17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants’” (Luke 15:17–19, NKJV).
The change of heart that led to merciful forgiveness in the parable of the wasteful son is well known. God is ready to receive back every sinner who comes to himself. God’s divine mercy impelled Solomon to pray about Israel coming to itself after sinning against the Lord. While dedicating the temple, Solomon petitioned God to hear the prayers of His people after their sins brought His anger and punishment upon them (1 Kings 8:46). He prayed, “Yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You…saying, ‘We have sinned and done wrong, we have committed wickedness’; and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul…grant them compassion…” (1 Kings 8:47-53). God is ready to forgive us and receive us with loving compassion when we decide to come to ourselves and repent. Coming to ourselves about our sins takes admitting them (to ourselves and God, Ps. 51:3-4). It takes turning our hearts and lives back to God. Repentance leading to salvation is more than being sorry for sin. It is a radical change of heart that leads us to obey God instead of sin (2 Cor. 7:9-10).
6 that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 7 Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever (Joshua 4:6–7, NKJV).
The Lord instructed Joshua to set up twelve stones from the Jordan River as a memorial to God’s mighty deliverance and guidance of Israel across the Jordan into the promised land of Canaan (Josh. 4:1-11). Today is Memorial Day in America, a time to remember those who gave their lives in service of this country. We pause to reflect on the great moments of heroism, sacrifice, and deliverance. God wants Christians to remember even more significant moments of sacrifice and redemption. We remember the death of Jesus Christ as we eat the Lord’s Supper weekly (1 Cor. 11:23-26; Acts 20:7). We must never forget Jesus Christ, the raised Messiah, the world’s Savior (2 Tim. 2:8). Early saints remembered those who were imprisoned for the faith (Heb. 13:3). We ought always to remember the words spoken by Christ’s apostles (Jude 17). Memory is powerful. It helps us strengthen our resolve to be faithful in the present. Memories also warn us of the terrifying results of not obeying the Lord’s word; “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). It is appropriate to remember those who made great sacrifices for our country. Let us especially remember the Son of God who sacrificed Himself for us (Rom. 5:6-11). May we ever walk in His steps, thankful for His unselfish service on our behalf (Heb. 2:9-18).
24 And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved. 25 So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, 26 saying, ‘Go to this people and say: “Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; And seeing you will see, and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them”’ (Acts 28:24–27, NKJV).
Why do some people readily respond to the gospel of salvation? Why do some people reject the gospel and refuse to believe it? The answer is not due to any deficiency in the gospel itself. The gospel is not a distant, inaccessible, and undiscernible message. It has been preached openly to the world (Rom. 10:6-8; Eph. 3:3-5). The answer lies in the heart of the hearer. Isaiah wrote of the dull hearts, heavy ears, and closed eyes of Israel (Isa. 6:9-10). Jesus applied the prophet’s words to His generation (Matt. 13:13-15; 15:7-9). Christ also taught parables that illustrated hard hearts that prevent the gospel’s penetration and saving power (Matt. 13:18-19). Do not marvel when the truth of the gospel is rejected, scorned, and denounced. The problem is not the word of salvation; it is the solution (Rom. 1:16). Honest and good hearts receive the word of God, “keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
28 he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: 29 “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation 31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, 32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:28–32, NKJV)
Simeon was a just and devout man waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promised hope (Lk. 2:25). God promised he would not die before seeing the Lord’s Christ (Lk. 2:26-27). His praise of God with the child Jesus in his arms directs our attention to the wondrous salvation God brought to the world in Jesus. I’m impressed by Simeon’s repeated mention of things that belong to God. Perhaps you will be, too. 1) Your servant (v. 29). Simeon viewed himself as God’s servant. What an excellent way to see ourselves (Mk. 10:43-45). 2) Your word (v. 29). Simeon saw God keep His word and was ready to die. Trust in God’s word prepares us to depart the world in peace. 3) Your salvation (v. 30). God is the preparer and provider of salvation, deliverance from our enemies of sin and death (Isa. 49:6; 52:10). The Savior has come, and His gospel proclaims salvation to the whole world (Mk. 16:15; Rom. 1:16). 4) Your people Israel (v. 32). The Messiah came into the world through the nation of Israel, blessed among the nations (Rom. 9:4-5). But now, regardless of race and nationality, Gentiles and Jews are called by the gospel “to the mountain of the Lord,” “the house of the God of Jacob,” the church, the “Israel of God,” the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Isa. 2:2-3; Acts 2:47; Gal. 6:16; Col. 1:13; Gal. 3:28-29). Praise God for His spiritual provisions of salvation in Jesus, the Savior of the world (1 Jno. 4:14).
28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29 Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. (Acts 10:28–29, NKJV)
God separated Israel from the nations and codified that distinction in the law of Moses (Exo. 19:5-6; Deut. 7:1-11). That “middle wall of separation” was broken down in Christ (Eph. 2:14). God taught Peter the nations (Gentiles) were included in His redemptive plan by a dramatic vision. Clean and unclean animals were lowered in a sheet from heaven, and a voice told Peter, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:9-17). Peter drew the necessary conclusion not to call people “common or unclean.” That truth should permeate our thinking, words, and our treatment of others. Here are some lessons to ponder and apply. 1) The gospel is for all. Sin has defiled all of us (Rom. 3:23). Everyone needs sin’s stain cleansed by Christ (Rom. 1:16; Acts 22:16). Let us share the gospel so others may believe and turn to the Lord (Acts 11:21). 2) Prejudice has no place in the heart and life of Christians. God looks at the heart, not the outward appearance (skin color, ethnicity, gender, culture, caste, etc.) (1 Sam. 16:7). Grievous errors in judgment happen when based on appearance (Jno. 7:24; Prov. 18:13). 3) Obey God without objection (v. 29). When God has spoken, we listen and obey without resistance and complaint (1 Sam. 3:10). Christians must not murmur against the Lord’s will like Israel did in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:10). Peter’s example of learning and obeying God’s will continues to encourage us.
16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. (Galatians 6:16–17, NKJV)
The nation of Israel was chosen by God, fulfilling a promise He made to Abraham to make his seed a great nation (Gen. 12:2; Deut. 10:22). God told Israel through Moses, “‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel” (Exo. 19:5-6). Sadly, Israel often rebelled against God. Their crowning rebellion was rejecting the promised Messiah. As a result, the kingdom was taken from Israel and given to Christ’s kingdom, His church (Matt. 21:42-45; Heb. 12:28; 1 Pet. 2:4-10). Because His kingdom is “not of this world,” physical descend and possessing land do not define “the Israel of God” in this gospel age. Faith, not flesh, identifies the children of God (Israel) now (Rom. 2:25-29; 9:6-8). No longer does physical lineage and circumcision of the flesh by the Law of Moses. Now, the gospel of the cross of Christ produces and identifies God’s chosen people (Gal. 3:26-29). Paul experienced great physical suffering for Christ and the gospel. Yet, God’s peace and mercy rested on him and on all who walk according to the standard of truth, the gospel, that God’s Spirit revealed through the apostles and prophets of Christ (Gal. 3:1-3; 5:7, 16-26).
2 And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:2–3, NKJV)
Israel’s wilderness wanderings tested their faith in the Lord God. Would they obey Him? Or would they rebel in disobedience when faced with hardships, setbacks, and uncertainties? God disciplined their hearts through the trial of hunger and by the blessing of daily manna (and other provisions, Deut. 8:4-6). God meant for their trials and blessings to humble them and turn their hearts to Him. God taught Israel by trials and blessings to live by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” God also lovingly teaches and corrects us by trials and blessings, like parents who love their children, Heb. 12:4-11). Life is more than bread. Life is more than comfort. Like Israel, life with God that lasts forever comes from God when we obey Him. Jesus knew this when the devil tempted Him to sin (Matt. 4:3-4). Let us accept God’s training during times of trial and blessing that we may humbly obey the Lord God and live with Him now and forever.
1 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy, 3 And gathered out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. (Psalm 107:1–3, NKJV)
Redemption by the Lord from the grip of the enemy arouses thanksgiving in the recipients of His mercy. Psalm 107 rehearses God’s merciful deliverance of Israel from their Babylonian exile back to Canaan. God took them from “the hand of the enemy,” gathering a remnant from every place they were scattered, redeeming them from captivity. Israel had “rebelled against the words of God” and suffered greatly because of it (Psa. 107:10-12). But, when “they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, He saved them out of their distresses” (Psa. 107:13). God is merciful and forgives when we turn from sin to Him. If God has redeemed you from sin’s bondage, give thanks for His goodness! If you are still in the clutches of sin, then call on the name of the Lord for mercy and forgiveness (Acts 2:21, 37-41; 22:16). As He did for Israel, even so now God is gathering redeemed souls from the four corners of the earth by the gospel of Christ (Isa. 11:11-16; Mk. 16:15-16; Rom. 1:16; 11:5). “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!”
10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. 11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance. (Psalm 33:10–12, NKJV)
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” is often cited as a benediction on behalf of nations today (for example, America). It is true that any nation that honors God will be blessed (Prov. 14:34). But, please note the contextual application of the great declaration of this passage. It sets the plans of the nations in contrast with the plans of Jehovah. The Lord rules over the nations of men, and no counsel prepared and executed by men will ever overthrow His sovereign counsel (Jer. 18:5-11; Dan. 4:25, 34-35). The nations and their rulers vainly plotted against the Lord and His Anointed, Jesus Christ, whom He raised from the dead and crowned at His right hand as Ruler over His people (Psa. 2:1-9; 110:1-2; Acts 2:30-36; 4:23-28). The people God “has chosen as His own inheritance” in today’s passage no doubt initially applied to the nation of Israel (v. 12; Exo. 19:5-6). But now, with Jesus Christ ruling as King of God’s kingdom (the church), “the nation whose God is the Lord” is the church (Matt. 16:18-19; Heb. 12:22-23; Gal. 6:16). The church of Christ is God’s “holy nation,” and therefore, we must honor and obey the Lord’s will to be His blessed people (1 Pet. 2:9-10; Jno. 18:36).
6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, 7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” 8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. (Romans 9:6–8, NKJV)
God showed His faithfulness by fulfilling His promise to Abraham that “in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). The gospel of Christ reveals this promised blessing as salvation from sins “for everyone who believes, for the Jew first, and also for the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). The gospel also makes it clear the “children of the promise” are now the children of God. The promised blessing is obtained in Jesus Christ, not as a Jew under the Law of Moses (Gal. 3:16-19). Whether Jew or Gentile, “we are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” not through the Law of Moses (Gal. 3:23-27). The nation of Israel is no longer God’s chosen people. God chose us “in Christ” for redemption, regardless of race (Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13). In Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Being a citizen of the nation of Israel does not make one a child of God. The church is now the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:15-16).