Pulling Off an “Ezekiel”

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Photo credit to unknown internet source.

 

“Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment.” (Ezekiel 4:4)

 
Can you imagine lying on your side out on the ground where everyone is walking by for 390 days? And then doing it again on your right side, the other side, for another 40 days? Now, before that you were asked to make a sketch in a clay brick or maybe use those clay bricks to lay out a model of the city of Jerusalem under siege. And here you are, laying down, which isn’t an easy task physically, so God Himself helps you to be strong enough to do it. He places “cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other” until the days are completed. If that’s not bad enough, you have to eat what God tells you, this unpleasant mix of grains that isn’t even tasty and maybe even considered unclean by Hebrew standards. Let’s take it a step further, because then it’s supposed to be cooked over human dung.

 
Human dung! Are you kidding me? If mixing grains and beans was unclean, then what about cooking over human dung!  Now, Ezekiel didn’t object until this point. And I’m not surprised that he cries out to the Lord. “God, I’ve never defiled what went into my mouth. Please don’t make me now.” So the Lord, has mercy and tells Ezekiel he can cook over cow dung instead. Now that still seems nasty here, but in many cultures with lack of wood for cooking, there’s nothing unusual about that.

 
Speaking of unusual though, this whole thing is pretty unusual, pretty far out there, don’t you think? This is an interesting way to warn the children of Israel and Judah of their impending doom if they don’t repent. But as I read it, it’s not just a story about Israel and Judah and their sin, it’s a story about the call of God on a man and about the faithfulness of that man. And it goes even deeper. It’s about the call of God on any of us, and the evidence of the measure of our faithfulness to that call.

 
The call of God has nothing to do with ease and a life of bliss. It has nothing to do with living life in the wonderful by and by and escaping the here and now. I mean, really, look at Ezekiel. Ezekiel was chosen by God to be His representative and did he live a life of ease? Or was he expected and called to do hard things, things that most ordinary or “normal” men wouldn’t ever humble themselves to do? Where was his wealth? Where was his ease? Where was his blessing as we think of and expect blessings? Was he counting down the days until he died so he could go to heaven? I think not, because the Jews in that time period didn’t have that concept of heaven. What would compel Ezekiel to obey?

 
Why would Ezekiel allow himself to be bound like this? Why would Paul, some 600 years later, allow himself to be bound? “And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” (Acts 21:11) And I wonder if it all has some bearing on this man in the middle of both, this man who was also God, whose name is Jesus, who allowed them to bind him and lead him away and deliver him over to Pilate the governor? (Matthew 27:2)

 
It’s funny. Jesus allowed a lot of people to bind him. First there was the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews who arrested him and bound him. (John 18:12) Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. (John 18:24) And even after his death, those who loved him took his body and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. (John 19:40) But I guess it really doesn’t matter how man binds something. Because ultimately, Jesus broke all those bands when he rose again. But he had to wear those bands. He had to take on that burden.

 
What was that burden? It was the burden that God was placing on Ezekiel, the sin of the people. And Ezekiel was bearing it symbolically. Even so, he needed God to help him bear it. And Paul, he was carrying that burden from God too. That’s why he went all over the world preaching the good news of Christ that others might be set free. But Jesus, He’s the one who can actually bear the whole burden. He alone can carry the full weight.
Ezekiel was a picture for all to see. But it was a picture bigger than Ezekiel. It was God using Ezekiel to display what He was doing and what He was going to do.

 

Do you want to see the whole picture? Let’s look at it in Isaiah 53. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

 
You know, I forgot to mention that while Ezekiel was lying on the ground on his side, he was told to lie down like that with his arm outstretched. Is that supposed to be a Deja Vu? “Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God…” (Exodus 6:6-7) This is the word, sabal- to bear, from the Hebrew siblot. It’s the word used in Isaiah 53 where the suffering servant bears our iniquities. It’s the relieving of the burden of those things that enslave and cause servitude, of those things that cause punishment and penalty. This is what the suffering servant, Jesus can bear and do for us. He is our Deliverer who can show Himself strong on our behalf in miraculous ways.

 
But the word of bearing that Ezekiel was called to do and like that which Paul would do or I is a whole different word. In Ezekiel its the word nasah. That’s a word used about testing and trying and proving. It’s like when God tested the faithfulness of his children when they were coming out of Israel. Only at Massah, they didn’t only just quarrel. They accused God and Moses of not being sufficient and of not caring. They basically said that God was impotent and indifferent because He wouldn’t do it there way. It was a challenge to God’s power and goodness despite the prevalent evidence all around.
The truth is that God has already demonstrated His faithfulness and goodness time and time again. It’s not up to Him to prove Himself. We are called to be proven. We’re the ones that need to pass the test, not God. Do we really get who God is and what He has already done? Are we just willing to be used to be witnesses of Him and not ourselves? Am I truly willing to bear His image and forsake my own? Can I forget my needs and desires for the sake of God’s glory and His desires to be manifested by me instead?

 
Am I willing to adopt a Biblical view of my calling or am I going to make it fit my own design?  Because that’s not the way God works. If Jesus came and allowed Himself to be bound and to suffer at the hands of men so that God’s glory would be manifested, and He’s our Master, then how could we be called to anything less? What if my goal wasn’t about receiving blessings but about manifesting the glory of God by a life humbly submitted to His will no matter what He required?

 
What if Ezekiel’s message is a message of choosing God’s will no matter the cost? What if that is what real faith is all about? It takes me to Matthew 19:29 and Jesus’ words, “And every one that has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” That word for forsake is aphiemi. And it does mean to leave, but it also means “to dismiss, to send away, to let go.” There’s a personal involvement on our part just like there was on Ezekiel’s part. He had to decide to go with God’s plan. He had to decide to lay down and stretch out his arms each day in front of everyone. He had to make a conscious choice to manifest God’s picture through Himself despite what others would think and despite how they would treat him.

 
So the question is, am I willing to bear the burden that You place on me God, that shines forth Your image in this world that so badly needs to see You and know You? Do I know You so well that I would be willing to do whatever You required of me so that You could shine through me? Would I be willing to look like a fool to those who don’t understand so that You can look like God to those who will understand? How faithful am I really? Am I faithful enough to pull off an Ezekiel? God, make me able. As I consciously choose You, bind me in that decision in You.

What Is Freedom?

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“Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this Man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by Him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”  Acts 13:37-38

Pythagorus is famous for saying, “No man is free who cannot control himself.”  Charlotte Bronte shared, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.”  Thomas Jefferson felt it had to do with having a well-armed militia, “For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well-organized and armed militia is their best security.”  And I’m not sure who Eryka Badu is, but she also felt she was free on this basis, “I’m free. I just do what I want, say what I want, say how I feel, and I don’t try to hurt nobody. I just try to make sure that I don’t compromise my art in any kind of way, and I think people respect that.”  Is this what freedom is really all about?

I know of another man named Jesus, who was more than man.  He was God and man.  Imagine that!  He was the promised Son of God and Son of man.  And he made this statement, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  Now, I wonder who I will choose to believe?  Will I choose to believe the ideas about freedom taught by men or by the One who created us and created the whole true idea of freedom?

What is freedom even?  According to Noah Webster’s first definition for freedom it is “a state of exemption from the power or control of another.”  Was there ever, or will there ever be a time when a person was or is totally exempt from the control of any other?  It also has this connotation of being exempt from things like slavery, servitude, and confinement.  So what are we slaves to?  What are we confined by?

Well, as we saw, the world has lots of answers for that.  But are those the true answers?  What if we looked back at the beginning.   When Adam and Eve were first created, were they free?  “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”  Did you see that?  The first man and the first woman were created to have dominion, “radah.”  Do you know what that means?  When we were created in the image of God, we were created to rule.  We weren’t created to rule God or be equal to Him, nor were we created to rule other men or women, but we were created to rule the other created things.  God rules men.  He is our only true King.  We were to rule the created things on earth under the rule of our Creator.  This is freedom.

Now this human rule is designed for us to take the purposes of God for creation and to make them so.  Through our rule, creation should be allowed to fill it’s purpose designed by God.  We don’t subject things; our dominion brings things into their proper existence designed by God. This is freedom, the freedom to be what everything was purposed to be in God.

But wait a minute.  I need to jump back and ask a question?  If I am under a King, how can I truly be free?  Maybe that has to do with being created in the image of this King, of being created in the image of God.  Jesus, who is God, said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  So, here is this Ultimate King, the Only One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Only because of Him is there no more chaos.  The path of God is Life.   Outside the path of God is chaos.  He chooses everything that stands against chaos, death, and destruction.  He is Life and He chooses Life.  We were created to be choosers of life.  We were created to freely follow His path of life and turn from the path of chaos, death, and destruction.  We were created to be under His rule yet totally free to choose to follow in His path of life.  We have always been free to choose and live in Life and Light.

But our ideas of freedom became twisted.  We thought it was freedom to be able to make our own choice, when the freedom is really only in making the right choice.  Was it ever freedom to choose chaos and sin over life?  Was it lack of freedom to be under a King who gave us absolute life and goodness and joy?  Is it freedom to turn down life and goodness and joy just to receive death and tragedy and pain?  Is it really about being able to make my own choices or was it always about making the right choice?  Maybe freedom has always been about choosing that which I was created for.

Now these verses from Acts, these words spoken by Paul, came about through these circumstances.  Paul and Barnabas had left Paphos.  And now they have come to Antioch and were attending a synagogue there.  The law and the prophets were read.  Please, don’t be bothered by that.  There is nothing wrong with the law and the prophets, they tell of the coming of Jesus.  It is God’s Word.  We need them.  But we need to interpret them rightly and rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and search them diligently.

So these Jewish rulers in the synagogue asked Paul and Barnabas if they would share something with them.  It was normal to ask visiting Rabbis to share encouragement or teaching.  So Paul took them through Scripture review from Israel’s time in Egypt through Jesus’ death and resurrection to show that the promise of God to their people was being fulfilled in Christ. According to the Hebrew Scriptures, In Psalm 2, God was identifying Jesus as His Son by birth and by resurrection.  Either way, He was born from the Father above.  Paul doesn’t even point out His birth in Bethlehem.  Paul points to the power of the resurrection.  And he’s trying to draw them to find their freedom in it.

He shares more Scripture evidences and then leads them on to where freedom is found.  Remember, God’s definition of freedom is Life and the ability to choose it.  But because of sin, we lost our freedom to choose life.  Yet here, in Christ, is the gift of redemption of our choice, redemption of life!  We chose chaos and death, yet here we are being offered the ability to choose Life again!  Which means we must choose forgiveness.  But to choose forgiveness and accept it, we must first admit that we have made the wrong choice.  We must admit that we need forgiveness.

Now here’s the problem.  Once we were free to choose Life or death.  Once we chose, we lost that freedom.  It was gone forever…unless….Unless God made a way for us to rechoose.  But You can’t escape the choice of death without experiencing death.  Now dying does not free you from death.  It just keeps you there.  That’s just the price of death.  So how do we ever again become free from death once I’ve chosen it?

Someone has to pay the price of death.  So Jesus died in my place and your place, to set us free and to offer us again Life in Him.  “[B]y Him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”  Only Life can give life again.  Only Life itself is more powerful than death.  Paul, in Romans 7:24 asked the perfect question, “O wretched man that I am! [after all, I chose chaos and death over beautiful Life in You!]  Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”   But He gives us the answer in Christ in 1 Corinthians 15, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your sting?  O grave, where is your victory?  The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

God always chooses Life.  He will never choose anything else.  Even in choosing His death on the cross, He was really choosing life.  He is Life and He is Everything that Life is and Everything that Life is about.  Jesus went through every process of dying.  He died.  Yet He could not be kept dead.  Why?  He is Life.  And we were created to live, to abide in Him, in this glorious Life that must live on.  Freedom is not found in anything else but in choosing Life, in choosing Jesus, and in living in Him.  We have freedom all wrong.  Freedom is not about the lack of submission.  It’s not about self-rule or self-control.  Freedom is really understanding Who and what is Best and choosing to come under His care and authority.  Freedom is choosing Life in Christ and living in Him.  Every other idea of freedom is a lie. 

Think about it.  If I live in the freedom of the Truth and Life of Christ, if I live in the Character of Who He Is, I would be free to love independent of the actions or beliefs of those around me.  I would be free to sacrifice no matter the cost.  I would know how to value my fellow men as more valuable than myself.  I would be able to love selflessly.  I would look to the needs of others.  And I would draw others to a Life in freedom.  I would join with Christ in setting the captives free.  May we realize what our true captivity is and the true freedom that is offered in faith in Christ by the power of His death and resurrection for us, to bring us back into right relationship with Him. 

Just an afterthought here but what is good about absolute freedom?  If each man were free to make his own choices regardless of the next person, wouldn’t that be chaos?  But what if there was One, that every choice made was for the good of all and the good of each individual?  I wonder if it would be a more blessed freedom to live under that One than to have all the world’s ideas of freedom or even my own idea of freedom?  I think I want to choose Jesus’ idea of freedom.  I consider myself joyously blessed to be allowed to be under His authority and knowledge.  His freedom is more than enough for me.  I can live under that.  What about You?

The Undeserved Gift

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“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  John 15:13Image

This is true love.  This is unconditional love.  “This love is selfless; it gives and expects nothing in return.” (Wikipedia)  Now, I have to stop here.  Because I agree with this, but I don’t agree with this.  And I just don’t think love is a black and white kind of thing.  And my question is, is love truly unconditional?  Does it actually expect nothing in return?

I could believe that if You didn’t move on to verse 14.  “You are my friends IF you do whatsoever I command you.”  That seems quite conditional to me. And let me hop back to John 3:16, since we all know that one.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  Isn’t that a condition, that one must believe in Him?  It’s not that because He died, now no one will perish.  Some will still perish, but not those who believe in the greatness and power of His love and it’s demonstration.

I’m drawn to Romans 5:15-17 where Paul speaks of the “free gift” of God through grace in Jesus Christ. Now, where the King James Version and others call it a free gift, God’s Word translation refers to it as God’s gift.  The Contemporary English Version also calls it the gift of God.   So, most agree with the free gift idea.  But I struggle with that, Lord, not that You wouldn’t give a free gift, but if You require something in return, how can I call it free?

Now, in Strong’s definition of this “gift”, “charisma” these are the words used, “a gift of grace, an undeserved favor.”  And that’s exactly what it is.  You didn’t treat us like the original offence.  Under the original offence, Adam’s fall, we were all condemned under sin with him.  But here’s the UNDESERVED gift.  Through One Man, You, we receive grace.  But we don’t receive that grace unconditionally.  We receive that grace and righteousness that we don’t really deserve ONLY by placing our faith in You.

I’ll tell you why this bothers me, Lord.  I had a young relative once tell me, “We’re all God’s children.”  And that’s just dangerous thinking.  That’s like rewriting Scripture to say, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that no one would perish but all would have eternal life.”  See what’s missing?  You didn’t mean it that way.  There is a condition.  There is a commitment on our part that must be made.  This is not a free gift.  It’s an undeserved gift.  There’s a big difference between the two.  

Now, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon never mentions anything about free when defining and explaining “charisma,” this gift of God.  Thayer’s calls it “a gift of grace; a favor which one receives without any merit of his own.”  In this sense, it’s considered as “the economy of divine grace, by which the pardon of sin and eternal salvation is appointed to sinners in consideration of the merits of Christ laid hold of by faith.”  

It’s wonderful to get something for free.  But at the same time, it’s often less valued.  Easy come- easy go.  No pain- no gain.  What cost me little, holds me little.  And I’d like to know when choosing Jesus didn’t mean I had to count the cost?  If choosing You was this free, easy thing, why did many of Your disciples turn away saying, “This is too hard for us.”?  Here are Your own words in Luke 14:27,28, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”

We are not all children of God by nature of being born.  We only become children of God by nature of the death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection and by entrusting ourselves to all that that entails.  Your death and life must become my death and life.  This is the condition.  Without this condition of amazing grace, undeserved grace, I am dead in my trespasses, walking in them, following the prince of the power of the air, allowing him to work in me as a son/daughter of disobedience.  Without committing to You, I live in the passion of my own flesh, carrying out the desires of my own body and mind, and am by nature a child of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (see Ephesians 2:1-3)  But let’s continue to the Good News!  “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the GREAT love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- and raised up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus!

It was never free, never, ever.  It cost Jesus.  And it costs me.  I must die to self and live to You, Jesus.  I must place my life in Yours and leave my old life behind.  I must count the cost because there is one.  But I don’t deserve to have this privilege to be unified with You, that You would count me worth the cost of dying for, worth the cost of being separated from God for, worth the cost of experiencing so much that God should never have had to experience for me.  I don’t deserve any of it, yet You counted me worth it.  That’s the gift.  That’s the tremendous, PRICELESS gift.  It wasn’t ever free.  It was PRICELESS!

I’m saved through faith.  This is the cost in grace.  This is what grace offers me, that ability beyond imagination to be one with You, to be unified with You, to count You worth my everything and to place myself in You.  I couldn’t do it without You.  I could never do anything to deserve it.  All I can boast about is You and how You have given me this opportunity of all opportunities to commit myself to You and allow You to work through me and create me into an instrument of righteousness and God-works.  

Funny, I had no idea we would go in this direction this morning, Lord.  Truly, greater love has no one than Yours, that You would lay down Your life for Your friends.  See, unfortunately, for those who don’t commit to You, Your laying down Your life doesn’t become priceless, and it serves no effect.  But for those who find the cost worth it, for those who reciprocate and accept Your friendship, Your love, Your Treasure, we receive the greatest gift we ever didn’t deserve- You and Your friendship.  And that is a gift worth leaving everything for.

Lord, Your love is amazing.  It is greater than any love ever.  It sacrifices everything for the benefit of others.  Lord, I want to love like that.  I want to commit myself like that to You and to others.  I want to live in You and in Your example of love.  I want to commit because You alone are worth the cost.  You loved me so much though I didn’t and don’t deserve it.  So teach me to love like that, to love though others don’t deserve it.  And let me keep loving and demonstrating that love no matter their response.  Because I’ll know from watching Your example that there will be some, not all, who catch hold of that love, and return it.  And each one will be worth the cost, just like it is for You.  

 

 

 

Who’s Accusing?

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But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground, as though He heard them not.  John 8:6b

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Lord, I really wish I knew what You were writing on the ground.  The word “grapho” for write means to carve or engrave something.  Most of the references in Your Word have to do with the writing of Your Word.  It can also refer to a symbol or the lines on a map.  It’s also interesting to note that in early Greek writings “[f]rom the practice of handing in a written accusation, grapho came in judicial language to mean to accuse.”  And here we are at our account today.  And it all starts with an accusation.

You’ve just come from the mount of Olives.  I’m assuming it was where You spent time communing with Your Heavenly Father before You started Your day.  Thanks for giving me that example.  I need that too.  And it’s still early in the morning.  You’ve come back to the temple and have sat down to teach the people who will hear.  But the Scribes and Pharisees have been busy too.  Only instead of spending time communing with their Heavenly Father, it seems as though they have been on another mission.  It sounds as though they’ve been looking to catch someone in the act, just for Your sake.  And they have.  They have caught this woman in the act of adultery.  I”m wondering if they had known this was going on but only stepped in because of trying to find fault in You?  And why did they just bring the woman?  Where was the man she was with?

I mean, Lord, here are these Scribes and Pharisees, posing as righteous, but they weren’t even playing by Your righteous rules.  Well, maybe they were playing by part of the rules.  They do say that Moses said that the adulteress should be stoned.  But they weren’t saying it because they cared.  They just wanted to catch You in a wrong answer so they could accuse You.  Wow, there’s that word again.  Accuse.

You just started writing on the ground.  The King James Version adds that it was as though You didn’t hear them.  But that’s not included in the other versions.  I think You did hear them.  And I wonder if You might have been writing Leviticus 20:10?  “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.”  Whether or not she was married to someone, God always holds both parties responsible.  I wonder if they stopped to look at what You were writing?  Or if they were just so intent on Your verbal response they might have missed it?

But the fact remains, You were silent for a while.  You didn’t answer right away.  You maybe wrote an answer on the ground, etched in the dirt.  Hmmm, think about that, writing about sin, a dirty thing, in the dirt.  And I wonder if Your silence wasn’t because they had no right to judge and accuse.  You alone are the only Righteous Judge.  Only You can make right accusations.

And that’s where it leads.  You stand up.  “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  See, there’s that thing You might have been pointing out in the dirty sand.  There’s that thing known as dirty sin.  Sin is sin.   Partial righteousness is sin because if it’s not wholly righteous, that’s what it is.  So, who threw the first stone?  No one.  Because they realized, “There is none righteous; no not one.”  How can an accuser accuse if he is guilty too?  What kind of judge is that?

Now I’m left with You, Jesus, and the woman alone.  Now I’m left watching the only Righteous Judge, the only One who has the right to accuse and to pass judgement, stand before the accused.  And her fate is in Your hands.  And honestly, the penalty that is due is death.  But where have her accusers gone?  Where are the witnesses?  Isn’t that interesting.  I know that at least in traffic court, your case can be dropped if the officer who issued your speeding ticket doesn’t show up.  And here we have a much more serious offense, and an offense against God really.  But what do You proclaim over her?

“I don’t condemn You either.  Go and sin no more.”  “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)  You treated her just like You treat us today.  You alone have the authority to condemn.  Only You can make an honest assessment of the heart of an individual.  Well, actually, if we honestly assessed our own hearts we would come to the conclusion that none of us are righteous like You.  You alone can separate or distinguish the facts and evidence in our lives justly and rightly.  You alone are worthy to give an opinion over us and to judge us, no one else.  You alone get to decide to finally judge us.  And if it weren’t for Your mercy and if it weren’t for Your sacrifice, we would all be damned because none of us measure up without You.  And that’s the thing about this condemnation, it’s always followed by a severe punishment or sentence.

But look at the amazingness of Your mercy!  Look at the amazingness of Your love!  Look at the amazingness of Your forgiveness!  While we were yet sinners, You died for us!  You didn’t come into the world to condemn us but that You would save us from condemnation.  You came to set us free in You.  You came to break the chains of condemnation over this woman, over the Pharisees and Scribes, and over me.  You came to set us captives free, free from our own captivity and free from holding others captive in condemnation.

Lord, I am not a judge.  Keep me from judging others.  Keep me from condemning others.  I’ve experienced condemnation and I don’t want to do it to others.  But I am just as human as the next person.  I need Your Spirit to constantly change me and keep a check on my heart.  I want to set people free and I want to live in freedom myself.  You alone are the Righteous Judge and I want to live in You.  And I don’t want to live in partial righteousness.  I want to love and obey all of You, all of Your Word, all of the leadings of Your Holy Spirit.  I want to be merciful like You.  Good thing is, that woman walked away free and uncondemned.  But what about her partner in the crime?  I wonder if he ever owned up to the truth about himself and stood before You or did he miss the opportunity to be free of condemnation?  Lord, it’s an ambarrassing thing to lay all my sin before You.  But that’s when I received my freedom.  It’s a terrible thing to hold on to our sins instead.  Thank You, Lord, for being You, for being different than man, for being a Righteous and Merciful Judge who purifies us and makes us right instead of condemning us.  You don’t give me what I deserve and You love me with no reserve.

 

Setting Captives Free

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And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  John 3:14,15

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Lord, it’s actually two other verses that persuaded me to choose these verses this morning.  One verse came right after You spoke of Your temple, Your body being torn down and then being raised after three days.  John 2:21,22 shares, “But He spake of the temple of His body.  When therefore He was risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this unto them; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.”  Hm, that means they didn’t fully understand and believe at the time that You first told them.  That’s interesting.

Now the second verse or verses are tough ones, Lord.  It comes after You tell us that You didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save us.  And then the sad part comes.  Some people will still receive condemnation.  Why?  John 3:19, 20 goes on to share, “Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than Light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone that does evil hates the Light, neither do they come to the Light, because their deeds would be reproved.”  So there are two things going on here, and I want to look at both today.

But first I’m going to look at the context of the events, the story going on here.  You are sharing with Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  Nicodemus is really trying to take a real look at You.  But he’s not ready to do it openly.  He knows there would be ridicule and maybe even expulsion involved among his peers and community.  But he is curious enough and I think seeking enough to at least take the risk of coming to You at night.  Good for Him.

It’s interesting that Nicodemus refers to You as Rabbi, which can be a title that means master and not just teacher.  But he wasn’t to that point yet.  And he wouldn’t have been the first ruler to have used that term not meaning it at all except for polite appearances before the people.  But I think that Nicodemus at least did see You as a teacher from God.  And he even said that “we know You are a teacher come from God.”  Hmm, who is that we?  And why did they know You were from God?  “[F]or no man can do these miracles that You do, except God be with Him.”  Wow, pretty powerful stuff here.  These religious leaders, including Nicodemus could clearly see Your evidence and Nicodemus admitted that they knew.  They just wouldn’t admit it.

And then You throw Nicodemus for a loop.  You tell him it’s not enough to see the way man sees.  It takes more to really see and know.  To see You, Jesus, we have to be born again.  What in the world does that mean?  Well, if we don’t understand what that means, that’s not a surprise because neither did Nicodemus, who would have been a really intelligent man and highly knowledgeable of Scripture and everything about God.  And I think that even a look came over Nick’s face.  Because, Lord, You tell him, “Marvel not about this being born again.”  This marvel, “thaumazo” in Greek, means “to be struck with astonishment.”  this is something for which there is no natural explanation.  Something You can’t explain even by amazing physics or rocket science.  You just can’t explain it.  And this is Nick’s reaction to Your words.

So these words filled Nick with awe.  And right now I have to share someone else’s thoughts on this type of awe.  “[T]he first step in transformation is awe, not conviction.  Unless we are confronted with a God whose power forces us beyond the limits of our understanding, we will have no need to listen to His instructions about life.  We have to be pushed to the edge before we admit that life is much, much bigger than we can control.  When we are filled with awe, there is nothing left to do but glorify God, and that starts the process of walking toward Him.”  And this is the point that Nick has come to.  This is a point each one of us must come to in order to truly begin our journey with and to You.

You, Lord, go on to remind him that the Spirit isn’t explainable at all.  It’s not something we can see or predict or explain.  But It’s effects are fully visible and It’s strength is incomparable.  And still Nick doesn’t understand.  Why?  He’s a religious teacher, straight from the religion of Jesus’  (Your) people, so what’s up here?  And then, Lord, You give this, well, weird answer.  “Truly, truly (In other words, this is double important here!), I say to you, we speak what we do know, and testify what we have seen; and you don’t receive our witness.”  Who is we?  As far as I know, it’s only You and Nick here.  Were you referring to You and the disciples teaching?  Or are You referring to the words and testimony of Yourself through the Trinity?  I’m leaning on thinking that this was the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working together here because all three have to come together in us for us to be able to see and to know these things of You.

And then You told Nick that You would need to fulfill Scripture by being crucified.  That just like the Israelites who had pursued their satisfaction in something other than God and had received the penalty by being bitten by the snakes and were now in danger of dying, so are we.  We’re all in danger of dying and separation from You because of what we have chosen, not because of what You have chosen.  Just like You gave people a way to live in the desert by only turning and looking upon a bronze serpent, You came for us to turn and place all our trust in You.  But some people refused to look at the serpent, and some people still refuse to turn to You.

But in Your measureless love, You stand here before us, before all men.  You stand here calling out, showing Your evidences of love.  You throw us life line after life line in order to save us.  And those that respond to the life line are brought to safety and eternal life and relationship and wholeness and forgiveness.  But if I were drowning, why wouldn’t I reach out and grab the life line?  Why would I refuse?  If I were dying in the desert and could look at a snake and live, why wouldn’t I?

I don’t know.  Maybe it’s my pride, my fear, my desires, my lusts, my need for approval.  Who knows but You, Lord, and myself if I will really stop and let You show me my own heart.  You don’t condemn man.  But sometimes man accepts condemnation for himself instead of freedom.  Sometimes, we have become so attached to our own way, we choose not to change.  Sometimes, we would rather hate than let go of the pain.  Sometimes we don’t want to admit who we really are, what we’ve really become.  Sometimes we don’t want to let go because the truth hurts.

Well, it does hurt.  Correction hurts.  Disease doesn’t feel good.  Sin is ugly.  Nobody wants to think they look ugly.  So we avoid the doctor.  We decide not to look in the mirror.  We don’t stand on a scale.  We avoid certain people.  And we condemn ourselves.  We refuse healing.  When all along, healing and wholeness was waiting there for us.

Well, that brings me back to my first point because I think I’ve already looked at the second.  At first the disciples didn’t understand about Your body, the temple, being raised, until after the crucifixion and they saw it happen and You brought to their minds Old Testament Scripture and Your words.  Then they understood.  So, sometimes, like Nick, we don’t get it right away.  But now we’ve heard the truth.  We need to turn from all these things we’ve been trusting in, leave them behind, and turn to You in faith.  We need to cling to You, the One who came to save us, to save me not only from my sins, but from myself, and unto You.  In You there is new life, whole life, and beautiful Light that gives me the power to be part of You and to partake in what You are doing so that what I do sheds light on others.  So there is hope.  There is hope for me if I don’t understand, if I don’t get it.  You can bring it all together for me.  You can give me understanding.  You can give the answers my seeking heart needs.  You are the Answer.

Now, there is always hope for the one who seeks.  “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7)  Now isn’t that the most beautiful truth you have ever heard!  And these are Your words, Jesus, straight from Your mouth to each of us.  And You never lie!  Never!

Oh, let us never lose sight of You.  No matter the depth of the pain or suffering I go through, let me look to You to lift me above the pain and suffering, or to just bear me through.  Don’t ever let me wallow in my sin.  Let the pain of embarrassment be so much less than the joy of the cleansing and the freedom in You.  Let the acceptance and love I receive from You abound so much more than any praise from man.  And may I come to the point of so embracing Your correction in my life that I joyfully come before You honestly and with an open heart continually so that You may ever draw me nearer to You.

Lord, I am truly amazed.  I look back at my life and without the power of Your Holy Spirit, I wouldn’t get it.  I wouldn’t understand the first thing about being born again, of knowing the presence of You in my life.  I look back and I see Your hand in my life.  And I see times as a child, and a teen where You were giving me the information I needed to have.  And then I see that day when it all came together.  When I had enough of the right truth.  When the Holy Spirit brought it all home, and brought me home to You.  And there is no explanation except that You are an amazing God who loves us.  And my prayer is, that even those people who have a tendency to turn their back on You because of their pain, or anger, or wrong treatment, or sin, or addictions, or pride, or whatever, would just stop long enough to get a little glimpse of You.  And that in that glimpse, it would be just enough for them to be awed.  And that You would start an amazing work in their lives.  May the wind of Your Holy Spirit blow strong and free and set the captives free.