Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘mercy’

We are continuing on in our series from 2 Chronicles today, picking up with Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah.

The basics

  • He began to reign at 12 years old – v. 1. Probably alongside his father for the first several years, as was common.
  • He reigned for 55 years – v. 1, the longest of any Judean king.
  • But, he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord – v. 2. In fact, he was so bad, we have to have a whole section to describe all of . . .

Manasseh’s sins

  • “He rebuilt the high places” – v. 3. These were local shrines throughout Judah, that his father had broken down in his reforms. These were most often for Canaanite worship.
  • “He erected altars to the Baals, and made Asherahs” – v. 3. These were Canaanite gods. Ba’al’s name means “lord.” He was the god of storms (and thus rain) as well as fertility. Asherah or Astarte was his companion, the goddess of many things, including fertility.
  • He “worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.” – v. 3; that is, the worship of stars and planets as gods. Vs. 4-5 tell us that he built altars in the Temple for this pagan worship, “in the two courts of the house of the Lord” it says, thus defiling the temple with his idolatry.
  • He practiced child sacrifice offering up some of his own sons – v. 6.
  • He “used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards.” – v. 6.
  • But his crowning act of unfaith-fulness is that he “put an idol in God’s temple of which God had said . . . ‘I will put my Name forever’” – v. 7. The contrast between God’s action of putting his name in the temple, and Manasseh action of putting an idol in the temple, is stark.

Also in v. 8, commenting on this action, the contrast between the faithful Davidic king who is “careful to do all that I have commanded . . . all the law, the statutes, and the rules given through Moses,” the contrast between this and Manasseh, is clear. He blatantly went against God’s commands given through Moses and defiled the Temple.

This passage has a building crescendo of outrage to it. As v. 2 says, “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.” As v. 6 says, “He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.” And as v. 9 says, he did “more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.”

The bottom line is that he was the worst king in all of Judah’s history. His “sin and unfaithfulness” (v. 19) was complete. He was the antithesis of his father, the righteous Hezekiah and he undid all of his reforms until things were worse than they were before Hezekiah.

Yet, despite all this, through the many years . . .

God tried to get through to Manasseh

God sent prophets to speak to him and the people:

  • v. 10 says, “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.”
  • v. 18 also refers to “the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.”

Finally, since he didn’t listen, God put him in “distress.” v. 11 says, “Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon.”

Its possible he took part in a rebellion against the Assyrian overlords, so they came after him and caught him. Whatever the case may be, it was the Lord who was behind this.

The Assyrians were brutal. They would put hooks through the nose or lips of a person, tie a rope onto them and lead them away as prisoners. Something like this happened to Manasseh. He was taken away in humiliation.

Now, sometimes when God puts us in distress, or disciplines us for our sin, it works. But sometimes it makes people even more hardened in their rebellion against God. In this case, the distress worked. It led to . . .

Manasseh’s repentance

v. 12 says, “And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.” He was already humiliated before the Assyrian king, but now he humbles himself greatly before the king of all creation. Humiliation is what others do to you. You have to choose to humble yourself. And he chooses to do this before God.

v. 13 says, “He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” This is a remarkable verse. God was moved by his prayer. Isn’t it an amazing thing that our prayers can move God?

And despite all that he had done, his idolatry and child sacrifice, God heard his plea, forgave him and saved him! He was sent back to Jerusalem.

Then Manasseh knew that Yahweh was the true God. After pursing every other god available, every other religious option, he comes back to the God of his fathers.

This is one of the most powerful stories of repentance, of turning one’s life around, of a true change of heart, in all of the Old Testament and indeed in all of the Scriptures.

When he got back to Jerusalem, he started doing what a Davidic king is supposed to do.

He took care of God’s people

  • He built a great outer wall around the whole eastern part of Jerusalem – v. 14
  • He also “put commanders of the army in all the fortified cities in Judah.” – v. 14

He got rid of the idols. v. 15 says,  “And he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside of the city.”

He had done great wrong with his idolatry and now he makes it right. His repentance finds expression in concrete actions. He stopped doing what he was doing wrong. And then also he started doing what was right . . .

He practiced true worship in the temple. v. 16 says, “He also restored the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.”

But we also have to say that his reform was limited in impact. V. 17 says, “Nevertheless, the people still sacrificed at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.”

It was focused on Jerusalem. The people outside of the city still used the high places, even though they worshipped God at them or were supposed to now.

It also didn’t take hold in people’s lives. It’s most likely that his repentance came nearer to the end of his reign, so that most of his life, most of his 55 years as king, he did evil and encouraged others to do evil – (which is why, even with his repentance, he is still later referred to in v. 22 as one who did what was evil in the sight of the Lord).

A whole generation would have been brought up in his idolatry, which would be hard to break. And this is why his son, who followed in his footsteps, found it easy to go back to Manasseh’s idolatrous practices.

Some lessons

1. We learn that sin has consequences. As Paul says in Galatians 6, ‘you reap what you sow.’

Now, not all trials come directly from our wrongdoing, but in this case it was because of his sin that he experienced distress in his life. He was taken away as a prisoner in humiliation. And God also disciplines us when we sin. God tries to get our attention; to wake us up.

With regard to his legacy, he is remembered as one who repented, but he is also remembered as one who lived most of his life in sin (33:22).

We learn from this that it’s always better to not sin in the first place, than to sin and then repent. There is always damage and pain and consequences that you can’t control, even with the grace of repentance. Manasseh repented, but his sins continued on in the generation to come. Sin has consequences. We must remember this.

2. How to repent. Manasseh “humbled himself greatly” before God – v. 12. That is, he lowered himself. He put aside arrogance and defensiveness and recognized his wrong. Then he “prayed to God” – v. 13. He confessed his sins. And then, he changed his behavior – v. 14–16. And this last part is necessary.

His repentance was not just a matter of the heart. Although it has to start there. He  didn’t just feel bad. It was not just a verbal thing. He didn’t just say, “I’m sorry.” Although this is necessary too. His repentance involved changed behavior. What he did wrong before he stopped doing. And he began to do what is right.

Repentance requires all three: the heart, the mouth and our actions.

3. Finally, we learn about the depth of God’s mercy. God was patient with Manasseh, seeking him out for so many years; speaking through prophets; putting him in distress; trying to get his attention.

And God does the same with us. We sin, we run, and we try to ignore. But God pursues us.

And we see God’s mercy in that God forgave Manasseh. When the worst king of Judah, whose sins and unfaithfulness were astounding; when this sinful man cried out in repentance, God heard, God forgave and God saved.

And if God can have mercy in such an extreme case, it shows us that God can have mercy on us too.

What a good and wonderful God we have! A God we don’t deserve, but a God who loves us nevertheless.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

(For more on the interpretation of these verses see the post below – The Story of the Babylonian Envoys).

Today we end our time of focusing on Hezekiah by over viewing 2 Chronicles 32:24-31 and the story of the visit of the Babylonian envoys.  But first we have to set the background, and this means first looking at . . .

Hezekiah’s greatness (background #1)

Last week, in 2 Chronicles 32:23, we saw that after the defeat of Assyria, “many brought . . . precious things to Hezekiah king of Judah so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations from that time onward.” This is further expanded on in vs. 27-30:

“Hezekiah had very great riches and honor, and he made for himself treasuries for silver, for gold, for precious stones, for spices, for shields, and for all kinds of costly vessels; storehouses also for the yield of grain, wine, and oil; and stalls for all kinds of cattle, and sheepfolds. He likewise provided cities for himself, and flocks and herds in abundance, for God had given him very great possessions. This same Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah prospered in all his works.”

We talked last week a bit about Hezekiah’s water tunnel. It goes from the Gihon spring outside the city, to the pool of Siloam inside the city, 1750 feet long. They dug through rock, starting at both ends and met in the middle. It was an amazing engineering feat.

There are also pottery impressions from jar handles that have Hezekiah’s royal seal on them. Many of these have been found. These were most likely used to store food items – which speaks to the abundance during his reign.

So Hezekiah was great and wealthy. He was exalted in the sight of the nations. And this is background to our story, because the Babylonians came due to his fame and they came bearing gifts as well.

Hezekiah’s recovery from sickness and a sign (background #2)

Chapter 32:24 says, “In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death, and he prayed to the Lord, and he answered him and gave him a sign.”

Now, you understand that these stories of the kings of Judah that we have been looking at over the last year, are also told in other places, most prominently in 1 and 2 Kings, but in Hezekiah’s case also in Isaiah. And in these other places there are sometimes different stories or they vary in the level of detail they go into.

In this particular case:

  • in 2 Chronicles the story is covered in 1 verse
  • in 2 Kings there are 11 verses, and
  • in Isaiah there are 22 verses.

So, with this story, we will actually have to look at one of these other sources, because the writer of 2 Chronicles simply assumes that we know this story.

For today, here are the basics from 2 Kings 20:1-11:

  • Hezekiah is told by Isaiah that he will die from his illness
  • But he prays and weeps and God hears his prayer and promises to give him 15 more years of life.
  • And he is given a sign that this will happen – the shadow of the setting sun moved backwards “ten steps.”

This is an amazing story, and I encourage you to read the longer versions. But in 2 Chronicles this is all background (just one verse) for the story he wants to focus on, which is . . .

The visit of the Babylonian envoys

As the writer says in 2 Chronicles 32:31, these envoys “had been sent to Hezekiah to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land.” So he had to mention the healing and the sign.

But even though the visit of these envoys is his focus, again, he doesn’t tell the story! He just makes comments on it, assuming that we already know the story. So lets lay out the story from 2 Kings 20 along side the comments of the writer of 2 Chronicles in chapter 32.

2 Kings 20:12 tells us that envoys came from the king of Babylon. Babylon was still subservient to Assyria, but it was soon to be the next great world power. They had heard Hezekiah was sick and so they brought a gift to him.  2 Chronicles 32:31 comments, “And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.” So there is more going on here than meets the eye. There is a spiritual or faith part; a test from God.

2 Kings 20:13; 15, Hezekiah showed them “all his treasure.” Everything he had he laid out before them. Notice the pronouns. In v. 13 – “his” is used 5 times in connection with his wealth; and in v. 15 – “my” is used 2 times in this way. 2 Chronicles 32:25 brings out what is only subtle in 2 Kings. “But Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud.”

Think of all the benefit done to him:

  • God had delivered him from the Assyrians
  • God had healed him and given him an amazing sign
  • God had exalted him, including all his wealth

Yet here Hezekiah was, boasting before the envoys of all that “he” had. He got caught up in his own exaltation and forgot about God, who gave him all that he had. The writer of Chronicles makes this clear in 32:29. It says, “for God had given him very great possessions.”

2 Kings 20:14-18 goes on to tell us that Isaiah confronts Hezekiah and warns of coming judgment. Vs. 16-18: “Hear the word of the Lord: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who shall be born to you, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 2 Chronicles 32:25 says it this way, “therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem.” This refers to Isaiah’s word of coming judgment.

But 2 Kings 20:14-15; 19 tell us that Hezekiah told the truth when confronted by Isaiah. And then after hearing of the judgment, Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” He accepts that what he has done is wrong and he submits to God’s rebuke and will. (See the similar response of Eli to a word of judgment – 2 Samuel 3:18).  2 Chronicles 32:26 says, “But Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah.”

How many other kings imprisoned or killed the prophets who rebuked them? Yet because of his humility (his response to Isaiah and his change of heart) God had mercy on him and spared that generation from the coming judgment on Judah, for all their unfaithfulness throughout the centuries. The judgment was coming. It was just a matter of when at this point. And God put it off because of his repentance.

[Note on 2 Kings 20:19, “For he thought, ‘Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?'” The sense is not, ‘Oh good, someone else will bear my judgment.’ Rather, it is that judgment is inevitable, given Judah’s past sins (which he has added to) but that it is postponed for now. The tipping point had already been reached, and for now it is just a matter of whether God will be merciful to delay it, which God did. See the similar situation with Josiah in 2 Kings 22:15-20.]

Two lessons from our story

1. God tests us when times are good, not just when times are bad or there is a crisis. And these may well be more difficult tests, because we aren’t as alert as when there is a crisis going on, because we are not as focused.

What I’m really saying is that, the good times are themselves the test. What will we do when things are good; when we have an abundance?

Deuteronomy 8 talks about testing. It talks about having lots of food, herds and flocks, good houses, silver and gold. And it says, “Take care lest . . . your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God” – vs. 11-14. It says, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’” – v. 17. This is exactly what Hezekiah did.

Well, God also tests us when we have an abundance; when things are good. Like with Hezekiah, God wants to see what is in our heart (2 Chronicles 32:31). Is it “lifted up”? (Deuteronomy 8:14); is it “proud”? (2 Chronicles 32:25). Will we “make return according to the benefit done to”  us by giving glory to God? (2 Chronicles 32:25). Or do we think “my power” has “gotten me this wealth”? (Deuteronomy 8:17).

We see the results of pride in Hezekiah’s life and it is a warning to us, to respond differently. Let us not forget God in our good times or take credit for God’s gifts to us.

2. What to do when we fail a test. We all fail at times, sometimes horribly. When we stumble and fall, what should we do to get back up and moving forward again?

Well, “Hezekiah humbled himself” (2 Chronicles 32:26).

  • He received the rebuke of Isaiah (2 Kings 20:14-18). The prophet came to him and told him that what he did was wrong and he received it.
  • He confessed truthfully what he did (2 Kings 20:14-15). Yes, the envoys came and I showed them all of “my” stuff.
  • And he accepted the consequences (2 Kings 20:19) Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.’” Even though it was a hard word. He accepted God’s discipline.

In all of this he showed a true change of heart. From pride to humility. He turned away from his sin. And that’s when the mercy came. So that, although he had fallen, he was able to recover and move forward, and he was remembered as a great and righteous king (2 Chronicles 32:32-33).

In the same way, when we fail, we must also humble ourselves:

  • We need to receive rebuke and correction from others. And this requires humility. We all have blind spots. But how many of us are humble enough to receive correction from someone else without being defensive or even hostile?
  • We need to confess our sins. We need to tell the truth about what we did, which takes humility.
  • And we need to accept the consequences of our actions. When we reap what we sow, we must not blame others, but rather in humility, take responsibility for what we have done.

We must show forth a true change of heart as well; we must turn from our sin. And this is when the mercy will flow for us. It is never too late for God’s mercy for those who repent. And when we repent, then we can get back up and move forward again with what God has for our lives. And we can be remembered as one who loved and served God.

These are lessons we learn from Hezekiah’s failure and from his recovery.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

How is Your Splangchnon?

I know this sounds a bit odd. But it’s an important word in the New Testament and so I want us to study it and see what we can learn from it to apply to our lives. The word . . .

Splangchnon?!

. . . means literally “intestines,” “bowels” or more generally innards or guts. So for instance in Acts 1:18, it says, “Now Judas (after he betrayed Jesus) bought a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.”

But I am not asking you this morning how your intestines are. Splangchnon also has a figurative use.

  • The “intestines” were thought to be the seat of tender affections.
  • What we today associate more with the “heart.”

[It certainly makes for some interesting translation, if you don’t understand the figurative meaning of the word. For instance in Philemon 1:12 Paul says, “I am sending Onesimus back to you – sending my very intestines.” He is sending Onesimus back to Philemon, whom he cares deeply about. Onesimus is Paul’s very heart.]

The figurative meaning of Splangchnon has to do with “compassion” or “a feeling of great affection.” It’s a word that is similar to mercy, but it carries with it, not just the outward actions of mercy, but also the inward feeling that goes along with it. It is to be “touched” or “moved” by a situation, which leads you to act in a merciful and kind way.

To flesh this out a bit more, lets look at Splangchnon or . . .

Compassion in Jesus’ teaching and example

1. Compassion is a response to human need. For instance, the needs of the sick. Many crowds would follow Jesus everywhere, desperate for help, especially for healing. And even though Jesus was looking for some private time, Matthew 14:14 says, “When Jesus went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” He was moved to meet their need.

Another example has to do with the needs of a hungry crowd. This comes to us from Matthew 15, just before the feeding of the 4,000. The people were weary and hungry from following Jesus around. In v. 32 Jesus said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” Then Jesus proceeded to feed them miraculously, meeting their needs and more.

Jesus also had compassion on the needs the disabled. In Matthew 20 there were two blind men who were calling out to Jesus to have mercy on them. And the crowds told them to shut up.  But they cried out all the more. And so Jesus stopped to talk to them. And v. 34 says, “And Jesus in pity (Splangchnon) touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.” Jesus met their very real need.

2. Compassion is a response to human suffering. For instance the suffering of physical and mental illness. In Mark 9 there is the story of a boy possessed by a demon since childhood, which often  tried to kill him. And he suffered from a seizure when Jesus came near. And so the father asked Jesus in v. 22 – “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’” And Jesus was moved to compassion. He cast out the demon and healed the boy (Mark 9:25-27).

Another example is the suffering of a grieving mother. In Luke 7 she had just lost her only son, and she was a widow. So she was not just grieving, but in that culture and day, also on the verge of being economically marginalized not having a male to care for her. Verse 13 says, “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” And then he acted; he raised the young man from the dead.

Compassion also has to do with the suffering of a wounded enemy. In Luke 10 Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan. A man was robbed, beaten, stripped and left half-dead on the side of the road. He was a Jew. And a Samaritan, who was an enemy of Jews, came and found him. And v. 33 says,    “. . . when the Samaritan saw him, he had compassion.” And he acted. He gave him medical attention, carried him to an inn and paid for his expenses.

And the Samaritan is the example in this story of what it means to love our neighbor. It means to have compassion in similar ways, even upon our enemies.

3. Compassion is a response to human failure. In Matthew 18 Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. A king called for all debts to be paid up. And one servant who owed the king much couldn’t pay. And so the king ordered that he and his family be sold off to pay the debt. But the servant begged for mercy.

Verse 27 says, “And out of pity (Splangchnon) for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” And the king’s compassion and mercy are a major part of the lesson that Jesus is teaching in this episode.

Then in Luke 15, we have the story of the prodigal son. He had disrespected his father and gone off and squandered his money in a sinful lifestyle. And then when he decided to go back to his father, while on the way, v. 20 says, “his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”

The father’s compassionate response is a picture for us of God, and how God responds to us when we come back to him from our rebellion and sin.

Now let look at two things to take away from this . . .

Jesus has compassion on us

This the character of God, and it is the character of Jesus as we have seen in the Gospels. And so

  • in our times of need
  • when we are suffering
  • when we have failed

we can know that it touches Jesus’ heart. Things are not different today than they were back then.

And so when we come to Jesus with our needs and concerns, our pain and suffering, our failure and shame, he will have compassion on us. Jesus will be moved to act in mercy and kindness toward us. And this is a great comfort for us.

The second thing we should take away from this is that . . .

Jesus wants us to have compassion on others

This comes out in Matthew 9:36, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He saw their needs. And what did he do? How did he express his compassion? A verse later, it says, he sent out the disciples to minister to their needs (Matthew 10:1).

And Jesus still sends out his disciples to do this. Jesus sends us out to have compassion on people’s needs, suffering and failures.

More specifically, we are to minister to them the compassion of Jesus. We are to be the instruments of Jesus’ compassion to the world around us.

So let us not become cold-hearted; let us not be hard-hearted to the needs, suffering and failures of those around us.

Yes, we need wisdom to know how to respond in a way that truly helps, but let us not become cynical, so that we do nothing. Just as Jesus has had compassion on us, so we are to give his compassion to others.

Let me end by noting that . . .

God is stirring compassion among us 

There are many examples, but here are a few:

  • A small group among us who is going out of its way to help with needs in The Gambia
  • My daughter Marie, whom God has put it into her heart to care about Darfur, Africa, a place where truly unthinkable suffering and injustice has become a routine part of each day. 
  • Marlen, whom God has placed it in her heart to pray for children who are kidnapped or missing.
  • Some of us who are talking about volunteering time at the cold weather shelter to help the homeless in our neighborhood.
  • Our Deacons, who just this week talked about putting together a food bank supported by our congregation for those who come to us in need.
  • Ethel organizing, and all who help with food and cards for those who are sick and in need in our congregation.
  • Those of you who are investing yourselves helping families, and kids in our neighborhood and being blessed because of it.
  • Those of you who volunteer time working at the Cumberland Valley Relief Center and the world-wide relief work of Mennonite Central Committee.
  • Those of you who give time and resources for the work that Mennonite Disaster Service does to help people to recover from natural disasters.
  • Our youth, who will be fasting and raising money to help the hungry of the world.

God is stirring compassion, and may God do so more and more! 

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

What you give to others,  is what you will get from God

 We are looking again at our relationships with each other and how to be a healthy community. Today we look at the topic of judging. Our text is Luke 6:37-38 – “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

“Don’t judge me!”

 . . . is a phrase you hear all the time these days. It means, “don’t tell me what I am doing is wrong;” “don’t put your values on me.” In our culture it is live and let live. Everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes. As long as you aren’t hurting others, its OK. And this has come into the church as well as we privatize our lives so that we think that what we do is not anyone else’s business.

Needless to say this isn’t what Jesus meant when he said “Do not judge.” We know this because:

  • Jesus pointed out sin in people’s lives all the time and he called them to change. For instance in Luke 16:14-15 – “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’” Jesus was never afraid to point out sin
  • Also, Jesus taught that in the church we are to hold each other accountable for our behavior – Matthew 18:15-17. This is what we call church discipline. This involves pointing out sin in other’s lives and calling them to repent. Paul even calls this process “judging” in             I Corinthians 5:12-13.

So clearly pointing out sin and calling people to repent is not what Jesus is forbidding.

What then does Jesus mean??

There are three clues from our text:

Clue #1: “Judge not” is linked to the phrase – “and you will not be judged.” This last phrase is a reference to the final judgment. So “judge not” is connected to the final judgment, which links it with things like: the end of mercy; a final verdict; and punishment for sins.

Clue #2: “Judge not” equals “condemn not.” They are in synonymous parallelism with each other. This means that they say the same thing in slightly different ways. To condemn means to pronounce a person guilty and enact punishment on the person.

Clue #3: “Judge not” means the opposite of “forgive” and “give” (mercy). They are in antithetical parallelism with each other. So to judge is to withhold mercy or forgiveness.

So when we see someone struggling with sin, Jesus forbids that we: condemn, seek to punish them, write them off (give a final verdict on them so that we don’t need to worry about them anymore), withhold mercy, or withhold forgiveness even if they repent. Rather, in mercy we seek to help them out of their sin and then forgive and restore.

  • We are to act redemptively, not punitively
  • We are to help them up, not put them down
  • We are to always leave open the possibility that they might change, not close the door of mercy on them

Examples of these different approaches 

These help us see the contrasts between these responses to sin in people’s lives:

The tax collectors and prostitutes: The scribes and the Pharisees pointed out their sin but only to condemn them; only to write them off as beyond mercy. Jesus pointed out their sin but showed concern and love for them. He went to them and sought to help them out of their sin.

The adulterous woman – John 8: Her accusers pointed out her sin and only sought to punish her; to stone her to death. But Jesus had mercy on her. He called her to stop sinning. He took a redemptive approach.

The Gentiles – Romans 2: Many Jews had judged the Gentiles as hopelessly evil and wrote them off. They simply avoided them. Paul loved and worked with the Gentiles. He reminds these Jews that it is “the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience” that leads people to repentance (2:4), not hard hearted condemnation.

What about in our day? How do you respond to those who struggle with drug abuse, giving in to homosexual desires, or those who have a  history of being a sex offender? Do you seek to condemn, punish, write them off, put down, ridicule? Or in mercy do you seek to act in redemptive ways to help them with their problem?

Why this kind of judging is forbidden

1) Because this is not the final day. 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes.” Now is the day of grace – 2 Corinthians 6:2 – not judgment. As James says God is “able to save” sinners – 4:12.

Even notorious sinners can repent. Paul said, “I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost sinner Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life” – I Timothy 1:16. God is busy extending mercy to sinners, and so should we. Final judgment must await the appointed time when Jesus returns. Even with church discipline, this is not a final verdict. We hope and pray for their repentance.

2) Because we are not qualified to make such judgments. It is God who judges. James says, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” – 4:12. And only God is able to judge. Paul says, “God will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” I Corinthians 4:5.

3) Because we are ourselves only forgiven sinners. How can we, who escaped God’s condemnation only by God’s mercy, turn around and withhold mercy from someone else and condemn them? We have no ground to stand on.

Scripture talks about this a lot: Romans 2:1 – “For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” John 8:7 – “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Matthew 18:32-33 – in the parable of the unforgiving servant the master says, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

Finally, a warning and a promise

Jesus said in Luke 6:38 –  “the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” In the parallel in Matthew 7:2 he said, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” This teaches us that how we treat others now is how God will treat us on the final day. This principle can work against us or for us.

The warning: If we judge and condemn when we see sin in someone’s life; if we are harsh with others, if we reject others as rejected by God, if we exclude others from the realm of whom we love – God will do the same to us. The same measure will be applied to us.

But the promise is this – if we act in merciful ways toward the one struggling with sin, God will be merciful to us and in great abundance. Jesus says – “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap” – Luke 6:38

It can go either way. Its up to you! So let’s choose to be merciful, so that we will receive mercy from our heavenly Father.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Repentance is talked about a lot in Scripture. It is our proper response to God when we sin. It is also our proper response to other people we have wronged. We will focus on this second part – if I sin against someone and want to make it right, what should I do?

We will look at the story of the prodigal son. Jesus uses this story to illustrate what true repentance looks like – both toward God and toward other people at the same time. We will also look at other scriptures that fill out the meaning of repentance toward the one we have harmed.

The prodigal son definitely sinned against his father:

  • After he got his share of his father’s property he squandered it all in a far country on reckless living – v. 13.
  • He disobeyed his father – v. 29. (No doubt his father told him not to go away and be reckless, but he did it anyway).
  • He devoured his father’s property with prostitutes – v. 30.

So he’s a good candidate to teach us about repentance.

The meaning of repentance

Based on how the word “repentance” is used in the New Testament, it means – a change of heart and mind that leads you to do what is right. We see this in the prodigal son – vs. 17-18. First, “he came to himself” – he had a new realization; a new perspective on his situation. What he has done is wrong. Second, he went back to his father to make things right. So here we see a change of heart and mind that led to appropriate action.

I want to emphasize this second point. Repentance is not just something that happens within you – an inner intention or feeling bad about what you did. Repentance leads to appropriate action so that you stop doing what is wrong and you do what is right. As John the Baptist said in Luke 3:8 –“Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” What

are these fruits? The context show us that it means doing what is right in our relationships with others. Paul’s

message is stated in Acts 26:20 – “Repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” Repentance always involves right deeds, not just an inner change of heart about our wrong deeds.

Four actions that accompany repentance

We also see in the story of the prodigal son four actions that accompany true repentance – which help fill out for us what repentance looks like.

1) Expressions of humility and regret. The prodigal son said, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” – v. 19. When you have done what is wrong it is not a time to be proud. It is a time for humility and sorrow. The prodigal recognizes this, for he has not acted as a son. He has greatly hurt his father and wasted his resources.

When we hurt others we need to see and realize the damage and pain we have caused and we need to humble ourselves. After James calls his readers to repentance he says, “Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection” – James 4:9. It is right to feel badly and to have regret. David calls this “a broken and contrite heart” – Psalm 51:17. And you should express this regret to the person you have wronged.

2) Confession of sin. The prodigal son said, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you” – v. 18. He freely confessed his sin to the one he wronged.

James talks about this, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” -James 5:16. (I take it that this means confessing to the one you have offended).

Confession means being absolutely honest – this is what I did. Confession means owning what you did – I did it and it was wrong – and that’s it. Not – “Yes, I did what was wrong, but it wasn’t my fault – there was this circumstance, and that issue that has to be considered, and look at what you did. . .”  You can imagine if the prodigal lived in our day he might say to his father – “You didn’t raise me right!” No, true confession means you have to own what you did. Proverbs 18:12 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,  but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

3) Seek mercy so there can be reconciliation. The prodigal son said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father” – vs. 17-18. He wanted to be reunited with his father. So he got up and went to him. “Can I at least by your servant?” he is asking.

Jesus talks about this also in Matthew 5:23-24 – “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your sister or brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” If you have wronged someone – don’t even prioritize worship to God (the highest priority) over making things right with the one you have wronged. First go and be reconciled to your brother or sister. You need to try to restore the relationship you have damaged by seeking forgiveness and reconciliation

4) Take responsibility for the consequences of your sin The prodigal son said, “Treat me as one of your hired servants” – vs. 19. He was ready to live there as a servant. He knew there were consequences for his actions. Now, his father, in love and grace, accepted him back as a son. But notice – he still lost all that he had, for all the rest that the father had was the other son’s and that would not change.

The example of Zacchaeus’ repentance speaks to this. He was a tax collector who was despised because he made his profit off charging more taxes than were necessary. When he repented he said, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” – Luke 19:8. He takes responsibility for his sin by giving back of his great wealth to those he cheated and he makes amends to those he stole from. In the same way if you have harmed others in a way that can be made right – do your best to do that; try hard to make it right; make it up to them if possible.

Repentance as a way of life

We all need to learn how to repent and practice this regularly because we all fail at times, sometimes really badly in our relationships with each other.

It is a practice that is necessary first of all because if we don’t repent of our wrongdoing we will be judged by God. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” – Luke 13:3.

But more to our focus, it is necessary because if we don’t repent we can’t work toward restoration of relationships damaged by our sin. We end up hurting each other with no way to find peace; no way to be a community of believers in this place.

Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” – Luke 17:3. This is directed at the one who is sinned against and teaches that forgiveness is necessary. But notice here – Jesus is also saying you need repentance to heal a relationship wounded by sin. You need both.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts