The world shouts out: who is God? The world questions: who is God? They might say God is love and He is, but Moses said God is the Lord. He revealed Himself to the pagan Egyptians and to the Israelites as one who is not a man that he should change his mind. He revealed Himself in signs and wonders such as at Baal-Peor where He eradicated from their midst everyone who followed that false god. Moses asked them this question: “what other great nation has a god so near to them like the Lord our God whenever we call on him?” And God is asking us the very same question and to that he asks: Do you know me?
Peter reminded the sojourners just as Moses was reminding the people: “You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.” Even though they did not “see” him they heard his voice saying: “This is the correct way, walk in it,” whether you are heading to the right or the left. [Is 30]And again, if we seek Him, we will find Him; if we seek Him with all our heart and soul.
Who is God? He is the Lord God and there is no other besides him. Our obligation: Love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being and all your strength. In this way we affirm we serve Him and only Him.”
Have you ever been in a prayer group and wondered how those who pray seem like they are talking directly to God? Perhaps it is because they have spent time sitting beside David, listening to him and learning from him. David in his humility writes in Ps 45 “my tongue is as skilled as the stylus of an experienced scribe.” Can we say that? If not, let’s sit down beside David as he talks with His God.
O Lord, hear my prayer! Pay attention to my plea for help! Because of your faithfulness and justice, answer me!
Even David had the nagging notion that perhaps God was being silent for a time just as we do. But, of course, God is not but sometimes our heart fails to hear what God hears or our eyes fail to see what God sees. He is waiting for us to stop and listen for His still small voice because sometimes we are in an earthquake of emotions when our strength leaves us. Sometimes we are facing the fire and its roar. Sometimes we need the reminder that just as He was with the Three Hebrews He will be with us. Stop and ask; Is the roar is so loud your ears cannot hear? Perhaps then it is time to sit quietly as David did so we hear God’s soft whisper which is for us and us alone. In that quiet time we hear his words of lovingkindness and we hear the words of another prayer warrior; Isaiah “You will hear a word spoken behind you, saying, “This is the correct way, walk in it,” whether you are heading to the right or the left.” [Is 30:21]
Taking a stand before you are in the battle helps you to “Prove God and Know God”
If you keep a journal, you know that when you look back you see life from a different perspective from where you are now. The past reveals much about your life, your ambitions, and your goals but it also reveals your weaknesses and strengths. Journey with the prophet Isaiah back to when King Hezekiah revealed the priceless treasures of his kingdom to the Babylonians. Listen to what Isaiah told him: “a time is coming when everything in your palace and the things your ancestors have accumulated to this day will be carried away to Babylon.” [Is 39] Fast forward to Daniel chapter 1 and we find ourselves trodding the sands of the desert on our way to Persia/Babylon as King Nebuchadnezzar’s siege brought about the first wave of deportations. Not only was King Jehoiakim captured and taken along with the vessels of the temple but in that entourage were those of royal descent (a.k.a. Daniel and his three friends). Jeremiah had reminded King Jehoiakim that the only way a person can walk in the way of Jehovah and be blessed by Jehovah is to ‘know’ Jehovah but he thought his way was better. The ways of the world are never better and often come at a high price which he will soon find out. ( He will be left unburied just like a dead donkey. His body will be dragged off and thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem.) Jeremiah 22.
In that entourage are four young men who had purposed in their hearts to ‘know’ God and not defile themselves. Just as God did with Esther, He was at work behind the scenes preparing and raising up His remnant for one reason: His Name may be glorified. As God has done numerable times He “will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will thwart the cleverness of the intelligent.” [1Corinthians 1]
These four (Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, or Azariah) had made a choice in Jerusalem to exemplify the character quality of holiness not WHEN they entered captivity but BEFORE captivity. Just like them we too do not decide to avoid temptation IN the temptation but BEFORE the temptation.
Daniel appealed to the head of the captives, Ashpenaz, to have the temptation of drink and food, which would defile him, be removed. We prove God by placing Him first believing He is true to His Word. “prove me now” saith the Lord is exactly what Daniel said to Ashpenaz: “prove thy servants.” [Mal 3/Dan 1] In essence when Daniel appealed, he was doing what Jesus said we are to do—appeal to God this way: “lead me not into temptation.” [Matt 6]
Because Daniel, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah purposed to ‘know’ God, He blessed them beyond all the rest and He will do the same for you. God’s plans include you if you will “seek Him early.”
In chapter 3 Paul reminded the Jew that no one is saved apart from the grace and mercy of God. Yet they and the world would have it otherwise and heap rewards and boastings upon those who seek to earn God’s favor through works. The prophet Isaiah said our works are as filthy rags; later Paul would say they are dung. Their foundation lies in the life of Abraham and therefore they conclude as his children they are justified by works. Paul, as a righteous Jew, sought to put this argument to rest.
Workers of the Law can boast having done not only what was expected but what is required. But if you don’t work the works of the Law but believe in what merely God says you receive grace and eternal life. You cannot take credit for a gift that is of God alone. That is what salvation is all about; a free gift undeserved. The key is this: Abraham did not believe “IN” God but he believed God. The world says I believe in a God, but Paul says you must not just believe “IN” but believe God.
So now the world asks, what about the works as James says. Both Paul and James affirm that works reveal the grace that we have received. They demonstrate our gratitude for the gift of God’s blessed forgiveness of our lawless deeds.
Are you depending upon your works heritage to get into heaven? If so, turn around and go the other way for you are on the wrong path.
Prov 17:3 “The crucible is for refining silver and the furnace is for gold, likewise the Lord tests hearts.” Isaiah 48:10 “ Look, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have purified you in the furnace of misery”
We have all been there and we do not like it one bit and, in fact, we probably have had a few choice words for the God we serve as to “why me? Or why now? Or what is this all about God?” So when we read verses like these we have to stop and answer those questions.
These are the “ouch” verses and we really find them uncomfortable when we try to understand the love part with the affliction/misery part. We just want the “God loves me” and the fluffy part, not the refining part, but God has a higher purpose. God is saying I am refining you just as a metalworker would do to remove the dross. The refiner is an assayer, one who is able to determine not only the quantity but the quality of the product and only God has the inner view of our heart. (Jer 17:9) He knows our secret sins, what fears we harbor, what attractions the enemy has placed before us, where we might be prideful, where our love is impure. And so like a refiner of gold God steps up the fire.
If you can face the fire your faith will be stronger, your grace measure in abundance, and your obedience pure. If you pass the test you will come forth just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, with no smoke upon you. You want to be able to say like Job “if he tested me, I would come forth as gold.” So be ye thankful, Beloved, that God has considered you worthy to step into the fire. You want to shine like a diamond reflecting Christ and His image. So, Beloved, thank God for your refining school of hard knocks.
Join me for your ringside seat to what “must” (that is what is necessitated) happen after these things. As I was reading I stopped and asked: “after what things?” The scholars say after seeing Christ in all of His glory, after hearing and telling about the 7 churches. Now the clock starts ticking down to the judgment of the earth and the sin that envelops it—he who has ears had better hear what the Spirit says. Before John can share the events ahead he asks us to join him in viewing the contrast to the horror of sin here on earth as he lives on the barren island of Patmos to the awesome, marvelous incredible beauty of the throne room in heaven. John is not the only one to have had a vision of the Godhead but also the prophet Micaiah, Isaiah and Daniel. These too were transported in some way to see and thus to behold what we who are earthlings have yet to view. What must it have been like to see with earthly eyes that have been transformed so that one can see with heavenly eyes? How does one describe a holy God?
Micaiah says he saw the entourage of heaven—all of the assembly of heaven both on God’s right and left. Isaiah said: “I saw the sovereign master seated on a high, elevated throne. The hem of his robe filled the temple.” Ezekiel’s vision included “Above the platform over their heads was something like a sapphire shaped like a throne. High above on the throne was a form that appeared to be a man.” And Daniel said “thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His attire was white like snow; the hair of his head was like lamb’s wool. His throne was ablaze with fire and its wheels were all aflame.” And now John writes: “a throne was standing in heaven with someone seated on it that gleamed as jasper and carnelian with a rainbow encircling it. Around the throne were those who would worship without ceasing with white gleaming clothes and crowns about their heads. Beloved, are you ready to enter the expanse of heaven and see this too?
First John heard the sounds of roaring and crashes of thunder and flashes of lightning. In the midst of this power he heard worshipers. They were never in the mode of rest but over and over they say: “HolyHolyHoly is the LordGod, the All-Powerful, Who was and who is, and who is still to come!” You alone are worthy to be praised for you are “THE” Creator of all that was and is to come. Beloved is this our mode, do we worship without ceasing?
As we move from Revelation 4 to Revelation 5 we will now see what “must” happen. Are we prepared? Jesus said in Matt 13 ““You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven…For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance.” But, Jesus also said that if we reject what has been given “even what he has will be taken from him.” Again Jesus explained that if our hearts are dull, hard of hearing, and blind, we will never see, never hear, and never understand the spiritual truths that he has for us. May we today have soft heavenly hearts, soft heavenly ears, soft heavenly eyes to see and behold the One who sits enthroned in the heavens.
The Parade is over and Jesus is in the Temple once again and is teaching, as he has so often, about the kingdom of heaven through parables. We remember that Jesus told the disciples that he would be using that approach: “I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand” thus fulfilling Isaiah’s 6:9-10 prophecy. Although this was Jesus’ method the Pharisees and chief priests knew not only was he directing his teaching at them but also they understood the implications of his teaching. That is why they wanted to arrest him as we found out in chapter 21.
Jesus spoke to them again in lest any should say they never understood. He has just told them that they were rejecting Him as the Chosen One and now He will emphasize it in greater detail through an illustration that they could all relate to which is a method that we must learn to utilize as well. Start with a common every day thought and use it as a spring board to the truth you want the audience to grasp. In this parable the listeners would have grasped the importance of the wedding banquet in their first century culture, but more importantly they would have been astounded that the king would invite any to his son’s banquet! This was thus not just any banquet–it was for his son! In that culture one received an invite and then when the banquet was ready the ‘king’ would send for them. Try to picture you receiving an invite to a head of state’s home for dinner. You receive it in advance and when the time is ready your limo arrives to pick you up. But, notice the responses of the invitees. They would NOT come! They were indifferent and turned their back even when he sent a second gracious summons! No wonder the king was furious! He had spared no expense nor the preparation.
What are we to learn? The king is God and He has a banquet prepared for Jesus, His Beloved Son. He has spared no expense; he sent his only son so that no one would perish but have eternal life. All have been invited to come and celebrate! Yet there were some then and some today who say no or some who are just too busy. In Matt 8 we read that many said they would go but they had many excuses as to why “not now.” When he sent out the disciples he gave them orders to shake the dust off their shoes if the message they brought was ignored or rejected. We meet these same people today in the marketplace; in our workplace and even in our families. They are more concerned about their now than their eternal destiny. Felix said the same thing to Paul in Acts 24.
What about the intruder in the banquet? Who is he? And why is he even there? He is there because the invitation was to both good and bad but even with that there are rules of decorum to be followed and he chose to not do that. How often have we heard that the “I am the Way, The Truth, The Life” just doesn’t cut it for me? I will come to Jesus in my way. Note the consequence! Bound and sent packing to outer darkness. There will be some that will face this in the day of judgment.
Beloved, God has a plan and it includes you. He has issued His invitation and He has sent this message to you. What will you do with it? Will you come and celebrate or are you just too busy to do it now? Remember the intruder when this crosses your mind.
In any sport there are rules which are listed in a play book. Players need to memorize them and abide by them. The Pharisees had their rule book and to be a “righteous” Pharisee one studied it religiously! In Matthew 12 it seems that the Pharisees and their religiosity or legalism surfaces more clearly than ever before. It is almost as if they ripped out the verse from Isaiah 28:10 “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little.” As they followed Jesus through the grain field they reminded him that we must be doing things in such and such a way. They whipped out their “rule book” to discipline the disciples, but failed to discipline themselves. They may have carried their rule book around with them as judgmental sticks but failed to see the context of Isaiah’s words. Their critical spirit is abundantly clear, in fact more so than ever before in the book of Matthew and our author has captured their critical eye as well as their vociferousness. According to their “rule book,” one may only walk 2000 paces on the Sabbath which leaves us to wonder—what they were doing in the middle of the grain field on the Sabbath?
But, moving on, the crux of this chapter is heard in our Master’s words: If you had known what this means: ‘I wantmercyandnotsacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. From the grain field to the synagogue they follow our Lord. It is here, once again, that we see the lack of mercy all because Jesus spoke a word of healing…note that!!! Jesus spoke not touched the man with the withered hand…but again….*sigh* it was after all the Sabbath. Jesus asked them, where are your priorities? Is your mercy greater for an animal that has no soul but you are unwilling to show mercy to a man so in need that he can work and take care of his family? Matthew leaves no doubt in our minds as to what the Pharisees were truly seeking. They really did not care about this man, they wanted a way to assassinate the Lord of the Sabbath. They were unwilling to care for a man who thus would no longer be a burden to society but were willing to assassinate/murder Jesus. They refused to show mercy but were willing to murder. This leaves us again to wondering why? Jesus has the answer: they are blind and they are leading the blind…both will fall into the pit. Their hearts are governed by the rule book rather than the love of God.
After both of these incidents Jesus pointed to the real reason for their hatred and rejection. It lay in their heart. Jesus used the illustration of a fruit tree to capture this to the listening audience. He said: One could know one’s fruit by observing and listening to their words; For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart. And then he added this warning: you will give an account for every worthless word and by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
Out of this chapter there are several applications but one comes to mind that are applicable even now. It is my “ouch.” How often do I fail to show mercy just because it is inconvenient, it does not meet my time schedule? How often do I take verses out of context to show my reason why something should be thus and so? I have been called a “rule oriented” person! :-(Today may I demonstrate the Fruit of the Holy Spirit in showing God’s mercy and justice rather than a myriad of sacrifices, line upon line, precept upon precept, rules upon rules which are piling up on my altar thinking this is what God wants.
Thanking God for His mercies! They are new every morning…great is His faithfulness!