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Jeremiah 31:1-6 1
1 “At that time,” declares the LORD, “I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they will be my people.” 2 This is what the LORD says: “The people who survive the sword will find favor in the desert; I will come to give rest to Israel.” 3 The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. 4 I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel. Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful. 5 Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; the farmers will plant them and enjoy their fruit. 6 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.’”

clip_image109Background

The prophet Jeremiah was active in Jerusalem during the period of the city’s destruction by the Babylonians. Jeremiah prophesied during the reigns of various kings: beginning in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah (626 B.C), and then Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah, and during the brief rule of Gedaliah ben Ahikam. He was called to the prophetical office when still young, in the thirteenth year of Josiah (628 B.C.). He left his native place, and went to reside in Jerusalem, where he assisted Josiah in his work of reformation.

Jeremiah prophesied a terrible, invertible disaster. He launched his prophetic mission in his native village of Anathoth, but was rejected by the villagers. Jeremiah castigated the people bitterly for forsaking God and the Torah and turning to idolatry. With a sense of the inevitability of a terrible punishment, he felt disgusted with his life. Gradually he became the leading proponent of the approach which called for surrender to the Babylonians. This was considered a defeatist stance and as such was rejected both by the people and by the various kings during whose reigns Jeremiah gave his prophecies.

Viewed as a traitor, Jeremiah was declared an outlaw during the reign of Zedekiah and placed in detention until the destruction of the city by Nebuchadnezzar. The Book of Jeremiah is the longest of the Major Prophets, and in fact the longest book, word for word, in the Bible.

Biblical Truths

Jeremiah is shifting his tone from warning and woe to the promise of restoration and renewal of life following the exile. Jeremiah sees the return from exile as re-configuring the heart of Israel’s faith. In chapter 30, Jeremiah speaks of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, which is echoed again in 31:4, in which the virgin Israel is to be rebuilt. The image of virginity is used in contrast to the sullied woman to whom Jeremiah had compared the people in their going after other gods.

In 31:1, Jeremiah conveys the Lord’s promise that God will be the God of “all the families of Israel,” drawing wide the circle of God’s people to include those in the north and south, and all those who have been in exile. The prophet uses the covenant formula, “I will be the God…and they shall be my people,” echoing earlier promises of faithfulness to the people. God acknowledges the people’s hardships, and celebrates that having “survived the sword and [having] found grace in the wilderness,” they are now to be restored to the land of promise. In v. 3, the Hebrew word can mean that God appeared from far away or long ago; in the sense of the text, it seems likely that “long ago” would match well with the recital of God’s faithfulness to the people through time.

God reminds the people that he has loved them with “an everlasting love,” with continued faithfulness. Implied in this is the assurance that even their sinfulness cannot cause God to ultimately abandon them. This stands alongside Jeremiah’s earlier warnings that linked God’s judgment to the people’s behavior. Here, even if they sin and are punished, God will in the end deliver them, not due to their deserving, but simply because God’s love for them is without limit.

In vv. 4 and 5, the prophet conveys God’s promises, using a repeated refrain, “Again…again…again,” suggesting the restoration of celebrations not known during the exile. Again the city will be built, again they will dance and make merry, and again they will plant vineyards, with the added blessing of being able to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

In v. 6 the reason for this rejoicing is made clear; it is that one day sentinels will be able to call to Ephraim that the people can once again go up to Zion, Jerusalem, where the Lord their God is present. The rebuilding of the temple as the focus of God’s presence is implied in this call to pilgrimage.

Items for Discussion

  • If Christians accept the premise that God is a god for all people, bigotry is wrong. Yet we have it in the Christian church. What are the sources of bigotry within the Church?
  • What evidence exists today of God’s love for His people?
  • Jeremiah was young. Would people today listen to a young prophet better or worse than in Jeremiah’s time?

 

John 20:1-18
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Background

John is the fourth gospel written and probably the last one to be written and written in view of what the previous three had already said. John writes this probably after he turned 50 but before he was 70 years old, somewhere around 85 A.D. John takes his perspective of old age and attempts to clarify many misconceptions concerning Christ. Hence, John does not copy the other Gospels. The Gospel of John omits Jesus’ birth, baptism, temptations; the Last Supper, Gethsemane, the Ascension, demon confrontations, parables. The Gospel centers on Jerusalem. The synoptic gospels center on Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Each of the gospels emphasizes a different origin of Jesus:

  • Matthew: Jesus came from Abraham through David, and is the Messiah
  • Mark: Jesus comes from Nazareth, and is a Servant
  • Luke: Jesus comes from Adam, and is shown to be the Perfect Man
  • John: Jesus is the Man from heaven, and is God
    • John, however, writes his Gospel for a specific purpose: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (20:31)”

Biblical Truths

In some ways this liberty with which John tells the story of Jesus may create difficulties for modern readers no less than readers in the ancient church. How can two or three stories (those found in other Gospels) that have conflicting details be equally true? How many women were at the tomb? How many angels appeared? One of the unique characteristics of the resurrection story in John is the central place given to Mary Magdalene as a witness to the resurrected Lord. She is a witness not only to the resurrection of Jesus but also to his death (19:25). The Synoptic Gospels tell us that she along with the other women witnessed also the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid (Matt 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55). She was a key witness to the final events in the life of Jesus.

But who is this Mary Magdalene? Unfortunately, our sources do not shed much light on this woman. Luke 8:1-3 tells us that Jesus had expelled seven demons from her and that she along with other women accompanied Jesus and the twelve disciples as they traveled through cities and villages proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. According to verse 3, these women were serving “them” out of their resources. There is some textual uncertainty about the pronoun. In some manuscripts the pronoun is singular (“him”), thus referring to Jesus. The Greek word for “serve” is diakoneo, which implies ministry. According to Mark 15:40-41 Mary Magdalene was one of the women who were at the cross and witnessed the death of Jesus. These women, Mark tells us, “used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee.” The Greek word for “follow” is akoloutheo, which is the verb used to describe a disciple. Thus there is considerable evidence to support the proposition that Mary Magdalene was a faithful disciple.

Items for Discussion

  • Why does Mary think someone has taken Jesus’ body away?
  • Why does John tell us they did not yet know the Scripture?
  • What does Jesus tell Mary not to cling to him?

Discussion Challenges

  • Women are found throughout Scripture, playing key roles in the Christian church. Where do you think the attitudes surrounding women today and their roles have come from?
  • There are many conflicting statements, omission, or questionable inclusions in Scripture. Are these human mistakes or by Godly design?
Additional Study Notes

Items for Discussion from Jeremiah

  • If Christians accept the premise that God is a god for all people, bigotry is wrong. Yet we have it in the Christian church. What are the sources of bigotry within the Church?
    • It is a constant conflict to remove the sinfulness of humans from their role and support of the Church.
    • It is the exact proof that without Christ’s sacrifice, mankind can never approach God.
    • Bigotry is often formed out of ignorance. God does not force humans to learn about their environment.
  • What evidence exists today of God’s love for His people?
  • Do people look for evidence?
  • Is evidence needed to convince people today that God loves them?
    • It is no doubt all around us but blocked from view by human iniquities.
  • Jeremiah was young. Would people today listen to a young prophet better or worse than in Jeremiah’s time?
    • This is a hard question in that youth today is revered. People may listen to the young.
    • A young man or women on a mission trip speaks louder than an adult seated at a Session meeting.

Items for Discussion from Matthew

  • Why does Mary think someone has taken Jesus’ body away?
    • Our interpretations of events are frequently guided by both knowledge and our lack of knowledge. It is something we should always be on guard against.
  • Why does John tell us they did not yet know the Scripture?
    • John is writing this story many years after the events occurred. He is probably trying to tell us the events but with the end of the story already known. It is why we need to look at all of the Gospels when we are trying to understand Scripture.
    • It is why we should not use a small snippet of Scripture literally.
  • What does Jesus tell Mary not to cling to him?
    • We are given an insight to the after life here. There is a difference between us alive as we know it and as we will spend eternity with Christ.

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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