezzar, first conquered Judah, he didn’t take any captives, just signing an agreement with Jehoiakim.  After Jehoiakim’s rebellion, in Nebuchadnezzar’s seventh year, he took three thousand twenty three of the Jews as captives, including Daniel and his friends.  A great many of the Jews escaped to Telabib on the river chebar, where they were ministered to by Ezekiel.   A little over eleven years later, when he defeated Zedekiah, he took another eight hundred thirty two captives, and five years after that, when they rebelled against his governor, another seven hundred forty five were taken to Babylon. 

“And it came to pass in the seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, in the five and twentieth day of the month, that Evilmerodach king of Babylon in the first year of his reign lifted up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah, and brought him forth out of prison, And spake kindly unto him, and set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon, And changed his prison garments: and he did continually eat bread before him all the days of his life.  And for his diet, there was a continual diet given him of the king of Babylon, every day a portion until the day of his death, all the days of his life.” (Jeremiah 52:31-34)

Thirty seven years after Zedekiah was captured, Nebuchadneszzar’s successor, Evilmerodach, or Awil Marduk freed him, and again designated him as the Jewish leader, providing for him until his death.  This would have been twelve or fifteen years before the Medo-Persian Empire seized control from Belshazzar, in Daniel 5.   

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Prophecy Sent To Babylon

Jeremiah 51:53-64

“Though Babylon should mount up to heaven, and though she should fortify the height of her strength, yet from me shall spoilers come unto her, saith the LORD.  A sound of a cry cometh from Babylon, and great destruction from the land of the Chaldeans: Because the LORD hath spoiled Babylon, and destroyed out of her the great voice; when her waves do roar like great waters, a noise of their voice is uttered: Because the spoiler is come upon her, even upon Babylon, and her mighty men are taken, every one of their bows is broken: for the LORD God of recompenses shall surely requite.  And I will make drunk her princes, and her wise men, her captains, and her rulers, and her mighty men: and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts.  Thus saith the LORD of hosts; The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, and her high gates shall be burned with fire; and the people shall labour in vain, and the folk in the fire, and they shall be weary.” (Jeremiah 51:53-58)

God is going to bring judgment on Babylon regardless what they may do to try to prevent it.  Her  power and influence will be destroyed by those who have been dominated by her, as described in Revelation 17:15-18.  “And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.  And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.  For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.  And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” 

As so often happens, the Babylonian leadership will be so drunk on power and implementing their own agenda they ignore the plight of their subjects, and by the time they realize how serious the situation has become, they will be destroyed and the city razed. God will use their own subjects to punish them just as he has throughout history.

“The word which Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah the son of Neriah, the son of Maaseiah, when he went with Zedekiah the king of Judah into Babylon in the fourth year of his reign. And this Seraiah was a quiet prince.  So Jeremiah wrote in a book all the evil that should come upon Babylon, even all these words that are written against Babylon.  And Jeremiah said to Seraiah, When thou comest to Babylon, and shalt see, and shalt read all these words; Then shalt thou say, O LORD, thou hast spoken against this place, to cut it off, that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but that it shall be desolate for ever.” (Jeremiah 51:59-62)

In the fourth year of Zedekiah’s reign, He went to Babylon to meet with Nebuchadnezzar.  On member of his retinue was a quiet godly official named Seraiah.  Jeremiah wrote out the prophecies against Babylon and gave to scroll Seraiah.  He was to read the scroll before the king and then call on the lord to fulfill his word, that the city would be cut off and no one ever live there again. 

“And it shall be, when thou hast made an end of reading this book, that thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of Euphrates: And thou shalt say, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her: and they shall be weary. Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.” (Jeremiah 51:63-64)

When he finished reading the scroll, Seraiah was to tie a rock to it and cast it into the Euphrates River, proclaiming that Babylon would sink just as the scroll did and never recover or be rebuilt.  Revelation 18:21-24 describes the fulfillment of this prophecy.  “And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.  And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee; And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.  And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.”

A review of Babylon’s history shows these prophecies have never yet been fulfilled.  Almost sixty years after Babylon was conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire in Daniel 5, and about forty years before the Greeks began invading the Persian Empire, Zechariah 5:5-11 gave the following prophecy.  “Then the angel that talked with me went forth, and said unto me, Lift up now thine eyes, and see what is this that goeth forth.   

And I said, What is it?

And he said, This is an ephah that goeth forth. He said moreover, This is their resemblance through all the earth.  And, behold, there was lifted up a talent of lead: and this is a woman that sitteth in the midst of the ephah.  And he said, This is wickedness.  And he cast it into the midst of the ephah; and he cast the weight of lead upon the mouth thereof.  

Then lifted I up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came out two women, and the wind was in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork: and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven.  Then said I to the angel that talked with me, Whither do these bear the ephah?

And he said unto me, To build it an house in the land of Shinar: and it shall be established, and set there upon her own base.”

Zechariah’s prophecies relate to the tribulation and return of Christ to establish his earthly kingdom.  It is very clear that at that time the land of Shinar, the area where Babylon is located will be a center of great wickedness.  Those who have taught that Babylon represents Rome or the United states have overlooked this and various other passages. 

Zechariah’s prophecy was made about a hundred years after Jeremiah made this prophecy against Babylon.