Posts Tagged ‘mercy’

Deuteronomy 25:1-3

Punishment Befitting the Crime

 

I remember when I was a teenager and the new kid in town in Travelers Rest, SC (affectionatetly known as TR by the locals). After we had been there a few months, I was in pretty good with the youth group at one of the two churches that my dad served as Methodist minister. By October, after having moved to TR in June, I had started dating the girl who would eventually become my first wife and subsequently the mother of my two daughters. One night after the youth meeting on Sunday night after I had been dating Lisa for a couple of months, we were all hanging in the parking lot at the church talking – the whole Jackson Grove UMC posse. It was youth group at a small church but it was about 20 of us. One thing that I was unaware of was that before I moved to town and got Lisa interested in me was that Harold Perry had long had a crush on Lisa, but he was a shy introvert but a giant of a teenager. He was about 6’3” and 200 lbs at age 16. He never played sports for some reason. That spring before we moved to TR, Lisa had broken off a relationship with Charles Monroe so Harold must have thought that it was his chance to act on his crush on Lisa. However, the cute new preacher’s kid, me, had moved to town. I ruined his plans. He had this smoldering anger toward me. And it spilled out one night.

 

One night after youth group, teenagers being teenagers, not thinking or even caring about each other’s back stories, I must have made a flippant remark (not intended to do anything but draw laughter) about Harold’s manhood or something. I cannot even remember what was said. Then, to me, out of the blue, Harold the 6’3” behemoth picks up this boy, a boy of 5’6” in height at that age, 14, and throws me over his shoulders and start spinning round and round in imitation of a wrestling move. In my embarrassment in allowing myself to become a victim of such a public display, I did not wait for him to either stop or slam me to the ground, I did my best to wiggle free of the choke he had around my ankles on one side and my neck on the other. As he was spinning I was able to break free but that also meant that I went flying through the air toward the ground – because gravity is gravity and she is an unrelentingly consistent bitch. When I hit the ground it was chin first. Did I mention that the “ground” we on was the paved parking lot of Jackson Grove UMC? I scraped the heck out of my chin. It could have worse. The landing could have dug down through my skin to my chin bone. But luckily I had turn my face somewhat sideways right before my face hit the pavement so my chin did not take the full force of gravity and the immovable pavement.

 

When I arose, bloodied, embarrassed and shocked, I was all “what the heck was that all about, dude?” I couldn’t believe that I was just standing there joking around with my friends one moment and then the next I am spinning helplessly on the shoulders of a guy that hardly ever said anything to me, and now I standing there with a bloody chin and side of my face. I didn’t say “what the heck” and you know the what the…” that I said. It was only later when Lisa and I were talking about the event that I found out (being a clueless man – we are often clueless about things that women see, and a teenage one at that) that Harold had a crush on Lisa there for a while but never acted on it. Then I swooped in out of nowhere, to him, and took “his girl.” From that point on, he quietly disliked me greatly unbeknownst to me. I was clueless of the crime that I had committed in his eyes. And, then, bam, one night he punished me for a crime that I had no idea that I had committed.

 

That idea of punishments of crimes and the punishment fitting the crime brought that memory to the surface suddenly. I had not thought about the events of that night in the Jackson Grove parking lot for years and years. It is funny sometimes how the Holy Spirit draws out memories that are buried and forgotten so as to illustrate Scripture. He often takes memories of our lives to show us what Scripture means in relationship to real events in our life. This morning, that was certainly the case. Let us read Deuteronomy 25:1-3 now:

 

25 When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. 2 If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves, 3 but the judge must not impose more than forty lashes. If the guilty party is flogged more than that, your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your eyes.

 

At first glance, this passage seems irrelevant today. However, a closer look reveals some important principles about discipline. Are you responsible for the discipline of a child, a student, or an employee? Three important points will help you carry out your responsibility. First, let the punishment follow quickly after the offense. Second, let the degree of punishment reflect the seriousness of the offense. Finally, don’t overdo the punishment. Discipline that is swift, just and restrained makes its point while preserving the dignity of the offender.

 

In my case, Harold denied me of my dignity. He never identified to me what my crime was. He never stated that I had offended him. He never gave me the chance to defend myself against his charge against me. I was not given a fair trial. I was just punished. It is an example of how we often just lash out at people who have offended us. Sometimes, we have made up our mind on getting revenge and punishment without determining whether our outlook on the reality of the situation is valid or not. We just lash out. Sometimes, we lash out and our reaction is unjustified because there was no crime committed against us by the person. We knee jerk react to situations. This passage reminds us that we need to give our enemies a fair hearing before we execute punishment. We need for them to know how they have hurt us and get an explanation. Often times, people who have offended or hurt us, don’t even know that they have hurt us. Give them a fair hearing. Give them a chance to defend themselves. Then, let the punishment fit the crime. A lack of knowledge of what they had done wrong against you would deserve greater degree of mercy that a willful intent to hurt you. But even willful offenses do not deserve punishments beyond what fits the crime.

 

As we begin the holiest of weeks in the Christian calendar today with Palm Sunday and continuing on through Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we are reminded of how Jesus committed no crime, but was treated as if he had committed some great offense against the Jewish religious state and, also, the Roman Empire. He had committed no crime but to speak the truth of God. He was innocent of any real crime. However, it was all part of God’s plan to show mercy to us by taking out His wrath against sin against His Son on the cross instead of taking it out on us.

 

He was innocent. We are guilty. But He took the punishment that we deserved. God poured it all out on Him. All the wrath that I deserved. Jesus didn’t deserve the punishment of 40 lashes with a cat-o’-nine-tails whip and with reeds. He didn’t deserve to have the flesh ripped from his body by that horrible kind of whip. He didn’t deserve the deep tissue bruises caused by being beat with wooden reeds. There was no unbiased judge that prevented that. There was no mercy shown Him for the crimes he supposedly (without evidence) had committed against the government. He did not deserve to be bloodied almost to death and then paraded through the streets with the cross beam on his shoulders. He did not deserve to be forced to carry that beam when he was beaten with an inch of his life and had bloody open wounds all over his body. He did not deserve to be put to death by crucifixion – still one of the most cruel and lengthy punishments to the death ever devised by man. He did not deserve what He got. He was innocent of His crime. But, yet, there was an eternal thing that He was doing in a temporal world. He died for all sins. He died for all your sins and all of mine. He took the punishment that He personally did not deserve.

Therefore, let us be a merciful people when people have offended us. Jesus didn’t deserve what happened to Him. But he accepted it anyway because of his love for us, our friends and even our enemies. Let us show mercy. Let us show restraint. When someone offends us, let us make sure first that they have indeed offended us. Let us give them the opportunity to seek forgiveness. Let us learn their back story. Let us offer forgiveness. Let us react in ways that are befitting to the crime that has been committed. Let us then forgive and restore. Let us be merciful as God has been merciful to us by giving the punishment we deserve for our crimes of sin to His Son instead of to us. Let us seek mercy as well as justice just as God has done with us.

 

Amen and Amen.

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Numbers 12:1-16 (Part 2 of 2)

The Complaints of Miriam and Aaron Against Moses

I have used this illustration before but it seems so appropriate here that I must use it again. Back when I was about to turn 14 years old, in the Summer of 1976, I was a happy camper just living the life of a popular kid at Lakeside Middle School in Anderson, SC. I had just finished my 8th grade year at the school and was about to move up to the 9th grade at Westside High School. In my 8th grade year at the middle school in this town that we had lived in since the summer of 1974, I was really coming into my own. I was a big man on campus. I was in the “in-crowd”. I had some really close friends and a ton of acquaintances. The girls there thought I was one of the cutest boys in school and at age thirteen I was really discovering girls and found out that kissing them and making out with them gave me this wonderful feeling that was about the coolest thing ever! We were going to be moving that June. It was to be the middle of the month after when had finished the school year in early June.

 

Previously, in all our moves as a Methodist preacher’s family, I was too young to care or object to any of the moves. But now in the summer of ’76, I was 13 years old, a teenager, and would turn 14 just two months away in late August. This time, the move was traumatizing. I was going to be cut out of social circle that I dearly loved. I hated the fact that we moved. I didn’t want it all. If there was any way that I could stay in Anderson, I would have. There was just no way. In Anderson, I had everything. I had a best friend in Donnie Garrison. We did everything together. We were inseparable. At school, I had a lot of really good friends that I used to hang out with at the malls and at sporting events. I had a lot of female friends that I flirted with and would go steady with (as much as 13 year olds can go steady) for weeks (at 13, going steady with a girl for more than a couple of weeks was a big deal). I was popular at the school and was involved in the drama club, was on the middle school football team, and was a key player on my church league basketball team. I was connected. Even when I got in trouble at school, the principal was a friend of the family from church so going to the principal’s office was meeting a friend not a death sentence. It was just a fun time in my life. Everything was going great.

 

Then, it happened. We moved to a city that even its name was an irritation to me. Who names their town “Travelers Rest”? It sounded like a rest stop on the highway. But, yes, there is a town in South Carolina named Travelers Rest just north of Greenville, SC. I will live it to you to google and find the history of the town. It was there, to me, that I was being sentenced to the wilderness. In 2016, this little town of Travelers Rest is the next chic suburb of Greenville. Everybody wants to live there now as sits nestled just below the beginning of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It certainly has natural beauty galore in this unique setting. However, in 1976, it was just a small town. It was town where everybody knew everybody and they distrusted anyone who did not grow up there. It was my Patmos Island. I hated it that summer. I was heartbroken. Anderson was only an hour away but to a thirteen year old boy, it might as well been a million miles away. I did not want to be there. My anger at the move took on grave proportions.

 

One of those summer weeks before school started in the fall, I had my friend Donnie, from Anderson, up for a week to hang out with me. We were a mischievous set. Back in Anderson, since he lived out at the lake, we would hang out at his place which was a four acre small farm right on Lake Hartwell. We had fun exploring the woods all the time. We would enjoy finding stuff and figuring out ways to blow it up or burn it. We were the quintessential mischievous boys. So, of course, in Travelers Rest, I lived right in town, near the business district of this small town. And we were mischievous. Business districts and mischievous 13 year olds are not a good combination. We spent the first few days stealing bubble gum from convenience stores. Exploring the woods behind dad’s church. Shooting bee bee guns at birds. Throwing rocks at whatever we could throw rocks at. Then, that day came. We got the idea that it would be cool to vandalize Travelers Rest Elementary School. We decided that pulling the incoming phone wires out of the junction box at the main office of the school would be cool. We got caught. We got arrested. Worse than that, yeah, worse than that, I got in trouble with my dad. He was the brand new preacher in town and what does his youngest son do within the first month of his arrival in town. He gets arrested for vandalizing the local elementary school.

 

Fast forward to our trial date, which because we were juveniles in Greenville County, SC at the time, meant a private meeting with the judge. Little known to me and Donnie, my dad and his dad had paid to have the phone system at the school repaired. However, they did not tell us that. They had worked out a deal with the school district that if they would pay for the repairs the district would not press the vandalism charges against us. But our dads let us think that we were facing being sent to teenager prison in South Carolina, the John G. Richards School for Boys in Columbia (or JGR as it was known by every boy in the state). I am certain it does not exist anymore in the coddled child world in which we live now but it was a reality then. I had heard rumors about how rough that place was and we were looking at a sentence of at least 6 months there. And, by all rights, we knew that we deserved that punishment that would going to be the toughest thing we ever did to that point in our lives. However, at the trial the judge tells us that we needed to thank our dad for paying the price for our crime. He told us that the charges against had been dropped because of the kindness of my dad and Donnie’s dad. We were free (at least from the law, maybe not from our dads). We were not going to go the hellhole of JGR, the fear of all teenage boys in South Carolina. We did not have to pay for our crime by going to hell, the hell that was JGR.

 

Our dads had shown us loving mercy. Although they could have easily let us, in their anger at us (and yes they were angry and they did make the rest of our summer just whole loads of fun), let us be sentenced to a place that would have made us into God knows what. They paid the price for our crime so that we would not have to suffer the likes of JGR. They showed us mercy that we did not deserve. My dad, Donnie’s dad, could have just washed their angry hands of us and let us go to teen prison. We did suffer the consequences of our sins at the hands of our fathers at home but they did not let us pay for our sins permanently (a criminal record and a visit to JGR would follow you the rest of your life).

 

It reminds me of the mercy shown to Miriam in this passage that we read today for the second and final time, Numbers 12:1-16:

 

12 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.

 

3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

 

4 At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. 5 Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, 6 he said, “Listen to my words:

 

“When there is a prophet among you,

    I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,

    I speak to them in dreams.

7

But this is not true of my servant Moses;

    he is faithful in all my house.

8

With him I speak face to face,

    clearly and not in riddles;

    he sees the form of the Lord.

Why then were you not afraid

    to speak against my servant Moses?”

 

9 The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.

 

10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous[a]—it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease, 11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”

 

13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “Please, God, heal her!”

 

14 The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.

 

16 After that, the people left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.

 

Spitting in someone’s face was considered the ultimate insult in this society (and it certainly is still insulting today but the insult was of a higher offense than even today back in the ancient Middle East). It was a sign of shame imposed on wrongdoers. Remember, in Matthew 26:67, the religious leaders at Jesus’ so-called trial spat in His face to degrade and insult Him in the highest possible way. It was the Jewish way of saying that you are lower and less worthy than the dirt on the ground on which I normally spit. It was a deep insult according to ancient Middle Eastern customs. God punished Miriam for smug attitude not only toward Moses but toward God Himself. He struck her with leprosy. Since she bucked the authority of God, it would seem that this punishment was quite lenient. A week was the length of time she would be excluded from camp if someone had spit in your face. How much more did she deserve for standing against the authority of God. But yet, God was merciful to her. He could have struck her down where she stood and she would have been no more and she would have suffered the ravages of hell for thumbing her nose at God. But no, God was merciful.

 

What we see here is that Miriam did suffer the consequences of her sin by being struck with a skin rash and being excluded from the fellowship of the nation of Israel for a time, but God restored her fully after that time. She did not get the punishment she deserved from a just and righteous God. She was granted new life by a loving and merciful God. We do often have to live with the consequences of our sins in life but, through Christ’s mercy on the cross (taking the punishment we deserve), we do not have to pay the eternal price of condemnation to eternity in hell. We are redeemed from the hell we deserve and we are restored to good standing in the presence of the Father through Jesus Christ.

 

Just as Donnie and I were shown mercy by our earthly fathers, just as Miriam was shown mercy by God, we too are shown mercy eternally through our acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

 

Do you think your crimes against God are too great to be forgiven? Do you think that you are too far gone? Do you think that you do not deserve God’s love? Think again. No matter what you have done, if you repent of your sins and call on the name of Jesus as your Savior and Lord and believe that He paid the price for your sins on the cross, then you will be shown mercy. You will be restored to God’s family. No longer will you be outside the camp. Call on Jesus’ name. Receive your mercy!

 

Amen and Amen.

Romans 11:25-36 — Will the Jews who reject Jesus be saved anyway? That seems to be the implication of Paul when you read this passage. It almost seems to say that because God chose Israel as His chosen people that ultimately that fact will save them. Is Paul contradicting himself from his “faith alone” theology that is rampant throughout his writings?

At first, when you read this passage, you think that Paul has pulled a great theological blunder. It is untrue though when you meditate on this passage. It is actually a continuing confirmation of Paul’s theology that it is by faith alone that we come to God. The point of the passage is that even in Israel’s rebellion God still loves them. He has mercy upon them just as He has mercy upon the Gentiles. Paul is saying that Israel will be given ample opportunity to turn to Christ just as He gives the Gentiles. Their rejection of the Messiah does not mean that they and their ancestors are permanently excluded from coming to Christ in the future because God is merciful and patient.

What does this mean for you and me? How do we apply this passage to our daily lives. I think that there are two takeaways from this passage. First, we must not judge those whom we know that are actively rejecting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We are to love them anyway. We are to love the atheist. We are to love the agnostic. We are to love those who know of God but reject Him because they enjoy living their life of sin. We love the person who has never even heard the gospel. God is waiting for them to come to Him. They have as much right to God’s mercy as we do. We too were once rebels against God. It was not until we were humbled before the Lord and saw our need for Jesus that we came into God’s mercy. It is never too late for even the farthest person from God to come the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Thus, we keep witnessing. We keep inviting. We must be patient but persistent with non-believers just as God is. Never write anyone off. No one is too far gone until they die without accepting Christ as their Savior. Only then are they too far gone.

Second, we must be merciful as God is merciful. God is patient with us even as we sin against Him. As the Sovereign all powerful God of the universe, the Creator of all things, why does He not just be done with us rebellious people. We sin. We grieve His heart daily. Why doesn’t he just zap us out of existence. Why doesn’t He just bring on the end of the world. This place is pretty doggone screwed up. We as the human race are screwing it up together at an ever increasing rate. To God, there is no pleasure in executing the justice we deserve. Just as a dad when you tell your child that this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you when you spank them for disobedience, God is grieved to execute our final sentence when we have rejected Him for a lifetime and we have never accepted Christ. God is just but He is also merciful. We must be patient with those who reject us. We must show mercy to those who reject God. That means we love those whose lifestyle is in complete opposition to God’s Word. We are merciful. We love them despite their continuing sin. We share the gospel with them. We give them every opportunity to come to knowledge. We keep witnessing. We are patient as God is patient. We are merciful as God is merciful. God is waiting patiently. We never give up because God never gives up. No one is too far gone. God is waiting. He is like the father of the prodigal son. He stares at the horizon daily. Waiting. When He sees his son on the horizon, He doesn’t just wait til his son gets to the house. He runs out and meets him and celebrates his return. God is waiting. He is patient. He is merciful. Just call on His name. It’s never too late while you are still drawing breath.

Father, help me to remember that I too once rejected you. As a result, I should never feel myself superior to those who are not saved. You were patient with me. You are patient with them. Help me not to judge others for continuing to reject you. You loved me enough to patiently wait for me to turn to you even though I deserved to be judged harshly by you. You love me and have patience and mercy for me through your Son. Help me to see the unsaved with the same mercy that you saw me with before I turned to you. Help me to not exclude anyone from the gospel because of where they are now in their rejection of you. It is never too late for anyone to make the choice to turn to you. There are no people groups that I can automatically exclude from the gospel message. You have mercy for all. Amen.

Romans 9:1-29 — Even though I am 52 years old now, does the fact that I grew up as a Methodist preacher’s kid give me an auto-pass into heaven? Does being part of church for most of my life give me brownie points on judgment day? Does doing all the right things get me there? These are the types of questions that Paul talks about in this passage.

In Romans 9-11, Paul deals with the heritage of the Jews as God’s chosen people and how that relates to salvation in Jesus Christ. The Jewish people were very proud of the fact that they traced their lineage back to Abraham. It was through Abraham’s line that God promised to make his descendants His people. God made covenant with the Jews and made them His chosen people through who He would bring forth the blessing to all nations. God made His chosen people different. He gave them the law, social and ceremonial rules that made them completely different from the nations around them. He did this so people would be drawn to them because it was through them that Jesus would come. Over time though, the Jews fell in love with who they were rather than being in love with God. The reveled in their privileged position. They thought that because they were among the chosen that this mere fact saved them and would give them heaven. Paul says no one can claim to be chosen by simply by heritage. Being born a Jew does not guarantee salvation. Being born a preacher’s kid does not make me chosen. It did not guarantee salvation. My pedigree does not save me. My salvation comes from the mercy of God to give me Jesus as the sacrificial lamb who took my punishment for what I deserve. My salvation comes from the Lord. It comes from His mercy. Being a preacher’s kid does not give me a free pass nor more than being born a Jew. We all are dependent upon the mercy of the Lord so that no one can boast. I was born this. I was born that.

OK, so if my heritage as a preacher’s kid doesn’t give me a leg up, what if I do all the right things? What if I am in church every Sunday? What if I serve in every way possible at church? What if I follow your command to tithe? What if I read the Bible daily? What if give alms to the poor? What if I do all the right things? What if I go to seminary to learn more about you, Lord? What if I write a daily post on Facebook and/or a blog where I help people understand Scripture? Nope. These things don’t save me. Don’t get me wrong, these things are admirable but in and of themselves they do not save me. Nothing that I do. There is no effort, no action that I can take that will make me heaven-worthy. The only thing that can save me is a relationship with Jesus Christ. No amount of good that I can do in a million lifetimes can erase the sin nature that I have and the sins that I have committed. If God is perfect and sin is imperfection then I cannot be in his presence no matter how much good I try to do in this life. I am saved by realizing that I need mercy. I am saved by God’s mercy as expressed through His Son Jesus Christ. He cleans me up and makes me right and beautiful before the Father. Doing good deeds for the sake of seeking favor or brownie points with God is like putting the cart before the horse. Because of the joy of our salvation, because of the joy of my salvation, good deeds flow overflow. We are so thankful for this salvation that we KNOW we don’t deserve that we can help ourselves but serve Him in every way possible.

If my lineage saved me, if my deeds saved me, there would be reason to boast and there would those who are excluded from salvation because they are from the wrong people group or they simply don’t care about doing all that churchy stuff. We could easily say I am better than you because I do this and I do that. If you live on the wrong side of the tracks, or you have done all these bad things in life that are so much more seriously bad than the things I have done, then sorry bud I guess you are screwed. Have you ever noticed when God leaves things up to us, we try to make gradations out of everything. That way I can measure myself against you. That way I can determine and show you that I am better than you. Paul says wait a minute! THERE IS NOTHING that we can do to earn our salvation. My pedigree doesn’t save me. My degrees don’t save me. My social position doesn’t save me. My church membership doesn’t save me. My good deeds and service don’t save me.

It is the mercy of our God that matters. A man that lives like hell for 70 years and accepts God as His Savior in the last years of his life has the same standing as one who accepted Christ at 7 and has lived a life of service ever since then. God grants His grace in the manner that He chooses. We are saved by grace not by who we are, what we are, what we do, when we do it, how often we do it. So, there is no life that is so horrible that God cannot redeem it through grace given through Jesus Christ. Nothing that you have done is so horrible that I cannot be covered in grace. You are never too far gone. Our bad deeds don’t condemn us. If that we the case, heaven would be empty. God’s grace through Jesus is a gift. It is not something we earn.

Think about it. It’s like doing something wrong repeatedly even though your parents told you not to. So, finally, they put us on restrictions and oh yeah you know that trip to Six Flags this weekend, you as a teenager have to stay with us your parents the whole time. Uggh what torture that is going to be. Being seen by all the kids in the world having to hang with your parents. The humiliation! But when you get to Six Flags as you are preparing for your humiliating day, your parents inexplicably say go, go have fun. See you at the gate at the end of the day! Freedom not deserved but freedom given. That is grace. If salvation was something we earned, then we are in trouble. I am in trouble. Thank God for grace. Thank God that He has mercy. And thank God it really isn’t about who we are and dependent on what we do. Thank God for your mercy. Thank God I don’t get what I deserve. Thank God for Jesus. Thank God. Thank God. Thank God!