Remembrance

12

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been following a study series on the book of Nehemiah from SheReadsTruth. In the last two days we’ve reached the section where Nehemiah and his fellow workers have successfully rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and they have gathered together in order to hear God’s word read aloud. In chapter 8, Ezra reads God’s law to the people, standing on a wooden platform they have built for him. A group of Levites go amongst the people, helping them to understand what the words mean. The people listen attentively for several hours and then respond whole-heartedly to what they hear with weeping and mourning. They are convicted of the ways they have broken God’s laws and rebelled against him. However, Ezra and Nehemiah assure the people that the focus of the day is on renewal and celebration, not mourning:

“Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

In chapter 9, the Levites pray to God on behalf of the people and their prayer is preserved for us in Nehemiah 9:1-37. This prayer contains a description of the ways that God has dealt faithfully with his people and the ways that they have acted wickedly in return. The thing that strikes me as I read this section is just how many times God patiently and mercifully forgave his people and how generously he provided for them. Their repeated acts of rebellion and sin stand in stark contrast to the way God dealt with them.

This made me think about the way I feel when someone appears ungrateful or rude when I’ve tried to be helpful or kind. It’s a strong emotion that is provoked. As a sinful human, the emotion I feel is always tinged with some self-righteous selfishness and pride, which I do not have the right to feel. But our holy God is perfectly righteous and it is altogether appropriate for him to feel anger at our sin and holy jealousy for his own name and honour. His sorrow is pure and untainted and his heart is grieved.

I once heard it described in this way: God’s people have treated him in the same way as a child who sits on the father’s lap and slaps him in the face. A shameful image. And yet God is so patient and merciful with his people. He is so patient and merciful with us.

Jesus was subjected to humiliation and shameful abuse when he went to the cross for us. He died in order to provide a permanent solution to our fatal sin problem. I think it is so helpful to reflect, like the Israelites did, on where we have come from and what God has done for us. A sober evaluation of the ways we have sinned and rebelled against God can be an antidote to pride. Only when we have a correct understanding of just how far we were from God and what it cost him to save us, can we fully understand the joy that is ours.

“For you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly.” Nehemiah 9:33

“Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.” Nehemiah 9:5

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Encouragement

Painted in Waterlogue

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down,
    but a good word makes him glad.

Proverbs 12:25

Ooh, it’s been rather a long time since I posted! Sometimes I think we need seasons of time away from a project or activity and then our energy and inspiration can be renewed. I’ve been pretty busy on a number of projects, including my series on the Minor Prophets (which you can find on Dave Roberts’ Partakers site here) and I’ve also been exploring some different approaches to prayer. There’s a lot to be learned from some of the contemplative practices which are familiar to many monastic traditions. I may share some more about that in the coming weeks…

The thought I wanted to share today is about encouragement. Yesterday I was feeling a little despondent about something I was working on and I reckon Satan was having a go at discouraging me in an attempt to make me give up. Yesterday evening I received a message from a friend about this very same project, which was so encouraging and up-lifting.

God uses us to encourage each other.

If you have any sense at all that God is prompting you to encourage another believer, just do it! 🙂

Good Friday

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One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’  Luke 23:39-43

This small section of the crucifixion narrative is only found in Luke. In the other gospels, the two criminals crucified with Jesus are mentioned, but only Luke includes this brief exchange between Jesus and one of the criminals. This is a moment of unexpected hope and beauty in the midst of the horror of that day.

Even in his state of utter humiliation and suffering on the cross, there was still something about Jesus that made an impact on the wretched man hanging next to him. We don’t know anything about this man – who he was, or what he had done to deserve execution. We don’t know whether he’d ever encoutered Jesus before that day. But somehow, during the agony of those hours on the cross, he becomes convinced that Jesus really is the King of the Jews, the King of Heaven, the King of the world.

In his dying moments, this man makes a statement of confession and a request for forgiveness to Jesus. The words that Jesus utters to him are filled with comfort, hope and certainty –

‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’

What started out as the worst possible day in this man’s life, and in fact, the last day of his earthly life, is transformed in an instant into the first day of his eternal life. Jesus is giving his life for him. The Saviour dies next to the sinner he saves.

The two criminals are powerful pictures of the two responses to Jesus. One rejects him, the other accepts him. One is lost, the other is saved. Nothing more is needed than to recognise the need for salvation and to ask Jesus for it.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Charlotte Elliott (1835)