Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 7-9; John, chapter 13
Scripture: Jeremiah 7:21-28 (NRSV) – Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.” Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward. From the day that your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks. They did worse than their ancestors did. So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. You shall say to them: This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.
Observations: This command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way I command you, so that it may be well with you.” That’s still the command that God gives us today. He’s given us his written Word, so we know they way that he commands us, but he doesn’t want us to make it a mechanical obedience; he wants us to study his Word, to know what it says, and then to listen as he helps us to know how he wants us to live each day in obedience to his commands.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned about the belief in a “cheap grace” which “is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship) Grace does not mean that obedience is optional. Just as God commanded the Israelites, he says to his people today: “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.”
When we ignore God’s commands – when we live according to our own plans and wishes rather than resolutely following God – we become a nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline. For “nation” we can substitute “people” – or “church.” We see it time and time again, in Scripture and in the present day: people cry out to God when things are going badly; then, when God rescues them, they go back to doing things their way. It was the cycle the Israelites followed in the book of Judges. We see God’s deliverance each time, and we marvel at his grace, but we often forget that the pattern of disobedience and rebellion gradually led them downward. By the end of the cycle, the state of the people was described like this: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” That is not God’s plan, nor his desire, for his people! God’s desire is for us to “obey my voice.”
Applications: God is reminding me today of the importance of teaching his people that he expects our obedience. Jesus’ death is not just a “get out of jail free” card, promising us entrance into heaven when we die; it is the power of God to transform us. When we forget that – when we lapse into the notion of “cheap grace” – we miss the depth and the fullness of the salvation which Jesus came to bring. The blood that purchased our forgiveness is also powerful to make us holy – and that’s exactly what God calls us to be.
Prayer: Father, thank you for the forgiveness, the transformation, and the cleansing that you provide through your Son, Jesus. Thank you for the call to be holy, as you are holy – to be exactly what you created me to be. Help me today to obey your voice, and to walk in the way that you command, so that your Kingdom may come and your will be done – by me, here on earth, as it is in heaven. Help me to know your truth; help me to proclaim your truth; and help everyone to listen to your truth. Amen.