Our Amazingly Merciful God

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
– Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Chris Ephesians 2:-45 ESV

15 But you, O Lord,
    are a God of compassion and mercy,
slow to get angry
    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. – Psalm 86:15 NLT

19 The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. – Exodus 33:19 NLT

The mercy of God. To adequately understand this remarkable attribute of God, one must also dive into the depths of His goodness. Notice the Exodus passage above. Moses had just made a rather bold request of God: “show me your glorious presence” (Exodus 33:18 NLT). And in response, God said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you” (Exodus 33:19 NLT). The Hebrew word translated as “goodness” is tuwb, and it can refer to “that which is good, or the best of anything” (Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon). God’s goodness and mercy go hand in hand. It was David who wrote of God, describing Him as the Great Shepherd. And David reveled in the inseparable and indispensable nature of God’s goodness and mercy.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. – Psalm 23:6 ESV

According to Thomas Watson, “Mercy is the result and effect of God’s goodness.” Without the inherent goodness of God, mercy would be unavailable to us. But the psalmist displayed his understanding of and appreciation for the goodness of God when he wrote, “You are good and do only good” (Psalm 119:68 NLT). God’s goodness shows up in the form of mercy.

Think back on that somewhat arrogant request Moses made of God. He asked to see God’s glory. In other words, He wanted to see God face to face. He had heard the voice of God, but now he wanted to see Him. But notice what God said to Moses:

“…you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.” – Exodus 33:20-23 NLT

God was going to allow Moses the unique privilege of seeing His glory and goodness, but to do so, God would have to be merciful. The glory of God is so great that one glimpse of His face would have destroyed Moses. Sinful men cannot stand in the presence of a holy God and live to talk about it. .So, when God appeared before Moses that day, He allowed His servant to see His glory and goodness but only by displaying His mercy at the same time.

Moses was undeserving of the privilege of seeing God’s glory. Yes, he was the servant of God, but he was also a man stained by the presence of sin. And he was ignorant of the magnitude of his request. He had no idea what he was asking. But God did. And in His goodness, God showed Moses mercy. In fact, God clearly stated, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose” (Exodus 33:19 NLT). And He explained to Moses just how He would do so. “I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33:22 NLT). God promised to protect a sinful man from the unavoidable outcome of standing in the glorious presence of unblemished, fully righteous holiness.

There was another man who was provided the privilege of seeing God in all His glory. It was the prophet Isaiah who was given a glimpse into the throne room of God. And immediately after that experience, rather than boasting about his good fortune, Isaiah displayed an abject sense of fear.

“It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” – Isaiah 6:5 NLT

The mercy of God is not to be taken lightly. That the all-glorious God would deem to show mercy and kindness to undeserving humanity should blow us away. It should leave us stunned. And yet, far too many of us treat God’s mercy with an attitude of flippancy and over-familiarity. We have somehow convinced ourselves that we deserve God’s mercy. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

It is not the wretchedness of the creature which causes Him to show mercy, for God is not influenced by things outside of Himself as we are. If God were influenced by the abject misery of leprous sinners, He would cleanse and save all of them. But He does not. Why? Simply because it is not His pleasure and purpose so to do. Still less is it the merits of the creatures which causes Him to bestow mercies upon them, for it is a contradiction in terms to speak of meriting “mercy.” – A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God

Mercy is not something we earn. It is not dispensed by God based on the merit or worthiness of the recipient. It is solely the divine prerogative of God to show mercy upon whomever He chooses to do so. Moses did not deserve to see God’s glory. No, he deserved to come under God’s judgment. He was a sinner, condemned, and unclean, just like all the other Israelites.

It reminds me of the lyrics from the old hymn: I Stand Amazed.

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene
And wonder how He could love me
A sinner, condemned, unclean

The mercy of God should leave us in a state of awe and amazement. Which brings to mind the lyrics of another, even more familiar hymn.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see

What makes God’s mercy so amazing is that He displays it in spite of man’s sinfulness. The apostle Paul reminds us that God displayed His love for us by sending His Son to die for us. We didn’t deserve it. We had done nothing to earn it.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

God didn’t have to show mercy, but He did. And what makes this fact so difficult to comprehend and even harder to appreciate is that He did so in the face of mankind’s rebellion against Him. The apostle Paul describes just how bad things were when God made the decision to extend mercy.

“No one is righteous—
    not even one.
No one is truly wise;
    no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
    all have become useless.
No one does good,
    not a single one.”
“Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
    Their tongues are filled with lies.”
“Snake venom drips from their lips.”
   “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“They rush to commit murder.
   Destruction and misery always follow them.
They don’t know where to find peace.”
   “They have no fear of God at all.”  – Romans 3:10-18 NLT

All men deserve to experience God’s righteous wrath, the outpouring of His just judgment for their rejection of Him. Paul goes on to say, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23 NLT). But then he adds that unbelievable addendum. “Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins” (Romans 3:24 NLT).

God showed mercy, and mercy is the withholding of a just condemnation. All have sinned. All have rejected and rebelled against God. And all deserve to experience the wrath of God. But “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 4:4-5 ESV). Paul expanded on this amazing news when he wrote to his young protége, Titus.

…he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. – Titus 3:5 NLT

Our God is amazingly merciful. And His mercies are new every morning. But how easy it is for us to take His mercy for granted or to view His mercy as somehow deserved. But the Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, would have us remember:

God’s mercy is free. To set up merit is to destroy mercy. Nothing can deserve mercy, because we are polluted in our blood; nor force it. We may force God to punish us, but not to love us. I will love them freely.’ Hos 14:4. Every link in the chain of salvation is wrought and interwoven with free grace. Election is free. He has chosen us in him, according to the good pleasure of his will.’ Eph 1:1. Justification is free. Being justified freely by his grace.’ Rom 3:34. Salvation is free. According to his mercy he saved us.’ Titus 3:3. Say not then, I am unworthy; for mercy is free. If God should show mercy to such only as are worthy, he would show none at all.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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God’s Love In Our Hearts

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:1-5 ESV

This passage contains some remarkable truths that, because of their over-familiarity to us, have lost much of their weight or glory. Because we have heard these phrases so often, we have become immune to their significance. But look carefully at what Paul is saying. First, he reminds us that we who believe in Christ have been justified by faith, and the result is that we have been restored to a right relationship with God.  We have peace with God because of what Christ accomplished on the cross on our behalf. Just a few verses later in chapter five of Romans, Paul states, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10 ESV). Paul pronounced the same undeniable truth to the believers in Colossae:

…you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. – Colossians 1:21-22 ESV

But there is more. Because our faith is in Christ, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” For Paul, restoration to a right relationship with God was made all that more significant because Christ’s death also made it possible for us to enter into God’s presence. In fact, Paul told the Ephesian believers that their union with Christ placed them with by His side in heaven.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:5-6 NLT

We enjoy unhindered access into God’s holy presence, right here, right now. And the author of Hebrews challenges us to take advantage of our access by faith into this grace.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. – Hebrews 4:16 NLT

But along with a sense of boldness, our gracious access into God’s presence should cause us to rejoice because we know that, just as Jesus was resurrected and received a new, glorified body, so shall we. And it is that hope that allows us to rejoice in the face of any kind suffering we may have to endure in this life because we know this is not the end. There is more to come. There is a life after this one. And Paul reminds us that, for the believer, even our suffering has a divine purpose behind it: “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.”

And the author of Hebrews uses Jesus as an example of someone who benefited from the suffering He endured in his short, earthly life.

Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.  – Hebrews 5:8-9 NLT

There is little doubt that Jesus suffered. Yet, He remained committed to the cause of His heavenly Father, and obediently fulfilled His divine mission even in the face of opposition, ridicule, physical pain, and a gruesome death. It was His death that made possible our justification by God and our access into the presence of God. And like Jesus, we can experience the amazing truth that suffering can produce endurance, which strengthens our character and focuses our hope on the reality of eternity. Any suffering we have to endure in this life reminds us that the day is coming when “there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever”(Revelation 21:4 NLT). And Paul points out that present troubles fade in the light of future glory.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! – 2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT

This hope that we have is based on a remarkable truth that we sometimes find difficult to grasp and even more difficult to believe: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Everything we have just discussed has been made possible because God has poured out His love, not on us, within us. Think about that. His love is not just some external expression of affection. It cannot be relegated to an outer display of care and concern that shows up in forgiveness or a willingness to overlook our sin.

No, God poured His love into our hearts by placing His Holy Spirit within us. This is a doctrinal truth that contains massive implications. Remember, it was while we were still enslaved to our sin that God sent His Son to die for us. He didn’t love us when we were lovely. He loved us in the midst of our sin-stained degradation. He loved us while we were still His enemies. But He showed that love by placing His Spirit within us. He poured His Spirit into our hearts. And it was that action that provided us with the capacity to respond in love to Him. The Spirit resurrected us from death to life, opening our formerly blind eyes, and placed a new heart within, a heart capable of loving God and others. Paul went out of his way to ensure that his young disciple, Titus, understood this amazing truth.

…he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. – Titus 3:5-6 ESV

And it was God’s act of placing His Spirit within us that made it possible for us to return to Him the love He showed toward us. The capacity to love God is not something we manufacture. It does not come naturally to any human being. In fact, Paul paints a very bleak but realistic picture of man’s incapacity to love God.

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. – Romans 3:10-12 ESV

So, for sinful man to experience justification, peace with God, and access into His presence, he must be filled with the love of God in the form of the Spirit of God. And the apostle John presents us with a powerful explanation of this gift of God’s love works itself out in the life of the believer.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. –1 John 4:16-21 ESV

Notice what John says: “whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” It is God’s love for us, as expressed by His love within us, that perfects us. And because we have God’s love present in us, in the form of His Spirit, we can have confidence in the day of judgment, because “as he is so also are we in this world.” That’s an incredible statement that we must take lightly or treat flippantly. John is not suggesting that we are sinless in this life. He is not saying that we bear the exact image of Jesus. But He is saying that, because of our union with Christ, we have His Spirit within and the capacity to love God and others just as He does. And, as Jesus is now glorified and seated at the right hand of the Father, so are we. Our future glory is guaranteed because of the Spirit’s presence within us.

Paul reminds us that God has “given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:22 ESV). A little later on in the same letter, Paul repeats this promise.

While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:4-5 NLT

God has placed His Spirit within us, and by virtue of that fact, we have the capacity to love God as He has loved us. This ability to love comes from God, not us. And while we do not experience perfectly in this life, the very fact that we can love God is proof to us that we have been adopted by God. We are His children.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. – Romans 8:16-17 NLT


English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Love vs Lust.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. – Matthew 5:27-30 ESV

Notice what Jesus says here. “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” For the average Jew, God’s prohibition against adultery was only referring to the physical act itself. And while God had clearly commanded, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14 ESV), Jesus informs them that God had far more in mind with this law than they perceived. The issue was the heart. In the Old Testament, God accused the people of Israel of spiritual adultery time and time again. And not just when they were actually worshiping other gods. They could be unfaithful and adulterous even in the midst of their worship of Him. Listen to the strong words He had for them:

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

They had a heart problem, and so did the people in Jesus’ audience that day on the hillside. They just didn’t know it. They were stuck on the externals: the outward meaning of the law and their physical adherence to it. As long as they restrained themselves from actually committing the act of adultery, they were good with God, or so they thought. When Jesus refers to lust, He uses the Greek word epithymeō, which meansto set the heart upon.” The word itself was not positive or negative in its meaning. It all depended upon the context. And in the context of another person’s spouse, lust was wrong. It was to strongly seek what had been forbidden by God. So what Jesus is really telling His audience is that it’s all about their purity of heart, not the physical act of adultery itself. In other words, it’s all about the motivation that leads up to the act and that begins in the heart. This was not a new concept. Jesus was not introducing something radical here, but simply reminding His listeners of what the Bible had always said.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. – Proverbs 4:23 NLT

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? – Jeremiah 17:9 NLT

To refrain from committing adultery was not enough. Just because someone has the fortitude to keep themselves from having sex with their best friend’s wife, doesn’t mean they don’t want to or haven’t obsessed about it regularly. That seems to be Jesus’ point here. You can brag all you want to about your commitment to God’s law, and you may impress your friends with your piety, but not God. Because He knows your heart. He knows your every thought. God isn’t just interested in outward compliance to His law, He wants a wholehearted commitment to Him and His will regarding righteous behavior.

And Jesus gives a shockingly graphic prescription for handling the problem of lust.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. – Matthew 5:29 ESV

That sounds a bit drastic doesn’t it? Is Jesus really recommending that we pluck out our eyes to keep from lusting? But wait, He’s not done.

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. – Matthew 5:30 ESV

Would cutting off of your hand keep you from sinning? Probably not. And that is not what Jesus is teaching here. He is clearly using hyperbole, an over-exaggeration in order to drive home a point. So, what is His point? To understand what Jesus is saying, it might help to use a real-life scenario as an illustration. Early on in the reign of King David, we are told that a time came “when kings go out to battle” (2 Samuel 11:1 ESV). It was springtime in Israel, the time of year when warfare took place. But the passage tells us that while Joab and the forces of Israel went to war, “David remained at Jerusalem.” He stayed behind. And then we’re told:

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. – 2 Samuel 11:2 ESV

David had time on his hands. And notice what it says: “he saw”. David “saw” Bathsheba. The Hebrew word is ra’ah, and it means “to behold, enjoy, look upon.” In other words, he lusted. But his lust was wrong, because this woman was not his wife. In fact, the story will reveal that she was the wife of one of David’s soldiers. But notice that, at this point in the story, all David had done was lust. He had looked and enjoyed. But that would prove to be inadequate for David.

So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. – 2 Samuel 11:4 ESV

David “took” Bathsheba. The Hebrew word is laqach, which means “to seize, to take, carry away.” He saw and he took. He used his eyes and his hands. He gazed longingly and wrongly on something that was not his, then he seized it in order to satisfy his own desires. James makes it quite clear what was going on in David’s heart and life at that moment:

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. – James 1:14-15 NLT

David saw with his eyes and took with his hands. His lustful thoughts resulted in sinful actions. But it all began in his heart. D. A. Carson provides us with some helpful insight into what Jesus meant by plucking out our eye and cutting off our hand.

We are to deal drastically with sin. We must not pamper it, flirt with it, enjoy nibbling a little bit of it around the edges. We are to hate it, crush it, dig it out. – D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

Our greatest desire should be to live in conformity to the will of God. And anything that would prevent us from doing so should be seen as expendable. A big part of our problem is our inordinate love affair with the things of this world. We lust after, covet, desire, and long for the things the world offers. We seek satisfaction and significance from the things of this world. In essence, we commit adultery with the world in order to satisfy our lustful desires. We see and we take. But James gives us a second word of warning:

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. – James 4:$ NLT

And James wasn’t done.

Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. – James 4:8-10 NLT

There it is again: Purify your hearts. Adultery is a heart issue. Lust is a heart issue. And impurity of heart is the real problem. That is why Jesus said earlier, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8 ESV). Purity of heart has to do with loving God by giving Him every area of your life. It is to “love the Lord your God will all your heart, all you soul, and all your mind” (Matthew 2:37 NLT). Purity of heart is not outward conformity to rules, but integrity or wholeness of life. It is a wholehearted seeking after God that impacts all of life. If you are seeking after God, it will be hard to seek satisfaction and significance elsewhere. If you are busy lusting after God, you will find it difficult to lust after someone or something else. Purity of heart flows out and influences our hands and our eyes.

Remember what Jesus had to say to the Pharisees regarding their man-made laws and regulations:

“For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.” – Matthew 15:19-20 NLT

External behavior is a byproduct of the inward condition of the heart. Adultery is a result of misplaced lust and desire. When we should be seeking all our satisfaction and significance from God, we end up committing adultery in our hearts, proving unfaithful to Him and turning our affections to something or someone other than Him. For Jesus, adherence to the letter of the law was not the point. It was the condition of the heart. He was coming to do radical heart surgery on the people of God. He was trying to get them to realize that their problem with God was not their inability to keep His laws, but their incapacity to love Him faithfully, which kept them from living for Him obediently. Until their hearts were renewed their affections would remain misplaced. But their capacity to love God rather than lust after everything but God, would only be possible because of God’s love for them. God had sent His Son, Jesus, to die in their place as the payment for their sins. And the apostle Paul reminds us of the true extent of God’s matchless love.

Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:7-8 NLT

Love was to replace lust. But their ability to love as God demanded would only be made possible by God’s love for them as expressed in the death of His Son on the cross. As the apostle John put it, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19 ESV). Jesus was describing life in His Kingdom, a radical new way of living and loving that would not be based on law-keeping, but on the heart-transforming, life-reforming love of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

“You Will Be Safe!”

Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say,

“Blow the trumpet through the land;
    cry aloud and say,
‘Assemble, and let us go
    into the fortified cities!’
Raise a standard toward Zion,
    flee for safety, stay not,
for I bring disaster from the north,
    and great destruction.
A lion has gone up from his thicket,
    a destroyer of nations has set out;
    he has gone out from his place
to make your land a waste;
    your cities will be ruins
    without inhabitant.
For this put on sackcloth,
    lament and wail,
for the fierce anger of the Lord
    has not turned back from us.”

“In that day, declares the Lord, courage shall fail both king and officials. The priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God, surely you have utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you,’ whereas the sword has reached their very life.”

At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem, “A hot wind from the bare heights in the desert toward the daughter of my people, not to winnow or cleanse, a wind too full for this comes for me. Now it is I who speak in judgment upon them.” Jeremiah 4:5-12 ESV

Back in chapter one, God gave Jeremiah a vision of a boiling cauldron that was spilling over. And He told Jeremiah:

“Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the Lord, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah.” – Jeremiah 1:14-15 ESV

Now God is going to give Jeremiah a much more detailed description of what is going to happen, and Jeremiah is to share this less-than-comforting news with the people of Judah. God tells Jeremiah to metaphorically “blow the trumpet.” He was to issue an alarm to the people, warning them to send signals to the entire nation to seek shelter in the fortified cities. Disaster was coming. A destroyer of nations was coming out of the north “to make your land a waste; your cities will be ruins without inhabitant” (Jeremiah 4:7 ESV). And all the people could do was wait for the inevitable and unavoidable outcome. All they could do was mourn their fate and regret the folly of their ways.

So put on sackcloth!
Mourn and wail, saying,
‘The fierce anger of the Lord
has not turned away from us!’” – Jeremiah 4:8 NET

But before we go on, let’s take a minute to consider something that is often overlooked. First of all, how do you think Jeremiah felt about having to deliver this message? Talk about being the bearer of bad news. What a difficult task it must have been for Jeremiah to obey God and speak these words to people he knew and loved. And how do you think Jeremiah was received? What kind of reception did the prophet encounter when he gave his message of doom and gloom to the people of Judah? He was ,undoubtedly, a very unpopular person. It is unlikely that he was invited to a lot of dinner parties. People probably avoided him on the street. No one wanted to be seen with Jeremiah. And no one wanted to be around when Jeremiah went on one of his rants.

We sometimes forget that the prophets of God were mere men. And yet, they had been called by God to deliver very difficult news to the people of God. They were human and had feelings just like anybody else. They didn’t enjoy being despised and rejected. But they put a higher priority on obedience to God’s will than they did on being liked by the people. God’s words were difficult to deliver, and even more difficult for the people to receive. But they knew God was speaking truth the people needed to hear. So they spoke – faithfully and fearlessly.

But back to God’s message. He also told Jeremiah to tell the people:

“When this happens,” says the Lord,
“the king and his officials will lose their courage.
The priests will be struck with horror,
and the prophets will be speechless in astonishment.” – Jeremiah 4:9 NET

The leadership of Judah would find themselves in a state of shock. Responsible for the well-being of the nation, they will be unprepared to deal with the enormity of the problem when it comes. The king and his court won’t know what to do. The priests won’t know where to turn. After all, they had a plethora of gods they worshiped, so they had do decide which one was going to help them? The false prophets, who had been predicting ongoing peace, would be tongue-tied, unable to explain how they had gotten it so wrong. And Jeremiah alludes to the deceptive message of these false prophets when he responds to God:

“Ah, Lord God, you have surely allowed the people of Judah and Jerusalem to be deceived by those who say, ‘You will be safe!’ But in fact a sword is already at our throats.” – Jeremiah 4:10 NET

While God had not raised up these false prophets, He had allowed them to present their deceptive messages promising safety and security. He had let the people be lulled into a false sense of comfort, all the while knowing that their unrepentant state was going to lead to their destruction. But the time had come for God to speak and to bring an end to Judah’s overconfident, unrepentant attitude.

“At that time the people of Judah and Jerusalem will be told,
‘A scorching wind will sweep down
from the hilltops in the desert on my dear people.
It will not be a gentle breeze
for winnowing the grain and blowing away the chaff.
No, a wind too strong for that will come at my bidding.
Yes, even now I, myself, am calling down judgment on them.’ – Jeremiah 4:11-12 NET

Judgement was coming. The party was over. The fake gods, false prophets, faithless priests, godless officials, and adulterous people were going to find themselves facing the wrath of the God they had taken for granted and treated with disdain. He would no longer tolerate their blatant disregard for His will and His ways. And He makes it clear that He will be the one who calls down judgment on them. This will not just be a case of fate. God will be the one who sends the Babylonians. This coming destruction will be the direct result of God’s sovereign will and providential plan.

There is a not-so-subtle message in these verses for those of us who consider themselves God’s chosen people in this day. We who claim to be Christ-followers and lovers of God must take heart God’s words of warning. While our sins are forgiven and our right standing with God has been fully taken care of by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, we must not take our secure standing lightly or treat the glory of God flippantly. He is still a holy God who expects His people to live in accordance with His will. He not only expects us to be holy, He has given us His Spirit in order that we might BE holy. But the greatest danger we face is that of complacency and a false sense of comfort. Just because we know where we’re going when we die doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want while we’re alive. The fact that we have forgiveness available to us when we sin is not to be an incentive to continue to live in sin. And Paul makes the absurdity of this kind of thinking quite clear in his letter to the Romans.

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. – Romans 6:1-4 NLT

God has called us to live new lives, and He has provided us with the power to make it possible. But how easy it is for us to reject God’s call to live holy lives and to choose to live slightly improved versions of our old selves. That is NOT what He has called us to. That is NOT what His Son died to make possible. We have been redeemed from captivity to sin and set free to live Spirit-empowered lives of holiness and spiritual wholesomeness. We are to be faithful to God and committed to His will and His ways. We are to be His representatives on this earth, providing living proof that His Son’s death truly does provide new life – both here and in the hereafter. We must never become complacent or overly comfortable with our status as God’s children. God will discipline us. Why? Because He loves us too much to allow us to continue to live in sin. But we must always remember that His love for us, even in the form of His discipline of us, will be for our good. The author of Hebrews reminds us:

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. – Hebrews 12:5-7 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

False Repentance.

“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

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. 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 6:1-6 ESV

These opening verses of chapter six have a positive ring to them. It sounds as if the people of Israel are recognizing the nature of God’s redemptive punishment and are returning to Him in repentance. But as we will see in the verses that follow, any repentance they attempt to show will be short-lived. The words in these three verses are filled with truth and accurately reflect the nature of God. He was going to tear them in order that He might heal them. He would eventually strike them down so that He might build them up. But these verses are actually an indictment of the people of Israel and provide a prophetic look at what their pseudo-repentance will look like in the future. When the full weight of God’s discipline falls on them, they will feign repentance, thinking that it will shorten the length of their punishment. That is the message behind verse 2: “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” Their overly optimistic outlook regarding the brevity of their punishment reflects an ignorance of the depth of their sin. Like a child who says, “I’m sorry” hoping to escape the well-deserved discipline of his parents, the Israelites would try to appease God with false repentance.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul referred to a previous letter he had written to them that contained some severe, corrective words. He had evidently received news that his words had hurt them. But he wrote and told them, “Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10 NLT). The worldly sorrow to which Paul referred is exactly what verses 1-3 in chapter six of Hosea are illustrating. The people will be sorry they got caught. They will be sorry that their actions have resulted in God’s divine discipline. But their sorrow will not lead them to true repentance.

In fact, there would be false prophets who would tell them that everything would be all right. They would try to convince the people that God was not all that mad and that His punishment would not be severe. Even after the northern kingdom of Israel fell, the southern kingdom of Judah would listen to the words of false prophets who showed up, promising good news instead of bad. God had some harsh words for these purveyors of positive motivational messages:

“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you, filling you with futile hopes. They are making up everything they say. They do not speak for the Lord! They keep saying to those who despise my word, ‘Don’t worry! The Lord says you will have peace!’ And to those who stubbornly follow their own desires, they say, ‘No harm will come your way!’” – Jeremiah 23:16-17 NLT

Later on in the book of Jeremiah, God’s words get even harsher:

“Do not listen to your false prophets, fortune-tellers, interpreters of dreams, mediums, and sorcerers who say, ‘The king of Babylon will not conquer you.’ They are all liars, and their lies will lead to your being driven out of your land. I will drive you out and send you far away to die.” – Jeremiah 27:9-10 NLT

The severity of God’s punishment reflects the depths of their sin. Just saying they were sorry would not be enough. Making a few token sacrifices in the hopes that God would be satisfied and hold off His judgment reflects an incredible misunderstanding of God’s hatred of sin. There are those today who think that hell is either a figment of man’s imagination and doesn’t exist at all or that it is merely symbolic, since, the falsely believe, a loving God would never torture someone for eternity. But both of those perceptions are false and reflect a gross misunderstanding of God and His attitude toward sin. The severity of hell should provide us with a vivid reminder of just how much God despises sin. And ultimately, the sin God despises most is man’s rejection of Him as God. It is a refusal to love, honor and obey Him as God. And concerning the people of Israel, whom God had made His own, He said, “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight” (Hosea 6:4b NLT). They had failed to return to God the love He had graciously shown them. After all He had done for them, in most cases in spite of them, they had rejected Him as their God.

What God wanted most was their love. And man’s love for God is best motivated by an understanding of the severity of his sin and that responds in wonder at God’s gracious and merciful provision of a way to be made right with Him despite his undeserving state. It was while we were sinners that Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). It was while we were hopelessly dead in our sins that God chose to give us life through Christ (Ephesians 2:5). That is why God called out to Israel, “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6 NLT).

God wanted true repentance. He was not interested in worldly sorrow or religious ritual done in the hopes of appeasing His wrath. King David said it best when he wrote Psalm 51 in the aftermath of his sordid affair with Bathsheba.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

Israel was not yet broken. The hearts of the people had not returned to God. They feared punishment more than they loved God. And the sad truth is that, for too many of us today, any repentance we attempt to show is motivated by fear of God, not a love for Him. We simply want to escape judgment, not know Him better. We underestimate our sin and under-value His sacrificial love for us. But the more we understand the gravity of our sin, the more we will appreciate His gracious, merciful love and show godly sorrow that leads to true repentance.

A Holy Helper.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. – John 14:15-17 ESV

I think Jesus knew the disciples loved Him. I think He believed they truly wanted to keep His commandments. But He knew that they would find that task impossible in the days ahead, especially after His death, burial and resurrection. Which is why Jesus said He was going to send them a Helper – someone to assist them. The Greek word Jesus used was paraklētos and, like most Greek words, it is rich and multifaceted in its meaning. It refers to someone who is summoned or called to the aid and assistance of another. In the literal sense it meant “one who pleads another’s cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate” (www.blueletterbible.org).  Jesus used this common Greek word to refer to the Holy Spirit who would “lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom” (www.blueletterbible.org).

Jesus knew that His disciples loved Him and would be eager to keep His commandments, but they would find both tasks impossible to fulfill without divine help. Their love was going to be tested. Their desire to be obedient would weaken. And without Jesus by their side, they would find it difficult to remain motivated. So Jesus promised to send help in the form of a divine advocate or aid. They would not be left alone. They would not be left powerless. The same Spirit of God who they had seen actively present in the life of Jesus would be given to them. They would soon find themselves not only living in the presence of the Spirit of God, but living with the Spirit of God present within them. God the Son would ask God the Father to send God the Holy Spirit to come to their aid. What an incredible thought. What a remarkable reality. But one that we either take for granted or treat with a sort of doubt or incredulity. Our own experience seems to suggest that this Holy Helper is either absent in our lives or not nearly as helpful as Jesus seemed to suggest.

Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would live in them. The power and presence of God would no longer be an external force they witnessed, but an internal reality that would set them apart from the rest of the world. When Jesus performed miracles everyone was able to witness them and see the power of God at work. Anyone could hear the words of Jesus and be amazed at His teaching. But with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus would find themselves possessed of a power that allowed them to not only hear the words of Jesus, but obey them. No longer would they simply be witnesses to the power of God, they would be the very conduits through which that power flowed.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we have the Holy Spirit living within us. Our ability to love Christ consistently is not left up to our own strength. We have a helper. Our capacity to remain obedient to His commands is not based on our will power and inner resolve, but on the indwelling presence of God. Jesus referred to the Spirit as the “Spirit of truth”. Because He is the Spirit of God and God is truth, the Holy Spirit speaks truth. He doesn’t bring new truth, but helps believers understand and apply the truth of God as revealed in the Word of God. We might wonder how the disciples of Jesus were able to remember all the things that He said and taught. Did they take copious notes and spend every evening writing down all that He said. Jesus Himself gives us the explanation. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26 ESV). Not only would the Spirit give them the capacity to remember the words of Jesus, they would be able to understand them and apply them to their lives.

This “help” we have been given is not to be viewed like some kind of divine Cliff Notes or study aid. He is the very essence of God Himself. He is the third person of the Trinity and He lives within all who have accepted the free gift of salvation made possible through Christ’s death on the cross. Because He lives within us, we have all the help we need to live the life we have been called to live. We can love consistently. We can obey fully. Not because we have the capacity to do so on our own, but because we have the presence of God within us. Jesus didn’t leave us defenseless, helpless or hopeless. He sent the Spirit of God to live in us, to help us, to empower us and transform us as we live our lives in anticipation of His return. We have all the help we need to prove our love for Jesus by living in obedience to His commands.

Love, Knowledge and Discernment.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11 ESV

It was Paul’s desire that the love of the believers in Philippi would grow more and more. He knew how important love was in the life of the believer. He fully understood that, because God has loved us, we are obligated to love others. God is love, and as His children, we are to express His nature. But Paul also qualified His request for increasing love by requesting that it be accompanied by knowledge and discernment. He was not asking for a sentimental sort of love, but a well-reasoned and Christ-like love founded on an understanding of the truth of God. Our love is not to be without discrimination or discernment. The psalmist writes, “You who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10 NLT). Paul himself wrote to the believers in Rome, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” (Romans 12:9 ESV). In his prayer for the Philippian believers Paul gives his reason for requesting love accompanied by knowledge and discernment – “so that you may approve what is excellent.” The NET Bible translates that phrase as “so that you can decide what is best.” Our love, as it grows, if accompanied by knowledge and discernment, will help us establish right priorities and enable us to focus on what really matters. The problem today is that love has become non-discerning and indiscriminate. We love without thought or priority. We love food, cars,  entertainment, pleasure and people all equally and without considering what it is that God loves. What does His heart beat fast for?

There are things in life that we are NOT to love. God hates pride. So should we. God hates injustice. So should we. But there are also things that are not immoral or unethical, that we have made priorities or “loves” in our lives, that have taken the place of God. We love convenience more than God or others. We love our own comfort more than we love God or others. We love acceptance, the praise of men, the things of this world, our own agendas, and a host of other things more than we love God or others. But Paul prays that our love will be marked by knowledge of the truth and a Spirit-provided discernment that will allow us to see what really matters. True love can be costly. God showed His love for mankind by sending His own Son to die. It cost Him dearly. God knew what needed to be done and He did it. His love was driven by what was best. Jesus’ love for us was also driven by what was best – what His Father wanted. We are to love, but always on God’s terms. Sometimes, our brand of love can do more harm than good. In our day and age, we have confused tolerance with love. We are told to love everybody. But what we are really being told to do is approve of what everyone is doing. Our love is to be all-accepting and non-discriminatory. We are not to judge. We are not free to disapprove. But the Word of God would have us love – within reason and with truth as our standard. In the Proverbs we read, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV). God will not overlook sin. He can’t. So neither should we. That does not mean that we should refrain from showing grace. But at no point are we to show love without discernment. Sometimes the greatest form of love is that which points out the sin in another person’s life. If sin separates us from God, then letting someone know that what they are doing is putting a barrier between them and God is the most loving thing you could do for them. Telling them you love them while knowing that their behavior is an affront to God is anything but loving.

What if we prayed this prayer for one another today? Can you imagine what it might be like if each of us, as believers, were more knowledgeable and discerning in our love? What would it be like if we truly learned to love as God loves? Peter tells us, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 ESV). But notice that he says, love covers a multitude of sins, not accepts or ignores them. Yes, we need to love more. But we need love that is based on knowledge and discernment. We need love that approves of and agrees with what is best – God’s best. How did God love us? While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God loved us at our worst, but He was not wiling to leave us that way. The apostle John reminds us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 ESV). God’s love was based on redeeming us and renewing us into the likeness of His Son. He didn’t love us by leaving us just like we were. He loved us so that He might justify and sanctify us. And we are to love in that very same way.