Tag Archives: grace

Today’s Scripture – June 19, 2018

Luke 23:32-34 (NIV) Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Jesus was not crucified alone; two other men, convicted of robbery (Mark 15:27) were crucified with Him, one on His right, the other on His left. Crucifixion was a nasty business, and none of the gospel writers go into any of the horrible details. Their original readers had seen crucifixion and needed none, and the details were too gory and violent for them to capture for future readers.

Crucifixions were designed to be a deterrent as well as a punishment. For that reason, they were not conducted on some far-off hilltop, but right next to a main road near the city, so that all could see what the penalty was for crimes against the Roman empire. The victims were stripped completely naked – no loincloth to protect modesty for either men or women – and their wrists were nailed to the crossbeam, with their arms stretched as far as they could get them to go. The crossbeam was then lifted up and dropped into place over the upright, the jolt often dislocating the victim’s shoulders and elbows. The crosses were short, and the feet of the condemned were only a few inches off the ground. The victim’s knees were slightly bent, and a spike was driven sideways through their ankles into the upright. Then the soldiers would go about their business, leaving the person suspended to die.

Death usually occurred over several hours, although people could sometimes last for a day or two. When death came, it was usually the result of a combination of shock, congestive heart failure, and suffocation. Hanging with all the person’s weight suspended from the nails in their wrists caused the muscles of the chest to cramp and the diaphragm to spasm. Before long, the person found that they could breathe in, but not out. To relieve the pressure, he or she was forced to push themselves up on the nails driven through their ankles. That allowed them to breathe until exhaustion made their knees give way, and they sagged down again.

The periods between needing to push themselves up got shorter and shorter, and the amount of time that they could hold themselves up became shorter as well. All of the pressure on the chest muscles and the restricted breathing caused fluid to start building up in their lungs and around their hearts, causing increased distress. Finally, after their strength was gone, or after their legs were broken so that they could no longer push themselves up, death came quickly.

One of the most remarkable things in the whole crucifixion narrative is Jesus’ prayer from the cross. After going through all of the excruciating pain of having nails driven through His feet and ankles, after having His shoulders and elbows dislocated from the jolt of the crossbeam being dropped roughly into place, after watching the soldiers walk away to cast lots for His clothing (a normal “perk” for those on crucifixion duty), Jesus still prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” What love! What grace!

Father, it is amazing to think that his prayer from Jesus came, not before He had gone through all of this agony and suffering, or after it was all over, but right in the middle of it, while the nails were still causing Him extraordinary anguish. We can forgive others when all is said and done, after the pain has subsided. But to forgive in the midst of being mistreated, tortured, killed, is on a whole different level. But that supernatural love is the level of love and grace that we are called to imitate. Help us, Lord. There is no way we can love like that on our own. Help us to love like Jesus loves. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 27, 2018

Luke 17:3b-4 (NIV) “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Jesus is just a few days away from Jerusalem and His ultimate suffering and death. So He takes every opportunity to teach His followers how the kingdom of God works, and how they are to live as residents of it.

In this short teaching, He again addresses the issue of forgiving those who have sinned against us. Most people are good with this teaching in theory, but weak in practice. When someone actually does something terrible to us or to someone we love, it suddenly becomes very difficult to forgive.

This teaching goes right along with Jesus’ answer to Peter in Matthew 18:21-22 when he asked if forgiving his brother up to seven times is adequate. Jesus’ shocking answer was no; he had to forgives seventy-seven time (or, in some versions, seventy times seven times). Here Jesus teaches that even if a brother sins against us seven times in a single day and repents seven times, he must be forgiven completely.

The reason for this requirement is not simply to be nice. Instead, Jesus consistently (and frequently) taught that each person’s forgiveness from God is contingent on us forgiving others when they sin against us. He taught in the Sermon on the Mount that if we will not forgive others, God won’t forgive us (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).

In Matthew 18:23-35, expanding on His answer to Peter, Jesus told the hair-raising parable of the unmerciful servant. In that parable, the servant’s forgiveness was revoked when he refused to forgive a fellow servant a relatively small debt, and he ended up being thrown into prison, “to be tortured until he should pay back all that he owed,” the ten thousand talents (millions of dollars) that had initially been forgiven. And in case His followers missed the point, Jesus finished that parable by saying, “This is how My heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart.” (Verse 35)

That seems unfair to some, but the parable clearly explains God’s reasoning. He has graciously extended forgiveness to those who repent of the dozens, hundreds, even thousands of sins against Himself, the infinite, holy God. But if, after we have had that massive sin debt forgiven, we harden our hearts and will not extend the same gracious forgiveness to those who commit comparatively fewer and comparatively less heinous sins against us, we prove that we are not worthy of His forgiveness, not open-hearted enough to receive it, and unloving enough to step outside of God’s grace. Thus our forgiveness will be revoked, and the penalty for our sins will again be on our record.

Father, of all of the teachings of Jesus, this one seems to carry the strongest import, and have the most devastating consequences if we disobey it. But it is one that far too many of us disregard, minimize, or try to explain away. That’s probably why Jesus taught it so directly, so often, and with such clear explanations. Help us to take this serious and oft repeated and reemphasized teaching to heart, so it changes our perspective and our worldview to be more in line with Your kingdom worldview. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 19, 2018

Luke 16:15-17 (NIV) He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.”

In the previous verse we were told that the Pharisees, who loved money, were scoffing at Jesus’ teachings about having to choose whether to serve God or material things. But now Jesus turns his attack fully toward the heart of the matter.

The Pharisees were masters of public opinion. They knew well how to project an outward aura of sanctity that covered up a completely rotten heart. They fooled the people who admired them. But God doesn’t look at what shows on the outside. He looks directly at a person’s heart. (See 1 Samuel 16:7.) And what God saw in the hearts of those men was not just wrong in His sight; it was as revolting as a rotting corpse in a tomb (Matthew 23:27-28). Their bad hearts were so corrupt that just a few weeks later they allowed themselves to railroad Jesus, hire false witnesses, and lie to Pontius Pilate, the whole time convincing themselves that they were still holy in God’s sight.

Jesus’ next statement addressed that fact that the kingdom of heaven had become a reality since the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry over three years earlier, but those self-righteous Pharisees refused to enter it, because to do so would entail believing that Jesus was actually the Messiah, something that they could not bring themselves to do. Meanwhile, people all around them were rushing to get into the kingdom, and were finding peace, power, and salvation, leaving the Pharisees in the spiritual dust, while they moved forward into what God was accomplishing.

In verse 17, Jesus reiterates His assurance that He had not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. (Compare with Matthew 5:17-20.) The law was not something that God gave for a season, but is based solidly on His own character, and so is a standard for God’s people for all time. The difference that Jesus’ coming made was that in the New Covenant no one will be saved by trying hard to keep the requirements of the law. Instead, Jesus fulfilled those requirements in His own life, including the entire sacrificial law. So salvation is now through faith in Him. But, once in the kingdom, God’s people, with the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to move us and help us, are expected to live by God’s standards. As Paul put it, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:12-14 NIV)

Father, thank You for this clear look “under the hood” of the Pharisees. It shows us clearly that, though our actions must be right before You, it is the heart that You see. Of course, if our hearts are right, our actions will follow suit (Matthew 7:17-18), and we will find ourselves, not striving to do the right things against our nature, but naturally living in ways that conform to Your character out of our transformed hearts. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10 NIV)

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Today’s Scripture – December 31, 2017

Luke 12:27-31 (NIV) “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

Jesus gives another example of the worry-free kingdom life: wildflowers. Wildflowers are incredibly ephemeral things, here today and gone tomorrow, their dried remains used as fuel for fires. It would be perfectly understandable if God did not waste much time on making such temporary things beautiful. But they are!

Jesus’ point is that such beauty in the flowers doesn’t result from them fretting and stewing over what they will wear or where they will buy it. It comes from God’s gracious provision. In the same way, God promises to care for His people who simply obey His commands and trust in Him to provide what they need.

Jesus never fretted about what to eat or drink or wear, not even once. And, as a prime illustration of God’s kingdom provision and care, He was never without anything that He truly needed. And He never had to tow trailers full of weeks-worth of belongings and supplies, just in case God forgot about Him. God provided everything that He needed, as He had need of it, on time, and in exactly the right amount.

This is yet another way in which the people of God are to be different from those who are not God’s people. Our lives are to be characterized by trust, provision, and peace of mind. Those of the world have lives that are usually characterized by striving, grasping, and angst, even those with great worldly wealth worrying about how to hang onto it, or how to get still more.

God’s people are to have a single focus in their lives: His kingdom. And, as we live out that focus, God has promised to provide all that we truly need, always on time, and in exactly the right amount.

Father, I have lived on both sides of this issue, striving and worrying in my BC life, and trusting and being provided for in my AD life. And there really is no comparison between the two. Thank You for Your love, Your grace, and Your provision, and for always keeping Your promises. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 10, 2017

Luke 6:32-36 (NIV) “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

The key to all of these kingdom expectations is that the character of those who belong to the kingdom will no longer be the character of the world, but that it will be transformed into the character of God Himself.

The people of the world show love to others when there is an expectation that they will be loved in return. And if their love is not returned, they are quick to turn away, to cut their losses and move on. But God shows love all day long to people who not only don’t return it, but who often throw it back in His face. And He keeps on showing that love for years, sometimes generations. God’s people, the people of His kingdom, are expected to show that same kind of self-sacrificial, other-focused, long-lasting love to others.

The people of the world do good to others as long as there is an adequate return. That return may be material, or just feeling good about trying to make a difference. But God does good to others who never acknowledge it, and when there is no “payback.” He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45), even though the evil and the unrighteous never thank Him for this provision that makes food grow and makes life pleasant. God’s people, the people of the kingdom, are expected to continue to pour blessings into the lives of the people around them, even if that good is never acknowledged.

The people of the world lend to others expecting to make a profit on their investment. But God never “lends” to people at all. Everything that we receive from God is a gift of love. Some people do multiply what God gives them out of love and devotion to Him, but that is not a condition of His giving, and He freely gives a multitude of blessings to those who will not even acknowledge that those blessings come from Him, preferring to believe that they are the result of hard work, or “luck.” God’s people, the people of the kingdom, are not to lend to others with the expectation of gain, but are to lend freely, and even to give to those in need with no expectation of return.

Of course it takes more than a mere profession of faith to change the mindset and character of a person from the mindset of the world to a kingdom mindset. It takes transformation, a complete remaking of the mind that only comes to those who are willing to give themselves wholly to God, to make themselves a living sacrifice, holding nothing back (Romans 12:1-2). But to those willing to give themselves fully to God, He will give a new heart of flesh to take the place of their stony, worldly heart, and will move them with His Holy Spirit to be just like Him, and to do what He would do (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Father, to have such a kingdom mind and heart seems so far a stretch for many of us that it is hard for us to believe that we could ever think and behave in those ways. A big part of that is that we try to figure out how we can change our own minds and behaviors to be more like You, instead of simply devoting ourselves entirely to You and allowing You to do the more significant work of true inner transformation, remaking us into Your own image. Help me, Lord, to give up the “self-help” paradigm so common among Your people, and simply give myself to You to be completely transformed. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 16, 2017

Matthew 22:1-7 (NIV) Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner:  My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready.  Come to the wedding banquet.’
“But they paid no attention and went off–one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.  The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”

Jesus was still talking to the chief priests and Pharisees.  (They don’t storm off until 22:15.)  He isn’t letting up on them, but continues to push the truth forward in ways that they cannot deny.  God is not willing that any are lost, even those who hearts are hard and necks stiff.  If they are ultimately lost, it is not because God failed to speak, but because they have refused to hear.

The figure has changed in this parable, but the message is still along the same lines.  The guests invited to the wedding feast first are these religious leaders, and the picture is tragic.  The king, God Himself, who has prepared a wedding feast for His Son, Jesus, extends an invitation to the best people of the land, these leaders.  All is ready, and the doors to the palace are thrown open for them.  But the invited guests ignore two separate invitations.  They have more important things to do that to go to the king’s feast!  And some even mistreat and kill the messengers, God’s prophets.

The next action of the king is to destroy these murderers and to burn their city to the ground.  This foretells yet again God’s judgment that resulted in the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, taking away the temple and its rituals – a judgment that has lasted until the present day.

Jesus was never shy about telling it like it is, including all of the gory details.  But He did it in an honest effort to get people to respond, to repent, to turn away from the path that ensures their ruin.

Father, Your grace and mercy are mind boggling.  In Your place, I would have been tempted to wipe these people out before they could murder Jesus.  But Your way was better, and much more merciful.  You gave them every opportunity to repent, and even spared them for another almost 40 years before your final judgment fell on the city!  Thank You for all that You are, and all that You have done.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – Matthew 5:7

Matthew 5:7 (NIV) Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

The kingdom of God is no place for those who are stern, harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving.

Every single person who enters the kingdom of God does so through the gate of God’s mercy.  When they come to Him, spiritually bankrupt, broken by the understanding of their own sinfulness, humble, realizing that they deserve God’s condemnation rather than His blessing, and hungering to be transformed into genuinely righteous people, they receive God’s mercy, His forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus, and His transforming grace.

From that moment on, those people belong to God, and are expected to be representatives of Him and His kingdom.  As such, they are expected to show others the same grace and mercy that He showed to them, whether they consider those others “deserving” of it or not.

The parable of the unforgiving slave (Matthew 18:23-35) is the best illustration of this.  When the slave, who owes his master millions of dollars, throws himself at the master’s feet and begs for more time to pay, he receives far more than he asks:  complete forgiveness of the debt.  But when another slave, who owes the first slave a few hundred dollars, begs the first servant for more time to pay, the first slave shows no mercy.  He has the second slave thrown into prison until the debt is paid.  He who received unimaginable grace from the master shows none to his fellow who begs a much smaller mercy from him.

The master is justifiably angry at the first slave, and actually revokes the mercy that was originally given to him.  Since he would not extend mercy to another, the mercy that he himself received is negated (verse 34).  Then Jesus ends with the inverse of this beatitude:  “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35 NIV)

In God’s kingdom, the harsh and judgmental will receive no mercy.  Instead, they will be judged by God using the same standard that they use to judge others (Matthew 7:1-2).  But those who show the same abundant mercy to others that they themselves have received will continue to be show that same abundant mercy.

Father, thank You for Your abundant mercy.  Help me to always remember who and what I was when I came to You, humbled by the depth and breadth of my black sins, and with no hope of every being able to do anything to repay You what I owed.  You pronounced undeserved forgiveness into my heart, and transformed me completely, taking away the darkness and shame of my sins, and replacing them with light and joy in You.  How could I not extend the same abundant forgiveness to someone else?!  Even though it may be difficult in some cases, help me, Lord, to be as merciful to others as You have been to me, so that I can always live in Your kingdom.  Amen.

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