3 If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. (Psalm 130:3–4, NKJV)
We rejoice in the truth that God forgives and does not mark (retain) our sins (cf. Psa. 6:1; 38:1). God’s lovingkindness does not free us from accountability for our sin; We are answerable for our sin, its consequences, and punishment. The way of the transgressor is hard, and the wages of sin is death (Prov. 13:15; Rom. 6:23). Today’s psalm praises God’s forgiveness, His mercy, and redemption of Israel “from all our iniquities” (Psa. 130:8). When God’s people cry to Him with repentant supplications, He hears and forgives (Psa. 130:1-2). He does not withhold forgiveness; neither should (Matt. 6:14-15; 18:32-35). God does not vindictively keep an account of evil (1 Cor. 13:5). His forgiveness generates reverential fear for His wonderful pardon (Psa. 130:4). God’s responsive mercy assures our hearts to patiently trust His purposes and hope in His word (Psa. 130:5-6). Christians trust God’s unfailing love, generous mercy, and abundant redemption. He forgives us when we repent and confess our sins (Acts 8:22-24; 1 Jno. 1:9).
6 Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6–7, NKJV)
God is “not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). Our sins separate us from God, not His lack of love, concern, power, or unwillingness to come to our aid (Isa. 59:1-2). Nothing within ourselves or in this present age can fill the void left in a life without God. The answer to life’s problems, pain, sin, and death is Jesus Christ (Jno. 14:6). God has arranged life on earth and revealed His word in the Bible so that we will seek Him and find Him (Acts 17:27). We must forsake the way of evil and the thoughts of unrighteousness. We must “return to the Lord,” and we do He will be merciful. Full pardon from God for our sins before Him and against others is His promise, fulfilled in Christ (Rom. 5:6-11). A life without God is a life forever groping for meaning and purpose, yet always falling short. But, life with God is full of mercy, forgiveness, and hope. Seek the Lord in Christ and His gospel, and you will find His mercy as well as meaning for your life (Matt. 7:7).
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, NKJV)
How do you define a successful life? Fortune? Leisure? Fame? Power? I watched a couple of TV shows today about former NFL players who set many records and won many championships? Their walls are lined with trophies and awards that recognize their athletic accomplishments. Yet, when they talked about what being successful was to them, it was not about statistics, championships, and awards. It was about being a good husband, a good father, a good friend, and a good citizen in the community. That is impressive. All these things are good, and yet, something was missing. They did not measure their success in spiritual terms. Jesus said, “What profit it is to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul” (Matt. 16:26)? When you wake up and consider how you intend to succeed that day (and in life), assess your success the way God does. God’s measure of success requires us to choose to practice justice and love mercy (to love our neighbor as ourselves, Matt. 22:39), and to choose to walk humbly with our God (to love God with all our being, Matt. 22:37). Define success as a life of justice, mercy, and faithful service to God. These things are good. God says these things make life successful.
26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. (Matthew 18:26–27, NKJV)
The parable of the unforgiving servant testifies to the depth and breadth of God’s compassion and forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35). God’s extraordinary mercy is vividly displayed when contrasted with the ungrateful and unwilling response of the forgiven servant toward his fellow servant’s plea for mercy (Matt. 18:28-30). We fail to grasp the magnitude of God’s forgiveness of our own sins when we refuse to forgive those who sin against us (Matt. 18:31-35). We must not comfort ourselves with a selfish (if not self-righteous) limit to our willingness and responsibility to forgive others. Peter asked Jesus whether forgiving a sinner “up to seven times” would be sufficient. Jesus said, not “up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21-22). Christians forgive others “from the heart” without regard to the amount and frequency of the sins. God’s model of forgiving us in Christ is how, with tender hearts, we forgive one another (Eph. 4:31-32). We reflect God’s mercy toward us when we do. The heartbreaking truth is that if we do not forgive others, our heavenly Father will not forgive us (Matt. 18:33-35; 6:14-15). Thank God for His merciful forgiveness that shows us how to forgive others.
For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6, NKJV)
God deplored the insincere faith of Ephraim and Judah: “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away” (Hosea 6:4). He still does. In defense of His interaction “with tax collectors and sinners,” Jesus explained that He came to call sinners to repentance – those who need spiritual healing (Matt. 9:11, 13). He applied Hosea to His critics, “But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matt. 9:12). Accurate knowledge of God compels mercy toward sinners without forgetting one’s dutiful offerings to God (Matt. 23:23; Psa. 85:10-13). We have received His mercy and are to be merciful as we serve God (Matt. 18:33). Yet, being a Christian is often reduced to rituals and formalities in not a few churches. Sinful conduct of members is winked at and ignored because they are large donors, prominent in the community, in regular attendance at worship services, or otherwise highly regarded (1 Cor. 5:1-2). They may “fast twice a week” and “give tithes of all” they possess, but such things are meaningless to the Lord when hearts are far from Him (Lk. 18:10-14). God foretold and executed judgment upon Ephraim and Judah for their insincere, disobedient faith (Hosea 6:5). Let us learn from their failures and not repeat their sins (1 Cor. 10:5-13). Genuine and enduring faith must be driven by mercy toward others as we keep the commands of God.
1 Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! 2 For His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117:1–2, NKJV)
The Holy Spirit chose to include this brief psalm to glorify God for His mercy toward Gentiles in Christ (Rom. 15:9, 11). This psalm calls on all the earth’s inhabitants (both Gentiles and Jews) to unite in celebratory praise and adoration of God for His mercy and His truth. God’s merciful kindness for us is an expression of His steadfast love. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to redeem us from sin’s death (Jno. 3:16; 1 Jno. 3:9-10). God’s mercy, not meritorious works of righteousness, saves us (Tit. 3:5; Rom. 9:30-33; 10:3). God’s truth is ever faithful, guiding our feet in the paths of righteousness (Psa. 23:3; 119:105). We must always remember that we praise God because of His mercy and His truth. From the throne of God, “Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed” (Psa. 84:10). Praise the Lord!
13 “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13–14, NKJV)
This man knew his sins and what they had done to his spiritual condition before God. He was not bold to move close to the presence of God at the temple. Standing “afar off” from the sanctuary in the court of the men, he recognized his unworthiness before God. With lowered eyes of contrition, he beat his chest in shameful sorrow for his sins. His only hope was in God. He believed God to be a merciful God, ready to forgive a sinner like him. And so he pleaded for mercy, and God heard his prayer. Jesus declared the man’s humility before God resulted in gracious exaltation. The contrast is profound between the tax collector and the Pharisee, whose self-righteous pride prevented mercy from the throne of God (Lk. 18:9-12). Both were sinners, but only the humble was justified. We must confront our sins with honest humility when we approach God for mercy. By doing so, we will find His mercy and grace (Heb. 4:16).
1 Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity. I have also trusted in the Lord; I shall not slip. 2 Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; Try my mind and my heart. 3 For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes, and I have walked in Your truth. (Psalm 26:1–3, NKJV)
David asks Jehovah to judge him and pronounce sentence over his life. David cites his integrity, faith, and a life lived in God’s truth as guideposts for God’s examination. The psalm continues to describe some specific ways David conducted his life within these parameters. Note that David was not exalting himself; he knew his sins, for God’s mercy and steadfast love (“lovingkindness”), was always before him. The temptation arises to judge and approve ourselves in matters of faith and truth. But, self-judgment does not justify us before the Lord, even when we know nothing against ourselves. “For I know of nothing against myself, yet He who judges me is the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:4). The Lord will judge us on the last day (2 Cor. 5:10). Will it be a day of glory or tears? With David, let us faithfully live in the hope of God’s redemption. “But as for me, I will walk in my integrity; Redeem me and be merciful to me” (Psa. 26:11).
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).