The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say:
“The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of the one who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.
Excuses are as old as humanity.
Why are we in this predicament? Why are we facing these times? Why are our inner and outer oppressors getting the upper hand? Why are things are such turmoil? Why are we suffering? Why is there no justice or resolution?
We can blame our parents. We can blame our circumstances or our leaders or our times. There is a collective reality to that, but their is an individual reality as well.
Flip Wilson's character, Geraldine Jones was known for saying, "The devil made me do it."
The fact of the matter is that Geraldine had a choice.
We have choices and our state of affairs is the result of collective bad choices over time.
Jeremiah speaks of a day when everyone will have to own up to their own choices. All people will have to stop blaming their parents or anyone else for their sins. In that day, our choices will be deemed our choices.
But there is good news that goes with that prophecy of judgment. Everyone will have the opportunity to have a relationship with God that renews the conscience. They will have God's law on their hearts and know God if they choose to receive the gift of such knowledge.
Lineage will not matter.
Heritage will not matter.
All may know and forgiveness will be available to all people.
Those who dwell under God's government will enjoy days of peace, justice, goodness, and joy!
Yet, our present story is often one of wrestling with God or running from God.
Surprisingly, it is not always depicted in a negative light. Take the story of Jacob.
Struggling for a Blessing
Genesis 32:22-31New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.
Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”
So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”
Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.”
Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”
But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?”
And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, yet my life is preserved.”
The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Thou Hast Prevailed
And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. -Genesis 32:28
One night Jacob had a struggle. There was no sleep that night. There was a lot of wrestling.
Have you ever had a night like that when restless thoughts turned over and over in your mind and your heart was deeply disturbed? Have you ever been tossed about on your bed until you could almost float in a sea of perspiration?
What was the outcome?
When morning cam, Jacob insisted on a blessing and received one, but he also received a reminder and a new name. His reminder was a limp and his new name was Israel. It was only in the morning that he discovered he had wrestled with God and had prevailed.
Of course, in letting Jacob prevail, God and His will had prevailed.
God is calling men and women who are willing to struggle. Jacob was no stellar character from the start. He was not a ready-made saint. He did not come into his princely role through the path of least resistance. It was a path of much resistance.
He had struggled with God and struggled with man and that became the fountain of his personal power: the struggle.
Oh how we desire, in our feeble flesh, a life of ease and comfort. It shall not be so for those whom God uses in mighty ways. It shall not be so for leaders and prayer warriors. It shall not be so for the fathers of nations and princes among men.
God forms us in the crucible of struggle and through nights of wrestling with His will as we toss upon our beds. When He prevails, we prevail and then we rest.
Oh friend, do not flee from the struggle. Let it form you. Let God touch you in the thigh with such force that every step reminds you of the encounter. Let Him give you a new name and wear it with honor for it is a mark of His hand upon your life and His purpose for you.
Jeremiah foresaw a law written on our hearts and a face to face encounter with God. Jacob wrestled with God, not even knowing that it was with God that he contended. Yet, he prevailed as if in a season of prayer and fasting.
Jacob's life changed in a night as he met the God he resisted.
Israel's outlook changed after 70 years of captivity, but centuries before, the nation's ancestors encountered God in the wilderness. Coming out of captivity where they were ruled by lawless masters who could do as they pleased, they were promised a structure. They were insured rights, privileges, boundaries, and a means for forgiveness through a law that they called, Torah.
It was their declaration of independence from slavery and oppression. It was the subject of joyful singing in later temple worship services.
Psalm 119:97-104New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
Oh, how I love your law!
It is my meditation all day long.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is always with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your decrees are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
I do not turn away from your ordinances,
for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
How Sweet the Sound
How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! - Psalm 119:103
Do you remember the moment? Can you go back to the time? Can you recall the emotion when you first heard the word of grace in your soul.
Into what fertile ground was the word of grace planted in your life? How deep was your misery or despair? What secret wretchedness was hidden in your heart? How hopeless were your aspirations of a better way? How unacceptable did your life seem to yourself and to God? Was there a place in you that felt unloved, unwanted, and unworthy?
Hear the Word of the Lord, dear sinner friend. It is the sound of grace. It is the sound of mercy. It is the sound of forgiveness and hope. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.
It is sweet. It is available. it is real. It is present.
Yet, we flip through the news feeds and it does not seem that way.
Righteousness eludes us. Justice is delayed. Evil prevails. Violence is amplified. Truth is obscured. Corruption festers.
We seem to be wrestling in a perpetual contest with our worst natures. Then we declare that the devil made us make those poor choices.
We feel like we still in Egypt as slaves or Babylon as captives.
We long for the time that Jeremiah predicted.
Paul writes to Timothy as a father, mentor, and example. He instructs Timothy to hold out the message of hope consistently even as it is resisted and ignored. He warns Timothy that there will be days of injustice and unrighteousness. There will be more times of wandering.
But in all of this, the hope of ultimate triumph of good over evil will not be diminished. The message of truth will always be relevant. God will prevail and all of our hardships will be worth the patience we spent enduring them.
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have known sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching.
For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound teaching, but, having their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, be sober in everything, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
In t the meantime, we must work at maintaining an outlook of hope and persistence, We must cling to that hope and proclaim it faithfully.
The Work of the Ministry Is Work
“… make full proof of thy ministry.” – from II Timothy 4:5
Ministry is a full and rewarding life. Every day can be different and exciting and working with people can be a heart-warming and gratifying experience. I love the ministry and wouldn’t trade it for any other work on earth.
Are you ready to sign up, quit your job, and go to Bible College?
Great, but maybe I should be completely honest with you first.
Ministry can be tiring. It can be boring doing the same things that have to be done week after week. It can be emotionally, spiritually, and physically draining. It can mean long hours and unending demands. People can voice unreasonable expectations (no one in this church). Bill collectors want to know when to expect a check, and questions are asked for which one has no answers. Mostly, one can be one’s own worst enemy and sharpest critic.
Ready to have second thoughts? Go ahead, but whatever you do, follow God’s call – because it is not about self-fulfillment, self-gratification, self-image, or anything else about self. It is all about God, His purposes, and His calling.
And besides, it is the most wonderful, joyful, blessed life I can imagine. I love this work because God called me to it and constantly equips me for it – and because He reveals Himself in and through me. You are a minister if you have met God in Jesus Christ - even if that meeting followed a wrestling match, slavery, or exile.
Discover your gifts, calling, passion, and purpose under God and live that purpose out. There are many people still being held in captivity who need to know some good news for now and the future.
When will all be made right?
Do not grow discouraged. Keeping working, praying, believing, trusting, hoping, and living. The time is coming.
Do Not Lose Heart!
Luke 18:1-8, J.B. Phillips New Testament
Then he gave them an illustration to show that they must always pray and never lose heart.
“Once upon a time,” he said, “there was a magistrate in a town who had neither fear of God nor respect for his fellow-men. There was a widow in the town who kept coming to him, saying, ‘Please protect me from the man who is trying to ruin me.’ And for a long time he refused. But later he said to himself, ‘Although I don’t fear God and have no respect for men, yet this woman is such a nuisance that I shall give judgment in her favour, or else her continual visits will be the death of me!’”
Then the Lord said, “Notice how this dishonest magistrate behaved. Do you suppose God, patient as he is, will not see justice done for his chosen, who appeal to him day and night? I assure you he will not delay in seeing justice done. Yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find men on earth who believe in him?”
The New Testament in Modern English by J.B Phillips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips. Administered by The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. Used by Permission.
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. “...when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" -Luke 18:1,8b
A woman was the victim of injustice. She could get know relief. She knew Torah. She knew the history of her people. She knew the hope that the prophets proclaimed, Yet, she got no relief. She had no resolution. She must have wondered when it would come.
She did not give up.
That is the setting of a parable where Jesus describes someone seeking justice from a self-serving, lazy, corrupt, and wicked judge who has no fear of God.
Luke tells us the specific purpose of the parable up front. He also tells us the character of the people in the story. The woman was persistent, and the judge had no interest in justice. He clearly does not represent God. He is the opposite of God. Yet, even he can be moved to bring justice and resolution,
In sharp contrast to the judge in the story, Jesus tells about a God who loves justice and loves people and their prayers.
The purpose of the story is to encourage disciples to keep praying and not get discouraged.
That is the purpose of this extended lesson today.
The woman had no fear of the judge but annoyed him night and day. She persisted until he acted just to shut her up. Finally, he acted. In the end, all was resolved.
Jesus knows that his vision of and teachings about God are different.
God is Abba.
God loves to hear the prayers of people.
God loves people.
God is patient.
God is good.
Unlike the judge, God cares about the oppressed. God cares about the slave and the captive. God loves the sinner trapped in sin. God values the wanderer who is lost. God is love.
Don’t stop praying is the message of Jesus.
If persistence works with those not inclined to hear and act, imagine how God is with you? If the unjust will finally act justly, how much will a just and caring God do so?
God is not avoiding your prayer nor is God ignoring them. God is not feeling bothered. God is simply working behind the scenes for the right time to act in history. All of history is moving toward resolution, guided by the hand of God,.
Truth and justice will prevail, but when that moment comes, will the Son of Man, the Messiah, find faith on earth?
It is a question for now. Do you have enough faith in the God to whom you pray to keep praying even when it seems that God is silent and withdrawn?
Keep praying and do not lose heart.