Monthly Archives: January 2014

Pure in Heart: Introduction

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:8 ESV]

God tells us to live up to His standards which are based upon Himself, upon His character and personality. Here, Jesus tells us the “pure in heart” are blessed. At the end of Matthew 5 Jesus states “you therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Matthew 5:48 ESV]. God tells His people they are to be “holy, because I am holy” [Leviticus 11:44 ESV]. You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” [Leviticus 20:26 ESV]. Peter reinforces God expectations in his first letter. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” [1 Peter 114-16 ESV]. God’s expectations for His people were their separation from the world and the motives and activities of the world. Jesus describes the citizen of the kingdom of heaven as one who lives and acts like they belong to God. Peter encourages the church to be those who live in the world but belong to God.

Is God demanding we live to a standard which is impossible for us to attain? Yes. Why would He do this? He knows we cannot meet His expectations. Did He not create us for relationship with Himself? Yes. But we fell away, rebelling against Him. He did not turn us away or reject us. In His Son He redeemed us which means He bought us back and recreated us and is fitting us for eternity as citizens of His kingdom. When He created us in His image He had every right to expect our devotion to Him. We sinned making impossible for us any motivation and action which adheres to His expectations. When He redeemed us from sin He established His Creator rights over those redeemed to prepare us for eternity with Him.

God is just and righteous. His character and personality define the scope of all which remains in His known presence. He is good which includes His mercy and grace. He does not arbitrarily decide anything will be good based upon His will but created all things good because He would do nothing less. He is true and truth originates with Him. His creation exists according to and within the truth of the laws of nature and the spiritual laws of eternity. He is holy and nothing unholy may enter and remain in His presence. All of His creation and every being so created, whether seen or unseen,  physical or spiritual, radiates and reflects His being.

Yet, He allowed sin to enter His creation which corrupts, bends, twists and poisons through rebellion those so created. According to God’s eternal nature that which is so defiled cannot then become undefiled. His holiness must exclude from His presence any being who even rebels in, what we would say is, a mild and minor way for no rebellion is insignificant. One sin brings down God’s righteous justice because that one sin makes that which He created good not good, that which He created in truth becomes a lie, that which He created to radiate His holiness cannot.

Our concern is with His highest creation, those made in His image for relationship with Him. Here is what God says about people.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.[Genesis 6:5-8 ESV]

How can anyone, bent and twisted by sin, be considered “pure in heart” by God? How can anyone, born into Adam’s sinful race, be considered “pure in heart” by God? How can Jesus even suggest those who are His be “pure in heart?” There is nothing pure in that which is corrupted by sin.

Perhaps the best place to start is to understand the words Jesus spoke and then put those words in the context of the verse.

“Pure” means “without hypocrisy”, “single faced or single minded” and with “nothing hidden.” In the OT “barar” means to polish, purge, cleanse, make bright, test and prove, specifically concerning oneself and the tools one uses. In the NT “kathros” carries the idea of being clean, free from corruption, pruned of the unnecessary, unstained.

In Scripture the “heart” is the center not of the emotions but of the personality.  God looks to and judges first the heart. Notice Genesis 6:5.  It is the “thoughts of his heart” God examines because it is here the person’s motivations are found. In the OT the word “leb” means the seat of the passions which include the mind and emotions, reflection and inclination, determination and conscience. In the NT the word “kardia” means literally “heart.” It is the center of the person’s life and being and includes character, personality, motivation, purpose and all contained in “leb.” The evidence of a person’s motivations will come through every activity, every word and every thought.

Those who are pure in heart, then, are those who are motivated by a deep, passionate, genuine love for God. There is nothing of the world in them compromising or conflicting with their obvious motivation to obey God’s commands. Jesus gives a straightforward, unambiguous explanation of how we show our love for Him. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” [John 14:15 ESV].

But, doesn’t God say that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”  [Genesis 6:5 ESV]. Once corrupted by sin there is no possibility of removing that sin from the persons being. A drop of poison in a tank of water corrupts the whole tank. However, notice Noah found favor in God’s eyes in verse 8. The word favor, “chen”, is also translated grace. The implication is not Noah had done anything to curry God’s favor, but that God decided, for His own reasons, to extend grace and favor to Noah.

Here is the paradox of grace and God’s decrees. The implications of the context of Genesis 6 suggests either Noah was just like everyone else or He actually sought God while being just like everyone else.  The difference would be in his seeking God where others did not. His motivation, especially in obeying the command to build an ark, was to do what God wanted. This is different than everyone else in the world at that time.

Obedience does not make anyone pure in heart. Only God can do this. Obedience to God’s commands, however, is evidence one’s motivation is at least pointing in the right direction which is toward God. Reasons to obey include fear and respect. The greatest reason to obey is love for God.

Mercy: Conclusion

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.[Matthew 5:7 ESV]

Jesus speaks deliberately about the characteristics of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven. In this statement He gives both the evidence of a faithful life committed to God in every way and a warning to those who would try to manipulate God. Those who are merciful are those who are changed by God because they have received mercy after fully recognizing their sinful position before God. Those who selectively show mercy are in danger of having God’s mercy withheld and His justice unleashed because of their dubious position before Him

God is under no compulsion to offer mercy to anyone who has rebelled against Him. There is, however, the necessary action of justly sentencing those who rebel to death. Those who violate His law, the law inherent in their being, integral to the image of God in which He made them, will face judgment. When He shows mercy it is for His reasons and is freely given. His mercy never conflicts with His justice nor violates His law.

We need His mercy. We are under His judgment. Everything done by anyone, with the exception of Jesus Christ, comes from the motivation of complete selfishness and self-absorption. We are bent and twisted by sin from birth, in a state of complete rebellion against our Creator. We have been in this state since Adam ate the only food forbidden him. From him, the head of mankind, we all get our willful desire to rebel against God, though we were created for relationship. From Adam we inherited our self-focus and self-serving attitudes and actions. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” [Genesis 6:5 ESV].

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. [Psalm 14:1-3; cf. Psalm 53:1-3 ESV]

I have met men who called themselves Christians who claimed they had not sinned for a long while. One, a Chaplain, claimed he had not sinned for years. Because of them I thought it possible to live without sinning, to live such a self-controlled life sin’s grip would loosen and soon fall away, to no longer have its hold. This caused immeasurable grief and despair for I soon saw through Scripture that sin did not simply hold me but inhabited me and bent me out of shape. My self was the natural home of sin. I saw sin had a personality and that personality was my own. The more I read Scripture looking for the magic pill the clearer it became there was no magic pill. I was bent and twisted and simply banging out the bends and twists did not leave something straight only something less bent and twisted. Still bent and twisted.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [1 John 1:8-10 ESV]

I was under God’s justified wrath. I could never pay for my sins, let alone escape them. God forced me to acknowledge my complete slavery to sin and complete rebellion against Him. He demanded I recognize my poverty of spirit and realize the consequences of my sin, separation from Him. Jesus is intentional in His statements. Once I saw my position I was forced to a decision.  Either I continue trying to control my sin, ultimately allowing it to control me, or I relinquish control of myself to God. This is a lifetime struggle of obedience to Him. Yet, the evidence of this struggle is a hunger and thirst for His righteousness.

He offers a way out, but only one way. He is completely just and requires punishment for any and all rebellion against Him, against His moral law. From the first sin He has promised a way. In His justice He took upon Himself, in His Son, the full penalty for sin. This fulfilled His requirement for justice. In His mercy He offered complete restoration to His presence. This is grace. But, He will not simply straighten us who are bent, He recreate us. He changes us. Though we continue to fight and rebel and war against sin that change is complete and accomplished. That which He has started in us He will finish.

We do not deserve His mercy, nor His grace. He does not look at our worthiness, for He has already called us worthless. But we are still created in His image and the object of His love. If He has given anything it is through grace. We earn nothing.

There is an expectation He has. We freely receive His mercy, being released from the sentence of death and eternal separation from Him, the source of life. The evidence of receiving His mercy is our showing mercy to others. Mercy is God’s active love for and toward us who do not deserve His love. Mercy is also our active love toward those who do not deserve His love because He first loved us. It is not about us.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.[Matthew 5:7 ESV]

Jesus’ Mercy Toward a Father and Son

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”

And Jesus answered, ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.’ And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. [Matthew 17:14-18 ESV].

A father’s cry. “Lord, have mercy on my son.” And then, and honest rebuke. “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” Does our Lord have no compassion on the pitiable condition of either the father or the son? Have they done something wrong to receive such a strong rebuke?

Yes.

Both father and son had done something wrong. They sinned. Perhaps, a better explanation is they could do nothing but sin. Although the ultimate consequence of sin is eternal separation from God there are immediate, short-term effects. For the boy, one such effect was demon-possession. For the father believing at any time, anything other than God is capable of fulfilling his needs. They, and we, are members of a fallen people living our lives in a way and manner which excludes God from His rightful place. Even living under the illusion we are within His expectations when we  are not and never have been.

Jesus uses the word “faithless” means the exact opposite of “faith”. Faith always encompasses three elements, belief in God’s truth, trusting His decisions and obeying His commands. Faith involves the whole person, mind, emotions and will. “Twisted,” another word Jesus uses, means perverse, distorted, misshapen, and is the obvious consequence of sin. Every generation is twisted by sin cutting off the flow of God’s provision received through the conduit of faith. Twisted and faithless describes everyone affected by sin, which is everyone except Jesus, the Son of God.

Faithlessness breeds desperation and hopelessness as seen in the father’s distressed request. Like everyone around him he showed no faith. And like everyone alive at that time the son was twisted. Yet, the father was also twisted and the son, no matter his age, was also faithless. They were twisted by sin and taught to not place faith in the ultimate Object of faith. Those standing around were equally faithless and twisted. His disciples, standing with the crowd, unable to do anything, were like all the rest. They had God in their midst and still they twisted their thoughts about Him declaring Him something other than the Great I Am.

Does this sound harsh and merciless? Is my thinking wrong? Should we put aside truth because of circumstance, conveniently forgetting the truth of sin because the obvious effects of sin capture our attention and prick our own wounded spirits? No father or mother should ever have to watch one of their children suffer. No son or daughter should have to suffer. Isn’t this the way we think? How could God be so cruel to allow such hopelessness?

What do we do with God’s word and the charges against us?

“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 ESV; Psalm 14:1-3 and 53:1-3; 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; 36:1]

What do we do with Jesus’ words “O faithless and twisted generation”?

Peter, James and John had just witnessed something few people throughout history had seen. Moses and Elijah were the only others in recorded history to actually see Jesus, a theophany of God, in His glory. Both men were hidden from the face of God but saw His back or His hand. No sinful person can look upon the face of God and live. This does not mean sinful man could not see the glory of God. Many saw God’s glory in visions and dreams. Peter, James and John saw the momentary metamorphosis of Jesus, into what He truly is.

Then they came down the mountain into the sinful world.

Mark’s Gospel in 9:20-22 gives more detail. Jesus asked how long he had suffered and his father responds from childhood. The demon, recognizing Jesus convulses the boy, throwing him into what appears as an epileptic fit. Again, the father asks if Jesus can do anything. “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” [Mark 9:22 ESV].

Jesus’ response pinpoints the father’s lack of faith, of believing God, trusting Him and obeying His command. “If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” [Mark 9:23 ESV]. This is another astounding statement directed at everyone within hearing. The word “believe” is the word for having faith. The object of such faith must be God and nothing else. Such faith cannot be corrupted or twisted by sin. The result of such faith is always God’s will, never the will of any man.

Follow the discussion between Jesus and everyone around, everyone involved in the circumstance. The father immediately recognized the war between his faith, “I believe” and that faith twisted by sin, “help my unbelief” [Mark 9:24 ESV]. Jesus, having mercy on both the father and son and all watching commands the demon remove itself from the boy. We know nothing else about the father or boy. We never see them again.

Afterward Jesus’ disciples come to Him and ask why they could not do what He just did. Jesus’ answer confirms their twisted faith. The word used is the same as “faithless.” The ESV is generous in its translation and gives the wrong impression, suggesting they had even a little faith. “Because of your little faith (faithlessness). For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” [Matthew 17:20 ESV]. They did not have little faith. They had no faith.

God’s mercy is not dependent upon our faith, our works or our good standing before Him. His mercy is active love extended to those undeserving of His love. His mercy is given to those who rebel against Him, who fight Him, but who still acknowledge His sovereignty over their lives. His mercy is given to those He has chosen for His reasons and according to His will. Extended to all, His mercy is received by those who cry out “I believe. Help by unbelief.”

Jesus Mercy Toward …

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.” [John 5:5-7 ESV]

“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked a simple question. He did this often. His question strikes at the truth of the man’s hopelessness. God does ask us questions. His questions are designed to reveal our hearts, our motivations and objectives. He rarely offers us options. He never asks us to do something. He always commands we do what He tells us to do.

It is no surprise many carrying their handicaps as well as their sinful, immoral habits comfortably on their shoulders. If they were honest with themselves they would say “no” to Jesus’ question. They don’t want to be healed. For being healed sends them into an unknown, having to deal with parts of life they never had to confront. For most of us the answer to His question is “are you kidding? Of course I want to be healed.” Yet, being healed, being changed into something healthy carries great cost. We don’t want to confront our sin and live any differently than the comfort of our current situations.

Notice the one Jesus healed and those He did not heal. Near him lay a “multitude of invalids” all gathered under the same place all clinging to a superstitious belief an angel would stir water and the first one in is healed. He had been an invalid for 38 years. We can only speculate if his condition was all his life. He had been an invalid for so long he had grown comfortable with his lot. His focus was on the water and the impossibility of ever being changed. His faith was fixed on one thing and it wasn’t God. Besides, God made him this way. Why should God want to heal him?

His place was hopeless. He would die an invalid.

I wonder if Jesus, in order to not attract attention to Himself, whispered to the man as he lay in his usual place? I imagine the question was for him only. I wonder what Jesus saw in this man? Why did Jesus speak to him and not the others ? Why did Jesus show tangible mercy to this man and not to the others? I have an idea.

Jesus healed him to test the hearts of the religious leaders of Jerusalem. I say this for two reasons. First, He healed the man on the Sabbath and then told him to work. Jesus’ instruction Get up, take up your bed, and walk” [John 5:8 ESV] was a command and the man immediately obeyed. And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath” [John 5:9 ESV]. This is neither the first nor the last time Jesus would heal on the Sabbath. But the Jewish tradition, building an impenetrable wall around the fourth commandment determined carrying anything was a violation of the intent of the Law. Jesus continually challenged the Religious leaders interpretation and application of Scripture. Jesus healed this man because He knew the Jewish leaders would challenge, not the reality of the healing but the violation of their traditional understanding of God’s Law.

Keep God’s law and He will reward you. Violate God’s Law and His wrath will fall on you. Their understanding of God’s Law was as superstitious as the invalid’s belief that stepping into a pool after the water was stirred by an angel would bring healing.

When we focus on the invalid and not the Lord we may draw many conclusions about what might have happened. How ecstatic he may have been. How worshipful and thankful to God he may have been. We do not know his emotional state beyond the hopelessness of his response to Jesus question. We do see the reaction of the Jews to one working on the Sabbath. Had not God decreed death to those who worked on the Sabbath? Working on the Sabbath was strictly forbidden. But then, so was every other sin. Jesus regularly challenged the thinking and heart motivations of the strict Jews whose faith was in the Law and not the God upon whom the Law is founded.

Our work of faith is the evidence of faith at work. Obedience to God is expected and carries no merit. We cannot say to Him, I obeyed now You owe me. It is our responsibility to obey God as His creation and servants. When we take His words, especially His Scripture, and add to them our own laws and expectations we supplant His authority. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath He had the authority to do so. When He commanded a man “work” He had the authority to do so. When he challenged the legalistic machinations of the Jewish authorities it was because they were challenging His authority.

Man’s interpretation of God’s Law is not merciful. Law trumps mercy when applied by sinful man and is manipulated and reconfigured to leave control with man and not God. Man’s understanding of justice demands the Law be applied strictly. It is the Law which becomes the object of faith, just as the pool was the invalids object of faith. However, when God is the object of faith then the Law only points out the sinfulness of man .

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. [Romans 7:10-14 ESV]

But God is merciful as part of His eternal character. He offers mercy but still demands obedience. The second reason is this: Jesus commanded the invalid to do two things, not one, separated by a short period. First, He told him to pick up his mat and walk, and the man did. But, later He told the man to stop sinning. “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you’” [John 5:14 ESV]. What could be worse than being an invalid for 38 years? What could be worse than having the Jews angry with you for violating the Law? Being separated from God because of sin is worse.

God’s mercy trumps man’s interpretation of the Law. After all, it’s His Law and it conforms to His eternal character. When controlled by sin the Law is used to fight to keep power over those under it and is used to frustrate and even stop God’s mercy. God’s mercy and justice are not opposed to each other but are fully compatible. Jesus had mercy on this man, actively loving him by healing his body and giving him direction toward God. He no more deserved God’s mercy than anyone else in the world.

It was the Jews, whose object of faith was the Law and not God, who turned the Law into an idol, who wanted to kill Jesus because he challenged their dishonesty and superstitious use of God’s Law.

This was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, He healed on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’ 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 5:16-18 ESV].

It is Jesus’ equality with God, and His passionate substitution for us on the cross, which fulfills the law and energizes God’s mercy. Don’t allow any interpretation of Scripture to point away from Jesus and His active love for those who are His.

Manassah and God’s Mercy

Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. [2 Chronicles 33:1-2 ESV]

God worked in the life and reign of Hezekiah, Manassah’s father.  Hezekiah was a wise man at 25 years old because he listened to those counseling him and sought God like king David, doing what was right in God’s eyes. He felt the weight of his responsibility as king, serving God seriously. He led stubborn Israel in the ways of God. Did he not teach his son Manassah to do the same? If he did, Manassah did not learn from his father. Everything his father had done Manassah undid.

Manaassah’s anger toward God is obvious. What else would drive a man toward evil who had been raised to worship the God of Israel? Manassah was wicked.

God’s promises are stated explicitly in Scripture. Scripture are the words of God every king was to write down for themselves, to know and follow. Scripture were the words the people promised God they would follow after He brought them out of Egypt, led them through their wanderings in the desert, then into the Promised Land. He told them to teach His words to their children. He told them to follow His words and He would bless them. He told them if they did not follow His words His wrath toward them would exceed His wrath toward the nations they displaced. “I will no more remove the foot of Israel from the land that I appointed for your fathers, if only they will be careful to do all that I have commanded them, all the law, the statutes, and the rules given through Moses” [2 Chronicles 33:8; cf. 2 Kings 21:8 ESV].

Manassah exceeded the evil of those who lived in the land before Israel. “Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel” [2 Chronicles 33:9; cf. 2 Kings 21:9 ESV]. Manassah led the people into greater evil than any other king of Judah.

God gives to people leaders who will accomplish His decrees. Where His people are stubborn and complaining He will give them leaders to quench their stubbornness and silence their complaining. Moses was such a leader. David was such a leader. But, if the people will not listen and continue to rebel, for stubbornness and complaining are evidence of rebellion, He will give them a leader to teach them their rebellion is sin and convince them to return to Him. Manassah and Ahab were such leaders. Ahab, king of the Northern Kingdom never brought the people back to God. In God’s grace, and the harshness of the disciple, Manassah did.

Throughout Scripture are examples of God’s mercy and grace and the personal responsibility those who are His carry before Him. God’s mercy and grace do not absolve anyone from their responsibilities. Grace and mercy freely release the person from the justified sentence of separation from God because of their rebellion when the consequence of the sentence was felt and born by Jesus on the cross. Release from the immediate and temporal cost of rebellion does not happen. What we sow, we will reap. Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of one sin. David suffered the consequences of his repeated adulteries though he repented and receive mercy and grace. Manassah sowed sin and rebellion against God and reaped the consequences as determined by the known words and will of God.

Manassah was an evil man. He lead and encouraged Israel to commit idolatry, to worship a lie. He sacrificed his own children in the fire to a detestable idol demon. He consulted those who practiced the occult instead of God’s prophets and priests. He did these things for years. Manassah murdered people. When God spoke to Manassah he ignored Him. When God spoke to His people during Manassah’s reign they ignored Him. Israel followed their leader. “The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention” [2 Chronicles 33:10 ESV]. God told them they would be punished but they did not listen to the warning, repent and turn away from their sin.

Enter God’s rod of punishment, the King of Assyria. “Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon” [2 Chronicles 33:11 ESV]. The word “hooks” means to pierce, as in through the nose. Manassah was bound with bronze shackles and led to Babylon by a chain attached to a hook in his nose. His humiliation was complete.

God knew Manassah would learn from the harsh discipline, repent and turn toward Him, seeking to know Him both intellectually and intimately. Lessons learned from Hezekiah his father were not completely forgotten, rising to the surface in his humiliation and  agony. “And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God” [2 Chronicles 33:12-13 ESV].Though his repentance is not found in 2 Kings it is real, a historical fact in Scripture.

God showed mercy to Manassah, one of the most corrupt kings to reign over Judah. His corruption dissolved in the harsh disciplines of God at the hands of an enemy king, the king of Assyria, who was even more corrupt than Manassah. All are used by God to accomplish His decrees. As evidence of God’s mercy, Manassah was returned to Jerusalem as king, and of his repentance he tore down the idols and false alters and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. But, the consequences of his leading the people astray, for they continued to worship idols, is also evident. Manassah was released from experiencing the wrath of God and showed his changed character by trying to undo all the effects of his rebellion. He was unable to. God used his evil actions, and his repentance, to teach a stubborn and complaining people about mercy, His active love.

Manassah learned his lesson. Most of the people of Judah refused to learn. God does not change but acts according to His love and justice. His purpose is to bring people back to Himself and will use the right means to accomplish His ends which are always for our benefit. Unless we refuse to learn.

God’s Mercy to David

(Posted 1-14-14 and revised 1-15-14)

So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men. [2 Samuel 24:15 ESV]

Of all of the Kings of Israel David carries the most renown. He was a truly sinful yet devoted servant of God, knowing God both intellectually and intimately. His arrogance and sinfulness are unabashedly displayed in Scripture. So, too, was His deep worship of God whom he served. His poetry in the Psalms reveal the depth of worship from his heart. He would sin boldly and repent openly. God used David and his family, and through his genealogical line gave us His Son while preparing Israel and the world to receive Messiah.

In the story found in the last chapter if 2 Samuel God is open about His determination to teach and discipline His people. “Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah'” [2 Samuel 24:1 ESV].

First Chronicles 22 tells us a slightly different story. It is one of the supposed contradictions in Scripture. Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” [1 Chronicles 21:1 ESV]. Satan stood against Israel before God just as he stood against Job before God. Listen to what God says to Satan after his first round of tormenting Job. And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” [Job 2:3 ESV] In all three verse, 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles and Job, the word “incite” means to seduce or to persuade. God incited David to count the fighting men. Satan incited David to count the fighting men. Satan incited God to torment Job. We are faced with a conundrum.

How can God be manipulated by Satan? Why would God manufacture a reason to be angry with Israel by persuading David to sin? He didn’t need to manufacture a reason because Israel continually rebelled against Him. Before we question God’s motives, assigning Him a place as Tempter, let us remember He is God and not the author of sin or temptation. He is not manipulated by Satan but uses Satan’s lies to further His kingdom. How often in Isaiah 45 does He declare He is God and there is no other (see Isaiah 45: 5, 14, 18, 21, 22).

David knew Scripture and knew he was not allowed to count the fighting men. God instructed Moses and Aaron to count the fighting men, once after they left Egypt and again after their wandering in the desert when all the fighting men from the first census had died, except Joshua and Caleb. David’s reason for counting the fighting men was to feed his vanity not out of trust and obedience to God.

Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.” [Isaiah 46:8-13 ESV]

We are His servants just as David was His servant. He is not our servant. So, when David decides to sin by numbering the people it is David’s sin, not God’s. The word “incite” means to move or provoke. God takes complete control placing David’s sin within His divine decree from eternity to eternity and says it will happen. But, it is still David’s sin, not God’s.

Even if we are tempted by Satan our sin is still our sin.

David ordered his Commander, Joab, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people” [2 Samuel 24:2 ESV]. David had been thinking, feeling, musing or pondering, perhaps in his old age, how strong he really was not how strong is his God. Joab, a strong and powerful man in his own right, saw quickly the folly of his king’s request. “May the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” [2 Samuel 24:3 ESV]. David insisted, Joab obeyed and the fighting men were counted. And God’s wrath was kindled against Israel because of His anger against David’s lack of faith.

David, after the fighting men were numbered, knew exactly what he had done. “But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly'” [2 Samuel 24:10 ESV]. God gives David a choice of disciplines. This is unusual in Scripture, for God being God does not normally give choices nor ask what we want. Through the prophet Gad God delivers David’s options.

So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” [2 Samuel 24:13 ESV]

Shall everyone in the land be subjected to severe, lingering famine?

Shall everyone in the land be uprooted, their property destroyed, by an enemy?

Shall God inflict on those He has chosen a severe disease?

David’s choice reveals his heart. “Then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man’” [2 Samuel 24:14 ESV]. God’s mercy is great. Let Him choose those who will suffer and die, and live. Let God’s active love toward His people, those who love Him because He first loved them, be shown and seen. Let Him chose to discipline or punish, to use His servants and perhaps differentiate between those who willingly serve Him and those who willfully hate Him. Let us fall into the mercy of God, for those who do not know God, and have not received His mercy will not, cannot fully, show mercy to other.

And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house.” [2 Samuel 24:16-17 ESV]

We do not know if those who died because of the plague were people who hated God. We do know that all people are sinful and deserve death. We can also see David’s heart in begging for mercy for those facing God’s judgment.

David saw God, the angel of the Lord, a theophany of Jesus. God’s Son does not judge but does execute judgment. He comes to testify to the truth. Jesus responded to Pilate’s sarcastic statements of who He is at His illegal trial. “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” [John 18:37 ESV].

David, though he sinned grievously recognized his sin and realized the consequences of hi sin and repent quickly and completely. He never shirked accepting the responsibility for his actions though at times he had to be confronted by God using a prophet. God’s showed mercy to Israel and to David and his family and stopped the plague.

God showed mercy to all through His Son Jesus by placing upon His shoulders the sin of all. He received the punishment for our sin. The plague inflicted upon Israel because of David’ sin still killed 70,000 men. So too, are those who will die, be separated from God because of sin, even though Jesus died for their sin. There is more at work here than simple discipline and redemption. For, God has determined what He will do from eternity to eternity, for He is eternally God. God’s mercy is both  immediate and eternal.

Forgiveness and Mercy

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. [Matthew 5:7 ESV]

Most interpret this verse in both of two ways. We show mercy because we will be shown mercy. We show mercy because we have been shown mercy. Both positions work together to produce mercy in us. One helps define our relationship with God and  the other our relationships with people made in the image of God.

However, because of our sinful nature, our bent toward rebellion, we will not either give or show mercy naturally. We must be taught and trained to show mercy. God teaches us to show mercy by being shown mercy by another. We will not recognize mercy for what it is unless we recognize a law or a standard established by a higher authority is violated and we bear the brunt of the consequences. In most instances we have come under conviction and wrath of that authority. We must feel bad because we have been caught (this is not repentance) in order to comprehend mercy to us. Accepting mercy suggests we will turn away from the moral violation and the actions which placed use under wrath.

There are instances where children suffer the consequences of their parents criminal activity, moral stupidity or unanticipated and uncontrollable circumstances. Actively loving children who are cast away from their parents is showing them mercy to them but is also showing mercy to the parent.

In order to receive mercy from God for the consequences of our rebellion against Him  we must also be forgiven by Him. Mercy is one side of a coin with forgiveness on the flip side. You cannot have one without the other. What good is it if God says I have forgiven your sin but then does not show mercy after? Or what good is being shown mercy without also being forgiven? Both become hollow acts. So, when we show mercy we show forgiveness.

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table.

And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”

And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?

And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” [Luke 7:36-50 ESV]

What drove this woman to worship Jesus? Why would she spend hard earned money to buy a perfume only to pour it on the feet of a traveling preacher? She saw something in herself she did not like and something in Jesus she did. She saw herself as a despicable sinner and she saw Jesus as one who accepted her no matter her past. She obviously had been exposed to Jesus at sometime, perhaps hearing him speak, tell stories. She may have even watched Him do a miracle, heal someone who was blind, cleanse a leper, make someone who was lame walk. Jesus was known for telling people their sins were forgiven. No sacrifices. No confessions at the temple. Maybe He had shown her mercy earlier in the day or week or year.

As they were eating at the house of a Pharisee she comes in uninvited and begins anointing His feet with her perfume and her tears. A Pharisee’s home is the very last place you would find a woman with her past. He would not allow her, the wording suggests she was a prostitute, anywhere near.  He would not speak to her in the temple or look at her on the street. He would not be seen with her and she would only tease him for his self-righteousness. He hated her and she would have despised him. The only thing they had in common was their country of birth and Jesus. They both wanted to be with Jesus for different reasons. For him, being seen with Jesus would increase his prestige among the people. For her, Jesus accepted her and treated her like a person loved by God even though she was devastatingly aware of her sin.

Jesus both forgave the woman and showed her mercy, accepting her unconditionally in spite of her sordid past. He actively loved her giving her the mercy of forgiveness for her sins, not because she first loved him. She demonstrated her love for him because she recognized his love for her. Conversely, the Pharisees who sat with him judged both Jesus and the sinful woman, rejecting both. In a Pharisee’s mind the debt of sin is so great not even God will forgive let alone show mercy.

The Pharisee never asked for mercy or forgiveness. If he followed his colleagues he would never ask for mercy or forgiveness from Jesus. He was motivated to earn God’s pleasure.

The woman didn’t ask for either forgiveness or mercy nor did she assume Jesus would offer either. She came to worship him. Forgiveness and mercy had been given before she arrived.