Yahweh: Merciful & Gracious!

-Living With Shame & Guilt!

Bettina Goering is the great-niece of Hermann Goering, one of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi leaders, who founded the Gestapo Secret Police & helped organize the holocaust. In a newspaper interview, from May 2016, she revealed how she & her brother were voluntarily sterilized.  “I had my tubes tied at the age of 30,” she said, “because I feared I would create another monster.” Monika Hertwig lives with the haunting memories of her own father, who was the commandant of an Auschwitz prison sub-camp. He was hanged, in 1946, for the murder of 10’s of thousands of people, at least 500 of them by his own hands.  “He liked to shoot women with babies in their arms from the balcony of his house,” she recollects, “to see if one bullet could kill two.” And, then she asks out loud, “How much of the murderer is in me? These are the things that torment me.”

-The Shadow Of Family Sin!

I find it haunting how the relatives, of Nazi war criminals, try and deal with the shame & the guilt they feel. What a tragedy that they continue to live in the shadow of the sins of family members! Could that be, in part, what Exodus 20:5 is referring to when it says, “You shall not bow down to idols or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” Could the guilt & shame, their offspring feel, be, in part, the punishment that they endure?

-Yahweh! God Of Compassion!

There’s a similar passage, in Exodus 34, that follows Israel’s breaking of the covenant, with God, when they made an idol, of a golden calf; and, worshipped it! “The Lord came down in a cloud, stood with him (Moses) there, and proclaimed His name Yahweh.  Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth,  maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. Moses immediately bowed down to the ground and worshiped” Exodus 34:5-8.  There’s perhaps no greater example, of God’s grace & compassion, then that passage! Israel broke the covenant with God! They didn’t believe God at the Red Sea! They complained against God & Moses in the wilderness! When would enough be enough? I wanna tell you that you all ought to be glad that I’m not God! I’m equally glad you aren’t; because, none of us have God’s love, grace & mercy for sinners!

-The Way To God!

Sin devastated man’s relationship with God! So, God established the sacrificial system for Israel, His covenant people, as a way for them to worship Him & restore fellowship with Him! It provided for repentance and forgiveness! Hebrews reflects back on the Old Testament sacrificial system:  “According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” Hebrews 9:33. No sacrifice! No forgiveness, God says! If you study each of the 5 sacrificial offerings, in the book of Leviticus, you’ll see how they foreshadow the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the cross! Galatians 3:24 says, “The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.”  The old KJV says, “The law was our SCHOOLMASTER…” that hands us off to Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate sin sacrifice!

 

Jesus Fulfilled The Law!

-The Law Reveals God’s Character!

The law, of God, reveals the character of God! It speaks to His righteous judgment & His love! Some people want to “judge” God because He judges people! But, His love clearly balances out His judgment:  “…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,  but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands “ Exodus 20:5-6.  He judges & punishes sinners to the 3rd or 4th generation; but, He shows love, His “faithful love”, to a thousand generation those who love Him and keep His commandments! He is a kind, benevolent God!

-But, We Have A Problem!

Our problem, as the human race, is our pride & arrogance that keeps us from being open to God’s revelation about the truth of our sinfulness! The depth, of our brokenness & depravity, is such that we’re not even aware of all the times we sin against God. This is why God gave us the law; to, reveal our sin! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Rome:  “What should we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet” Romans 7:7.  Paul, under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, says that I wouldn’t even know that it was a sin to covet or lust after my neighbor’s wife if God’s law didn’t call it sin!

-The Law Is A Mirror!

So, the law acts as a mirror, revealing & reflecting our sin back to us! As Israel moves into the land, one sacrifice God tells them, to offer, is for all their “unintentional” sins.  In other words, God points out, to us, that it’s impossible for us to even name & confess all our individual sins because there are so many! God’s law reveals God’s 2 overarching concerns; and, we talked about this last week— Love GOD & Love PEOPLE! In that order! When we get our “vertical” love— for God— right, we’ll get our “horizontal” love— for our fellow man— right! Though God gives us His 10 Commandments, in Exodus ch.20, He actually expands on them in Exodus ch.21. He gave them laws in regard to slavery; and, laws regarding personal injury; and, laws, about theft; and, crop protection; and, personal property. He gave them laws about seducing someone & capital crimes; and, laws about protecting the vulnerable, the foreigner & the marginalized. And, Jesus came to fulfill the entire law!

-The Heart Of The Law!

That’s what He said! He didn’t come to abolish the law; but, to FULFILL it! Jesus loved God & His fellow man perfectly! There was no sin found in Him! Jesus also taught that the “spirit” of God’s law was more about the “heart” than the “letter.” He said, for example, that when we hate our brother that we murder them in our hearts! And, when we lust after someone, we commit adultery with them in our hearts! There is no way we can overstate God’s concern for the way that we treat each other; or, the way we think about one another; or, the way we talk about one another! God is concerned with justice! And, God’s law reveals the principle of “sowing and reaping” also! We’ll talk more about this next post! But, God’s bottom line is that the obedient life really is the best life we can experience! God honors those who honor Him!

 

God’s Purpose For His Laws!

-The Most Important Command?

Jesus reveals God’s intent, behind the law, when he answered a Pharisee’s question, “What is the most important command?” Jesus answered, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest & most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” Matthew 22:36-40.  What Jesus calls “…the Law and the Prophets…” is the whole of the Old Testament. He’s referring to the “Torah”; or, the 1st 5 books of the Law. And, the “Prophets” was a reference to the rest of the Old Testament.

-Summarized By Two Commands!

So, Jesus was saying that everything, in the Law & the Prophets (or, the Old Testament) could be summarized by these 2 commands— Love GOD & love your NEIGHBOR! The 10 general commandments; and, the 613 specific commands, that follow, can all be encapsulated in Jesus’ answer to the question, “What is the most important command?” His answer? Love GOD & love your NEIGHBOR! Just look up Exodus 20 in your Bibles.  The first 4 commandments all focus on a loyal LOVE for God:  “no other gods”, “no idols”, “no using God’s name in vain” and “no work on God’s Sabbath.” The last 6 commandments all focus on the way we ought to LOVE our neighbor; or, our fellow human beings:  “honor mom & dad”, “don’t murder anyone”,  “don’t commit adultery”, “don’t steal”, “don’t lie about your neighbor” and “don’t covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.” So, here’s the big picture—  God is teaching Israel how to live now that He’s redeemed them from Egypt! That’s the context in which the 10 commandments were given!

-Redemption First! Then Commands!

He’s “redeemed” or “bought out” Israel from their slavery; and, He introduces the commands like this:  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” Exodus 20:2.  So, He redeems them; and, now He’s giving them the Law to direct them in the way they needed to live in a broken, sin-cursed world. Never did God intend to use the keeping of the Law as the means to being redeemed! That’s reversing the order! God redeemed them FIRST! He saved them from slavery; now, here’s how redeemed people live! Get it? This is incredibly important as it relates to salvation! God’s law was given TO a redeemed people; not, TO redeem people! God didn’t give Israel the Law to save redeem them! He’d already done that!

-Here’s How God’s People Live!

The principle is the same in the New Testament. James says “good works” FOLLOW our salvation! They don’t save us! So, I think it’s fair to ask what New Testament believers can learn from the Old Testament law? I would start by saying that the law reveals God’s character. It speaks to who He is. For example, He says He is “…a jealous God…” Exodus 20:5. That word “jealous” is used differently, in reference to God, then when we express “human” jealousy. We use it in the sense of being envious of someone because they have something we want. In context, God says He’s jealous when people make idols & worship them instead because He alone is God. It’s like a husband who has a right to be jealous when another man flirts with his wife because he alone has that right.  We’ll pick it up right there on next week’s post!

Set Free From Sin!

-God’s “Rest”!

God is relentless in His determination to deliver His children from the slavery of sin! That’s really the backdrop to the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. In Scripture, Egypt pictures slavery to sin.  And, the “promised land”, for Israel, was deliverance from Egypt’s bondage. To enter the “promised land” was to enter God’s “rest.” No one can block God’s plan to deliver His people from slavery! And, I’m not just referring to Israel & the Exodus.

-Sin Enslaves!

We’re all slaves, to sin, from birth! Satan’s goal, for your lives & your fleshly desires, is to remain enslaved to the short-lived pleasures of this world. And, if you remain enslaved, to this world, you’ll also die with this world. The Apostle John wrote:  “And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever” 1 John 2:17. Jesus said,  of those who came to faith in Him, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are NOT of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you” John 15:19.  God was relentless in His deliverance, of Israel, from the slavery of Egypt; and, that serves as a metaphor for His relentless delivery of every believer from the slavery of sin.

-Sin Harms Others!

In Genesis, chapter 40,  Joseph was sold into slavery, by his brothers, who hated him, you may remember; because, Jacob, their father, played favorites & loved Joseph more than the other brothers. Eventually, Joseph ends up in a prison, in Egypt, as he’s falsely accused of sexual assault. But, God blesses him with a supernatural gift of interpreting dreams. Eventually, God uses that ability to get Joseph out of slavery & prison because Pharoah had some troubling dreams that needed interpreting; and, Joseph was able to interpret them for him. The Pharoah elevates Joseph to the leader, in Egypt, 2nd only to Pharoah himself.  A 7-year famine sends Joseph’s brothers to Egypt, looking for food; where, they unknowingly come into contact with Joseph, whom they fail to recognize as their brother.

-Sin Repented Of!

By now, his brothers are repentant. They think that God is punishing them for the sin they committed against Joseph; and, eventually, Joseph reveals himself to them; and, there’s a great family reunion as the brothers go home, to Canaan, and bring their father, Jacob, and the rest of the family to live out their lives in Egypt under Joseph’s care.  The book, of Genesis, ends with Joseph’s prophetic words that God will keep His promise to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob; and, deliver Israel. After Joseph passes away, a new Pharoah enslaves Israel.

-God Hears Their Cries!

God hears their tortured pleas for relief; and, raises up Moses to lead them out of Egypt, to the promised land, by many great signs & wonders to demonstrate His power. No one could block God’s plan to deliver His people from their slavery. While these are great action adventures, we totally miss God’s purpose, for including them in Scripture, if we see nothing but action adventures. There are principles that thread their way through these stories. One such principle is that of God’s Sovereignty. The doctrine, of God’s Sovereign control over the affairs of man, is one of the most important principles in all of Scripture. When we speak of God’s Sovereignty we mean that nothing happens anywhere without God’s permission!

 

God’s Plan Is Relentless!

-His Program For Restoration!

Genesis is the book of beginnings or origins; and, that’s an appropriate title because it unpacks the “genesis” of Creation and life! It also reveals mankind’s first sin and how it messed up the perfect world God created. Thankfully, we’re also introduced to the “genesis” of God’s divine program to restore His broken world & our broken lives, to the greatest fullness possible, through Jesus.  Genesis announces God’s relentless plan to restore fellowship with humanity & fulfill His purpose for Creation.

-Objections To God!

One of the most frequent objections— to God— that I hear, is in regard to all the pain & suffering that goes on in the world. “If God is capable of doing something about it,” the argument goes, “Then, why doesn’t He?” And, my answer is that He DID respond & He CONTINUES to respond; and, I can understand your anger over all the injustice & inhumane activity in the world! But, if you’re directing that anger @ God, then it’s misguided! You need to look in a mirror! WE ALL DO! Because, WE are the reason for all the evil, the suffering, the injustices, the wars, the slavery & human trafficking.

-He Is Relentless To Forgive!

It’s the book of Genesis that reveals where it all went wrong! Genesis also reveals God’s anger over all the perversity in the world; and, He’s devised a flawless plan— in eternity “past”— to restore His fellowship with us & His purpose for His Creation.  And, that’s the thread that runs throughout the entire Biblical narrative. From Genesis— the BEGINNING— to the last book of the Bible— the Revelation of the END— God is relentless in His commitment to love every man, woman, boy & girl who’s ever walked this earth; or, ever will walk it! He’s relentless to forgive the sin of every man, woman, boy & girl who will humble themselves before Him! He saves everyone who confesses their sin & unworthiness; and, accepts His plan for their lives!

-An Assumption That God Exists!

The very first verse, of the Bible, says:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So, the Bible begins with the assumption that God exists. It doesn’t try & prove it. It just says, “THERE IS A GOD!” The New Testament book, of Hebrews, says, “Now without faith, it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him” Hebrews 11:6.

-Pleasing God!

According to the author, of Hebrews, the 1st step, in pleasing God, is believing He exists. In the beginning, there was God! There was nothing else. He existed before the universe! He TRANSCENDS the heavens & the earth. He’s OUTSIDE of it! That means He created time & space. He created all the physical laws of the universe; so, He’s not subject to them! Rather, the laws, of the universe, are subject to HIM! That’s what we mean when we say that God TRANSCENDS creation. The 1st verse, in the Bible, also makes it clear that God is the main character in the Bible! That may crush our little human egos; but, we’re NOT the center of the universe! GOD is at the center of it all; and, His infinite worth & value is the ultimate value in all the universe!

 

A Faith That Doesn’t Serve!

-It’s A Questionable Faith!

Faith that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! Listen to what James writes, in his epistle:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.  “Is that even saving faith?” James seems to be asking,  “What good is that kind of faith?

-Can That Faith Save Him?

If I understand the text correctly, in the original Greek it has the definite article relating to “faith”; so, the question James really seems to be asking is, “Can THAT faith save him?” Can a faith that has no passion for serving the needy & the less fortunate even be genuine, saving faith? It’s questionable! The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Church of Galatia: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” Galatians 5:6. In other words, if we are “in Christ” HE will produce a faith, in us, that is working through love! God IS love! So, if God— in Christ— is IN us, we’ll love more & more as we are sanctified more & more. We’ll look like Jesus!

-Looking Like Jesus!

He loved the rejects of society, the wounded, the hurting, the forgotten & those who’ve been kicked to the curb! So, if the Spirit of Jesus is “in us”, that has to work its way out through acts of love & service! If you don’t care about those in need around you, perhaps you ought to question if your faith is the real thing! James seems to say that any faith that fails to serve is worthless! What good is it?  Young’s literal translation asks, “What is the profit” of a faith that doesn’t serve? It’s worthless! Jesus lived the most profitable, worthy life ever lived because He lived it for God the Father & for others! For US! He gave Himself up for all the sins of all people of all time! So, how can we say we love Jesus if we live our lives just for ourselves? That’s the message James is trying to get across to the churches he’s writing to:  “A loveless faith is worthless!” It has no value to God; or, to anyone else! He finishes by saying that any faith that fails to serve is DEAD! (v.17)

-As Good As Dead!

He says, “…faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (v.17).  He’s NOT preaching that we are saved by good deeds; or, that we serve others to earn our salvation! No! It’s in the serving & the ministry that our “faith” PROVES to be ALIVE! Otherwise, “…it’s dead by itself.” It’s just empty words! The 16th-century reformer, John Calvin, once said:  “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone!” There have to be acts of service & works of love to prove it’s genuine faith. So let me close by making this appeal to you—seek service & ministry opportunities both within your faith community & your city! Not on the basis of obligation; but, because your faith is genuine; and, like Jesus, you’re a “friend of sinners.”

 

The Proof Of Your Faith!

-As You Wish!

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride.  It’s a romantic comedy; and, if you haven’t seen it, you need to! It’s a classic! It begins in the home of Buttercup, who’s dressed in the drab brown clothes of a peasant girl; but, orders everyone around as if she were royalty. Another peasant, named Wesley, is a laborer on Buttercup’s farm; and, the narrator—Peter Falk, he of Columbo fame—says that Buttercup’s greatest pleasure, in life, came from tormenting Wesley. She calls him “farm boy” & orders him to do all kinds of menial, boring jobs. But, regardless how menial the task, Wesley always responds the same way— ”As you wish!” While she’s incredibly condescending toward Wesley, he never refuses her demands; and, his attitude is always kind & willing. One day, she has an epiphany; and, the narrator says:  “That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, ‘As you wish’ what he really meant was ‘I love you.’”

-Communicating Love!

I love that line because it fits so well into a Biblical conversation about service. It’s Buttercup’s realization that Westley was communicating his love for her, through his service to her, that holds such a remarkable spiritual parallel to something the Spirit of God inspired James to write:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.

-The Invisibility Of Faith!

By its very nature, faith is invisible! You can’t see it! I can tell you that I have faith; but, I can’t show it to you.  James says, however, that faith can be seen through good works or acts of service & ministry.  He uses this imaginary person who claims to have faith; though, it can’t be seen. But, James disagrees:  “Yes, you can!” he argues, “You can see faith! You see faith when a believer offers to serve someone who lacks food; or, the necessities of life.” And, then, he uses the example of Abraham in the verses that follow. You can see Abraham’s faith, in his obedience to God, when he offered Isaac, his son, on an altar, James argues.

-Works Cooperate With Faith!

Abraham’s works were cooperating, with his faith, so that His faith actually became visible through his works. He offers Rahab, as another example, in his text.  In essence, James shows us that saving faith always produces acts of service that evidence it’s genuineness.  That’s why it must be a core ministry value, for every community of faith, to serve widows & orphans & others who are marginalized by their neediness. God’s word tells us that’s really the only way people can SEE our faith! Our faith is seen in the way that we love people! That means that any “faith” that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! James asks, “What good is it my brothers if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” It’s no good!