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Posts Tagged ‘mercy’

 

 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” ~John 3:1-2

We.  Nicodemus speaks in plural.  This religious leader is not just speaking for himself.  He says, “…we know…”  It is very likely he is speaking on behalf of himself and several, if not many, religious leaders of his day.  The Pharisees.  They knew.  They knew, at the very least, that Jesus was from God – yet – they still hated him.  They still sought ways to discredit and undermine him.  They still publicly challenged and slandered him.

This is amazing!  Jealousy makes power-hungry religious men do terrible things even though they know better.

Jesus takes Nicodemus immediately to the reason and the solution for why he doesn’t know him for who he actually is.  Jesus is not just from God – he is God.  The reason Nicodemus doesn’t know that is because he has not been regenerated by the power of God.  He is a just another guy who is interested in religion.  He lacks spiritual insight and wisdom precisely because he has not come to know Christ truly yet.  He knows all about religion.  He fails to know God.  This is tragic.

What does Jesus do?

He wastes no time explaining who he is or setting Nicodemus straight about his identity.  Jesus gives him the solution.  “You must be born again.”  He proceeds to preach the gospel to Nicodemus adding that it is quite peculiar that he is in a position and in fact is a teacher of God’s people and yet has no understanding of the things of God. (verse 10)

Nicodemus is bewildered.  He is confused.  He is astonished at what Jesus tells him saying, “How can these things be?” (verse 9)

After Jesus makes the point that a teacher of God’s people ought to know these things, he reveals the real issue in Nicodemus’s life.

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”~ John 3:11-12

You don’t believe me, Nicodemus.  I have repeatedly told you and showed you the truth in simple, lisping lessons but you simply do not believe it.  If you don’t believe me about things on earth – things you can see – how will you believe about things in heaven – things you have not seen?!  He gives Nicodemus the gospel as well as the reason men just like Nicodemus do not believe it.

We tend to forget that this whole John 3:16 business is in the context of Jesus talking to one of the most religious men of his day.  Think about that.  Consider the implications of that truth.

So what does Jesus say to this very religious teacher guy?  Grace is here – but, as Jesus has already told this man, it is for those who believe.  You do not believe.  Light is here.  The problem is not that you do not have enough light.  You love darkness.  That is the problem.  And why do you love darkness?  Because you’re hiding.  You are afraid that your wrong deeds will be exposed.  You care more about how you look on the outside than you do about whether you are in God’s favor.  You would rather hide behind religion than come into the light and be made clean.

The main idea here is that Jesus is not the one hiding.  God is waiting and willing no matter how or when we come to inquire of him.  We are always the ones who hide from God.  Nicodemus comes at night because he is hiding.  Likely he fears his religious friends seeing him talk to Jesus – because God forbid one of them get to know Jesus rightly and for who he truly is.  They were much more content to make him who they needed him to be in order to keep their sin hidden and their people – their followers – deceived about who they really were.

Jesus is not the one hiding.  The religious men are hiding.  When asked indirectly who he really is, Jesus pulls no punches.  He tells the inquirer the solution and the problem for why he does not know the answer to his own question.  Jesus does not have to say, “I am God” because it is extremely clear that Nicodemus has already repeatedly refused to believe the truths that would lead to that conclusion.  Instead, Jesus mercifully gives him the solution.

Here’s your problem, Nicodemus.  Here’s what needs to happen in your own life, Nicodemus.  There’s grace, Nicodemus.  Believe and be saved, Nicodemus.  If you do not believe, you are already condemned despite all your religious work and knowledge, Nicodemus.

Have you ever had someone try to be your friend secretly?  Or treat you differently when others were around vs. when they were not around?  Religious people are infamous for this kind of behavior because they not only fail to recognize and believe who God is, they fail to know who they themselves are.  Therefore, they are not genuine in their dealings.  Jesus shows us how to deal with this kind of pretense.  Say this:

Here’s your problem, religious man.  Here’s what needs to happen in your own life, religious man.  There’s grace, religious man.  Believe and be saved, religious man.  If you do not believe, you are already condemned despite all your religious work and knowledge, religious man.

Jesus deals with pretense, fear, a religious spirit, and sin all in one blow.  He tells this spiritually impoverished soul the truth of the gospel and the solution to his sin problem.  He makes sure that guy knows exactly what is required of him and shows him that he has not yet been willing to do it.

God’s grace is waiting.  He wants people to come to the light.  We must believe, confess our sin in the light, and repent of our hiding it in the darkness.  God is faithful to meet us there and do a great work in our lives.  He will change us from religious pretenders – people who have (as the Bible says) a form of godliness but deny its power – and false friends to real sons and daughters; brothers and sisters of his very own.

Come to Jesus.  Confess your sin to him.  Ask forgiveness.  Allow his Holy Spirit to do his work in you and you will be a new creation.  You will be born again.  Amen.

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running

Most of us know the story of Jonah and the big fish.  Jonah was sent to a wicked city called Nineveh and he did not want to go.  He got scared.  He got mad.  He was not willing.  He was like, “Anywhere but there, God.  Anyone but them.”  These were not people Jonah was at all interested in helping or teaching.  They were not nice people.  They were the worst of the worst.

So, Jonah runs away.  He gets on a boat going the opposite direction from where God called him.  He causes a big storm to come upon all those who were around him because of his rebellion.  He gets thrown overboard and God’s mercy catches him in the mouth of a whale.  Rather than letting Jonah drown in the ocean, God saves him, dusts him off, and sends him right back to the place he was running away from.  Jonah ends up in Nineveh preaching. Jonah grudgingly goes out of sheer obligation.  He is hoping the people he so dislikes do not repent.  But they do.  Jonah is not happy.  “Those people do not deserve grace!” is what he is thinking.  We know it by his words in Jonah 4:1-2

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”

Jonah’s argument is that these people don’t deserve mercy or grace.  God’s argument is that neither does he.  God cares about sinners!  And it is his business whom he chooses to save, not Jonah’s or mine or yours!

Nineveh repents.  They listen to the prophet.  And some generations live in grace and mercy.  But they repent of their repentance eventually.  100-150 years after Jonah was sent and they repented, another prophet speaks a word of judgement against Nineveh.

Nahum the prophet was not sent to Nineveh, just to speak a prophetic word of judgement and coming destruction.  Nineveh had again become corrupt and very wicked and evil.  Nahum describes them this way:

Woe to the bloody city,
    all full of lies and plunder—
    no end to the prey!
The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel,
    galloping horse and bounding chariot!
Horsemen charging,
    flashing sword and glittering spear,
hosts of slain,
    heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
    they stumble over the bodies!
And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
    graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
    and peoples with her charms.

Behold, I am against you,
    declares the Lord of hosts,
    and will lift up your skirts over your face;
and I will make nations look at your nakedness
    and kingdoms at your shame.
I will throw filth at you
    and treat you with contempt
    and make you a spectacle.
And all who look at you will shrink from you and say,
“Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?”
    Where shall I seek comforters for you? ~Nahum 3:1-7

Matthew Henry says this of them: “Nineveh had with her cruelties been a terror and a destruction to others, and therefore destruction and terror shall be brought upon her.  Those that are for overthrowing all that come in their way will, sooner or later, meet with their match…Note, Those that showed no pity in the day of their power can expect to find no pity in the day of their fall…Nineveh had been told that God is against her, and then none can be for her, to stand her in any stead; yet she sets God himself at defiance, and his power and justice, and says, I shall have peace.”

This was a fortified city.  It was a strong city full of strong men.  Their walls and gates and strongholds were secure.  But God says he will break them down in an instant.  (Nahum 3:12-15)

Interestingly, Nahum begins his prophecy of destruction by saying the same words Jonah said in his protest after the people of Nineveh repented at his preaching.

“The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
    and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,” 
    and the clouds are the dust of his feet. ~Nahum 1:3

Nahum reminds them how slow God has been anger.  He reminds them of God’s patience and their longstanding rebellion.  Nevertheless, Nineveh falls.  Forty years later, Judah – God’s people – falls at the hands of the same enemy – Babylon.

All of this teaches us that we have absolutely no room to exclude people from the gospel.  We have no place to tell God who we will and won’t disciple and preach the gospel to.  That is God’s business and if he sets a person within our sphere of influence, that is our job.  Being deserving is not the prerequisite.  No, they do not deserve mercy.  No, we do not deserve mercy.  We all deserve judgment and only God determines who, when, and how he will judge the living.  Our job is to share the truth and love them until that day comes.  Amen.

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perfection

God has just sent his people into a brand new wilderness.  He has told them two very important instructions: to remember his extreme grace and mercy toward them, and to obey Him.  He has promised that if they would but listen to Him, that he is ready and waiting to make them a kingdom of priests; a holy nation; his very own treasured possession.  Talk about making a deal they can’t refuse!  Of course, they agreed.

The next step in this “process of becoming” as we will call it, it for the prophet to instruct the people on how to prepare themselves for the coming of God Himself.

 And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, 10 the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11 and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot;[a] whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” 14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. 15 And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.” ~Exodus 19:9-15

God said that these people were to be consecrated.  The way in which God instructs this to be accomplished is that they:

1. Wash their garments.  Matthew Henry notes, “When we are to attend upon God in solemn ordinances it concerns us to sanctify ourselves, and to get ready beforehand.  Wandering thoughts must be gathered in, impure affections abandoned, disquieting passions suppressed, nay, and all cares about secular business, for the present, dismissed and laid by, that our hearts may be engaged to approach unto God…It becomes us to appear in clean clothes when we wait upon great men; so clean hearts are required in our attendance on the great God, who sees them as plainly as men see our clothes.  This is absolutely necessary to our acceptably worshiping God.”

2. Have established limits set.  They must be told with an extreme amount of clarity that these are the lines we do not cross lest we receive the severest of consequences.  No compromises will be made past these lines.  No blind eyes will be turned when any person – even any animal!!!- crosses.  No grace whatsoever will be given if there is injustice done to these unbreakable rules.  The message God was conveying here through the work of his prophet’s line drawing?  YOU DO NOT PRESUME UPON GOD’S MERCY – EVER. You want stoned?  Shot?  If you cross these lines that’s exactly what is going to happen.  Try me.

3.  Do not go near a woman.  This was a matter of purity of mind and heart.  Henry says, “In token of their devoting themselves entirely to religious exercises, upon this occasion, they must abstain even from lawful enjoyments during these three days, and not come at their wives.”

This was how they were to prepare for the coming of God.  These were the things necessary to truly “be ready” to meet him.  Here, before the law was given, God came down on the third day.  In the future, before grace was given, God was raised on the third day.  In the former, God came down to tell us what he expects of us – absolute perfection.  In the latter, God is raised up to tell us what we can expect from Him – unmitigated grace.

You simply cannot get the magnitude of that without falling down to worship Him.  WOW!!!  There are no words to aptly describe what a beautiful God we serve!

Hey world!!!  Look at HIM!!!  How awesome!  How amazing!  How merciful!  How good and great and strong and wise!  That’s MY Dad!!!

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family1

After Moses delegated responsibilities to the chosen men around him, the whole company of Israel came to a new part of the wilderness.  Just 50 days (think Pentecost) after their deliverance, God moves them from one wilderness (Sin, found on the west side of the Sinai peninsula) to another (Sinai, found on the east side of the Sinai peninsula).  Lives lived in God are lives lived one wilderness after another.  Ask John Bunyan.

Now, they had overcome enslavement (Exodus 12).  They had overcome thirst in the desert (Exodus 15:22-24).  They had overcome hunger (Exodus 16).  They had overcome fatigue by working together (Exodus 17:12).  They had overcome in battle against their enemies (Exodus 17:13).  They had overcome a poor model of leadership (Exodus 18).

They had fought with God and rebelled throughout all of those victories which were given solely by the gracious mercy of God alone.  God was faithful to these most unfaithful people.  God was acting, moving, and working mightily on behalf of his people.  Matthew Henry puts it this way, “Now observe, that the maker, the first mover, of the covenant, is God himself.  Nothing was said nor done by this stupid unthinking people themselves towards this settlement; no motion made, not petition put up for God’s favor, but this blessed charter was granted ex mero motu – purely out of God’s own good-will.  Note, in all our dealings with God, free grace anticipates us with the blessings of goodness, and all our comfort is owing, not to our knowing God, but rather to our being known of him.”

So.  They’re ready to live in the shade with their umbrella drinks, right?

Wrong.  Time to camp out in…the castle?…Beach house?…Vacation spot?….No.  Time to camp out in a brand new wilderness.  The new wilderness comes complete with instructions in preparation for the instructions.  Apparently the instructions that were being given in preparation for the instructions about to be given were both profoundly important.

So what were God’s plans for this perpetually proud and imperfect people of His?

Priesthood.

Priesthood!!! What?!  Hey, guys.  I know you don’t like to listen and you’ve grumbled and disobeyed me the whole way here but you’re all gonna be my priests.  Either God isn’t as smart as he’s made out to be or He loves us in ways we cannot even fathom.

All of them, from the least to the greatest were to become a kingdom of highly honored, holy hallelujah nation of card-carrying tangible treasures for none other than the Almighty Father of all the world.

The way that this was about to happen was by:

1. Remembering the amazing love, protections, deliverance, and providence God had shown to them, (Exodus 19:4)

and,

2. Obedience to Him (Exodus 19:5)

These are the profoundly important instructions which precede the profoundly important instructions, commonly known as the Ten Commandments.

Remember God’s un-stinking-believable grace.  Obey Him.

Henry says this: “Obey my voice.  This He is said to protest earnestly to them.  Only obey in deed, not in profession and promise only, not in pretense, but in sincerity.  God had shown them real favors, and therefore required real obedience.  He assures them of the honor he would put upon them, and the kindness he would show them, in case they did thus keep his covenant.  Then you shall be a peculiar treasure to me…he expresses it in that which was inclusive of all happiness, that he would be to them a God in covenant, and they should be to him a people.”

Plain and simple.  Do this and you will be my priests; my treasure; my glory; the apples of my very eye.

What grace!!!  Do you even know who these people are?  How they’ve sinned?  The faith they’ve lacked?  The complaining they’ve done?  The pain they’ve caused God’s prophet?  The miserable, many, misguided mistake-makers they really are?  These guys were just like us!  Still, God’s words for these particular preferred people is simply this:

“Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” ~Exodus 19:5-6

WOW! WOW! WOW!

“They were brought not only into a state of liberty and honor, but into covenant and communion with God.  This, this was the glory of their deliverance, as it is of ours by Christ, that he died, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” (Henry)

Now that’s a God who redeems.  That’s a God of unmitigated grace.  That’s the God of Redeeming Grace.

So the prophet says those very words to the people and “all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.  And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that he people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.'” ~Exodus 19:8-9

They listened.  They listened.  Of course we all know it didn’t last too very long but I’d say this is progress for a people ever arguing with God’s providence.

God is getting ready to do something absolutely incredible.  Buckle your seat belts, kids. It’s time to watch Daddy drive.

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“1 But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.” 42 And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. 43 And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, 44 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. 46 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.” 47 So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. 48 And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.” -Numbers 16:41-48

Here, God deals with false accusation against his chosen vessels. He does so by telling those who are accused to get away from the accusers so he might destroy them. 

Any right thinking individual would probably have done that by now anyway. Not these guys. Instead, the accused bow down before him and plead for mercy for those who are seeking to malign and discredit them.  When God says, “Get away from the midst of this congregation that I may consume them in a moment,” these guys know God means business. God is more angry than they are about the damage these haters have done. But when God says go, they stay. They fall on their faces and pray. They run into the very assembly that God has just dismissed them from and they make atonement for their accusers. 

What grace! God hears their prayer and stops the just judgement he had already begun to pour out. 

WOW! 

Even when God himself justly excuses us from a desperate situation, love can overcome and mercy can save if we are but willing to humble ourselves, forgive our accusers, and pray for the guilty. 

Don’t run away. Pray. 

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moses

The people of God are complaining.  They are afraid.  They are ungrateful, unbelieving, and anxiety-ridden.  This, after more miracles than most could even imagine.  Still, their enemies are coming.  They are in sight; in pursuit of their very lives.  What does their leader, Moses, do?

He reassures them.  He encourages them.  He tells them not to worry.  He tells them to be quiet and watch because God is about to destroy their enemies once and for all.  Then, he prays.  He prays like he has never prayed before.  In fact, he cries out to God.  So much so that the text tells us that God actually stops him saying,

“Why do you cry to me?  Tell the people of Israel to go forward.  Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen.  And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” ~Exodus 14:15-18

God wasn’t mad at Moses for his earnest prayers, rather, he was giving direction to his chosen leader and answering those prayers.  Prayer time is over, son.  Your requests have been heard and your petitions are granted.  It is time to go to work.

Moses is told to lift up his staff, stretch out his hand, and divide the sea so his people might walk through it.  God’s plan is to deliver his people and harden and destroy their enemies simultaneously.  He also tells Moses the reason:

“I will get glory…the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord…”  

Just after God’s chosen leader is instructed, the angel of God moved from in front of to behind God’s people.  The guiding light that had led them thus far now stood behind to separate and protect them from their enemies.  As light was given to God’s people, darkness fell upon their enemies.  God once again made a great distinction between the two.  What protected one confounded the other.

So, when Moses stretches out the staff, the waters part, and the Israelites march in to the sea on dry ground.  Egypt follows without so much as a reservation.  Matthew Henry notes, ” ‘Why,’ thought they,’ may not we venture where Israel did?’…None so bold as those that are blind.  Rage against Israel made them thus daring and inconsiderate: they had long hardened their own hearts; and now God hardened them to their ruin, and hid from their eyes the things that belonged to the peace and safety…The ruin of sinners is brought on by their own presumption, which hurries them headlong into the pit.  They are self-destroyers.”  

Again, the same staff which delivers Israel destroys Egypt.  On the third watch of the night, the Lord wrought havoc on Egypt.  In an instant, they became keenly aware of their desperate situation, but, it was far too late to renege.  Interestingly, just before they were completely obliterated by the raging sea, they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was God who was fighting against them.  They tried to turn and run but there was no escaping the wrath these proud and malicious people had brought upon themselves at this point.  Game over, rebels.  God wins.  You lose.

Henry observes, “Men will not be convinced, till it is to late, that those who meddle with God’s people meddle to their own hurt…Pharaoh and his servants, who had hardened one another in sin, now fell together, and not one escaped…God reckoned with Pharaoh for all his proud and insolent conduct towards Moses and his ambassador.  Mocking the messengers of the Lord, and playing the fool with them, brings ruin without remedy.”  

Even complaining, fearful, ungrateful, unbelieving, anxiety-ridden people of God are still just that – people of God.  At the very least, there is a remnant among them for which God tenderly serves and saves out of all circumstances.  There is a time to pray and a time to work.  God often uses the same means to exalt one and humble another; harden one and bestow mercy on another; deliver one and destroy another.  By the time the enemies of God’s people realize who God really is, it will be too late.  Running away is always their answer but no one can escape the just judgments of God on those who injure his precious own.

Pray.  Work.  Trust.  Move forward.  Watch and see the salvation of the Lord.

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