When Jesus shows mercy
Luke 18: Jesus! Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!
On the outskirts of Jericho a poor blind man spends his day listening for the sound of footsteps that he might beg for some loose change from some passing person. On this day, though, voices raised in excitement are drawing near and he begins shouting out the question, “What’s going on?” Finally, someone responds, “Its Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle worker. He and his disciples are coming this way.” The blind man begins shouting at the top of his voice, “Jesus! Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Several tell him to be quiet and the sound of the crowd nearly drowns him out anyway. He shouts all the louder, “Have mercy on me!” Then, a calm, authoritative voice is heard. Jesus is right there in front of him. “What do you want from me?” he asks. The blind man answers, “Master, I want to see again.” “Okay, do it,” Jesus replies. Light, color, and movement flood in as sight is restored. As I read this story, I’m the blind man. Life is empty, desperate, and hopeless. Then, Jesus passes by. In my own words, I shout out “Have mercy on me!” And he does. Thank you, Lord, for your light giving mercy in my life.
Take Away: Its mercy we need and its mercy we receive from the Lord.
Matthew 27: Many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised.
Like any normal person, I don’t enjoy reading about the crucifixion. I understand that it’s the finest display of God’s love possible and that my hope of salvation is right here in this event. Still knowing it is all real causes me to read quickly. I don’t want to linger here. Matthew states a detail that the other writers leave out. I haven’t thought much about this “resurrection” because, as I say, I’m generally hurrying on to Easter morning. However, Matthew says that as Jesus breathes his last that there’s an earthquake that opens some sealed tombs. Godly people buried there come forth, alive! Apparently, these are not the long dead, but, like Lazarus, are people laid to rest more recently. Residents of Jerusalem know them and respect them as people of God. Matthew tells us that this “mini-resurrection” can be confirmed by many who saw them. With that, the story hurries on to the burial of our Lord and then, hallelujah, to the empty tomb. We don’t know who these saints are, what they do and say, or what becomes of them. I know I’ve probably seen too much special effect filled TV but I can’t help but imagine a spiritual tsunami being triggered by Christ’s death on the cross. In my mind’s eye I see a shock wave emanating from the cross that’s so powerful that when it reaches graves of recent dead believers that they’re brought back to life. After all, the cross is all about death and life. A “spill over,” if you please, of the cross is this “back to life” event reported only by Matthew.
Take Away: Christ’s death on the cross was powerful in ways we can hardly grasp.
Them bones, them bones, them dry bones
Ezekiel 37: Dry bones, listen to the message of God.
Ezekiel speaks to people who think they’ve gone too far and have said “no” to God and just plain messed up once too often. They think they’re like dinosaur bones some archeologist might dig up in the desert someday: interesting, but dry and lifeless. The truth is that they’re right. They’ve been written off because of their rejection of God. To picture themselves as “dry bones” is not an overreaction. Rather, it’s a valid realization. Their only hope is the only hope they’ve ever had: they must turn back to God. In his vision Ezekiel is asked, “Can these bones live?” His answer is right on: “Lord, you know.” The restoration of Israel is up to the Lord. They’re on the verge of being written off of the pages of history. The only possibility of their not becoming dry fossils is to respond to the mercy of God and depend on him to breathe life back into them. All of that is true of my life too. It’s only when I accept two facts that I have hope. Fact one: my sins have made me spiritually into a pile of dry bones. Fact two: my only hope is in God’s mercy and forgiveness. The only route out of this mess is for me to accept the title, “dry bones” and then listen to God’s message. That alone can change my dry bones situation.
Take Away: Our only hope is in the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord.
Good news for people who need a Second Chance
Ezekiel 33: None of his sins will be kept on the books.
Since Ezekiel’s mission throughout most of his ministry is to warn people of pending destruction, and since he is about as rough and tumble a guy as you’ll ever meet, his messages are generally not especially uplifting. He’s like a doctor with a poor bedside manner: he isn’t especially interested in dressing things up but for the good of his patient he tells it like it is. Still, as I journey through the book of Ezekiel, I find plenty of sunshine along with his gruffness. At one point he tells people that they can’t rely on past goodness to cover current sin. If even the most pious person turns from God’s ways to sin he or she will be judged not for their past, but their current life. However, there’s good news in flip side of that situation. If a person who’s living a sinful life hears Ezekiel’s hard message and decides to pay attention and straighten up there’s a real possibility of life. God will gladly give that individual a second chance. Now that’s a message for any day. The Lord loves it when sinners turn to him. He doesn’t hold our past against us and is more than willing to forgive sins and transform lives. That’s good news for every one of us who has made bad choices and wishes life had a rewind button. We can’t go back but by God’s grace we can go forward. If a person turns to God, Ezekiel tells us, “He’ll live.”
Take Away: We can’t go back but by the grace of the Lord we can go forward.
Letting it go…gaining it all
Jeremiah 38: I’m telling you this for your own good.
Zedekiah’s a pitiful failure. When it comes to Jeremiah, he keeps him locked up, but can’t resist talking to him; he hates what he says, but can’t stop listening. Once again the prophet’s being held in the courtyard, and, as things continue to deteriorate, Zedekiah arranges a secret meeting with Jeremiah. However, he’s just wasting his time. At first Jeremiah refuses to answer because he knows Zedekiah won’t like what he says and will once again refuse to listen to him anyway. When Zedekiah insists, Jeremiah simply tells him what he’s told him before: the city will fall and only those who surrender to the invading army will be spared. Jeremiah is offering Zedekiah the way to life, but he knows Zedekiah will reject it once again. In the New Testament we find the story of a wealthy young man who comes to Jesus asking the way to life. When Jesus tells him that the “way” is for him to give up everything and become one of his followers the young man sadly turns and walks away. In the passage before me today I find Zedekiah, like the rich young ruler, rejecting the only hope there is. How pitiful to be so close and yet so far. Jeremiah offers Zedekiah hope and Jesus offers the rich young ruler “life.” Both decide to reject what’s offered in favor of position and wealth and power. When Jesus, himself, is faced with the same choice he willingly gives up everything and surrenders to his enemies. This leads to the ordeal of the cross, but it also leads to the resurrection. So, what are you holding on to that must be released for you to have life? Today, both Zedekiah and the rich young ruler alike would tell you it is better to let it go because holding on costs too much.
Take Away: Whatever it is that keeps us from the Lord isn’t worth it.
Death sentence reprieve
Jeremiah 31: I’ll wipe the slate clean for each of them. I’ll forget that they ever sinned.
A few years ago I developed an itching rash on the lower right side of my back. I had some other stuff going on so when I went to the doctor I asked him about it. He took one look at it and said, “You’ve got shingles.” I thought, “Shingles? Old people get that!” Honestly, at the time, I didn’t worry too much about it. I could handle the itching. However, I had no idea of the journey I was about to take. The itching gave way to sleepless nights of burning pain. For days I was homebound, unable to get dressed. Now, at the beginning, I knew something was wrong but I thought it was going to be a minor inconvenience. Only in the mid-term of the illness did I grasp just how bad things were. I’ve seriously wondered if Job was given a full body version of shingles. When the Lord tells me I’m a sinner my reaction is something like what I had at the doctor’s office. It’s too bad; I’ll have to try harder to clean up my act. What I don’t realize is that I’ve just been given a death sentence. This isn’t just bad news; it’s the worst news possible. It’s only in this light that statements like the one I’m reading from Jeremiah carry the force they’re supposed to. Otherwise, we have God just helping us along in doing what we can pretty much handle for ourselves. When I realize that being a sinner is to be broken beyond repair; to be, for all intents and purposes dead already; and when I realize that God, in his mercy is willing to “wipe the slate clean” and to “forget” it all…well, it’s then that I begin to grasp the meaning of grace.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for his grace – without it, there’s no hope whatsoever.
Life after death – what a concept!
Isaiah 53: Life, life, and more life.
Isaiah prophetically sees the Suffering Servant, the man born to die for the sins of the world. He also sees, maybe not with total clarity, life after death for the Messiah. From our common point of view following death there’s deterioration. Even as Isaiah describes the terrible destruction of the Suffering Servant, he finds himself talking about abundant life. Our understanding of what happened at, and after, Calvary isn’t superior to Isaiah’s but we do have a clearer knowledge of those events. Jesus goes to the cross and there suffers and dies for the sins of the human race. His lifeless body is then placed in a tomb. Then, early on Sunday morning, the after-death process is abruptly halted. Rather than deterioration, life, new life, springs forth. Resurrection! That’s reason enough for Isaiah to conclude his mourning over the death of the Messiah with a surprising “life oriented” twist. However, there’s even more. As the suffering and death of Jesus is for us, so is his resurrection. We have hope of spiritual and physical life beyond this world because of what happens at that tomb. At one point Jesus says that he came that we might have abundant life. That promise is made sure the first Easter morning. Isaiah’s vision of “life, life, and more life” not only tells the story of the Suffering Servant, it’s our story too.
Take Away: As the suffering and death of Jesus is for us, so is his resurrection.
Such Good News!
Isaiah 42: I am God. I have called you to live right and well.
As Isaiah celebrates the ministry of the Messiah it seems that God, Himself, steps onto center stage. He, too, comes to rejoice in the promise of a “new salvation work.” This Salvation-Bringer is coming, not because people have earned it but because the Lord has “taken responsibility” for them and is going to act in their behalf. The result of that ministry will be that God’s people will “live right and well.” Today, I’m reminded that Jesus didn’t come to the world to condemn us for living poorly; instead, he came to enable us to live well in the sight of God. Jesus put it this way: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
Take Away: Jesus came to enable us to live well in the sight of the Lord.
Twigs and forests
Isaiah 11: The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him.
The flow from current events to spiritual events of the future makes some passages hard to read. Isaiah has declared that the army of their enemy, Assyria, was used of God to purge his people, but went too far. He pictures Assyria as a great forest filled with huge trees. However, for all its majesty, that forest will be leveled because of the anger of God. Then, with no real segue Isaiah continues with his “forest” illustration, proclaiming that out of the remains of Judah just one small twig will spring up. Compared to the great “forest” that is Assyria, this green twig might seem insignificant. That “twig,” though, will be overshadowed by the Spirit of God. It will grow to such a size that all the forests of the world will seem small in comparison and that “twig” will reach out in wisdom, understanding, direction, strength, and knowledge. I don’t know what Isaiah or his contemporaries thought of the unexpected direction of this prophecy, but to a Christian reader it makes perfect sense. The army of Assyria is long gone, only of interest to historians and archeologists. However, that “twig” — the one who sprang up as a helpless baby in Bethlehem so long ago — well, his Kingdom continues to flourish to this very day.
Take Away: “And he shall reign for ever and ever more. Hallelujah!”
When all is said and done…
Ecclesiastes 12: Fear God. Do what he tells you. And that’s it.
The book of Ecclesiastes is about a wise man’s search for meaning. That search takes on a pessimistic flavor as he tries one thing and then another, concluding that it’s all just “smoke” that quickly vanishes. As he nears his conclusion he says that life passes quickly as the body begins to wear out. In other words, life, in general, is just so much smoke. Obviously, this book is not a Gospel. It doesn’t conclude with a resurrection and words of hope. Instead, it simply winds down with the big questions left pretty much unanswered. Well, kind of. When Solomon has considered everything from constructing impressive buildings to collecting words of wisdom, from living a pleasure-focused life to making the most of one’s youth he concludes that it’s all smoke. Basically he says that everything that people think brings meaning to life can be dismissed as failing to live up to expectations. Now, in his final words, he concludes that meaning must come from outside of all that. The book of Genesis starts with “In the beginning, God….” This book of Ecclesiastes concludes with “In the end, God….” Meaning to life only comes through the Creator of life. Really, Solomon has done the best he can do at this point in history. There’s more, in fact a whole lot more, but we have to turn ahead in time to those Gospels I mentioned for that part of the story.
Take Away: Meaning to life only comes through the Creator of life.