Jeremiah 4

“O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved” (v14). Rather than being all about obedience to the letter of the law, the Old Testament shows us a God who is concerned about the heart – just like the New Testament. Through Jeremiah, the Lord urged the Israelites to circumcise their hearts (v4), so that their obedience would flow naturally from love. The situation they were in, the rebellion that had led to their captivity among the Babylonians, started with a problem of the heart (v18).

“Break up your fallow ground” (v3). Hard-heartedness and stubbornness keep us from hearing the Lord’s voice. He calls us to humility and a soft heart in His presence.

Jeremiah 3

"Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness" (v22). The Lord grieved over Judah’s rebellion and called His people to repentance. He wanted to give them “a heritage most beautiful of all nations” (v19), yet their involvement in idolatry and sexual immorality was driving them far from His protection and care (v6, 25). He promised that if they would return to Him, He would heal them, restore their home, and give them new “shepherds” after His own heart (v15).

“Surely the hills are a delusion … (v23). The temptations that pull us away from God can’t satisfy our hearts; they leave us empty and broken. He alone is the source of abundant life.

Jeremiah 2

“What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?” (v5). Through Jeremiah, the Lord accused the Israelites of chasing “worthlessness,” - empty idols, and the protection of Egypt and Assyria (v18). God had led them through very difficult times, the “drought and deep darkness” of the wilderness (v6), yet when they reached a land of prosperity, they rejected Him. The priests, prophets, and other leaders failed to lead the people back to God (v8).

The Lord saves us so that we can enjoy “good things” – the peace and real security of walking in fellowship with Him (v7), rather than the dysfunction and pain of sin.

Ephesians 6:10-24

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (v11). Paul taught that believers have been given “the armor of God,” everything necessary, to withstand the temptations and trials of life. He explained that our real battles aren’t against people, but against “spiritual forces of evil” (v12). We stand firm against spiritual darkness – everything opposed to God’s will - by holding on to truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, the assurance of salvation, God’s word, and prayer.

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith” (v16). Faith in God’s love, power, and mercy gives us strength, no matter what the battle.

Ephesians 6:1-9

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger …” (v4). In a society where fathers and “masters” had nearly total power and legal authority, Paul urged them to evaluate their behavior in light of their love for Jesus. Rather than only obeying earthly law, Paul reminded them that we will all face the heavenly Judge, and with Him “there is no partiality” (v9). Whether servants or leaders, Paul taught that our work should be offered “as to the Lord” (v7).

Whether parents or children, business owners or employees, teachers or students, we are all “servants of Christ” (v6). Our work is for Him and our behavior is judged by His standard.

Psalm 137

“How shall we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land?” (v4). The Israelites exiled to Babylon missed their own homeland, especially Jerusalem and the Temple. Along with the suffering due to being in a foreign land, subject to pagan rule, they were also tormented by their captors and urged to sing “the songs of Zion” (v3). Despite their humiliation, they held on to their identity, and the Lord didn’t forget them (v5-7).

Our lives may be turned upside down by grief or trouble, yet our identity as God’s redeemed sons and daughters remains secure. He can help us reclaim “the songs of Zion” and give us hope for the future.

Jeremiah 1

“They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you” (v19). God called Jeremiah the prophet to a most difficult task: to be a “prophet to the nations” and to speak God’s own words (v5-9). Judah (southern Israel) was in turmoil; they had embraced idolatry, and King Josiah was trying to reform them, but they were also caught between the Egyptian and Babylonian empires. Into this mess, God sent Jeremiah to declare truth to power, no matter the consequences.

“Do not be afraid of them …” (v8). When we fear God more than earthly powers, we have the courage to follow His ways, no matter the cost.

Isaiah 66

“And they shall declare my glory among the nations” (v19). Through Isaiah, God declared that when He came to redeem His people Israel, the message of hope would also be for “the nations.” God had revealed Himself in a special way to Abraham and his descendants as part of His global plan of salvation, and now “the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues” (v18). These “brothers” from around the world who answered the call of God would even come to serve as priests and Levites (v20-21).

“All flesh shall come to worship before Me” (v23). No country, ethnic group, or person is overlooked by God. Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father and to one another.

Isaiah 65

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered” (v17). Through Isaiah, God declared that those who did not accept His call to relationship (v12) would miss out on the life-filled new earth that He would create. Rather than violence, catastrophe, and disappointment, we will enjoy the results of our efforts in the redeemed earth: “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (v21). The creation won’t be at war with itself; peace will reign (v22).

“Before they call, I will answer” (v24). God planned to save us before we called out for help, and He promises a future better than we can imagine.

Isaiah 64

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!” (v1). The Israelites wanted the Lord to “come down” and restore their nation. They knew that their sins had led to their destruction by foreign armies (v5). “Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins” (v11). Yet, they still counted on God’s mercy and compassion: “Behold, please look, we are all your people” (v9).

“No eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him” (v4). Whether our troubles are unexpected or self-created, we can count on God’s kindness. His mercy overflows.

Ephesians 5:15-32

“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (v17). In practical terms, Paul said that believers must reject the crude language, sexual immorality, drunkenness and greed of their past lives. Instead, they should cultivate hearts of joy and thanksgiving, quick to sing and worship, “submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ” (v21). Following Jesus changes things at the family level, too, with husbands following Christ’s example of humble and self-sacrificial leadership (v25-33).

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but wise …” (v15). Saved by Christ and made new by His Spirit, we are capable of speaking and behaving according to His will.

Ephesians 5:1-14

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us …” (v1-2). As citizens of God’s kingdom, Paul urged the Ephesians to change their manner of speaking and behaving. Rough or crude joking is “out of place” for those who see other humans as image bearers of God. Sexual immorality and greedy materialism are “unfruitful works of darkness” (v11), completely opposed to our lives as “children of light” (v8).

To “walk in love” doesn’t mean that we are perfect, but, with the help of the Spirit, we reject the ways of darkness and “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (v10).

Psalm 136

“Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever …” (v2). The psalmist led Israel in praising God for His steadfast love, which is beautifully evident in the “great wonders” He has done (v4). The earth and the universe reveal His never-failing love for all creation (v5-9), yet God also shows specific love to humanity. By His “strong hand and outstretched arm” He brought Israel out of Egypt (v12), and He continues to rescue us.

We each have personal reasons to “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good” (v1). His steadfast love brought the world into existence, and His mercy and grace toward us will not fail.

Isaiah 63

“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (v9). Isaiah reminded Israel that God had proven Himself to be their Savior (v8). He led them out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership, He provided for them in the desert, and He fought against their enemies. Even though they “rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit,” (v10) earning His anger, He continued to be their Father and Redeemer (v16).

The same God who rescued Israel over and over sent Jesus to save us once and for all. His love and mercy don’t run out.

Isaiah 62

“And they shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the LORD; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken” (v12). Isaiah’s prophecies were full of judgment on Israel and other nations, because they had rebelled against God’s ways (ch 58). Yet God wasn’t finished with humanity. Rather than condemning, abandoning, or rejecting us, God had prepared a way to redeem us through His Messiah. By faith in Him, Jews and Gentiles together could receive “a new name” (v2).

“Behold, your salvation comes …” (v11). God’s salvation is more than a rescue from sin; He also gives us a new identity as “a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord” (v3).

Isaiah 61

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives …” (v1). Israel was lost in sin, yet God promised that His anointed servant, the Messiah, would fulfill everything God’s people failed to be and do. Jesus declared that He was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy (Luke 4:18), offering healing and freedom. He proclaimed “the year of the Lord’s favor” to all who would receive Him.

“Instead of shame there shall be double portion” (v7). Only God Himself can take away shame and make us “oaks of righteousness” (v3).

Isaiah 60

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (v1). Isaiah told God’s people that one day God’s own light would shine brightly on them and through them: “you shall see and be radiant” (v5). The rest of the world would be drawn to Israel’s light (v3,6,7), bringing glory and honor. This new, transformed Zion will be a place of total peace: “Violence shall no more be heard in your land …you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise” (v18).

Jesus’ light is still shining, drawing people to salvation. In Him, we are citizens of the renewed world He will bring, full of His glory and peace (v19).

Ephesians 4:15-32

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (v32). Those who have “learned Christ” show His Spirit in their words and actions (v20). Paul put special emphasis on our speech, saying that we must put off the old self with its “corrupting talk” and “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander” (v29-31). Instead, we put on “the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (v24). Following the world’s patterns of speech and conduct grieves the Holy Spirit (v30).

As we honor Jesus by cooperating with His Spirit, rejecting the old ways of selfishness and hard-heartedness, He transforms our minds, words, and behavior (v23).

Ephesians 4:1-14

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v1-3). Paul told the Ephesian believers, Jew and Gentile both, that having been rescued by Jesus and reconciled to God and one another, they were called to unity and peace. To help them resist the world’s ways and be equipped for ministry, God gave them “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (v11-12).

“Until we all attain the unity of the faith …” (v13). God calls us to leave behind childish ways (v14) and to grow into the humility, gentleness, and love of Christ.

Proverbs 26

“Like an archer who wounds everyone is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard” (v10). The proverbs teach us that fools – unteachable, impulsive, quarrelsome people – are dangers to themselves (v3,11,12), and they are also a danger to everyone else. Those trying to work with “a fool” end up “drinking violence” (v6), while giving “honor” to a fool is like giving ammunition to one prone to cruelty (v8). Gossips and those who love stirring up quarrels cause terrible harm to communities (v18-22).

“Where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (v20). Our words and behaviors affect everyone around us; we can either stir up strife or cultivate peace.