The way to forgiveness
Matthew 12: If Satan banishes Satan is there any Satan left?
It’s really about the Sabbath. The religious leaders have taken “Remember the Sabbath day” and turned it into a heavy burden laid on the backs of the people. Even picking a piece of fruit to eat is considered to be a transgression. Jesus responds with examples from their own law and history proving that they’re wrong. He goes on healing people, even on the Sabbath. When a demon-afflicted woman is set free the critics of Jesus sputter that he must be in cahoots with the devil. Our Lord responds that if they say that about him what do they say about their own exorcists? Beyond that, it’s a silly contention anyway. If Satan casts out Satan there wouldn’t be anything of Satan left. He then deals with the opposite side of the same coin. If the Holy Spirit is the One who forgives sins and we cast the Holy Spirit out of lives, how can we ever expect to be forgiven our sins? Its serious business isn’t it. We’re sinners in need of forgiveness. There’s one who forgives. Throw him out and we’re left without hope. Stated differently, there’s one road to forgiveness, if I refuse to travel that road, there’s no way I can ever arrive at forgiveness. The way to God is abundant and grace-filled, offering hope to the worst sinner. Still, it’s the only way. I can take it or leave it, but if I leave it, I’m left with nothing.
Take Away: We have, in Christ, hope abundant, but aside from Christ we have no hope at all.
The banquet table of God’s grace
Matthew 8: This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions.
In these early days of our Lord’s public ministry his popularity and reputation soars. He’s not only preaching the greatest message ever heard but he’s also performing miracle after miracle. His name’s on everyone’s lips. In Capernaum a Roman officer comes to ask Jesus to help his servant. This man, a conqueror, impresses us with his humility and his love for his slave. Even more impressive, though, is his faith. When Jesus offers to accompany the Roman to see his slave the Roman suggests that Jesus just give the command, then and there. Jesus is surprised at such a depth of faith from an “outsider.” Later in this same chapter he’ll chastise his Jewish disciples for being afraid in a storm; after all they’re supposed to know more about how God works. This officer, though, surprises Jesus with his simple trust. Not only does Jesus do a “long distance” act of healing, he also comments that this Roman soldier is among the first of what will be a flood of “outsiders” who’ll place their faith in him and be counted among heroes of the faith like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I love this story because it’s about me. You see, that Roman captain might have been one of the first, but I’m one of those who followed his lead. Jesus predicted this and now I’m one of the outsiders who have made their way to that “banquet table of grace.”
Take Away: How blessed to be invited to the banquet table of God’s grace.
Yes, that’s good enough for me!
Micah 7: You’ll sink our sins to the bottom of the ocean.
“Gone, gone, gone, gone, yes my sins are gone…buried in the deepest sea, yes, that’s good enough for me.” You have to have been around the church awhile to recognize the words to the children’s chorus I sang back in the “good old days.” At the time, if I thought about such things at all, I got the message of the song: when God forgives my sins, they are “gone, gone, gone.” However, the mercy being described here isn’t childlike at all. Micah talks to adults who are committing adult-level sins. The result of those sins will be not a slap on the wrist, but national destruction with pain and death everywhere. It doesn’t have to be that way. Micah tells his people that mercy is a specialty of God and that the Lord much prefers granting mercy and forgetting sins to destroying those who live in rebellion against him. Micah assures his listeners that the Lord anxiously waits to forgive and forget; to show mercy and compassion on them. I sang the chorus as a child but as an adult I realize what an amazing offer it is. There’s hope for a new start with God in this passage: “praise God, my sins are gone!”
Take Away: Mercy is a specialty of the Lord.
Sitting on the front row
Micah 7: I’m sticking around to see what God will do.
Micah says things are going downhill fast. He’s learned that he can’t trust his neighbor and that “neighborhoods and families are falling to pieces.” Clearly his day is a treacherous, difficult one. In the face of such perilous times Micah might be tempted to run for the hills or at least withdraw from society. As anyone knows, Micah isn’t the only one who has faced difficult days. Through the centuries godly men and women have gone through unbelievable hardship. Often that hardship has been on a national or even worldwide scale. At other times the hardship is close to home: a family or even personal struggle that fills our days with exhausting darkness. In this passage, Micah is no “Pollyanna” who insists everything’s always “just fine.” However, he is a man of faith. As tempting as it might be to run and get away from all the wrong and uncertainty he sees, Micah declares he’s staying put. Why? It’s because he wants a front row seat to God’s redemption! Today, we believers aren’t blind to the problems of life. When things take a downturn we become anxious like everyone else. However, in it all there’s a thread of optimism. We believe God is still God and that he’s working in and through it all. The end result is salvation. We want a front row seat when that happens!
Take Away: The people of the Lord are an optimistic people – and, for good reason!
My favorite salvation story
Micah 6: Keep all God’s salvation stories fresh and present.
God has been good to them, delivering them from oppression and out of the hand of their enemies. Through the years, though, they’ve let those deliverance stories get dusty and worn. Micah wants them to keep those stories of salvation in the forefront of their thinking; to remember that God has never done them wrong, and, instead, has blessed them again and again. He wants them to clean the dust off and take a fresh look at those stories of deliverance. I need this. I’ve been a Christian a long time and, honestly, my story isn’t an especially thrilling one. Still, I need to be thrilled with it. What the Lord did for me and in me ought to be my favorite story of God’s grace. Micah says I need to revisit it often and keep it fresh in my mind and heart. If I forget where I came from I might never make it to where I’m going.
Take Away: What God did for me and in me ought to be my favorite story of his grace.
Jonah 4: Why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh?
Let’s see: one shade tree killed by a worm verses 120,000 poor ignorant people repenting and being saved from destruction. Which should receive the greatest response? It’s a no-brainer, right? Not for Jonah. He retreats a safe distance from Nineveh to watch the fireworks of its destruction. When the Lord provides a miraculous shade plant for him it calms him down and he feels good about things for the first time in days. Then, overnight, the plant’s dead and Jonah’s mood dies with it. At this point the Lord decides it’s time for this pitiful man to change his attitude. If the short life cycle of a shade plant can cause Jonah to go through such a mood swing doesn’t it make sense that the Almighty change his thinking about a city full of repentant people? Of course it does. Like Jonah, I tend to get all wound up about stuff that isn’t worth a hill of beans: getting my own way in some unimportant thing, or the World Series, or buying some new gadget. If my team wins, I’m in a good mood and if they don’t…well, I’m not a happy camper. Meanwhile, God is focused on people. He’s already judged sin, and he very much wants people to let him change their lives so he can change their eternity. I really need to get on the same page as God.
Take Away: The Lord is focused on people.
First steps of a long journey
Daniel 2: Your God is beyond question the God of all gods, the Master of all kings.
So, with Nebuchadnezzar now convinced that the Lord is God and Master of all, things are going to smooth out for the Hebrews, right? Wrong! Truth be told, Nebuchadnezzar hasn’t a clue. He takes Daniel’s dream interpretation and goes right out to build a statue of himself, based on that dream. He then demands that everyone, including those who worship the Master of all kings, bow down to him instead. I’m telling you he’s clueless! The dream episode impacts Nebuchadnezzar and in that his attitude concerning God Almighty changes. However, his application of this new knowledge is skewed and greatly lacking. In fact, he’s years away from anything close to a humble relationship with his Creator. I’ve seen it in people’s lives. A person prays the sinner’s prayer and receives Christ and then, within two weeks does something so ill advised that I can hardly believe it. At one time I would have concluded that they had “back slid.” However, I’ve come to realize that, while it’s true that some have “looked back” others are still in the process of becoming believers. They aren’t sure what it means to follow Jesus, so they do silly stuff and stumble along, putting their spiritual lives in great jeopardy. Nebuchadnezzar has made a big move in declaring Daniel’s God the God of all gods. However, he’s a long way from what that God of all gods wants to accomplish in his life. In fact, his journey has only begun.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for the crisis moments, but at the same time, recognize that they are but stepping stones in a longer journey.
Looking back and looking forward
Isaiah 64: Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and descend.
Isaiah longs for God to move and bring salvation to his people. He envisions the sky splitting apart as the Lord comes in dramatic, powerful fashion bringing hope to their hopelessness and healing to their brokenness. Hundreds of years later when that coming takes place its earthshaking indeed. The Gospels tell us of that powerful event, especially at the crucifixion and the resurrection of our Lord. However, this passage causes me to look forward as much as it causes me to look back to the first Easter. Even as Isaiah anticipates the coming salvation of the Lord, I anticipate his Second Coming. What an event it will be as Jesus splits the eastern sky and causes the mountains to tremble. “What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see.”
Take Away: Never doubt it – Jesus is coming back.
The battle of the ages
Isaiah 59: So he did it himself, took on the work of Salvation.
The Lord God looks out to the horizon and sees the ugly advance of sin. Before him is a sea of lies and hate and evil and death. He looks to his right and left and sees no one who can raise the standard of righteousness. He comes to a decision. He, himself, puts on armor for battle: Salvation, Judgment, and Passion. There’s no one else who can take on the rising tide of evil; all others are tainted and overrun by this enemy. He, alone, will go into the battle with Righteousness as his strength. Two millennia ago that battle took place, not in the heart of God’s prophet but at a place called Calvary. There, God, the Son, does what no one else can do. On that old rugged cross the battle for righteousness is fought and won. With the fate of humanity in the balance this hero enters the conflict and defeats the enemy once and for all.
Take Away: Jesus fought and won the battle for humanity on the old rugged cross.
All are welcome here
Isaiah 56: My house of worship will be known as a house of prayer for all people.
Previously, when I’ve read this passage, I focused on the “prayer side” of this message: that God’s house is to be a house of prayer and God’s people are to be a people of prayer. That theme is very much present in this passage, but it really isn’t the heart of its message. The core of this portion of Isaiah’s prophecy is the “all people” statement. God’s salvation, we’re told, isn’t just for the Jewish “insiders” but for the Gentile “outsiders” as well. Those with physical limitations whose worship experience is limited by the laws of Deuteronomy are not to be treated as second class worshipers. In fact, God promises that those who fall in the “outside” category yet are faithful to the Lord will be given an honored place, even more honored than that of the insiders. Everyone is invited to come to the “house of prayer for all people.” My response to this passage today is on two levels. First, I thank God for it because I’m one of the outsiders who have been granted access to the Lord. I wasn’t born to the right family but I’ve been adopted in. Second, I want to conduct my life with a strong realization that God welcomes people who aren’t like me. As one who’s been graciously granted access, I gladly join the “welcoming committee” that invites other outsiders in. Also, while I won’t take time to develop it here, the literal meaning of this passage reminds me that there are those who need special accommodation to fully participate in the activities at the house of worship. I want the church I attend to be as assessable as possible for those who have special needs and as welcoming as possible to people from all walks of life.
Take Away: The Lord welcomes me but he also welcomes people who aren’t like me.