The Sinner Found Out (Part Two)

1 Kings 21:17-29

Still, there was no one like Ahab, who devoted himself to do what was evil in the Lord’s sight, because his wife Jezebel incited him. He committed the most detestable acts by following idols as the Amorites had, whom the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites (1 Kings 21:25-26 CSB).

God indicted Ahab as guilty for Naboth’s death and the seizure of his inheritance. Why did the Lord proceed against Ahab, besides the murder and the greed, which were worthy of death under the law covenant? Let’s examine the Lord’s view of Ahab’s sins.

  • Ahab had provoked God to anger; this is the key (cf. Psalm 51:4). The most important part of life is one’s relationship with the living God. Have you wronged him? Have you offended him?
  • Ahab had caused Israel to sin. No person lives to himself. We all affect the lives of other people, whether by neglect or by inducing them to sin. One person’s sin can affect a whole church (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6). We should ask, why is this important in our lives? Our lack of zeal can have a chilling, a dampening effect on the rest of the church. Do we have a warm love for the Lord?

The Holy Spirit, provides an assessment of Ahab’s character (21:25-26). First, he sold himself to do evil. Ahab put a price tag on himself. “Available for sin; make an offer.” He was glad to go wherever any sin led him to go. Second, he accepted encouragement to sin. He may still have had the crown on his head, but he had abdicated in his spiritual responsibility as Israel’s leader and as the head of his home. Third, he behaved in the most vile manner. Idolatry was usually accompanied by sexual immorality.

The Lord God pronounced judgment on Ahab. Think of its nature. It was complete (cf. 21:21-23). It would fall on Ahab himself and his children. Why the children? Read the second command of the law covenant (cf. Exodus 20:4-6). And it would also fall upon Jezebel. The judgment also was terrible (21:19b, 23-24). We should ask, “Why is this important in our lives? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31 NIV).

The judgment was just. The Lord had exactly and completely observed all that Ahab had done. Nothing was hidden from the all-knowing God (21:19a; cf. Jeremiah 23:24.) Why is this important in our lives? God will judge the world with justice (cf. Acts 17:31). Ahab received justice from God, life for life, as God had commanded from the time of the Flood and in the law covenant (21:19b; cf. Leviticus 24:17-20; Deuteronomy 19:21).

Yet it was lessened in severity due to Ahab’s outward repentance. God is merciful, and mingles mercy with judgment so that we may know that if we do repent, we will receive mercy. But Ahab did not really change in the inward person of his heart. He had an outward show, but lacked an internal change of mind. He still hated God’s prophets (cf. 22:8). An outward show of repentance is no proof of a genuine change of mind. In order to be right with God, you must repent and believe the gospel.

What is your relationship with the living God? Have you turned from your sin to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation? If God is merciful toward wicked Ahab, how much more so to a repentant believer.

Grace and peace, David

Zechariah’s Prophecy

Luke 1:67-80

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied (Luke 1:67 CSB).

God has given his word to people like us in an understandable form. The Spirit of the Lord guided the biblical writers to express God’s message, not as random sound bites, but through word structures that make it easier for us to comprehend and to recall. For example, the Spirit tells stories, uses songs, and develops themes in “teaching patterns”. In this “prophetic song” of Zechariah, the Spirit led him to speak through a pattern: A-B-C-D-E-F-E-D-C-B-A. Let’s look at this together.

The bookends of this pattern are the A sections (1:68a; 1:80). The pattern in this case is completed by Luke’s comment. Zechariah praised the God of Israel in his prophecy for what the Lord was doing to accomplish his plan for his people. Luke completes the thought by stating that John, the son of Zechariah, came to Israel. God cared for his people by sending the forerunner of the Messiah to them. He prepared the people to meet their Lord. This was an act of God’s mercy.

Next inside the bookend pairs as the B sections (1:68b; 1:78-79). They talk about two visits of God to his people. Zechariah saw the first as a done deal, although its accomplishment would take thirty plus years. The day of redemption had arrived; God had come to set his people free. There would be a new and better exodus (cf. Luke 9:31 – the word translated departure by NIV, ESV, and CSB is exodus in Greek) through Jesus the Messiah. Zechariah also saw another visit, which would bring light to the people (Matthew 4:14-17; Ephesians 4:13-14; 1 Peter 2:9).

Moving further inside are the C sections (1:69; 1:77). They announce the great news of salvation! First, Zechariah thinks of the son who would soon be born to Elizabeth’s relative, Mary. The Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) would come through the line of David, since Mary was descended from David. John would talk about salvation, not through an earthly monarch, but through the forgiveness of sins (1:77; cf. John 1:29).

Next, we find the D sections (1:70; 1:76). They are linked together by the idea of prophets. God gave his word to Israel through his holy prophets hundreds of years before Zechariah lived. But now, John would be the prophet foretold by Isaiah to prepare the way for the Lord (Isaiah 40:3-5).

Moving closer to the core are the E sections (1:71; 1:74). In both, Zechariah praises God for the rescue that God will give his people from their enemies. Since the earliest days, humanity has been divided into two groups: the righteous and the unrighteous. Cain’s murder of Abel was the first act to make this division clear. Zechariah sees an end to the hatred, so that the godly might serve God without fear in his presence.

Finally, we come to the core, the F section (1:72-73). Why was God doing all this? It was because of his holy covenant. God had made a promise to Abraham and his seed, and he confirmed his promise with an oath (Hebrews 6:13-20). As God mercifully remembered his people at the time of the first exodus (Exodus 2:23-25; 3:7, 9, 16), so in Zechariah’s time, he remembered his sworn oath, and he sent his son to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Luke will pick up the idea of a covenant again (Luke 22:20). The next time we read of a covenant, it will be about a new covenant, as the Seed of the woman and of Abraham points to his final sacrifice for the people of God. This new covenant guarantees the writing of God’s laws on our hearts, union with God as his people, the certain knowledge of God, and the full forgiveness of the sins of his people by God (Hebrews 8:10-12). In Christ, we have all these spiritual blessings. God indeed is merciful to us!

Grace and peace, David

The Song of Mary

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Luke 1:46-56

God speaks; we listen and respond. But how do we listen and respond? Mary heard God’s message through the angel Gabriel and received affirmation of its truthfulness through her relative Elizabeth. Our text is her considered response to both. As is often noted, Mary’s words can be compared to those of Hannah, which she spoke about her son Samuel when she presented him for the Lord’s service (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Perhaps another time, we might compare the two. What we want to see is that Mary had thought about God’s word and through her words worshiped the Lord. This is a model for us: listen to the word of the Lord and then worship appropriately. How did Mary worship?

She exalted the Lord from her inner person (1:46-47). Her focus was on God. Though her heart was filled and thrilled with many wonderful thoughts, she sought to lift up her Lord first of all. Her words were the overflow of a heart (Matthew 12:34) devoted to the Lord. She took pleasure in glorifying God. She was glad in her Savior or Rescuer, as she saw God’s purpose of the salvation of her and her people begin to happen. Mary rejoiced!

She spoke about the reasons for her joy (1:48-49). She traced both back to God. The first is that God cared about her. Recognizing that God cares about us (1 Peter 5:7) is part of our ongoing personal relationship with God. God, who is high and exalted, truly cares for the lowly. He stoops to lift us up to the enjoyment of his glory. The second is that the Lord God acted in her life. He said not merely words of care, but he acted because he cared. By making Mary the mother of the Anointed One, the Mighty One did something far beyond her ability. A virgin could never conceive a child on her own. This led Mary to declare the special greatness of who and what God is: His name is holy, set apart above all others.

The mention of God’s acts for her caused Mary to praise God for his goodness to all his people (1:50-55). A torrent of observations of God’s might acts rushed forth from her soul:

  • God is merciful to those who fear or reverence him (1:50). This is the usual way of God through all generations of mankind. In her own family line, God was merciful to women like Sarah, Tamar, Naomi, Ruth, and Bathsheba, to mention only a few. A thousand years after David, Mary personally knew God’s mercy to her.
  • God acts by his mighty power (1:51). She knew that the Lord’s arm was never shortened (Isaiah 59:1). The Sovereign Lord is able to help his people; he is also able to scatter those who in their pride oppose him and his people.
  • The Lord reverses human expectations (1:52-53). Rulers are taken down, the humble are raised. Those poor and hungry eat and are filled, while those rich in this world starve. Power and wealth are supposed to solve everything on earth, but Mary sees the superiority of the Lord over earthly delusions. Consider how many powerful men have fallen in the last two months of this year.
  • The Lord is faithful to his covenant people. (1:54-55). Mary’s faith is strong. As she feels new life inside her, she is confident that the Lord who was sending his Son through her would fulfill the plans of God through him. The Seed of Abraham would come to fruition, and he would accomplish God’s covenant promises.

Do we think and meditate on God’s word when we hear it? As we do, our hearts ought to worship, because we also are the recipients of God’s covenant promises in Christ, and in him, they are always “Yes”. We ought to say a strong “Amen” in response (2 Corinthians 1:20). Can anyone reading say “Amen”?

Grace and peace, David

Thinking about God and His Friendship with His People (Part Two)

Psalm 25:8-11

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great (ESV).

When we think correctly about the Lord God, we know that he is holy and exalted. As we live in his presence, we learn more and more that we are sinful and lowly (cf. Isaiah 6). God needs to act in grace to welcome us to approach him. Two serious problems in spirituality are either to downplay God’s holiness or our sinfulness. Both failures distort our understanding of grace.

In his word, the Lord reveals that he forgives great sin. Here are twelve factors that make our sins great. Our sins are great…

  • Because they are against the great God
  • Because they test God’s great patience
  • Because they despise great mercies (cf. Rm 2:4)
  • Because they are against great light (made known to us in Christ and the Scriptures)
  • Because they are many
  • Because of our pride in thinking that we can change without grace
  • Because they break out from our very nature, from the inner person of the heart
  • Because they show that we have followed God’s enemy, the devil
  • Because they challenge God’s justice and wrath
  • Because we have tempted others to join in our sin
  • Because in sinning we choose evil instead of God’s goodness
  • Because the only way they could be forgiven was through the sacrifice of the Holy Son of God

Apart from God’s grace in Christ, the realization of the seriousness our sinfulness could drive us to despair, if we would grasp the magnitude of our offense against the Holy God.

The greatness of our sins creates the need for God’s greater mercy. When the wound is dangerous and near fatal, the patient needs a highly skilled surgeon. We need one who can properly understand our need, who is able to provide what we need, and who is able to apply the cure to our souls. This skilled physician is the Triune God, in whom is the wisdom of the Father, the redeeming sacrifice of the Son, and the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.

“It is the glory of the great God to forgive great sins” (Henry). To forgive great sin is not difficult for God. David makes use of the greatness of his sin to make his plea stronger, as a person in a famine would magnify the seriousness of the calamity as a reason to provide food. God does not pity sinners because they are worthy, but because they need his pity. The splendor of God’s grace is seen clearly in this: in Christ he forgives the worst offenders and makes his grace overflow to them. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Romans 5:20). Think of the testimony of Paul (1 Timothy 1:13-16):

Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life (ESV).

See the greatness of your God, trust in Jesus Christ, and then confess your sins as great. You will experience the exceeding riches of his grace and mercy to you.

Grace and peace, David

Reading with Fresh Eyes

IMG_0694In our Sunday morning gathering, we aim to read through a passage of Scripture together each week. For example, we have read through Colossians five times in a week and the book of Hebrews once. Last week and this, our goal is to read through the Gospel of Matthew together. Although I don’t have a text of Scripture to back up this method, I think it is wise for groups of Christ learners (disciples) to be reading together. It draws our thinking to the same portions of the Scriptures and provides material for discussion or reference.

So then, as I was reading Matthew earlier this week, I came across a paragraph in my “Notemakers” Bible (it has wide margins that are perfect for making notes) that I had not made many notes on. It was in the middle of a well-marked chapter. The paragraph is Matthew 15:29-31. (By the way, do not feel inadequate or a failure, etc if you don’t make notes in your Bible. We are all different, and I find this a useful method for me. There is nothing spiritual about making notes in your Bible.)

Back to our topic. As I read, I began to think about how I had never meditated on this paragraph. I feel no need to analyze myself about the reasons. We all have heard someone say in a Bible study or small group, “Wow, I never read that before!” The more likely explanation is that we weren’t paying attention in our previous times of reading that passage. As I wrote at the end of last year, we might need to slow down as we read the Word, so that we can absorb what were reading. And we should not view some passages as extra material that happens to be in the way of our desire to read our favorite passages.

On a fresh reading, what do I see? First, this event follows his “secret mission” to Gentile territory, where he healed the daughter of a woman who begged Jesus to heal her. Back in Galilee, the large crowds of people bring many to him that had a variety of physical difficulties. This gathering with many in misery must have touched Jesus’ compassionate heart.  He acted with the power of the Spirit and healed them. I thought about the need to show mercy to people with physical and mental difficulties. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7 NIV). Evaluate yourself about how often you show mercy.

Second, Jesus produced a at change in those who were healed. Can you imagine the change in their attitudes when Jesus had restored them to health. Recently, I was at a men’s retreat that my dad had attended almost every year for nearly forty plus years. The retreat center is built on very hilly landscape. You can see it on the above picture. I wondered how he could have walked from the bunkhouse to the dining area. But he did. While there, I saw other older men struggling with the terrain also. Yet they were there. It is easy to talk about one’s pain and weariness in such circumstances. For this reason, imagine the change in attitude after Jesus healed them: from despair to victory.

Third, the people praised the true and living God, the God of Israel. They had great reasons to praise. They could talk and walk and see! Those with arthritis and other crippling diseases were cured! Certainly, it was time to magnify the greatness of God. There are are couple of lessons here:

  • Contrast the concerns and reaction of the healed people and those who brought them with those of the Pharisees and the teachers of religious law (Matthew 15:1-14). One group was intent on religious traditions and looking good before people; the other worshiped God and cared about other people.
  • If we understand what Jesus did, we ought to be amazed, even two thousand years later. Something is wrong with us if we read these words carefully and fail to be amazed. This is true history about real people. To nod your head and move on points out a troubled area in your soul.
  • Who are we trying to bring to Jesus? How are we involved with other people? Our goal in living must be for far more than personal comfort.

Grace and peace, David