Jeremiah 1:1-19 Called to be a prophet

Why would a servant of God persevere in ministry when few respond in faith, when there is great opposition to the work and the servant faces the prospect of violence or even death?  The only answer is the servant’s awareness that he has been called by God.  A very striking example in the Bible is the prophet Jeremiah.  We consider Jeremiah 1:1-19 Called to be a prophet.

1. The context of ministry

Verses 1-3 offer information on the identity of Jeremiah and the historical setting in which he ministered.  He was from a priestly family, although we do not know if he ever exercised priestly functions.  From his earliest days he would have been exposed to |God’s Word.  Note the combination ‘The words of Jeremiah’ (v1) and ‘The Word of the Lord’ (v2) – they describe the same message – both man’s word and God’s word (not a mixture of the two).  Jeremiah’s message is ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16).  It ‘came to him’ at God’s initiative.  He ministered in the final years of the Kingdom of Judah (627-587BC), ending with the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.  The kingdom descended into chaos until God’s judgment fell.

2. The call to ministry

Jeremiah’s call is reported in v4ff.  We do not know how ‘The word of the Lord came’ to him.  Some kind of visionary experience may be described in v11ff.  Although this concerns chiefly Jeremiah’s unique ministry, there are elements that apply to all Christians called to be witnesses.

  • Sovereignty:  From v5 it is clear this is the Lord’s doing.  Long before birth God had chosen Jeremiah.  ‘I knew you’ – the language of relationship.  It is he who sets apart and appoints to his service.  This is full of assurance for God’s servants.
  • Commission: Jeremiah’s initial response was reluctance – he is overwhelmed by what is required.  A proper awareness of our limitations is appropriate as long as obedience is not hindered.  The Lord is gentle but firm (v7-8).  He also adds an assurance of his presence – ‘I am with you’, the assurance all his servants need (Matthew 28:20).  In v9-10 the touching of the mouth is a reassurance of the divine commission.  Jeremiah’s task has a negative element, ‘uproot…tear down’, exposing the nation’s sinful ways, but also a positive element, ‘build…plant’.  Both areelements in faithful gospel witness.  Neither may be neglected.
  • Visions: The visions of v11-16 relate to Jeremiah’s ministry.  ‘Almond tree’ (v11) sounds like ‘watching’ – the Lord will watch and ensure that his word is fulfilled.  The ‘boiling pot’ (v13) is a symbol of judgment which the Lord will pour out on the unrepentant.

3. The challenge of ministry

‘Get yourself ready!’ (v17) – hard work is required.  Jeremiah (and we) could be intimidated by the opposition to be faced but note the solemn warning if we succumb – ‘I will terrify you before them’.  God’s estimate of us must outweigh man’s opinion.  We are in a spiritual battle (v19; cf Ephesians 6:10ff).  We have a great promise: ‘I am with you and will rescue you’.  The path will not be trouble free, but the Lord’s servants are never finally defeated.

Ephesians 6:18-24 Exhorting and encouraging

As Paul draws his letter to a close, he is still thinking of the spread of the gospel and of the welfare of the church.  Even though he is in prison for his faith, there is no trace of self-pity.  Even in prison he wants to be a good witness for his Saviour, and so sets an example to all of God’s people.  We consider now Ephesians 6:18-24 Exhorting and encouraging.

1. Constant prayer (v18)

Prayer is really a further part of the armour provided by the Lord for our spiritual battle.  The other parts of the armour are useless unless used in conjunction with a healthy prayer life.  Paul gives a strong exhortation to the Ephesians to pray.  Having listened to God’s Word, we are now to pray.  Note ‘all kinds’ – prayer is never inappropriate.  Every need can be brought to God.  We are to pray ‘on all occasions’ – a constant spirit of prayerfulness.  Prayer is to be ‘in the Spirit’ – with his help and guidance, as he makes intercession for us (Romans 8:26).  Effort is required – ‘be alert and always keep on praying’.  There needs to be perseverance in prayer (Luke 18:1) as the enemy will encourage laziness and carelessness.  Note we are to pray ‘for all the saints’ – a broad concern for the work of the Kingdom.

2. Courageous witness (v19-20)

Paul has no doubt about his own need for prayer.  He has no sense of self-sufficiency (2 Corinthians 3:5).  He knows he depends on the Lord and so he needs the prayers of God’s people.  We all stand in such need.  His specific request is that ‘words may be given me’.  He needs wisdom to communicate faithfully ‘the mystery of the gospel’.  Paul twice refers to the need to witness ‘fearlessly’ – a reminder that he too was human and had times of fear.  As an ‘ambassador’ each Christian comes with God’s commission, and we must not be frightened into silence by the world.  We need the Lord’s grace to witness fearlessly.

3. Comforting news (v21-22)

Our prayers are to be informed and intelligent, and so we require accurate information to guide our praying.  The Ephesians will receive this from Tychicus.  He is a trusted messenger – ‘a dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord’ – who will be able to give an accurate picture of Paul’s circumstances.  The Ephesians are concerned for Paul and the aim of Tychicus’ report is ‘that he may encourage you’.  This will stimulate continued interest and prayer.  Here is a challenge to us to be informed about the needs and challenges of the church.

4. Concluding benediction (v23-24)

Paul’s final prayer for the Ephesians deals with the spiritual blessings he seeks for them.  First ‘Peace to the brothers’ – flowing from peace with God through the Saviour.  Also ‘love with faith’ – love that keeps faith with others, flowing from Father and Son.  This love marks out true disciples – John 13:35. Paul ends with a benediction ‘Grace to all those who love our Lord Jesus with an undying love’.  Even that love is a gift of God’s grace.  We need a daily experience of grace to live as God’s people and to win the victory in the spiritual battle.

Revelation 5:9-10 The Lamb

Singing plays an important role in the lives of God’s people.  This is reflected in Scripture, particularly in the Psalms.  The NT speaks of Jesus and his disciples singing at the Last Supper – Matthew 26:30, singing a portion of the Psalter used at the Passover.  Christ himself is the fulfilment of what the Passover Lamb depicted.  Often in Revelation he is described in such terms, for example in Revelation 5:6 ‘a Lamb looking as if it had been slain.’  We consider Revelation 5:9-10 The Lamb, a vision of heavenly worship that centres on the Lamb.

1. The task that the Lamb performs

The heart of the song is in v9 ‘you are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals.’  The scroll, first mentioned in v1, contains the plan of God yet to be unfolded.  It is sealed to indicate its inviolability.  The scroll is filled – nothing can be added to God’s decrees.  BUT v4 ‘no-one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.’  The search is comprehensive (v3).  How can the plan of God be carried to fulfilment?  One, however, is worthy – the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.’  He is ‘a lamb looking as if it had been slain’ (v6) – see Isaiah 53:7 and John 1:29.  He combines mighty rule and humble suffering.  Attention is turned especially to his atoning death (v9).  This work above all establishes the worthiness of the Lamb to open the scroll.  Christ is fully qualified – he has authority ‘to take the scroll’.  He is able to open the seals and carry out everything written in the scroll.  He will convert promises into realities.

2. The purchase that the Lamb has made

Christ has ‘purchased men for God’.  He buys back with a ransom what was lost.  Sinners are in bondage and a ransom must be paid to God.  It is God who in the person of his Son, pays the ransom – ‘with your blood…’.  Christ is ‘a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45).  Note ‘for God’ – this involves a change of ownership.  We belong entirely to God.  Atonement is definite and specific.  Not all are purchased.  It has however world-wide scope – ‘every tribe and language and people and nation.’  The scope of the atoning work of Christ should move us to praise and gives encouragement in the proclamation of the gospel.

3. The dignity that the Lamb confers

v10 sets out the wonderful status conferred upon the redeemed.  Their dignity contrasts sharply with their previous condition as guilty rebels without God or hope.  ‘You have made them’.  This is a definitive act of the Lord, a dignity conferred once and for all.  A decisive change has taken place in all who experience the redeeming work of the Lamb.  ‘A kingdom and priests’ – applying a description of OT Israel to the Church (see Exodus 19:6, quoted in 1 Peter 2:5,9).  ‘A kingdom’ – a royal status.  This is our present position, spiritually sitting with Christ (Ephesians 2:6).  We enjoy victory in him and exercise authority in his name, even when persecuted and suffering.  ‘Priests’ – representing God to men and men to God.  We pray for the world and witness to the world.  All of life is priestly service.  ‘They will reign on the earth’ – we are now kings, and our reign will be fulfilled along with King Jesus in the new creation.  We will reign with the exalted Lamb forever.  No greater dignity is possible.  This is all of grace – a status we could never earn or deserve, and so our hearts should be filled with thanks and praise, and we should be motivated to serve our King faithfully in any way he allows us.

Ephesians 6:14-17 Armed for battle

When an army is preparing to go into battle against a powerful enemy, it is crucial that the soldiers are properly equipped.  If their equipment is inferior or outdated, the results will be disastrous.  In the Christian’s spiritual battle, the right equipment is essential, and is also available.  We consider now Ephesians 6:14-17 Armed for battle.

1. The belt

Paul begins with ‘the belt of truth’ (v14).  The belt holds all the other garments in place, enabling a general readiness for battle.  God himself is ‘truth’ -there is nothing false in him and he acts entirely in accord with his holy nature.  Our lives are to be shaped by his truth revealed in Scripture.  Truth is to be ‘in the inner parts’ (Psalm 51:6), life matching profession.

2. The breastplate

Next – ‘with the breastplate of righteousness in place’ (v14).  This protects the heart, where Satan often strikes to bring discouragement and doubts about salvation.  We are righteous in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30), our sin and guilt removed.  When we are ‘justified’, we live a holy, righteous life by the Spirit’s strength. Depending on Christ’s finished work, we are able to resist Satan’s discouragement, and so live a life of purity reflecting the Saviour.

3. The boots

The right footwear gives a secure foothold, hence ‘feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace’ (v15).  We have ‘peace with God’ (Romans 5:10 and so can enjoy inward peace.  With this secure foothold we can advance to engage the enemy, longing to see others set free by God’s grace.  Gospel witness is part of our armour.

4. The shield

The ‘shield of faith’ (v16) protects the whole body.  We face ‘the flaming arrows of the evil one’ – sudden temptations at weak or unguarded times.  We are saved by faith and live by faith (1 Corinthians 5:7).  Faith leads to action, leaving the enemy fewer opportunities.

5. The helmet

The head is protected by ‘the helmet of salvation’ (v17).  By grace we share in the victory of Christ.  Satan often attacks the mind since thoughts can be hard to control.  We must rest in what God has done for us in Christ and fill our minds with what is good (Philippians 4:8).

6. The sword

Our offensive weapon is ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (v17).  We attack with the Word, which is ‘alive and powerful’ (Hebrews 4:2).  The Spirit reminds us of the truth we have stored in our minds, following Christ’s example in temptation (Matthew 4:4).