Monday, May 30, 2016

a History of Mercy

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Ezekiel 20
mark this: verses 9, 14, 22
"for the sake of My Name..."
I love being inspired by the amazing heroes in the Bible- Joseph shows me what true forgiveness means, Daniel teaches me integrity, Zacchaeus demonstrates what repentance really is. But more often than not, the people we encounter in the Word can help us know what NOT to do. As full as the Bible is of godly men and women, it never sugar-coats the lives found within, it never tries to cover up their failings. I am not sure about you, but I know that for me personally, it's often the negative examples that motivate me to stay away from a certain sin or snare. Maybe that is human nature- seeing the horror of a drug ravaged body would be more motivation to avoid drugs than all the testimonies of those who never were tempted to begin with.
In today's passage, God is going to warn His people via negative examples. As the present generation fakes interest in hearing the Word of God (see verse 3), God is going to use the faithlessness of past generations to respond. But in the mean time, God teaches us another lesson- a lesson in His mercy.
God brings up three different generations who repeated the same old problems.
Group 1 - Israelites living in Egypt (v. 5-9)
Group 2 - Israelites wandering in the desert [1st Generation](v. 10-17)
Group 3 - Their children also wandering in the desert [2nd Generation] (v. 18-26)
Notice the pattern that emerges:
1. God reveals Himself (v. 5, 11, 18)
2. The people rebel against God (v. 8a, 13a, 21a)
3. They incur God's wrath (v. 8b, 13b, 21b)
4. But God relents because of His Name (v. 9, 14, 22)
But beyond these three negative warnings- these examples that show us what NOT to do, we see an even bigger picture emerge- one of God's mercy. This passage gives a manifold testimony of what mercy, and really the Gospel, means.
GOD, in His mercy, doesn't allow for pretense & hypocrisy.
In this passage, God sees right past the pretense of leaders who don't really want to hear His words. Hypocrisy is a fundamental human problem and therefore all people, of whatever faith or non-faith, must beware. God knows this, but He does much more than call us to task for hypocrisy, He sets us free from the huge burden of it.
What do I mean?
If you look around the world, mankind is enslaved to all sorts of religious or irreligious hypocrisy- doing/not doing certain things not because we want to, but rather going through the motions in order to look good or avoid guilt. Look at the various rituals from any religion- how billions are enslaved to certain requirements that they don't really understand or even believe in.
God sees through all that junk and He doesn't want any part of it.
Praise God that I don't have to be dishonest of my true feelings.
Praise God that I don't have to relate to Him through half-hearted "religious" activities.
GOD, in His mercy, reveals Himself and His ways to us.
Perhaps the clearest sign of God's mercy is His continually revealing Himself to us through His word. Whether the nation Israel, or ourselves, we all have the tendency to ignore His truth. How easy would it be for Him to cut off all communication to such a rebellious people?
Remember- we are all repeat offenders, we've all previously flaunted God's known truth. Yet God reveals who He is and what He expects to us again and again, without fail. That is mercy.
GOD, in His mercy, disciplines His children.
"No discipline seems pleasant," yet that same rebuke we (or Israel in this case) receive from God is proof that He is our heavenly Father who "is treating us as sons (1)." God cares enough to tell us the truth. In a world full of deceit, ignorance and broken promises, we have a Merciful Master who always is "spin-free." Mercy cannot exist without the truth, and the truth often hurts. God gives dignity to His children when He hold us accountable for our behavior.
GOD, in His mercy, spares us what we deserve
We often limit our understanding of mercy to this statement; this passage certainly challenges that mindset. But you cannot talk about mercy without mentioning the sheer joy and relief when we don't get what we deserve. The people of Israel, like us, have earned the due reward of their deeds. There is no sugarcoating that fact. Yet the joy of the Gospel message is that instead of leaving us in perpetual slavery to sin, "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them (2)."
GOD, in His mercy, acts because of His Holy Name.
Above all, mercy is about the character of God. While we may be the object of His grace- it is never ultimately centered on us. That's a good thing too- the fickleness of Israel mirrors the fickleness of the human heart. Our hope is in the very character of God.
(1) Hebrews 12:7 (2) 2 Corinthians 5:19

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