Have you ever stopped to think about why it seems like every single person or thing in your life has let you down from time to time? Maybe you’ve had a long list of potential spouses that have brought pain into your life, and then you finally got married to the one person who seemed to make you happy only to find out that “the one” is flawed and hurts you like everyone else. Maybe it was someone else you trusted in a business or church that let you down when you least expected it. Perhaps the most notable examples of those that let us down unexpectedly are the public figures that we seek to emulate.
Every time I see someone famous fall from the pedestal on which society has placed him, I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Roman church which he quoted from Psalm 14: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10b). I’m old enough to have been in high school when the news broke that our nation’s then-president Bill Clinton had been involved in an adulterous relationship with employee Monica Lewinsky, then attempted to weasel his way out of it by arguing the definitions of certain words. The best of the best in the realm of sports have also fallen. The greatest professional baseball players of my generation can’t even sniff the Hall of Fame due to their use of performance-enhancing drugs. Tiger Woods lost his marriage, millions of dollars, and most of his marketing deals due to marital infidelity and lying. Recently, Lance Armstrong has been said to have let down millions who practically worshipped him due to his athletic achievements, victory over cancer, and ability to raise money to fight the dreaded disease. The scandalous list is unending and includes names like Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant, Bobby Petrino, and Mike Tyson. And yet, my feeling of shock is never due to one of these individuals messing up, but to people seeming to think it wasn’t possible!
In the ancient days of the Old Testament, the most powerful nation of that time period had a major issue with having many gods that were all false. They were absolutely convinced that their gods would not let them down. How shocked they must have been when their gods were brought down one by one! I’m talking about Egypt. They had a long list of gods that had different responsibilities, different manifestations, and different symbolic representations. Egypt was thriving as a society by worldly standards after Joseph helped bring them out of a devastating famine (read the end of Genesis for more details). They had complete dominance over the people of Israel, the so-called “chosen people of God”, and had no obvious reason to change anything about the way they operated as a society. That was until Moses and Aaron showed up. They went to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert’” (Exodus 5:1b). Pharaoh’s answer would set the tone for the battle between the Lord God Almighty and the gods of the Egyptians. “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go” (v. 2). Well, at least he was honest in his defiance.
Pharaoh knew and worshipped many “lords”, including himself, but did not know THE Lord. And it was THE Lord who would put the gods of Egypt to shame over the course of the next group of events leading up to the actual exodus and Passover celebrations. From Exodus 7-11, the ten different plagues that God brings upon the Egyptians are described. Through these plagues, God attempted to “convince” Pharaoh to let His people go. While this post is not about God’s grace, I encourage you to read those stories and think about the number of chances that God gives Pharaoh even though He knows that his heart is completely defiant towards Him. While the story is about freeing God’s people from captivity, it’s also about God’s desire that even the evil Egyptians might fear and worship Him. All you have to do is look at what the Lord says as His reason for the plagues before He even brings them. “And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it” (Exodus 7:5). This wasn’t about God saying “in your face” to the Egyptians. To truly know God is to appropriately fear and worship Him as the ONE, holy and true God.
What is significant about the ten plagues that is not immediately obvious in the Exodus story is that each of them was a direct sign of God’s power over one of Egypt’s gods. This information can be found in a number of sources, but for the purpose of this writing I will use a chart from “Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts”. God turned the Nile River and all of the streams that flowed from it to blood (Exodus 7:14-24). The Egyptians worshipped the river itself as sacred, along with Khnum (who was seen as the creator of mankind) and Sothis, the gods who were responsible for it. God covered the land with disgusting and croaking frogs (8:1-15). The Egyptians worshipped Heket, a goddess of fertility that was symbolized with the head of a frog. They couldn’t kill the frogs because they worshipped them, and the plague drove them insane. God turned the dust into gnats and sent swarms of flies in the next two plagues (8:16-32). The Egyptians worshipped Seth, god of the earth, and Beelzebub, the god of the air.
It continued with God sending a plague that killed all the livestock of the Egyptians (9:1-7), who had worshipped Apis, a god who ensures fertility and was symbolized by a sacred bull. God inflicted men and animals with painful boils (9:8-12), while the Egyptians worshipped Isis, a goddess of healing. God sent a plague of hail that destroyed property and crops in Egypt (9:13-35), while the Egyptians worshipped Amon, the god of wind and weather. God then covered the land and crops with swarms of locusts (10:1-20), while the Egyptians worshipped Osiris as the ruler of vegetation. God still was not done as Pharaoh ultimately continued in his defiance after each plague subsided.
God saved the two greatest gods of the Egyptians for last. He brought a plague of darkness that covered the whole nation for three days (10:21-29). The national and most-worshipped god of the Egyptians was Ra, the god of the sun. He must have been asleep for those three days of total darkness. Finally, God sent an angel that would destroy all the firstborn in Egypt, including the firstborn son of Pharaoh. Pharaoh was considered by the Egyptians to be the physical manifestation of all the other gods, and his firstborn son would be the next in line to receive his throne. God showed once and for all that He is powerful above all false gods, and this time Pharaoh finally let the Israelites leave his land.
I pray that as you have read this post, it hasn’t just been a boring lesson about the history of the Egyptian gods. I challenge you to recognize that God sometimes allows trouble in our lives as consequences that we have worshipped other gods above Him. We may not go to a pagan temple or worship at the altar of these “gods”, but we certainly look elsewhere to get our needs met when our heavenly Father knows everything we need and desire and is ultimately the Giver of everything we have. But just like with Pharaoh, God is not punishing you out of sheer anger. He desires that you might truly KNOW Him and worship Him alone. And friends, it’s not just about you. God desires that the world might know and worship Him alone as they watch His power at work in your lives. Don’t be a reason that the world misses out!
This week’s word is a combination of two Greek words. Monos means “one” and theos means “God.” Put those together and you get monotheism, which signifies a belief in only one God.
The Biblical significance of this word is that we, as Christians, only believe in one God. During the times of the Bible’s writing, there were many people who believed in multiple gods. You’ve probably heard about the Greek gods, for example; Zeus, Aphrodite, Hercules, etc. Other religions had other gods, such as the sun god or the rain god or whatever. The term for this is polytheism - believing in more than one god. But throughout the Bible, God’s people have been instructed to only believe in and follow the one true God.
One of the times God briefly explained this to the Israelites is recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This passage is commonly called the shema, because the first word of it in Hebrew is shema, which is a command meaning “hear.” The Hebrew people, even to this day, commonly recite this verse in Hebrew as a daily prayer. We see, very simply, that God is one. There are not many gods as many of the pagan religions surrounding the Israelites believed; there is one true God.
We see the same concept of there being only one God echoed throughout the New Testament as well. For example, Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” We see this again in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.”
Why is monotheism important in your life today? Our culture, especially in the U.S., is a polytheistic culture - in general, people worship many gods. They may not call them out as gods, but they are. There’s the god of money, the god of fame, the god of having the latest tech toys, the god of having a fancy car, etc. We as Christians need to remember that we are called to be truly monotheistic and only worship the one true God. We need to give God 100% of our allegiance, in spite of what society tells us and our own human nature is drawn to. I challenge you to identify the gods in your life, and work at ridding yourself of them so you can fully and completely participate in monotheism by serving and following only the one true God.
Probably the most dramatic and most famous sports moment in the last century or so was when the United States of America men’s Olympic hockey team defeated the heavily-favored Soviet team in the semi-finals of the 1980 Winter Olympics. That moment was dramatic not only because the USA team was a collection of amateur and less-talented players that took down the Soviet team consisting of seasoned professionals, but also because it came at a time of great tension between the two “superpowers” at the forefront of the Cold War. The idea that the USA team could score a victory for themselves and the American people was considered nearly impossible. But that is precisely why the movie created about the event was titled “Miracle”, inspired by the call of the great announcer Al Michaels as the final seconds ticked off the clock: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”
That question is one that all of us must answer. No, I’m not talking about just within the realm of sports, although it certainly applies there. I’m talking about in each and every one of our lives. What are the miracles that you are desperately hoping for in your life, and do you BELIEVE that God can do it? Or, is the overwhelming evidence against such possibilities causing you to doubt the power and will of God? These questions don’t necessarily need to be answered publicly when you’re in the midst of needing a miracle, but it is paramount that you know what you believe because you will place your trust in whatever that is – either God’s sovereignty or human understanding.
That truth was just as evident when Jesus walked the earth and before as it is right now. Last summer, we wrote blogs on the topic of “faith”. In the one I wrote, I mentioned that Jesus was “astonished” by the faith of the centurion (a Gentile) who believed that Jesus could heal his servant by simply saying the word (Matthew 8:8-10). The centurion’s faith informed his understanding of his particular crisis. Rather than put his faith in what anyone else thought, he believed that his servant’s life was completely in the hands of Jesus and that his will could be done simply by his word.
The Greek word for “astonished” in that story is “thaumadzo”, and there is only one other place in the New Testament where it is used. In Mark 6:1-6, we read about the attitude that many in Jesus’ hometown had toward him when he returned there with his disciples. The Word says that when they heard his wonderful teaching, they took offense at him, because they knew he and his family well and knew that he had been a mere carpenter and the son of Mary (v. 3). Mark then goes on to tell us that Jesus was “amazed” at their lack of faith (v. 6). The word once again in that verse is “thaumadzo”. Do you see my point? There were only two things recorded in the Bible that “amazed” Jesus. The first was when he found faith in a place that it would not have been expected (the Gentile). The second was when he realized faith was absent in his hometown, where people (Jews) had all the advantages and every reason to believe. What a lesson for so many churches today! Those of us that have accepted Christ as our personal Lord and Savior because of the revelation that only comes through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives have every reason to put our faith in Jesus during difficult circumstances. But do we truly believe that a miracle can still be done, or do we just assume that it is a thing of the past?
You’ve probably heard the saying “familiarity breeds contempt”. It is certainly applicable here. The people in Jesus’ hometown were familiar with him in regards to his family and his occupation. They got so used to viewing Jesus within the framework that they saw him previously that they were unwilling to accept him as something greater. They were unwilling to believe that this mere carpenter could have the power of God in him, because that would mean a lot of other things about their lives would have to change in addition to their view of him.
Friends, there is a big difference between NO-belief and UN-belief. Some people don’t believe in the power of Jesus to do miracles because they simply don’t have a relationship with him or have never understood what it means to surrender to him and trust him completely. But the people that “amazed” Jesus in a negative way and sometimes even angered him were the ones who had the knowledge and relationship with him, yet were simply unwilling to believe anything about him that would be outside of the “box” in which they viewed him. Mark 6:5 tells us that Jesus “could not do any miracles (in his hometown), except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them”. It was the unwillingness of the people to believe in Jesus’ power that limited what he was able to do there. Now, please understand that man’s unbelief is not stronger than God’s power and that is not the reason Jesus wasn’t able to do the miracles.
The fact that he did heal the few sick people who came to him proves that. Rather, God has a principle of partnership with man. It was not God’s plan to “wow” everyone into believing in Jesus. Instead, God requires faith in action as part of our relationship with Him. Jesus was not able to do the miracles in his hometown because people were likely not even giving him the chance. Sure, he could have called fire down from heaven so that all could see. But in terms of doing miracles in the lives of the people, he wasn’t about to supernaturally act when they weren’t even willing to come to him and put their faith in him.
If you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, I urge you to live in such a way that you know that anything is possible according to his will and that he will never leave you or forsake you. One of my favorite miracle stories in the Old Testament is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. Their response to King Nebuchadnezzar when asked to account for their refusal to bow down to his statue is inspiring. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king” (3:17). They proclaimed their belief that God was able to perform a miracle and save them from the furnace, yet did not box Him into doing things “their way”. They understood that even if God chose not to act in that specific way, He would still rescue them from the king’s hand one way or another. You see, friends, even death would have been considered a form of rescue in their minds because it meant no more physical pain, and then everlasting life, which is a miracle in itself. Their BELIEF allowed them to see past the temporary trials and look to God, the provider of all miracles. It also allowed them to put their FULL trust in His sovereignty. If you want to see miracles in your life and in your church, you’ve got to believe in who God says He is, and then put that faith into action!
“It’s a miracle I didn’t slip on the ice today!”
“You mean he actually did that? It’s a miracle!”
In today’s culture, we tend to use the word miracle somewhat flippantly and sarcastically, and it seems to have lost some of the power it once contained. A miracle is something that is totally unexplainable by human means.
In November 2010, my friend Connie was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time since 2002, and the doctors discovered that it had metastasized into the rest of her body. She is a strong Christian woman and trusts God with her whole life. She is a prayer warrior and lives her life to serve God. In late 2010 and the first half of 2011, she went through many of the necessary medical treatments for her cancer, as she felt was God’s will. At the beginning of July 2011, she discovered that she was healed! Every last bit of that cancer was gone from her body. Medical science could not explain it at all! Unfortunately, her doctors have recently discovered a cancerous mass in her esophagus so she is fighting the cancer battle yet again, but she is praying for another miracle; even if it doesn’t happen, she is content with whatever God’s will is for her life.
One of the verses that Connie has referred to often in her blog during the course of her treatments is Psalm 77:14: “You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.”
Without God, miracles that happen would go completely unexplained to the human mind. God is the only explanation, because He is the only One with supernatural powers to do what we cannot understand.
The Gospels in the New Testament contain many miracles that Jesus performed; a number of them are contained in Matthew 8-9. I encourage you to go read them to witness a small taste of the miraculous power of Jesus Christ.
Why are miracles important? They give us hope. Even in the more dire of circumstances (such as a young girl dying in Matthew 9:18-26), there is hope that God will do what we consider to be impossible. Even facing cancer throughout her body, Connie had hope that God would perform a miracle and He did! God does not always perform miraculous healings, however; Connie’s own sister passed away from cancer just this past fall. But when we do see evidence of the unexplainable, we praise God for His miraculous power!
“’But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:15-16).
If you were following our blog back in March of 2012, you may remember that we wrote on the “Christ”. I began my particular post that week with Matthew 16:16, which is part of the quote above. I could essentially re-write the same post for this week, since “Messiah” translates to the Greek “Christos”, which then translates to the English “Christ”. However, I want to go a little deeper this week than I did back then. In that post, I focused mainly on the meaning of the name “Christ” and how it has united all believers worldwide under the one “Christian” faith. This week, I want you to think about what the “Messiah” personally means to you.
Now, I want to make myself clear that the Christ did not come to this earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth so that he could be our own personal genie in a bottle. Too often, Christians have personalized Jesus so much that they have created a proverbial box for him to fit into. This has been one of the main causes of denominationalism in the Church. Followers of Jesus have decided to be selective in the attributes of the Messiah that they accept and the ones they deny. While most would not outwardly declare this, it becomes obvious in how they live, how they treat others, and what they treasure. Even the Apostle Peter, who made the very declaration quoted above, fell into this trap as shown in the verses that followed in Matthew 16. Jesus is the Messiah, which means he is the Anointed One of prophecy, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and the sovereign Judge and Ruler of all. If you worship a Messiah that you believe is going to wash away all of your troubles and bring you worldly prosperity, you are not worshipping Jesus. I urge you to truly see him as Lord over every area of your life.
Aside from the names for the Messiah that have to do with his power and authority over all, there are many in the Bible that have to do with his personal relationship with us. One of the more well-known passages of prophecy about the Messiah in the Old Testament is Isaiah 9:1-7. This is a passage that is frequently read around Christmastime each year. In v. 6, there are four names listed for the coming Messiah: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace”. The great thing about our Messiah is that he is ALL of those things and many more rolled into one. But let’s be honest. All of us, at different times in our lives, are in need of one of those persons more than the others. So, as I asked you to think about earlier in the post, what does the Messiah mean to you?
Let’s take a look at each of the four names mentioned in Isaiah 9:6. Are you in desperate need of some wise and WONDERFUL COUNSELING? I have, at two different points in my life, seen a professional Christian counselor to deal with some deep wounds and issues I have had. While I would certainly recommend those individuals to others and can truly say that they are centered in God’s Word and led by his Spirit, they don’t hold a candle to receiving “wonderful counseling” directly from God through the Messiah. Unless you’ve experienced that, you may not know what I’m talking about. But, I can assure you that if you spend time listening during prayer instead of just talking and immerse yourself in God’s Word, He will most certainly give you the answers that you need. The Messiah made direct contact between sinners (us) and our holy God possible.
Maybe you need to know that God is in fact MIGHTY. Sometimes, the problems of this world can seem so overwhelming. Truthfully, they absolutely ARE overwhelming without the Messiah. When someone you dearly love suddenly passes away, or when you lose your job that you are depending on, or when your spouse suddenly decides he/she no longer wants to stay committed to the union he/she made with you before God and your families, how in the world can you believe you are ever going to get out from underneath that avalanche? The answer and hope are found in the Messiah who declared, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b).
Perhaps you have been abandoned by your biological father either by choice or by circumstances over which he had no control. Maybe he passed away far too early for you to be ready, or maybe you never knew him or can’t remember much about him due to his choice to abandon you. Worse yet, maybe your father was a source of pain and bitterness for you due to abuse or neglect. If any of these things are true, you are in need of the EVERLASTING FATHER. In the Messiah, you have a Father that “will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5b). It is frankly impossible for him to abandon you. He will not leave you, as that would break a promise, and He will not die, as he is indeed everlasting!
Finally, maybe your life is full of turmoil, dissension, and dysfunction when it comes to your closest relationships. The Messiah is your PRINCE OF PEACE. As you allow him to come into your heart, renew and transform your mind, and guide your actions, you will experience the kind of “peace of God that transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). You’ll learn to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44), “bless those who persecute you” (Romans 12:14), and “make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification” (Romans 14:19). You may not be able to control the actions of others, but you’ll find true peace and comfort knowing that you are walking with the Messiah and that he approves of you.
I can honestly say that I have personally experienced the Messiah as each one of these four titles and many others at different crucial times in my life. You can experience the same, if you haven’t already. As you think about what the Messiah means to you and who you say he is, remember that he is your Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. In other words, he is EVERYTHING you will ever need, from beginning to end!
Christmas was a couple weeks ago, and I’d be willing to bet that you had been waiting and hoping for Christmas for weeks before it finally came. I know for me, as a kid that month or so before Christmas seemed to go SO slowly! One day at a time I’d tear a link off the paper chain I’d usually make to count down, and it would shrink ever so slowly. Then when Christmas finally came, it was so exciting!! I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning, anticipating the presents I would be getting.
The people of Israel had a similar anticipation, but they had to wait much longer than a month or even a year - they had to wait for around 4,000 years for their Messiah to come!
The Hebrew word for messiah is mashiah, which comes from the word meaning “to save.” The Messiah is the promised deliverer of Israel, who would come to establish God’s kingdom. The Greek word for messiah is Christos, which is also the word we get Christ from - as in Jesus Christ. There are many, many prophecies in the Old Testament that point to the Messiah - what he would be like, what he would do, etc. The Israelites were to watch for all of those prophecies to be fulfilled.
One day, in a synagogue (place of worship) in the small town of Nazareth, Jesus did just that. Read Luke 4:16-21:
[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
The quotation in the middle of that passage is from the book of Isaiah - one of the Old Testament prophets who prophesied many things about the coming messiah. Did you catch the last sentence there? Jesus said that this scripture was fulfilled that day, right there in front of them - meaning He is the promised Messiah!
But in case the people didn’t get it then, later on in the book of Acts, Peter explains it again to a multitude of people, finishing with this sentence: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36)
Not only should Israel be assured that Jesus is the Messiah, but we can be certain of that as well. Jesus is the promised One who came to earth, died, and was resurrected to be our Messiah, our Savior from our sins. He did the hard work; all we need to do is believe in Him as our Messiah!
Doesn’t it just drive you absolutely crazy when people try to get involved in your personal matters that are none of their business? It may be that person at work who seems to have radar for when you are in the middle of a conversation with someone else and immediately comes to your office or cubicle to be “included”. Or, if you are a teenager, it may be your parent who constantly wants to know what’s going on with your friends and any potential dating partners. Even if neither of those two situations is common to you, we all certainly have people in our lives that have to be the center of attention and seem to create chaos so that they can either drag you into their business or intrude on yours. Regardless of which circumstances or people represent this frustration in your life, we all have times when we just feel like saying, “That’s none of your business”!
The truth is that there are some areas of life where we all stick our noses in someone else’s business. One of those areas is definitely mercy (it could also be described as the realm of “judgment”), and the “someone else” in that case is God! As I mentioned in a previous post some months ago, this reality was made clear to me by a very gifted counselor that I spent 2 weeks with out in Buena Vista, Colorado in October 2011. It was in a group session and he was teaching about forgiveness and anger. He taught that one of the keys to learning to truly forgive and let go of the need to “punish” somebody for wrongs done to you is accepting that judgment is God’s domain. By that same logic, mercy is also HIS domain. We tend to see mercy and judgment as opposites, when in reality mercy is simply the favorable side of judgment. When we are judged for a particular action or word, we either face unfavorable judgment (punishment) or favorable judgment (mercy).
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that there are certain times in life when we seem to have the power to determine whether punishment or mercy is shown. If you’re a parent, teacher, or law enforcement officer, you certainly know this. And as Katie stated in Monday’s post, we have a God-given responsibility to show mercy when possible because we have been shown mercy by God. But when I declare that mercy is God’s domain, I’m talking about mercy in the bigger picture. I’m talking about when we hear about ruthless criminals and desperately want them to “get what they deserve”. I’m talking about those times that you have refused to forgive someone because you just can’t bear the thought of that person “getting away” with whatever he or she did. I’m talking about when you look around at those who are wicked in your opinion and get angry about the fact that they appear to be prospering. It’s in those situations that we can only find true peace if we accept what is God’s call and not ours!
There are two examples of this in Scripture that I want to draw your attention to, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. In the Old Testament, one of the so-called “minor prophets” was a man named Jonah. If you know nothing else about Jonah, you may recall him as the one who was swallowed whole by a very large fish if you attended Sunday school as a child. But there’s a lot more to his story and I encourage you to read the Book of Jonah, which is only four short chapters. To summarize it for you, the reason he ends up in the fish in the first place is because he runs away from God’s command to go to the very wicked city of Nineveh and warn them of God’s coming wrath. He asks to be thrown into the sea while on a ship in a ferocious storm because he knows his disobedience is related to the storm. God provides the great fish to swallow him and then vomit him onto land to give Jonah a second chance. With his second chance, Jonah obeys God and preaches to Nineveh. The people of Nineveh repent, and “when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (Jonah 3:10).
You’d think everyone would be happy, but Chapter 4 tells us how Jonah got angry with God because He had shown the people of Nineveh mercy. Clearly, Jonah wanted these people to get what was coming to them, especially after he proclaimed it was coming. I mean, his reputation as a prophet was on the line. Plus, he went through some trying times just to preach a message that, in his eyes, ended up being pointless. Jonah’s anger was toward God because Jonah stuck his nose in God’s business, the business of mercy. God asks Jonah twice if he really has any right to be angry about this. It’s a legitimate question for all of us. Jonah was put in a position where either he would surrender his need for control to God or he would become consumed by trying to “play God” in regards to the people of Nineveh. The story ends with an unanswered question and we never do see what became of Jonah. I believe that is intentional because God knew how we struggle with the same thing and knows that we must answer the same questions Jonah did.
In the New Testament, Acts 8 and 9:1-2 tell us about the persecution of early Christians and how one of the key figures who carried out the persecution was Saul. However, later in Acts 9, we read about the miraculous conversion of Saul after he was confronted by Christ on the road to Damascus. Within days, the murderer and Christian persecutor Saul is transformed into the Apostle Paul, and “at once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God” (9:20). Imagine being one who had been imprisoned or maybe even the relative of one who had been killed at the hands of Saul. How would you feel if the man was suddenly “saved”? Any Christians that would encounter Paul from then on would have to deal with the same thing Jonah did, with it possibly being even more personal for them and Paul than it was for Jonah and the people of Nineveh. They had to “let go and let God” when it came to Paul’s judgment.
The problem with sticking our noses in God’s business is that we see only a very small part of the big picture, whereas God sees it all. Some of those early Christians may have felt that forgiving and accepting Paul would be letting him get away with what he had done. But in reality, Paul experienced great consequences and suffering for the rest of his life. He was beaten and flogged many times, imprisoned, tortured, falsely accused, threatened by many, and despised by the ones he once believed were his friends. So, whether the other Christians recognized that God was in control of Paul’s judgment or not, He most certainly was!
Despite all that he went through post-conversion, Paul was still able to point out God’s great mercy in his life. Not only that, but he also understood the reason for it. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16). I share those verses to challenge us in the way we view others. When someone hurts you personally, or when someone carries out a terrorist attack and kills thousands, or when someone marches into a school and guns down innocent children, our view must not be to seek revenge. Our view must be to simply show mercy in the ways that we can, and then trust God for his ultimate judgment of these people. I mean, you never know. You might be desperately waiting for an evil enemy to get what he deserves, while God is simply pardoning, transforming, and preparing that very person to be the one who will carry His holy name to many peoples. Trust God for the mercy and judgment that are already His domain anyway, so that you will never be stuck in your anger while the very person that you are seeking to punish is actually receiving blessings from the Lord!
When I hear this week’s word mercy, I think of the Hebrew word hesed. It’s one of those words that we don’t really have an English equivalent for, but it’s often translated as mercy. Hesed can also be translated as faithfulness, loyalty, kindness, or goodness; the idea of it is all of those things wrapped up into one.
One verse where this word occurs is Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” The Hebrew word for “mercy” there is hesed. This verse tells us, among other things, that we should love mercy. But what exactly is mercy?
My dictionary of theological terms defines mercy as, “kind and compassionate treatment extending biblically to forgiveness and the gracious bestowal of that which is not deserved. It is an important descriptor of God’s character and activities.” God shows mercy to us, because we do not deserve His love but He loves us all anyway. He treats us with compassion and forgives us because He is merciful.
Do you show mercy to others? Are you kind and compassionate toward them, and forgiving them even when they don’t deserve it?
Check out what James 2:12-13 says: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Did you catch that? You’ll be judged without mercy if you have not been merciful. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to be judged without mercy, because I’d be getting exactly what I deserve - eternal punishment, because I am a sinner. But, if we do show mercy, then God’s mercy will triumph over the judgment we deserve!
As God instructed us in Micah 6:8, we need to love mercy, which means being merciful to others. We need to show them hesed - mercy, faithfulness, loyalty, kindness, and goodness. We need to show God’s love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness to others all the time. It’s a tall order, but with God’s help we can move ever closer to showing His mercy to others.
“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). With these words, the Apostle Paul simplifies the concept of salvation, something that was otherwise a mystery for many of the Jews who had always been bent on earning righteousness through their observance of the Law. When we read those words and even confess “Jesus is Lord”, we do so somewhat loosely. We have no problem uttering the words even if our lives do not agree with what we are confessing. We use the word “Lord” almost like it is part of Jesus’ name, rather than his rightful position in relation to us. For the Jews, it was much harder and thus meant much more when referring to Jesus that way, because they used the term “lord” to address others, including angels and earthly kings.
Notice that we refer to Jesus as Lord with a capital “L” signifying that he is the only one, whereas the Jews in the Old Testament would have many different “lords” depending on where they lived and who they served. This is why what we confess and demonstrate about how we see Jesus in our lives means everything. At this time of year, most of us are transitioning back to “normal” life after all the festivities and celebrations associated with Christmas. In addition, we are wondering what the new year is going to bring, and possibly what individual changes we need to make. One of the main reasons why I love this time of year is because the publicity of Christmas causes nearly every individual in our culture to answer a personal question that affects how they will live their lives going forward: “How am I going to respond to Jesus?”
It is that very question that was answered differently by one of Jesus’ twelve closest disciples than it was by the other eleven during one of the most famous events recorded in the New Testament. No, I’m not saying that somebody walked up to the disciples and asked them directly how they respond to Jesus. I am, however, saying that there is a lot more to the story of the Lord’s Supper than just the bread and the wine if we take a closer look at the characters and imagine what it would be like if we were in their shoes spending time with Jesus right before he was tortured and crucified.
As Katie mentioned in a blog earlier this week, the story of this event is recorded in all 4 of the gospel accounts, with different elements and perspectives in each writing. Today, I want to focus on Matthew’s account, found in Matthew 26:17-30. Right before this story, in verses 14-16, we see the agreement made between Judas Iscariot and the chief priests that would eventually lead to the capture and crucifixion of Jesus. Judas was one of Jesus twelve closest followers, yet he betrayed him into the hands of those who wanted to kill him. Before that would be carried out, however, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his “small group”. Did they know it would be the last time they would do such an activity with him this side of heaven? Even though he told them over and over again what would happen to him and even told them at the end of this story that it would be the last time on earth (v. 29), the answer is that they probably did not understand. I don’t say that to speak negatively of the original disciples, for I know there have been many times in my life when the Holy Spirit was clearly guiding me to truth and I chose instead to believe lies because they were easier to understand. But for Judas, the one who would betray Jesus, it was more than lack of understanding. It was lack of believing.
What I love about Matthew’s account of this story is that it’s the only one that records Judas’ response to Jesus after Jesus exposed the sin in his heart. We read in v. 21 that Jesus was reclining at the table with his disciples and suddenly said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me”. Matthew records in v. 22 that the other disciples were sad and each began to respond to Jesus with, “Surely not I, Lord?” A few sentences later in v. 25, Judas’ response is recorded. “Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’” Did you catch the subtle difference between Judas’ response and those of the rest of the disciples? He simply declared Jesus to be his rabbi, or teacher, whereas the other disciples were willing to call him what he is – their Lord! We often don’t see things like that if we are reading Scripture just to get through it, but putting ourselves in the story when we read might give us a chance to understand the hearts of the characters a little better.
Just to make sure it wasn’t an error in my English translation, I checked the Greek. The other eleven disciples addressed Jesus as “kurie”, which means “Lord”, while Judas used the term “rabbi”, which is translated as “honorary teacher”. Don’t get me wrong. Judas had great respect for Jesus – as a teacher. But that’s as far as he was willing to go. And without Jesus being his Lord, that throne was open for anything else in Judas’ life that he wanted to place there. So, when an opportunity for financial gain arose, even the respect he had for his teacher wasn’t enough to help him resist the temptation.
So, what about you? Are you willing to boldly declare that Jesus is more than some guy who walked the earth for a short time 2,000 years ago proclaiming peace and good morality? Are you willing to confess with your mouth that he IS Lord and believe it so strongly in your heart that it affects change in every single area of your life in this new year of 2013? I’ve got news for you. No matter what you speak, Jesus already knows what you truly believe. In Judas’ case, Jesus answered his response with “you yourself have said it”. Friends, Judas tried to live one way with Jesus and another way when it benefitted him to do so. But because he did not consider Jesus to be God, he failed to realize that Jesus was able to know his heart and know the words he had already spoken in agreement with the chief priests to betray him.
You may be asking yourself why Jesus would then allow an unbeliever who was bent on betrayal to dine with him at his last supper with his closest friends. The answer is simply because he loved Judas anyway, just as he loves each and every one of you regardless of what you believe about him at this point. It’s always a little frightening to surrender control to someone else, but knowing that someone loves you and knows what is best for you brings the peace that passes all understanding. I encourage you to make Jesus the Lord of your life this year, trusting him in all the areas of your life that you previously tried to control. If you do this, a supper or any other time spent with him will truly be the “Lord’s” time, and you will experience and understand his love for you like never before!