I Believe in Jesus: Because He Died for Our Sins

Jesus didn’t have to die, but chose to do so because it would help others – including you and me – in ways we could not achieve ourselves.

1 – Jesus gave Himself for the sins of the world. One of the most familiar passages of Scripture emphasizes this: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:16, 17). Jesus said, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). He gave Himself for sinners (Rom. 5:8-9).

He is willing to help us even when we sin again: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2). But this makes willful sin much more egregious (see Heb. 10:26-31).

God is completely impartial and shows no regard between nationalities, cultures or status (Acts 10:34-35). The invitation to benefit from Jesus’ sacrifice is open to anyone who chooses to follow Him (Matt. 11:28-30; Acts 2:38-39; Rev. 22:17).

2 – Jesus gave Himself for the church. The value of the collective group of baptized believers who follow Him is seen in His sacrifice. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it (Eph. 5:25). And, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28). His death was intended to motivate His followers to live loyally to Him: Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14; see II Cor. 5:14-15).

Jesus said He intended to die for His followers: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep (John 10:11). And, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

3 – Jesus gave Himself for those who are imperfect. This should lead us to be more patient with those who are still learning about His will. Paul reminded the stronger, more knowledgeable Christians: “But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died (Rom. 14:15).

Fourth, Jesus gave Himself for you and me. Our names may not be found in the Bible, but He was thinking of us on the cross: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). He “gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” (Gal. 1:4).  He offered Himself out of love: “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood (Rev. 1:5). He offered Himself in our place as our example to love others: “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Eph. 5:2). Because God loves us (John 3:16), we should love others (I John 3:16).

Watch our YouTube video: Jesus’ Death in Five Words.

I Believe in Jesus: Because He’s the Promised Messiah

The early disciples were persuaded to follow Jesus because they recognized He answered the prophecies of the Old Testament about the Messiah. For example, in John 1, as the first apostles were dedicating themselves to follow Him, this was a compelling consideration:

“The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. 44 Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph (John 1:43-45).

The Old Testament contains over 300 prophecies of the Messiah, with 109 being highly detailed. And Jesus fulfilled them all. 

The Old Testament is so replete with forecasts of Jesus that He has been described as the only person who ever lived who had His biography written before He was born. Jesus recognized and declared He was fulfilling these prophecies (see Luke 4:14-22; 24:27, 44; John 5:39). Consider some eight categories of prophecies He fulfilled:

1 – The forerunner of Jesus – John the Baptist – was described in Old Testament prophecies.  The Old Testament ends in Malachi with a promise concerning the one who would precede and prepare the world for Christ: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Mal. 4:5). Isaiah described the forerunner’s work: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). John the Baptist fulfilled these (see Matt. 3:1-3; 11:9-15; 17:11-12).

2 – The birth of Jesus was prophesied.  The Old Testament predicted: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14; see also Gen. 3:15). It was also foretold He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). It happened exactly as predicted so “it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet” (Matt. 1:22).

3 – The childhood of Christ was prophesied. Jesus’ family lived for a time in Egypt, as foretold (see Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:13-15). Young children were slain, as predicted (see Jer. 31:15; Matt. 2:16-18). Jesus’ family settled in Nazareth, just as the Old Testament had implicitly predicted (see Matt. 2:23).

4 – The method of teaching by Jesus was prophesied. He frequently taught in parables, which was predicted in the Old Testament (see Psalm 78:1-2; Matt. 13:34-35). See more about one of Jesus’ most memorable parables in our YouTube video on the Parable of the Good Samaritan: Ten Ways to be a Good Samaritan.

5 – Jesus’ miracles were foretold. The Messiah would heal in every form (Isa. 35:5-6). So did Jesus (Matt. 11:4-6).

6 – The mission of Jesus was prophetically described. The Messiah was foretold as a suffering, sinless Savior to sacrifice Himself for our sins (see Isaiah 53). He would be betrayed by His closest friend (see Psalm 55:12-15) for thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12). This is Jesus.

7 – The victory of Christ was prophesied. The Old Testament foretold the death and the resurrection of Jesus (see Psalm 22-24; I Cor. 15:1-3). Jesus explained to His disciples that all of this was foretold (Luke 24:44-49). One of the frequently cited prophecies of Jesus’ resurrection is: “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption” (Psalm 16:10 NKJV). And Psalm 110:1 is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other single Old Testament verse, and it described in advance this monumental event: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.”

8 – The church of Christ was also foretold. Prophetic statements in Isaiah 2, Daniel 2 and Joel 2 all look forward to what transpired in Acts 2: a body of baptized believers formed around the common purpose of glorifying Jesus and serving others in His name. Paul explained that  one of the goals of his ministry was that “the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).

The fulfillments of these advance descriptions of Jesus and His work are meant to signal unmistakably that He is “‘the Messiah’ (which is translated, the Christ)” (John 1:41).

God’s Makeovers: How Paul Became a Christian

Paul is one of the best-known figures in the Bible. He was the most prolific writer of the New Testament, with 14 books (including Hebrews) authored by him under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He was specially equipped by God to perform all types of miracles to confirm that his message was sanctioned by heaven. And he was recognized as one of the most capable teachers and logicians of the early church. But the way he first became a Christian, when we closely examine it, is no different from the form by which anyone else becomes one.

The Book of Acts describes the way that Paul first became a Christian in three of its chapters – Acts 9, 22 and 26 – and two of those are in Paul’s own words. When we harmonize those three sections, we see how the Lord miraculously appeared to Paul. At that time, Paul (then known as Saul), was a Jew, and a member of its strictest segment, the Pharisees.  He was on a mission to hunt down Christians so they could be punished for their supposed heresy.  At the brilliance of the Lord’s appearance, Paul was struck sightless, and begged the Lord to tell him what he should do to appease Him. What happened next is important from the standpoint of showing that everyone – Paul, you, me, everyone in between – in the details, becomes accepted by Jesus as His follower in the same manner.

Read Acts 9:1-19, 22:6-16 and 26:12–18, and notice these three steps that Paul took in the process of becoming a Christian:

(1) Teaching: Consider carefully that Jesus, when He miraculously appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, did not make Paul a Christian at that moment. Prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, He had provided forgiveness to some He encountered, but no instance of that type of direct pardon is recorded after His resurrection. Also, Paul’s seeing Jesus did not make Paul a Christian. Jesus directed Paul to continue traveling to Damascus, and gave him a specific address to visit. Meanwhile, the Lord directed one of His disciples to meet Paul to teach him how to become a Christian and to disclose the role of greater service to which the Lord invited him.

This is consistent with the pattern Jesus had described for how all of humanity would be brought into a relationship with Him. Christianity is a taught religion: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20 KJV).

(2) Penitent faith: Upon the Lord’s instructions to Paul to continue to Damascus, he complied and once there, he intensely prayed to God. What’s notable is what Paul was not doing: persecuting Christians. His desisting from oppressing Christians and his instead pleading to God to be appeased reveals the abrupt change inside of him.

The specifics of how a person shows he has a contrite, and fully trusting heart toward God will likely take different forms from person to person, but all have this demeanor in common. When Jesus explained how the apostles were to begin the cycle of leading the world to Him, He specifically included this element:  “Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).

(3) Baptism: In Acts 22, Ananias finds Paul praying, and it appears he had been intensely fasting and praying for about three days.  But Paul’s prayers were insufficient to complete the process of his translation from outside of Christ into Him. Ananias advised him: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord’ (Acts 22:16).

It was not possible for Paul – or any other – under the New Covenant, to pray so earnestly that the Lord will accept him on his prayer and make him His disciple. This is because Jesus has already announced the terms of admission to His kingdom, which includes a command for initiates to be immersed for that purpose: “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

Anyone today who desires to become Jesus’ disciple can follow the same elements that were taught in the New Testament, and then we can have peace of mind in knowing that we are just what Paul and the other first-century Christians were – Christians only.

More about God’s Makeovers: Paul (1 Timothy 1:13-16) is available in our YouTube video.

God’s Makeovers: Second Chances for Struggling Christians

An episode that arose during the First Missionary Journey provides some insight into the patience of God – and our need to be patient with others who may be struggling.

John Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on the first major expedition by the church at Antioch to send the gospel of Christ into the heart of the Gentile world (Acts 13:3-5). John Mark, however, didn’t finish the journey. Luke explains that after the party landed along the southern coast of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), “John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13). Not much is suggested in the text to convey the idea that anything was troubling with that development, except that it is specifically pointed out. We learn later, when Paul and Barnabas were planning their second journey together, that John Mark’s leaving them had much more significance to it. When Barnabas suggested that they allow John Mark to travel with them on the second trip, it was not welcomed by Paul:
“Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:38-41 NKJV).

The separation of Paul and Barnabas is disappointing, but the disagreement – over a matter that was not related to faith or doctrine – was so intense that they elected to take different paths in the mission.

Whatever the cause for John Mark’s decision to leave the mission on the earlier trip, he later regained a strong relationship with and respect of Paul. In some of Paul’s later writings, he describes John Mark as a productive coworker (Col 4:10-11 and 2 Tim. 4:11). Peter referred to John Mark as his spiritual son (1 Peter 5:13). Early church history reveals that John Mark is the penman of the Gospel According to Mark.

Christians are forgiven, but they aren’t flawless. In John Mark’s life we see how the mistakes we make don’t have to define our lives – we can make a new start in Jesus Christ.

See more about God’s Makeovers: John Mark in our YouTube video.

God’s Makeovers: Manasseh’s Prayer

If your prayers have been infrequent, perhaps a dose of motivation is needed. In 2 Chronicles 33:12-13,  we learn what turned one of Judah’s most ungodly kings, Manasseh, into a man of earnest prayer: 

“Now when he was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, 13 and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.”

Notice three features of this prayer that can help us reinvigorate our prayer-life:

1) The incentive for Manasseh’s prayer: “when he was in affliction” (v. 12a). Sometimes the turmoil or trauma of life can remind us of our humanity and mortality and reawaken us to our spiritual needs. Manasseh had created these problems by many years of ungodly living and turning away from God’s message. The Lord was open to receive him back. His forgiveness, however, won’t necessarily take away the course of natural consequences set in motion by our misconduct. Nothing bad that we experience is for nothing if it draws us closer to our Creator.

2) The intensity of Manasseh’s prayer: “he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him” (vv. 12b-13a). Manasseh’s prayer reminds us of the publican who “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!'” (Luke 18:13). Prayers that lack spirit or are merely repeating words without feeling perhaps won’t rise any higher than the ceiling. Prayers that reach the ear of God are like “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18). 

3) The impact of Manasseh’s prayer: “He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom” (v. 13b). What a tremendous example of God’s presence and patience! Manasseh had ignored the Lord for decades, yet our Father readily provided for Him when he turned his situation over to Him. Of course, the precise outcome of our prayers are in God’s plan and according to what serve His purpose. For example, the apostle Paul pleaded for relief, and in his situation, the Lord saw that instead of eliminating the problem, He would continue to equip Paul to endure it (see II Cor. 12:7-10). As he relied on God, “Manasseh knew that the Lord was God“ (v. 13). Regardless of the manner in which the Lord answers our prayers, we can continue to have certainty that He is providing for us in the way that is best for us. 

James pointed out that “you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). As we increase the urgency of our prayers, the Heavenly Father increases the frequency of His answers.

More about God’s Makeovers: Manasseh are in our YouTube video.

“Perhaps This is Why:” A Closer Look at Esther 4:14

One of the most powerful passages of Scripture about God’s providence never mentions His name, but it’s filled with His presence. It’s found about midway through the suspenseful book of Esther.

Esther was a beautiful woman who was selected by the King of Persia to be his wife; however, as detailed in the book, he didn’t know she was a Jew (Esther 2:9-10). At the request of his jealous assistant Haman, the king unwittingly issued an edict that the Jews were to be put to death (3:8-10).

Esther chapter four recounts Esther’s decision to approach the king about the Jews impending demise. This was risky, because it would violate protocol to approach him uninvited, could be considered a security threat and, not the least, would expose her as a Jew.

In our text, Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, urged urged her to take action: “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NKJV). Consider four spiritual principles from this passage:

1) Evil can intimidate good people into doing nothing: “If you remain silent.” Peer pressure urges those who are younger to do things they shouldn’t, then as we get older it pulls at us to not do things we should. Peter was lured to deny Jesus by those beside him (John 18:25-27). Barnabas found it too hard to go against the group mentality (Gal. 2:13).  When it is within our power, we must help those who are in distress.

2) God is so powerful, versatile and persistent that evil cannot thwart His providence when His people call for it: “relief will arise from another place.” Ezra later said the Lord gave them more than relief – He gave them a revival (Ezra 9:9). God’s plans baffle the enemy: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (I Cor. 2:7-9).

3) God’s providence will not compensate for our unfaithfulness to Him: “your father’s house will perish” (cf. v. 13). For Esther to benefit from God’s providence, she could not sit idly by and be confident of any benefit. The Lord Who sends “our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11) has not promised to provide “if any would not work” (II Thess. 3:10).

4) Perhaps God has placed us where we are for a good purpose. The meandering path of life could have actually been a journey to exactly where God wants to use us:

  • “If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?” (Prov. 24:12). God is not surprised by any developments in human activity.
  • “For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him forever; 16 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, especially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh and in the Lord?” (Philemon 15-16). The Lord is able to turn misfortune into fortune when we place our activities under His direction.
  • “Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me” (Phil. 2:30). When we are consumed with serving God’s purpose, He can turn our shortcomings into a blessing.

God’s providence is appropriated through our faithfulness to Him. Faith requires a willingness to risk our security. 

Your Bible’s Bells & Whistles

Your copy of the Bible is likely chock full of extra features to help you study more efficiently. Let’s take a few moments and get familiar with them, like learning the buttons and gadgets on a new automobile. Here are a few:

Concordance: This is usually near the back. It’s an index of significant words with the passages where they can be found. It doesn’t contain every place a word is located, so you’ll need to refer to a separate concordance, such as Strong’s, Young’s or Cruden’s, to see a complete listing. If you are looking for passages with the word “pastor,” for example, check the concordance. Keep in mind these are usually case-specific, meaning you won’t find verses with synonymous terms – such as bishop or elder – listed under the heading for pastor, even though from a doctrinal standpoint these terms are interchangeable.

Marginal references or footnotes: These are often indicated by tiny, superscript letters in a passage. Depending on the Bible you’re using, these will provide more literal or alternative translations of a word, or perhaps clarify a phrase by providing its historical usage or explaining an idiom. This information helps us dig deeper into the meaning of the text.

Cross-references: These appear at the end of a verse or chapter, in a column in the middle of the page, or along the outside margin of the page. These point us to passages addressing similar subjects. Rarely will we learn all God says about a topic in a single verse. It’s also helpful to mark these when we learn something new. For example, in my Bible at Romans 10:13 (“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”), I have written in a cross-reference to Acts 22:16 (“And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”).

Maps: These provide a geographic perspective on events in Scripture. For example, the phrase “from Dan even to Beersheba” (II Sam. 24:2) takes on new meaning when we locate those two sites on a map of ancient Israel. [Now, use your concordance or cross-references and see how frequently that phrase appeared in the Old Testament.]

Study notes and commentary: These are explanatory comments by a teacher or writer which elaborate on the text, and, while sometimes helpful, are not authoritative. Treat these like you would statements by any modern teacher, weighing them against the actual teaching of Scripture (see I Thess. 5:21 (“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”) and I John 4:1 (“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”). Examining these to see “whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11), can help us clarify our understanding of a passage and uncover God’s truth on the matter.

10 Reasons to Believe in Jesus’ Resurrection

Christians believe something that makes them different from any other religion: Our founder died for our sins and afterwards came back to life. Paul explained:  “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures (I Cor. 15:1-4). And thereafter He ascended to heaven, so that “[a]fter he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever,” Jesus “sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12).

We ought to believe in our hearts that Jesus was resurrected (see Rom. 10:9-10), but that’s not the only basis for our faith. The Bible and history provide us with some solid reasons to believe that Jesus’ resurrection is an actual event of history:

1.  Jesus was publicly tried and executed, which removed any doubt that He was in fact put to death. Scripture says, “When they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs; but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:33, 34).

2.  Jesus was buried in a new stone sepulcher which was guarded by Roman soldiers. So there was no way thieves could enter or leave with His body (Matt. 27:57-66).

3.  The tomb of Jesus was officially sealed, which identified it as the burial place of the One who had been crucified and ensured that it received special attention (Matt. 27:66).

4.  The apostles – Jesus’ closest followers – personally saw Him on many occasions after His resurrection (for example, Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:3-9). They couldn’t be fooled (see II Peter 1:6; I John 1:1-3).

5.  A large number personally saw the resurrected Savior. Paul said that over 500 saw Him, among others (I Cor. 15:6-8).

6.  The apostles were changed by His resurrection and preached it widely. The resurrection of Christ was a key component of Peter’s preaching (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; I Pet. 1:21). Paul, who had been a vigorous persecutor of Christians, became Jesus’ follower,  and emphasized that Christ arose from the dead (Acts 13:30, 34; 17:3, 31; Rom. 1:4; 4:24, 25; 6:4, 9; 7:4; 8:11; 10:9; I Cor. 6:14; 15; 2 Cor. 4:14; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:20; Col. 2:12; I Thess. 1:10; 4:14; II Tim. 2:8). All were highly motivated to serve the purpose of Christ.

7.  The apostles were willing to be martyrs for Jesus (see, e.g., Acts 12:1-3; 21:13; II Tim. 4:6-8). They died because He lived.

8.  Jesus foretold His resurrection. He said, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). He also promised to “rebuild the Temple” of His body in three days (see John 2:19-22). He specifically foretold that He would be put to death and rise again (see Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19).

9.  The Old Testament prophets foretold Jesus’ resurrection. Key passages are: Psalm 16:9-10; 22:22-31; 118:22-24; Isa. 53:10; Job 19:25. Psalm 16:9-10 is cited by Peter (Acts 2:25-31) and Paul (Acts 13:33-37) in teaching Jesus’ resurrection. Psalm 22:22 is quoted in Hebrews 2:12, and Psalm 118:22 is quoted in Acts 4:10-11 as proof that He arose.

10.  Life would be meaningless without Jesus’ resurrection.  Paul pointed out the futility of life apart from the empty tomb (I Cor. 15:12-19). We have hope because Jesus is “he that liveth, and was dead; and [is] alive for evermore” (Rev. 1:18).

God’s Mercy: Case Studies in Divine Clemency

God’s mercy can never be exhausted. Jeremiah, in a terrible time in life, said God’s mercies “are new every morning” (Lam. 3:23). Paul praised the Lord because He is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4). Perhaps the most extensive thanksgiving for God’s leniency is found in Psalm 136:

“O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. 2 O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever. 3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever. 4 To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever. 5 To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever. 6 To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever. 7 To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever: 8 The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever: 9 The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 136:1-9).

If we were to continue reading the rest of that chapter, all 26 verses in that Psalm refer to God’s unending supply of clemency. God’s mercy has been defined as “the eternal principle of God’s nature that leads him to seek the temporal good and eternal salvation of those who have opposed themselves to his will, even at the cost of infinite self-sacrifice.” (Strong’s Systematic Theology).

God’s mercy and God’s grace have been distinguished by pointing out that His grace is His giving us something that we do not deserve, while His mercy is His withholding something from us that we do in fact deserve, such as a penalty for our sins.

An effective way to study God’s mercy is to examine cases of His withholding punishment when it was due in favor of being kind and forgiving:

1. David – Psalm 51 is David’s confession of sin after he committed adultery and aided in the murder of his paramour’s husband. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions…. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:1, 16-17). The natural consequences of David’s sin took their course, but God forgave him.

2. The ancient Israelites – Though they repeatedly turned to idolatry, God continued to extend mercy to them. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide; neither will he keep his anger forever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:8-12). God’s mercy was ultimately expressed to them through the sacrifice of Jesus. “For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 8:8, 12).

3. Jonah – He ran from God and resented His plan, but God was patient with him. “And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jonah. 4:2).

4. Paul – He said of himself: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief…. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (I Tim. 1:13, 16).

The Lord offers His mercy today to you and me. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6).

People of the Bible: Samson

Samson was the strongest man in Scripture – in terms of sheer physical power. He had many weaknesses, however, most of which he did not initially recognize. He was able to provide ancient Israel some relief from Philistine oppression, but his weakness for wanting Philistine friends, including girlfriends, eventually led to his demise. He revealed the secret of the Nazarite vow, including unshorn hair, to Delilah, who betrayed him to some jealous Philistines. They cut his hair, and turned him into something like a carnival act.

At the lowest point in his life, Samson asked for God to give him strength so that he could complete his mission. The Bible says, “And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28).

Like Samson, God is best able to empower us when we recognize our need for Him. A paradox of Scripture is that when we have recognized our deprivation without God’s strength, He will strengthen us, using His word, the fellowship of His people, our worship of Him, and His providence. Here are some of the passages which refer to that concept:

  • “O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee” (II Chron. 20:12).
  • “For the Lord will not cast off for ever: 32 But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies” (Lam. 3:31-32).
  • “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (II Cor. 12:7-10).
  • “For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you” (II Cor. 13:4).

The real source of Samson’s strength was his faith in God. The Heavenly Father can strengthen us once we recognize our weaknesses. God takes our faith and “out of weakness” makes us strong (Heb. 11:34).

Having a hard time in life right now? Perhaps the moment is arriving when you can experience God’s strength more fully.