Crippled in both feet (2 Samuel 9:3)

When I was younger, it was a lot easier for me to believe that people were a pretty noble lot and that, if a person applied themselves and made the effort, then life would turn out pretty well. But as I have gotten older and have seen so many of my own best efforts amount to nothing as plans disappear like mist, and as I have watched those with promising beginnings become mired in mediocrity, I have wondered if maybe I overestimated our nobility. Maybe the truth is that we are broken and crippled in both feet and need someone to lift us up out of our futile existence.

MEPHIBOSHETH, THE CRIPPLE

In 2 Samuel 9 we are introduced to Mephibosheth. It is an odd name that he was given. His name in Hebrew means “dispeller of shame,” which is ironic because Mephibosheth’s life is marked by brokenness and shame. When we meet him in this story, “he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar (9:4).” The most noticeable feature of Mephibosheth is that he is crippled in both feet (9:3).

“How did he become crippled?” you ask. Mephibosheth was the grandson of the king of Israel, King Saul. One day when he was five years old, the report came that his father Jonathan and his grandfather Saul had been killed in battle. His nurse took him up and fled, and in her haste, Mephibosheth fell. He fell and became crippled. In one day, Mephibosheth became crippled and orphaned. When he was five years old, all reasonable prospects for a happy future were irreversibly shattered. His father was killed, his legs were crippled, and the nurse he trusted failed him. And so, eventually, he drags himself out to Lo-debar, into the house of Machir the son of Ammiel. There in this dusty, backwater town, he ekes out his existence; forgotten, crippled, and orphaned. Helpless. Hopeless. End of story.

But it is not the end of the story, because there is an anointed king, King David, who is seeking for Mephibosheth. From his house in Jerusalem, King David “sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar (9:5).” David calls Mephibosheth by name (Isaiah 43:1) and, for no reason other than to show him kindness, the king makes promises to Mephibosheth, extravagant and astonishing promises of kindness and of lands and of a place at the king’s table where Mephibosheth can eat regularly as one of the king’s sons. In one day, Mephibosheth exchanged the miseries of Lo-debar for the glories of Jerusalem, and the house of Machir for the house of the king.

How does Mephibosheth respond? First, he “fell on his face and prostrated himself” before King David. What else would a person do when entering the presence of the king? Then Mephibosheth confesses his own unworthiness to receive such mercy and kindness. “Why do ‘you regard a dead dog like me?’” This is not self-loathing or self-pity, but an acknowledgement by Mephibosheth that he deserves none of David’s kindness. All he can bring to the king is his homage and unworthiness.

Through David’s kindness, Mephibosheth, who once was living in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar, crippled in both feet, now lived in Jerusalem and he ate at the king’s table regularly as one of the king’s sons. Oh, and he was lame in both feet.

THE GOSPEL IN THE STORY OF MEPHIBOSHETH

As fascinating as this story of Mephibosheth is, it is the “normal” story of everyone who has trusted in Jesus the Messiah. The sober truth is that we are all broken from birth. All of us are victims of the fall, ruined because of the sin of Adam. We are figuratively hiding out in Lo-debar, waiting for someone who can be a “dispeller of our shame.” All our reasonable prospects for a happy future have been shattered or have evaporated. Like Mephibosheth, we are forgotten, crippled, and orphaned. Helpless. Hopeless. It feels like the end of story.

Then one day, we hear about an anointed king, King Jesus, the Son of David, who is seeking for us (Luke 19:10) and who is calling us by name. As we listen to His voice, this King makes promises to us, extravagant and astonishing promises of forgiveness of sins, and of joy in this life and eternity in heaven, and of a place at the King’s table where we can eat regularly as one of the King’s sons or daughters. According to this gospel of good news, in one day, in one moment we can exchange the miseries of our brokenness for the pleasures of His holiness. Jesus the Messiah is the great dispeller of our shame.

How do we respond? We fall on our face and prostrate ourselves before the glorious Messiah Jesus and we confess our sins and our unworthiness, and then we give Him our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) so that He can make use of even our lameness and our brokenness.

Yes, we are Mephibosheth.

SDG                 rmb                 2/20/2021

The unprompted extravagance of God (Genesis 12:2-3)

“And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.

And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Genesis 12:2-3

In these two verses in Genesis 12, the LORD pours out a landslide of seven unconditional promises of blessing on this man, this Abram the son of Terah from Ur of the Chaldeans. Take a moment with me and consider the unprompted extravagance of the LORD.

WHAT ABRAM DESERVED OR MERITED?

We begin by considering Abram and see why he received such an outpouring of blessings from the LORD. As we read of Abram ancestors in Genesis 11:10-31, we search in vain for any indication of anyone in his family tree having a knowledge of the LORD. Where are his forefathers who called on the name of the LORD? They are absent. Instead, we read through nine generations without a single mention of the LORD. Indeed, Terah, Abram’s father, was a pagan who worshiped the moon god. As we study Abram’s lineage, there is no evidence of any acquaintance with the LORD or with any exercise of faith. It is hard to imagine that Abram had any concept of the LORD before He called him.

THE EXTRAVAGANCE OF THE LORD’S CALL

Then at the time appointed by the LORD, He calls Abram to go forth from his country to an unseen, unknown land that the LORD will show him. There had been no relationship between Abram and the LORD and then suddenly the LORD bursts upon Abram’s consciousness, calls him to trust Him with his entire future, and pours out astonishing, unconditional promises on him. And all of this is completely unprompted and unrequested. There is nothing that motivated or prompted the LORD to choose Abram other than His own divine will. Abram was unaware of the LORD’s existence and could have died that way. Abram could have continued his father’s legacy of bowing down to the moon god and never have known the joy of walking with the living God. Abram could happily have continued in his ignorance, but the LORD chose to speak to this man. Why Abram? We do not know, but the LORD chose him to be the father of a multitude and to walk with Him.

ALL THE GRACIOUS PROMISES

And then, as if that were not amazing enough, the LORD immediately makes seven astonishing promises to Abram. This is the unprompted extravagance of the LORD, to call Abram to Himself and then to make these glorious promises of blessing, and all of this as an act of His grace, just because He chose to do this.

“And I will make you a great nation.” At the time of this promise, Abram had no children and a barren wife, yet the LORD gives him an unconditional promise that he will become a great and populous nation.

“And I will bless you.” Abram gets the LORD’s unconditional promise that He will bless him. This probably refers to material blessings of flocks and herds.

“And I will make your name great.” Abram will be known far and wide as a great man. He will be famous and respected. Another unconditional promise.

“And so you shall be a blessing.” Not only will Abram be blessed, but he will also be a blessing to others. He will be blessed to be a blessing. Another unconditional promise.

“And I will bless those who bless you.” Those who are allies with Abram and those who help and bless Abram will be blessed by the LORD. Another unconditional promise.

“And the one who curses you I will curse.” Likewise, those who oppose or threaten Abram, or who seek to curse him will themselves be cursed, for the LORD will protect him. Another unconditional promise.

“And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” This is, of course, the grandest extravagance of all, as the LORD gives Abram the veiled promise that he will be the forefather of the Messiah. Another unconditional promise.

EXTRAVAGANT GRACE TO ALL WHO CALL ON THE LORD

            God’s extravagance to Abram was clearly displayed as the Lord of the universe called a pagan shepherd from a far country to be a father of a multitude and to become a friend of God. But we also understand that this is not a unique situation, nor is it even an uncommon one. The Lord who sought out and found Abram in Ur of the Chaldeans and called him to a life of faith walking with the living God is also the same Lord who seeks out and finds all His elect wherever they are and calls them to faith in the Lord Jesus.

            My own story is a display of the Lord’s unprompted extravagance, since before I became a Christian, I was far from Him, had little knowledge of Him, and had less interest in knowing Him. I was content in my ignorance, happily careening toward judgment. Then one day on a cliff in California, in an act of unprompted grace, the Lord awakened me to my own mortality and called me to Himself and called me to change. In a short time, He had led me to a good church and made sure that I had a Bible. He brought me to repentance of my many sins and to faith in the crucified and risen Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He brought me from death to life and promised to never leave me or forsake me. In His Word, he gave me many precious and magnificent promises (2 Peter 1:4) that are all “yes” and “Amen” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).

            And, although there are as many variations as there are salvation testimonies, this display of His unprompted extravagance is what the Lord does all the time. This is who He is. He is a God who gives and loves extravagantly, and His blessings on His people are unprompted by anything in us and are only the expression of His mercy and glory and generosity and grace.

            Abram and you and I have this in common: we have been the recipient of God’s unprompted extravagance and His promises of blessing.

SDG                 rmb                 1/3/2021

Behold, he is hiding in Lo-debar (2 Samuel 9)

            The last day of the year is a good day to reflect on the glories of Christ and on His unlimited merit before God, and how He came from heaven to earth so that unworthy sinners who merited nothing but God’s wrath could be saved and seated at the Lord’s table through faith in Jesus. The story of David and Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9 is always fascinating to me.

HIDING IN LO-DEBAR – A STORY

The day dawned just like every other day in Lo-debar had dawned, probably since time began. His name was Mephibosheth, which in Hebrew meant “dispeller of shame.” “What a twist of cruel irony!” he thought to himself, as he dragged his crippled feet off the cot and onto the floor. “The great ‘dispeller of shame,’ the man from Lo-debar!”

It would be difficult to find a less likely ‘dispeller of shame.’ Mephibosheth was the grandson of Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul had failed as a man and failed as a king. He was defeated by the Philistines and then, in defeat, had committed suicide on the battlefield. Saul, his grandfather, was then beheaded by his enemies, and his body was nailed to the wall of Beth-Shan in an act of ultimate humiliation (1 Samuel 31). Jonathan, Mephibosheth’s father, was also killed by the Philistines and nailed to the city wall alongside Saul. All Mephibosheth’s worldly inheritance vanished that day, dying with his father and grandfather, and he was left humiliated and destitute. The only thing that he inherited from his father was defeat and shame.

As if adding insult to injury, when Mephibosheth’s nurse heard that Israel had been defeated and that Jonathan was dead, she had fled with Mephibosheth to find refuge. As they were fleeing, he fell and was crippled in both feet (2 Samuel 4:4). Thus, on one day when he was five years old, Mephibosheth had become an orphan and a cripple, and the course of his life was set.

Now, years later, Mephibosheth is far away from Jerusalem, safely forgotten and hiding out in a desolate village in Gilead, in the town of Lo-debar. The town’s name means “no pasture,” which accurately describes the dusty village and its forlorn surroundings. Each today in Lo-debar is like yesterday, and tomorrow will be more so. In Lo-debar there is no future and there is no hope, but the village’s desolate obscurity provides Mephibosheth with a strange sense of security. No one asks about his past, so he does not need to deal with the shame of his family’s failures. The fact that he is crippled is actually an asset, because while he cannot work and cannot be a soldier, he can receive alms from people out of their pity for his misery. Most of all, he will never be found by the great warrior, King David. The misery of the monotonous life of Lo-debar is a small price to pay to remain hidden from the eyes of the great king in Jerusalem. Mephibosheth could not bear the thought of having to face the great king.

Then suddenly Mephibosheth’s safety is shattered. Messengers have come all the way from Jerusalem to Lo-debar and they have come looking for him. Ziba, the faithful family servant, has betrayed his location and has told David exactly where he has been hiding (2 Samuel 9:3-4). The messengers take Mephibosheth and bring him all the way to Jerusalem, into the very presence of the man he fears most, King David. Of course, David will kill him. He is the only remaining heir from the line of Saul, and conquering kings do not long tolerate rivals, even rivals as pathetic as Mephibosheth. So, no doubt David has brought him to Jerusalem to slaughter him personally. As he is brought into the king’s presence, Mephibosheth falls on his face and prostrates himself before King David. Perhaps the king will feel some sense of pity and will show him a moment’s compassion before he dispatches the miserable Mephibosheth.

EXALTED ON THE BASIS OF ANOTHER MAN’S MERIT

            But Mephibosheth does not receive the king’s wrath and he does not experience the king’s vengeance. King David does not speak of the fact that Mephibosheth is crippled in both feet nor does he remind Mephibosheth of his shameful past, that he is the lone survivor of a failed monarchy. Instead of trying to find Mephibosheth so that he can kill him, David has made a diligent search for Mephibosheth and has called him by name (2 Samuel 9:6) so that he can bless him and show him the kindness of God (2 Samuel 9:3).

            And why does Mephibosheth receive all these blessings? Is it because he is really a pretty spectacular guy and deserves to be showered with blessings? Were all his thoughts of humiliation and shame just the results of poor self-esteem, and has David seen that Mephibosheth is really a “diamond in the rough?” Despite being physically crippled and emotionally damaged and financially destitute, isn’t Mephibosheth basically good?

            No. Mephibosheth’s assessment of himself was accurate. There is nothing in Mephibosheth himself that merits anything from David except contempt. If Mephibosheth got what he deserved, then he would be destroyed at once.

            Mephibosheth receives grace and blessing from King David, the Lord’s anointed king, because of the merits of another. You see, Mephibosheth was Jonathan’s son, and David loved Jonathan as his own soul (2 Samuel 1:26). David goes in search of Mephibosheth because Mephibosheth was related to Jonathan. Because of Jonathan, David summons the “dead dog (2 Samuel 9:8)” from Lo-debar in the wastelands of Gilead to his own house to eat at his own table as one of his own sons. Because of Jonathan, all that belonged to Saul and to Saul’s house is restored to Mephibosheth. Because of Jonathan, all of Mephibosheth’s weaknesses and shame and faults are concealed under Jonathan’s merits and worth. Mephibosheth is treated as if he himself possessed all the merits of Jonathan, because he is associated with Jonathan. David pours out his favor on Mephibosheth not because of anything in Mephibosheth, but because David loved Jonathan. Mephibosheth can offer nothing to King David. He has no merits. He can only bring his lame feet and his shameful past, and he can plead for mercy based on his father, Jonathan. And that plea for mercy based on the merits of another will place him at the king’s table to eat regularly as one of the king’s sons.

A MODERN-DAY MEPHIBOSHETH

Like Mephibosheth, I, too, once dwelt in Lo-debar, far from the King, hiding in my shame and fear. I was ashamed of my sin and my weakness and failures, and I was fearful of God’s judgment and His punishment. Oh no, of course I did not know these things at the time. I only knew the misery of my wretchedness, being convinced of having ghastly, oozing flaws which, though invisible to me, were immediately and glaringly obvious to others, and these flaws caused others to be repulsed by me.

But then the King sought me out. The One who owned everything and who knew everything, including all my sin and shame, the King who ruled the universe from His eternal, heavenly throne began His search for me. “Is there someone for whom My Son has died whom I can now bring into My house to dwell with Me forever?”

Then the King sent messengers to me in “Lo-debar” to tell me about the Lord Jesus, the one who was worthy of all glory and honor, the one who had merited God’s perfect favor based on His perfect life. I saw the beauty and the power and the glory of Jesus, but I could not understand how that had anything to do with me. “Surely, O King, You do not mean for me to dwell with You! I am flawed and full of shame. I could never merit Your love.” But the King said, “I do not need for you to merit my blessing, for Jesus, My Son, is the favored one. He has merited My favor, and if you will love Jesus, then His merits will be credited to you. You see, you could never get to heaven on your own merits, so I have sent My Son to earth to give you His righteousness. He is the great ‘dispeller of shame.’ Believe in Him, and His merits become your merits and His righteousness becomes yours. Because of Jesus, you can be fully accepted. By believing in Jesus, you can put on His perfect robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). Because of Jesus, you can eat at My table as one of My adopted sons. Because of Jesus, you can dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Because of Jesus, even though you are lame in both feet (2 Samuel 9:13), you will live with me as My child.”

And so, this “dead dog” was raised up with Jesus and seated in the heavenlies with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-7).

AS WE END 2020

            As we end 2020 and head into a new year, I would encourage us to think more deeply about all that God has accomplished for us through the Lord Jesus. He has done the impossible. He has brought those who deserve His wrath into His presence as adopted sons and daughters based on faith in the Lord Jesus.

“that He may be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).”                        SDG                 rmb                 12/31/2020

Luke 5:17-26. Part 1 – Faith and forgiveness

What is the nature of genuine faith in Jesus and who is this Man who claims to forgive sins? These are some of the questions that are addressed in the story of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic, a well-known story that appears in each of the synoptic gospels, in Matthew, in Mark, and in Luke. Over the next couple of posts, we will be looking at the account from the gospel of Luke, in Luke 5:17-26. I will be borrowing from the other gospel accounts for some of the details. This post will look at the nature of faith and forgiveness, and the next post will examine the Person of Jesus and find out more of His identity.

THE PLOT OF THE STORY

            As the story opens, Jesus is teaching to a big crowd inside his house when four men try to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, presumably for healing him of his paralysis. Since they are unable to get to Jesus through the crowd in the house, they go up on the roof and lower the bed-ridden paralytic down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who seem to always be there to give Jesus a hard time, complain that Jesus is wrong to claim to forgive sins, since only God can do that. Jesus then miraculously heals the paralytic, proving that He is, in fact, God and, as God, has authority to forgive sins. The crowds are duly amazed.

FAITH RESULTS IN FORGIVENESS        

            What principles can we learn from this story about the nature of saving faith?

            First, faith in Jesus always results in forgiveness of sins. Faith is the trigger for Christ’s forgiveness, because Jesus always perceives and responds to genuine faith. After Jesus saw their faith, He declared to the paralytic, “Man, your sins are forgiven you (5:20).” Notice that neither the paralytic nor the paralytic’s friends asked Jesus to do anything, but Jesus, “when He saw their faith,” spontaneously granted forgiveness of sins. This is always the case. Then and now, faith in Jesus always results in forgiveness of sins and salvation. If you have placed your faith in Jesus, you, too, have received forgiveness of sins.

            What does Jesus require for Him to forgive sins? Faith alone! “When He saw their faith” What “works” does He require to extend His forgiveness? None! Unlike other false religions and false teaching, there are no works required for Jesus’ forgiveness (Romans 4:2). It was the men’s faith that saved, not their effort. Just so, your faith alone saves you.

            Jesus granted unlimited forgiveness, in essence, absolute forgiveness. “When He saw their faith, He said, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” Jesus did not say, “Your known sins and your felt sins are forgiven,” so that the man would need to return later if he felt guilty. Nor did Jesus say, “Some of your sins are forgiven, but some are not.” Rather, Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).” When Jesus forgives sins, He forgives ALL sins forever. He does not forgive some but leave the rest unforgiven. His forgiveness is permanent and comprehensive. If Jesus has seen your faith, then you can have complete confidence that all your sins, past, present, and future, are forever forgiven.

            The proper end of all faith is salvation (Ephesians 2:8), and Jesus grants forgiveness and salvation to this man based on the man’s faith. When Jesus grants forgiveness, He is declaring that the righteous requirement of the Law (death for sin) has been fulfilled in us by means of His death on the cross (Romans 8:4). Because Christ has fulfilled the Law’s requirement on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18), our forgiveness and our salvation are two sides of the same coin. Thus, the person whom God has forgiven has also been saved.

FAITH PRODUCES ACTION

            There is another principle that we see here in this story about those who have genuine faith: Genuine faith manifests itself in faith-filled actions.

            Notice that faith precedes the “works,” or faith precedes the action. So, first, the men had faith that Jesus could heal their paralyzed friend, and then, second, they visibly demonstrated their faith in Jesus by carrying their friend all the way from where he was to where Jesus was. Their faith led to faith-filled action.

            In this story, the men’s faith-filled action was not for Jesus’ benefit, but for the benefit of the crowd that was watching. Jesus saw their faith, but the crowd needed to see the radical action that their faith produced. It is most often faith-filled action that makes genuine faith visible. Those outside of Christ cannot see or understand faith unless our faith is manifested by the actions of our lives. As James says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18).”

APPLICATION

            An application of this principle that genuine faith produces action would be to ask ourselves, “Does my faith in Jesus produce faith-filled action?” In other words, if anyone were watching my life, would my actions clearly betray that I am a man or a woman of faith in the Lord Jesus? This is a challenging question for us all, but I think it is incumbent upon us to consider it. Does my faith manifest itself in my life such that an unbeliever could see it?

            Some actions that have occurred to me as evidence of faith are: prayer (Do others know you pray? Do they know to whom you pray? Do they know why you pray?), obedience to Scripture (Do you make decisions that puzzle others because you are obeying a clear teaching of the Scripture?), submission of all aspects of your life to the Lord (Does the Lord have first priority in your life?), unselfishness, humility, your speech. These are everyday ways that we can make our faith visible to others.

NEXT POST

            The next post will use this same passage to examine the Person of Jesus and find out more of His identity and why He claims to forgive sins.

SDG                 rmb                 11/30/2020

Call upon Him while He is near (Isaiah 55:6)

“We are still young, and we have lots of things that we want to do. There are girls and beer and experiences. When we are older, then maybe we will think about this religious stuff.” Thus Kostya, a Russian student, explained to me his thoughts about the gospel. In so many words, he said to me what many people believe: “The offer of the gospel can be received anytime, and when I am good and ready, I will accept God’s offer.”

Indeed, the Lord’s offer of salvation through the gospel seems to be always available to the sinner, at least that is what we are led to believe. It appears that the sinner, once informed of the gospel of salvation, is free to accept God’s offer whenever they choose to accept it, either today or tomorrow or on my deathbed.

This appearance, however, is a lie from the pit of hell. It is the devil’s lie that the creature is free to ignore the Creator’s offer of salvation until the creature decides to act. Satan propagates this idea because he knows that when a person postpones their gospel response, they effectively smother their gospel response.

But consider this from the standpoint of human experience. Is there ever a situation where a serious offer can be accepted at any time? No. No serious offer is made without an expiration date. In practice, an offer is made, and if there is no acceptance of that offer, the offer is withdrawn.

Now, if it is true in our experience that offers between people for mere earthly things are either accepted or they are withdrawn, how much more true is it that the Lord’s offer to sinful man for forgiveness and for eternal salvation must be accepted or it will be withdrawn. There is an urgency that accompanies the hearing of the gospel, and if the sinner does not respond, the Lord may withdraw the offer.

How, then, are we to respond? In Isaiah 55:6, the Scripture says,

Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.

            We are to seek the LORD, but it is clear from this verse that He is not always available. There is a time element to our seeking the LORD. We are to seek the LORD WHILE HE MAY BE FOUND. And since we do not know when the LORD may be found, we are to seek Him with all our heart (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13) THE INSTANT WE HAVE A DESIRE FOR HIM. When the gospel has kindled our desire for the LORD and has given us a hunger for cleansing and for righteousness, THEN we are to seek the Lord.

            And we must call upon Him, but again we see that He is not always near. How do I know when HE IS NEAR? If the gospel has been proclaimed and you have been convicted of your sin and have felt a longing for forgiveness, you can know that THE LORD IS NEAR. It is THEN that we are CALL UPON THE LORD. “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).”

            In Acts 17, the philosophers in Athens heard Paul declare to them the truths of the gospel and the glories of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul urged them to seek God (17:27) and to repent (17:30), but they sneered at him and said, “We shall hear you again concerning this (17:32).” But they never heard Paul speak again. Instead, “Paul went out of their midst (17:33)” and left Athens. They had heard the gospel, but they did not seek the Lord, nor did they call on His name, and the offer of salvation was withdrawn, and they perished.

            By contrast, in Matthew 13 we read two parables about seeking in 13:44 and 13:45-46. In the first parable, a man finds a treasure hidden in a field. He realizes that this is the opportunity of a lifetime and that he must act now and seize the moment. And so, “he sells all that he has and buys that field.” That is the attitude of the person who hears the gospel. “This is the moment of my life. I will seek the Lord and call upon Him until I receive His offer.”

            The second parable is similar to the first. In this parable, a pearl merchant finds a fabulous pearl of immense value. He realizes that this is the opportunity of a lifetime and that he must act now and seize the moment. And so, “he sold all that he has and bought it.” That is the attitude of the person who hears the gospel. “This is the moment of my life. I will seek the Lord and call upon Him until I receive His offer.”

            When God, in His infinite grace, chooses to bring the gospel near and to stir our heart with a desire to know Him and to be freed from our sin, then at that moment we must respond, for we do not know if God will ever do this again.

SDG                 rmb                 11/24/2020

The death of David’s son (2 Samuel 12:14)

“Because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” – 2 Samuel 12:14

If we are watching a courtroom drama unfold where the guilt of the accused party has been clearly proven by evidence and cross-examination and there is no reasonable doubt that they committed the crime, and then the jury returns a verdict of “not guilty,” we are justly outraged. The guilty one has been unjustly acquitted. The law has been violated because the guilty have gone free. The law is in place to punish the guilty, and yet this guilty one has not been punished.

In these situations where men have ignored and run roughshod over man’s laws, it is right to be angry and outraged. How much more outraged should we be, then, when a person is proven guilty of violating God’s Law and is unjustly acquitted! Yet this seems to be exactly what we find in 2 Samuel 11-12 in the incident with David’s famous sins.

A quick review is in order for this familiar story. In 2 Samuel 11, “in the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David remained at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11:1).” Whether by design or by chance, David is walking on his roof and sees Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, bathing. He sends messengers to bring her to his house, “he lay with her, then she returned to her house (11:4).” Bathsheba becomes pregnant by David, and now David has a problem. After calling Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband, back from the battlefield to Jerusalem, David tries to convince Uriah to go to his house to be with his wife. The noble and loyal Uriah refuses to go to his house to lie with his wife while Joab and Israel’s army are out in the open field fighting the Ammonites. With Plan A foiled, David then implements Plan B, which is to have Joab “set Uriah at the forefront of the fiercest fighting and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down and die (11:15).” Uriah is thus killed, so Plan B appears to have worked, “but the thing that David had done displeased the LORD (11:27).”

In the next scene, the prophet Nathan comes to David and tells him a story about a grave injustice done by a rich man against a poor man. Incensed by the injustice, David cries out, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die (2 Samuel 12:5).” Nathan famously declares to David, “You are the man!” The prophet then proceeds to tell David the details of his sins and the consequences that the LORD is going to bring on David because of his sins. David then says to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD (12:13).” Astonishingly, after this simple and brief confession, Nathan responds to David by saying, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die (12:13-14).”

What?? This is outrageous! David willfully commits adultery with Bathsheba whom he knows is married to Uriah the Hittite, one of his thirty mighty men (23:39), and then wickedly sees to it that this noble man, Uriah, dies in battle, effectively murdering him, and then utters a brief confession of “I have sinned,” and he gets off the hook? “I have sinned,” and adultery and murder are just sort of swept away? How can this be right? O yes, I am sure it was extremely painful to watch as your infant son die, knowing that his death was your fault, but that in no way satisfies the demands of the Law. Surely this is gross injustice! How can the LORD allow this?

SOLVING THE OUTRAGE

            This does seem to be an outrage but consider these things. The death of the child born to Bathsheba highlighted David’s guilt and reminded him of the wages of his sin, but the death of that child brought him no forgiveness. For if Nathan is telling David that he is forgiven because of the death of the child of Bathsheba, then the injustice of that forgiveness and the outrage remain. David violated the Law of God on two counts, and the Law of God demands death for the violator. By David’s own words, “The man who has done this deserves to die!” “The soul who sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).” The justice of God demands a death penalty for these sins, and the death of Bathsheba’s son could never satisfy the Law’s demands. Bathsheba’s son died as a judgment for David’s sins, not as a propitiation for David’s sin, because this unnamed son of David was not an acceptable sacrifice for David’s sin. This child was not a worthy substitute.

            How, then, can the LORD take away David’s sin, and how can the LORD legally forgive one who has flagrantly and repeatedly and willfully rebelled against His holy Law? If the death of this child cannot atone, what can wash away David’s sin?

            Nathan can declare that the LORD has taken away David’s sin not based on the death of Bathsheba’s son, but based on the death of Mary’s Son. The death of David’s son born in Jerusalem could not atone for any of David’s sins, but the death of David’s Son born in Bethlehem atoned for all of David’s sins. The unnamed son of Bathsheba was not an acceptable sacrifice for David’s sin, but the Son of Mary, who was named Jesus because He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), gave His life as an acceptable ransom (Mark 10:45) for David’s sin by His substitutionary death on the cross. Therefore, Nathan can declare that the LORD has taken away David’s sin because Jesus the Messiah, the glorious Son of David, that Child who is born to David shall die.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a  propitiation in His blood through faith (Romans 3:23-25).”

APPLICATION

            Now the question that we asked earlier about David must be answered by every one of us. How can the LORD legally forgive one who has flagrantly and repeatedly and willfully rebelled against His holy Law? For the truth is that we have all rebelled against the Lord and we have all flagrantly and willfully violated His holy Law. How can God legally forgive us? But the good news of the gospel is that the Jesus who died for David’s sins is also the Savior who died for the sins of all those who put their faith in Him. If you repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15), then Jesus died for your sins, as well. Praise God that the Child who was born to David died!

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Jesus calls only sinners (Luke 5:31-32)

            In Luke chapter 5, we are at the place in the gospel account where Levi has just been called to salvation by Jesus. “Follow Me,” said Jesus, and Levi was forever changed. So, Levi throws “a great feast” and invites all his friends so they can meet this amazing Man, Jesus. Somehow some Pharisees and scribes find their way into the feast and complain to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answers them,

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:31-32

            Here in these two short verses, Jesus gives us some vital information. He tells us why He has come and for whom He has come. As we look at this passage, we want to make sure that we are among those for whom Jesus has come.

THE SETTING

            As usual in the gospels, the antagonists are the Pharisees and the scribes. Who were they? These were the strictest religious people in Israel. They were devout adherents to all the ceremonial laws and rules. They also viewed themselves as superior and looked down on “sinners” with contempt.

            At the other end of the religious spectrum were “the tax collectors and the sinners.” Tax collectors were Jewish people who were employed by the Romans to collect Roman taxes from their fellow Jews. If this wasn’t bad enough, they often overcharged and kept the extra. Tax collectors were despised by the Jews. “Sinners” were those with questionable or disreputable lifestyles. These included prostitutes or beggars or perhaps thieves. They were at the bottom of society.

            So, the Pharisees ask their question with a bit of disgust, “Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?” To them it is unthinkable for religious men to associate with such rabble. The logic of Jesus’ answer (see above, Luke 5:31-32) is cutting and profound:

“Those who think they are healthy have no need of a physician, but if you think you have a disease, you will seek out a physician. Just as it is only those who think they are sick who seek out a doctor, so it is only those who know themselves to be sinners who call out to Jesus for salvation.”

            We need to consider this very carefully. Why has Jesus come? He tells us that He has come to call sinners to repentance. For whom has He come? He tells us that He has come for sinners. For whom has He not come? Jesus has not come for those who do not see themselves as sinners.

            Here at last is the One who had been promised and foretold from of old. Here is the one Man who can deal with sin and not merely play religious games. All religions play games with sin, pretending that feeble human effort and invented works can quench God’s holy wrath, but Jesus deals with sin and vanquishes sin. Every child of Adam produces sin, but here is the one Man in all of human history who bears sin and who forgives sin and who takes away sin. Jesus is the only one who has this authority, and here He declares that He has come to call sinners to repentance.

            Jesus is the only Savior of sinners, but He is also the Savior only of sinners. The Pharisees and the scribes had no need of Jesus because they were religiously self-righteous and certainly did not see themselves as sinners. And since they did not see themselves as sinners, Jesus had not come for them.

            So far, so good. We see that the Pharisees were in trouble because they were religiously self-righteous. Got it. As long as I am not self-righteous, then I am good, right? Well, not exactly. It is true that Jesus has not come to call those who think they are righteous. That much is certain. But there is more than one group of people Jesus has not come to call. What do I mean? I mean that, according to this passage, Jesus has come to call SINNERS to repentance. Since that is the case, it must also be true that Jesus has not come to call anyone who does not see themselves as a sinner.

            For example, let’s say that you identify yourself as “basically a good person.” You have never been to prison, and you have never killed anyone, and you try to do what you think is right most of the time. Now, you are quick to admit that you are not perfect. “After all, nobody’s perfect.” (Jesus is.) But you are basically a good person. The fact is that you have no need of Jesus, because you are not a sinner, but are basically good. More importantly, Jesus has not come for you, because He came to call sinners, not basically good people.

            Maybe you see yourself as a respectable, church-going person. You are good to your neighbor and you obey “the golden rule” and are in the church almost every time the doors are open. All things considered you are better than most. You are not perfect, and you do make mistakes, but you are not as bad as a “sinner!” Well, you have no need of Jesus, because you are not a sinner, and Jesus has not come for you, because He came to call sinners to repentance, not respectable people to being nice.

            You see the point. Jesus has come to call sinners to repentance, and He has come to call only sinners. If you do not acknowledge that you are a sinner, then you have no need of Jesus. More importantly, Jesus has not come to call you.

            Do you see yourself as a sinner? That is, do you acknowledge that you have broken God’s commandments and have sinned against Him and justly deserve His condemnation? Then Jesus has come to call you to repentance. Repent, and cry out to Him for His salvation. “For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).”

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The question of the conscience (Romans 2:15)

The issue in the book of Romans is righteousness, that is, a right standing before God. Paul’s theological masterpiece describes how God legally grants righteousness to those who are manifestly unrighteous and sinful, and who, because of their unrighteousness, deserve His wrath and condemnation. The means of obtaining this righteousness is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” If a person hears and responds to the gospel, they will be saved (Romans 10:9-10), but if they do not, they remain condemned (John 3:18, 36).

AWARENESS OF SIN

One of the critical components of the gospel message is for a person to come to an awareness of their own sin. This is where the conscience fits in. God has created man as a moral creature, and that means that we are all accountable to God for every disobedience of His commandments. So that we can know when we have broken one of God’s commandments, God has given every human being a conscience. And what does the conscience do?

            Romans 2:15 puts it this way:

They (the Gentiles) show that the work of the Law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

            Paul is saying that the conscience makes the sinner aware of their sin by functioning like a copy of the Law written on their heart. The same God who issued His holy Law at Sinai is the God who has, by the conscience, written a copy of His Law on every human heart. So, when you or I violate one of God’s commandments, our conscience is provoked and accuses us of sin, and we experience guilt, as we should. And this is true for every human being, regardless of any external factors. God has given everyone a conscience so that we would all be aware of our sin and would, perhaps, seek for the Savior.

            But is the conscience enough to bring about salvation? No, it is not. The conscience renders all people guilty of violating God’s Law but offers no relief from the guilt. My conscience merely leaves me without excuse, justly deposited on death row without an apparent hope of pardon. My conscience reveals to me my unrighteousness but tells me nothing about where righteousness lies. The necessary bridge between a guilty conscience and the joy of righteousness is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only by faith in the crucified and risen Lord that my guilt is washed away.

APPLICATION

            Because all people have a conscience, all people should be aware of their sin and guilt. In our evangelism, then, we can be confident that some will be sensitive to their own unrighteousness and will be open to hearing about a forgiving Savior.

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Sowing the gospel seed (Mark 4:26-27)

“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” Jesus, Mark 4:26-27

            Our pastor recently conducted an evangelism workshop at our church. During the workshop, the men at my table had been working on our evangelism exercise, trying to present the gospel (God-Man-Christ-Response) in less than two minutes, and were finding the exercise difficult. I heard myself going through the presentation with my voice, but in my head having my doubts. Although one of my friends described it as “technically correct,” no one at our table felt that it was either convincing or persuasive. We just felt that we were declaring huge truths to people in rapid fire and expecting the impossible, that they would believe these truths about God and man and sin and salvation, and then to have some kind of saving response. But this seemed very unlikely.

            How does this work, then? How is it that a brief proclamation about how Jesus Christ has died for sin so that sinners who trust Him for salvation can be delivered from the wrath of God and thus have eternal life; how can that message ever get traction?

            As I was pondering these things, I remembered three times in my own past when people had spoken to me about Jesus.

My first recollection is of me on a bench in downtown Asheville. I was probably eleven years old (~1970) and I was waiting for my mom to pick me up after a doctor’s appointment. A man probably in his mid-twenties approached me and sat down on the bench with me and proceeded to tell me about his journey. He was strung out on drugs and was running from the law and his life was a mess, and then he met Jesus Christ. He asked Jesus into his heart and Jesus had changed him. “Don’t you want Jesus in your heart?” What was I going to say? “Sure (if you will promise to leave).” So, we prayed “the prayer” and I was saved. Then Mom came and picked me up and I forgot all about that. Or so I thought. A seed had been planted.

Fast forward to about 1986. My girlfriend had taken me to the local Baptist church, where during the service an executive at Proctor & Gamble had talked about how he came to faith in Jesus. “So, if anyone is interested in talking to me more about how Jesus can change your life, please get in touch with me.” His story impacted me, so I contacted him. We met for breakfast at a restaurant in Roswell, GA. He did his best to tell me about Jesus and about how I could know Him as my Savior. The seed had been watered.

In 1988, I was on a date with another girl I had taken a fancy to. We were on a patio of a restaurant in north Atlanta and she brought up that she was a Christian. She told me that she believed in Jesus Christ and that Jesus had forgiven her of her sins. I think I may have asked a question or two about her faith, but that was about it. But the seed had been watered again.

Isn’t it interesting that, of all the experiences that I have had in the last fifty years, I remember these three times when random people talked to me about Jesus? The point is that the gospel makes an impact. It is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” So, God used these obedient people to plant and water the seed of the gospel in my life.

Then, when the Lord was ready to bring me to Himself, after an experience on a big cliff and visits to a church, in late 1990 I repented of my sin and believed in Jesus as my Savior. How did that happen? “It is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.”

So, what do we do? We sow the gospel seed far and wide, “in season and out of season.” We proclaim the gospel to unbelievers as often as the Lord will give us opportunity, trusting that the power is in the message of the cross and not in the cleverness of the speaker. “God is well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21).”

SDG                 rmb                 10/23/2020

The LORD covered all their sin (Psalm 85:2-3)

The cross of Christ looms over the entire Bible. Ever since the fall, when Adam’s sin plunged man into sin and condemnation and death (Romans 5:12-19), the cross has been required. Man has fallen into sin, and now only the sacrificial death of the sinless Son of God can pay the price of our redemption.

THE MYSTERY OF FORGIVENESS

            But for God’s people living before the incarnation of Jesus the Messiah and before the cross, God’s means of forgiveness was a mystery. Oh yes, it was evident that the LORD did forgive sin, but what was the basis for that forgiveness?

  • Isaiah 1:18 says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” But how is that possible? How can my scarlet sins become white as snow?
  • Psalm 103:12 declares, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He (the LORD) remove our transgressions from us.” For whom does the LORD do this? How can I be one of the ones for whom the LORD removes transgressions?
  • Micah 7:19 says, “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Who is the “us” and the “our” in this verse? How do I become a part of that group?
  • In fact, this mystery of forgiveness could call into question the justice of God. In Ezekiel 18:4, the prophet, speaking by the word of the LORD, says, “The soul who sins shall die.” That seems very clear, but then we read just a few verses later that if a wicked person turns from their sins, none of his transgressions will be remembered (18:21-23). Wait a minute! How did this sinner who should die get forgiven? Is it right for God to forgive great iniquity? How can God forgive ANY iniquity and remain just? How can God threaten to punish sin but then also not remember sin? What is the basis for His judgment or His forgiveness?
  • In 2 Samuel 12, after the prophet Nathan has confronted King David about his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and his sin of arranging for the murder of Uriah, David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD (12:13a).” Now the Law required stoning to death with stones both for the sin of adultery and for the sin of murder. Yet the Scripture in 2 Samuel 12:13b says, “And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.’” Wait a minute again! That cannot be right. How can the LORD put away David’s two huge sins and still be a just Judge? If God’s Law requires stoning for a sin, how can David be acquitted after just voicing a simple confession?
  • And so, the cross as the means of God’s forgiveness of sins remained hidden from the Old Testament saints, even though the effects of the cross were scattered throughout the Scriptures. We come, then, to our study text, Psalm 85:2-3, which talks about forgiveness of sin and removal of wrath.

YOU COVERED ALL THEIR SIN – PSALM 85:2-3

You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin.

You withdrew all Your wrath; You turned from Your hot anger.

            We will go through these short verses carefully and see how the cross answers the questions we have been asking, even though it had not been revealed to the psalmist and still lay centuries in the future.

  • You forgave the iniquity of Your people. From the Old Testament Law, we can see that every Iniquity “received a just retribution (Hebrews 2:2).” That means that iniquity requires punishment or an atoning sacrifice. To be forgiven, there must be some recompense or some atonement that removes the offense. So, the cross is implied here as the hidden means of atonement. Also note that all iniquity is forgiven. (It makes no sense grammatically or practically for the LORD to forgive some sins, for even one unforgiven sin is enough to condemn.)
  • You forgave the iniquity of Your people. A critical question is, “Who are ‘Your people’?” Theologically we know that forgiveness is specific. It applies to specific people when specific conditions are met. Here we see that the LORD forgave the iniquity of His people and it necessarily follows that He forgave no others. Since the only forgiven people are His people, it is incumbent on us to be part of His people or to become part of His people. From the Scriptures, we know that we become His people by faith (Hebrews 11) and that we are justified by faith (Galatians 2:16; etc.).
  • You covered all their sin. From the first half of this verse, we can see that this also applies only to the LORD’s people. When the LORD covers sin, He does so that it will be hidden from sight. David writes, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1).” Since sin is an offense against the LORD (Psalm 51:4), and since the LORD is the supreme Judge, when He covers sin, that sin has been forgiven and forgotten. Since the cross punished all the sin of all of the LORD’s people, then the LORD can justly cover it.
  • You withdrew all Your wrath; You turned from Your hot anger. Sin is an offense against the Holy One, against the LORD our God, and the Lord responds to sin with wrath. Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” At the end of the age, Jesus Christ will return to “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Revelation 19:15).” There must be some means whereby the LORD’s people can turn away the Lord’s wrath. But again, we find that the cross of Christ is the answer. For “Christ Jesus is whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:25).” “Propitiation” is a theological word that here means to quench the wrath. By His death on the cross, Jesus has not only paid for our sins, but He has also satisfied the wrath of God that our sins provoked.

REFLECTIONS

            Think of the greatness of the cross. All are in need of its benefits, because all have sinned, but all are also able to receive its benefits by faith. There is no ethnic or financial or social or physical barrier in your way. All are welcome to bow at the cross. The power of the cross extends into the future until the last of God’s elect comes to faith in Jesus, and it goes backward into the past, applying Jesus’ redeeming blood to all of the Lord’s people since the Garden of Eden. All who will ever be forgiven of sin are forgiven because of the cross.

            And what about those who are not the Lord’s people? What will become of them? A review of the verses just studied will answer the question. Their sins remain unforgiven and uncovered. The wrath that has been provoked by each one of their transgressions remains as furious as ever, and the hot anger of the Lord is still poured out on them. Those who are not the Lord’s people must turn from their sins and trust Christ for their salvation. “For there is salvation in no other name; for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).”

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