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THINK|13

The folks at College Park Church in Indianapolis know how to throw a party. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken at a more encouraging church, and I praise God for the way the pastors set the tone for the whole church to receive the word of God with enthusiasm. It was a blessing, too, to have them take such good care of my sweet wife and our kids. I was supposed to be ministering to them, but they were the ones ministering to us!

This past weekend it was my privilege to preach five times at THINK|13 at College Park Church in Indianapolis (photos here). The theme was “Finding Your Place in God’s Story.” Here are the titles linked up to the audio for the five sessions:

In an attempt to help folks remember these session themes, I opened by introducing a “memory palace” inspired by Moonwalking with Einstein. You can hear all about that in the audio for the first session.

Hoping to encapsulate the big story of the Bible and the five sessions, I attempted a poem for the conclusion of the fifth message.

What a blessing to be with the people of God, and what a blessing to have God’s word, which reveals to us the salvation planned by the Father, accomplished by the Son, applied by the Spirit.

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The Best Sermon I’ve Ever Heard on Marriage

Denny Burk preached the best sermon I’ve ever heard on marriage at Kenwood Baptist Church this morning. It was prophetic, powerful, piercing, and poetic.

Denny’s introduction was prophetic:

We all found out last month what the President of the United States thinks about marriage. He sat down for an interview with ABC News and announced to the world [in his own words],

“I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married…”

He went on,

“[Michelle and I] are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated…”

My reaction to what the President said probably wasn’t that different from yours. I thought that what he said was outrageous. I thought that citing Jesus as if He were in support of sexual immorality was blasphemous. But I also thought, there’s really nothing new here.

The president is a sign of our times not the cause of our times. If you think that the President has caused the massive revolution in our culture on marriage, you are just wrong. The changes have accelerated in the last few years, but the seeds were sown many decades before.

Our culture long ago embraced…

-The sexual revolution of the 60’s and 70’s …

-The idolatry of sex and the diminishing of marriage…

-The ubiquity of the birth control pill and the severing of human sexuality from its connection to children and family.

-No-fault divorce and the idea that we can change spouses like we change sox.

-That there’s no difference between men and women, gender is just a social construct that we learn from culture, not something given to us by God at creation.

-And closely related to this, the idea that gender shouldn’t matter when it comes to human sexuality. And so we have a whole generation of young people who see nothing at all wrong with homosexuality.

No, our culture’s devolution didn’t begin last month with an announcement from the President. This slide has been a long time coming.

Denny’s exposition of Ephesians 5:21–33 that followed this introduction was powerful and piercing, and funny too–you’ll probably hear me belly laughing when you listen to this.

And Denny’s conclusion was poetic. He had me and many others in tears with these words:

I wrote a poem for Susan on our third anniversary that was a bit of a vision of how I was hoping and praying we might end up. It’s a story that ends with a short prayer.

The old man took her tired hand
to hold for one last time.
The years had fin’lly pressed her to
her final breaths of life.

Their wrinkled hands in warm embrace
brought back the long-gone years,
The memories of their happy times,
and those dissolved in tears.

The old man saw in her ill frame
the girl that stole his heart.
He saw in her that gracious gaze
that filled their home with warmth.

His mind turned back to lighter days
when she did make her mark,
The children her love reared for them,
Her single heart for God.

He also felt the weight of grace
that marked her many years,
How she had borne him patiently
when he did cause the tears.

The old man said, “My love, the time
was cruelly short to me.
I cannot say goodbye to you
and let your passing be.”

“How can I ever say farewell
or ever let you part?
You are my only precious thing,
the joy of my old heart.”

And as his eyes began to well,
she reached to touch his face.
And then her quivering voice began
to give one final grace.

“This is the day the Lord has made,
The one He’s brought to pass.
This day was written in His book
before my first was past.”

“The Lord has granted us to spend
together all these years.
He’s also granted all the joy
and even all our tears.”

“And though this is a bitter day,
we owe Him so much thanks.
Dear, we made it! By Him we did!
Yes, we made it! By grace!”

________________________

Oh Father, grant that we may see
our days as at their end.
Oh let us know the weight of grace
in every year we spend.

We make this prayer unto You,
for there is no one higher.
This testimony of Your grace
we desperately desire!

This sermon is not to be missed. Listen here: Denny Burk, Ephesians 5:21–33, Husbands, Wives, and the Glory of God

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Jane Austen and Jeremiah 20:7

The Lord provided for me on Saturday morning. I was preparing to preach Jeremiah 19–20, and I was really stuck on Jeremiah 20:7, which reads in the ESV, “O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed . . .”

Some scholars say that Jeremiah is verging on the blasphemous. More liberal interpreters suggest that because this terminology is used elsewhere to describe sexual assault, Jeremiah is saying that the way the LORD has abused him that way. Balderdash! But what exactly is going on here?

That’s what I was wrestling with, when two of my favorite people, my 8 and 6 year old sons, came to me saying, “Dad, can we read?”

We’re reading through the Harry Potter stories, and we’ve recently started book 3, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s Saturday and Sunday’s coming–that is, the sermon is hanging over my head! And I’m puzzling my way through this text with no idea what to make of it. I’m thankful that it’s so hard to say “no” to my sons, because it was in saying, “sure, guys, let’s read,” that the Lord provided for me.

I’ve listened to the (fabulous) audiobooks of the Harry Potter stories, so I know where things are going. Reading back through them aloud to my boys, I’m seeing how J. K. Rowling is setting her little traps for us, prepping us for her delightful surprises. No sooner had I begun to read this account of the escaped Sirius Black than I sensed the Lord giving me insight into what Jeremiah meant when he said the LORD had deceived him.

I didn’t want to give plot spoilers on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban since my sons would hear the sermon, so I decided to illustrate the same idea with a novel I’ve heard J. K. Rowling loves, Jane Austen’s Emma.

Here’s the intro from the sermon:

In Jane Austen’s Emma, the author subtly misleads her audience. Austen misleads her audience by recounting Emma’s thoughts and impressions, and Emma is usually wrong. It is not as though Austen is unfair to her audience, however, for she supplies a reliable character, someone the audience can trust, in Mr. Knightly. Mr. Knightly regularly tells Emma that she is wrong, but Emma insists that she is right, and Emma is a delightful and sympathetic character through whose eyes the audience sees the story unfolding. So it is only natural for the audience to suspect what Emma suspects.

One aspect of this is what happens with another character in the novel, Jane Fairfax. Emma sees some suspicious things about Jane, and she jumps to some mistaken conclusions that fit the evidence she has but are nevertheless wrong. By giving us only Emma’s perspective, Austen shows us things that will enable us to understand everything when she reveals that Jane Fairfax is not in love with and loved by her best friend’s husband but rather she is in love with and loved by Frank Churchill. From her limited perspective, Emma thought there was something between Jane and her best friend’s husband, and the audience thinks so too. Once all is revealed, however, everything falls into place and the audience sees, with Emma, that all along what Emma took to be evidence of something between Jane and her best friend’s husband was actually evidence of the relationship between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax.

We could say to Jane Austen what Jeremiah says to the Lord in Jeremiah 20:7, “You deceived me and I was deceived; you seized me and you prevailed.”

Austen knows more than we do, and she overpowers us with her subtle misdirections. She herself has not lied to us; rather, she has chosen to present us with Emma’s unreliable interpretations. And Jane Austen has not done this to us with malicious intent but with a loving intent. She has not set out to deceive us so that she can take advantage of us. She has good purposes in mind. She wants to teach us not to jump to uncharitable conclusions, and she gives us that lesson in the form of a charming story that delights us with a wonderful surprise at the end. She is teaching us not to be fools, and she teaches us that lesson in a way that pleases us and affirms us that she loves us.

And then when we came to Jeremiah 20:7 as we worked through Jeremiah 19–20:

I contend that Jeremiah is saying that the Lord has deceived him the same way I described Jane Austen deceiving her audience in Emma in the introduction of this sermon. Jeremiah is not accusing the Lord of wrongdoing.

Perhaps he is saying that he was mislead about how desperate the situation was; perhaps he means to say that though the Lord revealed to him that he would be an adversary to the people, he assumed (wrongly!) that he would be used to lead the people to repentance.

Perhaps he has seen some good fruit, which the Lord gave him to encourage him and keep him going, but which he concluded might mean that the people might actually repent. The reality has turned out, however, to be as the Lord told him at the beginning (Jer 1:17–19). He is the people’s adversary. They are not going to repent.

So I think in saying that the Lord deceived him, Jeremiah is saying that if he had realized that it would be this bad, he never would have agreed to do what the Lord called him to do. When he says that the Lord is stronger than he, that the Lord prevailed upon him, he is acknowledging that the Lord knew things he could not know, that the Lord controlled what information Jeremiah had access to, and that the Lord manipulated the circumstances such that Jeremiah did what the Lord wanted him to do.

I think the NET Bible captures the sense of the verse:

Lord, you coerced me into being a prophet,
and I allowed you to do it.
You overcame my resistance and prevailed over me.
Now I have become a constant laughingstock.
Everyone ridicules me (Jer 20:7, NET).

Not that the Lord has done anything wrong, but that the Lord has done what good authors do for good reasons. Good authors will allow their readers to be deceived so that they can surprise and delight their readers, the way J. K. Rowling does in the first of the Harry Potter books by allowing her audience to think that Snape is trying to kill Harry, when actually it was Quirrell.

Authors like Rowling and Austen are imitating the delightful surprises God builds into the great story for his people.

God will surprise and delight through the plot twists of the story. The Lord uses the authorial deceptions that Jeremiah is alluding to here to lay the groundwork for something better than Jeremiah ever could have imagined: the fulfillment of the exile in the death and resurrection of Jesus. All this judgment that Jeremiah is prophesying will be visited in 586BC, an event that is a type pointing forward to the cross.

God is writing the story of the world so that it culminates in Jesus.

I’m thankful that my sons interrupted my sermon prep, and I’m thankful that the Lord used them to lead me to this understanding of Jeremiah 20:7. I’m thankful, too, for J. K. Rowling and Jane Austen, who imitate the great Artist, the Lord himself.

If you’re interested, here’s the sermon: Jeremiah 19–20, “A Burning in My Bones”

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To Zion the Streaming Nations Come

To Zion the streaming nations come,
To sing the praise of what he’s done,
Ransomed souls from every tribe,
Clothed in white, the bloodbought bride.

Come join the throng
Come sing the song
Come see the Lord
Come hear his Word

Wine, milk, richest fare,
Fine white linen you will wear,
Living water, come and drink,
Safety find and true thoughts think

Leave your sin your guilt your shame,
Repent, believe, call on his name.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Prepared for a sermon on Jeremiah 16

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God: The Merciful Judge

This past weekend it was my privilege to be in Fayetteville, AR, at University Baptist Church. I spoke on the theme of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology.

These talks seek to summarize the Bible’s big story, highlighting the promises that generate the typological patterns.

The talks are now available on UBC’s website, or you can use these links:

God:The Merciful Judge – Session 1 [ 47:38 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 2 [ 51:08 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 3 [ 45:19 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 4 [ 42:22 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 5 [ 38:30 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
The Doctrine of Election – A Q&A Panel Discussion [ 1:02:24 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Jeremiah 16 [ 48:16 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
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Hope and Change and the Promises of God

What hath Whittaker Chambers to do with “Hope and Change”?

What hath communism and secular liberalism to do with the promises of God in the Bible?

What do racial equality and diversity, environmentalism, peace in our time, provision for all, the hope of socialism, the goals of liberalism, and the aims of all politicians have to do with Christianity?

On Sunday, November 20, 2011, it was my privilege to address “Hope and Change and the Promises of God” at Providence Baptist Church in Pasadena, TX.

This was an overtly evangelistic, gospel sermon. This was a sermon aimed at unbelievers pleading with them to embrace Christianity.

May the Lord be pleased to call many to himself.

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Jeremiah 8:4–9:26, Understand and Know the Lord

“Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD'” –Jeremiah 9:23–24

On Sundays November 20 and 27, it was my privilege to preach Jeremiah 8:4–9:26.

In this passage Yahweh comes looking for fruit on the fig tree of Israel and finds none (Jer 8:13). Yahweh is grieved to the point of tears by the unfaithfulness of Israel and weeps over their sin (Jer 8:18–9:1). Then Yahweh says in Jeremiah 8:21, “For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken.”

There is a stunning correspondence here with the way that Jesus encounters the fig tree that has borne no fruit, weeps over Jerusalem, and then is broken for the brokenness of his people. It’s not that Jeremiah is overtly predicting what Jesus would do, it’s more that the pattern that Jesus would fulfill is woven into the fabric of Jeremiah’s prophecy. I’m inclined to think, too, that Jesus probably had these parts of Jeremiah in mind as he approached Jerusalem, saw that fig tree, wept over the city, and went to the cross.

I am so grateful for the ministry of Tommy Dahn, and I express my gratitude to and for him in the sermon at Providence.

Since he wasn’t there when I preached the same text at Kenwood, I opened the sermon with an illustration about my weedeater.

May the Lord bless his word.

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An Introduction to Biblical Theology

Saturday night, November 19, I had the privilege of doing an introduction and overview of biblical theology at Providence Baptist Church in Pasadena, TX (Houston area).

It was an honor to be at the church pastored by Tommy Dahn, who with Bruce Stoney ordained me to gospel ministry back in January of 2004.

You can hear the Intro to Biblical Theology, focusing on story, symbol, and pattern, here: An Introduction to Biblical Theology.

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Jeremiah 7: Indictment of Unrepentant Israel (with some temple typology)

As I indicated in a previous post, it seems that Jeremiah 1:18–19 and Jeremiah 6:27–30 are bracketing Jeremiah 2–6 as a unit in which there is a progression from Israel’s sin to Israel’s rejection for their refusal to repent.

This would place Jeremiah 7 at a strategic juncture introducing the next section of the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah cycles through a call to repentance, an indictment of sin, and an announcement of judgment three times in chapter 7:

7:1–15

7:16–20

7:21–8:3

7:1–7, Israel Called to Repentance: You Trust in the Temple but Deny It with Your Actions 7:16, Don’t Pray for Them (Repent!) 7:21­–24, Repent of Your Worthless Worship: Your Deeds Nullify Your Sacrifices
7:8–11, Judah Breaks the Ten Commandments 7:17–18, Judah Worships Other gods 7:25–28, Israel Rejects the Prophets and Jeremiah
7:12–15, God Will Judge the Temple as He Judged Shiloh 7:19­–20, The Temple Will Be Judged and All Creatures Will Suffer 7:29–8:3, Judgment on the Generation of God’s Wrath

The first two statements of judgment (Jer 7:12–15 and 7:19–20) speak directly of the destruction of the temple.

The third description of judgment uses the imagery of the visitation of wrath enacted by Josiah in 2 Kings 23 to describe a future visitation of wrath. From the context, this visitation of wrath also pertains to the coming destruction of the temple, but imagery is used in Jeremiah 7:33 that will be used by John to describe the judgment Jesus will bring at his return in Revelation 19:17–19.

So a past visitation of wrath, what Josiah visited in 2 Kings 23, is being used to point forward to the future visitation of God’s wrath that Jeremiah is describing, which in part is the destruction of the temple that will happen in 586 BC. I say “in part” because another destruction of the temple will fulfill what Jeremiah is describing, the one Jesus spoke of in John 2:19–22, and both of these point also to the visitation of wrath Jesus will bring when he returns in Revelation 19.

Jeremiah is preaching in the temple (Jer 7:2), he indicts Israel for making the temple a den of robbers (7:11), and then he warns of the destruction of the temple (7:14). Jesus quotes Jeremiah’s “den of robbers” line when he cleanses the temple (e.g., Mark 11:17) because the wicked in Jesus’ day are like the wicked of Jeremiah’s day and because the judgment visited on the temple in 586 is a type of the judgment to be visited when Jesus, the replacement of the temple (John 2:19–22), dies on the cross.

In the midst of the third description of judgment, Jeremiah speaks of “the generation of his wrath” in 7:29. This is an interesting use of the word “generation,” and it supports the typological understanding of what Jesus says in Mark 13:30, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

The judgment Josiah enacted in 2 Kings 23 is used by Jeremiah when Jeremiah describes the “type” of thing God will do when he enacts judgment and destroys the temple. The judgment of God that will fall on the temple is also a type of the judgment of God that will be fulfilled when Christ dies on the cross, and Jesus will fulfill the pattern of Josiah when he visits judgment on the cosmic temple at his return.

In keeping with all this, the word “generation” does not refer to a group of people alive at a specific point in time but to “the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:3), the “crooked and depraved generation” (Phil 2:15), the “scoffers” (2 Pet 3:3) of all generations who gather together against the LORD and his anointed.

On Sunday, November 6, 2011, it was my privilege to preach Jeremiah 7: The Temple Sermon – Indictment of Unrepentant Israel at Kenwood Baptist Church.

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Jeremiah 6: Refined in Vain and Rejected

Adolph Schlatter said of Friedrich Nietzsche:

The chief impression that I internalized from his lectures arose from his offensive haughtiness. He treated his listeners like despicable peons. He convinced me of the principle that to throw out love is to despoil the business of teaching—only genuine love can really educate.[1]

Nietzsche believed in the superman, made by energy, intellect, and pride (Durant, The Story of Philosophy, 425–27). No energy can propel perfect righteousness, and no amount of energy will enable one to escape God. No intellect can recreate the universe, and no intellect will devise a way to avoid judgment. No pride fails to offend, and no pride will go un-humbled.

We will not be delivered by energy, intellect, and pride. We will be delivered if we repent of our sin and trust in Jesus.

God rejects those who will not repent.

Jeremiah 1 presents the calling of Jeremiah as a prophet like Moses. He indicted Israel’s spiritual adultery in chapter 2, called them to repent and be restored in 3:1–4:4, summoned them to wash their hearts from evil in 4:5–31, only to see Israel refuse to repent in chapter 5, which results in the verdict that Israel has been refined in vain and rejected in chapter 6.

The “Thus says the LORD” statements and the changes in theme structure this passage.

6:1–5, Looming Disaster
6:6–15, The Lord Announces Israel’s Punishment

6:6–8, Hearts That Keep Evil Fresh
6:9–15, Uncircumcised Ears

6:16–21, Israel Rejected Ancient Paths and Watchmen
6:22–26, The Lord Describes the Coming Enemy
6:27–30, Jeremiah the Tester of Metals

There are a number of similarities of language and thought between Jeremiah 1:18–19 and 6:27–30. In both places the LORD says to Jeremiah, “I have made you . . .” and the term rendered “tester of metals” in 6:27 in the ESV has the same consonants as the term rendered “fortified” in 1:18, and then in both places there are references to iron, bronze, and conflict between Jeremiah and the people.

All this leads me to think that after the introductory chapter that presents Jeremiah’s call (Jer 1), 1:18–6:30 is the first major section of Jeremiah’s book, a section bracketed by 1:18–19 and 6:27–30.

Sometimes people talk and write as though the book of Jeremiah is a sort of loose collection of sermon notes or transcriptions. I’m inclined to think, rather, that Jeremiah is a carefully arranged, carefully structured, finished literary product.

On October 30, 2011, it was my privilege to preach Jeremiah 6: Refined in Vain and Rejected at Kenwood Baptist Church.



[1] Werner Neuer, Adolf Schlatter: A Biography of Germany’s Premier Biblical Theologian, 1st ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1996), 44.

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Jeremiah 5: The Refusal to Repent

In an earlier post I suggested some ways to determine how Jeremiah has structured his message:

repeated words and phrases, changes in content or theme, and changes in point of view (for instance, from first person to second or third) are all indicators of turning points in Jeremiah’s presentation.

In Jeremiah 5 it seems to me that a repeated grammatical form, the imperative, serves as the structural marker for Jeremiah 5:1–31. The LORD gives commands to Jeremiah in 5:1, 5:10, and 5:20, and each command is followed by a change in content, so that the flow of thought in the chapter falls out like this:

Jeremiah 5:1–9, Israel Unrepentant

Jeremiah 5:10–19, Israel Under Judgment

Jeremiah 5:20–31, Israel’s Under Isaiah’s Hardening

There is also a flow of thought moving through these early chapters of Jeremiah: Jeremiah is called as a prophet like Moses in chapter 1, he indicts Israel for her spiritual adultery in chapter 2, calls them to repent and be restored in 3:1–4:4, instructs them to wash their hearts from evil in 4:5–31, and then the nation refuses to repent in chapter 5.

On Sunday, October 23, 2011, it was my privilege to preach Jeremiah 5: The Refusal to Repent at Kenwood Baptist Church. May the Lord give us repentant hearts.

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Jeremiah: A Type of Christ Who Speaks for God

I’ve argued that Jeremiah was a prophet like Moses, and Jesus is the typological fulfillment of this pattern that began with Moses. Luke presents both Peter and Stephen asserting that Jesus is the prophet like Moses announced in Deuteronomy 18:15–18 (Acts 3:22–23; 7:37), and Matthew, Mark, and Luke are pointing to this in their transfiguration accounts (see esp. Luke 9:31, 35).

The Lord told Moses that he would be “as God” to Pharaoh with Aaron as his mouth (Exod 4:16). It’s as though Moses represents God and Aaron becomes the prophet of God.

Moses spoke for God. One aspect of being a prophet like Moses, then, is speaking for God.

In Jeremiah 4:19–22, Jeremiah is speaking in the first person (“My,” “I”, etc.). It seems that Jeremiah is speaking of himself in verse 19, “My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!” And he continues to speak in the first person through verse 26. By 4:22, though, it appears that he is speaking as or for Yahweh rather than himself when he says, “my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding.”

The key phrase here that makes me think that the “I/My” is Yahweh rather than Jeremiah is “they know me not” (Jer 4:22). It seems that the problem the people have is that they don’t know God. Even if this is merely Jeremiah saying that the people don’t recognize him as Yahweh’s prophet, the cause of that would that they don’t know God, so it still points to Jeremiah speaking for God.

It seems to me, though, that what’s in view is not that the people don’t know Jeremiah (though they are not heeding his message). The problem is that they don’t know God. So in Jeremiah 4:19–22, it seems that Jeremiah begins speaking of himself in the first person and ends by speaking for Yahweh in the first person.

I take this as another way that Jeremiah is a prophet like Moses. God made Moses to be as God to Pharaoh (Exod 4:16), and God made Jeremiah to speak for God to the people of Israel.

This trajectory will be fulfilled in the one who came as God incarnate and spoke as God to the people. Jeremiah, then, is an installment in the typological pattern of the prophet like Moses who speaks for God, a typological pattern that Jesus fulfills.

If you want more on this passage, here’s my sermon on Jeremiah 4:5–31, “Wash Your Heart from Evil.”

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Should Preachers Show Their Work? Or, Should Our Preaching Train People to Read the Bible?

Should our attempts to preach the Bible train people to be better readers of the Bible?

I think the answer to that question is obvious. It seems like a no-brainer to me that our attempts to preach the Bible should train those who hear us to be better readers of the Bible. This has implications for what we do in our sermons, implications for how we preach.

In short, it means we “show our work” in ways that are appropriate. Remember that phrase from math class? It refers to the way that all the steps on the way to the answer are to be written out, as opposed to doing the math in your head and shortcutting from problem to solution.

Obviously we can’t show every step, and we shouldn’t bore people with unnecessary exegetical detail.

That said, we’re preaching the Bible, and the Bible is a book. We’re making disciples of Jesus who are to obey everything he commanded. As we preach, we’re training people who need to meditate on the word of God day and night. We’re training people to read and understand the Bible.

Why am I saying all this? Because to my thinking it follows from the people of God needing preaching that is squarely based on the Bible.

What’s wrong with preaching where the work isn’t shown?

It’s too easy for preachers who don’t show their work to make assertions that the text of Scripture does not make, and this is complicated when they make applications from their own assertions. If you can’t show it to me from the Scriptures, it does not carry the authority of the word of God. In such a case, it is not the word of God that is being preached.

As I listen to preaching, I want to hear what the Bible teaches. I want the preacher to prove to me that what he’s claiming is what the Bible teaches. I want him to show me enough of his work to earn my trust, I want his applications to come from what the Bible actually teaches, and I would like to go away with a better understanding of the passage that has been preached.

I’ve heard analogies that argue against what I’m contending for, and I think they fail.

Here’s one: when you preach, you don’t show your homework because preparing a sermon is like building a house. When you walk into a house that’s been built, you don’t see its structure. The drywall covers the frame, and paint covers the drywall. It’s finished. So should the sermon be.

But what if as you preach you’re preparing people to build their own houses? That is, what if you’re making disciples, not just being a disciple on their behalf? Even if a particular Christian never stands to preach a sermon, don’t we want him to be reading the Bible for himself? Don’t we want Christians arriving at the meaning of the Bible for themselves? Don’t we want them to be able to evaluate claims about what the Bible says for themselves?

This “finished house” analogy seems to suggest that the preacher is going to do the thinking and the Bible study and the responding to challenges for his audience.

If a preacher isn’t showing people how he got to his interpretive conclusions and applications from the Scripture, will anyone who hears that preacher learn to be a better Bible-reader?

For all these reasons, this past Sunday (October 16, 2011) I took some time to explain how I had arrived at the turning points in Jeremiah’s flow of thought in the passage I was preaching. It’s difficult to determine the structure of the whole book of Jeremiah, and it’s difficult to arrive at the structure of individual passages.

Why should we care about structure? Because the way that Jeremiah has arranged his presentation is essential to understanding his message.

As I preached Jeremiah 4:5–31, “Wash Your Heart from Evil,” I explained that repeated words and phrases, changes in content or theme, and changes in point of view (for instance, from first person to second or third) are all indicators of turning points in Jeremiah’s presentation.

What do you think?

Should preachers show their work?

Are these reliable indicators of the movements in Jeremiah’s thoughts?

Can someone learn to read the Bible from those who don’t show their work?

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Jeremiah 3:6–4:4, Repent and Be Restored

In 1988, Jimmy Swaggart was caught with a prostitute. He was famous. On television. Known worldwide as an evangelist and preacher. He was initially suspended for three months, then the Assemblies of God suspended him for two years. When he resumed preaching after three months, the Assemblies of God defrocked him.

In 1991 he was stopped by a police officer in California with a prostitute in the car. He told the church he continued to serve that the Lord told him it was none of their business and temporarily stepped down from ministry.

Jimmy Swaggart is famous, so a lot of people know about him. There are many ministers who fall into sexual sin. It is all too common for ministers who aren’t famous to fall out of ministry because of sexual sin. It is all too common for Christians who aren’t ministers to fall into sexual sin.

In Jeremiah 3 Jeremiah is warning the Southern Kingdom of Judah by pointing to what happened in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Jeremiah wants Judah to learn from what happened to Israel before it’s too late, before like Israel, Judah is destroyed. We want to learn from the sins of others before we commit them ourselves.

We need to see the consequence of sin and the rewards of repentance and faithfulness. We need to learn from the fall of other ministers before it’s too late in our case. People who fall into sexual sin accumulate a series of small transgressions that they don’t turn from, and the small sins build to big ones.

Jeremiah’s message in Jeremiah 3:6–4:4 is that Judah should look at what happened to the northern kingdom, Israel. Jeremiah is calling the southern kingdom, Judah, to repent of the little sins that will add up to the big exile.

This is a beautiful passage in which Yahweh promises to bless Israel if they repent. Specifically, in Jeremiah 3:22, the Lord declares that if they will return to him he will heal them.

Do you want the healing?
Healing full and free –
Won’t you come to Jesus?
Come the Savior see –

Do you want the freedom?
Loosed from all your chains –
Won’t you call upon him?
Speak the Savior’s name –

He will wash you fully.
Take away your stain –
Won’t you have the joy he
Showers where he reigns?

At several points in this passage Jeremiah alludes to the way that God saved Israel in the past to point to the way that he will save them in the future. Interesting to see the use of the OT in the OT (an OT author, Jeremiah, using earlier OT Scripture). You can hear all about it here: Jeremiah 3:6–4:4, Repent and Be Restored.

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Jeremiah 2:1–3:5, Will You Drink Sludge or Living Water?

Imagine a wedding, with the bride standing at the doors in the back about to enter the worship hall for the ceremony. She’s dressed in her gown, and her friend Jerry is standing by one of the doors, ready to fling it open when the moment comes.

Just at that moment a well dressed older man pulls up in a limousine. He goes straight to the bride and begins to speak to her in smooth, lyrical, poetic words. She is mesmerized. Jerry is horrified. He can see her subtly moving closer to the man, as if she will leave with him. He realizes the man is trying to lure her away.

The man offers her a gold ring. Jerry protests that she’s about to receive a wedding ring from the groom she’s about to marry.

When she looks at Jerry, her beautiful face is twisted into a snarl as she declares: this man promises me provision and protection; he promises me intimacy and affection.

When Jerry looks at the man he realizes what the man is. A pimp.

Jerry takes the bride by the shoulders and looks her full in the face: in place of a husband this man will give you customers; in place of a home this man will give you a prison; in place of freedom this man will make you a slave; in place of honor, shame; in place of hope, despair; in place of purity, defilement.

She slaps him in the face. Puts her hand in the pimp’s. And leaves in the limousine that will take her to the brothel instead of the one that would take her to the honeymoon.

In Jeremiah 2:1–3:5, Jeremiah proclaims that the devoted bride has become a harlot and faces the consequences.

Israel has forsaken Yahweh, the fountain of living waters, and gone to broken cisterns that hold no water (Jer 2:13). They have chosen to drink sludge instead of living water.

Just as Yahweh’s covenant with Israel is treated as a marriage, so the new covenant relationship between Christ and the church is what marriages illustrate.

This is meant to make us feel the cosmic theological woe of sin.

When we sin against Christ the bridegroom, we are committing spiritual adultery. When we look to other lovers to do for us what only Christ can do for us, we are like a wife who sells herself into prostitution.

Trusting money instead of trusting God in Christ is like trusting the money earned from turning tricks instead of believing that the bridegroom will meet the needs of his bride.

Seeking pleasure by breaking God’s commandments is like leaving the sacred marriage bed, or refusing to wait until the bridegroom takes you there, for a cheap thrill on a stained mattress in a dirty motel.

Not believing the Bible is like believing the pimp’s lies instead of the solemn oaths of the bridegroom.

Will you choose shame or honor?
Will you live in pain or comfort?
Will you sell what should not be sold or be the exclusive bride of your husband?
Will you be filthy or pure?
Will you be defiled or clean?
Will you be slave or free?
Will you be sold or redeemed?
Will you be used or loved?
Will Satan be your hard master or Christ your loving Lord?
Will you have remorse or joy?
Will you be a whore or a bride?

The world’s true story is a thrilling romance. The bride was lured away. She became defiled. She believed the pimp. She lived in filth and stench and stain. But the bridegroom came for her. He left safety and security, risked everything in a daring attempt to rescue his beloved, and he was killed in the effort.

Death, however, could not hold our hero. Jesus rose from the dead. His death cleanses his bride of all her sin and stain. He has now gone to prepare a place for us, and he will come for us.

When he comes, the bride will have made herself ready, clothing herself with fine linen, bright and pure, which is the righteous deeds of the saints (Rev 19:7–8).

–From the sermon it was my privilege to preach at Kenwood on Sunday, September 18, 2011:

Jeremiah 2:1–3:5, “Will You Drink Sludge or Living Water?”

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A Prophet Like Moses: Jeremiah 1

Derek Kidner could really write. Here are the opening paragraphs of his book on Jeremiah:

“In the last decade of the longest, darkest reign in Judah’s history, two boys were born who were to be God’s gifts to a demoralized and damaged people. The reign was that of Manasseh, a half-century of deliberate reversion to the deities of Canaan and Assyria, to the black arts of magic and necromancy, to human sacrifice (even in the king’s own family), and to such travesties of justice that, in the langague of 2 Kings 21:16, ‘he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another’ with ‘innocent blood’.

The two new lives in question were those of Josiah, born in 648 BC, and Jeremiah, perhaps his slightly younger contemporary. . . . As reforming king and outspoken prophet, these two were to give their country its finest opportunity of renewal and its last hope of surviving as the kingdom of David.

On Sunday, September 11, 2011, it was my privilege to preach Jeremiah 1, “A Prophet Like Moses,” at Kenwood.

In Jeremiah 1 we see:

Jeremiah 1:1–3, Jeremiah’s Setting
Jeremiah 1:4–10, Jeremiah’s Call
Jeremiah 1:11–16, Jeremiah’s Message
Jeremiah 1:17–19, Jeremiah’s Help

Jeremiah began to prophesy in 627 BC and continued to prophesy down to the exile of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The last datable event in the book of Jeremiah is the release of Jehoiachin around 560 BC, indicating that Jeremiah was active from 627 BC until 560: 67 years. If he was 20 when he was a young man called to prophesy, he would be in his 80’s by the time of Jehoiachin’s release in Babylon.

This means, among other things, that by the time Daniel was taken captive in Babylon in 605 BC, Jeremiah would have been prophesying for 22 years. If Daniel was 15 when exiled, Jeremiah would perhaps be in his early 40’s.

Then when Ezekiel was taken captive in 597 BC, again, Jeremiah would have been prophesying for 30 years, and he would probably be about 50.

At the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, Jeremiah would probably be about 60.

This book of Jeremiah is his whole adult life. It began, really, before the Lord formed him in the womb, but he’s a young man when the Lord calls him in Jeremiah 1:6–7. As we’ll see, his whole ministry he will prophesy that judgment is coming. He begins prophesying in 627 BC, and judgment begins after 22 years in 605, falls again 8 years later in 597, and is completed after another 10 years in 586. So 40 years after Jeremiah began to prophesy, what he announced came to pass.

Jeremiah’s ministry is a testimony of persistent faithfulness across long years declaring the bad news that judgment is coming.

God keeps his word. He had promised to raise up a prophet like Moses, and in Jeremiah God did just that.

Jeremiah’s objection when God calls him in Jeremiah 1:6 is reminiscent of both Moses (Exod 4:10) and Isaiah (Isa 6:5). Isaiah and Jeremiah each noticed this, and having noted it, they recorded it because they intended to present themselves as prophets like Moses. They saw themselves as the realization of what God promised to do in Deuteronomy 18:15­–19.

Like Moses they would be opposed.
Like Moses, they would be vindicated by God.
Like Moses their lives were installments in a typological pattern to be fulfilled in Jesus.

Are you with Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Jesus, or are you with those who stone the prophets and seek to slaughter the heir to have the inheritance for themselves?

Why would God choose a young prophet, a prophet with unclean lips, or a prophet who wasn’t eloquent?
Because God’s power is the point, not the prophet’s standing in the community, perfection, or persuasive ability.

What enabled Jeremiah?

God’s word announced to Jeremiah realities he does not know in 1:4–5.
God’s word of command overcame Jeremiah’s youth in 1:6–7.
God’s word promised God’s presence in the face of Jeremiah’s fear in 1:8.

God’s touch put God’s word in Jeremiah’s mouth in 1:9.
God’s word announced salvation through judgment in 1:10.
God is watching over his word in 1:11–12.
God summons the agents of his judgment in 1:13–16.

And God’s word readied Jeremiah for his task in 1:17.

The city of Jerusalem will fall, but God will make Jeremiah stand.
The pillars will be torn down, Jeremiah’s word upheld.
The walls breached, Jeremiah’s prophecies validated.

Kings, officials, priests, and people will not prevail against the prophet who has God’s word in his mouth.

God knew him in the unsearchable past.
God was with him in his disputed present.
God promised to deliver him in the fiery future.

Key Dates for Jeremiah

640–609 Josiah’s Reign
648 Josiah born
640 8 year old Josiah becomes king (2 Kgs 22:1)
632 16 year old Josiah seeks God (2 Chron 34:3)
627 young man Jeremiah begins to prophesy (Jer 1:2)
622 Law of God found in the temple by Hilkiah (2 Kgs 22:3–20)
612 Nineveh falls to Babylon
609 Babylon advancing, Josiah killed by Pharaoh at Megiddo
609–598 Jehoiakim’s reign
605 Babylon defeats Assyria and Egypt at the Battle of Carchemish
605 first siege of Jerusalem, Daniel and others exiled to Babylon
604 Jehoiakim burns Jeremiah’s scroll (Jer 36)
598–587 Zedekiah’s reign
597 second siege of Jerusalem, Ezekiel and others exiled to Babylon
586 temple destroyed, exile to Babylon

[It looks a lot better on the word doc, so I’ve uploaded it. Couldn’t figure out how to make the formatting show up in this post.]

This sermon was preached on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. On September 11, 2001, we saw that even what seems most strong to human reckoning can be unaccountably destroyed.

Ten years later, we can affirm anew that God’s presence is our source of security, God’s word is our certain hope, God’s kingdom is our city with foundations, and God’s glory is our heart’s joy.

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Three Sermons on Biblical Theology: Story, Symbol, Church

Between Mark and Jeremiah, I felt led to preach three sermons on biblical theology at Kenwood. The goal was to have the Bible’s big story give us perspective for our plunge into Jeremiah’s jeremiads.

I’ve noted the first two sermons, one on the Bible’s story, another on the use the biblical authors make of symbol, and the third asserts that the Bible’s story and symbolism teach the church to understand who we are, what we face, and how we should live as we wait for the coming of our King and Lord.

What is the church’s identity, setting, and role?
Given all that God has done for the church, how can the plot have any tension?
Do Christians only experience tension because they are not thinking about life correctly or have somehow lost perspective?
Is that why the Psalmists felt such tension?
Is that why Jesus wept in the garden?
Or is life really dangerous?

The Bible’s story and symbolism teach the church to understand who she is, what she faces, and how she should live as she longs for the coming of her King and Lord. We are to follow Jesus, faithful unto death, loving God and neighbor, laying down our lives for others as he laid down his for us.

What will it be like when God finally redeems his people?
It will be like the wedding day.
The bride will have made herself ready with righteous deeds, which are the fine white linen bridal gown.
And the bridegroom like no other will come.

Battle won.
War over.
Victory complete.
Suffering fulfilled.

Woes accomplished.
Promises kept.
Lovers faithful.
Joy eternal.

Hope realized.
Faith sight.
Kingdom come.
Name hallowed.

Here’s a link to this third of three sermons on biblical theology: “A Song for the Lady in Waiting”

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A Separate Peace and the Symbolism of the Bible

Did you read A Separate Peace by John Knowles? Two friends, Gene and Phineas (nicknamed Finny), in a tree. Gene shakes a branch, Finny falls, breaks his leg, and the halcyon innocence of the summer ends. Previously a great athlete, Finny will never play sports again. When he finally returns to school, the other students set up a mock trial to determine whether or not Gene caused Finny’s fall. As it becomes evident that he did, Finny leaves in a huff, falls down a set of marble stairs, and breaks his leg again. Finny dies during the operation to set his leg. Finny’s death gives Gene a certain peace.

I mention this book because it is so full of symbolism. A period of innocence that ends with a fall at a significant tree. This is just like the Garden of Eden. Then the death of the one sinned against gives peace to the one who caused the fall. I can remember my English teacher in High School talking about how Finny was a Christ figure.

Finny is called a “Christ figure” because of the way what happens to him corresponds to what happened to Jesus both in terms of the events that took place and in the significance of those events for others. The tree becomes a symbol as it plays into the enmity between Gene and Finny, the trips to the tree provoke Gene against Finny, then it’s the scene of the crime, where the fall from the tree eventually led to Finny’s death. And to this tree Gene returns, resulting in him telling us his story.

If we don’t understand the symbolism of the book, we won’t understand the author’s message. This is true for A Separate Peace, and it’s also true for the Bible.

The Bible’s symbolism summarizes and interprets the Bible’s big story.

On Sunday, August 28, 2011, it was my privilege to preach the second of three sermons on biblical theology at Kenwood. We focused on the images, types, and patterns that the biblical authors use to build the Bible’s symbolic universe: A Set of Symbols: Images, Types, and Patterns.

We looked at two images: the tree and the temple; three kinds of types: people, events, and institutions; and two patterns: Israel’s feasts and the righteous sufferer. Summarizing and interpreting the narrative, the symbolism the biblical authors employ adds texture and deepens our ability to enter into the story they tell.

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The Bible’s Sprawling, Ramshackle Narrative

Before we launch into Jeremiah, Lord willing, I’m doing three sermons on Biblical Theology at Kenwood. This past Sunday, August 21, 2011, it was my privilege to preach “A Story of Stories: The Bible’s Sprawling, Ramshackle Narrative.” The title of the sermon comes from a phrase used by David Steinmetz in an essay about the Bible, which Stephen Dempster brought back to my attention.

We looked at the building blocks of the Bible’s narrative: its setting, characters, plot (with its conflict and episodes), and only one sentence on its theme. But the theme is pervasive.

Then we looked at the unsolved mystery that you have when you get to the end of the Old Testament, a mystery solved in Christ.

Probably the most exciting thing about this sermon was what my 7 year old son wrote while I was preaching. Here’s an image of his notebook, and the transcription follows below:

The Seed [by Jake Hamilton, age 7]

Once upon a time there was a king and his arch enemy. The kings name was Zavior. His arch enemy’s name was Serpen. King Zavior was everything you could name. Serpen seemed good, but he was evil. Serpen was secretly gathering an army made of demons. King Zavior had an army made of angels. One day Serpen was sitting in his lair when one of his spies came in and said that King Zavior was having a party – a perfect time to attack! When the party came and it was time to attack the bad guys heard a war cry! It was King Zaviors army! Well unlike other books you’ve read where there’s the soldiers run away well this was diffrent. The soldiers fought and fought but Zaviors army won! [Crossed out sentence] The soldiers were killed and Serpen was bound in a pit for a thousand years and then [crossed out phrase] be let go to gather an army but they failed. Then he was judged and thrown in the lake of fire. After that, King Zavior reigned forever in peace. The End.

Hallelujah! And I wasn’t even talking about the millennium in this sermon!

May “The Story of Stories: The Bible’s Sprawling Ramshackle Narrative” continue to inspire artistic hearts to imitate the great Creator.

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