The Resurrection and the Life

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” 

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. John 11:17-29 ESV

Jesus delayed. Lazarus died.

Those two statements sum up the first 16 verses of this chapter. After having received the news that His good friend Lazarus was ill, Jesus had chosen to delay His departure for two days. When He had finally decided to leave Bethany beyond the Jordan for Bethany near Jerusalem, it took another whole day to make the journey. So, by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days.

This entire scene is intended to create an emotional disconnect in the mind of the reader. The mental picture John paints is meant to elicit feelings of pity, confusion, and even frustration. And these emotions are given voice by the two sisters who had sent word to Jesus about their brother’s desperate condition. Martha was the first to become aware of Jesus’ arrival, and she rushed out to greet Him, immediately expressing to Him her despair.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. – John 11:21 ESV

Martha’s if-then statement to Jesus reveals her firm belief that had He arrived sooner, He could have healed her brother. But He was too late. There are some who read a hint of anger in her words and assume that she is berating Jesus for His late arrival. While that reaction would be understandable considering the circumstances, it seems unlikely based on the rest of Martha’s statement to Jesus.

“But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” – John 11:21 ESV

She is not angry and she has not lost faith in Jesus. In spite of what has happened, she still believes that Jesus has the ear of His Heavenly Father and is able to ask and receive whatever He requests. With this statement, Martha is not suggesting that Jesus could ask God to raise her brother from the dead. She is simply expressing her continued belief in Jesus despite her devastating disappointment. That Martha harbored no expectations of resurrection is made evident when Jesus later commanded the stone to be moved from the tomb. Martha immediately responded, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39 ESV). Her brother’s resuscitation was the last thing Martha expected.

This scene is filled with contradictions and contrasts. Mary and Martha are accompanied by mourners and friends who have gathered to console them. There is an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness because of the death of Lazarus. But for the reader, there should be a sense of eager expectation because the light of the world has just arrived on the scene. The words that Jesus spoke to His disciples take on a special significance at this point in the story.

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” – John 11:4 ESV

But the 12 men who had accompanied Jesus to Bethany would have wrestled with the meaning behind those words because they had just heard the same news that Jesus had: Lazarus was dead. How would God receive glory now? How did Jesus intend to be glorified through the death of His friend? It all made no sense. The entire situation seemed hopeless and maddeningly pointless.

Yet the reader has been provided with 10 chapters of information that should act as a corrective filter through which to view this unfolding scene. John had opened his gospel with the declaration that Jesus, the Word of God, had taken part in the creation of all things.

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” – John 1:3-4 ESV

He was the original giver of life. And His incarnation had not diminished His capacity to bestow life. In fact, Jesus had told Nicodemus that He had come to earth so that He might provide eternal life.

“…whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…” – John 3:35-36 ESV

Yes, Lazarus had died. But in spite of what Martha, Mary, their friends, and the disciples of Jesus believed, Lazarus’ death was not the end of the story. Yet when Jesus informed Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23 ESV), the full import of His words escaped her. From her limited perspective, Lazarus’ death had been final, but she believed that she would one day see him again at the final resurrection. Her belief in the future bodily resurrection of the dead was based on several Old Testament passages.

Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
    You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
    and the earth will give birth to the dead. – Isaiah 26:19 ESV

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. – Daniel 12:2 ESV 

That Martha was thinking of this future form of resurrection is made clear by her response to Jesus.

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” – John 11:24 ESV

And rather than refute her belief in that future reality, Jesus provides her with additional information intended to clarify the nature of that future resurrection.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

While Martha’s mind was focused on a future event, Jesus was redirecting her attention to a present reality: Him. The very one who was life and had the power to give life was standing right in front of her. And He declared Himself to be the resurrection and the life. There was no present life or future resurrection apart from Him. His power had not been impacted by the death of Lazarus. And while physical death was an inevitable and unavoidable reality for every human being, it was not the end. The death of Lazarus was not final. It was not the end of the story. And Jesus makes it perfectly clear that, though Lazarus had died, he would live again. It was just as Jesus had told the religious leaders.

“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 5:29 ESV

But the key to resurrection and eternal life was belief. Jesus had made that point perfectly clear: “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26 ESV). And when Jesus asked Martha whether she believed, she responded, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27 ESV).

Martha responded affirmatively. She verbally confessed to her belief that He was the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He was the fulfillment of all the prophets had promised. But it seems clear that Martha had not fully comprehended all that Jesus had said to her. His declaration that He was the resurrection and the life had gone over her head. And the way she describes Jesus to her sister seems to verify that little had changed regarding her assessment of Jesus and His identity. John describes Martha as running to get her sister Mary and telling her, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you” (John 11:28 ESV).

Martha says nothing about Jesus being the resurrection and the life. There is no hint in her words that she anticipated something supernatural was about to happen. She simply informed her sister that “the Teacher” had arrived.

But little did Martha know that Jesus was about to back up His words with action. He was going to put on a never-before-seen display of power that would not only defy their limited expectations but the laws of nature. The Teacher was about to give them a lesson they would never forget.

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

The Disbelief of Family and Foes

1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.John 7:1-10 ESV

In John’s gospel, Jerusalem appears to be ground-zero. While he dedicates a good portion of his narrative to events that took place outside of Judea, he repeatedly refocuses the reader’s attention back to the capital city. Jerusalem was the home of God’s house, the temple that had been reconstructed by Herod. It was where the annual feasts and festivals, prescribed by God to Moses, were celebrated. This celebrated city, while just a shadow of its former glory under the reigns of David and his son, Solomon, was still the epicenter of the Hebrew nation. It was home to the revered and feared Jewish religious council, the Sanhedrin. And it had become the focal point of the conflict between these well-established religious leaders and Jesus, whom they viewed as nothing more than a charlatan and a troublesome threat to their power and authority.

With the opening of chapter seven, John establishes the inherent danger the city of Jerusalem posed for Jesus. This was the very place where, in the early days of His ministry, Jesus had caused an uproar in the temple courtyard.

In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. – John 2:14-15 ESV

This emotional display had won Jesus no friends among the religious elite of Israel. They questioned His authority to do what He had done, and they began to view Him as nothing more than a showboating, attention-grabbing troublemaker from Galilee. This unknown Rabbi from Galilee had been drawing larger and larger crowds with His so-called miracles and ridiculous claims to be the Son of God. To the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus was a lunatic and possibly even demon-possessed. And He had clearly committed the sin of blasphemy by claiming equality with God.

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. – John 5:18 ESV

As John continues to chronicle the life and ministry of Jesus, he purposely builds the sense of tension between the Messiah of Israel and those who had set themselves up as the religious gatekeepers of the nation. And Jerusalem becomes center-stage for what will be the ultimate showdown between Jesus and these men. But as will be revealed, this conflict will prove to be a spiritual battle between Almighty God and Satan, the prince of this world.

As chapter seven opens, John reveals just how dangerous things had become for Jesus. Due to the growing animosity of the Sanhedrin, Jesus had determined to spend most of His time in Galilee, rather than in Judea because He knew they were out to kill Him. Jesus did not fear death, but He was simply sticking to the divine timeline given to Him by His Heavenly Father. It was just as He had told His mother at the wedding in Cana, “My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4 ESV).

John reveals that the “Feast of Booths was at hand” (John 7:2 ESV). This was one of three annual feasts that required the mandatory attendance of all Jewish males.

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. – Deuteronomy 16:16 ESV

But these festivals became annual pilgrimages for the Jews, drawing large crowds to Jerusalem. The Feast of Booths was to be a commemoration of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and a joyous celebration of His provision and protection of them during their 40 years in the wilderness. And when they gathered in Jerusalem, they were not to come “empty-handed,” but they were to bring tithes and offerings to present to God.

The key theme of these opening verses is that of disbelief. It seems quite clear that the Jewish religious leaders did not believe in Jesus. They had even discounted His miracles by describing them as the work of Satan, not God (Matthew 12:24). But John adds another interesting group to the list of the unbelieving: The half-brothers of Jesus. These were men who had grown up in the same household with Jesus. They were intimately familiar with Him. And yet, they were not quite convinced that Jesus was who He claimed to be. In fact, at one point, they described His actions as those of a madman (Mark 3:21). Yet, in this case, they seem to be goading Jesus to use the Feast of Tabernacles as the opportunity to make a name for Himself.

“Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” – John 7:3-4 ESV

It’s impossible to know the motivation behind their words. Were they sincere or merely being sarcastic? John doesn’t tell us. But he does make it clear that “not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). It would appear that they were prompting Jesus to use the Feast of Booths as a platform for displaying His miraculous powers. He was wasting His time doing miracles in Galilee. If He wanted to be famous, He was going to have to go prime-time, and what better venue than Jerusalem during one of the most popular feasts of the year?

But Jesus responded to their goading by saying, “My time has not yet come…” (John 7:6 ESV). There is probably a double-meaning to His response. First of all, it was not yet time for Jesus to be “glorified.” They were wanting Him to put on a display of His glory by performing miracles in Jerusalem. But that time had not yet come. Jesus was on God’s schedule, not man’s. Their counsel was eerily similar to that of Satan when he had tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-10) He had attempted to get Jesus to display His glory ahead of schedule and out of keeping with God’s will.

But the second meaning behind His response was that it was not yet time for Him to attend the feast. Jesus told His brothers, “your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast…” (John 7:6-8 ESV). They had nothing to fear. Because they did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah, they were not at risk. They could walk into Jerusalem unafraid and unmolested. But Jesus knew that He would receive a dramatically different welcome. So, He delayed His entry into Jerusalem. John makes that point clear in verse 10.

But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. – John 7:10 ESV

Jesus would be obedient and obey the law requiring all Jewish males to attend the feast. But He would not do so in a way that might jeopardize His mission. His half-brothers were wanting Jesus to make a “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, to show up in a blaze of attention-getting miracles. But it was not yet time. Everything Jesus did was in keeping with His Father’s will and in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. And it all had to be done according to plan.

But central to these opening verses is the theme of disbelief. The Jewish leadership refused to believe in Jesus. But so did His own family members. And jealousy and pride were probably determining factors for both groups. The Pharisees and Sadducees were envious of Jesus’ popularity. They felt threatened by His growing fame and frustrated by their inability to discredit His claims. But there was likely a bit of jealousy and pride motivating Jesus’ own family members. Here was their older brother becoming a celebrity and they were left in the background, wondering just how famous their sibling would become and whether they would benefit from His meteoric rise to fame and fortune. But they did not believe in Him. They refused to accept Him as the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. To both groups, Jesus was just a man. To the religious leaders, He was a man who posed a threat to their power and authority. To His half-brothers, Jesus was a man who offered them an opportunity to enjoy fame and possible fortune. But both groups failed to recognize who He was and what He had come to do.

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

Lord of the Sabbath

1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” John 5:1-12 ESV

With the opening of chapter 5, John begins to explore the growing tension between Jesus and the religious authorities. While the meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisees himself, had been somewhat controversial, it had remained cordial. But with Jesus’ return to Jerusalem, the anger and resentment of the Pharisees and Sadduccees will become increasingly more evident and intense.

John will not abandon the theme of belief that has characterized the first four chapters, but he will now juxtapose it with the growing unbelief of the religious elite of Israel. In a sense, John will use the Pharisees and Sadduccees as a counterpoint to Jesus. These men were to have been the shepherds of Israel, leading the people to the truth of God’s Word and exemplifying a life of obedience. But as John will point out, their legalistic, rule-keeping mindset and arrogant self-righteousness stand in stark contrast to Jesus’ commitment to put the will of God above all else.  

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:38-40 ESV

Jesus was on a mission and He would not allow anything or anyone to hinder Him fulfilling the role assigned to Him by His Heavenly Father. He had divine authority to do the things He did. As the Son of God, Jesus did not need the permission of the legal or religious authorities because He was acting on behalf of God Almighty. The will of God superseded that of all other human authorities and allowed Jesus to perform signs and wonders that appeared to contradict the laws of nature and violate the rules of men.

After His brief excursion into the northern region of Galilee, Jesus made a second trip to Jerusalem in order to attend yet another Jewish festival. There were three annual feasts that all Jewish males were required to attend: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. In recounting this particular story, John leaves the name of the festival out, evidently deeming it as irrelevant to the point he was trying to make.

But John was quite specific when describing the location for this event. The context was critical to understanding what is going on in the story. Jesus arrived at the Pool of Bethesda, just outside the walls of the temple compound. This was a well-known and well-trafficked spot in Jerusalem because the waters of the spring-fed pool were believed to have healing qualities. The setting is key to understanding what is about to take place. As John stated in verse 3, the pool was a magnet for the “blind, lame, and paralyzed.” They all made their way to the pool each day in the hopes that the miraculous powers of the water might make them whole.

While John pointed out that “a multitude of invalids” surrounded the pool, he focused his attention on one particular man whose paralytic condition had persisted for 38 years. It is not clear whether this man had been coming to the pool for nearly four decades or if this was his first time to seek help from its healing waters. But John’s emphasis on the length of time is meant to accentuate the hopelessness of the man’s plight. And Jesus, upon seeing the man, was immediately aware of the decades-long nature of his condition, which makes the question He asks sound so unnecessary and out-of-place.

“Do you want to be healed?” – John 5:6 ESV

Of course, he did. What kind of question is that to ask at a time like this? This poor man had somehow made it all the way to the pool, in spite of his paralysis. He would not have been lying beside the waters if he had not wanted to experience healing.

John does not explain why Jesus chose to single out this one man. There were obviously others at the pool that day, and each and every one of them was there hoping for the same thing: Healing. But Jesus chose to speak to this man. And in response to Jesus’ question, the man explained his plight.

Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” – John 4:7 ESV

His problem was not a lack of desire, but it was a lack of opportunity and capacity. His paralysis made it physically impossible for him to pursuit healing. His very condition proved to be a barrier to ever seeing his greatest desire fulfilled. Evidently, the pool’s healing powers were only available when the water was “stirred up.” It was only at that particular moment that a miracle could be expected, but it was reserved for the one who entered the water first. And this man, completely incapacitated by his illness and without anyone to assist him, was left to watch and wait, helplessly and hopelessly.

The description of the man’s plight is meant to stir the heart of the reader. But it is also meant to reveal the spiritual condition of each and every human being as they stand in need of healing but without the means by which to avail themselves of it. The healing waters were within this man’s reach, but he lacked the power to enter them. In a sense, he couldn’t heal himself. He needed help. And this is where Jesus stepped in.

Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. – John 5:8-9 ESV

With a word, Jesus provided what the man lacked: The power to change. In a split second, this hopeless, helpless, bed-ridden paralytic was transformed into a completely healthy and whole specimen of a man. And no waters were necessary. Jesus spoke and the man walked.

But right when the story should be taking a decidedly upbeat turn, John reveals an underlying tension. He rather abruptly states, “Now that day was the Sabbath” (John 5:9 ESV). Rather than mentioning the celebration that would have followed such a miraculous moment, John simply points out that this had all taken place on the Sabbath. It was a holy day and, as such, it was to have been a day of rest. 

This significant detail is meant to point out the seeming problem with what Jesus said to the man and all that followed. Jesus specifically instructed the man to take up his bed and walk. He could have just told him to walk. Why was it necessary for him to gather up his bedroll? Because it was the Sabbath. Jesus knew exactly what day it was and His instructions to the man were given with that knowledge in mind. And His words produced the desired results. Yes, the man was healed, but not only that, the Pharisees were incensed. These religious rule-keepers witnessed the man carrying his bed and immediately confronted him for his blatant violation of the Sabbath law.

“It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” – John 5:10 ESV

It is not clear whether these men had witnessed the healing, but even if they had, they were more concerned with what they saw as a flagrant disregard for the Mosaic Law.

The man, unaware of who Jesus was, told the religious leaders that he was simply obeying the words of the one who had healed him. But they still demanded to know the identity of this Sabbath law-breaker.

Jesus had specifically chosen the Sabbath day to perform this miracle. And His instructions to the lame man had been very precise. This entire scene was designed to set up a contrast between Jesus, the Son of God, and the religious leaders of Israel. He was their Messiah, sent from God to deliver the people from their bondage to sin and death. And as the Savior of the world, He had divine authority to accomplish the will of His Father. But for the religious leaders, their sacred rules and regulations were more important than the will of God. In their minds, adherence to the Sabbath blinded them to the presence of their Savior.

Yet, Jesus would later inform the Pharisees, “the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (Matthew 12:8 NLT). This was all about authority and authenticity. Jesus was the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. And His audacious decision to heal on the Sabbath was proof of His deity and His divine authority.

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

Future Glory Trumps Present Suffering

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 ESV

Paul has informed the Thessalonians that he uses them as an example for the other congregations to whom he ministers.

We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. – 2 Thessalonians 1:4 NLT

But he knows this does not make their suffering any easier. He understands that they are confused by the difficult conditions they face and are questioning how their trials could be within God’s will for them. It all seemed to make no sense. Hadn’t Jesus said that He came so “that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV)? Didn’t He promise fulness of joy to those who kept His commandments (John 15:11)?

The presence of suffering in the life of Christ’s followers has always caused doubt and confusion, in spite of the fact that Jesus promised it would happen.

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” – John 16:33 NLT

Placing one’s faith in Christ is not a vaccine against suffering. It does not provide immunity from effects of living in a fallen world where the presence of sin permeates everything and impacts everyone. And Jesus was informing His disciples that following Him was going to set them at odds with the world around them.

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:18-19 NLT

Attempting to live as lights in a sin-darkened world was not going to be easy. Exposing the deeds done in darkness was not going to win them any friends. Even Paul had warned the believers in Ephesus:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. – Ephesians 5:11-14 ESV

But Jesus had made it clear to His disciples that the majority of those living in darkness would prefer to remain right where they were, refusing His offer of salvation from sin and death.

…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20 ESV

Yes, Jesus promised many trials and sorrows in this life, but He also provided His followers with the following assurance: “But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). And Paul is attempting to explain to the Thessalonians that the presence of suffering and persecution in their lives should not come as a surprise. As followers of Christ, they were destined to suffer just as He had. But their present suffering had an upside.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Roman 8:17-18 NLT

There was a method to God’s seeming madness. While to them, their suffering seemed nothing but painful and pointless, Paul wanted them to know that God had a purpose behind it all. There was an as-yet invisible part to God’s divine plan to which they were currently unaware. And while their trials might tempt them to question God’s goodness and justice, Paul wanted them to know that it was all part of God’s righteous and fully sovereign plan for them.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering – 2 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV

And rather than complaining about their lot in life, they were to trust their all-knowing, all-wise God. He knew what He was doing. There was a divine purpose to their suffering that had both short-term and long-term ramifications. Which is what led James to write:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:1-4 NLT

God uses our suffering to transform us. The presence of trials is meant to make us God-dependent rather than self-sufficient. That’s exactly what Peter meant when he wrote: “humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:6-7 NLT). Trials require trust. When we are incapable of solving our own problems, it forces us to turn to the one who holds us in the palm of His hands. And that is exactly what David suggests that we do.

Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. – Psalm 55:22 NLT

God loves His children and, oftentimes, that love shows up in the form of troubles and trials that test our faith in Him. But when, through faith, we turn our cares over to Him, we experience an increasing level of perseverance that results in the further development of our spiritual maturity. We grow stronger and even more faith-filled, needing nothing. Which is what Paul meant when he wrote:

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT

And another major factor behind Paul’s contentment with any and all circumstances in this life was his strong belief in God’s plans for the future. He understood that this life was not all there was. There was a life to come. For Paul, this life was a temporary environment in which he lived as an alien or stranger in an earth-bound body, but with the full assurance that there was more to come.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. – 2 Corinthians 5:1 1 NLT

And Paul wanted the Thessalonians to find hope and encouragement in the reality of their future glorification, but also in God’s future judgment of the wicked.

God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. – 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 NLT

God was not blind or oblivious to what was going on the Thessalonica. He was fully aware of their suffering and knew the names of those who were responsible for it. And He had a plan in place to bring about the just and righteous judgment of those people for their acts of wickedness. And just as the future glorification of the persecuted believers in Thessalonica will be far beyond anything they could ever imagine, the future judgment of the wicked will be far worse than anyone could ever dream.

They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power. – 2 Thessalonians 1:9 NLT

At His second coming, Jesus will right all wrongs and restore order and justice to the world. He will punish the wicked, but He “will receive glory from his holy people—praise from all who believe” (2 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT). And Paul includes the Thessalonians in that group. Yes, they might suffer in this life, but in the life to come they will enjoy an eternity with God the Son and God the Father, free from the effects of sin and completely separated from any form of suffering, sorrow, or shame.

The apostle John was given a vision of this future reality, which he penned in his Revelation. 

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:3-5 NLT

And with that amazing image in mind, Paul tells the Thessalonian believers, “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11 NLT). Paul was asking God to show up in the midst of their suffering, providing them with the power they needed to live up to their calling as His children. And when they endured suffering well and walked worthy of their calling, the name of Jesus would be glorified because it would be evidence of God’s saving work in their lives.

Living the godly life was never intended to be easy. Jesus didn’t die so that we might live our best life now, but that we might one day experience eternal life in all its glory. But in the meantime, God has provided us with everything we need for living in obedience to His will and for displaying His divine nature through our lives.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:3-4 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

Well Worth the Effort

13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! 

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy. 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20 ESV

While there had been those who accused Paul and Silas of being in the ministry for what they could get out of it, Paul strongly denied their charges. He insisted that “we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery” (1 Thessalonians 2:3 NLT). Their purpose had been “to please God, not people” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NLT). And with God as his witness, Paul asserted “we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money!” (1 Thessalonians 2:5 NLT).

Now, Paul uses the Thessalonians themselves as witnesses to his defense. He recalls how they had gladly heard and received the message of the gospel.

…when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. – 1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT

They knew from their own experience that the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone was real and life-changing. Upon believing, they had received the filling of the Holy Spirit, which was proof that the words of Paul and Silas were from God and not from men. And Paul could not stop thanking God for the life-transforming power of the Gospel. He even reminds the Thessalonians that this power to change lives was still at work in them.

…this word continues to work in you who believe. – 1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT

The word they had shared had worked. It had produced in them true and lasting life change. For Paul, that was the bottom line. It was all the proof needed to substantiate his ministry and message. The Thessalonians had gotten far more out of Paul and Silas’ ministry than they had. And before they considered listening to the false claims leveled against Paul and Silas, they needed to look at the fruit in their own lives. They were living proof of the validity of the ministry and the message of these two men.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul provided them with a much-needed reminder of the transformation the Gospel had made in their lives. He wanted them to see and appreciate the stark before-and-after contrast of their encounter with Christ. The Gospel had been far more than just another message from the lips of men. It had been radically transformational and eternally significant.

Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

This was true for the Thessalonian believers as well. They had each experienced a remarkable alteration to their habits and behaviors. Faith in Christ had resulted in the fruit of the Spirit. If they were ever tempted to question Paul’s motives, all they had to do was look at the impact of his message on their own lives. They had been cleansed, made holy, and restored to a right relationship with God.

And Paul adds another aspect of their experience that gave proof of the Gospel’s veracity and power.

…you suffered persecution from your own countrymen. In this way, you imitated the believers in God’s churches in Judea who, because of their belief in Christ Jesus, suffered from their own people, the Jews. – 1 Thessalonians 2:14 NLT

Their own persecution at the hands of their countrymen was proof of the Gospel’s power. Their lives had changed and their friends and neighbors had not been happy with the results. They had become lights in the darkness, exposing the sinful condition of their fellow citizens. And the result had been persecution. And Paul assures them that this was normal and to be expected. It was further proof of the Gospel’s power. Their suffering on behalf of their faith in Christ was exactly what the believers in Judea had experienced. It came with the territory.

Jesus Himself had warned, “everyone will hate you because you are my followers” (Mark 13:13 NLT). He had told His disciples that they could expect to be hated by the world.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” – John 15:19-20 NLT

And this hatred by the world was nothing new. The message of God’s redemptive plan for mankind has always met with resistance. Paul recounts how the prophets of God, who had carried His message of repentance to His disobedient children, were met with rejection and even faced death at the hands of those they were trying to save. And the apostles of Jesus were having similar experiences as they took the message of God’s offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone to a lost and dying world.

To the world, the message of the Gospel was non-sensical. The claim that the God of the universe had sent His Son to take on human flesh and die on a cross to pay for the sins of mankind sounded ridiculous. And the very fact that the salvation offered by God required an admission of sin and the need for a Savior, made the Jews uncomfortable. Paul pointed out the incomprehensible nature of the Gospel in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. – 1 Corinthians 1:21-23 NLT

The Gospel has and will always face opposition. But Paul insists that those who stand opposed to God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible through His Son’s sacrificial death will fail. Paul flatly states that in their attempt to reject the Gospel message or its messengers they “fail to please God and work against all humanity as they try to keep us from preaching the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles” (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 NLT). Sadly, their efforts do little more than anger God and add to their debt of sin. And, as Paul told the believers in Rome, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NLT).

For Paul, the physical separation from his spiritual children in Thessalonica was difficult. He longed to see them and to continue his ministry among them. It had been more than a year since he and Silas had first visited their city, and a lot had taken place during that time frame. He was proud of them, but his pastoral heart longed to be with them. But, Paul insists, he had faced some serious opposition that kept his desire from becoming reality.

we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. – 1 Thessalonians 2:18 ESV

Paul believed in spiritual warfare. He was fully convinced that his ministry was opposed by the enemy of God because his ministry had been ordained by God. His commission placed him on the front lines of a battle that was taking place in the spiritual realms but that had real-life implications.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Paul was well aware that he faced human opposition, but he also knew that the primary force behind it all was Satan himself. And yet, he remained “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” and he “put on all of God’s armor” so he would “be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11 NLT).

And, fully prepared for the battle in which he found himself engaged, Paul found the motivation to fight the good fight by focusing on the fruit of his efforts.

After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy. – 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 NLT

Doing battle with the enemy was well worth it because it meant the difference between souls being saved or remaining lost. Resisting the opposition was essential if the message of man’s reconciliation to God was to continue being spread. The joy of watching lives be transformed by the power of the Gospel is what kept Paul going. And while he may face opposition in this life, he knew the day was coming when all his efforts would be repaid with eternal life.

…what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:18 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

The Power to Stay Persistent

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
    who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
    when they have something to eat,
but declare war against him
    who puts nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
    and darkness to you, without divination.
The sun shall go down on the prophets,
    and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
    and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
    for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
    with the Spirit of the Lord,
    and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
    and to Israel his sin. Micah 3:5-8 ESV

Micah now turns his attention to his nemesis, the false prophets, who were constantly contradicting his message and delivering their own version of the “truth.” These men were particularly irritating to Micah because they only made his already difficult job that much harder to do. Their messages filled with optimism were popular among the people but they were not speaking on behalf of God. The book of Lamentation contains a similar indictment against these purveyors of false hope.

Your prophets have said
    so many foolish things, false to the core.
They did not save you from exile
    by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they painted false pictures,
    filling you with false hope. – Lamentations 2:14 NLT

And the prophet Jeremiah found himself facing a similar challenge, having to deal with his own set of self-proclaimed prophets decimating lies disguised as truth.

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.
Are they ashamed of their disgusting actions?
    Not at all—they don’t even know how to blush! – Jeremiah 6:13-15 NLT

Jeremiah compares the actions of these men to someone putting a bandaid on a life-threatening wound. Their treatment protocol for what ailed the nation of Judah was superficial at best, causing the people to have a false sense of hope and encouraging them to remain stubbornly unresponsive to God’s calls to repentance.

Micah accuses these pseudo-prophets of selling their services for personal gain. In exchange for food, these men would issue positive proclamations of “peace.” In other words, if you treated the prophet well, he told you what you wanted to hear. He used his words, supposedly spoken on behalf of God, as a bartering tool to get what he wanted. And if anyone refused to play along with these false prophets, they would find themselves on the receiving end of a curse. Their power to prophesy would be used as a weapon to issue threats and manipulate behavior.

But while the people were easily influenced by these charlatans, God was not going to tolerate their behavior. They were claiming to speak on His behalf, but the words coming out of their mouths were in direct contradiction to His divine will. So, Micah warns them that their 15-minutes of fame is about to come to an end.

Now the night will close around you,
    cutting off all your visions.
Darkness will cover you,
    putting an end to your predictions.
The sun will set for you prophets,
    and your day will come to an end. – Micah 3:6 NLT

Micah uses the image of a pitch-black night to convey the future state of these individuals. Darkness is the absence of light. Light is a symbol of God’s divine revelation. Having prophesied falsely, they were going to find themselves “in the dark” when it came to any future revelations from God. Their status as prophets of God would be irrevocably terminated.

This temptation to speak on behalf of God , using the authority of His name for self-aggrandizement, is real and ever-present. And every generation of God’s people has found itself the recipients of false messages from self-appointed spokesmen for God. And, just as in Micah’s day, these individuals stand condemned by God for their audacity to use His name for personal gain.

“Few men are as pitiable as those who claim to have a call from God yet tailor their sermons to please others. Their first rule is ‘Don’t rock the boat’; their second is ‘Give people what they want.’“ – Warren Wiersbe, “Micah.” In The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets

For Micah, there was a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that his arch enemies were going to get their just desserts. Their days of deceiving the people were going to come to an end.

“Then you seers will be put to shame,
    and you fortune-tellers will be disgraced.
And you will cover your faces
    because there is no answer from God.” Micah 3:7 NLT

Having claimed to have been God’s messengers, they were going to find that their communication lines to God were completely cut off. They would call out from their darkness and get no response from heaven. No visions. No prophecies. No answers.

But Micah boldly claimed that he was in the right. He had been a faithful messenger for God, delivering His warnings of coming judgment in the face of constant rejection, ridicule, and hostility.

But as for me, I am filled with power—
    with the Spirit of the Lord.
I am filled with justice and strength
    to boldly declare Israel’s sin and rebellion. – Micah 3:8 NLT

He found comfort in the fact that he had been true to his calling. He had not shirked his God-given responsibility to proclaim the truth. Micah wasn’t in it for money. He didn’t tailor his message to tickle the ears of his audience. He hadn’t offered pleasant-sounding platitudes in exchange for personal perks. He had remained faithful to his God-ordained calling and knew that as long as He spoke God’s word he would have the power of God’s Spirit guiding and protecting him.

Those who have been called by God to serve as His messengers have always faced the very real temptation to alter their message to accommodate the whims of their audience. And there will always be those who sell out their calling in order to cash in on their God-ordained influence. But ministers of God must remain faithful to the One who sent them. Even in the face of ridicule and rejection, they must refuse to dilute their message or to diminish the integrity of their calling.

Their outlook regarding their divine assignment must be the same as that of the apostle Paul.

You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:2-6 NLT

God’s messengers must remain committed to God’s message. They speak for Him. And, one day, they will answer to Him. But as long as they remain faithful to His calling, they will experience the power of His Holy Spirit and enjoy the assurance that their words are filled with justice and strength.

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

Blessed In Order To Bless

1 Woe to those who devise wickedness
    and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
    because it is in the power of their hand.
They covet fields and seize them,
    and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
    a man and his inheritance.
Therefore thus says the Lord:
behold, against this family I am devising disaster,
    from which you cannot remove your necks,
and you shall not walk haughtily,
    for it will be a time of disaster.
In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you
    and moan bitterly,
and say, “We are utterly ruined;
    he changes the portion of my people;
how he removes it from me!
    To an apostate he allots our fields.”
Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot
    in the assembly of the Lord.
Micah 2:1-5 ESV

Micah has already made it clear that the fate of Israel and Judah rests on their wicked behavior. Their destruction is coming upon them from the hand of God but because of their rebellion against Him. They were living in direct violation of the covenant agreement they had made with God and had repeatedly disobeyed the Mosaic Law.

And why is this happening?
    Because of the rebellion of Israel—
    yes, the sins of the whole nation.
Who is to blame for Israel’s rebellion?
    Samaria, its capital city!
Where is the center of idolatry in Judah?
    In Jerusalem, its capital! – Micah 1:5 NLT

Now, in chapter two, Micah gets more specific regarding the exact nature of the sins of the southern kingdom of Judah, where he served as a prophet. He specifically calls out those who have made a habit of scheming against the less fortunate among them.

What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night,
    thinking up evil plans.
You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out,
    simply because you have the power to do so. – Micah 2:1 NLT

There is a premeditated nature to their sin. Their desire to take advantage of others has kept them awake at night, dreaming up ways to use their power and influence to increase their wealth through unjust means.

When you want a piece of land,
    you find a way to seize it.
When you want someone’s house,
    you take it by fraud and violence.
You cheat a man of his property,
    stealing his family’s inheritance. – Micah 2:2 NLT

These people were never satisfied. Enough was never enough. They lived their lives motivated by greed and driven by a love of self. And this kind of behavior was an afront to God, who had blessed the people of Israel by redeeming them out of slavery and graciously giving them the land of Canaan as their inheritance. They had been the undeserving recipients of God’s love and He expected them to extend the same kind of treatment to one another. And to make sure they understood just how different their behavior was to be, God had given them very specific regulations concerning their interactions with one another. Leviticus 19 provides a partial list:

“Do not steal.” – Vs. 11

“Do not deceive or cheat one another.” – Vs. 11

“Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.” – Vs. 13

“Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay.” – Vs. 13

“Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the Lord.” – Vs. 14

“Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.” – Vs 15

“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.” – Vs. 16

“Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord.” – Vs. 16

“Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.” – Vs. 17

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” – Vs. 18

Notice that each of these laws govern human relationships. They are intended to reflect God’s desires concerning the interactions of those who bear His name. How the people of God treated one another would have a direct bearing on the character of God Himself. They were not free to treat one another according to worldly standards. They were not to be motivated by greed, jealousy, self-interest, and personal gain. And three different times God provided the only reason they needed to hear for obeying His commands: “I am the Lord.”

None of this was left up to negotiation or presented as an optional choice. These were the commands of God. And God expected His people to fear Him and obey Him. To reject His commands was to reject His authority over their lives. And God had repeatedly articulated His commands to His people, ensuring that they were without excuse when it came to what He expected of them.

“And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.” – Deuteronomy 14-29 ESV

“But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.” – Deuteronomy 15:4-5 ESV

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. – Deuteronomy 15:7-8 ESV

“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” – Deuteronomy 15:11 ESV

God had a passion for the helpless and the downtrodden. He was a friend of the needy and the neglected. And He expected His people to share His love for the less fortunate among them. He was blessing them so that they might be a blessing to one another. In verse 4 of Deuteronomy 15, God says “there will be no poor among you.” But then, in verse 11 of the same chapter, He states, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land.” Well, which is it? Will there be poor in the land or not? What God seems to be saying is that the category of the poor will be an ever-present reality among God’s people. But they will not remain poor because the rest of the nation will see to it that their needs are met. God will bless the people so that they can be a blessing to others.

And all of this makes Micah’s indictment of the people of Judah that much more egregious. They are living in direct violation of God’s commands concerning the poor and needy. In fact, they are taking advantage of the less fortunate in order to line their own pockets. And Micah delivers a somber warning from God.

“I will reward your evil with evil;
    you won’t be able to pull your neck out of the noose.
You will no longer walk around proudly,
    for it will be a terrible time.” – Micah 2:3 NLT

God is going to pay them back for what they have done. They may have chosen to neglect the needy, but God will not allow the innocent and the helpless to go undefended. He will defend their cause or bring judgment against those who have violated their rights.

God will turn the tables on those who have taken advantage of the needy. Those who stayed awake at night scheming ways to cheat and defraud the less fortunate will suffer a similar fate. They will become the laughing stock of their enemies, having to listen to songs being sung that mock their untimely reversal of fortunes.

“We are finished,
        completely ruined!
God has confiscated our land,
        taking it from us.
He has given our fields
        to those who betrayed us. – Micah 2:4 NLT

These wicked people who had used their power, influence and financial strength to serve themselves will become the needy and neglected. The dreams of more land will turn into a living nightmare of financial loss and ruin. Everything God had given them to enjoy and to share with those around them would be taken away from them.

Others will set your boundaries then,
    and the Lord’s people will have no say
    in how the land is divided. – Micah 2:5 NLT

They had used the gracious and undeserved blessings of God for selfish purposes. They had taken the gifts of His goodness and turned them into self-centered tools to profit themselves. And in doing so, they revealed that they loved self more than they loved others. And their love of self was really a reflection of their lack of love for God. He had become little more than a means to an end. They had taken His gifts and used them to satisfy their own selfish desires, all the while neglecting and abusing the helpless and hopeless among them. And God would not tolerate such behavior among His people.

The actions of the people of Judah stood in direct opposition to the will of God. Their behavior failed to reflect His desires for them. They had fallen in love with the world and the things it could offer. Power, possessions, prominence, and pleasure had taken precedence over the will of God. And James describes a similar problem among the people of God in his day.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

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 4:2-4 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

Remember, Restore, and Renew!

1 Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
    look, and see our disgrace!
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
    our homes to foreigners.
We have become orphans, fatherless;
    our mothers are like widows.
We must pay for the water we drink;
    the wood we get must be bought.
Our pursuers are at our necks;
    we are weary; we are given no rest.
We have given the hand to Egypt, and to Assyria,
    to get bread enough.
Our fathers sinned, and are no more;
    and we bear their iniquities.
Slaves rule over us;
    there is none to deliver us from their hand.
We get our bread at the peril of our lives,
    because of the sword in the wilderness.
10 Our skin is hot as an oven
    with the burning heat of famine.
11 Women are raped in Zion,
    young women in the towns of Judah.
12 Princes are hung up by their hands;
    no respect is shown to the elders.
13 Young men are compelled to grind at the mill,
    and boys stagger under loads of wood.
14 The old men have left the city gate,
    the young men their music.
15 The joy of our hearts has ceased;
    our dancing has been turned to mourning.
16 The crown has fallen from our head;
    woe to us, for we have sinned!
17 For this our heart has become sick,
    for these things our eyes have grown dim,
18 for Mount Zion which lies desolate;
    jackals prowl over it.
19 But you, O Lord, reign forever;
    your throne endures to all generations.
20 Why do you forget us forever,
    why do you forsake us for so many days?
21 Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
    Renew our days as of old—
22 unless you have utterly rejected us,
    and you remain exceedingly angry with us.
Lamentations 5:1-22 ESV

The state of affairs in Judah could not have been any worse. And Jeremiah had an up-close and personal perspective on every aspect of the suffering and pain. He had been there for the days of the Babylonian siege. He had lived through the fall of Jerusalem. And he had watched as the enemies of Judah had leveled the royal capital, destroyed the temple, and murdered vast numbers its citizens. Jeremiah had been forced to watch as thousands of his fellow Jews had been placed in chains and forced to march all the way back the Babylonian capital as slaves.

For those who remained behind in Judah, the prospects were grim. Their nation had been destroyed. Their homes had been reduced to rubble and the national economy was non-existent. They had no king, no army, and, therefore, no means of protection from the enemies. They were weak, defenseless, and hopeless. Their army had not protected them. Their allies had abandoned them. And every one of their false gods had failed to come through for them.

But while everyone around him was wringing their hands in fear and dismay, Jeremiah was taking his concerns to the one source who could do anything about it. He was pleading his case directly to God Almighty. And the first thing he asks God to do is remember.

Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
    look, and see our disgrace! – Lamentations 5:1 ESV

Jeremiah is not afraid that God will somehow forget what has happened to Judah. He is calling on God to reflect upon their current circumstances and to consider them soberly and circumspectly. Jeremiah had his perspective on things, but he knew that only one viewpoint mattered and that was God’s.

And Jeremiah appeals to God as to a Father, describing the devastated condition of His children.

Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
    our homes to foreigners.
We have become orphans, fatherless;
    our mothers are like widows. – Lamentations 5:2-3 ESV

The land of Judah had been part of the inheritance provided by God to the people of Israel when they had arrived in the land of Canaan. It had been His gift to them, in keeping with the promise He had made to Abraham centuries earlier.

“And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:8 ESV

But Jeremiah reminds God that the land was no longer controlled by the descendants of Abraham. It was being ruled by the Babylonians. The Judahites who had been left in the land were nothing more than caretakers for their Babylonian overlords. And without any army, the people of Judah would find themselves incapable of defending the land from incursions from foreign raiding parties. Before long, what little remained of the former inheritance given by God to the descendants of Abraham would be lost.

And Jeremiah appeals to God’s sense of justice by describing the people of Judah as fatherless orphans and widows. They are like children who have lost their fathers and have no one to protect them. Their status is no better than that of a recently widowed woman who, upon the death of her husband, finds herself without a home and without access to any legal rights to ensure her future. And as a prophet of God, Jeremiah was very familiar with God’s stance on widows and orphans.

Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:17 NLT

Jeremiah knew that God had strong feelings for the helpless and the defenseless, and took exception to those who abused them.

Your leaders are rebels,
    the companions of thieves.
All of them love bribes
    and demand payoffs,
but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans
   or fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:23 NLT

And Jeremiah had repeatedly conveyed God’s message of concern for the helpless and hopeless to the people of Judah.

This is what the LORD says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent! – Jeremiah 22:3 NLT

But no one had listened. No one had cared. They had refused to take God’s commands seriously. And, as a result, the entire nation had become widows and orphans. They had gone from being the abusers to being abused. Before the fall of Jerusalem, when it was business-as-usual in Judah, the people had practiced injustice by taking advantage of the helpless and hopeless. Everybody had been out for themselves. But now, the table had turned. And Jeremiah describes just how radical the shift in circumstances had been.

Clean drinking water, which used to be readily available and free, was now exorbitantly expensive. Firewood had become a not commodity as well. And food had become virtually non-existent because of famine and the constant presence of foreign raiding parties. Children were dying of starvation. Women were being raped. Young men and boys were being forced to do manual labor like slaves. Civil society had fallen apart, with village elders being shown no respect, former princes being treated like common thieves, and the general population left in a state of abject despair.

Joy has left our hearts;
    our dancing has turned to mourning. – Lamentations 5:15 NLT

Jeremiah is sharing his heart with his God. He is telling the King of Judah the sorrowful state of His citizens. He is appealing to the loving Father of the children of Israel and asking Him to consider their fate and intervene on their behalf. Not because they deserve it, but because He is God.

The garlands have fallen from our heads.
    Weep for us because we have sinned.
Our hearts are sick and weary,
    and our eyes grow dim with tears. – Lamentations 5:16-17 NLT

Jeremiah knew full well that this fate had long been coming. It had been the inevitable outcome of generations of unfaithfulness.

Our ancestors sinned, but they have died—
    and we are suffering the punishment they deserved! – Lamentations 5:7 NLT

But now, Jeremiah calls on His faithful God to intervene. Jerusalem may have been destroyed, but the God of Jerusalem was alive and well, sitting on His throne in heaven.

But you, O Lord, reign forever;
    your throne endures to all generations. – Lamentations 5:19 ESV

Nothing that had happened on earth had changed anything about God’s rule and reign in heaven. The current conditions in Judah were no indictment on the power and sovereignty of God. He had not lost a step. He had not diminished in His authority or power. That is why Jeremiah knew that any delay in the reversal of their affairs was up to God. He was obviously not out of control, so He must have had a reason for postponing His deliverance.

So, Jeremiah begs God to act now! No more delay. If there was no reason for delaying His deliverance, then why not bring it now?

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
    Renew our days as of old—
unless you have utterly rejected us,
    and you remain exceedingly angry with us. – Lamentations 5:21-22 ESV

Remember, restore, and renew. That is what Jeremiah longed for God to do. He was counting on the fact that God had not utterly rejected them. His knowledge of God would not allow him to go there. He knew that God was faithful and would not abandon His children forever. He had punished them, but He would also restore them. This was the God Jeremiah knew and believed in. It was the God he had served with his life and in whom He relied upon for salvation.

Like his fellow prophets, Jeremiah continued to place his hope in the trustworthiness of God.

Where is another God like you,
    who pardons the guilt of the remnant,
    overlooking the sins of his special people?
You will not stay angry with your people forever,
    because you delight in showing unfailing love.
Once again you will have compassion on us.
    You will trample our sins under your feet
    and throw them into the depths of the ocean!
You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
    as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. – Micah 7:18-20 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

The Power to Obey

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. – Philemon 1:21-35 ESV

Paul’s use of the word “obedience” seems odd in light of the fact that this entire letter has been couched in terms of a request. Just a few verses earlier, Paul had admitted that he could have used his authority as an apostle and simply issued a command to Philemon but he had refused to do so. He wanted this to be Philemon’s decision.

…though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you… – Philemon 1:8 ESV

Because all of this revolved around a relationship, Paul had not wanted to dictate the terms of Philemon’s decision or to use coercion to force his hand. He knew that any healing between the two men would have to come from the heart and not the head.

I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. – Philemon 1:14 ESV

So, what prompts Paul to bring up obedience at this point in his letter? And why does he express such confidence that Philemon will do the right thing? I think it goes back to what Paul knew and believed about Philemon. He had every confidence that Philemon would respond positively and correctly because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. Remember what he said about his friend earlier in his letter: “I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints” (Philemon 1:5  ESV).

Philemon had a track record of doing the right thing. And Paul was confident that his friend would face this latest test with the wisdom and strength of the indwelling Spirit of God. Philemon was not left to his own devices or relegated to operating according to his sinful flesh. He was a new creation. He had a new heart. He had a supernatural power available to him that would enable him to respond with justice, mercy, grace, and love.

Paul’s confidence was in the power of God to reform the hearts of men. He knew that the reconciliation of these two men was God’s will and that God would equip Philemon with the strength to obey that will. Paul knew from personal experience that, because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, nothing was impossible. He confidently told the believers in Philippi,  “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV).

His prayer for the believers in Ephesus had been that God would “from his glorious, unlimited resources…empower you with inner strength through his Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16 NLT). And Paul had been confident that God would answer that prayer, boldly claiming, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20 NLT).

Paul believed that Philemon would obey the will of God because Paul believed in the power of God. His job had been to present the facts of the case to Philemon and then leave the result up to the Spirit of God. The resolution of the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus was going to have to be divinely empowered. It had to be a “God thing.” If Philemon tried to accomplish this in his own strength, he would fail. If he attempted to muster up the resolve to free Onesimus from slavery and treat him as a brother in Christ, only to please Paul, he would end up having regrets and harboring resentment over his financial losses.

If Philemon’s motivation to do the right thing came from an external source, his decision, no matter how righteous in nature, would be shortlived. It wouldn’t last. But Paul had every confidence that God was going to work a miracle of heart-transformation between these two men. And, as a result, God would get the glory. The news of their reconciliation would spread. The paradigm-shifting precedence of Philemon emancipating his former slave and treating him as his social and spiritual equal would leave an indelible mark on the community. And the only explanation would be the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And Paul rested in the knowledge that God would accomplish far more than even he could imagine. Philemon, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, would far exceed Paul’s words of counsel and his hopes for reconciliation.

He closes his letter by asking Philemon to prepare a room for him. He fully expected to be released from his house arrest at any moment and had every desire to visit his friends in Asia Minor. And, as always, Paul was grateful for the prayers of all those who had been praying for him during his confinement in Rome. Never one to take the petitions of others lightly, Paul found great encouragement in the knowledge that his needs were being lifted to God’s throne in heaven. And he believed that God would answer those prayers.

Finally, Paul provides Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus with greetings from some of their mutual friends. He includes Epaphras, an evangelist whom Paul describes as “my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1:23 ESV). This doesn’t mean that Epaphras was imprisoned with Paul in Rome, but that as a fellow minister of the Gospel, he shared the risks that Paul did. He was “imprisoned” or held captive to his role as an ambassador of Jesus Christ.

Paul adds the names of four other individuals and then closes his letter with the words, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Philemon 1:21 ESV). And it’s hard to imagine that Paul did not have in mind the words spoken to him by God regarding the empowering nature of His grace.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

Philemon had all the power he needed to do all that God was calling him to do.

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

Our Good God

19 No one is good except God alone.– Luke 18:19 ESV

For the Lord is good.
    His unfailing love continues forever,
    and his faithfulness continues to each generation. Psalm 100:5 NLT

68 You are good and do only good;
    teach me your decrees.
– Psalm 119:68 NLT

6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever. – Psalm 23:6 LT

The goodness of God. It’s not a topic most of us find familiar or easy to describe. But it is an essential aspect of God’s character that we tend to give less attention to because of His more impressive-sounding attributes like omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. In our English vernacular, the word “good” sounds a bit underachieving – as in “good, better, best.” Good sounds like you’re settling for less than the ideal.

But when the psalmist chose to describe God as “good,” he used the Hebrew word towb. Like many other Hebrew words, this one is rich in meaning. It can refer to something that is excellent or the best of the best. It was commonly used to refer to the moral excellence of a person or thing. And it was often used as an antonym for evil (ra’). God is totally and completely good, having no semblance of evil in His character. John described Him this way: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV).

So, the statement “God is good” speaks of His moral excellence and His complete lack of evil. He is fully righteous, holy, and just in all His ways. Or as David put it, “The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness” (Psalm 145:17 NLT). To say that God is good means that God always acts in accordance with what is right, true, and good.

God’s way is perfect.
    All the Lord’s promises prove true. – Psalm 18:30 NLT

Everything about God is good. All of His actions are motivated and empowered by His goodness. Unlike man, God does not have to work at being good. At no time can God be accused of doing anything “bad” and, therefore, He requires no one to demand that He “be good.” We may not like what God does, but as fallen creatures, we have no right to question His motives or methods.

He is originally good, good of Himself, which nothing else is; for all creatures are good only by participation and communication from God. He is essentially good; not only good, but goodness itself: the creature’s good is a super-added quality, in God it is His essence. He is infinitely good; the creature’s good is but a drop, but in God there in an infinite ocean or gathering together of good. He is eternally and immutably good, for He cannot be less good than He is; as there can be no addition made to Him, so no subtraction from Him. – Thomas Manton

God’s inherent goodness is essential to who He is. Consider what it would be like to worship an all-powerful deity who lacked the attribute of goodness. In ancient times, this was exactly the situation in which many pagan nations found themselves. Their gods were powerful, vengeful. They were mighty, but lacking in mercy. They were great, but not good. Power, devoid of goodness, results in despotism.

The power and goodness of God go hand in hand. It is His goodness that allows us to rest in His strength, knowing that He will never use it in a way that is unjust or unrighteous. Again, we may not always like what He does, but knowledge of His goodness provides us with the assurance that His actions are always right and righteous. While we may not understand His ways, we can trust that His goodness permeates all that He does. There is never a moment when God’s actions are tainted by evil. His intentions and conduct are always good, all the time.

To put it simply, evil is the absence of goodness. It is whatever God is not. When we sin, we are acting in opposition to and in rebellion against the expressed will of God. We are willingly choosing to commit wickedness rather than goodness. Which is exactly what Adam and Eve did in the garden.

When God completed each phase of His creation of the universe, He stated, “It is good.” But when He had made man and woman, He “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 ESV). Why? Because He “created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 ESV). They were the apex of His creative order, designed to be suma cum laude, of highest distinction and worth.

And this man and woman enjoyed the goodness of God, as evident in the rest of His creation. They had access to the beauty of the garden. They could satisfy their hunger by eating fruit from any of the trees God had provided (except one). And they could enjoy unbroken fellowship with the one who had made them. But then, sin entered the equation. The evil one tempted them to reject God’s goodness, convincing them that his way was better than God’s. He lied, deceiving them into believing God was holding back on them. He painted God as a cosmic killjoy, withholding from them something they desired and deserved. And to convince Adam and Eve to take the bait, he contradicted the very words of God.

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 NLT

Don’t miss that last line. He promised them the capacity to know both “good and evil” – towb and ra’. Up until that point, they had enjoyed only the former, the goodness of God as evidenced by His “good” creation. What Satan was promising them was knowledge of the absence of God. They were about to find out what it was like to live in opposition to and separation from God. After having eaten of the forbidden fruit, “the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Genesis 3:8 ESV). And it was just a matter of time before “the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden, he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24-25 ESV).

The goodness of God is the key to life. Sin separates man from God, eliminating access to His presence and resulting in an absence of His goodness. And just a few chapters later in the book of Genesis, we see the sad, but inevitable outcome of a life lived apart from the goodness of God.

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT

But we can’t blame God for man’s sorry state. His goodness is not diminished just because man’s wickedness flourished. A. W. Pink warns us not to describe the presence of evil as a deficiency in God’s goodness.

Nor can the benevolence of God be justly called into question because there is suffering and sorrow in the world. If man sins against the goodness of God, if he despises “the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering,” and after the hardness and impenitence of his heart treasurest up unto himself wrath against the day of wrath (Rom 2:4,5), who is to blame but himself? Would God be “good” if He punished not those who ill-use His blessings, abuse His benevolence, and trample His mercies beneath their feet? It will be no reflection upon God’s goodness, but rather the brightest exemplification of it, when He shall rid the earth of those who have broken His laws, defied His authority, mocked His messengers, scorned His Son, and persecuted those for whom He died. – A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God

The truly amazing thing about God’s goodness is that He did not choose to abandon mankind altogether. It is His goodness, exhibited by His boundless grace and mercy, that explains our continued existence. We do not deserve to here. We have done nothing to earn His favor or to avoid His righteous anger against our sin and open rebellion to Him. Like Adam and Eve, all of us have chosen to listen to the lies of the enemy and yet, God has “overlooked people’s ignorance about these things, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him” (Acts 17:30 NLT).

The apostle Paul reminds us that God is good, but man is evil.

“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.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
   “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
   in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
   “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” – Romans 3:10-18 NLT

But man’s badness is counterbalanced by God’s goodness.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26 ESV

God’s goodness included His plan to send His Son as the payment for mankind’s sin. That is why He was able to put up with man’s rebellion for so long. He knew what was coming. His good and gracious sovereign plan had always included the sacrifice of His Son so that mankind might once again experience His goodness. And the proper response to His goodness is gratefulness.

Gratitude is the return justly required from the objects of His beneficence. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes 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