God can deal with our enemy—Psalm 31

David often talks about God being a place to hide from enemies—as in this Psalm (vv. 1-4).

The reason David has enemies is that God has given Israel a land to enjoy, look after and protect. Surrounding peoples don’t like this and harass them. And David is commander in chief.

In this contest, David knows he is weak. He’s still effectively the boy walking out to confront a Goliath. He’s become a brave and resourceful leader, but when his enemies are also God’s enemies, he needs a safe space—God, as his refuge.

In simple terms, David trusts God to act. He expects Israel’s covenant Lord to reveal his righteousness and faithfulness by protecting him (v. 1, 5).

The world doesn’t need to see our human strength. Seeking power is the world’s problem. Rather, it needs to see us strong in the Lord.

The church that Jesus now builds—unlike Israel—is not a nation state with territory to defend. But we are Christ’s kingdom. That is, we have a ruler, a law, a message to announce, and an expectation that this kingdom will finally be visibly established.

This puts us in conflict with the world and its ruler. Satan doesn’t like competition. And the world doesn’t accept that it must answer to its Creator.

If we’re Christians, we’re involved. The battle is on, and it’s nasty. Many times, we need a hiding place. We need to go to God with our distress (vv.6-8).

Deep down, we all fear being shamed. It’s a potent weapon in our present world. And when this happens, simply trying to be strong won’t get us anywhere.

This is especially so because we have sins of our own that complicate every situation (vv. 9-10). We know we don’t deserve to be looked after. What we need is redemption—from our sins and from Satan’s accusations.

So, we need to tell the Lord what evils our enemies are perpetrating, and the distress this is giving us (vv. 9-13).

But then, we need to affirm who our God is, and what he has promised to do for us (vv. 14-18). This is vital. People without God are without hope (Eph. 2:2:12). But our days are all in God’s hands, and our flourishing, and our reputation. We can ask for help.

David shows us the hope we are right to have (vv. 19-22). God is good. And his goodness is a storehouse full of good things. Any alarm we may have is invalid!

So, we have much with which to encourage one another—to love God, and to be strong (vv. 23-24)!

Jesus quotes this Psalm as he dies (v. 5; in Luke 23:46). There is nothing of the world’s violence and Satan’s malice that he is spared. But he entrusts his whole being (spirit) to the Father. And God hears his prayer by raising him from the dead (1 Tim. 3:16).

If you like, he validates this experience of trust when faced with hostility. And because he has died for our sins, our hope can be as sure as his (Heb. 12:3).

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t quote the line ‘you have redeemed me’. This can simply mean ‘saved me’, but redeeming is done by paying a price. No-one needs to pay anything to save Jesus (the meaning of redeem). He is paying the price himself—to redeem us. That’s our hiding place.

So, let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, trusting in your Son has exposed us to the hatred of this world and to the malice of its prince. We feel the heat and the injustice of this. We feel the temptation to fight fire with fire.

Save us from these false battles. Hide us in your Son from the accusations of Satan and the culture he controls. Save us from fearing the loss of our reputation or safety. Open up ways of living joyfully and confidently and usefully in this present world.

Put a song in our mouths, like the song David sings. You are a God we can trust. Jesus is our hiding place, our Saviour and Lord. Father, you have wonderfully showed your love to us.

Deal with our enemies. They don’t know what they are doing. They need to know Jesus as Saviour. But do not let the battle leave us embattled. Rather, gentle our hearts with love for you, and strengthen them with the certainty that you act. In Jesus name. Amen.

Being in awe of God—Psalm 29

Most of this psalm describes the awesome noise and effects of violent weather events. These storms gather over the Lebanese mountains with a ferocity that can demolish the massive oak trees that grow there. The tempests travel south over Israel and then crash over the Kadesh wilderness south of Israel. They can create a flood, startle a pregnant deer into birthing, or strip a forest bare.

David knows the awesome power of these storms—their thunder, lightning and floods. He’s been exposed to their raw power. And in these experiences, he knows he’s hearing God speak.

Worship does not come naturally to us sinners. We can be full of ourselves and not aware that everything around us is made by God. Everything belongs to him. He’s still in charge of everything. And we need his protection and blessing if we want to live truly.

Sometimes, it takes the unmanageability of our environment or circumstances to realise that we are not in charge. The great one in our world is God. And he speaks.

Other psalms encourage us to call on God to be saved from storms like this, but here, we are being encouraged to hear God speaking in the events we can’t control.

Note that David calls God, the LORD—the one bonded to ancient Israel in a covenant. He doesn’t need a lifetime of sunny days to know that God is good. He looks at circumstances through the lens of what God has already done for his people, and what he has promised to do in the future.

The same is true for us. We know that God is good because he gave us his Son, and forgiveness, and eternal life. We certainly don’t need to see difficulties as punishment for sin. That’s over!

But we can tremble when that natural world seems to be breaking apart.

Nothing can quieten the din of storms, or prevent the damage they leave in their wake. We may be terrified. We can only wait until they are over. Our self-importance shrinks.

But now, look at the beginning and end of this psalm.

David begins, not by offering his own praise but by asking angels to worship the Lord. (Sons of God are angels in 89:6; angels are also asked to worship in 103:20; 148:2). Worship of God is core business. Every creature needs to be involved.

These angels are not affected by our weather, but they see what happens here. They are appointed as servants to our needs. They will listen if we ask them to worship with us. There are dressed in holiness. They see God face to face. Perhaps they can do justice to the praise due to God. As one of our hymns says, ‘Angels helps us to adore him. You behold him face to face.’

And then, David ends with a prayer. May the Lord give his people strength, and bless them with peace. Without these gifts, we languish, and the world perishes. But then, if God reigns over the flood—of whatever kind—he is able to send strength for our tasks, and peace in our trials.

Our God does reign. His Son has been raised from the dead, and been given authority over everything in heaven and on earth. We can be assured we are heard when we cry to him, and that he will give us strength and peace.

There’s usually one big flood in mind when the Bible mentions a flood—the one in Noah’s day. Certainly, God reigned over that flood. And everyone who belongs to Christ is protected when God sends judgement. That’s what Isaiah tells us (Isa. 54:9). We’re not merely exposed to the elements. We’re in God’s ‘ark’.

So, let’s pray.

Holy Father we languish and are starved when we think only of what we can see and control. You have made us to be in awe of you, to know you, to love you. To cry out, ‘Glory!’

Lord, you are worshipped by multitudes of angels. Expand our affections to ‘see’ what they see, to tremble where they tremble and to give our undivided attention to your glory.

Thank-you for humbling us—exposing us to the raw power of your creation and weaning us from preoccupation with how great we are. Help us be attentive to you and your works. Expand our affections. Deepen our humility before you.

Father, we know that everything you do is so we may know your strength—to be strong in the knowledge of your power. And that we may know your peace—because our hearts are fixed on you. Lord, fulfill this purpose in us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Christ is risen! But where’s the Hallelujah?

We’ve just had our Easter celebrations and I found myself needing to be renewed, so as to give thanks with a full heart.

We can get distracted, self-sufficient or inward—looking at things that are seen and felt rather than things that are unseen and eternal.

So, here’s my answer to myself—what the Psalms would call ‘lifting up our hearts’, or what the apostles would call ‘setting our minds on things above’. This is not a study. It’s just telling the truth to myself—and to us all.

The first disciples are glad when they see their Lord Jesus alive again.[i]

I should say so! Their whole life has revolved around him for three years. They have hoped for eternal life through him. They have expected the restoration of God’s reign on earth. None of this will happen without his presence, or with the way they have behaved through this crisis! But now, he’s with them!

And he’s still here. He said, ‘I will be with you always.’[ii] Our Leader and Saviour is not a memory. He’s a presence.

So, speaking personally, here’s what it means that Jesus has been raised from the dead. He comes to me with all that he has achieved as God’s Son and my Saviour.

First, the resurrection of Jesus means I’m justified in God’s eyes[iii]. He sees that I’ve turned away from self-trust, and he’s happy to count me in on what happened to Jesus.

Here’s how this works out. Jesus pleases God—totally—especially in being the willing offering for our sins. So, God vindicates or justifies him[iv]. That’s what I’m sharing in. The Father has reason to be pleased with his Son. But because the Son carries me with him in his love—through death and into resurrection, he is also pleased with me—a grateful recipient of what he has done.  I’m accepted—in the Beloved Son[v].                       

Like Peter, I’m aware of failures. But then, because of Christ’s resurrection, I’ve also been born again to a living hope. Christ’s alive, and so am I—alive to God and alive with a hope of transformation[vi]. Christ says to us all, ‘Peace be with you’[vii]. And like Thomas, I say, ‘My Lord and my God!’

So, I’m ‘all ears’ when it comes to the resurrection!       

Second, Christ’s resurrection means I’ll also rise from the dead[viii].

The Father always planned that the resurrection of Jesus would be the first one of many[ix]. We are the rest of the fruit that will make Father and Son deeply satisfied.

This wouldn’t be important if I’m living as though I’ve got forever. But I’m ‘numbering my days’. It’s wiser to do that[x].

So, there’s no shame in my death. No victory for the accuser. And it won’t be a terminus. I’ve been given eternal life and will be raised up again[xi]—with a better body and a better location. In fact, my present flesh is not good enough to inherit what God has prepared[xii].

Knowing I’ll be raised from the dead is not just a consolation. It’s a victory. I’ll see the Lord! And there won’t be a reason to cry ever again. The whole creation will be what it was created to be—and I’ll be part of it. And then, even while I’m getting weaker, God sees to it that I’m being inwardly renewed[xiii]—getting ready for the big day. 

I’m already living this eternal life[xiv]. So, right now, I can do things that will last forever[xv]. Life is full of purpose.

The difficulties along the way are lessened by knowing this. Jesus tells me to only deal with what must be done today[xvi]. And this leaves head space for the coming victory to shed its light back over my troubles—for God to fill my days with joy and peace in believing[xvii]. God is always doing something—for my good and for his glory[xviii].

Third, I have a narrative to live in that’s full of hope instead of pessimism.

Running and approving my own life, as Adam tried to do—is never workable. Rather, I’m free to live as God intended—receiving his gifts, his blessing and approval. And then, I will eat from the tree of life and live forever.

This world will never be a Garden of Eden. And my attempts to make the world perfect will never succeed. But Jesus has bruised Satan’s head. And the victory of Jesus, not the failure of Adam, dominates the narrative. He’s in charge.

Many around me drown their loss of immortality with ambition, self-indulgence, fun or bluster. But eating, drinking and being merry is what you do when you’re just expecting to die. Better by far to live in God’s story.

And so, I say, ‘Christ is risen. Hallelujah!’

[i] John 20:20

[ii] Matt. 28:20

[iii] Rom. 4:25

[iv] 1 Tim. 3:16; cf. Rom. 1:4

[v] Eph. 1:6

[vi] 1 Pet. 1:3

[vii] John 20:19, 21, 26

[viii] 1 Cor. 15:19-20

[ix] 1 Cor. 15:20-24

[x] Psa. 90:12

[xi] John 6:54

[xii] 1 Cor. 15:50

[xiii] 2 Cor. 4:16

[xiv] John 17:3

[xv] 1 Cor. 3:12-13

[xvi] Matt. 6:34

[xvii] Rom. 15:13

[xviii] Rom. 8:28, 37

God’s surprising authority

This second Psalm, like the first one, is about people being made happy by God. The first one began with ‘Blessed is…’, This second one ends in the same way.

Together, they are introducing us to two themes that intertwine throughout the Psalter—a life that pleases God, and the gracious reign of God that makes it possible.

So, we come to the second Psalm.

I can’t think of a prayer more needed than the one this Psalm inspires. It confronts the world’s opposition to God and announces the sovereignty of Jesus Christ whom God has appointed to be in charge.

Why do the nations rage so badly and so constantly? This anger is not just between nations but with God. It’s this argument that leads to our problems with each other. And it is a fury without basis—it’s empty or vain. There is a mountain of evidence that God is good and that we can trust him.

We’ve had this problem from our beginnings. Cain kills his brother because of his witness to God’s goodness. He needs to remove the evidence. Years later, the human race does the same to the Son of God.

That’s how old the problem is. And it hasn’t gone away.

But God always goes right on with his plan. He raises up a nation, and appoints (anoints) a king to lead them. Here, in Psalm 2, the King is David.

David understands that his job is not just being strong but about Israel being a witness to the nations. It’s not about power but about God being good. This is why he’s confident about killing Goliath with a sling shot, not because he can aim well but because this godless man has taunted Israel’s God (1 Sam. 17:36).

David’s successors are also called to lead Israel in being God’s witness to the world. They do not do this well, but they are signs of the King whom God will appoint—no less than his eternal Son.

This Psalm was probably used for the coronation of Israel’s kings, but it predicts the coming of Jesus, born to be ‘King of the Jews’ (Matt. 2:2).

That’s why the early church quotes this Psalm—or, if your like, prays this Psalm—when they encounter the rage of their religious leaders (Acts 4:25-26).

And here is why we need this Psalm to help us pray. When the world hates God, they threaten us. It’s then that we need to know that Christ’s authority is not in question. The arguments against him are not only invalid but lifeless. They can’t succeed.

Here’s the reasons.

First, God himself announces that Jesus is his Son. He says this when Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist (Luke 3:22). He does it again when Jesus is transfigured before some of his disciples (Luke 9:35). He does it again by raising Jesus from death—right here in our history (Romans 1:4). He is saying to the whole world, ‘You need to hear what my King is saying!’ (Acts 5:30-31).

Second, God has promised the nations to Jesus as an inheritance. Opponents to this purpose will be shattered. All nations—the people of all nations, must hear the witness of Jesus that God is good. They must receive the forgiveness and restoration to sonship that he is offering.

Third, the gentleness of Jesus—God’s King—is like a rising tide, unstoppable. He is all of God’s goodness wrapped into one human body. He is also all of God’s authority. Resisting his witness is fatal.

Everyone should get wise, be warned. Especially those who think they are in charge. Everyone should humble themselves to serve God and to reverence his Son—our Lord, Jesus Christ.

When we hear his voice and receive his grace, we understand the meaning of authority. We are delighted, and tremble—all at the same time. He has our full attention.

So, let’s pray.

Father in heaven, we humble ourselves before you. Our anger against you has not been justified. Our boldness has been childish.

You have watched our strutting, amazingly, with patience. And you have continued to reveal what you mean by ‘running the world’ through raising your Son—whom we killed, and giving him authority to raise up a new humanity.

Father, when we are attacked by those who don’t understand how you rule the world, give us the same patience and grace as your Son has demonstrated. And the same confidence in your authority.

How good to know this world is a family affair—that all the nations are a gift from you to your Son.

Help us see through the bluster of those the world calls great. Help us to see the gracious and powerful authority of your King—our Lord Jesus Christ. And tremble before him, with delight! Amen.

Two ways to live—Psalm 1

The Psalms in our Bible are a collection of songs inspired by God, and then kept and used by godly people in Israel.

We don’t find it easy to walk before God—given the troubles and questions that arise in this world. But these God inspired songs provide ways to navigate this difficult territory.

Jesus himself joined his disciples in singing a psalm before heading out to his death (Mark 14:26). These prayers have been treasured, sung and prayed by the whole church for centuries.

So, here’s some comments on various Psalms to help understand what they say.  And then, I’ll ‘pray the Psalm’, using it to guide how we may pray today.

Here’s Psalm 1. Read it first. Then see how we need its counsels now. (The words in italics are the points of reference to the Psalm.)


We all need to work out what will guide our life. Here, the choice is clear. We either live by what God says or by what the world says. And we are told why one is a happy or blessed choice and why the other way perishes.

God’s word is delightful—not a burden. It’s worth thinking about often. Worth living by.

God’s law isn’t just commandments. It’s God’s guide for our relationship with him as we travel towards the future he is making. Think of how the 10 commandments begins. ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of slavery’ (Exod. 20:1).

If we know God loves the world and has sent his Son to us, and that he has paid for our sins and reconciled us to God, we’ve got good reason to think that living with him in his congregation is a good idea.

And it doesn’t take long to realise that doing what God says rather than following our instincts makes for a better life, and a better community, as well as a better future.

Godly people—that is, people who love what God does and says, grow like healthy nourished trees. They are useful and eager.

On the other hand, ungodly people are not believing in, fearing or following their Creator. But they give counsel about how to live, they provide a way to fulfill this advice, and scoff at anything different. It’s easy to want to fit into this world, but we’re being told that it’s not worth the risk.

God sees these ungodly peopleas chaff that blows away in the wind. They will perish. The world may not think about God, but God is thinking about them. This is his world. It works by his rules. He remains kind to all that he’s made (Matt. 5:45). But he’s still in charge and determines what works, and what happens when he is ignored.

This judgement has already begun. People who leave God out are revolving without a centre, striving without the needed power and with nothing sure to aim for. They don’t have a Father (Eph. 2:12). God has decided that everything must revolve around Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10).

How much better to be in a community of the righteous! God knows these people—and in the Bible, this means God is near to them, and helping them. He has chosen them to inherit his future.

So, let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, the world you have made is warm and close and provides many things we need. But when it turns against you, when it invents its own wisdom, creates its own way and emboldens itself with distain, it becomes cold and distant—even threatening.

Father, enliven us to hear your commands, cherish your ways and trust your counsels. Teach us to see Christ as the Lord who brings us to you, and who will unite everything into the future you have planned.

Thank you for the promise of blessing or happiness when we follow your way. Thank you that you know us and that you make all that we do to prosper. Make us like fruitful trees. Amen.

Empty people finding fullness

Jesus begins his ministry by announcing that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’. He has come to implement all God has in mind for the world.

His kingdom will be an arena, not just for fixing problems and managing our messiness, but for creating lovers of God who are devoted to his project.

So, Jesus explains what people in this kingdom look like—very much like himself of course—because he is not just the King but the prototype of what a subject is.

This, of course, amounts to a declaration of war. People who don’t already love God will not be interested in his way of life. Even the birth of Jesus is seriously contested. The local man in charge kills hundreds of children in an attempt to head-off any competition for control.

Things haven’t changed much. In many countries, including our own, Jesus is downplayed and his people maligned as harmful. If God is for real, and if Jesus has come to reveal him, the world recognises a rival, meaning that those who believe in him should be cancelled.

We need to know who God congratulates for getting things right. Jesus teaches us a number of ‘beatitudes’ (Matthew 5:2-10). But the word usually translated ‘blessed’ actually means to be congratulated or happy.

First, the people who have chosen well and have a good future are those who are ‘poor in spirit’.

Jesus is not saying it’s good to be depressed. Rather, he commends the person who knows that everything they really need and value in their life is going to have to come from someone else. That’s how poor they are. They feel this deeply—they are poor in spirit

There’s a story in the Old Testament about the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon. She sees his wealth. She hears his wisdom. And we are told that there is ‘no more spirit in her’ (1 Kings 10:5). Alongside of him, her wealth and wisdom are nothing.

Jesus does this to all of us. For a while, we think we can run our lives, change some things around us, keep ourselves happy and anticipate a good life. This soon runs thin.

Then, we see Jesus. He is not living for himself but for his Father—God. He doesn’t restlessly accuse us. He understands that our bluster is shallow and that we are really empty. And, he gives himself to us, and we know this. We begin to see that he’s the rich one and we are those in need.

Jesus demonstrates how to live in a world God looks after. He heals many who are sick. He delivers some who have fallen into the hands of evil spirits. He knows what he’s doing. Even better, he knows what God is doing. He’s believable. He’s real.

That’s when we become ‘poor in spirit’. If our life is going to amount to anything, it is going to have to start and finish knowing he’s the one who gets things right. He’s dwarfed us in the way he lives and speaks. But he doesn’t make dwarfs of us. He promises we will inherit God’s kingdom. We’ll be God’s special people—and he will be in charge of everything.

That’s why we are to be congratulated now. The reward is coming. But the congratulation is for now. We’ve chosen well.

Real comfort for grieving people

The second beatitude—or congratulation—says the people to be congratulated are those who are mourning. They will be comforted.

Perhaps we are grieving our own failure. We may be grieving over what loved ones are doing. We may be grieving as we see our culture moving from things that are helpful to things that self-destruct.

If we think we are the answer to the problem, we have not understood how deep the problem is. If we merely complain, or wish things hadn’t gone wrong, nothing changes.

Our problems are the necessary revelation of a disease that’s deep and deadly. There is only one Saviour.

We need to learn to grieve. It’s actually God’s gift to us (Zechariah 12:10).                                                                         

This is not being morbid or introspective. It’s acknowledging that our sins, and the sins that happen to or around us are real and have profound results.

Jesus says those who choose to grieve rather than evade reality will be comforted. Perhaps he has in mind what he says a few chapters after this one. ‘Come to me all you who are weary and weighed down. I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:29).

Jesus will have to deal with the real causes of the problem in us if he is going to bring us any relief. It will cost him his life to bring the help that is needed.

Jesus tells us not to be troubled (John 14:1, 27). But then, he has already said that said that his own heart is deeply troubled (John 12:27-33). He is contemplating the death where he will bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. The Lord will lay on him all our sins (Isaiah 53:4-6).

This is the comfort Jesus is promising when he says the grieving ones are to be congratulated. Not only do we have someone to deal with our sins. We have a message and a hope to bring to the whole world.

And of course, we will be part of the new world Christ is making by trusting him. That’s part of the comfort. What happens when Jesus deals with our grief is real, and lasting.

It will be good to look at the rest of these beatitudes one by one. But I hope, already, that we are seeing that, by sending Jesus to us, God is taking charge and putting things right. And he shows us how to be part of this kingdom, how to be on ‘the right side of history’, and so, to be congratulated.

Jesus is speaking to us, right to where we are, and promising a real and wonderful future. And it’s beginning now.

Change that goes to the heart of things

When Jesus comes among us, he needs to recalibrate our thinking as to what makes up a good life. Here’s the third of his ‘beatitudes’.

The meek are to be congratulated and they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5-6).

We would say the strong and assertive are those who inherit the earth. Jesus knows better. A little later, he says that he himself is meek and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:28-30)—and he is going to inherit the earth.

Meekness is hard to define and harder to have! It has to do with how we relate to others. It’s not just avoiding being pushy. It’s not just being weak. It’s not just checking our impatience. It’s a deeply felt belief that we are here to help others but not to control them.

Remember that Jesus has begun his ministry announcing the kingdom of heaven is near. The question this raises is: who is in charge of everything? Or, who is responsible for saving the earth?

We tend to think our ideas are best, that people should do things our way. But if Jesus is the Saviour of the world, we need to be a step or two behind what he is doing rather than running the show.

This doesn’t make us weak in playing our part in human relationships. If anything, it makes us more sure-footed. Moses demonstrates this. He is ‘very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth’ (Num. 12:3). But he confronts a world leader and frees slaves. His meekness has nothing to do with being a doormat for others tread on. 

However, if we are truly meek, other people can tell the difference. They know they have a place around us. They know they won’t get run over. They may even ask questions.

Remember that when Jesus says he is meek and lowly in heart, he’s inviting weary people to come to him—weary with trying to make something of themselves.

We’ve got good reason to live this way. When Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth, he’s quoting Psalm 37. The Lord will deal with those who are doing wrong. Our part is to trust the Lord, delight in him, be still and patient and refrain from anger (vv. 1-11).

It comes back to knowing that the King is in charge. It’s not our will that’s important, or the will of others. It’s the will of the King that will prevail and obedience to him that will make it happen. Under that, we all have our place and meekness welcomes this.

Satisfied! With righteousness

Jesus tells us that those who hunger for righteousness are doing well. They will receive, abundantly, what they long for (Matthew 5:6).

Righteousness, as Jesus describes it, is obeying God’s commands (5:17-20). But then, as he continues to teach, we find it is not just compliance but a hearty agreement with what God wants. Jesus tells us to be perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect (5:48).

But what kind of person is hungry for righteousness? Most of us think it’s something we have plenty of. We do the right thing—mostly. And we spend a lot of time and energy defending it. We don’t understand the word ‘hungry’ when it comes to righteousness.

And there’s another problem. Our natural self is saying, ‘My idea is best!’ God’s requirements seem like an intrusion.

Into this situation comes Jesus. And he begins by demonstrating what hunger for righteousness looks like. He insists on John baptizing him. He’s ‘hungry’ to get this done (Matt. 3:15). He has no lack of righteousness himself, but he wants us to be obedient children of God. His obedience to the Father is going to make it happen.

Then, Jesus shows us what God’s righteousness looks like. He saves people from their sicknesses. He teaches the truth in a way that is riveting. Many are finding that God is real and that he is reaching out to them.

Jesus is providing an appetizer! We are never going to do what God wants if we are not attracted by who he is.

Isaiah said this would happen: God delighting our hearts and making us thankful; God making us like sturdy trees—tall and righteous, and getting on with the things that need doing (Isaiah 61:1-4).

Does this whet our appetite? We all want upright people to govern us, or to be our neighbours. But what about us?

We really need to be filled with righteousness—preferring what God wants. This is what we are made for. We damage ourselves and defraud those around us when we don’t follow what he says. Sometimes, things need to go wrong before we long for what God wants (Psalm 119 :71).

Perhaps we’ve been hungry and not understood our pain. Jesus knows we need lots of things but tells us to seek God’s reign and righteousness first (Matt. 6:33). God can look after all the other things, but we need to be hungry for righteousness.

So, how does this happen?

Jesus tells us about a tax collector who is broken by his miserable life. He’s defrauded people and kept God at a distance—until now. He asks God to be merciful to him—a sinner (Luke 18:13-14).

Here’s the punch line. Jesus says he goes back to his home a righteous man—or justified. He’s been hungering for righteousness. And now, he’s filled!

Later on, Jesus will tell a lame man that his sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2). He is able to say this because he will offer up his own body as an offering for them, and for ours as well (Matt. 26:28).

All of us need this thorough wash out of who we are—our unholy desires and crippling guilt. We need to believe in this act of Jesus on our behalf. And we need to hear God calling us righteous. That’s right, God calls us righteous (Isa. 53:11-12; Rom. 3:22).

Now, our protests and pomp drop away and we find God is someone to love. And so is our neighbour. All the rules we thought were a bother are now a good way to live.

Paul tells us what’s happened. ‘The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age’ (Titus 2:11-12).

All this is better than breakfast! We’re hungry, and being satisfied, all at the same time. And we are being congratulated!

Gentled by mercy

Gentled by mercy

The people Jesus congratulates are those who show mercy. They are the ones who will receive mercy from God[1]. This teaching is not new. King David has already recognised that God will have mercy on those who show mercy[2].

People who need mercy are in trouble. They may be desperate. They may be the reason for their own problems. But people who show mercy see beyond this and give what they can to help. They have been gentled by mercy and know that God does more than expect everyone to ‘do the right thing’.

Jesus himself often shows mercy to needy people. In this Gospel, two groups of blind men cry out for mercy[3]. A distressed father kneels and ask for mercy for his sick son[4]. A foreign lady cries out persistently and kneels to ask for mercy for her sick daughter[5]. And Jesus helps them all.

He has compassion on the crowds because they are leaderless[6], or sick and hungry[7].

In seeking mercy, some call Jesus ‘Son of David’—Israel’s promised deliverer. They may know the promises God has made to send a Messiah who will act mercifully[8]. So, showing mercy is important for Jesus, and for us who belong in his kingdom.

Our tendency is to expect justice and forget mercy. But while we’re doing this, God is upholding us, being kind to us, generous to us. He’s not asking if we are worthy. He’s just seeing us as needy people and reaching out to help. Jesus doesn’t come into the world to help people who think they are righteous. He comes to help those who are undeserving[9].

God has already shown Israel that he wants them to do what is right, but also, to love mercy[10]. He doesn’t just teach this. He shows it in how he treats them[11]

And, of course, this is what God is doing when Jesus dies for our sins (Romans 3:25). If anyone has had reason to complain, it is Jesus. He is misunderstood, maligned and nailed to a cross. But he endures being the focus for all our hatred of God. And he expresses the mercy of God for us sinners.

He can truly say, ’Father forgive them’. He knows we don’t understand the love of God, don’t know how far our pride has taken us from being warm and real. Not yet, anyway. When he is ‘lifted up’, he will draw us to himself, and to God. And then, the mercy of God will create mercy in us.

If all we want is for things to be ‘right’, we lose our way, and our peace, and God’s mercy. And if we think someone is not worthy of our attention, we’re thinking legally, not mercifully.

Jesus makes an issue of this in a story he tells[12]. A man badly in debt pleads not to be sold as a slave, and promises to find the money. Instead of this, his creditor forgives the whole debt. But then, this forgiven man demands payment of a very small sum from someone else. When the first creditor hears of this, he runs the ungrateful man off to jail.

Jesus tells this story to warn us. If we don’t forgive others as we have been forgiven, we have not understood forgiveness. Effectively, we’ve not been forgiven. The results of being without mercy are severe.

But this story isn’t just a warning. It tells us that mercy doesn’t begin with us. Jesus is among us. He is going to reveal and secure God’s mercy to us[13]. He simply asks us to acknowledge the compassion we’ve received and to share it with others.

On three occasions in this Gospel, Jesus explains to Pharisees that they should offer mercy to the needy rather than parade their performance[14]. Twice, he quotes God’s word. ‘I desire mercy rather than sacrifice’[15].

Perhaps we need mercy from God for our legal mindset. And certainly, all of us need to know that we have not deserved anything we have received. Without Jesus as Lord, we also would be lost and hopeless. We need to know how pitiable we are. This is when we truly say, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David’.

This is the way that our life becomes beautifully uncomplicated, and attractive—like our Saviour’s. And Jesus says we should be congratulated!

[1] Matthew 5:7

[2] Psalm 18:20-25

[3] 9:27; 20:30-34

[4] 17:15

[5] 15:22

[6] 9:36

[7] 14:14; 15:32

[8] Luke 1:68-72

[9] Matt. 9:13: 12:7

[10] Isa. 1:17; 58:6-10; Hos. 12:6; Mic. 6:8

[11] Isaiah 30:18

[12] Matthew 18:21-35

[13] Luke 1:77-78

[14] 9:13; 23:23

[15] 9:13; 12:7