We knew she had them, but we never saw them – eyes in the back of her head. Like the answer to the children’s catechism question, “we could not see them, but they always saw us.” Just when we thought we were under the radar and outside maternal surveillance, we were called to account. But parental omniscience is not just the province of mothers. Fathers can have it too. My father was very in tune with my sinful tendencies. One particular example from my youth is seared into my memory.
My friends and I were going downtown, but the train did not come as far as our neighborhood. So we drove to the station in Decatur. The station did not have much parking, but was happily located right across the street from the Maud M. Burrus Public Library. The library had plenty of free parking, each spot adorned with a warning — “library patrons only, all others will be towed.” With dire words and prophecies of doom, my father warned me against the temptation to park there. But my 1973 Goldenrod Impala needed space. It yearned for free parking and lots of it. So, as children often do, I disregarded my father’s instruction.
When we returned at day’s end, to my horror, the Impala was gone. It was the sum of all fears. Adrenaline surged. A dreadful panic seized me. Where could it be? How will we get home? And how would I explain this grievous crime to my father? Then I saw it, a sight worse than any scenario I imagined. Parked in a corner of the lot, far from where I left it was the Impala. He knew! He knew I was not to be trusted. He knew I had ignored his wise warning. The ugly truth could not be concealed. I had deliberately disobeyed. Wriggling out was not an option. My only option was to own up and to accept whatever came.
Much to my surprise, the consequence was not as severe as it could have or should have been. My father knew the shock of his masterstroke was, itself, quite potent. His goal was not to punish, but to discipline – to instruct me in the pain of disobedience and lead me to the freedom that comes from submission. Indeed, punishment and discipline, though both painful, are radically different.
Punishment’s goal is to inflict, to harm, to exact. It covers the debt of justice by demanding the value of what was taken by the hand of a perpetrator. It seeks no redemption, no rehabilitation, and no restoration. It is guided by wrath not mercy. Vengeance is its telos — an eye for every eye, and a tooth for every tooth. But discipline is quite a different matter. Discipline is concerned for growth, change, fruitfulness, and maturity. It is guided by love and governed by relationship. Discipline is redemptive, rehabilitative, and restorative. This is what it seeks. It teaches us that freedom and fruitfulness come from submitting to yokes not breaking bonds.
We see this truth remarkably laid out for us in Hebrews 12:5-11
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” …For at the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
How will we respond to the Lord’s discipline? When afflictions come. When frowning providences are the only providence we know. When we encounter many trials of various kinds? Will we be like the God’s enemies in Psalm 2 who say, “Let us burst [His] bonds apart and cast away [His] cords from us.” Or like God’s sons, who will “take [His] yoke upon us, and learn from [Him].”
Punishment is for God’s enemies. They will be destroyed by it. They will rail against it and resist it. They will not repent, but only raise a clinched fist. They will call to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.” But children receive loving discipline if they will submit to it. Though it may be painful it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness in the end. How willing are you to submit to the discipline of God? Is your desire of comfort and relief greater than your desire to be conformed to the likeness of Christ?
The Lord chastised Judah in Jeremiah’s day. The best and brightest had been carried off to Babylon. Zedekiah was placed on the throne only as a steward. But the people were not content to submit to the God’s discipline. They plotted rebellion. And Jeremiah warned them with a powerful illustration.
This word came to Jeremiah from the Lord. “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck.… Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel… I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes…. But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand.”Jeremiah 27:2-8
If they submit they will live. But if they rebel, they will experience the just punishment of God. What about you? How will you respond when God lays a heavy hand upon you? When he brings discipline because of sin? Will you own up? Will you submit? Will you put your neck under the yoke? Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Jeremiah 27 and consider what it means to submit to the Lord’s discipline.