17. Condemnation

Short Meditations in John 3:  17. Condemnation

Jn 3:18   Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son

There is always a dark side to belief, there are always those who do not believe and the consequences of belief AND the absence of belief are spelled out clearly in the Bible.  People may make lots of excuses for their lack of belief  but at the end of the day it is still lack of belief and lack of belief is an act of the will, because the unbeliever could always seek and find but they choose not to do.  So unbelief is not a neutral thing as some might like to think.

Moses made it quite clear early on in the Bible when he spoke about the possibility of his people going astray, he declared, if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29)  All it requires to become a believer and follower of the Lord is that you seek him with all your heart.

And the Lord has helped us in this thing because He has put something within us that yearns for eternity. As Solomon said, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11) There is within each of us something that hungers to know more than this mere existence.

There is so much evidence that God has provided for us as Paul said speaking of men who, “suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Rom 1:18-20) It is plain to see if you have eyes to see.

But when it comes to Jesus it is even more true. Read the Gospels with an open heart and who could but not wonder, who could not see the wonder of this God-man, as Peter said on the day of Pentecost, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22)  This was not just any man, this was not just a good preacher, he doesn’t leave us this option. Thus any person who seeks and reads and sees what is here in the Gospel and then turns away condemns themselves. Someone has likened it to a person who hears a great symphony and goes away unmoved showing they have no music in their soul. Anyone who can walk away from Jesus Christ unmoved shows they have no truth in their soul and are condemned.

24. Receivers of Mercy

Meditations in 1 Peter : 24:  Receivers of Mercy

1 Pet 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The word for church in the original text is ekklesia meaning a ‘called out people’. It is the same sense as when used of a people who were called out to the market square by a town crier. We have been called out of darkness by God and taken into the kingdom of the Son, a kingdom of light. And because that hasn’t happened to just me, but to many of us, we are a people”, a body of people with one head, Jesus. We are now the “people of God”, God’s people. Because of what Jesus achieved on the Cross we belong to Him: the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) Thus Paul taught, “you were bought at a price.” (1 Cor 6:20 & 1 Cor 7:23) Thus we are now the people belonging to God, the people of God, millions of us all over the world and stretching back in history to the day of Pentecost and stretching into the future until the day Jesus returns and winds everything up – millions and millions of redeemed people, the people of God.

But then Peter says something that emphasizes even more the wonder of being part of this people – how we came to be part of this people. He speaks about mercy. Now William  Shakespeare understood something of this wonder when he wrote the Merchant of Venice.  Antonio, the merchant of Venice, had foolishly signed a bond granting to the Jew, Shylock, who lent money, a “pound of flesh” if he defaulted.  He does default and so Portia pleads with Shylock to release him from the bond. Eventually she declares to him, “Then must the Jew be merciful,” to which Shylock replies, “On what compulsion must I?” She then responds with those famous words, “The quality of mercy is not strained,” meaning that compulsion is precisely contrary to the spirit of mercy, which is not “strained” or forced. Mercy is a voluntary thing, it is not given because the Law demands it, but despite the Law, and so mercy, in Shakespeare’s words, “drops gently like heaven’s rain”, a natural and gracious quality rather than a legal one.

Once we had been under the Law and condemned by justice. We deserved to die and death was on the horizon as the punishment for all our sins. God could have left us in the state for we deserved it. Punishment is what is deserved for wrong doing so that was all we could look forward to. But then, amazingly, the plan of God is revealed and we see that even before the foundation of the world the godhead had planned how to redeem us. Mercy was the quality of what emanated from the throne room of heaven. Surely the angels must have looked on in amazement. Surely these foolish human beings deserved to be judged, deserved to be destroyed, but instead it is a member of the godhead who steps forward to the place of punishment and takes what is deserved for every sin. Why is this happening? Why is he doing that? The answer has to be mercy.

Yes, make sure you are quite clear on this: mercy is undeserved grace. There was absolutely no reason why this had to happen. This is the thing about mercy – it is freely granted for no other reason that the giver gives it!

When the Bible describes God as merciful; it means that it is natural for Him to express mercy rather than judgment. When Lot ended up in Sodom and was led out by angels to avoid the judgment it was, for the LORD was merciful to them.” (Gen 19:16). He could have left them to die with the rest but in His mercy He led them out. Moses instructed Israel about the future, “When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him. For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.” (Deut 4:30,31) When Israel fall, the Lord could just leave them, but He didn’t because of his mercy. Looking back, Nehemiah confirmed that this was exactly what had happened: “For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you handed them over to the neighboring peoples. But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.” (Neh 9:30,31)  Yes, the Lord could have given them up for that is what they deserved but mercy was seen when he restored them and raised them up again.

Perhaps one of the most amazing prayers recorded in the Bible is that of Daniel who intercedes for his nation which is going into exile and apparent extinction. In the early part of it he prays, “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him,” (Dan 9:9) and near the end concludes, “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” (v.18). He knew his God and he knew that he could appeal on the basis of mercy.  Israel had utterly failed the Lord yet he pleaded for their future on the basis of the Lord’s mercy – and his prayer was answered! Hallelujah!

4. Promise of Transformation

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.4

Isa 1:18 Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool

I have lived long enough to have heard a variety of sermons interpreting this verse in a variety of ways. However, I am going to argue as logically as possible to obtain the simplest possible understanding of its meaning. It starts with the Lord’s invitation to talk out their situation. Very often when we are not in a good place we hide away from the Lord and from other people, just like Adam and Eve did (Gen 3:8), but the Lord takes the initiative, as He so often does, and invites us to talk. It is when we talk that we can come to a place of fresh understanding. The communications slogan, “It’s good to talk,” really does apply when you are hiding away, cowed by the enemy into believing lies about yourself and about God. We also hide away when we feel we will be condemned for our sin, but the Lord’s intent is very different.

He brings two contrasting pictures. The first is of their sin which He describes as scarlet or crimson. The second is the Lord’s intended outcome, what He intends to do with their sin, and their end outcome is simply described as white as snow or as wool, which is also white. Now whatever clever applications we try and see in this, I would simply suggest that this is a picture of total transformation. One minute their sins are like a bright red colour, the next they are pure white. This is a complete transformation. Let’s just see it like that!

Now of course we do tend to use the expression, “Pure as the driven snow” and the whiteness described does suggest purity. What is there to suggest our understanding is correct? Well the first part of the chapter is clearly a negative assessment of Israel’s state and so the next verse comes as a complete surprise in the light of those earlier negatives: If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land.” (1:19). The Lord never blesses sin and so this offer of goodness must accompany the picture of complete transformation. What is it that will bring this transformation? Willingness and obedience! The matter is in their own hands. The Lord intends them good (as He always does), but it is only their sin which stops that happening. Now we shouldn’t see this as some magic formula or even as a means to criticise the Lord. There are those somewhat unthinking people who speak negatively of the Lord in these sort of situations. Look, they say, He just looking for an opportunity to judge them. How silly is that! It is exactly the opposite; He is looking for an opportunity to bless them but their foolish behaviour prevents that.

Now it is not that the Lord is inadequate and cannot bless people, but if they are harming themselves and He won’t force their wills, then it is only going to be bad coming into their lives because they are bringing it on themselves. Consider the godless person who lives a completely promiscuous life, say. This person just happens to express their godlessness in promiscuity. It could have been in a number of ways, but they chose to be promiscuous – and then they caught a sexually transmitted disease. If I jump from an upper storey window I am going to seriously hurt myself. I can’t blame God for not catching me. He would have been speaking to me previously encouraging me not to jump. Thereafter He respects my free will and allows me to make sovereign choices – as harmful as they may be. To talk about Him blessing me when I am having to live with the consequences of my sovereign choices is just plain silly. Remember the willful child I used as an example in the previous meditation? Away from the family home they cannot receive all the goodness of the home. Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable he ends up eating with the pigs (Lk 15:16). We really have to take responsibility for our own actions and realise that we reap what we sow (Gal 6:7).

One side of the coin is the blessing the Lord offers us, by living in accordance with His design-laws, so that he can add blessing to us. The other side of the coin, as we have seen, are things going wrong, “but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” (1:20). Why? Is this the Lord being nasty or is it a natural outworking? I suggest first the latter. If they disregard the Lord, then they will be spiritually, morally, socially and militarily weak, and being weak they will become a prey to the surrounding nations. Now the Lord isn’t being ‘nasty’ but sometimes He does bring discipline by either stepping back and allowing the neighbours to invade Israel, or even at times provokes them to invade, but it is always with the intent of turning Israel around and back to the place of blessing. The father who refuses to bail his child is allowing them to feel the full weight of the Law to help them come to their senses. The mother who allows her children to hurt themselves by way of the learning process (without serious danger) is allowing them to learn that we reap what we sow, dangerous things cause harm and are to be avoided. The society that overprotects erodes personal responsibility and we are poorer for it.

These are the lessons that the wise parent knows the child needs to learn, and God is the wisest of all parents! Thus we will find again and again, when Israel stray they get into trouble, but that is how life is in a Fallen World, and this no way detracts from God’s love that will always be there working to bring good to us out of every situation (Rom 8:28). Let’s learn the lessons.