This one fooled me on where we were going. The first day, it was the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree in Mark 11. On e-sword all the commentators brought up that the tree was a symbol for Israel, giving the show of bearing fruit but not the substance. But, I said to myself, Israel is to be spared a remnant, so I thought maybe we were going to have a series on God having mercy DESPITE... And when the next two were the storioes of Jonah's plant after he preached in Nineveh, and David sparing Saul when he could have killed him, I was sure I was on the right track.
But then I went back to the fig tree. There was something there that kept tugging at me:
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
Why make the point of HOW it had withered? Because leaves fall off in season, branches dry up but the plant goes on. Jesus killed it at the roots- in other words He didn't prune it, He took its LIFE. The need for the tree to bear fruit was so important to Jesus, that its barrenness was a capital offense.
That's when I realized that this week's narrative was more than just God's mercy when we don't deserve it, but HOW He wants us to live our lives. And the Monday lesson- job one is bear fruit!
As I said, Tuesday I was at the back of Jonah. For those who never got past the whole whale thing, Jonah preached (unwillingly) in Nineveh and many were saved, as God was going to destroy the city had they not repented. That was jake with Jonah, since he hoped that God WOULD put and end to them. But then God taught him a lesson in mercy, involving a plant that gave Jonah shelter one day and died the next- how foolish he was being getting mad about a plant dying, when he had no problem with thousands of people dying. Jonah was willing to see them die because of all the evils Nineveh had heaped on the world. But God wanted him- and us- to have mercy on these people. They did not know God, they were in need of teaching, preaching, and repentance. A lot of times we look at the mess this world is in and just want to wash our hands of it, let them get what they deserve and move on. I know I do. Sometimes I think I'm the most like Jonah of all Bible characters. But God says teach on, preach on- in other words, show mercy to those who don't deserve it by our standards.
And Wednesday brings us back to David and Saul, in I Samuel 26. David was on the run from Saul, who sought to kill him, and he and Abashai had found the king asleep in his encampment. Abashai was for ending things once and for all, even offering to do it himself. But David refused him, saying, "What right do we have to slay the Lord's annointed?" So they let him live- and then let Saul and his general Abner KNOW they had let him live. Saul, as he often did, said he repented of his sin against David, but David made it clear in the opening verse of Chapter 27 that he knew the persecution would go on- possibly leading to his death at Saul's hand eventually. He had mercy anyway. And the lesson here is, mercy in the face of your persecutors. Or, as God might put it to ME, "Fighting with atheists may be fun, but remember- the goal is to change their hearts."
Thursday took me to Joshua 14, where Caleb is speaking to Joshua 45 years later about the time the two of them stood against the other ten spies encouraging the people to take the Promised Land.
6 Now the people of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. 7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, 8 but my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly. 9 So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.’[a]
Caleb was trying to make a point about Joshua letting him lead the attack into that particular area despite his age. But our point here to draw is blessings follow when we follow the Lord wholeheartedly.
Friday brought me to Mark again, this time the 8th chapter. Here we see the contrast between Jesus mercy on those who followed to learn and receive from Him, and the pharisees who demanded a sign.
For those who followed to learn, He turned seven loaves and a few small fish into a meal for over four thousand. For those who DEMANDED of Him:
11 The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” 13 Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.
Intersting that Mathew adds the caveat "except the sign of Jonah". My Bible adds "a wicked and perverse generation". This is a point about how to come to God- with needs rather than demands, with faith and openness, rather than demands to "prove it".
And that brought me to Saturday morning and the end of 2 Kings. (Ever notice how often I get sent to the END of books? I guess if you are trying to summarize, go to the summary, eh?) Here we have Judah defeated and mostly exiled by Babylon and Nebuchadnezzer. But a remnant remains, along with Chaldean settlers, and the king sets a gent named Gedaliah over them as governor. In the meantime, the last surviving king of Judah, the 18-year-old Jehoiachin, sits in a Babylonian prison.
Gedaliah then extracts an oath from the people still in Judah:
24 Gedaliah took an oath to reassure them and their men. “Do not be afraid of the Babylonian officials,” he said. “Settle down in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it will go well with you.”
Wise advice, but dissidents led by Ishmael, a scion of the former royal family, came up and killed Gedaliah, his followers, and the Chaldeans with them.
26 At this, all the people from the least to the greatest, together with the army officers, fled to Egypt for fear of the Babylonians.
In the meantime, Jehoiachin had been a good boy, and when he was about 56, the then-king of Babylon let him out of prison, sat him at his own table as a friend, and he knew peace the rest of his life. Moral of the story, and a big one for our present age- God would rather us spend our energy serving him than in politics, particularly fighting "city hall". So what do we end up with as the way God wants us to lead our lives?
1. Bear fruit!
2. Show mercy to the lost.
3. Forgive our persecutors.
4. Follow Him wholeheartedly- no matter how scary the destination.
5. Come to Him with our needs, not with an attitude.
And 6. Live in peace with the rest of the world.
But if you really want the OTHER side of the story...
God has mercy on us:
1. When we disobey;
2. When we don't know Him;
3. When we persecute others;
4. When we're too afraid to listen;
5. When we're deliberately wicked;
And 6. When we rebel against authority.
BUUUUUT... He had that mercy only on a REMNANT.
Do you really want to take the chance?