Remembrance

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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

Psalm 130

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If you, O Lord, should mark our iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. Psalm 130:3-4

If God were to judge us, entirely justly, on the basis of our sins, not one of us could stand before him. Without a truly radical solution, we are all eternally separated from him. There’s no mention of good deeds – it’s no good trying to balance out our bad with some good. One single sinful thought, word or deed is enough to permanently disqualify us from being in a relationship with God. That’s how holy he is. No amount of trying to be good, or do good stuff can fix it.

BUT

There is forgiveness, mercy, steadfast love! God himself has provided the means for sin to be forgiven. The psalmist longs for God’s forgiveness, perhaps longing to hear the words of forgiveness proclaimed over the animal sacrifices, which provided a temporary (and ultimately inadequate) means of atonement. Perhaps the psalmist also sees the possibility of permanent redemption and forgiveness from afar. He waits…he hopes…he clings to the promises in God’s word.

We live in the times he was waiting for! Jesus has come, our Saviour and our Redeemer; the one who has borne our iniquities.

The way of forgiveness is open. And yet, we too wait for that final consummation and restoration of all things. We live in the ‘already, but not yet’.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope… Psalm 130:5

This post was inspired by the SheReadsTruth, Lent challenge 2014! Check it out here.

Children of Abraham

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John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  Luke 3:7-8

The people coming to John the Baptist thought that the ritual of baptism could save them. John is bluntly direct and cuts to the root of their motives. The people also relied on their Jewish ancestry to claim salvation but John dismisses this also as worthless. He challenges them to repent and then start living differently. The fruit of a truly redeemed and changed life should be apparent. God doesn’t look for any human heritage or self-righteousness when he adopts children. He looks for those who recognise their sin and repent wholeheartedly.

It is so easy to start thinking that we’ve somehow earned salvation through good works, obedience, duty… The truth is, we were cold and dead as stone before God chose us and made us alive in Christ. What fruit of repentance do I produce in my life? Do I show that I truly understand the extent to which I have been forgiven? Does my love for others reflect God’s outrageous love for me?