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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

God Faithful and True

02/28 Faithful and True; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160228_faithful-true.mp3

What is God like? What can be known about God? What does he tell

us that he is like? We want to know God, to enjoy God, to delight ourselves in his presence, to experience him as he really is, to savor him. Jesus told us

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Suppression of Truth

Jesus tells us that eternal life consists in knowing God. But not just any idea of God will do. Eternal life consists in knowing the only true God. We must be careful. There is a grave danger that we would formulate an idea of God that does not correspond to the reality of who he is, and we would be found guilty of idolatry. Romans chapter 1 says

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

We as fallen mankind have an inclination to suppress the truth about God. Although we know true things about God, we do not act consistent with that knowledge. We do not honor him as God or give him thanks. We tend to exchange the glory of the immortal God for images of created things. We have a tendency to exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. This tendency in us is unrighteous, ungodly, and deserves God’s wrath. We must be alert to this tendency in ourselves, and be ware of taking the things God has revealed to us about himself and suppressing those things by our unrighteousness.

We want to enjoy God by experiencing him as he truly is. We do not want to be guilty of suppressing the truth about him or exchanging that truth for a counterfeit. One of the things God says about himself is that he is true. He is the only true God. What does it mean when the Bible says that God is true?

Full of Truth

Turn with me to the beginning of John’s gospel.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 ( John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

We see in this passage that life comes by the light shining in the darkness. We see that the Word was the true light shining in the darkness, and that the Word became flesh and lived among us to show us the glory of the Father. We see that the Word, the only Son from the Father was full of grace and truth. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Jesus has made the invisible God known.

This passage in John directly connects back to the passage in Exodus that we have been studying. Keep your thumb in John 1 and turn back with me to Exodus 33. In Exodus 32, the people had become impatient with Moses’ delay on the mountain, and had made an image of God in the form of a bull-idol and worshiped and sacrificed to it. God threatens to wipe out all the people and start over with Moses, but Moses intercedes for the people and God allows them to live. In chapter 33, God is threatening that he will keep his promises and send Israel in to the promised land, but that he will not go with them because they are persistently rebellious and he would destroy them.

Exodus 33:12 Moses said to the LORD, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” 17 And the LORD said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

Moses desires to know God, to know his ways, and he insists that the presence of God go with them. When God answers favorably, Moses requests to see the glory of God. God will reveal his character, his goodness, to Moses, but no one can see the face of God and live. John tells us that the law came through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side, Jesus has made his Father known. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth. In Exodus 34, The Lord proclaims his name:

Exodus 34:6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness

The Lord is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Jesus, the only Son from the Father is full of grace and truth. God is abundant in steadfast love, full of grace. God is abundant in faithfulness, full of truth. God reveals his full glory, the truth of who he is, in Jesus.

Light and Truth

This concept of truth or faithfulness in John’s gospel is coupled with light shining in the darkness. In the dark it is difficult to distinguish what is real from that which is a counterfeit. But in the full light the true character is seen for what it is.

In Jeremiah 10 the prophet sheds light on the people’s idolatry. He contrasts their idols with the one true God. Their idols are vanity, they cannot move, cannot speak, cannot walk, cannot do evil, cannot do good, they are stupid, foolish, false, worthless, a delusion;

Jeremiah 10:10 But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation. 11 Thus shall you say to them: “The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.”

The Lord is the true God. He is incomparable in power, wisdom, understanding, his voice forms and brings about all things. The Lord is the true God in contrast to false gods who threaten harm and promise help but are impotent to do either. The Lord our God is true, he is no counterfeit; he is real, he is living, he had no beginning and will have no end.

Correspondence Between Word and Being

James warns against the deception of counterfeits.

James 1:16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

God is free from inconsistency or forgery. He is the Father of lights. He is the real thing, and the source of all that is true and genuine.

James 1:16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. …18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. …22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

Do not be deceived and do not deceive yourselves. God is authentic. He birthed us by the word of truth. If we hear the word but do not do it, we are not true. We lie to ourselves. We prove not to be genuine. Truth is when the word and the deed are one. Falsehood is when the word does not match the reality. We also see this theme in 1 John.

1 John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

1 John 2:4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,

1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Truth is when our claims perfectly correspond to reality. We had a friend who got a job as a door to door vacuum cleaner salesman. As a friend, we allowed him to come to our house and practice his sales pitch on us. He told us how the unit that he was selling far surpassed every other vacuum in sucking power. To demonstrate this, he had us turn on our vacuum cleaner (which was a shop-vac) and he stuck his credit card over the end of our hose. Then he proceeded to turn on his vacuum and attempt to suck his card away from our vacuum with his vacuum to demonstrate how much more powerful it was. He made several attempts, but completely failed. He was a bit embarrassed. His vacuum sucked. But our shop-vac sucked more powerfully. He was embarrassed because his words didn’t match the actual performance. He spoke bigger than the reality. His claims were demonstrated to be false. (And by the way, my friend didn’t remain in door-to-door sales for long).

God is true. His claims perfectly correspond to reality. God never inflates his claims. He never speaks bigger than he is. And have you read your Bible?! Have you listened to the things God says about himself?! Think for a moment of some of the things God says about himself. If someone came to your door claiming the things God claims for himself in his word, how would you respond?

Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

Every word of God perfectly corresponds to his essence, his being. He is what he says. His representation of himself matches exactly the reality of who he is. He is true.

I Am The Truth

In John 14, when Jesus is about to go to the cross, Jesus says:

John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

And he tells his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them, to bring them to be with him where he is. When Thomas expresses confusion as to the destination and how to get there, Jesus responds:

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus does not claim merely to know the truth, or to tell the truth; Jesus claims to be the truth. He says: “I am the truth.” He says “you believe in God, believe also in me.” Jesus is the truth. He is all that he claims to be, all that he ought to be. Jesus’ very essence embodies exactly who God is. As Hebrews tells us,

Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. …

Jesus is the perfectly accurate representation of who God is. He is the truth.

In Revelation, Jesus is called “the holy one, the true one; the Amen, the faithful and true witness; Sovereign Lord, holy and true (Rev.3:7, 14; 6:10). In Revelation 19,

Revelation 19:11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

True Satisfaction

Jesus is faithful and true. In John 6, after Jesus fed 5,000 and the crowds pursued him to the other side of the lake, seeking more food, Jesus said:

John 6:32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. …55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

In what way does Jesus mean that he is the true bread from heaven? Does he mean true as opposed to metaphorical? In what way is his flesh true food and his blood true drink? Does he mean that we are to eat and drink his flesh and blood in a literal physical way? Clearly not. In the rest of the passage he clarifies that what is required is to come to him and believe in him. But he is saying that his flesh and blood is that which nourishes, sustains and satisfies us in a more genuine, real, and lasting way than any physical food. That which is true is that which is reliable, which can be depended upon, which does not fail or disappoint.

Psalm 63:1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. … 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

Nothing satisfies human need, human longing like Jesus.

True and Trustworthy

Because God is true, he is trustworthy. He will live up to every expectation. He will perfectly keep his word. He will never disappoint those who trust in him, those who believe in him. Paul addresses Titus:

Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began

God never lies. When God promises, he binds himself to make good on his promises. God is truth and God is completely trustworthy.

Hebrews 6:13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, …17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.

When God takes an oath, he swears by himself, because there is none higher, none greater, no more sure standard of truth than himself. He is the absolute standard of truth. All truth comes from him. And the truth of God should give us strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us in the promises of God.

The Gospel is the Word of Truth

In the New Testament letters ‘the truth’ or ‘the word of truth’ comes to be synonymous with the gospel, the good news that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, was buried, and rose again, securing our forgiveness. (2Cor.4:2; Gal.2:5, 14; Eph.1:13; Col.1:5). We are to obey the truth, believe the truth, know the truth, love the truth, walk in step with the truth, be established in the truth… (Rom.2:8; Gal.5:7; Col.1:6; 2 Thes.2:10, 12, 13; 1Tim.2:4; 4:3; 2Tim.2:25; 3:7; 1Pet.1:22; 2Pet.1:12; 2Jn1:4; 3Jn.1:3)

Obtaining Truth

God is faithful and true. He is abundant in faithfulness and full of truth. He is the light by which we can discern what is genuine and what is counterfeit. How he portrays himself exactly corresponds to what he is in reality. Because he is true, he can be depended on, he will not disappoint or fail us. Jesus is the truth, the perfect expression of who God is, and the good news of Jesus is the truth that must be loved, embraced, obeyed.

In 2 Timothy, Paul charges Timothy to ‘rightly handle the word of truth (2Tim.2:15). He says:

2 Timothy 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,

Notice how a knowledge of the truth comes. It does not come from hard study or persuasive arguments. It is repentance that leads to a knowledge of the truth; a turning, a change of mind and heart. And notice, this is a gift of God. If we have come to know and believe and love the truth, if we have come to see Jesus as the truth, we should not suppress that truth; rather we should honor God as God and give thanks to him.

1 John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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February 28, 2016 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just and Righteous

02/21 Just and Righteous; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160221_just-righteous.mp3

We have been looking at the character of God, specifically at the goodness of God, his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures. We defined mercy as God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress; grace as God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment, God’s love, which is his special favor toward his people. Today we will look at God’s justice and righteousness, which is his goodness expressed by rewarding each one according to his work, and treating the righteous and the wicked distinctly (Bavinck, p.206, 215).

In Exodus 33, when Moses asked to see the glory of God, God replies:

Exodus 33:19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

In the next chapter God proclaims his character.

Exodus 34:5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.

There seems to be dissonance in this verse. We might be inclined to replace the comma with a full stop in the middle of verse 7. We like to hear about a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” But it might make us squirm a bit, and it is clearly contrary to our cultural climate to finish the sentence. We might not be so bold as to take out our black highlighter and strike the words from the page, but our voice might trail off, a bit embarrassed, and mumble the last lines under our breath. But we must finish the sentence! We want to know God, not as we wish for him to be, which would be to form a god after our own image, and worship and serve the created thing rather than the Creator, but we want to know God as he truly is, as he reveals himself to be. And he revealed himself to Moses as a God “who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquities of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

God is just. God is righteous. God will not let sin go unpunished. God will by no means clear the guilty. We might naturally recoil at this idea, or be embarrassed by it. We might feel a bit like the child of a father who easily loses his temper and flies into a fit of rage. The child is embarrassed by the actions of his father, especially if an outburst happens in front of his friends, but he loves his father and tries to downplay his imperfections, drawing attention rather to his better qualities. But to feel this way is to reveal that we misunderstand God’s justice, God’s righteousness, God’s wrath. To view God this way is to impose the limitations and imperfections we see in sinful creatures on the perfect and sinless Creator. We should not be embarrassed by God’s righteousness, or try to explain away his wrath. Rather we should delight in the justice of God, as an aspect of God’s goodness, because God delights in his own justice.

The Lord Delights in Justice and Righteousness

Listen to how the Bible speaks about God’s justice and righteousness.

Psalm 33:5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.

Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

Psalm 97:2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

Isaiah 5:16 But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.

Jeremiah 9:24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Hear this: the Lord loves righteousness and justice. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. The Lord of hosts is exalted in justice. The Lord delights in practicing justice and righteousness. God’s justice is a grounds for our boasting. God delights to reward each one according to his work. God is exalted in his treating of the righteous and wicked differently, as they each deserve.

Notice also, how justice and righteousness are coupled with his steadfast love. God’s justice and righteousness are not the opposite of his grace, mercy and steadfast love, they are not contrary to or in tension with his other attributes. Rather, God’s justice and wrath, and his love, mercy, and grace, rightly understood, are in perfect harmony.

Justice and righteousness are a positive expression of God’s goodness. To clarify this, it may be helpful to imagine a god who had no concern for justice, who was soft on sin and tolerated evil, who allowed the wicked to prosper and the upright to be persecuted. When we see images of persecution and slavery, of racial inequality and child prostitution, drug lords and terrorists, when we see wicked men prey on the innocent and helpless without consequence, our hearts cry out with the Psalmist “how long O Lord?”

Psalm 94:1 O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! 2 ​Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve! 3 O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? 4 They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. 5 They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage. 6 They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; 7 ​and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”

The Psalmist sees injustice and cries out for the Judge of the earth to repay to the arrogant proud wicked evildoers what they deserve; he cries out for the God of vengeance to shine forth.

Many times in Scripture, we see God pouring out on his enemies what they deserve as a ground for worship

Revelation 19:1 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” 3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” 4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5 And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” (cf. Deuteronomy 32:39-43; Revelation 11:15-18; 16:4-7; Psalm 96, Psalm 98, etc.)

That God is just, that he punishes evil is grounds for worship. That God does what is right, that he rewards the righteous and punishes evildoers is something to rejoice in.

The Judge of All The Earth

In Genesis 18, God came down to give promises to Abraham and to punish Sodom and Gomorrah.

Genesis 18:17 The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

The Lord is revealing his own just and right dealings with these wicked cities as an example for Abraham to learn justice and righteousness. He is teaching him to keep the way of the Lord by modeling his own righteousness and justice.

Genesis 18:20 Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

The Lord does not fly off into a fit of uncontrolled rage. The outcry was great and their sin was grave, so he investigates. He goes down to see.

Genesis 18:22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Abraham understood that the Lord is the Judge of all the earth. And as judge, he must do what is just. Abraham understood that it is unjust to sweep away the righteous with the wicked, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, to treat the righteous and wicked in the same way. For the sake of 10 righteous people God would spare the entire city. In the next chapter, we see the angels seizing Lot and his wife and his two daughters by the hand and bringing him out and setting him outside the city. The angel said “escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.”

Peter holds this episode up alongside Noah and the destruction of the ungodly world with a flood to demonstrate that

2 Peter 2:9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,

The Judge of all the earth will do right. He differentiates between the righteous and the wicked, giving to each what he deserves.

God Repays Each According to his Deeds

Jeremiah 17:10 “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

The Lord does not judge based on appearances. He searches the heart and tests the mind, he judges every man justly. Jesus says

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.

Peter says to the church,

1 Peter 1:17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed … 19 …with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Our Father judges impartially according to each one’s deeds. Paul spells this out in Romans. In chapter 1, he says that in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, because the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. In chapter 2 he says:

Romans 2:2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

God shows no partiality. God is a righteous judge, and his righteous judgments will be revealed on the day of wrath, when he renders to each one according to his works.

The Soul Who Sins Shall Die

In Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31, God clarifies a misunderstanding of his people when he said that he will visit “the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Deut.5:9). There came to be a proverb ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’ (Jer.31:29; Ezekiel 18:2), implying that God punishes innocent children for the sins of their fathers. This, indeed would not be just. But fathers need to realize that they set patterns for generations to come. There is a tendency for children to follow in the footsteps of their parents, and the children will not be able to excuse their sins because of the bad example of their parents. God says:

Ezekiel 18:20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. 21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?

Ezekiel 18:29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. As we have seen, God is good, he is inclined to extend undeserved mercy and overwhelming grace. He is ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands [of generations].’ He prefers to forgive iniquity and transgression and sin. He invites us to turn and live!

The Good News of God’s Righteousness

But if God is just and righteous and will by no means clear the guilty, if he must treat us as our works deserve, if he must punish sin, then that leaves us all in a whole heap of trouble, doesn’t it? Yes, that’s the point of Romans 1 and 2, that ‘every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be held accountable to God.’

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

We return to the tension we felt in the beginning. How can God be merciful and gracious, abundant in steadfast love, inclined to forgive iniquity, transgression and sin, yet he is just and will by no means clear the guilty? How can God forgive, and yet repay each person according to what he has done? This is the power of God and the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel that addresses the problem for us of the wrath of God.

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

God’s righteousness. Righteousness given to believing sinners by grace as a gift. We are all guilty. To get what we deserve is to experience hell. But if we will cry out to God for mercy, if we depend on the work of another, we can be given a gift we do not deserve. We can be declared righteous as a gift through the redemption and propitiation of Jesus. Jesus became our substitute. He took my place, and I take his place. All my sin was laid on him, he became sin for me, and God’s righteous wrath was propitiated, satisfied, in him. My sin got what it deserved; death. I now get what Jesus’ perfect obedience earned; the declaration of righteousness, and the reward; eternal life. Notice the concern to demonstrate God’s justice and righteousness.

Romans 3:25 …This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded…

God’s own justice does not allow him to merely pass over sins. God’s righteousness is upheld both in punishing the evildoer in the person of the Lamb of God who became sin for us, and in rewarding the righteous, as I now come to be in Jesus through faith and enjoy his inheritance.

We see this same emphasis on God’s justice in 1 John 1:9.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we turn and agree with God about our sin, his justice is satisfied, because we see sin as it really is, as an offense that must be punished, and he is just to forgive and cleanse us, because the punishment has been poured out on Jesus. This is no mere outward declaration. It changes us. If we are cleansed from all unrighteousness, then we are righteous. We are born anew, given a new heart, given the Holy Spirit, and we begin to hate what God hates and to love him above all else. The Spirit begins to bear fruit in us, and God, who searches the heart will give to us according to the fruit of our deeds.

May we praise God for his justice! We don’t want a God who doesn’t take sin seriously. A God who is soft, compromising, inconsistent is not worthy of our worship. The cross of our Lord Christ is a public demonstration of both the justice and mercy of our overwhelmingly loving God.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

February 23, 2016 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Steadfast Love

Steadfast Love ~ 20160214 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

02/14 Steadfast Love; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160214_steadfast_love.mp3

We are looking at the character and nature of God in order to know him, to know him as he is, to increase our affection for God, to love him as we ought, to enjoy his greatness and worth, to admire him, to worship him, to stand in awe of his greatness and majesty.

We have been looking at the goodness of God, his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures. We defined mercy as God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress; grace as God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment, and today we will look at God’s love, which is his special favor toward his people (Bavinck, p.206).

Abundant Love

Paul prays for the Ephesian church:

Ephesians 3:16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Paul prays for the saints to be rooted and grounded in love, to be anchored, to stand fast in God’s love. He prays for the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen them to be able to comprehend the love of God. Today we will endeavor to look at God’s love for his people. God’s love for us is so big, so abundant, so beyond what we can humanly grasp that we are utterly incapable of comprehending it. This is a supernatural task and we need supernatural help. May this be our prayer today, that we would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth, to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

One reason we need outside help to understand God’s love is that the concept of love carries so much preconceived baggage that we assume we know what it means, and we try to impose our understanding and experiences and expectations on to the concept of God’s love. As has been true with our whole study of the nature of God, we need to dump our preconceived notions and allow God to define for us what he is like through his word. It may feel like we are giving up ground and letting go of something we treasure, but we will find, if we are willing, that the truth of God’s love for us is so much richer and deeper and stronger and greater than what we could possibly have imagined.

Romans 5:5 tells us

Romans 5:5 … God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

God’s love has been poured out, spilled, dumped over, gushed, into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. We experience the overwhelming overflowing love of God through the work of the Spirit of God in us.

How We Know What Love Is

1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

By this we know love. We are only able to know what love is because God has shown love to us. We know what love is because of the love God has extended to us.

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Love is from God. Real love is evidence that we know God, that we have been born of God, that we belong to him. Although we see traces of love reflected in the world, even sacrificial love, the love of a mother for her child, the highest love is a result of being born of God, a result of God’s love in the gospel taking root and bearing fruit in our lives. 1 John 4 tells us that unbelievers cannot love in the same way that those who have been transformed by the gospel are equipped to love. God is love, and this kind of love comes from God. Love is produced in us as an overflow of experiencing God’s love for us in the gospel.

1 John 4:16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

We must come to know the love God has for us. We must believe the unbelievable love God has for us.

1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.

We can only love because we have been loved.

Distinguishing Love

As Moses rehearses the ten commandments to the generation about to enter the land, he gives the reason for loving God above all else, having no other gods or no images:

Deuteronomy 5:9 You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

God’s love is steadfast love, and he shows it to thousands. Back in Exodus 34, the passage we have looked at for the past few weeks where God displays his goodness, God says he is ‘abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands.’ God’s love is abundant. He abounds, he overflows with steadfast love. But God’s love is not for everyone. Notice, this love is extended to ‘those who love me and keep my commandments’. God’s love is a discriminating love. In fact, this verse states that God is jealous and will punish those who hate him. God’s love is not indiscriminate. He chooses to love. He is free to love whom he will. God insists on establishing his own freedom to love. His love does not come from duty or obligation. He does not love because he ought to love, but because he wants to love, he freely chooses to love. He says in Exodus 33:19 “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy”

We established last time, when we looked at God’s mercy and grace, that God is inclined to show mercy and grace to all his creatures, but God is in no way obligated to show mercy or grace to any of his creatures. He would be just and right and good to punish all evil and give to every person exactly what they deserve. But instead he gives to everyone better than they deserve.

God’s love is not an impersonal force like electricity, when the breaker is on, the juice is flowing to whatever is out there, whether it be a light bulb or a computer downloading porn, a hair dryer or a child’s finger in the light socket. God’s love is a distinguishing love, treating different individuals differently.

The Reason For Love

What we want to know is how does God distinguish? How does he choose? On what basis does God choose to set his love on someone?

In Deuteronomy 7, Moses warns the people when God brings them in to the promised land, not to make a covenant with the people of the land, not to show mercy to them, not to intermarry with them, because they will turn your hearts away from the Lord to serve other gods. He gives the reason:

Deuteronomy 7:6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10 and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. …

Out of all the peoples on the earth, God chose you to be his treasured possession. Why? Why did God choose to set his love on this people? Not because of anything in them. It is simply because the Lord your God loves you. God chose to set his love on you because he loves you.

Of course, this is the nation of Israel, chosen to be God’s people, to be the ones through whom the Messiah would come, and ultimately to be a blessing to all peoples. But what about us?

Paul speaks to individual believers in the church in 1 Corinthians 1.

1 Corinthians 1:26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

God’s calling, God’s choosing is designed to eliminate boasting. God chose to set his love on unlikely candidates so that no one could ever take credit for something within them that was the reason God chose them. Whatever the reason for God setting his love on a person, it has nothing to do with some foreseen good in that person. In fact, Ephesians 2 describes us as dead, walking in sins, following Satan, doing what pleases us with total disregard to what pleases God.

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Again, the goal is to eliminate boasting. God saved us because of the great love with which he loved us. And this was not because of something he saw in us; all that was in us was distasteful, displeasing, detestable to him. It was to display the immeasurable riches of his grace – being good to those who deserve only punishment.

Initiating Love

In Ephesians 1, we are told that

Ephesians 1:4 …In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

He adopted us because he loved us. Why? It was according to the purpose of his will. And it served to bring praise to his glorious grace – highlighting his goodness to those who did nothing to deserve it. We struggle to understand this because our love tends to be called out by something we see in the one we love. Something catches our eye. We are attracted in some way. There is something that stirs up our affections. A character trait, a quality, unrealized potential. Our love is a reaction, a response awakened by something in the one we are attracted to. God’s love is not like that. God’s love is free. God initiates. There is nothing we could do to attract his love, and we have already done everything we could do to repel him and make ourselves unlovable. Romans 5 says:

Romans 5:5 … God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God poured out his love on us while we were weak, ungodly, sinners, his enemies. His love is not dependent on something in us.

Costly Love

It could go without saying, but we must say it, that God’s love is a costly love. For God to give us exactly what we deserve would cost him nothing. But to choose to set his love on his enemies, that is an infinitely expensive venture for a righteous God. For God to show his love to sinners meant the death of his only Son.

1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, …

The wages of our sin is death, and by choosing to love us, he chose to pay the price himself.

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

God is love. God’s love was shown to us by his sending his only Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins. Jesus came to lay down his life for his wayward sheep. He came to drink the cup of the wrath of almighty God against rebels who abused his good gifts and spat in his face. He came to die so that we might live. Colossians (2:14) tells us that the record of debt that stood against us was nailed to his cross. God liberally, generously, freely pours out his love on us, but it was deeply costly to him.

Covenant Love

The word [חֵסֵד] checed (kheh’-sed) which appears well over 200 times in the Hebrew Bible is most often translated ‘steadfast love’. This term appears frequently in the context of a covenant relationship. God of his own free will entered into a binding relationship with his people. This is also closely tied to the concept of faithfulness. God commits himself to a relationship, and he will not go back on his word. God’s steadfast love is a ground for many prayers.

Psalm 25:6 Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! …11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.

Psalm 51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 ​Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

Psalm 86:5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

The Psalmist calls on God to forgive because of his steadfast love. God’s covenant keeping love is also the basis for much praise.

Psalm 36:5 Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. 6 ​Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD. 7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 63:1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. 5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,

Psalm 90:14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

God’s steadfast covenant keeping faithful love is a frequent ground for worship in the Psalms. “For his steadfast love endures forever” is the refrain repeated 26 times in Psalm 136 alone.

Individual Love

Listen to Galatians 2:20.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Can you say this? The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me? This is individual, this is personal. It is one thing to say ‘God so loved the world‘ or even to talk about ‘the great love with which he loved us‘. But it is another thing altogether to say that ‘the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me‘. This brings the love of God home. Can you say that when Christ hung on that cross, that he had me specifically, personally in mind? Did you know that he knows you by name? This, I believe, is what it means to ‘know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.’ He took my place. His death was an expression of the love of God for me.

Transforming Love

This love of God, this costly, self-sacrificial, freely given covenant keeping love, this intimately personal love expressed by Christ to us, when we get it, when we are given capacity by the Spirit to see it, when we begin to grasp what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, it changes us. When the good news of God’s love penetrates down into the hardened soil of our hearts, it will germinate and grow and begin to break up the rocky ground and burst out and overflow with life and fruit, hope and peace and joy.

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

God is love. Whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. The gospel has taken root and is bearing fruit.

1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

February 14, 2016 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Merciful, Gracious, Compassionate

02/07 Merciful, Gracious, Compassionate; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160207_merciful-gracious-compassionate.mp3

We are seeking to know God, to increase in our affection for him as we listen to what he says about himself. This greatest of all beings, is profoundly worthy of our adoration and worship. We have looked at some of his essential attributes, those describing his very being, his essence, how he relates to his creation, to time, to space. We have looked at some of the characteristics which set him apart from us, in a class by himself, utterly unique and different – holy, and we are looking at some of the characteristics of which we find a faint reflection in us his creation, we who are made to reflect his image.

Last time we looked at God’s goodness. We used Stephen Charnock’s definition: “the goodness of God is his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures.” We saw that God is good in and of himself, in his very nature. He is the source of all good. And although he is not obligated to extend his goodness to any, he is good to all. In varying degrees, as he sees fit, he gives to each one better than we deserve. He is inclined to do us good. And he is our ultimate good. Although many settle for enjoying his good gifts, our supreme good is to enjoy forever the good giver of all those gifts.

In Exodus 33,

Exodus 33:18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

God’s goodness is defined here by God’s right to freely extend grace and mercy to whom he will. His goodness is then declared to Moses in chapter 34

Exodus 34:5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

God’s goodness is proclaimed as mercy, grace, longsuffering, covenant love, faithfulness, and justice. Today we will look at God’s mercy, his grace, and his patience.

Although there is much overlap in these concepts, the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921; p.206 ff.) helpfully distinguishes them according to whom they are directed. He writes that ‘mercy is God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress; grace is God’s goodness toward the guilty; longsuffering is God’s goodness manifested in patience toward those who are deserving of punishment.’

Moses (d. 1406 or 1220 BC)

Throughout the Scriptures we see that God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger. God revealed this to Moses. In Moses’ instructions to the generation who would enter the promised land under Joshua, in Deuteronomy 4, he warns the people in coming generations not to fall into idolatry. He says that you will ‘provoke the Lord to anger… you will soon utterly perish from the land … you will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples… you will be left few in number …where the Lord your God will drive you. And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands.’ but he gives them hope and confidence, based on the character of God.

Deuteronomy 4:29 But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. 31 For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.

He grounds this hope, hope for repentance, hope of forgiveness, on the fact that the Lord is a merciful, compassionate God. God is inclined to be good toward those in misery and distress, even when that misery is self-induced.

Jonah (c.782-753 BC)

Some 500 – 700 years after Moses, Jonah, the reluctant prophet, is sent by God with a message of judgment to Nineveh, the great city of Assyria. When he finally delivers his message, the pagan king proclaims a fast, for everyone to turn from evil and cry out to God. He says:

Jonah 3:9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

Jonah 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah’s refusal to proclaim God’s judgment on this wicked enemy of Israel was due to his understanding of the goodness of God, his inclination to extend help toward those in distress, to be patient toward those who deserve punishment, to be forgiving toward those who are guilty.

Hezekiah (715-686 BC)

Some 30 – 50 years after Jonah, Hezekiah had already seen the northern 10 tribes of Israel conquered by Assyria because of Israel’s idolatry. After the wicked King Ahaz led Jerusalem in the abominations of rampant idolatry, King Hezekiah sought to cleanse Jerusalem from idolatry. He sent out an invitation to the remnant of Israel and Judah to return to the Lord and keep his Passover in Jerusalem.

2 Chronicles 30:6 So couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with letters from the king and his princes, as the king had commanded, saying, “O people of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. 7 Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the LORD God of their fathers, so that he made them a desolation, as you see. 8 Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD and come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you. 9 For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”

Hezekiah finds hope for wayward people punished for their idolatry in the character of God. God is compassionate, merciful, gracious. He will turn away his fierce anger if his people will return to him.

Nehemiah (445 BC)

300 years later, after Judah had spent 70 years in captivity in Babylon, Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, and with Ezra sought to restore proper worship to God. In Nehemiah 9, a public prayer of worship and confession of sin, they recount the history of God’s grace and mercy from Abraham through Egypt to Moses into freedom,

Nehemiah 9:16 “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. 18 Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, 19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go.

Then they recount the supernatural conquest of the promised land under Joshua, and their subsequent slide into complacent idolatry.

Nehemiah 9:27 Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies. 28 But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies.

After the time of the judges, throughout the time of the kings,

Nehemiah 9:30 Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. 31 Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. 32 “Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day.

The people under Ezra and Nehemiah turn to the Lord in hope in spite of their repeated history of sin because of God’s character. He is ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, great in mercies. He does not forsake them.

Undeserved, Unmerited, Free

Mercy is God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress. Grace is God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment. In order to truly appreciate, to truly enjoy God’s mercy and grace, we need to grasp what mercy and grace really mean, and how we relate to them. Mercy means I am miserable and needy. I am in a position with no way out and no way to help myself. To cry out for mercy is to recognize the desperate nature of my situation and ask for help from outside. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story that helps us to feel the weight of our desperate situation.

Matthew 18:23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’

This is where the footnotes in your Bible can be very helpful. This servant owed ten thousand talents. What is that? What is a talent? The footnote in my Bible says that a talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years’ wages for a laborer. I’m not sure what you take home in a year, but this man had embezzled 200,000 years worth of wages. He could not pay. He could never pay. So he was being sold. His wife, his children, everything that was dear to him was being sold. There was nothing this man could ever hope to do that would dig his way out of a hole that deep. It seems he didn’t even understand the depth of his situation. He doesn’t ask for mercy. He asks for patience. He asks for more time, an extension on the debt. As if given enough time he could somehow pay of the debt. But God doesn’t work that way. Look at the response of the king.

Matthew 18:27 And out of pity [σπλαγχνίζομαι] for him…

Out of pity. Literally, his innards were moved for him. In the depth of his gut, he was moved with compassion. Pity. His situation was hopeless. The king knew that no amount of time would make it possible for him to repay even a fraction of what he owed.

But the king had been wronged. Robbed blind. This man was a liar. A cheat. An enemy. He had abused the king’s trust, misused the king’s resources. He deserved to be sold. He probably deserved much worse. He deserved to be hated. But instead the king was inclined toward pity. In verse 33, the king says ‘I had mercy on you.’

Matthew 18:27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

The master released him fully. Complete pardon. The debt forgiven.

If you go on to read the rest of this parable, you will see that the point of the parable is how utterly out of place our unforgiving attitude toward the petty offenses of our brothers is in light of the staggering debt we have been released from. Clearly the servant didn’t grasp the magnitude of the undeserved mercy that had been freely extended to him when he deserved so much worse. He just didn’t get it. Although offered free pardon, he continued to operate as if he were under a system of debt. His heart wasn’t moved. He wasn’t changed.

Grace vs. Debt

Romans helps us understand grace by contrasting it with its opposite. In Romans 3:19, Paul has established the universal guilt of all mankind before God.

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

And then in verse 23 and following, he holds up the hope of grace.

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

Justification, legal pardon, forgiveness, being declared not guilty, our debt expunged, is a gift rooted in God’s grace. It was not free. It is the most costly of all gifts. God paid the purchase price. Redemption in Christ Jesus, propitiation by blood sacrifice. God is not righteous if he merely lets sin slide, looks the other way, brushes it off as if it were no big deal. God in his patience had passed over former sins. This left a question mark on the righteous character of God. Does he really care about justice? How can he justify ungodly people? The price was paid in full. He paid it himself. He gives it to us by grace as a gift. Romans 4 clarifies what this means.

Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

If you work, you earn wages. They are owed to you. They are due. Literally, this phrase could be translated ‘to the one who works, the wages are not counted according to grace but according to debt.’ Grace is the polar opposite of debt. Grace is unearned, undeserved, freely given, with no obligation. If you work you are entitled to a paycheck. And we have worked. We are entitled. The wages of sin is death. God owes us. He owes us death. He is only obligated to give us what we have earned. Grace is in a completely different category. We cannot demand it. We cannot presume upon it. God is in no way obligated to extend to us the least bit of grace. He is free to give us what we deserve, but it costs him dearly to extend to us grace. Faith is in a different category. It is not work. It is a total departure from the system of debt and obligation. It is a helpless dependence on the promised generosity of another, taking him at his word, gladly receiving a gift.

In Romans chapter 11, Paul speaks of the future of ethnic Israel, and the current unbelief of the majority of Jews, and he says:

Romans 11:5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Grace is freely extended to a remnant of Israelites, like Paul. It is not based on performance. If it were in any way attached to merit or obligation or earning, it would not be grace. Grace ceases to be grace if you are entitled to it.

2 Timothy 1 speaks of

2 Timothy 1:8 …God 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

God saved us, God called us not because of works but because of his own eternal purpose in Christ, because of grace – God’s inclination to extend goodness toward those who deserve nothing but evil.

Ephesians 1 is an extended hymn of praise of God’s glorious grace.

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 2 describes us as

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

And then he says:

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 11 Therefore remember…

Remember that you were separated, alienated, strangers, having no hope and without God. But now you have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Remember the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Remember God’s undeserved, unmerited, unrestrained, free gift.

Until we feel the weight of the debt we owed, until we realize the extent which it cost God to forgive us, until we recognize he wasn’t obligated to, he is just and free to exact from us every bit of what we owe, we, like the ungrateful servant, will not get grace. We will not understand mercy. Our hearts will not be moved. We will still operate under a system of debt. And we will miss out. If we feel entitled, if we feel God owed it to us to extend grace and mercy, we just don’t get it. God would be just to give us all what we deserve, but God is inclined to deal well and bountifully with us. God is inclined to pity us, to extend goodness toward those in misery and distress. God is inclined to withhold his punishment toward those who continue to sin, eager to bring us to repentance. God is inclined to extend his voluntary, unrestrained, unmerited favor toward guilty sinners, granting us justification and life instead of the penalty of death, which we deserve. Let us praise the immeasurable riches of his mercy and grace!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

February 7, 2016 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment