March 15th 2020: Tom Baker

Tom Baker - March 2020-Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
    and passing over transgression
    for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
    because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
    he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
    into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
    and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
    from the days of old.

Micah 7:18-20

Micah is not a well-known book. Micah is not a well-known man. Unlike most people in the Old Testament, we are not told his family name, who his father was. He was a nobody, not from an impressive family. We are told he came from Moresheth, about 22 mile from Jerusalem. Isaiah was in the city of Jerusalem at this time. Moresheth was a small, forgotten place in the countryside, in the middle of nowhere. But Micah is not concerned with knowing who Micah is. His theme is us knowing who God is. Is this your testimony? You are not concerned with people knowing who you are but about who God is? Or are you obsessed with yourself – either being terribly arrogant or terribly despairing – thinking too much or too little of yourself? Do you know the freedom of turning away from yourself and turning to God?

Micah’s name means ‘Who is like the Lord?’ Micah starts and finishes his book with this. His name follows him and tells him who he is. Micah here is determined to preach to us God in all His glory. Who is like Him? He is speaking particularly of what he sees; God’s people have sinned in a number of ways. There is rampant idolatry, turning to lesser gods than their own. There is a particular issue with the corruption of the leaders of the nation. To make it worse, they sin in that they offer sacrifices to God without any humble repentance, just going through rituals. But Micah has also seen the greatness of God revealed in great judgement against His people. God, as He administers that judgement, feels a deep compassion. It grieves Him to see that. We see a great one who will take chaos and sin and put it all right, someone who will be a great ruler, righteous and holy. We see the great deliverer and salvation that He will provide.

Today, we still live in a messy world with messy lives, but He is still a great God and still great salvation is available in Him today. Micah saw Him and he was amazed. Are we? God is greatly to be praised. He is greatly to be feared. Some may not like this, but there is nothing more fearful than the love of God. God is to be feared because He is a God of love; you can stand on the rocks on the cliff face  at St. Davids and be fearful, yet still in awe of lies before you. God is great. We fear the sheer size of Him. There is nothing at all in existence that is greater than the love of God. When we first see the love of God our reaction is ‘Wow!’ Micah sees the great God says, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.” (Micah 7:18).

He is a God who is infinite in every way: in His holiness, knowledge and power. He always has been a great God and always will be. Every great thing you have ever seen, He made it. Everything belongs to Him. He is greater than all of it put together.

Perhaps the most distinctive, amazing thing about God is He is a God of mercy, showing love to His people.

Let us explore:

  1. The mercy of God
  2. The faithfulness of God.

 

  1. The mercy of God. God sees us and our sin and still He loves us. Micah saw God’s people and their offences against God. We have offended God in many ways. Micah highlights our iniquity (our twistedness), our transgressions (our lawbreaking, doing what we known we should not do) and our sin (falling short). Because we are a sinful people, even the best we offer falls short. When see our offence, we see all this together.

Like those of Micah’s day we have turned away from God. Our great offence against God is simply we fail to acknowledge God and give Him the honour He deserves. We happily receive the things from His hand but wish He would clear off. We have failed to acknowledge God for how great He is. We attempt to solve our problems ourselves. We think more of ourselves than we ought to, thinking we do not need Him. God should be angry with us. We get angry with people who have offended us, God is angry with His people who have turned from Him. We are those people. All have sinned and are under His judgement. Micah is all the more amazed when he sees God is a God of mercy. He pardons them and removes all their guilt. It’s amazing!

Micah picks out two lovely images of how God deals with our sin, “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea,” (Micah 7:19). He treads our sin underfoot and casts it into the depths of the sea. As Jesus hung on the cross, He took all our sin. God crushed our sin. Christ was cut off and died so we wouldn’t. He took it on Himself. God stamped out all my sin. He casts our sin into the depths of the sea, He takes it all and throws it into the deepest part of the sea – all of them, so they can’t come back. All sin, even the ones you are most ashamed of and the ones you can’t even remember, are cast away, never to return.

Are you still carrying your sin or has it been laid on Jesus Christ? Do you still carry a sense of guilt and try and make it up to God? Take it all to Him. And if you’ve done that, leave it there. Christ has dealt with it. Don’t feel you need to tidy up your life first. Come to Jesus Christ in all your need, see the great mercy that He displays – most strikingly at Calvary. The first thing He says on the cross is, “Father, forgive them,” (Luke 23:34). See the mercy of God. Lay hold of the grace of God, know His love for Jesus’ sake.

  1. The faithfulness of God. Great is His faithfulness. Not only does He see His people in sin and shows them love anyway, but He stands by them anyway. He is firmly committed to them and will be with them forever. We see two things:
    (i) the temporary anger of God and
    (ii) the permanent smile and favour of God.
  • The temporary anger of God is a just anger. He is angry with sinners. Some will reject Him forever. Yet that anger can be turned away; Christ has turned it away from all those who belong to Him. He bore it. I deserved it but Christ turned it to Himself.
  • Those who trust in Jesus Christ never have to face the anger of God. Instead, the Christian knows the permanent smile and favour of God. Why? He is a God who delights in steadfast love. What makes God happy? To show eternal steadfast love to sinners. It is mind-blowing! It is Life changing! God loves you because He enjoys it. He has bound Himself to you – not because He has too, but because He wants to.

How do you imagine God looks at you – smiling or frowning? If you are in the Lord Jesus Christ you can know the smile of God, unchanging, forever. God shows that same favour towards His Son. He always has and always will. He is proud of Him. When He sees His Son it just makes Him smile. If you are in the Lord Jesus Christ that is the same for you. He is faithful.

Why does God stick with you? Because you belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. How much faithfulness will He show? Even when Christ was dead and buried, He brings His Son up from the dead. There is nothing now that could take Him from us. We can never lose His favour if we belong to Jesus Christ, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 1:6). He started loving you, He is not going to stop!

“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?” (Micah 7:18-20). Then Micah ends. There is no response, just resounding silence . . . because there is no-one like Him in all the earth. What a Saviour He is. There is no-one like Jesus!

 

June 30th 2019: Ian Middlemist

Ian Middlemist-November 2018John 8:1-11

The first time you picked up a Bible, as you opened the pages you thought you were studying it. You were encouraged to get into the Bible. But notice, as you grow older as a Christian the Bible is studying you, revealing truths about yourself. The Bible examines you. The book speaks about you. It was written over 2,000 years ago but is scans us inside and out. God knows breathing out this Word, every sin, every thought, every word, everything I have done. There is nothing we can hide from Him. God deals with guilt on the basis of grace and truth.

This scripture passage speaks powerfully to our situations. The Scribes and Pharisees judged the woman according to the law, which clearly condemned her. All of us, like this woman, have been caught in an act of sin and stand condemned in front of God’s holy law. To be caught in the act of adultery meant that the act had to be witnessed, to be actually seen going through the physical movement that could be capable of no other explanation. A compromising situation, such as leaving a hotel room together, would not have been good enough in a Jewish court. It was very likely the Scribes and Pharisees had set a trap to catch this woman so that they could catch Jesus in the horns of a dilemma and get rid of Him. There was a clear motive. Either Jesus would have agreed the woman should be stoned or Jesus would have shown her mercy and would be soft on sin, not upholding the Law of Moses. It was a deliberate trap. They only brought one sinner to Jesus. Why was the man not brought to Him? You can’t commit adultery alone. Maybe he was on the side of the Scribes and Pharisees? We don’t know.

All of us, like this woman, have been caught in the act of sin. We have all had the humiliating experience of getting caught doing something we know was wrong. No matter what the sin, it is always embarrassing. This woman was not only caught in the act of adultery but then dragged into the temple, of all places! All the people would have examined her like a piece of meat. Worse, they accused her in front of Jesus. They were pushing for the ultimate punishment – the act of execution. Even if we manage to keep our sin hidden from others, before God all of our lives are laid bare, ‘And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account,’ (Hebrews 4:13). He knows every simple thought we secretly entertain, every swear word, every hatred – not letting go of those who have wronged us, sin we commit when we’re alone, when we’re away in another city, He knows it all. The reality is every single one of us is caught in the act by God.

Religious people are just as guilty of sin as openly immoral people. We tend to look on the woman in the story as a great sinner and overlook the fact that the Scribes and Pharisees are just as evil, even more so. Clearly, they didn’t care about this woman at all. They could have held her in private custody but they didn’t. She was just a pawn. Their concern is not for holiness in society but to get rid of Jesus. Even more serious, these religious leaders were sinning against the sinless Jesus. They weren’t concerned about God’s honour, but in all they did they sought to kill and get rid of the Son of God. What could be worse? They weren’t using scripture to judge themselves, just pointing the finger against the woman and Jesus. Religious people are just as guilty of sin as openly criminal people are. Paul builds such a case in Romans, ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’ (Romans 3:23). Who do we identify most with in this passage – the adulterous woman or the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees?

If God is full of love and grace how can He show mercy to sinners and uphold His justice? Nowhere in the story does Jesus condone this woman’s sin, but He shows grace. He applies God’s law and truth to them. The Scribes and Pharisees came armed with the law to test Jesus. Jesus responds by stooping down and writing in the ground with His finger. This is the only place in the Bible where Jesus actually writes anything. What did He write? No-one knows. When He says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,” (John 8:7) He wasn’t saying judges need to be sinless. Rather, Jesus was applying what He taught in Matthew 7. The Scribes and Pharisees were hypocritical and were sinfully using this woman and Jesus to condemn her.

The starting place for receiving mercy is to be convicted by God’s holy law so that you are able to say, with the apostle Paul, that you are the chief of sinners. Jesus gives the law to the self-righteous but offers grace to broken sinners who repent. The law reveals your sin but the law cannot offer grace and forgiveness. We can infer by Jesus’ gracious words to the woman that He offered her grace. Are we gracious and show compassion? God’s justice is upheld. He can be both gracious to sinners and uphold justice at the same time. Jesus was a sacrifice for sin so that God’s justice could be satisfied, ‘It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,’ (Romans 3:26). His death satisfies God’s wrath on our behalf.

The only sinless person in the temple that day who would have legitimately thrown a stone at the adulterous showed mercy. Trust in Jesus.

God’s grace then is the basis of a holy life. Jesus said to the guilty woman, “Go, and from now on sin no more,” (John 8:11). He doesn’t say, ‘Go your way, sin no more and I will not condemn you.’ There’s nothing you can do to make yourself righteous. Her pardon was the motivation to change. There’s nothing you can do to obtain justification. God grants forgiveness as a free gift, free grace becomes the motive for living in holiness. ‘What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?’ (Romans 6:1-2). God’s amazing grace is the greatest motive for living a holy life.

I was guilty. I was condemned before Him. But rather than condemning me, the Son loved me enough to die in my place and offer a full pardon. Since it cost Him so much, I want to please the One who love me and sacrificed Himself for me. There are no conditions. Just grace available to every sinner whose been caught in the act.

March 31st 2019: Chris Benbow

Chris Bembo-March19The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Luke 18:9-14

This is mind-bending! It’s confusing. It’s scandalous. The good guy, the model citizen does good things, goes to the good place, the temple, to pray. He does a good thing by praying. But, in fact, it’s not good. To God, it’s disgusting. It’s wrong. Then, the bad guy, not the guy you’d invite around to dinner, comes to God and it’s good. You see how this would have messed with the heads of the people who first heard this parable?

The issue here is righteousness. Who is righteous? Who is justified? At the end of our lives we will stand before God, the books will be opened, it will be time to find out who’s in and who’s out. Jesus teaches this parable to answer that.

The Pharisee – yeah! The tax collector – boo! Jesus sets up the extreme contrast. We ‘get’ this as we view from a New Testament perspective. However, in Jesus’ time the people didn’t see Pharisees as bad guys. They had unparalleled knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures. They were the pillar of society. They ‘fast twice a week and give a tenth of all’ they have (Luke 18:12). Fasting is going all day without food and devoting the day singularly to prayer, to God. The Pharisees also tithed, giving a tenth of all they had, giving God the first-fruits, the best of their income. From a religious standpoint, this Pharisee is a pretty good deal.

Then there’s the other guy – the tax collector. He would have been the scum of society. The Romans were a pagan empire who had slaughtered many and took taxes. Some of God’s people had joined the opposing team and bullied and intimidated the rest of God’s people, joining the foreign Romans. They would bankrupt people. They were socially and morally disgusting.

So, here they are, two people – the hero and the heathen, the Pharisee and the tax collector. They both came to the temple. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector (Luke 18:12). The tax collector wouldn’t even look up to heaven, ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13). Jesus continues, ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’(Luke 18:14).

Why is the good guy not right with God and the supposed bad guy is?

Here we see displayed righteousness and received righteousness. There is a world of difference! Which one are we most like? Are we like the Pharisee, righteousness displayed? We are right and others are wrong. This could be shown in secular ways – being self-righteous., thinking we are better than others because we recycle, because we care for the environment. It could be we get in a car and think we’re a better driver than others. Maybe it’s a cause we support – we’re an activist, supporting an environmental cause or charity, thinking of ourselves as being better than others. This is self- righteousness displayed.

May be it is even worse, religious self-righteousness. The Lord asks, why should you be in glory? If your answer begins with ‘I’ you’re in big trouble, thinking it’s all to do with you. The Pharisee’s prayer has only one mention of God and four mentions of himself. It is all about him and what he’s done. Now he thinks he is righteous. And God says, ‘No, it’s not good enough.’ God is perfect, just perfect. So compared to Him, our best isn’t good enough, to God it is offensive. The Bible says no-one is righteous, no not one. No matter how good we think we are, our displayed righteousness is no good at all.

Received righteousness is beautiful. This is righteousness received as a gift from God. The tax collector knows what’s he is like, ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13). He is essentially in mourning, grieving his sin. We’re in that boat too, we are all in that situation. The tax collector sees his sin as obvious. He can only utter, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13). He knew he was morally bankrupt. All that was left for him was to throw himself on the mercy of God. Mercy, God’s free gift, given through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

As Jesus tells this parable He knew what was going to happen. His naked, bloody body would be beaten, broken, hanging off a cross. It is only when you realise, this is it, this is the only way, that you realise your best is never good enough. The only thing we can do is hold our empty hands, say we have nothing to give and ask for His mercy. You will have His mercy. The price is paid. It’s done. Finished. This is the gift of righteousness. The only righteousness that is acceptable to God. If you haven’t put your trust in Jesus’ righteousness, come to Jesus and receive His grace. There is no other way. Throw yourself on God’s mercy and you will be saved.