I am thankful for God’s varied grace. I am thankful that the whole body is not a toe, or a mouth, or a finger. I am thankful that God cares about the slaughter of babies as well as the perversion of justice, the rights of the poor, and the sanctity of marriage. I am thankful He cares, because that means He will (and does) move. I am thankful He works through different Christians in different ways. Some minister in foreign countries. Some minister under bridges. Some minister in operating rooms. Some minister on the battlefield. Some minister in courtrooms. Some minister in cubicles. But how is it that one lump of clay presumes to turn to another lump of clay and say that he is more like the Potter because he is doing the most important of the Potter’s work? If it were not by the grace of that Potter who poured out His Living Water in your heart, you would be nothing more than immalleable clay.
"And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.’" (Luke 19:8-9)
Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, a rich man despised by others, welcomes Jesus with haste and with joy and is received by Him in the same manner: with haste and with joy, quickly and gladly.
But what is it that brought salvation to Zacchaeus? It almost seems as if he offers Jesus a self-righteous, self-justified list of reasons why Jesus should accept him. "Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold."
But Jesus knows the heart.
Jesus reveals the true reason Zacchaeus was saved: "Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham."
Zacchaeus was more than a son of Abraham by birth. A son of Abraham is not an Israelite, but any man, woman, or child in the whole world who puts their faith in Jesus Christ.
"Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham." (Galatians 3:6-7)
But faith is not dead. Zacchaeus’ seemingly self-righteous list of good deeds was not self-righteous at all. Faith like Abraham’s does not lie dormant. Faith works.
"Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?" (James 2:21)
The little story of the little man Zacchaeus encourages us, encourages me, that Jesus will gladly receive even the chiefest tax collector, and even the chiefest tax collector can be made a new creation, and be lead by the Spirit to do good works in the name of Jesus Christ.
Today I told the story of Job to my Sunday School class of precious 5 year olds. One of the things I love about teaching kids is that I always seem to discover new and exciting truths in old familiar stories. They are not new truths, of course, just things I hadn’t recognized before.
Job had everything any person could ever want; he had a big family, he had perfect health, and he was the richest man in the world. He was even commended by God as being righteous. When Satan accused Job before God, God gave Satan permission to take away everything Job had. When Satan took away Job’s livelihood, family, and health, Job did not blame God for his troubles but worshiped Him instead. Job proved Satan wrong. Satan had told God that Job only worshiped Him because He had blessed him. But throughout the book of Job we find that Job worshiped God even when things went bad for him. The two most well known verses from Job sum it up nicely:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21)
“Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15)
I have always filed this story in the “we ought to worship God at all times” category. That is completely true. Psalm 34:1 says, “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” But today while telling the story of Job I learned these three things afresh:
Number 1: It is Satan’s hand that harmed Job, not God’s. It seems obvious, but it was the wording of the verses in chapter 1 that caught my attention. Satan incites God: “Stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” But God answers, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand.” (Job 1:11-12, emphasis added.) Satan is good at spinning his own evil to God’s credit. It comes out in common phrases like, “If God is good, why do bad things happen?”–thus pinning the blame on God with the implication that all bad things are His fault. The question would be better phrased, “Since God is good, for what reason does He allow the devil to continue doing evil?” Thus God is not the enemy, the devil is. And that question, deserving of much more time than will be given to it in this post, is answered all over the bible….
Number 2: God’s love for us is independent of our circumstances. When things do not go well for us, we do not need to doubt God’s love. Before we started the story, I asked the kids about their Christmas’. They enthusiastically told me about all their favorite presents. As a segue into Job, I asked, “So, how do we know God loves us? Is it because we all got awesome presents for Christmas!?” I was so proud when the class resounded: “NO!” So I asked them to raise their hand and tell me how we know for certain that God loves us. One little boy (who normally doesn’t answer questions) shot up his hand and said, “Because Jesus died for our sins!”
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
God’s love is not found in the blessings he gives us. God does not show His love for us in that we have good health and prosperous lives. It is God who blesses us with those things, but it is not the demonstration of His love. Furthermore, God’s love is not depreciated when blessings are scarce. We know God loves us because He became sin on our behalf to make us the righteousness of God in Him. No matter what the condition of our lives, we always know He loves us because He died on the cross for us.
Number 3: Just because things are bad does not mean God thinks that we are. When things do not go well for us, we don’t have to assume it is because we’ve done something wrong. Job was commended by God Himself as being a righteous man, and yet he had troubles. God’s love for us is not measured by circumstances, nor is our righteous standing before Him.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
This peace we have with God exists even when peace in our life does not. We lay hold of God’s love through faith, and it is through that faith in Him that we are made to be completely righteous. Present circumstances neither confirm nor deny our standing, it is promised to us in God’s word–period.
I did not expect these truths to be pointed out to me through Job. But they strengthen me so that, at some point, when Satan tries to incite God’s hand against me, I can rest in the knowledge that it will not be God’s loving, nail-pierced hand that reaches out to hurt me, but it will be His hand that holds me tight as I walk through the fire with Him.
Hezekiah was 25 years old when he became king of Judah. He was a good king and did the things that God says are right just like his ancestor, King David did. He took away all the shrines and places of worship of the false gods that people had been worshiping. He trusted in the Lord so much so that there was no other king like him either before or after his time. He held on tight to the Lord and never stopped following Him and doing His commands. God was with Hezekiah and caused him to be successful everywhere he went.
Now, fourteen years after Hezekiah became king, an enemy king named Sennacherib came against Judah. Sennacherib demanded that Hezekiah pay him 11 tons of silver and 1 ton of gold. To get that much, Hezekiah had to take all the silver from the temple of the Lord and take all the gold off the doors. Even after Hezekiah paid him, Sennacherib sent one of his chief officers to give Hezekiah and the people of Judah this message:
“What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can help you in war? Are you trusting in Egypt? Egypt is unreliable! Or are you trusting in the Lord? Do not let Hezekiah trick you into trusting the Lord by saying, ‘The Lord will surely save us and Sennacherib will not defeat us!’ Do not listen to your, king but instead, come and make peace with me and I will take you to a better land. Do not listen to Hezekiah when he says, ‘God will save us!’ Every country we have taken over had their own god, but none of them were able to save them. What makes you think your God can deliver you out of my hand?”
Nobody answered the officer because Hezekiah told them not to. They went back to Hezekiah and told them all the things that the enemy said.
As soon as Hezekiah heard about it he went into the temple of God and mourned. Then he sent some people to Isaiah the prophet. They told Isaiah everything that happened. Then Isaiah answered, “Tell Hezekiah that this is what the Lord says: ‘Do not be afraid. I will make Sennacherib go back to his own land and there he will die.'”
After this, the chief officer went back to talk with Sennacherib. There was a battle happening in another place and the enemy king decided to go back to his land but first sent the chief officer back to Hezekiah with another message. This time the message was:
“Do not let your God who you trust trick you by promising that your land will not be given to Sennacherib. You have heard how we have destroyed all the lands around you and none of their gods were able to help.”
When Hezekiah heard this message he went in to the temple again and placed the message before the Lord and prayed: “O Lord God, you are God alone of all the kingdoms of the earth. It is you who made the heavens and the earth. Open your ears to hear our prayer, O Lord, and open your eyes to see what Sennacherib has said to us mocking you! It is true that they destroyed the gods of those other nations because they were not gods at all but mere statues that were made by men. So now, Lord, save us please! Save us so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, and you alone, are God!”
Then Isaiah sent a message to Hezekiah to tell him that God heard his prayer. God said, “I will defend your city and I will save it for the sake of your ancestor, King David.”
That very night, the angel of the Lord went out and killed 185,000 people of Sennacherib’s army. Sennacherib went back to his home and while he was worshiping his god, his own sons killed him.
Around this time Hezekiah got sick and was going to die. Isaiah the prophet came to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Get ready, for it is time for you to die. You will not recover from this sickness.” But Hezekiah said, “O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you and been faithful with my whole heart and have done what is good in your sight!” Then Hezekiah wept and cried. Before Isaiah left, while he was leaving, the Lord told him to go back to Hezekiah and say, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you and add 15 years to your life and continue to keep you safe from your enemies.”
Soon after this, the king of Babylon sent messengers with letters and presents for Hezekiah since he knew that Hezekiah had been sick. And Hezekiah welcomed them and showed them all the treasure in his house–all the silver, all the gold, all the spices, oils, and storehouses. There was not anything that Hezekiah did not show to them. But afterward, Isaiah the prophet came to Hezekiah and said, “What did those men want? Where did they come from?” And Hezekiah said, “They came all the way from Babylon!” Isaiah asked, “What did they see in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen everything. There is not anything that I did not show to them.”
Then Isaiah said, “Hear what God has to say: ‘The time is coming when everything you own and all that your ancestors have stored up until now will be carried away to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons will be taken away and made personal slaves to the king of Babylon.” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What God says is good.” Hezekiah was thinking, “At least there will be peace while I am alive.”
“Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”
“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”
"And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’" (Matthew 20:11)
God does not play favorites. Each of us will enter His presence through faith in His Son. Because of that, there is no Christian with a higher level of righteousness. We have the righteousness of Christ, and Christ’s righteousness is complete.
There is no room for jealousy, no room for exalting one another, no room for assuming one is closer to God than another because he has “borne the heat of the day”. In the presence of a holy God we must all be completely holy or we must not approach Him at all. Therefore, through faith in His Son, God has made us equals.
“‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.’ …And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matthew 8:6-8, 13)
When Jesus walked the earth, He could have healed everyone He passed by without incident. He didn’t need to say any magic words or incite any special powers; He didn’t even need to pray. When Jesus willed a person be healed, they were healed.
Even today He could just heal the world in one swoop. He could speak the words, and anybody with any kind of ailment would be cured. But the Lord desires for us to reach out to Him in faith. He wants us to draw near to Him. He wants us to petition Him. He wants us to recognize that He is the source of life and healing.
“O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear.” (Psalms 10:17)
“Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalms 50:15)
“The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.” (Psalms 145:17-19)
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)
Every Christian has the Holy Spirit.
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? (1 Corinthians 6:19)
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)
God lives in every Christian but not every Christian walks by the Holy Spirit. If we all did, Paul would have had no reason to command us to!
So how do you walk by the Spirit? The same way in which you received Him. We walk by… faith.
“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith– just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'”? (Galatians 3:2-6)
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6-7)