Justice and Mercy in the Old Testament: Part 1

As an American, I find the timing of this week’s lesson on Justice and Mercy in the Old Testament: Part 1 providential. Our nation, not unlike nations around the world, is grappling with social unrest that includes the question of Justice and Mercy. How justice is meted out and how mercy is applied leaves a lot to be desired.

As the church of today wrestles with the controversial and many times explosive issues of our generation, we know one thing – we should be different. The church should be the salt that seasons with love, kindness, forbearance and tolerance all who come within the sphere of its influence. Unfortunately, in too many cases what we should be is not what we actually are.The church, made up of individuals of our communities, finds itself hard-pressed to offer any meaningful solutions to the questions of the day. Do we the church serve as the light out of the darkness around us or have we become silent observers?

I’m convinced that the answers for the church and society at large are found in the written Word of God. We all have our opinions and although well meaning, we often take up ways of thinking that are contrary to God’s will for our lives. We need divine guidance for our journey through this life.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105

This week we take a look back at the instructions given to a new nation that was to hold God as its supreme ruler. Details for everyday living were given and the principles outlined so long ago still have application for today.

One line in just one of the many texts for this week’s study contained a profound principle that we must govern our lives by. It is spelled out in this text but the same sentiments can be found throughout the Bible.

Moses had gone before God to receive instructions for the people. All aspects of life are covered, everything from how to deal with servants, violence, gossip and so much more. Tucked inside one of the verses is a principle we will focus on today.

“Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 23:9

Did you see it? It’s that part that begins with for you know the heart of a stranger, because... “Because you were” moves the instructions from just rules and regulations. It gives a human reason to frame our actions. It’s called empathy: the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings.

Moses was to remind the people that they were to remember how difficult it was for them when they were in a disadvantaged position in life. That memory should lead them to treat the stranger as they would have wanted to be treated. It is one of the secrets to the church of today being effective.

Many of us, through the principles of living we’ve learned as Christians, have been able to make significant improvements and advancements in our lives. Bad habits that once controlled us have been replaced by healthier ways of living. Our priorities in life have changed. Our values in life have changed. We have become new creatures.

That newness in life is not an escape from the care and concern of our fellow man. It is a joining of Christ in serving humanity. That service is more heartfelt when we remember how God had been merciful to us. With that knowledge we must be merciful to others.

I love the story of Jesus giving deliverance to the man controlled by the demons known as Legion. The man had such a strong love for the One who set him free that he begged to accompany Jesus as He prepared to leave. Jesus refused the man’s request but in turn gave him the mission of a lifetime.

“Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” Luke 8:39

Just remember what I did for you and tell that story. Remember how bound you were and how hopeless your life was before you met Me and use that to bring healing and deliverance to others. Remember you too were a stranger in the land of Egypt.

Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:

  • What does the word justice mean to you?
  • Is getting what one deserves the purpose of justice? Explain your answer
  • Should one of the church’s goals be to insure that justice is served to all guilty parties? Why yes or no?
  • In the church, what if anything, should govern our use of justice for offending parties?
  • What does the word mercy mean to you?
  • What should be the goal of applying mercy?
  • In Jesus’s condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:23), He told them that they neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. What did He mean by that?
  • Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: The church should take an active position in the world insuring that there is justice and mercy for all. Explain your answer.

We close this week’s lesson with a descriptive text from David about God’s kingdom. It is worth our study to learn more about what this means:

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face.” Psalm 89:14

Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!

Restoring Dominion

We live in a world obsessed with a quest for dominion. Brutal crimes are perpetrated, schemes of deception are levied against the helpless and the strong take from the weak. Innocent lives are wiped out en masse with little recourse to justice in large part due to a quest for dominion.

Man was given dominion over all earthly life when he stood innocent in the Garden of Eden. His rule of care and direction was a characteristic of his God-given power. It was an element of his perfection.Church politics, once an aberration, is now considered the norm. Jockeying for influence, power and control in the church has resulted in the development of institutions of religion that are far from righteous.

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”Genesis 1:31

Continue reading

Last Day Events

For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10

The Pharisees and religious rulers were standing in the way of salvation.

Matthew 23 is a scathing condemnation of the most revered men in Jewish society. The reverence, respect and fear of these men touched all areas of life. In essence the people were enslaved to the very ones appointed by God to show to the world the path of salvation. Jesus, in order to break the corrupt priesthood’s hold on the people, spoke plainly about the dangerous errors of their ways.The Pharisees and religious rulers were standing in the way of salvation.

Even before we examine the particulars of this discourse we are again reminded of the power of tradition and blind faith that often impedes our advancement in the things of God. We look back at the exchanges between Jesus and His avowed enemies and we wonder how could anyone be as callous and malicious as those leaders were? How could anyone deny the power of Jesus and discount the miracles He performed right before their eyes?

The answer is quite simple — a thirst for power. The quest to be in control, coupled with a desire to be extolled and praised is a dangerous combination. It has destroyed relationships, caused divisions within churches and led to wars of aggression. Continue reading

Peter and the Rock

One of the men I admire most in my life is T. Marshall Kelly. I admired his rich baritone voice as he sang meaningful gospel songs. What a privilege it was for me to one day entertain him and his wife at my house for a Sabbath dinner.

One of the songs T. Marshall Kelly is known for is titled “It Takes Everything to Serve the Lord” (YouTube link here). The chorus to that song is as follows:

It takes your hands and your head,
And your heart, yes, your all,
It takes everything to serve the Lord.
It takes your time, and your means,
And your prayers lest you fall,
It takes everything to serve the Lord.

That simple song is but a paraphrase of the words of Jesus found in this week’s lesson on Peter and the Rock. Matthew 16 is packed with fascinating exchanges between Jesus and His disciples and Peter in particular. Continue reading

Resting in Christ

I wish I had understood the Sabbath much earlier in my Christian walk. I’ve been a Sabbath keeper for decades. I was born into a Sabbath-keeping family with many Sabbath-keeping relatives. I’ve calculated that I’ve willingly “kept” the Sabbath over two thousand times. Yet, for most of those past years I can honestly say that I missed the mark in my Sabbath observance.

I know all too well the verbal importance we place on the Sabbath. Many of us, including myself, have at times used the facts of the Sabbath as an evidence of theological superiority. It’s biblically indisputable that the Sabbath is still binding upon man. Those that claim that it was done away at the cross find themselves without a foundation with simple questions such as, “Were all of the other commandments done away with also?”This week as we talk about Resting in Christ, we have the opportunity to reexamine what the Sabbath is all about. It’s more than a day off work, and it’s more than a day in church. The Sabbath means much more.

Proving the validity of the Sabbath is easy. Understanding why we keep it seems a much harder task. Continue reading

My Flat Tire

Flat tireLet me tell you about the flat tire I recently had. Flats happen and usually at the less than perfect time and place. Mine would prove to be no exception. It was just another unexpected twist in an already unusual day.

I left out driving to Columbus Ohio early Friday morning around 7 am. I was scheduled to speak at a church the next day so I had all day Friday to get there.

With my camera on the seat next to me, I was hoping to stop along the way and take a few pics of anything that caught my eye. It’s a pretty drive going up I-75 from Atlanta to Ohio.

Sure enough, as I got into the mountains of Tennessee the scenery was spectacular. It had rained earlier so the mist rising added to beauty. I saw an exit sign for a mountain overlook so I took it hoping to experience some special views. At the exit was the entrance for another park and I stopped there and took a few pics.

Great Blue Heron

As I left there to head to the mountain overlook view, I noticed a small pond with a Heron perched on some logs. I quickly pulled over and spent a half hour or so taking bird pictures. This was turning out to be a great day of traveling.

I soon got back on the road to make my way to Ohio. I crossed over into Kentucky knowing that I only had 5 hours to go.

As I’m driving my phone rings and a friend of mine I do some training with was on the other end. She said “Curtis, where are you? I don’t see you anywhere and the airport is packed.”

What?! Airport?! I’m driving to Ohio!

As we talked I realized to my horror, and I mean horror, that I was supposed to be in Florida the next day to provide training for the Southeastern  Conference! Continue reading