The Bible readings in the Mosaic meditations for the Third Week of Advent show an interesting contrast and comparison: Zephaniah 3:14-20, Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, Luke 3:7-20 and the following additional readings: John 16:5-15, Romans 8:18-25. (All quotes from the Bible below are taken from the NLT.)
Because God's people had turned their backs on him, thinking all the while that they were honouring him, God sent them into exile. This was particularly onerous to them because their religious and social life centred around Jerusalem and the temple therein. Three times a year the men of Judah were to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the main feast days--days that reminded them of all God had done for them. They couldn't do that in exile. They couldn't offer sacrifices to God to atone for their sins and become spiritually cleansed without the temple.
Zephaniah talked about how God's people would be returned to Jerusalem. Their troubles would be over, they would be filled with gladness, they would be able to once again enjoy the feast days and they would be completely restored. It was a day they were hoping for and anticipating.
Psalm 126 jumps ahead to when those days were fulfilled. It is a song the people sang as they travelled to Jerusalem for the feast days. They had left Jerusalem for Babylon with tears but now they were returning with joy and singing.
In contrast to the tears and weeping God's people had in exile, Paul, in 1 Thessalonians tells us to be joyful regardless of circumstances because God keeps his promises--just as he kept the promise he gave through Zephaniah.
As the exiles in Babylon suffered in exile and longed for that better day of returning to Jerusalem, so we today suffer, waiting with anticipation to see the glory God will reveal to us and to see who God's children really are. Even creation longs for that day.
God's people in the Old Testament got lazy. They thought that because they were the children of Abraham, the children of the promise, they could live as they chose.
Many of us think the same way: "Because I've been saved, all is well and I'm going to heaven."
John the Baptist in Luke challenges that kind of thinking: “Do not think that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you that out of these stones, God can raise up children for Abraham.” Prove that you have repented and turned from your sins! It's not enough to say, "I've been saved." If you don't "produce good fruit," if you don't live out your repentance and salvation, you won't be part of God's kingdom. Jesus will divide people into two groups: wheat and chaff, valued and "useless," holy and common. One he keeps; the other he tosses.
When I use the words "valued" and "useless," I'm comparing the wheat, which was valued by farmers because it provided sustenance, to chaff which was totally useless. How does one become valuable to God? In one sense, he values all of us. He is not willing that any should perish. And yet there is the chaff. Wheat has substance, chaff does not and I believe that is true with our lives. Do I have substance in my life or am I like chaff--looking like a grain of wheat but empty inside?
God wants us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and with fire. These are the media with which John said Jesus would baptise. The substance in the people who are wheat is God's presence. Jesus said in John, "The world's sin is that it refuses to believe in me." As John the Baptist (and later James) said, it's not enough to say, "I've been saved." If you don't live out your repentance and salvation, you won't be part of God's kingdom.
Paul W. Harrison (1883-1962) wrote, "Wherever God rules over the human heart as King, there is the kingdom of God established."
Does God rule over your heart?