Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Bible Challenge: Day 255

The scriptures read are Jeremiah 36-38, Psalm 59 and James 2.

Jeremiah 36. When Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis realized that having all the medical staff wash their hands between patients and before and after procedures saved a significant number of lives, he became a fanatic about it. He was a huge pain in the neck and people hated him for it but he was right. He was just trying to save lives. Jeremiah was like that. Not even the king can stand his prophesies and he has been banned from going to the temple. Here's what he does instead.

The king's chilling response to a prophesy from God shows that God is right to bring judgment on him.

Jeremiah 37. I was was in a dungeon similar to the one that Jeremiah was put in. It was in Jerusalem under the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (here) which is built over what is traditionally the site of Caiaphas' palace. If so, then one of the cisterns below may have been where the high priest kept Jesus overnight before dragging him off to Pilate in the morning. I can see why Jeremiah did not like it.

Jeremiah 38. An Ethiopian eunuch to the rescue. Perhaps God repays the Ethiopians by having Philip tell the gospel to the eunuch in Acts, making him the first ever Gentile convert. Anyway, this Ethiopian, Ebed-melech, is responsible for getting Jeremiah out of an even nastier cistern.

The king can't stand not knowing what God has to say and so secretly consults Jeremiah. It is not all bad news. If the king gives himself up, he and the city will survive. But the king is too cowardly to do that, so it looks like the predicted destruction will go on.

Psalm 59. I rather like this simple rendition of the psalm over slicker versions.

James 2. James, who may very well be James the Just, Jesus' brother and head of the church in Jerusalem, is here illustrating Jesus' disregard for wealth and position in treating people. Don't discriminate against the poor or grant the rich special favors. The first shall be last and the last first.

"Love your neighbor as yourself," the second Great commandment, is the key to all social ethics. James also points out our tendency to pick and choose which commandments in Scripture to follow. That's like choosing to smoke instead of taking heroin. Neither is healthy. If we want to be Christlike, we can't say, "I obey this ethical command from the Bible but not that." God wants us to live by them all.

Which leads to a discussion of faith. This section is what made some in the church hesitate to accept this book as scripture. James appears to be contradicting Paul in regards to being saved by faith and not by works. James isn't saying that, though. Peterson indicates that in his paraphrase. "Isn't it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works." (Read the whole passage from 2:14 on here.) Paul would agree. He never meant that because we are saved by faith and not by works that we won't do works as a natural outcome of trusting God and being transformed by Christ through his Spirit living in and acting through us. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10: "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Good works don't save people but saved people do good works as a result of God making them into new creations, new people.

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