By Matt Redmond
Yesterday, I was reviewing a lesson from the Old Testament with my seventh grade class. I was trying to help them see something that even we, as adults, struggle to understand and put into practice: the scriptures are not primarily about us. The scriptures are primarily about God and His Son, Jesus, and the glory of their redemptive work throughout all of creation. My goal as their teacher is for them to see Jesus’s life and work in each story and on every page of the Bible.
But I also want them to be able to recognize themselves in the stories of the Old Testament. Adam and Eve, Jacob and Ruth and David—and everyone else throughout the course of humanity, for that matter—are all made in the image of God. We all are, including my students. Yes, we all sin in a fallen world, but the reflection of God, of His goodness and glory, is still there, in our DNA, so to speak. So while I do want them to find themselves in the pages of Scripture, I also want to help them avoid the mistake of present cultural voices, which so often place humanity at the center of everything.
But in truth, I still make this same mistake all the time. While reading Jeremiah 12, I was thrown for a loop. I saw myself clearly in his complaints directed at God. Who has not asked, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the treacherous live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1). In essence, Why do those who do not follow God seem to prosper anyway?
Through Jeremiah, God was revealing my own sin and tendency toward judging, how I have damaged people through my words and actions. It was a humbling and painful thing to realize, but I know now that it was necessary. With fresh eyes and new understanding, I saw how God addressed His “evil neighbors” who’d been attacking His people, Judah (v.14). God does not flinch when it comes to sin. Jeremiah 12:16–17 makes that clear, but He is also compassionate. He longs to bring His people home. I think this is perhaps what God meant when He said, “After I have uprooted them, I will once again have compassion on them and return each one to his inheritance and to his land” (v.15).
Initially, I assumed all that compassion after all that uprooting was directed toward a wayward Judah, and that only wrath and vengeance would be doled out to those evil neighbors. But I was wrong yet again; there is no “us” and “them,” because all fall short of God’s glory and plan for them, and no one—not one of us in all of humanity—is righteous (Romans 3:23;10–11).
I am them, and so are you—Gentiles, those who were not part of God’s original covenant with Israel. “Once [we] were not a people, but now [we] are God’s people,” receiving the grace and mercy extended to us through faith in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:10). I had not expected this, but I suppose that’s how grace and mercy tend to work. I’d been primed to see myself in Judah, God’s people. I’d forgotten that as a non-Jew, I was outside the covenant mercies till Christ procured them for me. It’s a beautiful, surprising, and undeserved foretaste of the compassion we now enjoy under the new covenant mercies in Christ. While we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:10).
Written by Matt Redmond
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