Thursday, March 31, 2016

Rachel weeping, continued again

Yesterday we read a long passage; the thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah shows that God offers to all of us at least ten forms of comfort for our pain and our weeping. The comfort God offers to us is real comfort, and the joy that He promises is real joy. Weeping will last only for the night; then morning comes, full of song.
Let's dive in!
The first form of comfort is that of joyful worship. When we are in pain, the deep and fearful pain that we humans can feel when we suffer loss and depression, we surely don't feel like rejoicing, do we? Do we feel like offering glad worship to our Father?  Sometimes it seems to be all that we can do to get out of bed and get dressed; we may go to church but we barely listen -- we just aren't feeling that "Rejoice in all things" kind of attitude, are we? But God says He will work in our lives; He will comfort us and change those feelings -- look at verse four: "You will take up your timbrels (musical intruments) and dance with the joyful." And again in verses seven and twelve, He says we will shout with joy. In verse thirteen:
         I will turn their mourning into gladness;    I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
When we are weeping, these are words to cling to! How will this happen?
The second comfort is answered prayer. Verse nine says we will weep and pray, and that He will "bring us back" . . . bringing them back was what He would do for the children of Israel. Restoring them to their land. And just as He would do that for them, He will answer our prayers as well.

The next comfort is preservation from danger. Verse nine says He will lead us on a level path, and He will make certain that we don't stumble. Jude 1:24 reassures us that He is able to keep us from stumbling.

The next comfort He promises is the gift of repentance, the ability to see our sins as He does, and then be able to ask for His mercy. Verse nineteen talks about our repenting after we go astray; it says then we can understand what our sin looks like to our holy Father.

Next, God offers the comfort of forgiveness of sins. What a precious promise we see in verse 34:
For I will forgive their wickedness    and will remember their sins no more.
It's comforting, too, to realize that we have His guidance for the future. Verse 21 tells us:
Set up road signs;    put up guideposts.
Take note of the highway,
    the road that you take.
Just as we read in Proverbs 3:6, this verse tells us that He will direct our paths. There is an old song that speaks of "His hand in mine." How comforting to know that He truly is in control, and will lovingly guide us.

The next comfort He promises is that of a good shepherd. Verse 10 says that He will watch over His flock like a shepherd. The shepherd's job is to find food for the sheep, to keep them in safe pastures, to ward off the attacks of beasts who would destroy them, and much more. Remember Jesus' words in John? Re-read the first 18 verse of John 10 . . . let those words calm and soothe your soul.

God also offers (in verse 12) the comfort of daily provision;
They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;    they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lordthe grain, the new wine and the olive oil,    the young of the flocks and herds.They will be like a well-watered garden,    and they will sorrow no more.
This holy God is interested in our every moment; He offers guidance, comfort, and even makes certain we have sustenance each day.
Lastly, He comforts us by paying the ransom for our sins (I Timothy 2:6); He redeems us as His own.
For the Lord will deliver Jacob    and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they. (Verse 11)
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace. (Ephesians 1:7)
All of these blessings are the real comfort -- the peace that comes from the Father.
We'll finish our study tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Rachel weeping, continued

The last time that we studied, we looked at the three times that Rachel was mentioned as "weeping" in the Bible -- the first beside the road home, in hard labor to deliver her son, Benjamin. The second was mentioned in Jeremiah, when the last of the tribes of Judah were taken into captivity. The third and final time was in Matthew: he quotes Jeremiah's words when telling about the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem (and Jesus' escape with his parents into Egypt). Rachel is crying. She is grieving, mourning bitterly over the loss of her children.

Rachel represents every woman who has ever suffered for her loved ones. Rachel's story touches the heart of every mother who has lost a child before or at birth, or buried a child in the prime of youth. She represents the moms who lie awake at night wondering where their wayward children are at that moment. But she also stands for all of the women who have experienced loss -- not just mothers. The sisters who have grieved over a child in the family who has died young; the aunts and sisters who have seen divorce and death tear a family apart; the women who agonize over family members and friends who have turned away from our Father. All of these things hurt. They hurt very badly. As do job losses, health problems, and aging.

Let's face it. There is a lot of pain in this life. So much weeping. Is there hope for us? Was there hope for Rachel?
You betcha!
I'd like for you to bear with me as I cut and paste the entire 31st chapter of Jeremiah below. Please, please take the time to read it. We are going to study this today, tomorrow, and Friday.

 “At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.”
This is what the Lord says:
“The people who survive the sword
    will find favor in the wilderness;
    I will come to give rest to Israel.”
The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
I will build you up again,
    and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
    and go out to dance with the joyful.
Again you will plant vineyards
    on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
    and enjoy their fruit.
There will be a day when watchmen cry out
    on the hills of Ephraim,
‘Come, let us go up to Zion,
    to the Lord our God.’”
This is what the Lord says:
“Sing with joy for Jacob;
    shout for the foremost of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say,
    Lord, save your people,
    the remnant of Israel.’
See, I will bring them from the land of the north
    and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
    expectant mothers and women in labor;
    a great throng will return.
They will come with weeping;
    they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
    on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel’s father,
    and Ephraim is my firstborn son.
10 “Hear the word of the Lord, you nations;
    proclaim it in distant coastlands:
‘He who scattered Israel will gather them
    and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’
11 For the Lord will deliver Jacob
    and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.
12 They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
    they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord
the grain, the new wine and the olive oil,
    the young of the flocks and herds.
They will be like a well-watered garden,
    and they will sorrow no more.
13 Then young women will dance and be glad,
    young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
    I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
14 I will satisfy the priests with abundance,
    and my people will be filled with my bounty,
declares the Lord.
15 This is what the Lord says:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”
16 This is what the Lord says:
“Restrain your voice from weeping
    and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,
declares the Lord.
    “They will return from the land of the enemy.
17 So there is hope for your descendants,”
declares the Lord.
    “Your children will return to their own land.
18 “I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning:
    ‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf,
    and I have been disciplined.
Restore me, and I will return,
    because you are the Lord my God.
19 After I strayed,
    I repented;
after I came to understand,
    I beat my breast.
I was ashamed and humiliated
    because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’
20 Is not Ephraim my dear son,
    the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
    I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
    I have great compassion for him,”
declares the Lord.
21 “Set up road signs;
    put up guideposts.
Take note of the highway,
    the road that you take.
Return, Virgin Israel,
    return to your towns.
22 How long will you wander,
    unfaithful Daughter Israel?
The Lord will create a new thing on earth—
    the woman will return to the man.”
23 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “When I bring them back from captivity, the people in the land of Judah and in its towns will once again use these words: ‘The Lord bless you, you prosperous city, you sacred mountain.’ 24 People will live together in Judah and all its towns—farmers and those who move about with their flocks. 25 I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”
26 At this I awoke and looked around. My sleep had been pleasant to me.
27 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord. 29 “In those days people will no longer say,
‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.
31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”
35 This is what the Lord says,
he who appoints the sun
    to shine by day,
who decrees the moon and stars
    to shine by night,
who stirs up the sea
    so that its waves roar
    the Lord Almighty is his name:
36 “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,”
    declares the Lord,
“will Israel ever cease
    being a nation before me.”
37 This is what the Lord says:
“Only if the heavens above can be measured
    and the foundations of the earth below be searched out
will I reject all the descendants of Israel
    because of all they have done,”
declares the Lord.
38 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. 39 The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah. 40 The whole valley where dead bodies and ashes are thrown, and all the terraces out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the corner of the Horse Gate, will be holy to the Lord. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished.”

I know that was a long passage, but there is so much there for us!
The Lord speaks to all of us Rachels in this passage. He offers us at least ten forms of comfort! So, when God tells us to dry our tears, He is not just patting our heads and saying, "There, there, it's going to be alright." He is promising to MAKE things alright!
Hang on tight -- the next two days are going to have a lot packed into them . . . I think these verses will speak to our hearts.