Jesus forgives Pharisees too!

The Pharisees wanted Jesus dead!  Temple guards were sent to arrest Him but returned to the priests and Pharisees empty-handed: “We have never heard anyone talk like this!” The Pharisees mocked their soft hearts as weakness: “Have you been led astray too?” (Jn.7:47NLT), lumping them with the ‘ignorant crowds’– a cursed lot.

What had the guards heard Jesus saying?  “If you are thirsty, come to me!”  Believe on me and you will have life to overflowing… The Pharisees were not thirsty.  They were satiated with their own goodness, busy striving to perfect their systems of law-keeping.  Jesus’ words regularly goaded them, perplexed them, confronted them with their blindness and, were met with hardened hearts.

Except Nicodemus.  Thanks to John we have his story by way of three little peeks into his life.  In John 3 he had come by night to the LIGHT of the world, seeking to understand the truth about Jesus.  Then in John 7 as the Pharisees boasted that none of their number had believed, Nicodemus spoke up defending Jesus’ right to a hearing…

Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing? Jn.7:51NLT

How our world needs to be challenged with this question— Have you heard Him?!

We live in times of great confusion as the rules for right and wrong that have shaped the laws of Western lands for generations are being re-written in light of what pleases this generation, with no regard for what pleases the unchanging God.

The Pharisees too had become a law unto themselves.  But some came…

Nicodemus came with questions and Jesus pointed him away from confusion to life.  Granted, Jesus did not make it easy for him, did not affirm him as wise or worthy.  But He pointed the way to life, persuading Nicodemus that this was not something he could accomplish on his own: “unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God.” (Jn.3:3NLT) This would have to be a work of the Spirit, as inexplicable as the wind, in response to belief on the Son.

But what a hope He held out–

“everyone who believes in me will have eternal life… God didn’t send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” (John 3:15,17NLT)

This was a great mercy to Nicodemus, as it is to our generation, as it is to me personally.

I self-identify as a Pharisee by nature and upbringing.  I grew up in church, not just any church but one that felt itself to be a cut above the rest.  We thought we had a special ‘in’ with God.  And we had rules for keeping it that way.  My ‘pleaser’ personality soaked this right up into the fibers of my personal faith, fomenting a pride that I’ve been a lifetime recanting.  My new nature in Christ vies with the old to have dominion.  Yes, Jesus died my soul to save,  but the old judgmental habits and hardness of heart die hard, making fertile ground for the enemy’s accusations and poor soil for faith to grow.

So I’ve been encouraged this week in revisiting Nicodemus’ story…It was not easy for him to move from the fortress of Phariseeism to consider Jesus’ claims.  He came undercover of night.  But the Spirit was at work…

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me…And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” Jn. 6:37-40 NKJV

Jesus welcomed Nicodemus and made the truth clear:

There is no judgement awaiting those who trust Him. (Jn.3:18NLT)

This is my fortress against the enemy’s taunts.  Though I see the old phariseeical tendencies of my heart on a daily basis, I am assured of forgiveness and love and relationship with this Jesus.  My salvation in its incipience and its completion is of faith, by grace, through the Spirit who woos me to come to the Light.  Jesus loves Pharisees who come to him by day or  night.  He saves sinners who are willing to have their sins exposed and to trust Him with the results.  It is only those who stay away ‘for fear their sins will be exposed and they will be punished’ (Jn.3:20NLT) who miss out on the grace He extends.

I smiled this week to see one more mention of  Nicodemus at the end of John’s gospel (Jn.19:39ff).  Here he comes following the Crucifixion toting seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes to join Joseph of Arimathea in wrapping up Jesus’ body for burial. Could even a Pharisee come to love this Jesus?  Methinks so.  With God anything is possible.

Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden.

Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart…

So what keeps us away? Let’s take Nicodemus’ cue and come to the Light.  When confusion clouds our minds, when doubts strike, when sin has already overcome us and we shrink back ashamed, when self-sufficiency surges pridefully…let’s come confidently to the Light of the World. This is where we will find LIFE.  And as we walk in that light–confessing our sins and trusting His goodness, we will know the abundance of life for which we are intended.  He is the vine, we are but dry kindling without Him.

May “Jesus, I Come” be our testimony as it was for this hymn writer over a hundred years ago:

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy freedom, gladness and light, Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of my sickness into Thy health, Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself, Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of unrest and arrogant pride, Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy blessed will to abide, Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of my self to dwell in Thy love, Out of despair into raptures above,
Upward for aye on wings like a dove, Jesus, I come to Thee…
–William T. Sleeper, 1819-1904

Thanks for sharing this meditation with me. I commend to you the following passages that bolster confidence in the One who meets us where we’re at and offers life.

–LS

But if we are living in the light of God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.  If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth.  But if we confess our sins to him, he is fatihful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. I Jn.1:7-9 NLT

The light from heaven came into the world, but they loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. They hate the light becuase they want to sin in the darkness. They stay away from the light for fear their sins will be exposed and they will be punished. Jn.3: 19,20 NLT

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Heb 11:6 NKJV

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  Heb.10:23 ESV

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 4:14-16 ESV

You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which graciously forgives instead of crying out for vengeance as the blood of Abel did.  Heb.12:24 NLT

“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony [confessing that they belong to Jesus] and they did not love their lives to the death.  Rev 12:11 NKJV

I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine. Sng 6:3 NKJV


Come to Jesus sung by Chris Rice

 

Are you ready for a change?

I’m ready for a change of season.  Snow is beautiful.  But it gets old.  And I grow impatient for something new–a pussy willow, a green shoot, something to show that we are not stuck in eternal winter.

Now that the calendar page has flipped out of winter I am wooed by memories of forsythia blooms dancing and long-forgotten bulbs sending up spring greetings.

Those were in another world. Mine is still pretty much black and white.

It is neverthelss beautiful– 

but I’m ready for a change. Yes, even this creature of habit who prefers that life be mostly predictable, craves newness.  Thank God for seasons; He knew.

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Gen 8:22 NIV

This yearning for change makes me reflect on the human condition.  Why do we grow discontent and demand something new and different in countless ways, when what we possess is functional, adequate, even beautiful?  It seems we are built straining for perfection and nothing within or without is ever quite enough.

Except God.

Unchanging. Constant. Forever Perfect.  His presence is what makes Heaven, Heaven and Earth liveable! Neither stifling boredom nor gnawing regret have a place in His presence.  To rest in Him is to find relief from our restlessness for something new and different.  Not a stitch of Him can be improved on. He radiates perfection.

And wonder of wonder He invites us to know this glory, to partake of His holiness, to be perfect! That’s going to require a radical change–a change of heart!  Since God’s standard is unchanging; ours must yield to His agenda.  That agenda is Jesus.

“And what God wants is for us to be made holy
by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.” Heb.10:10

It’s the story of “Good Friday”–a good God making a way for His helplessly fallen creation to share His goodness.  The transaction is one of repentance, by definition a change of mind, and faith God-ward, believing Jesus’ death was on account of my sin.  As we bow at the Cross acknowledging our need, God restores to us the everlasting life we were created for.  He gives us His Holy Spirit as a guarantee of that inheritance and declares us holy. Then He sets about accomplishing its fruit in us–a holiness we only dream of now as we continue to repent and believe on the One who is transforming us into His likeness.

So in my restlessness for spring to fully come, may there be a corresponding eagerness for Jesus’ return to complete this salvation He’s begun in me.  And in the long wait may I be as eager to yield to His life-giving voice as I am to spot a sprig of green!

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness—so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Gal 5:5 ESV, Heb 9:28 ESV

What follows is the collection of verses from which I’ve drawn these thoughts.  I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between man in need of change, and God, the unchanging eternal King who welcomes those to His Kingdom who will repent and believe…


Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. —If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. 

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.—For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. —And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.

Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will have no end. 

The LORD is King! He is robed in majesty…Your throne, O LORD, has been established from time immemorial…Your royal decrees cannot be changed.  The nature of your reign, O LORD, is holiness for ever. —“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” 

HOLY is the Lord God Almighty–the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come—But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. 

I Cor. 15:51-52 ESV; Job 14:14 KJV; Deut.32:4 NIV; Mal 3:6 KJV;  I Sam. 15:29 KJV; Ps. 102:25-27 NKJV; Ps.93:1,2,5 NLT;  Mk.1:15 ESV; Rev. 4:8 NLT; II Cor.3:18 KJV

Thank you for coming by and letting me share my ponderings with you. 

May your Easter remembrances be life-giving!

–LS

Call to me and I will answer you…

“Thus says the LORD who made the earth…:Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. —Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 

From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit…For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 

And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are—The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 

…remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, …that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe… 

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding—If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 

Jer.33:2-3 ESV; Rom. 11:33-34 ESV; Is.64:4 ESV; I Cor.2:10-12 ESV; Gen 41:38-39 ESV; I Cor.2:14 ESV; Eph 1:16-19 ESV; Prov. 3:5 ESV;  James 1:5 ESV


I lack wisdom.  The way is not clear.  Rearing children to adulthood was one thing.  Tending parents in their return to dependency is another.  The twos and the eighties are challenging years.  My puzzled mind wakes me at night weighing factors, pointing alternately to tidy solutions and then to their infeasibility.  Guilt, Fear and the  Turmoil of conflicting voices and multiple allegiances wrestle with my sleep-fogged brain.  I want to do what’s right.  I also want to please…everyone!  What course does Love dictate?  These things are not clear.

Joseph’s story, and Jeremiah’s, encourage my heart that God knows the things hidden from my understanding and He can be relied on to convey the truth I need in order to navigate these unfamiliar waters.  He can show me what to do and when and how.  He can enable me to wait in faith, to lay me down and sleep in confidence that He is in control and His direction never too early or too late.  As pressure builds to “DO SOMETHING!” I can trust Him to make a way in perfect timing.  I do not want to run ahead driven by guilt and anxiety or lag behind in timid fear.

Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long…Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you…Ps.25:4,5,20 ESV

I’m grateful for the Word of God, the Spirit of God and the People of God.
Thank you for your prayers as God directs.

–LS

 

In our holiness let there be JOY

“You love what is right and hate what is wrong.  Therefore God, your God has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else.”

This was said of Jesus, which suggests to me that the holiest of people should be the most joyful of people.  This is God’s design, but it has not always seemed true in my experience.

The church tradition I grew up in was big on a form of ‘holiness’ that did not often exude joy.  Austerity, conformity, and a forced piety overshadowed our bouts of joyful singing and marching ’round the auditorium.  A long list of taboos kept pleasure in check.  And the saints who testified most loudly to their ‘sanctification’ were some of the least inviting people to be around.  Pride makes poor company.  So it has been a lifetime dawning on me that holiness is truly a BEAUTIFUL attribute.  God is beautiful. His work is beautiful.  His designs for us are beautiful. And He is the essence of HOLY!

… Lift up a present, and come before Him. Bow yourselves to Jehovah, in the beauty of holiness.

The Old Testament, with its intense array of laws governing all of life, might seem to affirm a kill-joy view of holiness.  But David didn’t see it that way! “Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found.”   God’s laws did make His people stand out in territory surrounded by idol worship and lawless paganism, but they were not arbitrary stipulations meant to thwart pleasure.  Rather His commands are more like guardrails on a mountain highway–not for looks, but to prevent a dive over the deadly precipice.  Sin is that precipice. It maims and destroys the design of holiness for which we are intended.  It pulls us away from our source of Joy and sets us off in hot pursuit of dead-ends and cliff edges.   

“If your law hadn’t sustained me with joy, I would have died in my misery. I will never forget your commandments, for you have used them to restore my joy and health.

Still, I am surprised when I bump into joy in the Old Testament right in the middle of talk of tithing and law-keeping. Consider God’s instruction to His people regarding the use of their tithe money:

When you arrive, use the money to buy anything you wantan ox, a sheep, some wine, or beer.  Then feast there in the presence of the LORD your God and celebrate with your household.

Sounds like a party to me!

And this was Nehemiah’s counsel to people overwhelmed at their failure to keep God’s laws:

And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!

I can only conclude that God means for His people to know JOY, and the closer we get to His ideals for us (holiness), the more we will know that joy.  It won’t be found in buckling down to ‘keep the rules’…

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

But He will produce it in us as we walk by His Spirit in the counsel of His Word.

But the fruit of the Spirit is…joy…

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,

Beware of counterfeits. Holiness is beautiful, not odious.  Its by-product will be joy!

For the LORD God is our light and protector.  He gives us grace and glory.  No good thing will the LORD withhold from those who do what is right.  O LORD Almighty happy are those who trust in you.

Heb.1:9 NLT; I Chron.16:29 YLT; Ps.119:35 NLT; Ps.119:92,93 NLT; Deut.14:26 NLT; Neh 8:10 NLT; Rom.14:17 ESV; Gal 5:22 ESV; I Thess.1:6 ESV; Ps.84:11,12 NLT

—LS

But I’m afraid to surrender!

I listen carefully to what God the LORD is saying, for he speaks peace to his people, his faithful ones.  But let them not return to their foolish ways—Serve only the LORD your God and fear him alone.  Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him.

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets.  But now in these final days, he has spoken to us through His Son— Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light. 

And we are God’s household, if we keep up our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.  That is why the Holy Spirit says, “Today you must listen to His voice. Don’t harden your hearts against Him as Israel did when they rebelled.” 

For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ…there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who enter into God’s rest will find rest from their labours, just as God rested after creating the world. 

Ps.85:8NLT; Deut.13:4NLT; Heb.1:1,2NLT; Matt.11:28,30NLT; Heb.3:6-8NLT; Heb.3:14;4:9,10NLT


 

God speaks peace to His people. He offers an easy yoke.  He calls us to trust Him in everything and so to find rest for our souls.  Do I walk in this rest? Or am I driven by fears and insecurities to grasp for control of as many factors as I can so that I can secure my best life now?  These thoughts challenge me as I put myself in Jeremiah’s shoes.  I’ve been reading through his book at a snail’s pace lately and I find we have this in common–he too found great delight in God’s Words.

But I also see how much he suffered on account of these words!  His delight went beyond the comforting lines to a hard obedience.  He was called to repeat God’s message when noone wanted to hear it and this mission brought him to death’s door.  Chapter thirty-eight of his story finds him sunk in mud at the bottom of a cistern in the middle of a city about to be decimated by war, famine and disease. He knows this judgment to be coming because God has said so.  But there is nothing he can do to preserve his own life; he cannot flee the city or surrender to the Babylonians.  He must rest his own case with God. I see in him a soul rest I find enviable.

Two men walk into the story at this point, demonstrating for us the consequences of trusting or rejecting what God has said, even when we are terrified of what’s going to happen next.

Both hear Jeremiah’s message from God:

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life. They will live!’ Jer.38:2NLT

And both men are terrified at its prospects.  But each responds differently and this makes all the difference in what comes next for each of them.

King Zedekiah, on the one hand, calls a private meeting with Jeremiah to verify what the Lord has to say about his predicament.  He has been appointed king in Jerusalem by the Babylonian king, in exchange for his loyalty.  But he is loathe to surrender without a fight.  Surely God will not let His beloved Jerusalem be sacked by the wicked Babylonians?! Zedekiah listens carefully to God’s words via Jeremiah:

Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “This is what the LORD God of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the Babylonian officers, you and your family will live, and the city will not be burned down. But if you refuse to surrender, you will not escape! This city will be handed over to the Babylonians, and they will burn it to the ground.'” Jer.38:17-18

But his pride and his fear cause him to harden his heart against turning to the LORD and following His counsel.  He responds:

“But I am afraid to surrender, for the Babylonians may hand me over to the Judeans who have defected to them. And who knows what they will do to me!” Jer.38:19NLT

His own fears of ‘what if’ make him deaf to God’s promise of life.  He refuses to believe Jeremiah’s reassurance:

You won’t be handed over to them if you choose to obey the LORD.  Your life will be spared, and all will go well for you. Jer.38:20 NLT

Instead, by his own choice, all does NOT go well for him. His life concludes in cruel exile—his eyes gouged out after witnessing the murder of his own sons and nobles. In rejecting God’s Word Zedekiah forfeited the mercies of God extended to him. He trusted in his own stategies for well-being and reaped the results.

But among Zedekiah’s frightened palace officials there was a man who refused to act out of fear. When all the rest of the officials were intent on Jeremiah’s death, Ebed-melech stepped forward and pled for his life.  He personally saw to Jeremiah’s merciful rescue from the Pit of YUCHHK!  Despite his horror at the prospect of Babylon’s onslaught, he honored God’s Word by protecting His servant, risking the king’s wrath being turned on him.

And God sent him this personal message:

“I will do to this city everything I have threatened.  I will send disaster, not prosperity.  You will see its destruction, but I will rescue you from those you fear so much.  Because you trusted me, I will preserve your life and keep you safe.  I, the LORD, have spoken!”

I love that!  God saw Ebed-melech’s fear.  He also saw his brave rescue of Jeremiah.  And for his faithfulness God preserved his life when others were slaughtered.  He showed Himself to be the only King worth fearing, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, in whose service we can confidently live all our days, resting our souls with Him.

Incidentally, do you know what happened to Jeremiah when Jerusalem was sacked and its occupants carried off into exile?  Special orders had been given by the King of Babylon to keep an eye out for Jeremiah and to protect his life.  When the Captain of the Gaurd found him chained with the other exiles he let him free and invited him to come along and be well cared for or to stay behind with the poor remnant in Judah, his choice!

“The whole land is before you–go wherever you like.”

David’s testimony could well have been his:

Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful.  The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.  Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. Ps.116:5-7ESV

Having delighted in God’s word and feared God alone, Jeremiah found rest for his soul in very difficult times.  He had learned the lesson of his predecessor:

“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. Is. 8:12-13 ESV

By God’s grace, I want this to be my testimony, the key to my strength and stability in tough times.  May my delight in God’s Word go beyond comfort to obedience even when fears threaten to dissuade me.  This is my hope and prayer.

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling… Is.30:15 ESV

This I know, that God is for me.  In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.  What can man do to me? Ps.56:9-11

–LS

You can read this story of Jeremiah and the fall of Jerusalem for yourself in
Jeremiah 38,39 & 52 and in II Kings 24,25 and II Chronicles 36.