Tag Archives: righteousness

A Righteous Branch

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Luke 1:68-79
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

I stand on the edge of time.  It lies before me as a scroll.  I see Creation and the end of Creation.  Through it all I see the hand of God the Creator.  Nothing happens that He does not attend.

The lives of humans seem to attract the most attention from God.  Their rebellion and petty struggles to become little gods occupies much of His interests.  Another god, if there were such a being, would have done away with the defective ones, but God Yahweh tolerates their machinations.

Here, look at the Chosen People near their captivity into slavery for disobedience.  God has His servant Jeremiah deliver a double message: you will become slaves, but return trusting in God.  Still later, you will receive a King greater than David.

I ask you, what self-respecting man or woman would think of such a thing?  Had humans been in God’s place, they would never have put up with such disrespect and they certainly would not have put in place a perfect plan for all those rebels to sit with them at the Great Banquet.

And here, the messenger of God telling an average priest that his son will be the one to announce to the world that the King, the Righteous Branch, the Rising Son, is coming.  Humans would have written it in the sky, on the sides of mountains, had millions of angels shouting it to all corners of the earth.  God tells one priest and then strikes him silent until the birth.

Look at one more.  The Righteous Branch hanging between two thieves, unjustly accused, in his dying breaths—forgives a man’s sins.  I see it and even I have trouble believing it.

But I have seen the last page and know how the story ends.  As Paul said, For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Mary

The Roman torches burned angrily to keep the darkness from completely overcome them.  Mary continued stared at her son as his life’s blood drip-dripped to the ground.  A slight smile filled her eyes when she heard him forgive the Romans.

The words of Jeremiah about raising a righteous Branch of David who would reign with justice and righteousness echoed in her thoughts.  Her son, her Yeshua never failed to be righteous,  a friend and helper to all.  For that, back stripped of flesh, the cross, nails pounded through him, desperate gasps of breath, agony his companion.

God’s Son promised the thief he would be in heaven today.  Mary remembered the prophecy of her cousin Zechariah that Yeshua would give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.  That he would shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide their feet into the path of peace.  Little did she know then that he would do it as the Great Sin Offering.

She knew without understanding that Yeshua was fulfilling the prophecy in this death.  Her own heart ached from his pain, her own tears poured out for his grief; yet, her son would bring light into the darkness, even now, even with his last drop of blood and his last breath.

God promised to give him the throne of David.  God promised his kingdom would never end.  God’s broken heart was greater than hers and his pride in their son had to be mountains larger.  No understanding, no knowing, only believing.  Someway, God would turn this ugliness into Holiness.

When he spoke his last, when he died, when the earth shook, when the darkness nearly snuffed out the torches, when the others urged her to leave, she refused to look away.  She lived through the pain of his birth; she would not abandon him in his, and her, pain of death.

Turn Your Ears to the Truth

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Dathan could still taste the smoke.  He woke screaming this night and every night, sweating even as he shivered from the cold.  The dream was always the same.  Fires boiling dark, putrid smoke through the streets.  The inhuman screams of his flaming neighbors.  The flash of sunlight as the sword passed through the body of his boy, his Hashub.

That was months ago and in another land.  Now, in Babylon, he really was trying to make a new life, but it was so hard.

Yes, God had to punish his people for their sins.  He could not disagree.  It was justice.  But Hashub who had studied the word of God, even accepting the words of that wild prophet, Jeremiah, why did God take him?

Jeremiah.  Now he was saying Judah and Israel would be reunited and returned to the promised land; that there would be a new way of writing the covenant with God.  No longer would it be enough to memorize the word, they would have to live it out every day.  What did that mean?

Dathan crawled from his pallet and stood looking at the stars, his teeth tapping the rhythm of his chill.  Even in this strange land God’s stars looked the same.  He must truly be eternal.

 

Exposition

The message of God through Jeremiah is that God has redesigned the marriage contract, even though His bride broke the vows.  It is not a new contract, but one on the pattern of Hosea and his marriage to Gomer.  God is husband to an adulterous people, yet He chooses to remain true to His commitment.

For our part, the new contract calls for us to internalize the Word of God.  We can no longer do whatever we want through the week, then sing praises to God for one day.  This marriage must be a full time commitment.

In the days of the old covenant, a man put in his 40 hours at work, putting up with a nagging boss and surly coworkers so that he could go home to a nagging wife and surly kids.  He looked for any excuse to get out of the house.

Now, a man treats everyone as though they are angels of God.

The reading from Psalms 119 stresses the importance knowing the Word of God.  But we must do more than just study.  With the psalmist, we must say, I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me.  Now it is personal.  God teaches me the right path.  How can I turn from that teaching?

Paul gives Timothy and us a deeper understanding of instilling the Word into our lives.  Timothy had an advantage of being taught the scriptures from childhood, but that was not enough.  Without faith the scriptures are dead.  Unless we use the knowledge every day, it will die within us.  The Word is a living entity.  Like a plant seed, it has to have a medium for growth plus daily nourishment.  If we allow the Word to grow within us, the Word will take over and control our lives.

Modern Americans have been exposed to thousands of stories of alien life forms imbedding themselves into human bodies and controlling their activities, always for evil.  Sometimes, the alien is portrayed as the devil and mere humans have no way of preventing his takeover.  That is not what Paul is talking about.

God created angels to do the work and humans to be His companions.  To be true companions, He gave us the same abilities He has to think, create, comprehend, and decide; especially to decide what is right.  By the way, the devil cannot take over a person without permission, nor can God.  God made us with our own defense system from outside attack.

Knowing what is right in this world is difficult.  It’s a bit like hitting a moving target while riding in a moving target; or like some video games when the bad ones come from all directions and the highest score is hidden among them.

Oddly, life is like that video game.  Playing the game for the first time nearly always results in being ‘killed’ early one, but the player figures out what went wrong and does it right the next time.  We have the same chance to study the Word and apply it correctly the next time.  Unlike a video game, we can never learn enough to make it to heaven on our own skills.  If we could, God would not have needed to give us the Word.

At first glance, the reading in Luke might not seem to fit with the theme of the other three.  Let’s take a closer look.  These verses are part of a larger encounter which begins with another question from the Pharisees (17:20).  ‘When will the kingdom of God come?’  Jesus short answer is: ‘The kingdom is within you.’  The translation of the Greek may also read, ‘The kingdom is among you.’

Either way, Jesus identifies himself with the Kingdom.  When we take all his teachings together, The Kingdom is here and there, now and later, on earth and in heaven.  If we accept the Word and let it guide us, we are walking in the Kingdom already.

Jesus then moves to the parable of the Judge and the Widow to illustrate the importance of daily contact with God.  We generally think of prayer as giving God a list of the things we want, thinking that surely one or two will be granted.  What we should want is to listen to God.

In Jesus day, the Temple collected money for the widows and orphans.  Anyone who qualified could apply and receive assistance.  But like most governmental operations, they had a long list of rules about who qualified and how to select those people and how much money they should get.

This story is about a widow who was not being treated fairly.  Understand that a woman living alone in ancient Jewish society simply had no way to make money honestly.  Generally, a widow would move in with family who would care for her, but that was not always possible.

This woman needed help and she would not be ignored.  The judge tried to, but finally had to give in and grant the woman’s petition.  Pray without ceasing.

But let’s look at the story from another angle.  This reading is completely within the teachings of Jesus, so I’m not bending it too much.

The woman is God and the judge is you and me.  God bombards us with petitions to do justice, but we try to ignore His words.  Like the judge, we have greater things on our minds than the piddling justice thing.  What the woman/God wants is for the judge/us to listen and obey.

It might surprise you to learn how often the Old Testament speaks of caring for the widows and orphans, or more often, not caring for them.  Justice is not hunting evil doers.  It is caring for the people we meet every day, watching for the little ways we can make their lives easier, always ready to give food, clothing, shelter, money, a warm smile, a hug.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

On Broken Cisterns

Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81:1, 10-16
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

 were in important element of life in the dryer parts of the country as they were throughout the dry parts of the world.  They are found in all sizes and shapes, but in the US were generally the size of a bedroom in a farm house.  To make a cistern, you need to dig a hole six to ten feet deep and about the same on all sides.  The walls have to be covered with concrete or something else that will hold the water in.  It’s a little like building a small swimming pool, except the top has to be covered as well.  Every roof needs gutters feeding rain water into pipes that run into the cistern.

You may know that the Temple platform in Jerusalem has a number of cisterns dug into the solid rock of the mountain.  They were used to store water for two purposes: to wash the sacrificial area and to supply the people with water if they were under siege, as they were in 70 CE.  But before you envision ten foot holes, the Temple cisterns could supply a million people water for months.

You may be wondering why this history lesson.  Jeremiah was told by God, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

If, a century ago, you were lucky enough to live close to a brook, stream, or river, you had no use for a cistern.  If you choose to live next to God, you have a constant stream of living water, but if you don’t want to live near God, you have to build a cistern because living water does not flow anywhere else.

The image in Jeremiah is of building a cistern to catch the occasional drops of life that God allows everyone to have.  Those drops have to be stored and held because they are so precious, thus the hole in the ground.  But, as God says, “they are broken and cannot hold water.”  It is a futile exercise, yet another human delusion.  We think we can get along without God.

The Scriptures are filled with opposing images to represent God and not God.  Light and dark, loving God and loving self, being righteous and being greedy; they all yield the same message: life only exists with God.

Let’s look back at the first sin God listed: “They have forsaken me.”  Jesus explains that to the Pharisees at the Sabbath dinner.  “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”  If you live next to the living water, offer some of it to others.  It is a river that can never run dry.

God wants to share with us and he wants us to share with others, especially those who are outside the range of the living water.  The author of Hebrews writes, “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”  “Keep on loving each other.  Do not forget to entertain strangers.”

So, what do I do Monday?  How do I live my life close to God when I spend most of my waking hours taking care of the kids, going to work, keeping up the house, the car, etc.  All those things seem to leave no time for God.

Take God with you.  Yes, it’s that simple, and that easy.  OK, maybe not easy at first.  Work at it day after day.  Accept your failures as learning experiences and strive to do better.  It cannot be done overnight, but it can be done.  Take God with you wherever you go.  The really Good News is that you will have help every step of the way.  Remember that some of those strangers are angles.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence