Mercy: The Theme Song for God’s Household (1 Timothy 1:1–2)

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1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, 2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
— 1 Timothy 1:1–2 —

Mercy: The Theme Song for God’s Household (1 Timothy 1:1–2)

Am I not merciful ?!?!!

I could not help but think of these words from the emperor in the movie Gladiator, as I heard the governor of Virginia publicly defend the right to terminate a life after a child was born.

This recent defense of late term and post-term abortion (read: infanticide) reminds us that our culture and its leaders are confused about the meaning and value of life. But our world is also profoundly unmerciful!

For too many reasons to list, pride and exploitation surround us. And unless God delivers us from the cruelty of our age, we will continue to be engulfed by impatience, harshness, and hatred. Even those decrying the wickedness of abortion often do so with angry rage. Oh how easily we conflate righteousness with unrighteousness.

Considering this, the Bible gives us many ways to grow in grace and mercy. And this week’s sermon focused on this theme of mercy in the book of 1 Timothy. Introducing the book, we consider the grace of God in Paul’s life, the peace-making ministry of Timothy, and the message of mercy in 1 Timothy.

You can find the sermon online and response questions below. I have also listed a few helpful resources on the book of 1 Timothy. Continue reading

What Does Genuine Mercy Look Like?

mercyWhat does mercy look like?

In Matthew 5:7, Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” The mercy that God will give refers in this passage to the divine favor that God will grant to his merciful children on the day of judgment. But what does it mean to be merciful now? 

In my Sunday sermon, I sought to answer that question and here is the answer I gave.

In response to the gospel and enabled by the Spirit, mercy gives to the needy, forgives the offender, in order that all might give thanks to God.

Thematically, mercy gives and forgives for the sake of thanksgiving. Let me unpack that definition. Continue reading

Blessed are the Merciful: Giving, Forgiving, and Thanksgiving

samaritan“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy”

Matthew 5:7 was the text I preached yesterday. In my sermon, I answered three questions:

  1. Does God show mercy to everyone?
  2. Why does Jesus say “Blessed are the merciful” instead of “Blessed are the faithful?”
  3. What does mercy look like?

In answering that final question, I gave the answer: True mercy gives generously and forgives sincerely in order to increase thanksgiving to God (cf. Rom 15:8-9). In response to the mercies of God (i.e., the gospel), mercy proactively schemes, plans, and prays for the increase of thanksgiving to God by means of our giving to those in need and forgiving those who have offended us. In short, genuine mercy involves giving and thanksgiving in order to cause thanksgiving to God.

If you have struggled with understanding how we can be merciful, or if you—like me—have struggled to be merciful, consider this beatitude which calls us to cry out for mercy, so that we too might be merciful!

Here’s the audio:

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Goodness of God in What He Does

In Exodus 33:18, Moses makes one of the most audacious requests in all the Bible.  After Israel is nearly destroyed and replaced by a people coming from Moses’ offsprings, Moses asks the God of the Passover and the Red Sea to show him his glory.  Amazingly, God responds in the affirmative.

In Exodus 33:19-34:7, God reveals his glory through the revelation of his goodness and his glory.  Today, we will look at the goodness of what God does; tomorrow, we will consider the greatness of God’s name.

Notice three ways that God’s goodness is revealed in Exodus 33.

God Who Listens and Speaks (33:19).  The first thing to notice in the character of God is that he hears Moses prayer.  He listens and he speaks.  He doesn’t ignore Moses prayers, but he answers with specificity.  God’s goodness is seen in this reply.

However, notice what God listens to.  He is not simply responding to a request for personal help, or a plea for personal safety, comfort, or assistance.  He hears and answers prayers most powerfully, when the suppliant is coming with a heart that longs first and foremost to make Christ famous.  This is not to say that supplications for “my needs” are not legitimate, but they should be secondary to the greater design of prayer for God’s kingdom and glory.

God loves to answer prayers that glorify his name and that satisfy his saints in him.  Just consider the “Lord’s Prayer.” In Matthew 6, Jesus is asked how they should pray, and in “The Lord’s Prayer,” he doesn’t begin with small, physical, prayers that orbit around people; he begins with audacious prayers that ask God to do what only he can do.  Thus, Jesus’ prayer, like Moses prayer, calls us to ask God to show off his glory on earth as it is in heaven.  The very first command is one that essentially pleas that God who sanctify or glorify his name!  When Jesus tells us to pray for the coming of the kingdom, this is a request for God’s glory to come in tangible form to the earth–now and forever.

All in all, Moses’ prayer, Jesus’ prayer, and our prayer can be lifted with confidence because God’s goodness hears and answers.  Yet, the heart of prayer is one that focuses on God and his glory, as seen in his goodness, more than simply asking God to do good things for us.

Returning to the model of our Lord’s prayer, the requests for daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from evil all come after we have oriented ourselves towards God.  Prayer that is Christian puts the goals, desires, and demands of God above our own.  The safety, security, health, and help we request should desired as they fulfill his plans and purposes.  Goodness is putting God at the center, and God-centered prayers are the ones God delights to answer.

The God who Protects and Provides (33:20-23).  Next, in verse 20, YHWH tells Moses that he cannot see his face, because he would die, but in the same breath, he makes way for Moses to experience God’s glory.  Verse 21-23, God puts Moses in the cleft of the rock, covers him to protect him, and then shows him the train of his glory.  Amazingly, verse 23 uses three body parts to describe God: Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.

The body-language is metaphorical–because God does not have a body—but it emphasizes the personal closeness that Moses felt as God spoke to him.  Still, the point of this passage is not for us to replicate the experience of seeing God on a mountain, but to receive the Word given to Moses at that time.  The God of Sinai is the same yesterday, today, and forever; but the way he has revealed himself is not always the same.  In Exodus 33-34, we see God’s goodness in the way he reveals himself and protects Moses from an over exposure.  Today, we have a greater revelation and a greater protection in our mediator, Jesus Christ.  What God does in type with Moses, he does in actuality with Jesus.  In Jesus, we see the glory of the Lord, we hear God’s ultimate word, and we have safe passage into the very presence of God.  We are not sequestered into a rocky cleft; we are able to stand upon the temple mount and abide with God.

In this way, the goodness experience by Moses, though more cinematically-captivating, is less than the goodness we now have in the fullness of God’s plans in redemptive history.  Such goodness beckons us to forsake sin and press on towards him!

The God who Gives His Law (34:1-4). Finally, since the tablets were broken, a new set of tablets was needed.  Thus, in Exodus 34, Moses is appointed to cut two new stone tablets just like before.  This is the first element of God’s revealed law in Exodus 34, but this is not it.  Quickly following this charge to rewrite the law, YHWH tells Moses to come into his presence once again (v. 2), and to set a perimeter around the mountain to preserve its holiness and to protect the people (v. 3).  Still, God’s law-giving is seen most clearly in the reissue of the covenant laws laid out in the rest of the chapter (vv. 10-35).

These commands which resonate with the earlier instructions in Exodus 19-24, show the consistency of God’s character, and the fact that he never lowers the standard of his law.  Instead, he will provide means of grace to allow sinners to dwell in the midst of God’s holiness.  Such legal constancy is a revelation of his goodness, for God’s goodness is not just seen in meekness, mirth, and mild treatment of terrorists.  His goodness also executes law-breakers.

Can you imagine the alternative?  What would a world be like in which moral order was erased?  Or a world where God’s expectations were unknown?  God’s laws are demanding and absolute, and this is good.  In them, God’s wisdom, justice, and love are displayed, and thus the world observes who God is.  Which leads to a final consideration: When we come to passage like Exodus 33-34, do we listen to what God is saying?  Or do we interpret it in light of our pre-conceived ideas about goodness, justice, and love?

God Is The Standard of His Own Goodness 

Too often Christians and non-Christians test God according to their own standards of goodness.  This is problematic.  God is his own standard.  He defines and delimits goodness.  Thus what he reveals of his goodness at Sinai and in later installments of inspired revelation must shape and reshape our notions of goodness.  In fact, before delighting in his goodness, we probably need to be offended by it!

Offended because, we as fallen creatures are naturally opposed to the God of Scripture and the God of Sinai.  What we see at Sinai is that YHWH’s goodness is not mutually exclusive with retributive judgment, is not contradictory with legal demands, and is not simply a universal benevolence towards all people.  God’s goodness is distinct, covenantal, particular, and gracious.  God’s goodness is given to some and not to others (Exod 33:19).  This is how God presents himself!  It is offensive to human pride, but glorious to those who have died in Christ.

Failure to understand God’s goodness as he himself presents it will inevitably result in skewed views of God and ultimately Arminian and/or Universalist impressions of how God should act in the world.  Right now I am reading a book by such theologian–Roger Olson–whose views relabel and redefine God’s goodness in countless doctrinal categories.  As an upcoming book review will show, he and others like him, wrestle little with texts and rest their views upon philosophical inventions of the mind, rather than God’s revealed Word.

Considering Exodus 33-34 makes us take a different path.  One that rebukes us mightily for having lethargic views of God’s goodness, but one that opens new vistas of God’s glory.  In meditating on Exodus 33:18-34:7 you will find that the God of glory is the God of goodness, and that his goodness is not submitting to any philosophical law of the greater good.  God is goodness in justice and mercy, and by his grace, he is revealing that goodness to all who have eyes to see.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: Exodus 34:6-7 In Biblical-Theological Context

The Context of Exodus 32-34

Exodus 32-34 are at the center of the tabernacle section (Exodus 25-40).  They function as a break between the instructions (25-31) and the construction (35-40). But the break is not just literary, it’s relational.

After all that God has done for Israel—remembering them in Egypt, redeeming them from slavery, making his covenant with them—Israel returns the favor by committing spiritual adultery.  In Exodus 32, God’s people make a graven image, and bow before it.  This invokes God’s wrath, but it also sets the stage to display YHWH’s mercy and grace.

Exodus 34:6-7 is the capstone of this passage, and in these two electric verses, we find the center of Old Testament Theology in God’s revelation to Moses (see Jim Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment for a full development of this idea).  These verses are programmatic for the rest of the Bible and they read,

The LORD passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

To know our God, it is vital to understand these passages in context and content. To better acquaint ourselves with this passage, notice three ways that God’s revelation on Sinai functions much like the cross in the New Testament.

1. Like the cross of Christ, these chapters show God’s mercy and his justice. Like a perfect kaleidoscope, they radiate the colors of God’s severity and kindness (cf. Rom 11:22).  In the New Testament, wrath and mercy meet at the cross; in the Old Testament they meet here.

2. Like the cross of Christ, the role of Moses is that of God-given Mediator.  In other words, he stands between God’s holy wrath and Israel’s rebellious sin.  In this way, as he pleads for mercy, he foreshadows Christ.  But lets not make the mistake that Moses or Christ change God’s mind; in both cases, the God who metes out perfect justice, also sends his a mediator to plead for pardon.  In this, there is the beautiful mystery that God who seeks to destroy Israel, is first the God works to save them.  He listens to Moses’ prayer, because he sent Moses to pray.

3. Like the cross of Christ, this episode shapes the rest of the OT (and NT). Exodus 34:6-7 is quoted throughout the rest of the Bible, and gives shape to all that follows.

This verse is picked up in places like Num 14:18. When Israel rebels against Moses, Moses quotes Exodus 34:6-7 in full as he pleads for Israel’s pardon. In the Psalms, it is often cited to remind Israel of God’s gracious character (cf. 86:15; 103:7).  But in the prophets, Nahum stresses God’s wrath: “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (1:2-3). Even Jonah quotes the verse, saying it was this reason that he did not go to Nineveh, because the reluctant prophet knew God would forgive them if they repented.

Exodus 34:6-7 is so programmatic because of the way it expresses God’s relationship with the world.  YHWH is unchanging (Mal 3:6), yet people are not.  Thus, God has made a world in covenant with him.  Which means: Those who keep covenant will receive grace, mercy, and forgiveness (thru atonement).  However, for those who reject or ignore him, he loathes. His anger burns red-hot. His patience is slow, but not infinite.

Finally, Exodus 34:6-7 is fulfilled in Christ himself. In John 1:14, the beloved disciple introduces Christ saying, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  The connection with Exodus 34:6-7 is in the last phrase.  The God who is abounding in steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness (emeth) is fully revealed in Christ who is full of grace (charis) and truth (aletheia).

This is our God.  Though, Scripture reveals him progressively over time, he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  The Old Testament God and the New Testament God are not juxtaposed, rather, as I recently heard D. A. Carson say, the New Testament vision of God is simply more clear and precise–this is true with God’s love and his justice.

May we this week, worship the God of Sinai and Calvary, and learn to know him in his faithfulness to forgiveness and judge.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss