Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17, NKJV)
A great fish swallowed Jonah. Jesus agreed, saying that Jonah being “three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish” typifies the Son of Man being “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). But, something more than a fish was eating up Jonah. When God first commanded him to go to Nineveh, he tried to flee his God-given work (Jonah 1:2). After three days and nights in the dark belly of the fish he went to sinful Nineveh with the burning light of truth, preaching “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). But, instead of punishing the evil city, God showed it mercy and spared the city when the people repented (Jonah 3:5-10). This “displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry” (Jonah 4:1). You see, Jonah was eaten up with an unmerciful heart of vengeance. He even seemed to complain to God about the Almighty’s gracious mercy to explain (justify) his ill-conceived flight to Tarshish (Jonah 4:2). Now, he had rather die than see Nineveh live (Jonah 4:3). God showed Jonah mercy time and again (first the fish, then the plant, Jonah 4:5-10). The prophet needed to learn to be merciful as God had shown him (and Nineveh) mercy (Jonah 4:9-11). While we are quick to receive God’s grace and mercy, we must empty our hearts of vengeance toward others who also need mercy. Truly, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7).
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” (Matthew 12:1–2, NKJV)
Did the disciples of Jesus violate God’s law that said “you shall do no work” on the Sabbath (Exo. 20:10)? Jesus said His disciples were “guiltless,” even though the Pharisees condemned their conduct (Matt. 12:7). The law of Moses said, “When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain” (Deut. 23:25). Thus, the law contained a provision of mercy while safeguarding against taking advantage of one’s neighbor. So, why did the Pharisees object? Their accusation grew out of their oral traditions which concluded thirty-nine activities were specifically forbidden on the Sabbath, including reaping (plucking) grain (Mishnah 7:2; Bloomberg, New American Commentary, 196; Lenski, 461). Yet, the only thing the disciples violated was the Pharisees’ traditional explanation of Sabbath work. Jesus repeated challenged and exposed binding human traditions that pits Scripture against Scripture while ignoring “justice, mercy and faith” (Matt. 12:7; 23:23-24). Let us be mindful, lest in our zeal for God’s will we confuse our expectations of obedience with the divine expectation. Pressing others to conform to our specifications about God’s will leads to merciless contradictions of the divine will and brings us under divine rebuke (Matt. 12:6-8).
3 When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah. (Psalm 32:3–4, NKJV)
We saw in 2 Samuel 11:1 in yesterday’s Sword Tips (#1843) that David was not where he should have been, when he should have been there, or doing what he should have been doing. Failing to guard himself against sin, suffering came upon David, his house, his nation, Bathsheba, Uriah, and others. David was tormented with guilt over his adultery, deception, and murder(cf. 2 Sam. 11:27). You see, covering up sin does not comfort the heart of the person who is given to doing the will of God. David was such a person – a man after God’s own heart, in fact (1 Sam. 13:14) – yet he sinned (Psa. 51:3-4). He felt the internal pain of sinning against the Lord. He could not escape the turmoil that captured the depth of his soul. His vigor was sapped from him. David inserted a suspension in the music at this point in the psalm (“Selah”) – a pause, perhaps to reflect on the gravity of sin’s destructive powers and our futility to overcome it alone. Surely we should pause and ponder the depth and guilt of our own sins and our helpless condition without the mercy of God. David’s only real escape and renewal of hope was through God’s mercy and forgiveness (Psa. 32:1-2). The same is true of us (Eph. 1:7; 2:1-10). The guilt and shame for our sins need not be our undoing. Through Christ, we obtain mercy, grace, regeneration, and hope (Tit. 3:4-7; Acts 2:37-41).
4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. 5 For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations. (Psalm 100:4–5, NKJV)
Psalm 100 is a psalm of thanksgiving unto God. All the earth is pictured as serving the Lord with gladness, and coming “before His presence with singing” (Psa. 100:1-2). God is due the service of worshipful praise because He is our Sovereign, our Creator, and our Sustainer (Psa. 100:3-4). The blessings that come to us from Almighty God also inform and persuade our thankful worship of Him. Three of God’s character traits, from which our blessings flow, are highlighted as reasons for giving Him thanks. 1) His goodness. In His beauty, God showers good blessings on us all (Acts 14:17). 2) His mercy. God is unfailing in His kindness and ever vigilant to show mercy “to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exo. 20:6). 3) His truth. Unfailing in its power to purify us, God’s word of truth endures forever (Jno. 17:17; 1 Pet. 1:22-25). God’s goodness, mercy, and truth compel us to “enter His gates with thanksgiving” with joyful praise. May we always give God thankful praise for who He is and for what He does for us.
In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil. (Proverbs 16:6, NKJV)
Most right-thinking people desire mercy. People go to traffic court looking for mercy to get traffic tickets expunged from their driving record. Typically, with no other extenuating circumstances, after a period of time with no additional infractions, one’s record is cleared. Thus, mercy and truth provide the cleansing of one’s record. But, unless one respects the legal system, the driver will not go to court to seek this release, and often will continue to drive recklessly. This helps illustrate today’s passage. Fear of the Lord (reverential regard) prompts a person to seek God’s mercy to escape the punishment for sins. When the sinner’s plea for atonement (cleansing and reconciliation) is coupled with following God’s truth concerning forgiveness, divine mercy is applied, and the sins are forgiven. The truth revealed in the gospel reveals how to receive mercy from God for atonement. Truth teaches sinners to hear the gospel, believe in Jesus Christ, confess their faith, repent of their sins, and be baptized for the remission of sins (Jno. 6:44-45; Mk. 16:15-16; Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 2:37-38). When we fear God we turn away from evil and turn to Him, obey His truth, and receive merciful atonement through His Son Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:6-10).
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17–18, NKJV)
Just as the wisdom that is “earthly, sensual, and demonic” has identifiable traits (bitter envy, self-seeking, pride, lies, and confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), so does the wisdom from above. God-approved wisdom is marked by dignified purity, and so is “consecrated to the service and glory of God” (Lange). With God as its object, wisdom from above has a social character that reflects innocence toward men and women. This wisdom is peaceable (not warring, Jas. 4:1). It is gentle – mild, moderate, fair, and just in its judgments and treatment of others. Approved wisdom is “willing to yield,” it is easily entreated, “open to reason” (ESV). Wisdom hears all the evidence instead of entrenching itself without reason against it. It is full of mercy and it bears the impartial, genuine fruit of compassion. Because of its nature, heavenly wisdom plants the seeds of peace (not hostile confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), and so produces peace (Matt. 5:9). Let us pursue the wisdom that is from above and bear the fruit of righteousness.
32 There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. 33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:32–34, NKJV)
We learn the depth of God’s willingness to forgive as we meditate on Christ’s words while He hung on the cross. God is ready to forgive sinners who answer His gospel call to repent (Lk. 5:32; Matt. 11:28-30). We should also understand what did not happen when Jesus prayed for His enemies. He was not tolerating their sins. His murderers were not forgiven immediately (like the repentance criminal, Lk. 23:39-43). We must not confuse Christ’s prayer as accepting them as they were. They would have to believe the gospel, repent, and be baptized in His name for their sins to actually be forgiven (Acts 2:36-38). Some believe sins of ignorance will not condemn a person. That is false (Acts 3:17-19). Some believe God accepts people regardless of their moral condition. That is also false. Sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:1-2). Jesus died so sinners can approach God’s presence and obtain merciful forgiveness (Heb. 10:19-20). We pray for sinners to be forgiven, and we teach them the gospel so they can believe, obey, and be saved (Mk. 16:15-16). Jesus died to save sinners, not so that God will accept us even as we continue practicing sin (Rom. 6:1-2; 2 John 9).