Sunday, November 30, 2014

"What do you do with a broken world?"

Day #338:  Daily Bible Reading - December 1st

Scripture Reading:  Deuteronomy 23 - 25 ...

Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ... a people called to be "holy" to the LORD their God, a people set apart to be different.  They had been slaves in Egypt, and God had delivered them with a mighty hand.  For forty years they had wandered in the wilderness because of their refusal to trust God and enter the land He had promised their forefathers.  Now they were about to enter the land and Moses was preparing them by giving them instructions from God on how to live with each other.  Have you ever thought about why all these rules were necessary?

We live in a broken world.  People don't know what is good for them, how to get along with each other or why they should worship and serve the one true God, their Creator.  These were people just like you and me, and God was presenting to the world for all time a picture of mankind's brokenness and our need for redemption.  The details given in these chapters include extremely personal aspects of life.  When God created us everything was good, everything worked together, everything glorified our Creator.  But then came sin and all of creation was deeply affected.  What you read in these chapters is God speaking to a particular people about every part of their lives because their sin was destroying them.

They were about to go into "the Promised Land," but it would not be without many trials and struggles.  It would be clear from the beginning that only by the grace of God would they defeat their enemies ... those outside and those inside.  Ultimately, THEY would fail, but God would be faithful in keeping His promise to send a Savior.  Meanwhile, they needed rules.  There were rules for "cleanness" and "uncleanness."  Those who were "unclean" were not allowed in the assembly of God's people.  He gave them sacrifices and offerings to bring to the tabernacle to receive His cleansing, His forgiveness.  Yet these were only a symbol, pointing to the perfect cleansing that would happen only through the perfect sacrifice ... Jesus.

Here in Deuteronomy is a picture of human depravity and the amazing grace of God.  Some have said that there is little or no grace in the Old Testament, but God reveals His patience and faithfulness through one people, one nation ... Israel.  Even though He eventually brings His promised judgment on them, He spares those who believe in Him and who trust in His love and mercy.  When God tells them not to charge interest to a brother (23:19) and to keep their vows to the LORD their God (23:21-23), along with other instructions to help them live as a people "holy" to God, set apart for Him, this is grace.  Like the nations around them Israel continually revealed that they, too, deserved God's judgment.  The fact that God spared them as long as He did, and that He kept His promise to bring the Savior from the line of Judah is a testimony to His grace and mercy.

In Chapters 24-25, God gives a number of examples of how they are to treat other people.  In Leviticus 19:18, the people were told to love their neighbor as they loved themselves.  This command is expanded in the New Testament and becomes a fundamental part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  Here in Deuteronomy God was telling them to be merciful by reminding them that they had been slaves in Egypt, in essence saying, "How did it feel to be slaves?"  God told them not to take advantage of other people, especially those who were poor and needy (24:14).  He told them not to deprive "the alien or the fatherless of justice ..." (24:17), and then He tells them why:  "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there.  That is why I command you to do this" (24:18).

God then gives instructions about leaving behind some of the harvest for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, and again explains why:  "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.  That is why I command you to do this" (24:22).  One of the most common sins of people who receive grace and mercy seems to be pride.  When God delivers people from their own problems and trials, it is meant to show them His love and grace and to move them, to inspire them to pass it on.  In His parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18, Jesus points out that the one who has received mercy but who then refuses to show mercy to his brother will face God's just judgment and wrath.  There will be no escape.  Many within Israel discovered that truth the hard way.  God had watched over them and given them all they needed, yet they rebelled against Him and even worshiped idols.

We are no different today.  The prophet Micah writes, "He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the LORD require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).  That's what God is teaching Israel as they are about to enter the promised land.  They had done nothing to earn God's favor, any more than you or I have, but God had set His love on them as a people and they were now called to display His glory to the nations around them.  Oh, but they were as God described them in several places, "a stubborn and stiff-necked people."  So are all the nations of the world today.  We live in a broken world so deeply affected by sin and yet so blind to our need for a Savior, a Redeemer ... only the grace of God can save us!

As Moses goes on in Chapter 25 God reveals more principles of living life in a broken world and the importance of mercy and honesty and integrity.  Those nations who had been opposed to Israel and who had treated them harshly would face His judgment.  They would pay for their lack of mercy, for "they had no fear of God" (25:18).  They would be "forgotten" by God.  It is a picture of the final judgment, described in Revelation 20:11-14.  Most people today know nothing about what God says is coming on the world.  A "day of judgment" is the last thing people are thinking about, but it will come, as God says it will, and only those who have received His grace and mercy in Christ Jesus will be spared.

This world cannot be fixed ... even by God Himself!  That may sound strange, but it is true.  Even after the flood mankind turned away from God again and again and again.  That's why God chose one man, Abraham, and made a covenant of grace with him.  Even before creation God knew what Adam and Eve would do and what would follow.  We are told in Ephesians 1:4 that we who believe were "chosen in Christ before the foundation of the earth" was laid.  It was God's desire to reveal the horrible nature of evil so that those who experienced His grace would live their lives in thanksgiving and gratitude for His love and mercy.  Does that describe you today?  Do you understand your need for a Savior and have you found in Jesus all you need?  Do you see the evidence of the work of God's Spirit within you, guiding you, pulling you away from the things of the world, moving you to show mercy to others and to love your Father in heaven?

God WILL "fix" this broken world, but only through the fire of judgment.  Evil will be overcome once and for all and God will establish His kingdom in a new world, "the home of righteousness" (II Peter 3:13). Until then there will be rules, and people will break them.  What do you do with a broken world?  But God will keep His promises and in Jesus Christ there is a sure and certain hope for all who believe.  This world and everything in it is temporary, but those who do the will of God, who put their trust in Jesus, will be saved and will enter into the assembly of the saints, those made holy in Christ, to worship and serve our God and King forever and ever!

"LORD God Almighty, in Your amazing grace You have pointed out our sin and called us to repentance and faith in Jesus.  In Your abundant mercy we find hope and in Your love we find joy unspeakable!  Help me, Father, to understand the blessing of hearing Your commands and in humility to treat those around me with the same love and grace that You have shown to me.  In Jesus' name, Amen" 

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