This is Ian Greig of The Living Word and the story I’m sharing with you this week is about how God fulfils His purpose in our lives — as we invite Him to.
God is strategic! He is always working on the next thing, and He has a plan and purpose for each one of us, for our lives. So what is the next thing, and how do we see that happen?
You may think this is about obedience – but that really is more old covenant than new. Later, we come to a Bible reading in Hebrews that tells us that in Jesus we come under His new covenant and also in the letter it teaches that the old covenant is obsolete. Everything changes with Jesus. And that’s all part of understanding God seeing what we can become, not limited by what we are or have been, and doing His spiritual work in our lives to take us there.
• See also The Living Word Bible Study for small groups and individuals — August 21 edition which takes a closer verse-by-verse look at the three main Bible readings
• Watch this week’s video (coming shortly) The ‘Coming Shortly’ quick introduction is here (vertical for mobiles)
Setting the scene for this week’s theme are some verses from Psalm 71. As we read you’ll notice several repeated words. These fall into two groups — the words “rescue” and “deliver” and “save” and what they lead to, a “refuge” or a “rock” or a “fortress” of hope and confidence in God. which is where He wants us to be. This headlines the beginning of Jeremiah’s story, Jesus’ healing of the crippled woman on the Sabbath in Luke 13 and the eternal hope and joy promised to new covenant NT believers in Hebrews 12.
The first character in the story, Jeremiah, lived at time of conflict and unbelief, and God’s message of faith and truth was an unpopular one. So Jeremiah experienced the need for rescues and being delivered from threats and danger, held secure by knowing God’s purpose was always to save him and free him. In our present climate of ‘cancel culture’, Jeremiah knew all about powerful people who sought to ‘cancel’ him — and they were rough with it. I’m sure that he both knew the words of this prophetic poem and found strength in declaring them:
In You, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.
In Your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me; turn Your ear to me and save me.
Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.
Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.
For You have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.
From birth I have relied on You; You brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise You.
Jeremiah is both a good and a bad example of God’s purpose for our lives: a bad example, because, we’ll be quick to say, none of us is like Jeremiah. But he’s a good example, because the story of his call clearly shows God’s plan for Jeremiah from before he was born. For you and me, that won’t be exactly the same plan, but because God is the same, it will be just as strategic.
What God wants from us is, in its essentials, the same as what he wanted from Jeremiah. He wants us to be listening to Him so that He can guide us. He wants us to be available to Him. And He wants us to be sure of ourselves in Him, to be able to trust Him and have the confidence to go with what He tells us and shows us.
Let’s hear his story, from the beginning of Jeremiah’s book, in his own words.
The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
“Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to, and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you”…
Then the LORD reached out His hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put My words in your mouth… today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms, to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
(From Jeremiah 1:4-10)
Jeremiah’s ministry spanned 80 years and five kings of Judah as well 52 chapters of his prophecies in the book that bears his name. He is also thought to have authored the two books of Kings and Lamentations. And one memorable prophecy that is quoted in full in the NT book of Hebrews foretold the new covenant that Jesus would establish and the way the Holy Spirit from that time would write God’s law on believers’ hearts, so that we would know His ways, not by learning rules, but as an inner witness.
Not everyone knows their direction of life from an early age, like Jeremiah. Many in Jesus’ time, found that direction profoundly changed by Jesus, as disciples, as friends — one of whom came back from the dead — or as those whose broken lives He touched and restored, like the bent-over woman He saw when he was invited to speak in the synagogue gathering. It led to a miracle of the moment demonstrating God’s goodness and compassion — and on the Sabbath!
This brings into focus the standoff between God’s plans and purposes, and man’s desire to control. Judaism had been much influenced by the Pharisee sect, who believed that meticulous attention to the fine details of the law would create ‘righteous’ conditions for the Messiah to come. And when the Messiah did come, without their help, they were the ones who had the most difficulty in accepting who He was.
And it was this legalism, the control of man, that actually prevented God’s purpose and kingdom from coming into place, as it does today. In this passage, we see God’s attention and mercy poured out for probably the least-honoured member of that congregation — a crippled woman — and we see the anger of the synagogue ruler. Jesus did something that wasn’t in the plan, and not considered appropriate for the Sabbath, even though it was showing God’s love. Let’s hear this in the words of Luke chapter 13.
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.
When Jesus saw her, He called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then He put His hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
When He said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things He was doing.
The healing of this woman is a miniature around just one life that shows the much bigger picture of what Jesus was about. A life which was on hold and hopeless, was at that instant set free. She had encountered God, and after nearly 20 years of pain, and misery not to mention dishonour as a crippled woman, it’s hard to imagine what that meant to her.
But there’s another very different picture — the fury in the face of the ruler of the synagogue at what he imagined was Jesus’ transgression and upsetting the order of events for that day that he had carefully arranged.
That’s replicated today by the affront some of a more high church persuasion feel if something changes the course of a so-called ‘authorised’ service — today’s version of Pharisee-like legalism.
This flags up the issue of God’s freedom and man’s regulation — God’s plan and purpose for free empowered lives coming into conflict with man’s desire for predictability, order and the exercise of position, control and authority.
Jesus here is standing at a boundary time. The Jews only knew the covenant with Moses and the law, and you could say they didn’t even know that very well, because it had become embroidered with over 600 additional sub-rules. The law had become too weighty, and too difficult for ordinary people to keep — which is why Jesus said in another place, “My burden, by comparison, is light”.
This picture of Jesus standing ministering between the old covenant and law on one side, and the new covenant that was yet to be established in His death and resurrection on the other, takes us into the Letter to the Hebrews, which explains more about the new covenant and what it looked forward to:
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven?
At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things — so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”
Every person of Jewish background could imagine Moses at Mount Sinai when God revealed His might in deafening sound, and the sight of a mountain burning with holy fire. It was beyond awesome — a truly terrifying experience. This was God showing His holiness and judgment. God wants to be obeyed, in this code of relationships and practices given to Moses, to work out with the 12 tribes.
These hearers or readers of the Letter to the Hebrews had given their lives to Jesus, their Messiah and also Saviour. They knew His continuing presence, not just in worship, but in lives led by His Spirit and they have an eternal destiny.
Understanding the nature of that holy destiny was important, as it is for us. Jesus is not an option, although some have created their own gospel of universal salvation. This is nowhere in the scriptures. If it is universal, there is no decision, no faith involved — and no regeneration into holiness.
Jesus has won forgiveness for all who believe Him and trust in His redemptive work on the Cross, and who renounce all thoughts of reward or entitlement, from their good or even religious living.
It’s all about choice, a faith decision we must all make for ourselves. No one can do this for us by proxy, and the presumed faith of a church we belong to and its rituals, do not add up to a saving relationship chosen by us.
The rewards of deciding for Jesus are the assurance of a name written in heaven, and participating in a far better covenant than the obsolete one that served until Jesus came. It’s a joyful joining with all the redeemed people, the saints of every age, able to worship God in His holy presence, because we are made right with Him in Jesus now.
To waver about Jesus, to dismiss the need to submit to Him, and to trust instead in our own inadequate version of righteousness, is to face the same terrible judgment that was seen in fire and storm at Sinai.
God has a plan for our lives. It involves us becoming free to serve Him and respond to Him on this earth, and being saved and spiritually regenerated to be with Him both now and in the next life.
Man created in God’s image also has plans and a sense of authority, and a desire to be master. Like the synagogue ruler, that idol must fall, if we are to truly know Jesus as Lord and enjoy fellowship with Him.
That’s God’s ultimate plan and purpose for each of us to choose — choose for Him because He loved us first.