Why Mercy Triumphs over Judgment

To know God is the supreme privilege and responsibility of mankind. But what if we fail? Can there be mercy greater than judgment?

Today’s Reading

First Chronicles 28-29; John 11:47-57

Selected Verses

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. 1 Chronicles 28:9

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”  He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. John 11:49-52

Reflections

David, in turning over the kingdom to his son, Solomon, charged him to know and serve God.  This was not merely good advice but an urgent mandate.  Solomon would rule over people, but they were God’s people not his.  His leadership would affect the population and be either a credit or discredit to their God.  The God that Solomon needed to know and serve is One who “searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.”  He cannot be manipulated or fooled.  He knows not only the actions of all people but their hearts and thoughts as well.  To fail in this mandate is to incur eternal judgment.

Caiaphas was high priest of Israel in the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  He stood as the highest authority among the Jews who lived under a Roman governor in that day.  Like Solomon, Caiaphas held an obligation to know and serve God, but he failed to see that the Son of God was among them making the Father known (John 1:18).  So the high priest proposed Jesus’ execution  and unwittingly decreed the offering of the true Passover Lamb who would die for God’s elect people both in Israel and throughout the earth. His words had one meaning to him but another in reality.

Think about it

Solomon did fail to fully serve God and so have we. We all deserve to die. But “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  God gives the promise of eternal life to all who believe in Him.  Praise Him that the promise of mercy triumphs over the warning of judgment because Jesus died in our place (James 2:13).

The God Who Surprises Us

God often surprises us by His decrees and His ways. Read on to find out how God stunned a king and a social outcast with His grace and mercy.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 7-9; Luke 19:1-28

Selected Verses

You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! II Samuel 7:19b

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  Luke 19:9-10

Reflections

David experienced great military success as king of Israel.  He reached the point of being able to rest from the continual battles he had experienced most of his life. His thoughts turned to building a house or temple for the Ark of God.  Nathan, the prophet, initially saw this as a good thing until the Lord revealed another plan for David and his dynasty.

David would not build a house for God, but God would build a house for David–not an earthly house but an eternal throne with an eternal ruler, not a throne over Israel but over all mankind.  From the New Testament, we understand that covenant pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ who has been exalted to the right hand of God the Father and rules forever.  God’s plan for David was far greater than a mere earthly temple.  Is it too much to say that David was stunned by the gracious covenant which God made with him?

Our Lord surprised many of His contemporaries by His welcoming outcast sinners like the tax collector, Zacchaeus.  Jesus Christ came as the fulfillment of the covenants with Abraham and with David, and He came to seek and save lost people both within and without the nation of Israel.

Think about it

What a surprise that a holy God would take on human flesh and live among us not to reject and condemn us but to seek and to save us! God surprises us and the gospel tells us how good He is to all who believe in His Son.  Are you surprised by His love and mercy to you?  Isn’t His grace truly amazing?

Give praise to Him.  As the psalmist wrote: “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103: 10).   That more than surprises me. It blows my mind.

 

Why is God so Good?

Today’s reading

Genesis 42-43; Matthew 13:33-58

Selected verses

He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” Genesis 42:28

And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.”  And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.  Matthew 13:57-58

Reflections

“Why does God allow so much suffering and pain in our lives?”  It’s a question I hear.  And we might more wisely ask, “Why does God allow so much goodness and pleasure?”  Before there can be salvation from our sin, we must recognize that we are guilty and deserve punishment.  Joseph pushed his guilty brothers to show repentance for their sin toward him.  When they did, he showed them mercy by providing the food they needed and returning their money to them.  Joseph literally saved his evil brothers from death at no cost to them.

Jesus graciously came into the world to save sinners.  He warned of coming judgment.  Yet it was in His hometown where He had the most resistance.  Those who had seen Him grow up there were perplexed by the authority and wisdom of His teaching, but, instead of submitting to Him, they took Him to be some kind of upstart. They took offense at Him.  The consequence of this was He did not do many mighty works there.

Paul wrote to the Romans “…do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2: 4).  In God’s plan before there can be forgiveness, salvation, and reconciliation, there must be recognition of personal responsibility for sin leading to repentance.

Think about it

Have you seen the goodness of God toward you or do you get stuck on all the suffering you have experienced?  Joseph’s brothers got it and received salvation. The people of Nazareth didn’t.   Are you more like those repentant brothers or like the resistant Nazarenes? Ask God for a heart changed by Jesus Christ, so that you do not take offense at Him but rather bow before Him in contrite faith.

The Sovereignty of God in Repentance

Today’s reading: 1 Samuel 1:21-4:22

Eli’s sons, though priests, were under the control of Satan, a liar and deceiver.  He blinds the minds of those who will not believe God (2 Corinthians 4:4).  He poses as an angel of light so that his captives do not perceive their true condition (2 Corinthians 11:14).

Pray for those who are in this state, that God, who is sovereign even over Satan,  may grant them faith and repentance.

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

Traveling Prayers

Today’s reading: Numbers 8:1-10:36

The term “traveling mercies”, though quaint, reflects a dependence on God, similar to that which Moses displays here (Numbers 10:35-36).  It (or a similar term) ought to be a regular part of our prayers.

[For more reflections on these passages see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

Selfish or Selfless?

Today’s reading: Genesis 19:30-22:24

Anyone who thinks that people are basically good will find the Bible to show otherwise. The lives portrayed in Scripture are full of conflict. Abraham has tensions with Abimelech. Lot fathers two sons by his conniving daughters. Those sons are the patriarchs of tribes that would be hostile to Israel. There is conflict between Ishmael and Isaac.

What’s the problem?

The heart is the problem. Just as we can see in the lives of Lot’s daughters, merely changing our surroundings does not solve our heart problems, our pride, lust, impatience, and all the rest. We need much more than a fresh start in Zoar, we need new hearts.

What is the solution?

As Abraham said to Isaac, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering…” And He has. God tested Abraham to the limit, but, at the last moment, provided a ram for the offering. God spared Isaac but He did not spare His own Son as an offering, so great was His love for His people and for His own holiness (Romans 8:32). Through the offering of His Son all who believe in Him are given new hearts and reconciled to God.

This is the path to salvation and the solution to the perpetual conflict in human existence.

NOTE: Your thoughtful comments and respectful criticisms are welcome below. Please allow a day or two for approval to see your reply on line.

[For more reflections on today’s passage see the January 7 reading in Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

 

Covering for Sin

Today’s reading: Genesis 9:18-12:9

Now we come to the incident of Noah’s drunkenness and his sons’ reactions to it.  Here is a poignant lesson in our need and our responsibility. We need mercy and covering for our sin.  We are responsible  to show mercy to others and minimize their sin and failures. I find this challenging, but, by God’s grace, I want to be faithful as I have opportunity to apply this truth.

From Noah the lineage is carefully traced from his three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  Following Shem’s descendants we come to one Terah and his son Abram, (later to be called Abraham.).  We learn that God called  Abram with these words:

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3

This is one of the pivotal passages in all the Bible and we will refer to it again in the course of our reading. God called a pagan man and made a covenant with him. The rest of the Old Testament records the unfolding of that covenant.

Meanwhile, look out for the sinner who has fallen drunk and naked in the way. He (or she) needs covering.

NOTE: Your thoughtful comments and respectful criticisms are welcome below. Please allow a day or two for approval to see your reply on line.

[For more reflections on today’s passage see the January 4 reading in Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days]

 

Lethal Sin

Without God’s grace to repent, we are prone to hold on to sin till it kills us.

Today’s reading: Jonah 1-4; Revelation 9

And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”                                                         Jonah 4:8b-9

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.             Revelation 9:20-21

Unbelief, like all kinds of other sin, is hard to let go. Many learn this the hard way.

Jonah was sent the city of Nineveh, a city so evil that God decided to bring judgment on it. But first, He decreed that they should have one last chance to repent. So he chose Jonah to go. We all know the story. Jonah went in another direction, was intercepted by the big fish, and learned that God could stop him anywhere. Then Jonah, like Nineveh, got a second chance to obey God. This time he obeyed, sort of. Jonah proclaimed God’s message to the city. Lo and behold, they repented, God relented and spared them.

Jonah was so angry he wanted to die. He appreciated what God had done for him, sparing him from a watery grave inside a fish. But now, he hated God’s mercy toward Nineveh, that wicked city. He wanted to die, but God mercifully discussed the matter with him. Jonah got yet a third chance to get it right. We are left to wonder if he did.

In Revelation 9, we find God’s judgment upon the earth after the fifth angel’s trumpet. Conditions were such that people were seeking death but for a different reason than Jonah. They sought death because they could not see any escape from the wrath of God. They had no hope. But they could not die, at least, not all of them. Did the survivors repent and call out for mercy, like the Ninevites before them? No! They persisted in their unbelief, their idolatry and demon worship.

Why do some, under severe judgment, repent while others grow more hardened in rebellion against God? The answer is that God grants repentance to some and not to others. It is not a function of the severity of the trial or the eloquence of the preacher (Jonah was a reluctant preacher, at best). The different is the sovereign work of God in the hearts of the hearers or sufferers. Here the Ninevites were wiser and more receptive than the fifth trumpet generation. Observe and learn from these examples: negative and positive. Without grace to repent, sin is lethal.

The Day of Wrath

The day of wrath is coming, and no one will be spared.

Today’s reading: Amos 4-6; Revelation 6

12 “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
because I will do this to you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”

13 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name! Amos 4:12-13

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling 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, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” Revelation 6:15-17

If God poured out His terrible judgment on Israel, how much more will He pour out wrath on the whole earth which has rebelled against Him?

Amos continues to lay out for Israel how they have failed God. Repeatedly, he tells them that they ignored all of God’s judgments. “Yet you did not return to me!” he says. Looking at Israel’s history from a distance, it appears inexplicable. How could they not get the message? But they did not. But then, do we?

So Amos tells them to “prepare to meet [their] God.”

John’s vision reveals the contents of the scroll with the seven seals. One by one they are opened. All are frightening, but the sixth drives all the people great and small who are under the condemnation of the wrath of God and the Lamb to cry out for the mountains and rocks to fall upon them. Anything, they think, is better than to experience the full judgment of God.

Here we have a picture of what is to come. The day of wrath of the One who is on the throne is before us. Will we prepare to meet our God, as Amos urged? There is a way to prepare. Bow before the Lamb who was slain for sinners and repent of your sins. Ask for His mercy and forgiveness. By His grace, you will stand in the day of wrath.

A Cloud to a Kingdom

God, by the work of His Son, changed His elect people from a cloud to a kingdom

Today’s reading: Hosea 5-8; Revelation 1

4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:4-6

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1: 5b-6

Hosea expresses God’s view of His people. He laments their instability. Their unstable love is like a morning cloud or dew. It melts away rapidly. Their sacrifices and burnt offerings were unacceptable for they were not done out of steadfast love nor from a knowledge of God. They went through the motions. What? Did they think God could be fooled? So the Lord, through Hosea, says “What shall I do with you?”

God Himself answered the question. What He did was to send His Son to free us from our sins by His blood. Why? Because He loves us. His love is unchangeable and unstoppable. Not only that, He desired a kingdom for His glory. His purposes are wise and good. Although Israel failed to become what He called them to be, through Jesus Christ, all the nations have been called to be a kingdom and priests to Him. And He is glorified and has dominion for ever and ever.

Unregenerate man attempts to please God with fleeting love and phony sacrifices, but God graciously acts to redeem a people who know God, who are freed from their sins and made a kingdom. A cloud vs. a kingdom, what a contrast! Give praise to God for His love and wisdom.