Friday, August 31, 2012

Still Reading? Hang In There!

I know, I know. The Journey reading is tough right now. I’ve heard it from many of you. People in my small group and even some in my own family have fallen off the pace a little. Life gets busy in the fall when school starts back and it doesn’t help that the reading in Ezekiel (like Jeremiah) is, well, depressing. Would it help if I told you that there’s light at the end of the tunnel? We’re only one month away from the New Testament!!! In fact, things are going to get better even before we start the Gospels. Daniel is really interesting and unbelievably accurate regarding what would happen in the world before the Messiah was to come, and there’s a really cool event that we’ll read about next: the return of the Jews from the exile. You don’t want to miss it. Putting the final pieces in place will complete this big puzzle we’ve been working on since January! You’ll be so glad you stayed with it, and you’ll understand the Old Testament better than 90% of all Christians! Don’t quit!

Even more than this, I don’t want you to miss the important spiritual purpose for reading all this doom-and-gloom. There IS a spiritual purpose. And it’s not ALL doom-and-gloom. Okay, there’s a lot, but every bit of it is necessary. God had a purpose for it then and he has a purpose for preserving it for us to read now. For them? Easy. He wanted them to realize the seriousness of rebelling against him. He also wanted them to consider how hard it is for inherently sinful people to be obedient to an infinitely holy God. In fact, it’s impossible! With all the advantages he’d given them and all the ways he’d revealed himself to them, they still couldn't break free from the gravitational pull of their sinful hearts. So now, in the time of Ezekiel, they’re broken and exiled to a foreign nation as slaves. God reminded them why they were where they were. Over and over it seems. According to my wife, "he’s rubbing their noses in it."

His purpose for US in reading it? Exactly the same. He wants us to see the seriousness of sin and our inability to change ourselves. He wants us to grapple with the similarities between them and us. He wants us to wonder if the doom and gloom ever ends.

Then he cracks the door of hope.

God says that HE will take your heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. HE will establish a new, everlasting covenant. HE will atone for your sin. HE will be our God and we will be his people. No one will say, “serve the Lord” because HE will write his law on our hearts.

It reminds me of the time long before when the whole “God’s people” thing began. Remember Abraham? In Genesis 15 God promised to make a great nation of him, and Abraham believed—which God “counted to him as righteousness.” In the great scene that followed, God asked Abraham to prepare some animals and divide their carcasses in halves as men did in ancient days when making a covenant. The two men would then “walk the blood path” between the dead animals to promise, “If I break my end of the deal, I’ll die like these animals.” Abraham prepared the animals and then waited. He even had to drive off the vultures that wanted to eat the carcasses. He finally fell deeply asleep and a “dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.” God showed him a glimpse of a hard future for his offspring. Then God symbolically passed through the animal carcasses...twice. Once for himself and once for Abraham. Don’t forget the picture. God was saying in effect, “You can’t live up to your end of the covenant. So I’ll do it for you. And if (when) you don’t, I’ll die in your place.

Abraham’s children have utterly failed to live up. Now God, through Jeremiah and Ezekiel, is making sure they know it. And he’s preparing the way to come and die in their place. Just as he showed Abraham he would.

Oh, and that promise to Abraham’s family? We’ll see in the New Testament that it includes all who believe, just as Abraham believed and was counted righteous. So hang in there! It will all come together. You’ll be so glad you pushed through.

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