May 8 – Devotion Sharing (Jeremiah 31-35)

Submitted by Jenny C. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

Key Verse

Jeremiah 31:34 “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

God is…

What stands out to me through today’s DT passages is God’s heart of mercy and compassion. Though God has brought the sword upon his people and he has exiled them from their homeland, he remembers the covenant and the promises he has made in the past. Jeremiah 31:3-4 says, “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel.” Though for the time being, God punishes his people justly for their stubbornness, their rejection of him, their idolatry, God does not forget the love that he has for them, a love that is everlasting – what he has proclaimed in the past is still true today. Because this is who God is, despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, their backsliding, their evil deeds, God vows to build his people up again.

Lessons for me…

I am reminded through this of how a covenantal relationship with God ultimately does not depend on my deeds, my performance, my merit, my circumstances, but solely on who God is as a God who loves and is merciful despite my sinfulness and failures, my unfaithfulness and my desires to follow the stubborn inclinations of my heart. As I pause to think about it, I am so much like this obstinate nation Israel–my track record of following God is stained with selfish gain, complacency, deceitfulness, desire to rule over my own life. If a life of following God depended on my ability to be righteous and my faithfulness, I would be disqualified.  I would still be out in the desert as an exile because again and again in my relationship with God I forget His place in my life and settle for lesser things. As Romans 9:16 says, “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” In Jeremiah 31:33-34, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

God himself will create a new covenant after his people have broken the old covenant. He longs to gather them back from the exiled places, to put his law in their minds and hearts, to be their God. And what is staggering is his promise to “forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.” After reading through the beginning chapters of Jeremiah and seeing how abhorrent Israel’s sins were, how anguished, offended, and hurt God was by their sins, these verses are astonishing to read. God, the rejected lover, the dishonored father, takes it upon Himself to rectify the wrong that his people have inflicted upon him. By all accounts, why should God put up with such sins? Why should He bother with people who keep on doing what they want and who hurt him so much? It is out of His everlasting love and his faithfulness to fulfill the gracious promise he made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah (cf. Jer 33:14). He says in Jeremiah 33:14 that he “will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line.  In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: the LORD Our Righteousness.” This promise was fulfilled in Jesus, the righteous Branch who saves us from our sins, God’s own initiative to restore a fallen people to Himself. More deeply I see God’s scandalous love for me.  Though my sins cause him pain, He has made the first move to reconcile me to Him through Jesus. Through Jesus, I see the anguish and pain of sin upon God’s heart.  Through Jesus, He forgives my wickedness and remembers my sins no more – this is amazing news and it is cause for me to be humbled once again, to be in awe of His love and grace for me.

God uses the imagery of a Father disciplining his son.  Though he corrects and punishes his son for being like “an unruly calf” (cf. Jeremiah 31:18), He says, “Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:20). God’s love is not deterred by the son’s lack of honor and love for Him.  Though the Father often speaks against him, his thoughts are never far away from his son. I am reminded of Hebrews 12:6, 10-11, which says, “Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son…God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  God pronounces his punishment to his people because of their wickedness, but ultimately he does so with a heart to bring them back and restore them. He longs to be their God, to bring health and healing to them, to cleanse them from all the sin they’ve committed against Him. In the same way, He is a God who longs to bring His holiness and His healing into my life, and this will involve correction, rebuke and discipline because I am a sinner who really does not know the right way to live before Him. Intrinsically, I do not like correction, I do not want to be disciplined, to go through hardships, and to have to struggle with my sins. Yet God’s reaction to all that is rotting and festering in my heart because of my sins, wrong values, distorted thoughts, is one of love – and it is because of His great love for me, His delight in me, His greater vision for me that he will discipline me. I think when ugly sins are exposed in my life, when I go through times of struggle, my inclination is to turn these into signs that I have personally failed God, that I am outside of His love and grace, that I am so far away from Him that I don’t know how to return to Him. God says as he has brought all this calamity on this people, so he will give them all the prosperity he has promised them (cf. Jer. 32:42). I can take heart that the correction I receive, the painful truth spoken to me are signs of His love for me.  Because of His covenantal love to me, He cannot stand to see me live for lesser things, He cannot leave me as I am when there are character and sin issues in my life. He wants for me to have singleness of heart and action, to fear Him for my own good; His desire is to shape and mold me into a people who will bring him renown, joy, and honor. Knowing this about God helps me to see discipline and hardship differently – they are things I desperately need as a sinner and they are signs that He loves me too much to allow me to continue down a broken path.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, I am reminded of Your heart of compassion and grace in my life. The only reason I am not exiled from You because of my sins is because You had the heart to bring me back from the faraway country, Your heart to cleanse and restore me. I see how incredible and scandalous is Your love for me and Your promise to forgive all my sins and remember my wickedness no more. Lord, I am in awe of Your compassion for me – I know that it is out of this same love that You correct and discipline me. God I confess that I am proud and I would like to think I no longer need correction or am over and done with certain sins or struggles; please humble me with Your goodness, to know that You are a Father who disciplines, but with the intention of purifying my heart and causing me to fear You for my own good. Thank You that You love me with such a fierce, everlasting and covenantal love.


Submitted by Jasper C. from Gracepoint Riverside

Key Verse 

Jeremiah 32:37-40

37 Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. 38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.

Jeremiah 32:42

“For thus says the Lord: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them.”

God is … 

God is justified in his anger, and he honors us by taking our sins seriously.  In the earlier parts of chapter 32, Jeremiah is recalling all these grievances that God has against his people, “you have brought your people Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders…they entered and took possession of it. But they did not obey your voice or walk in your law. They did nothing you commanded them to do.” (32:21-23) Not only did they repeatedly refuse to live the way that God commanded them to live for their own good after bringing them out of slavery, they turned their hearts to idols and other gods, offering sacrifices to Baal that consisted even of giving their own children, which was so appalling to God that he says it did not even enter his mind that they would do that (32:35). After thinking and going through the history and faithfulness of God to his people through their tumultuous history, I realize more why God must be feeling so much anger and hurt over the kind of response that he gets from his people in turn – certainly it puts into perspective the kind of punishment that God is promising through Jeremiah, of destruction to Jersusalem and its people, that it’s not about this wrathful God losing his temper and lashing out in revenge against his people, but rather it shows that God’s judgment is a final resort after struggling generation after generation with a unrepentant, stubborn and offensive people. It’s less about God dishing out a harsh sentence, but more about God giving his people the dignity of being taken seriously, and in giving them clear punishment so that they will be forced to confront their sin.

Love always seeks to bring us back from repentance into renewed relationship with God.  However, even through the receiving of the punishment for their sins, there is a clear redeeming purpose that God intends for the people, it comes out in the next few verses.  Starting from 32:37, God paints this great vision for a restored people: “I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”   This is God’s heart!  The punishment and destruction of Jerusalem isn’t the end of the story of God’s people, but it’s only the necessary step that needs to happen before the people can be restored.

Lessons for me …

What does this tell me about my struggles and the painful process of repenting for my sins? It tells me that I need not fear that if I struggle and confront ugly things about me that that will be the end of me, because God’s intention all along is restoration and bringing me back to the point of having a right relationship with him, to experience joys and good things – things that come from being free from enslavement to my own self-interest and image, to be able to have joy in loving other people and doing truly meaningful work that will make eternal impact. When I think of it, isn’t that what ministry is? Compared to wins and achievements that the world can offer, the impact of changing people’s lives will far outlive them all, because people are eternal whereas an innovation or an achievement is quickly overshadowed and forgotten by the next thing to come around. In 32:42, it states, “For thus says the Lord: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them.” When it comes to walking with God, I know that I do not have to fear permanent rejection knowing that God’s heart is one of love for me. It gives me confidence to be honest.

Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, I thank you for being the kind of patient and loving God that you are, even in the times of discipline You demonstrate your heart and intention for restoring us to a way of life, that all along your heart is for us to experience a good a thriving life, free from the slavery of our sins. I thank you for the ways that I experience this in my own life, that broken path that I was on, even on to the cycle of failing and turning from you and needing to repent again and come back, through all of that you are patient to journey with me and that you don’t give up in this relationship. I pray that to the extent I come to understand this richness of my relationship with you, I will gladly obey you in loving other people through ministry and other avenues of my life, and that through that I would come to really share in your heart. Please continue to have mercy and patience with me as I struggle and grow, and I pray that I can become more effective in sharing love as my own testimony of your work in my life grows richer. In the name of Jesus I pray, amen.

Submitted by Brian W. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

Key Verse

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

Jeremiah 31:33

God is …

In the midst of disobedience, in the pause of the Babylonians closing in, there is a note of grace, a moment of hope and peace for Jeremiah and he looks past the bleakness of the current situation where he is experience deep anguish, persecution from his own people, and frustration after frustration.  God in the end, despite Israel being an obstinate people, promises this: “I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they will be my people,” at the end of the captivity.  And in the midst of what God says we catch a glimpse of why the exile is so important for the Israelite people at the time:

“They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back.”  Jeremiah 31:9

“After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast.  I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.”  Jeremiah 31:19

“I will put the law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God,and they will be my people.” Jeremiah 31:33

God’s heart is a heart of repentance and return from the people.  In the chapters of Jeremiah, there’s a recognition that God is not about external actions, just wanting his people to get things done – make sacrifices, shout praises, give offerings.  God’s not looking for people to simply serve diligently in doing ministry, doing their devotions or serving God in various capacities.  God clearly wants people to actually be His people.  It’s so easy to fall into the mentality of taking for granted my identity as a Christian.  I know when I get into a “groove” when I’m feeling like things are going well at work, when things are falling into place in ministry, and I am desiring to stretch out – that’s when it’s the most dangerous to become like the pre-exile Israelites, wanting to keep their slaves, refusing to stand to their commitments.

Lessons for me …

But these chapter echo a reminder the flip-side of the picture as God speaks of the future and the renewal of the covenant to a humbler nation coming out of captivity.  And I think about when am I the closest to God – isn’t it when I recognize the brokenness of my life.  It’s the times that I strayed, when I remember the years when I lived life for myself, the old life of spending endless hours on the computer not caring about the people right in front me.  It’s remembering the days when I simply just wanted to give up on ministry because it was too hard; not recognizing how I just wanted an easy, comfortable, predictable life for myself.  It was not just knowing the kind of life I was going to live, but repenting and turning from those thoughts – to become God’s people wherever I was needed, and I think now, though I still have a lot to grow in, still to fight against the sins that still hold me in exile, my pride and competitiveness, but knowing that all this in the end – is so that God will be my God, and I will be his people.  And the comfort seeking person I used to be is such a far cry from what God has done for my life today: working with so many of the other committed team members here in Riverside, seeing lives changes before my eyes, people still as undergrads committing to doing ministry, actively outreaching to their non-Christian friends – we have become God’s people – and I could’ve never imagined as such.

But what got me and will continue to lead me thus far?  It’s actual understanding of my sin and real repentance – only when I come “weeping … pray [God will bring me back].”  If I continue to be as I am, will God work?… maybe, but how much powerfully can He work if His people are humble – if I stop my life trying to compare myself to how other people are doing in ministry, or even terms of worldly or social success.  There are times when I look out and the siege ramps are starting to build to take up the city.  But unless I am self-aware and admit to my weaknesses through my stage of life and stop acting smug and self-sufficient and deluded like Zedekiah, can I be prepared for the sieges that come in life: difficulties in ministering to a broken world and rebellious hearts, the siege of the lies of the world wanting to compromise and settle so I can find a more predictable life making concessions just for the sake of marriage or better job prospects, loosening in my commitments finding space for myself – Babylon will come at some time or another, and will my compromises leave my land as a desolate waste?

At the end of the day, what is more powerful than staying faithful is being reminded of God’s faithfulness: “I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line he will do what is jus and right in the land.” At the end of the day in the midst of all the grime, messiness, and sin is the promise of a Savior, in whose promise I can actually be able to say “The Lord Our Righteousness.”  Because in the end, the only thing that can stop my vicious cycle of going back to the prideful life that I try to live, trying to out do other in position and career – if my life then becomes the church, it would simply translate into outdoing people in ministry and regard in the church: faithfulness for simply that sake would only lead to pride.  But because I know that I live only because I have a Savior, I know that I’m not living off my sheer effort but being reminded of these verses that once again – I know my cruel and default estate, that the only to be free from that is to live humbly knowing that my righteousness, true righteousness only comes through God and His promise and sacrifice – that nothing I can do I can rest my pride and laurels in.

Prayer 

God, in the midst of the warning, please do not let me fall into self-satisfaction of how I am serving or what I am doing – but continue to keep me humble: help me recognize in all the ways that I still need to grow, that I still need to learn: that the most tragic place I can be is someone who is arrogant and self-sufficient losing the need to be humble.  As you’ve put so many watchmen in my midst, my leaders, the older staff, peers and even the younger ones – that I would take strong warning from Jeremiah’s words.  Pray that I will also find the base of my hope in humble recognition of my human sinfulness, that this would be my foundation of my relationship with You, remembering Israel was closest to You in their weakness, in their need for God rather than in their own strength.  And as I continue on, now the third year here in Riverside – to never lose sight and awe of all that You have already done –

Keep me humble and repentant – in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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