A new covenant, a new hope.
Today we are wrapping up the book of Jeremiah in the second of a two-part overview of the book. After taking 7 weeks to really simmer in the 4-chapter book of Jonah, we’re doing this much broader, big-picture, broad strokes gulp of 52 chapters.
Last week, Mike brought us through what he calls the “doom and gloom” of the book…and joked that I get to cover the more positive, hopeful aspects, and it’s true! This morning we’re going to focus more on the encouraging passages and how they point forward to the Messiah.
Because even though so much of Jeremiah is prophecy against Israel, very dark and depressing, it also has some promises that there will be a ray of sunshine, a glimmer of hope, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Mike gave us a little sneak peak at this idea towards the end, with one of the most quoted-out-of-context-but-still-speaks-to-God’s-character verses:
Jeremiah 29:11–14 CSB
For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart. I will be found by you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “I will restore you to the place from which I deported you.”
Now, that sounds very nice, but…how are they going to get from A to B? From certain doom, to this so-called “future and hope?”
We know that, from Jeremiah’s perspective, from his point on the timeline, the next couple generations ARE going to be tumultuous and disastrous for Judah. God DOES have plans for disaster in the short term. In fact, he wants to make sure of it. Remember the severity of God’s judgement on Israel, they’ve gone so far there’s no relenting at this point. If you have your bible open, turn to Jeremiah chapter 11. I’m going to jump around a lot today, but I want you to put your finger in that chapter, because I’m going to come back to it a couple times:
Jeremiah 11:11 CSB
“Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I am about to bring on them disaster that they cannot escape. They will cry out to me, but I will not hear them.
Jeremiah 7:16 CSB
“As for you, do not pray for these people. Do not offer a cry or a prayer on their behalf, and do not beg me, for I will not listen to you.
Jeremiah 11:14 CSB
“As for you, do not pray for these people. Do not raise up a cry or a prayer on their behalf, for I will not be listening when they call out to me at the time of their disaster.
“Do not pray for these people.” We’re going to come back to that.
So that’s a reminder of the doom and gloom we’re dealing with in Jeremiah, and yet, we have the juxtaposition of passages like that with passages like like 29:11-14! Here is another passage regarding this future hope that God is promising:
Jeremiah 31:31–34 CSB
“Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt—my covenant that they broke even though I am their master”—the Lord’s declaration. “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration. “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.
So here’s Yahweh making a declaration that he is going to make a NEW covenant, UNLIKE the covenant that Israel and Judah broke. It’s almost like he’s saying “I’m going to renew our marriage vows, but with a different kind of vow because you couldn’t keep the first one.” And he starts talking about forgiving their iniquity, why? Not because of anything they do, but because he will put his teaching within them, and they will know him because of what he does. This is profound! And it’s encouraging! But again, I go back to that same question: how? HOW is God going to accomplish this?
Well, the answer is of course Jesus. He’s the promised Messiah who is going to bring about the ultimate fulfillment of hope by bringing a new covenant. But I want us to look a little deeper into the logistics of the why and how Jesus is the answer.
There’s something that really stood out to me in Jeremiah that has really stuck in my head, and as I’ve pondered it, I really think it’s a key to unlocking a major theme of the whole Bible, and to understanding the necessity and the role of the Messiah in fulfilling this hope that Jeremiah speaks of.
It’s the fact that in 7:16 and again in 11:14, God twice tells Jeremiah NOT to pray for these people. What?!?!? I know Mike brought this up last week, but I think it’s worth exploring a little further. I’ll read 11:14 again, because I told you to stay in chapter 11:
Jeremiah 11:14 CSB
“As for you, do not pray for these people. Do not raise up a cry or a prayer on their behalf, for I will not be listening when they call out to me at the time of their disaster.
Jeremiah was a priest. We know that from verse 1 of Jeremiah, that’s how he’s introduced:
Jeremiah 1:1 CSB
The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests living in Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin.
That fact alone makes this command somewhat odd, somewhat jarring. As a priest, his job is to communicate with God and make sacrifices to God and stand before God, on behalf of the people of Israel. Standing between God and the people, as an intercessor. That role of intercessor was key to living as God’s people, because it’s how sin was covered and forgiven, and how God’s will was communicated to his people.
And yet, God told Jeremiah not to intercede on behalf of these people.
And there’s another reason this stands out to me. Yes, it’s significant because he was a priest, and this seems backwards. But I think what’s truly profound about this, is that it reveals an underlying truth about God and how he relates to humans. Because by God telling Jeremiah not to pray, he’s implying, quite clearly implying, not subtly, overtly implying that there is an inherent value and power to intercessory prayer and action.
The intercessory role of a priest involved a lot of ritual practices and traditions, but the underlying purpose of a priest goes much, much deeper, and I think it’s clear that God did not establish this role purely as a formality. We see in Jeremiah that God has chosen to allow humans to participate in, and interact with, his own decision making process.
This idea of the all-powerful God of the universe being seemingly swayed by human intercessors is what I really want to explore today, because it’s key to understanding the nature of the hope God promised through Jeremiah.
To understand this further, though, before looking forward let’s look back at the pattern that has been established so far.
Last week Mike took us back through the Old Testament, tracking the pattern of sin and depravity. I want to take another review of the narrative of scripture, but from just a slightly different perspective.
Of course it begins with Adam & Eve in the garden of Eden. When they rebelled against God, we can picture it like a kid stealing a cookie out of the cookie jar. A blatant, but childish rebellion. However, I think the implications of their sin were far more profound, which is why the effects, the fallout of their sin was so profound. I think a more helpful analogy for our imagination than stealing a cookie would be to imagine an ambassador, let’s say a US ambassador to a foreign country, a powerful foreign country, conspiring and committing treason against their own country, leading to a fallout of massive proportions. I think that’s closer to the reality of what happened in the garden. Remember what God told the humans after creating them:
Genesis 1:27–28 CSB
So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”
So God created the whole world, and on this planet he made a place hospitable for life, and created this living thing called a human, to represent him to the rest of creation, not just as an image on the wall, but as active participants in ruling his creation. I’d say that’s a pretty important job!
But God’s ambassadors of heaven on earth committed treason, which led to a downward spiral of violence and depravity, culminating in God flooding the earth, hitting the reset button on humanity. Why did he do it? We saw this last week:
Genesis 6:5 CSB
When the Lord saw that human wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every inclination of the human mind was nothing but evil all the time,
He saved Noah and his family though, and that was the hope in that point of the story. Noah’s name means rest, and in the story he’s depicted as being the hope of giving the earth rest from the curse brought on by what happened in the garden. But he and his family end up being somewhat of a disappointment, humanity isn’t “fixed” by just wiping everyone out, which is why God promises never to do it again. He doesn’t make this promise because he knows humans have learned their lesson and are going to behave now. He makes this promise because he knows they haven’t, and never will. Compare Genesis 6:5, God’s reason for flooding the earth, with Genesis 8:20-21
Genesis 8:20–21 CSB
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord. He took some of every kind of clean animal and every kind of clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. When the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, he said to himself, “I will never again curse the ground because of human beings, even though the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth onward. And I will never again strike down every living thing as I have done.
So, he flooded the earth because of the inclination of the human mind/heart, and at the end of the story he makes this promise in spite of the human heart/mind. I think there’s a glimmer of hope here, because God is revealing his attitude of love and compassion for humanity, even though he hasn’t fully revealed yet at that point in the story his plan for redemption. The story of Noah itself is a reflection of God’s plan of redemption, but that’s really only understood in hindsight.
One other thing that’s interesting about this passage, Genesis 8:20-21 is depicting God as having a reaction to something Noah did, resulting in a favorable outcome for humanity. It doesn’t come out and say that Noah was interceding on behalf of humankind, but this still sets a precedence for intercession, as well as covenantal relationships to come.
Meanwhile, fallout of treason continued. We saw humans continue to try to take matters into their own hands, to be their own gods, and create their own kingdoms. The tower of Babylon became iconic for this desire; it was an attempt to literally build themselves up and elevate themselves to God’s level. God foiled this attempt, and scattered the people, but did allow for Babylon to eventually become a large, powerful empire.
It was out of Babylon, early Babylon, that God called Abraham, he called him to leave and become set apart from the wickedness Babylon represented. Like Noah, separating him from the sea of chaos and violence being inflicted on humanity by humanity, but this time promising that Abraham’s descendants would somehow bless the whole earth. SO the hope builds from there: not only will God not wipe out the earth himself, he also has a plan to stop humans from drowning themselves in their own flood of destruction.
Remember we’re going through these Old Testament stories to track the concept of intercession because in the time of Jeremiah, it was clear the nation needed an intercessor, but Jeremiah wasn’t going to be it.
With Abraham, we get to our first real example of intercession, in Genesis 18:16-33. It’s like with him, God is slowly redeeming the idea of humans being responsible, influential, though still flawed, partners in ruling his creation.
Genesis 18:16–33 CSB
The men got up from there and looked out over Sodom, and Abraham was walking with them to see them off. Then the Lord said, “Should I hide what I am about to do from Abraham? Abraham is to become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him so that he will command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. This is how the Lord will fulfill to Abraham what he promised him.” Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is immense, and their sin is extremely serious. I will go down to see if what they have done justifies the cry that has come up to me. If not, I will find out.” The men turned from there and went toward Sodom while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Abraham stepped forward and said, “Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away instead of sparing the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people who are in it? You could not possibly do such a thing: to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. You could not possibly do that! Won’t the Judge of the whole earth do what is just?” The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Then Abraham answered, “Since I have ventured to speak to my lord—even though I am dust and ashes—suppose the fifty righteous lack five. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” He replied, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Then he spoke to him again, “Suppose forty are found there?” He answered, “I will not do it on account of forty.” Then he said, “Let my lord not be angry, and I will speak further. Suppose thirty are found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” Then he said, “Since I have ventured to speak to my lord, suppose twenty are found there?” He replied, “I will not destroy it on account of twenty.” Then he said, “Let my lord not be angry, and I will speak one more time. Suppose ten are found there?” He answered, “I will not destroy it on account of ten.” When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he departed, and Abraham returned to his place.
Now, this passage is fascinating for so many reasons. And it’s probably worth noting that God did, in fact, end up destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, though Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family were allowed to escape.
But the main thing I want to focus on is this back-and-forth that Abraham has with Yahweh. It’s profound! Abraham approaches God with humility; he steps forward to speak his mind, and “ventures to speak” even though he is but “dust and ashes.” It’s like he knows how ridiculous it looks or sounds for a human to be so bold as to offer his opinion to the Almighty, and yet at the same time recognizes there may be some value. He obviously thinks there’s at least a chance he will have some influence on God’s decision, because it really wouldn’t be worth sticking his neck out otherwise.
And although ultimately God does destroy the city, the point is he was willing to have that conversation with Abraham. It’s almost like a negotiation that takes place here. There is a theological rabbit hole to go down with that, but for now what’s important is that this conversation creates a category for us in the biblical imagination for intercession. Human intercession. Humans interceding before God on behalf of other humans, and God not only allowing it but inviting it.
OK, on to the next stop. I hope you can see how each of these stories are building on each other, rounding out this concept. One of the most critical points at which we see this fully in action is with Moses. I think this is actually THE most critical moment of intercession in all of the Old Testament, and the whole story surrounding it is extremely pivotal in the history of Israel. Turn to Exodus 32 if you’d like to read along, I’m going to read the first 14 verses.
Leading up to this chapter, there have been 12 chapters before it, in which God has outlined the terms of the covenant he is making with Israel, the marriage vows so to speak. In Chapter 19 Moses goes up Mount Sinai, in chapter 20 we get the ten commandments, then the rest of the laws and ordinances through chapter 31. Chapter 31 ends with:
Exodus 31:18–32:14 CSB
When he finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come, make gods for us who will go before us because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!” Aaron replied to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it into an image of a calf. Then they said, “Israel, these are your gods, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it and made an announcement: “There will be a festival to the Lord tomorrow.” Early the next morning they arose, offered burnt offerings, and presented fellowship offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to party. The Lord spoke to Moses: “Go down at once! For your people you brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned from the way I commanded them; they have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bowed down to it, sacrificed to it, and said, ‘Israel, these are your gods, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ ” The Lord also said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and they are indeed a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone, so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God: “Lord, why does your anger burn against your people you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He brought them out with an evil intent to kill them in the mountains and eliminate them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger and relent concerning this disaster planned for your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel—you swore to them by yourself and declared, ‘I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and will give your offspring all this land that I have promised, and they will inherit it forever.’ ” So the Lord relented concerning the disaster he had said he would bring on his people.
This event is another story ripe for discussion. Again, this was a pivotal breaking point for Israel. The sin of the golden calf is like a repetition of Adam & Eve’s sin in the garden. It’s Israel’s original sin that defiled their brand new covenant with God, a covenant with ten core commandments, the first of which was to not worship other Gods. You could say that the first core value of marriage, from a biblical view, is fidelity. Actually, I would say it’s unity, but unity is achieved by fidelity. Other things can help build unity, but one thing that will fracture it immediately is infidelity.
Here we see Israel, a bride on her wedding day, deciding her groom is taking too long to write his vows, so she decides to find a stranger to carry her over the mantle and into the bedroom. How disturbing is that thought? And yet, that’s exactly what is being described her.
Which is why God’s outrage is perfectly understandable! He tells moses to leave him alone so his anger can burn against them and destroy them! And he has every right to do so! He even tells Moses that he’ll make HIM into a great nation, which means he would still be fulfilling his promise to Abraham through the remnant of Moses.
But Moses pleads with him, you might say reasons with God. Now, as with Abraham & Sodom, perhaps even more so, it’s fascinating to study and ponder the exact nuances of the conversation they have. I’ve literally listened to hours worth of podcasts discussing just this one passage.
For now, again, the point is that this conversation even happened at all is amazing, and even more amazingly, Moses seems to have changed God’s mind! It starts off with God saying “Leave me alone, let me destroy them.” Moses then gives his argument, and it ends with “So Yahweh relented concerning the disaster...”
This is an intercession at a huge scale, that results in the preservation of a nation. Of course, once Moses actually saw what happened he had some wrath of his own, and there was still a reckoning that took place, but there was also salvation, and the people were dedicated to God that day.
There are a lot of other examples we could look at, I’m just going to give you one more, from the book of Job. Job 42:7 if you want to read along.
This is the end of the story of Job, after Job has been stripped of everything: his wealth, his family, his health, he’s been left with nothing but friends who tell him it’s all his fault, he must have sinned. And He’s angry! He’s angry with God, he wants to just give up at this point, but he hasn’t lost his faith in God or cursed God. Here, we pick up after Yahweh has had a chat with Job, basically saying “Don’t question me, my plans and the universe are way bigger than you understand so just trust me.” That’s just a really brief summary, it’s sounds WAY cooler in God’s words, so you should read it sometime. But after he talks to Job, God turns to Job’s friends
Job 42:7–10 LEB
And then after Yahweh spoke these words to Job, Yahweh said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath has been kindled against you and against the two of your friends, for you have not spoken to me what is right as my servant Job has. So then, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job will pray for you, for I will certainly accept his prayer, so that it will not be done with you according to your folly, for you have not spoken to me what is right as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did just as Yahweh had told them, and Yahweh accepted Job’s prayer. Then Yahweh returned Job’s fortune when he prayed to him on behalf of his friends. Thus Yahweh increased all that Job had twice as much as before.
Why did I want to include this example? Here we have Job, a righteous person. The whole book is about God proving to the accuser that Job is righteous. We have a righteous person suffering innocently, and surrounded by people who have made God angry. At the end, God says that Job will pray for them, so that he will spare them. He doesn’t tell them to pray, he tells them to offer sacrifices, but he doesn’t want to hear from them. He wants to hear from Job. For some reason, what Job has gone through qualifies him to intercede on behalf of his friends, and thereby with sacrifice and with intercession, these men are saved from the consequences of their folly. THAT is the culmination of the book of Job!
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. In all of these examples, all of these men who acted as intercessors, they had their flaws. Abraham made some big mistakes, but his moment of intercession came in a moment where his relationship with God was not strained. They were talking almost like friends would.
When Moses interceded on behalf of the whole nation of Israel, it was at his peak of unity with God; when he was representing, more closely than anyone else in the Old Testament, the ultimate, ideal function of a human; living in unity with God and representing him to others. His face was GLOWING at one point! That’s on another level! It sounds…superhuman…yet he was still human. And he made mistakes too, he wasn’t even allowed to enter the promised land.
So, we see this role, this function of intercessor and how important and valuable it is. And we see that God is adamant that humans play this role for each other. Intercession is a selfless act, and a noble one. However, to reverse the fallout of treason, we needed a more reliable, more perfect intercessor. Someone even better than Moses. One who is always perfectly righteous, in perfect unity with God, and who will always be alive and interceding, because the rest of us are always in need of it. In the Old Testament, Moses is the one who gets the closest, and that’s still not enough. Deuteronomy, the last of the 5 books of the Pentateuch ends with this:
Deuteronomy 34:10–12 CSB
No prophet has arisen again in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unparalleled for all the signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do against the land of Egypt—to Pharaoh, to all his officials, and to all his land— and for all the mighty acts of power and terrifying deeds that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
By the time we get to Jeremiah, they are still looking for that next Moses to be a great prophet, and the next David to be a great king. THAT hope, the hope of a Messiah, is the hope that Jeremiah points to. In the coming weeks, we’ll be looking at the book of Isaiah, and diving into some of the prophecies that get even more specific in how the Messiah will be identified. Of course, we know it’s Jesus, but back then the promised, chosen one was an enigmatic figure, so every specific prophecy about him was important, and we’ll eventually look at how many of those prophecies do connect to Jesus.
But for now, I want to go back to the idea that Jeremiah was a priest, who, essentially was told by God not to do his job. Not to intercede for the people. That must have made NO sense to Jeremiah, but he trusted God. And, I think, given how traumatic the message of doom and gloom would have been for Jeremiah himself, I think the message of hope and encouragement must have been reassuring to Jeremiah that God did have a bigger plan, that this wasn’t the end, that this was all part of a larger story.
And I’m going to cheat, and skip ahead a little bit, but I couldn’t resist bringing in just one verse from Isaiah, because it’s too relevant. Jeremiah was told not to intercede, but Isaiah came before him so maybe he was able to read Isaiah and would be encouraged to read this prophecy about the chosen one:
Isaiah 53:12 CSB
Therefore I will give him the many as a portion, and he will receive the mighty as spoil, because he willingly submitted to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet he bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels.
And God did have a plan; a plan to provide a perfect intercessor at the perfect time, who would stand before God and intercede for anyone who would stand behind him. But an intercessor must understand the plight for which he is interceding, which is why God himself became a human and dwelt among us. He put himself between us and his wrath. He took the full penalty of our sin on himself, as a human, thereby becoming an eternal, perfect high priest.
Hebrews 7 talks about how Jesus is the priest to end all priests:
Hebrews 7:23–28 CSB
Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office. But because he remains forever, he holds his priesthood permanently. Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them. For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do—first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all time when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak, but the promise of the oath, which came after the law, appoints a Son, who has been perfected forever.
And Hebrews 4 talks about how we can be assured that, though immortal, Christ is far from inhuman:
Hebrews 4:14–16 CSB
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.
What an incredible gift! A human priest to intercede for us and stand between us and God’s wrath.
And to take this a step further, Jesus gave us his spirit to actively intercede for every one of us:
Romans 8:26–27 CSB
In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
As with just about any passage in Romans, the context of those two verses is much broader and would take a long time to fully cover, BUT one aspect of the context in which Paul is saying this, is that we still do have a future hope, in which we inherit eternal life alongside Jesus, and in the meantime the spirit is making up for our shortcomings. That’s incredibly comforting! Even when we don’t know what to pray or how to pray, the Spirit is interceding for us.
On the topic of prayer, that brings me to my next and final point. I don’t have a bullet list of application points for this message, my hope was mainly just to enrich your understanding and appreciation of the role of intercession in the story of the Bible, as well as how it’s key to understanding the hope that’s promised in Jeremiah.
But there is one last stop on this tour, and the New Testament doesn’t really let us off the hook, there is a relevant call to action that we should pay attention to. Yes, the Spirit prays for us. However, that does NOT mean we shouldn’t pray anyway!
Ephesians 6:18–19 CSB
Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.
Did you catch that? He’s saying that WE need to stay alert, with all perseverance, and intercession. In keeping with the patterns set from the beginning of creation, God is calling his people to be active participants in his work. We talk about this a lot, and often we emphasize outreach, spreading the gospel, doing good works, taking care of the needy, etc. And those are all good and necessary things! But I think we tend, at least I do, tend to forget about the simple but powerful act of prayerful intercession. Jeremiah was told NOT to do it, but WE are under no such restriction!
One final note on this. Paul, in Ephesians, is saying to pray for “the saints” right? Who are the saints? It’s every believer, it’s the brother and sisterhood, the church, both local and global. OK. That makes sense. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
But Jesus himself made an even more radical statement. He said to pray for those who persecute you. And he’s not saying to pray that they get hit by a bus! The context in which he says this makes it very clear that he’s teaching us to love our enemies.
Matthew 5:38–47 CSB
“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?
Boy, this lesson actually sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Can you imagine if Jonah heard that?
We are blessed in that we are NOT persecuted even remotely in the sense that the 1st century Christians were, but this is still a very important reminder in a time when political views in this country are so divided in this season that is especially politically charged. And general animosity, political or not, is pervasive even among brothers and sisters in Christ. Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use our civic rights and responsibilities to seek justice and truth; of course we should! We have that privilege, the Jews really didn’t, and nor did first century Christians. But we should do so in a humble and loving manner. And when we feel opposed, or offended, or even oppressed or persecuted, we should respond not with self-righteous indignation and rage, rather selfless intercession and prayer that comes from a heart that truly loves others.
Let us not take the gift of God’s intercession on our behalf for granted, nor take our responsibility to intercede for our fellow humans lightly.