Bible reading for July 7 -- 8
July 7 -- Jeremiah 3 and Matthew 17
July 8 -- Jeremiah 4 and Matthew 18
"For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: 'Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts...'" (Jeremiah 4:3-4a)
RETURN TO THE LORD (ch 3). Judah's unfaithfulness to God was like the breaking of a marriage vow. They needed to repent with a whole heart and to forsake the idols they worshiped (made of stones and carved trees, vv 9-10). Like children we can be superficial with our repentance, saying a quick "I'm sorry" and then going back to our routines. Like Judah we should be honest and thorough in dealing with our sin. We see these admonitions reflected in the NT, for example, in James 4:1-10. He writes, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (Jas 4:8). Judah has failed more miserably than Israel, the northern kingdom. But Jeremiah also proclaims a promise of a bright future which will come to pass under the New Covenant (vv 15-19).
BREAK UP THE FALLOW GROUND (ch 4). Continuing with the theme of repentance, God says that his people are to plow up the ground and cultivate a spiritual harvest in good soil (v 3; cf Matt 13:1-9). They are to seek the circumcision of their hearts and not just their bodies (v 4; cf Phil 3:3; Col 2:11). For them, the approaching "disaster from the north" would be the Babylonian invasion (v 6). Jeremiah himself was not aloof and unfeeling about all this, but was deeply affected by his message of future events (vv 19-21; cf 9:1). Jeremiah is often called "the weeping prophet." The coming destruction would be a judgment upon the people's folly and stupidity (vv 22-26). The resulting chaos would resemble the earth prior to creation order (v 23, "without form and void"). Meanwhile, the people have a smug and relaxed attitude, and the women are called out for their cosmetic routines, being oblivious to the hoards coming their way (v 30).
"And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?" (Matthew 18:33)
A GLIMPSE OF GLORY (ch 17). The disciples, and we the readers, now understand who Jesus is -- the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God. Three of the disciples are permitted to see Christ's glory shining through his humble, human nature (vv 1-8). God, speaking from the bright cloud -- like the pillar of fire and cloud in the OT -- indicates that Jesus' glory surpasses even the glory of Moses and Elijah, since he is God's beloved Son (vv 1-8). Soon, however, Christ's teaching will emphasize the suffering, death, and resurrection that lies ahead (vv 9, 22-23). The disciples will face difficulties in ministry (vv 10-20) and the need for money (vv 24-27), but the Lord knows, provides, and calls them (and us) to faith, to trust him to provide what we need and ask for.
HEALING BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS (ch 18). Jesus -- like all the prophets before him -- viewed sin with the utmost seriousness. Why is sin so bad? It's a marring of God's good creation and his design for life and relationships. It disrupts our fellowship with God. It breaks our relationship with others. Greatness in God's kingdom is seen in childlike humility (vv 1-6). Temptations to sin are a serious matter (vv 7-9), and the protection of children and younger believers is vital (vv 10-14). The Lord gives a pattern for reconciling relationships (vv 15-20). He teaches that those of us who have been forgiven such massive debts should forgive others of their (comparatively) minor trespasses against us. The point of the parable is that if we understand the great forgiveness we have received we will not act like in such a contradictory manner as the character in the parable does. One of the biggest indications that we have been truly forgiven is that we are able to forgive others.
FORGIVING, AND BEING FORGIVEN. Over the years I have been privileged to counsel many couples preparing for marriage. I make sure every couple hears and practices with each other these nine words: "I'm sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?" (I have to say this to my family almost daily!) Sin breaks relationships. Jesus restores relationships. But what we've learned in both our OT and NT readings is that we must take sin seriously, deal with it honestly, return to God with a whole heart, and do what is right to restore those relationships. We need to plow up the fallow ground and cultivate good soil for God's word to grow in.
POSTSCRIPT. As we read the Synoptic Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so called because all three relate many of the same incidents in the life of Christ -- the question may arise, what about the differences in some of the stories and in the recorded words of Christ? Here's Norm Geisler's helpful explanation for this.
Image credit: plowing at the Lippitt farm with an 1830s horse-drawn plow, photo courtesy of Steve Kellogg at ruralblacksmith.blogspot.com. About this newsletter: I post three times a week on my Bible reading, following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson. Subscribe for email at Buttondown.email/Sandy. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. A very helpful resource is the NET Bible with its excellent notes at netbible.org.