Psalm 118:1-2 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good — His love endures for ever. Let Israel [those who know Him] say: “His love endures for ever.”
What’s the message here?
We have clear ideas about whether people are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, usually based on their behaviour and treatment of others. We say that so-and-so who is generous and forbearing is ‘good-hearted’ or if we don’t always agree with them, ‘not a bad person’. If they are ‘bad’ we are more reluctant to say why — there is a natural desire not to judge — but it comes down to a perception of unfairness, not being trustworthy, and harsh. Therefore ‘not a good person to be around’.
Our Father is off any human scale for being good-hearted and generous. This is what He is like: Exodus 34:6-7 NIV And [the LORD] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
The Bible words in His own description (unlike our own self-descriptions, entirely accurate!) are: compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, merciful love, faithfulness, slow to anger, forgiving.
But what about judgment? Judging actions are in there, too.
To us, a ‘bad’ person is one who quickly forms a judgment about us, probably I’ll-founded and unfair. Whereas a ‘good’ person, in our terms, accepts us as we are.
God clearly does judge — His holiness demands a separation with no blurring of the lines between what is in accord with His values, and what would seek to overturn them. But it is not a snap judgment, not even a timely judgment of a situation; the LORD is “slow to anger”, which means He is reluctant to come to that judgment because the person may yet turn and change — which is where the vitally important “forgiving” of our wickedness, rebellion and sin comes in.
God’s presumption, or preferred view, is the forgiving one. There must be judgment because without it, there is no distinction, no separation and therefore no holiness. But it is a slo judgment, with many breaks and deferrals built in. It is set in a context of His unconditional love, which always looks for reasons to forgive, to be compassionate and to graciously treat us better than we deserve.
Most religions are about finding actions which will appease deities who are fickle and hard to please, not one who want to forgive and find ways to show unconditional love. Religions are about finding ways to satisfy conditions. The alternative is not a different religion, but a relationship with a God who is disposed to see what we can be, even when we fail, and whose whole disposition is forgiving — because He wants a cause relationship with us, for His own pleasure. God is not hard to please — we are not good at living for Him, and relating to Him, but the reality is, He is “slow” and hard to anger
• What’s the good news?
God has made a way for any one of us to know Him through His Son Jesus, who showed what God looked like in human form. We come to God and know His abounding love, through accepting Jesus and what Jesus has done out of His love for us, to make us right with God.
• What’s the take-away here?
Is Jesus for us the hold-up and the barrier — or the way and the gate as He said? That’s probably about our pride, which resents having to rely on what someone else has done. So confront that pride and say ‘yes’ to Jesus!
Do we need God’s love or are we self-sufficient? We tend to find what we are looking for!
One focus of this story is what Jesus heard from His Father and then carried out. The verses selected below bring out that part of the story.
As a reminder, Jesus taught earlier that He “saw” in the Spirit and in the place of prayer what later turned out to be a sign and a wonder:
John 5:19-20 Jesus said: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; He can do only what He sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does. Yes, and He will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.”
So His holding back, when a report reached Him that his friend Lazarus was sick, was confusing and difficult for the family, but Jesus knew God wanted to bring a sign of His glory and an endorsement of His Son, showing Him to be Lord of life and death itself. To pursue the Father’s purpose, He would have to go against what He undoubtedly wanted to do – be there at once.
5-7 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then He said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
14-15 So then He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
17 On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
38-39 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” He said.
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41-42 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard Me. I knew that you always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent Me.”
43-44 When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
What is the message for us today?
Raising the dead is unlikely to be a test of faith for us, not early on, anyway! (However, the pre-world-war 2 healing evangelist Smith Wigglesworth is said to have seen more than a dozen people raised from the dead over the course of his ministry, as well as other ‘signs’ that were not dissimilar to the healings of Jesus.)
The message for us is a straightforward one. Jesus heard what His Father was telling Him (and showing Him) and spoke the words He was given to say – with great effect.
How does God bring change, and particularly how does God bring His kingdom order? By which we mean removing the control of the enemy of our souls from a situation, and giving it over to the Lord for His just rule and ownership.
Of course, God can do anything He wants – after all, He spoke the world into existence. But the story told throughout the Bible is the story of His partnership with people. Sometimes they were people with a particular call – the great names we all know. Sometimes they were rather ordinary people called to exercise faith at a particular time, a bit like Gideon.
And many of these used words to convey God’s intentions – like Elijah and the prophet s of Baal, or the proclamations of the prophets.
We can’t speak any old words, tack on “in Jesus’ name” and expect to see great change! But if we discern, prayerfully, that God is saying something which could be voiced by us – we should. In any event, our words of faith agree with heaven and our words of unbelief agree with the “god of this world” – they have power for great good, but can also be destructive.
Actions speak louder than words, but there are times when words are what are needed to impact the spiritual realm, and then, in ways we do not understand, their effect filters down to changes that just seem to happen around us. Not completely different from Lazarus clambering out of the dark tomb: God is always in the resurrection business.
• What is the good news here?
What Jesus did, filled with the Holy Spirit, is what we can do – we start small, make mistakes, battle with doubts but we learn how God works in partnership with those who believe Him.
• What is our take-away?
What situation has God put on your heart?
What is He saying about it? Does this fit with a verse or a story in Scripture? Is there “another witness” like a friend or prayer partner who has has the same prompting?
How now will you turn the natural ‘asking’ prayer into speaking out words which relate to God’s purpose which you are discerning?
God has Ezekiel participate in a dramatic picture of hope
Ezekiel 37:6 [God said:] “I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’ ” 9-10 Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and SAY to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath entered them…
What’s the message for us today?
This was a vision, but it was as real to Ezekiel as an action he was involved in — like when we watch a film on the big screen and become part of the action ourselves.
To put ourselves in his shoes, he was a prophet who worshipped and listened to God, remaining faithful while in exile, enduring a foreign land and hostile culture. He could see no apparent prospect of return. The holy nation of Israel, dedicated to God, was finished. Then God showed him a vision that completely overturned that sense of failure and finality – with hope.
And Ezekiel is the one used in the vision to bring that hope, that new life: “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” What can we learn from the vision?
God’s enduring purpose is bringing life. He loves us and has provided a way of salvation we can choose, by acknowledging what our efforts cannot achieve and accepting what Christ’s sacrifice achieved for us. At that point, like Ezekiel, we begin to see things beyond ourselves, both the problem and the remedy – and we become part of the solution as proclaimers of God’s spiritual life to our world.
• What is the good news here?
What we see and know is social breakdown and godless selfishness – but we are empowered to bring new life. We are empowered to turn back this present pandemic, with its rising death rate, and bring life and health.
God has a vision for his world – and He lets us into to His vision from time to time.
We have God’s word but He needs us to use our words
• What’s my take-away from this?
How do we use words of faith? What words is God giving us at this time?
There’s a picture that is being shown on our news media of a world in fear and confusion; and there’s another picture, another scenario, that is heaven’s intention. Which are we studying?
Are we ready to partner God and to do in faith exactly what He would have us do, like Ezekiel?