Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 12 2019 - Jeremiah 1 – The call of Jeremiah

We leave Isaiah to focus on other prophets whom the Lord called to declare his word to Jerusalem and Judah in the days before the Exile. Let me remind you of the historical background.

The Assyrian Empire dominated Israel and Judah to the north-east while Egypt threatened them from the south-west. Israel's rebellion against Assyria had seen the northern kingdom swept aside. Hezekiah, king of Judah, had also rebelled against Assyria. The Assyrian army had invaded the land and destroyed many of its cities, but Jerusalem was spared (see Isaiah 1:7a). After Hezekiah's death, his son, Manasseh sought to placate Assyria by returning to the worship of pagan gods.

Jeremiah was a contemporary of Josiah who, having discovered the Book of the Covenant in the temple, sought to turn the nation back to the worship of the Lord. Josiah remained Jeremiah's protector until his untimely death in battle against Egypt. Meanwhile, the Assyrian empire was being eclipsed by the rising power of Babylon. Jeremiah then became a lone voice calling the people back to the Lord and warning them of the growing threat from Babylon.

It was in the thirteenth year of Josiah's reign that God called Jeremiah to be his prophet, declaring his word not just to Judah and Jerusalem, but to the nations. Despite the Lord's assurance that he had been preparing Jeremiah for this task from before he was born, Jeremiah does not think that he is the right person for the job. "Alas, Sovereign Lord," he says, "I do not know how to speak; I am too young." His protests are reminiscent of those of the elderly Moses when the Lord called him to go and rescue his people from Egypt. The Lord assures Jeremiah that just as he had prepared him for this task, so now he will be with him to enable him to go where he is commanded to go and say what he is commanded to say. The Lord then reached out and touched Jeremiah's mouth as a sign that the Lord has put his word in Jeremiah's mouth – a word that will be powerful and effective to uproot and overthrow kingdoms (v.10). This must have terrified Jeremiah.

Jeremiah is shown a couple of visions. The first assures Jeremiah that the Lord is watching to ensure that his word is fulfilled (v.12). The second is of a boiling pot being poured out towards Jerusalem from the north – from Assyria and Babylon. This is a sign that God is stirring up the nations in the north to rise up in battle against Judah and Jerusalem.

Jeremiah is to declare God's judgment on his people, "because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshipping what their hands have made" (v.16). The Lord tells Jeremiah not to be terrified by those to whom he is sent, for, "Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land – against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you" (vv.18-19).

The Lord Jesus gave similar assurances to his first disciples. He told them that just as the Father had sent him into the world, so now he was sending them. If the world had hated and rejected the Lord Jesus, they were not to be surprised if it hated them also. But they were not to be afraid. Jesus promised to be with his disciples to the very end of the age and, by his Spirit, give them the words that they should say. Nor were these promises only for those first disciples; this is a promise that holds good until the end of the age – until the day when Jesus Christ returns.

Father God, help us to be faithful in telling the world of your holy anger against sin but also of your wonderful salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, give us the words to say in the various situations where you place us that we might always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. Lord Jesus, keep us from fear and enable us to know that you are always with us, to the very end of the age.

Aug 12 2013 - 1 Corinthians 7:25-40 – Passing world

As I said yesterday, it’s not easy to understand some parts of 1 Corinthians. It’s clear that there were a number of issues over which the Corinthians were divided or were seeking advice, and Paul sets about addressing these issues. But for us it’s like listening to one end of a telephone conversation and trying to work out what it’s all about.

The latter part of chapter 7 is a case in point. Paul speaks about a particular crisis facing the Corinthians and discusses whether it is good to marry in these circumstances. We don’t know what that crisis was and it’s therefore difficult to understand how Paul’s words relate to the issues we face. Maybe the Christians at Corinth were facing a threat of persecution that was leading some to think that might have to flee the city, or maybe, as so often in first century cities, there was an outbreak of a deadly infectious disease.

Whatever the crisis may have been, one thing is clear; Paul reminds the Corinthians that the present order of the world is passing away. He wants Christians to live for, and towards, the age to come rather than living simply for the present world. He warns them about clinging onto present possessions as if these were the things that defined their life: “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). The inclusion of their closest relationships in this list may seem harsh, but I believe that Paul is reminding them that those they love most deeply in this world could easily be snatched away from them. They are to be ready to face the loss of all things.

In the goodness of God, we may not be facing a crisis like that which was threatening the Christians at Corinth, but we too need to be reminded that “this world in its present form is passing away.” We are to live lightly towards the things of this world but also to use generously and well all that is given to us. We are to acknowledge that we are strangers and pilgrims who are seeking a better city, a city with foundations. 

It’s not easy to get this balance right. It’s not that we are to turn our backs on the things of this world, for it remains the good creation of our heavenly Father. But neither are we to make worldly goods, reputation or power our aim and pursuit. All these things can easily be stripped from us; we brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out of it except our character. We need to build for the coming kingdom and not for the present moment. What are you devoting your energies to? Will it last the test of time – and of eternity?

Heavenly Father, I find this passage confusing and difficult to understand. But help me to understand this, that “this world in its present form is passing away.” I rejoice that the day will come when there will be no more injustice, no more pain, no more conflict and warfare. You have promised that, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, there will be a new heavens and a new earth characterised by righteousness and peace. Help me by your Spirit to live now as one who is praying and working for the world that he will create at his coming, when all things shall be made new.

Peter Misselbrook