Jeremiah 34

“Each of you took back his male and female slaves, whom you had set free” (v16). In the ancient world, poor people often sold themselves as laborers to pay off debts. God had warned the Israelites not to allow this practice to condemn people to a life of slavery; “owners” were commanded to set people free after 7 years. Under King Zedekiah, the Israelites had set people free, but apparently the owners didn’t like the economics of freedom and had re-enslaved their workers.

God didn’t let Israel hide behind what was “normal business” in their culture. He calls His people to be different, to honor Him by promoting justice for the poor, protecting the vulnerable, and proclaiming freedom (v8).

Colossians 4:7-18

“They have been a comfort to me …” (v11). For Paul, the church was a team effort. He was in prison with some of his “fellow workers” (v10), and he rejoiced that others were free to minister outside prison walls. Paul affirmed his friends’ various gifts and callings. Tychicus was sent (with Paul’s letter) to encourage the hearts of the Colossians, while Epaphras, still in prison, did his part by praying earnestly for their spiritual maturity (v12). Paul greeted Nympha the house-church leader and Archippus, who needed encouragement (v15-17).

“He has worked hard for you …” (v13). Whether teaching or evangelizing, encouraging or showing hospitality, the Body of Christ is healthy when all its members do their part.

Colossians 4:1-6

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time” (v5). Paul reminded the believers that every interaction with “outsiders” (non-believers) was significant, and therefore they should “continue steadfastly in prayer” so that those relationships and encounters would reflect Jesus (v2). Their speech was especially important (v6); they should always speak graciously and “with salt” - thoughtfully, with meaning – so that outsiders would hear the truth in a persuasive way and sense God’s love.

“… making the best use of the time” (v5). Every day is a unique opportunity to know Jesus and, by the Spirit’s power, to make Him known to the those around us.

Proverbs 28

“The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (v1). The boldness of the righteous comes from their integrity (v5), the sure sense that they have made peace with the Lord and are walking in His ways. The proverbs stress that a clean conscience and a heart that seeks God are of far more value than wealth (v11), in this life and the next (a good inheritance, v10). The biggest danger is a hard heart that ignores the Lord’s correction and guidance (v14).

Rather than being perfect, integrity means confessing our failures, trusting in God’s mercy, and re-committing to obedience (v13).

Jeremiah 33

“Behold, the days are coming … when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (v14). Though it looked like Babylon would destroy Judah just like the Assyrians had destroyed northern Israel, God had a different plan. “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely” (v15-16). The righteous Branch, the Messiah, would be priest and king “forever” (v18).

God’s faithfulness is like His covenant “with the day and the night” (v20). He doesn’t leave us, and He goes before us to plan for our salvation.

Jeremiah 32

“I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them” (v39). Despite the evils of Israel and Judah (v30-35), God still desired to give them “one heart and one way,” rather than destroy them. God directed Jeremiah to buy property in Judah and keep the deed safe (v14-15), symbolizing that He would be faithful to them beyond their exile and was working to give them a future.

“I will rejoice in doing them good” (v41). In the middle of trouble, God is at work. His Spirit calls us to “one heart and one way” so that we and our children can enjoy peace.

Jeremiah 31

"I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah …I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (v31-33). God promised to bring people back from Babylonian captivity to live in Judah again. Further, He promised to even restore “Israel,” the northern kingdom conquered by the Assyrians in prior centuries. In fact, the rescue Jeremiah prophesied was much greater than kings and empires – it was the New Covenant of the Messiah.

“For they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest” (v34). The new covenant written in the blood of Jesus the Messiah opened God’s kingdom for Judah, Israel, and the whole earth.

Jeremiah 30

“For I am with you to save you …” (v11). Jeremiah prophesied that because of Judah’s sins, God’s discipline would fall on them through the Babylonian invasion. However, God promised not to make “a full end” of His people; He would not destroy them completely. After decades of captivity, God would save His people “from far away,” and return them to their own land of “quiet and ease” (v10). The key was that they had to repent and submit to His will for them.

“And you shall be My people, and I shall be your God” (v22). God doesn’t give up on us easily. He uses both discipline and mercy for our good, to bring us back to fellowship with Him.

Colossians 3:11-25

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (v14). While the world urges us to hate our enemies, prefer our own tribe, and speak badly about outsiders, we show we belong to Christ by our different spirit. “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (v11). Instead of bitterness and criticism, Jesus also calls us to approach each other with “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another” (v12).

As people who have been forgiven, we seek reconciliation. “If one has a complaint against another … as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (v13).

Colossians 3:1-10

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (v2). Paul explained that setting our minds on things “above” rather than “on earth” meant focusing our minds on Jesus (v4) and allowing His ways to become our ways. Jesus is “our life;” He saved us so that we could be set free from our old ways: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry … anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” (v5,8). These attitudes and behaviors bring about God’s judgment (v6).

“Put on the new self” (v10). We have been forgiven, cleansed, and empowered so that we can embrace the abundant new life Jesus won for us on the cross.

Psalm 143

“I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (v6). The psalmist craved the presence of the Lord amid his emotional turmoil; God was his only hope for peace. He confessed his own shortcomings: “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you” (v2). Whatever the source of trouble, the consequence was the same: “The enemy has pursued my soul … he has made me sit in darkness” (v3).

“Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (v10). When the path ahead is dark and uncertain, God is faithful to comfort us, renew our strength, and lead us to level ground (v8).

Jeremiah 29

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce” (v5). Jeremiah’s prophecy came to pass, and the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and took many people into exile. But God told His people not to be bitter about their exile. Instead, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (v7). They could find God’s blessing even in Babylon.

“For I know the plans I have for you … to give you a future and a hope” (v11). Israel’s wellbeing didn’t depend on where they lived, but on their willingness to trust the Lord and obey Him.

Jeremiah 28

“Thus says the LORD: You have broken wooden bars, but you have made in their place bars of iron” (v13). The “prophet” Hananiah told Israel that in two years, the Babylonians would be defeated. Jeremiah had been wearing “wooden bars” (a yoke) around his neck to symbolize the coming Babylonian rule, and Hananiah broke them. Despite the drama of this gesture, Hananiah was lying. Israel would not defeat the Babylonians. His false words of peace made everything worse – exchanging wooden bars for iron ones.

“As for the prophet who prophesies peace …” (v9). Hananiah’s false comfort was dangerous. God wants us to face reality and lean on Him in the midst of it.

Jeremiah 27

“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are saying to you, 'You shall not serve the king of Babylon,' for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you” (v14). The leaders of Judah preferred the comforting fantasies of false prophets to Jeremiah’s uncomfortable truth. Jeremiah said that they needed to change their ways and to accept temporary Babylonian rule as part of God’s discipline, while the false prophets assured them that they could keep their independence (v9).

“Serve him and his people and live” (v12). God’s plan wasn’t to crush Israel, but to revive and restore them in Babylon. Submitted to Him, even difficult situations can become a source of life for us.

Jeremiah 26

“If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets … I will make this city a curse" (v4-6). Jeremiah’s prophecies weren’t unchangeable announcements of judgment. God was warning His beloved people and giving them a choice. Years earlier, Micah’s prophecies had led to national repentance (v19). But now “the priests and the prophets and the people” wanted to kill Jeremiah (v8), just like the prophet Uriah was murdered (v23).

“Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds” (v13). God warns us because He loves us. He doesn’t want us to face judgment and so calls us to repentance.

Colossians 2:13-23

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come” (v16-17). Paul taught that no one was obligated to follow the Old Testament code anymore, because Jesus fulfilled and embodied it. If we “hold fast to the Head” (v19), experiencing the real power of Christ, we won’t depend on “self-made religion” (v23). Strictly following religious codes doesn’t stop us from sinning, anyway (v23).

The “appearance of wisdom” (v23) – fulfilling human expectations - isn’t good enough. We need the reality of Jesus (v17), who loves us and died for us and rose again.

Colossians 2:1-12

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (v6-7). Just decades after Jesus lived among them, Paul warned believers against false teachers who offered a mix of human tradition, “empty deceit,” and the “elemental spirits of the world” rather than the gospel (v8). Paul reminded believers that in Jesus, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (v9); in other words, Jesus is fully God and more than enough for our salvation.

“You have been filled in him” (v10). All the spiritual “extras” (visions, angelic prophecies, or human traditions) pale in comparison to the fact that the resurrected Jesus lives in us by His Spirit.

Psalm 142

“When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!” (v3). When the psalmist felt that the way before him was dangerous and dark, he trusted the Lord to see the path clearly. He confessed to feeling isolated and overlooked: “There is no one who takes notice of me … no one cares for my soul” (v4). Yet God was near to him. God was his refuge and portion (v5); God heard his troubles and responded with love and mercy (v2).

“I pour out my complaint … for You will deal bountifully with me” (v7). The Lord wants us to pour out our hearts to Him, so that He can “deal bountifully” with us.

Jeremiah 25

“The clamor will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against the nations; he is entering into judgment with all flesh” (v31). Jeremiah’s prophecies of destruction centered on Judah (the southern part of what had been Israel), but he also spoke of global judgment. No one would escape God’s wrath. Judah’s claim to be God’s people wouldn’t save them, nor would Babylon’s power save them (v28-30). All “the inhabitants of the earth” (v30) are equal in His sight.

“Turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and evil deeds …” (v5). We all deserve judgment, but in Christ God has opened the way of salvation to us all.

Jeremiah 24

“Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans” (v5). Even though exile seemed like the worst thing that could happen to God’s people, it was both God’s discipline and part of His redemptive purpose. As they submitted to His correction, “I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God” (v7).

“For they shall return to me with their whole heart” (v7). God can use even difficult circumstances – exile- to get our attention, soften our hearts, and call us home.