The Word That Sustains the Weary

Tired

The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. (Isaiah 50:4)

Evangelical commentator Charles Colson once contacted a radio station that had dropped his program hoping to get it reinstated.  His program, BreakPoint, was intended to help listeners develop a better Christian worldview.

“I called the station manager, arguing that believers need to think Christianly about major world issues. The young woman on the other end of the phone admonished me: ‘But we don’t want to do anything that will upset our listeners.’ Younger women, she said, want ‘something to help them cope with life.'”

This view was confirmed by a Christian homemaker interviewed for a TV special on evangelicalism. She is so busy, she explained, taking care of the kids, family activities, Bible study, cooking, etc., that she doesn’t even read the newspaper or care what is happening in the world around her. Church for her is getting her spirits lifted.

Colson framed the issue this way: “Should we give people what they want or what they need?”

So long as there is a difference between “what the people want” and “what the people need,” Christian integrity demands that we give them what they need.

But that suggests another question: What is our great spiritual need?

There is no doubt that we Christians need to develop a more Christian, Biblical worldview. The less we have, the more we live lives inconsistent with our faith. But the ability to properly evaluate current events, political rhetoric and movements, and pressing moral questions does not address our deepest human need.

You see, at the heart of a Christian worldview is Christ. A Christian worldview sees more than problems in the world around me. It sees the problem of sin within me. It sees Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the solution. It looks to a perfect heaven beyond this incorrigible world as the ultimate goal. In other words, it looks to the gospel to fill our deepest needs.

Nor is Christianity primarily about getting our spirits lifted. I can often find a needed psychological or emotional lift in a good movie, some pop music, an evening out, or good conversation with friends just as well as in church or on the radio. My real spiritual need is to be in touch with the life-giving Spirit, who directs our attention again to Jesus and his saving work.

And where will we find that Spirit? Jesus himself promises, “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).

Jesus knows what we need. He is speaking directly through Isaiah here when he says he “knows the word that sustains the weary.”

The Word that sustains the weary is, “Son, be of good cheer, your sins are all forgiven.”

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

“I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life. No one can snatch them out of my hands.

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

“…neither life nor death, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Loved Before Time

Clocks - time

(The author is on vacation. This post was originally made August 5, 2016)

2 Timothy 1:9 (God) has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time…

You may remember a grassroots campaign urging “Random Acts of Kindness.” One of the things that made that campaign so striking, so fresh and exciting, is that a random act of kindness, giving things to people who have had no chance to do anything for us, is so rare. It still is.

On the backside of our giving, our gifts so often come with strings attached. They expect or demand some kind of response. Haven’t you felt awkward receiving a gift from someone because you wondered what he wanted from you? Or maybe you have received a gift and felt guilty, because you hadn’t gotten anything for the gift’s giver, and now you felt like you should go out and get him something. We live in this world of “what’s in it for me” or “what’s it going to cost me” because our sinful, selfish nature can’t see the sense, or even the possibility, of anything being truly “free.” And that’s a serious problem, because in eternity there are only two places that we can go, and only one of them has an admission price we pay ourselves, and it isn’t heaven.

But the undeserved love of God is truly a gift. He laid down no conditions before he gave us this grace. Indeed, we gave him no reason to want to make this gift to us. We weren’t able. His gift of grace is truly free. And once we have received it, he does not demand a response, as though grace were charged to our Visa, and we were going to pay it off over time. Grace does not demand a response, but it does invite one. We can even say that it inspires a response, that it compels a response, because the free gift of grace changes all who receive it. It fills them with love that freely gives, just as we have received.

Perhaps the gift nature of God’s grace is clearer to see when Paul says, “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” Don’t misunderstand Paul’s words. He is not saying that God’s grace was given to us at some point before creation. There were not millions or billions of years before creation, and then one day God woke up and decided, “I’m going to create me a world, and when it goes wrong, I’m going to redeem it. And when I do, I’m going to save Joe.”

No, in eternity there is no time, no progressing from one moment to the next in the same way we think of it. God always was. And as long as there has been God, his grace has been given to you. There was no “day before” grace. God’s grace–to you personally– is eternal, just like God himself is eternal. It is unchangeable as God himself. You can’t get anything less demanding of something in you, anything more “free,” than that.

Can you put a value on a gift like that? The old Motown song sings, “Money can’t buy you love.” And when it comes to God’s love, neither can good works, personal sacrifice, or anything else we can think to give. God has always loved you just because he chooses to love you. You can not turn this love off, you cannot make it stop, any more than you can change God himself.

(Picture by By LetsgomusicStyle – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27330732)

Privileged to Serve

Luke 10:38-40“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he did not have a steady income or salary to support him. He rarely stayed in one place very long. Any offerings in the synagogues where he preached went to support the synagogues. Often he taught the people out in the open air. The Bible tells us that several of the women who put their faith in him supported him from their own means. That was what Martha was doing for him here.

Martha can be commended for a couple of reasons. First, when Jesus came to stay, it was rarely just Jesus that needed accommodations. At least 12 other men came with him. Between Jesus and his disciples, Martha had a houseful to serve and look after. You can’t criticize her generosity or hard work.

Secondly, as humble as her work may appear, she was providing real service to God’s Kingdom. This obscure incident may not qualify as a watershed event in world history, but God was using her service to support his plan of salvation. You can call it mere housework, but Martha’s cooking and cleaning were playing a role in Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus has some things to criticize about Martha later. But don’t think he was criticizing her willingness to serve. Many today find it easy to let lives their lives revolve around their own enjoyment, hobbies, or activities. These keep them from inconveniencing themselves to serve Jesus as Martha did.

Some undervalue little things at church like mowing the grass, sweeping a floor, painting a wall, or attending a voter’s meeting. These are still Kingdom work. They still serve the ministry of the Gospel.

Consider Jesus’ promise that when we feed the hungry or visit the sick, he considers that service to him. It wasn’t easy or convenient for Martha to open her home, but it was evidence that her heart had been opened. For this Martha is to be commended.

Her service wasn’t perfect, however. “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’” Martha was distracted. She was anxious. There were so many preparations that had to be made, and so little help. Her work was full of fear and doubt.

Many of us see a mountain of work in God’s Kingdom. The work doesn’t seem to be getting done. No one seems involved. We get anxious. We get worried. Then we approach the work of the church like Chicken Little: “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Jesus’ promises that “gates of hell will not prevail against (my church).” God never appointed us to be the new Messiahs. His work gets done in his way, in his time. Concern and ambition have their place, but fear and anxiety will not help.

Martha’s example also cautions us against self-righteousness. Instead of finding simple joy in the privilege of serving Jesus, she becomes obsessed with what everyone else is doing (or failing to do). She has made herself the standard by which Mary is to be judged.

Are we guilty of the same thing from time to time? We want to be people who spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). But when we start judging others because they don’t serve the way that I am serving, then we have become more than a little like Martha here, more than a little self-righteous.

The Gospel sets us free to serve our Savior! Forgiveness makes our contribution acceptable even when it is tainted by worry or self-righteous motives. Our humble work is a response to Jesus great work of redeeming you and me. This same grace applies to everyone else as well. There are many ways to show our love. Some may be serving in ways we aren’t aware of. Let’s be thankful for the things we can do, and the Savior whose grace to us has made it possible.

Peace Behind the Mask

Psalm 29:11b “The Lord blesses his people with peace.”

Whatever comes to us from God’s hand comes to us as a blessing. God’s blessing means that he has only good intentions for us. What he gives his people, the people he loves and saves, never comes as a curse. But you know that his blessings are often blessings in disguise.

Sometimes you and I can take the mask off of these blessings in disguise and see them as they really are. But not all God’s blessings give up their masks easily. We may not be able to see them this side of heaven. Whether we can see them or not, we continue to have the blessing David promises here, “The Lord blesses his people with peace.” Peace isn’t the same thing as a trouble free life. Peace means that God has made me whole. My situation is as it should be. The Bible way of thinking about this goes something like this:

First, the Lord has given me peace with him, peace because my sins have been forgiven and not a single one of them will be held against me. Peace with God means that he is my friend, not my enemy, that he is on my side, not against me.

Second, if there is peace between me and God, and the Lord is on my side, then he is directing my world and my life to my advantage. It is true that the Lord and I don’t always see eye to eye on what might be to my advantage. But he always has the superior view of what serves me, because all too often I don’t see past the needs of my body, and he is always looking out for the needs of my soul. So long as I realize that God is on my side, and my soul is taken care of, I have peace.

Take this peace, and apply it to your life ahead of you. In every task, every challenge, every battle that lies ahead, the Lord promise to bless you, not to hurt you; to be on your side working for you as your friend. That gives us peace in the middle of every task, challenge, or battle, too. And that peace gives us confidence to face whatever the future holds.

Christian life is a little like living the lead role in an adventure movie. If the hero wasn’t constantly in danger, dodging swords or bullets, narrowly escaping storms or floods, collapsing buildings or hungry packs of wolves, there wouldn’t be a story. From the seats in the theater it all looks entertaining and exciting. Lived in real life there is cold and sweat and pain. But somehow you know the hero wins in the end.

You are the hero in the story of your life that God is writing for you. After the cold and the sweat and the pain, you are going to win, not because of your own ingenuity and resourcefulness, but because the Lord gives strength to his people, and the Lord blesses his people with peace.

Our Strength

Psalm 29:11 “The Lord gives strength to his people.”

The words are simple enough. The promise isn’t difficult to understand. What is not immediately obvious to you and me may be the emphasis that would have been seen by David’s original Hebrew readers. Think of the word “Lord” in big bold letters, underlined three times, and read twice as loud as the rest of the sentence. The LORD gives strength to his people. The Lord is the one we need to turn to for all those things that make us feel weak.

            As obvious as that may seem, it is a truth that goes against our natural inclinations. All of us know that salvation is not a do-it-yourself project. “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” Jesus paid for all our sins because we couldn’t pay for them ourselves. He suffered the hell that would have been our eternity. He turned death into the gateway to heaven. He gives us the faith that makes all of these gifts our own. The Lord gives salvation to his people, salvation they could not have achieved with a billion lifetimes of their own efforts.

            David wants us to know that this present life is not a do-it-yourself project, either. We are inclined to pin our hopes for strength to cope our own abilities. Maybe if I can complete my education, and get that college degree, I will have the edge I need to get ahead and become a success. Maybe if I get seriously involved in the political process, and start a movement; maybe if we can get the right people sent to Washington, life will be better for all of us. Maybe if I get my spending under control and start saving for the future, I will finally have the security I have been looking for. Maybe if I get my diet and exercise right, I will start feeling better. Then I can throw some of these pills away, I can attain the quality of life I have been looking for.

            All of these things are good. But not one of them is a guarantee. Even with good education, good government, good investments, and good health, life can be insanely difficult. And whom are we depending on to get us all these things? All of these things should rightfully be the subjects of our prayers. But it is easy, even natural, to think that we can get them done ourselves.

            The Lord gives strength to his people. If you read the preceding verses of Psalm 29, all the descriptions of the Lord emphasize his power over all creation. It is certainly true that the Lord has all the strength he needs to take care of all we need.

But the name itself, the LORD, emphasizes something else about him. It is the name that emphasizes his freedom and faithfulness, and so it is the name that emphasizes his grace. The God who was not obligated to love you, nor forced to love you, nor manipulated into loving you, but freely chose to love you and me, gives us strength as his gift. The faithful God, who never changes, will not, cannot, and does not take back his gift.

            Then, don’t miss the nature of the gift itself. “The Lord gives strength to his people.” This is not the same thing as “success,” at least not as many people understand that word. This is not a promise to make your life easy. David is not saying that the Lord is going to end your struggles and battles. He promises that the Lord will give you the strength to face them.

            He does this primarily by giving us himself. When Paul prayed about his thorn in the flesh, God didn’t take it away. He made Paul strong to endure it. Then Paul concludes, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul reminds the Philippians about how we get things done: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

            So, it turns out you have been struggling, battling, laboring for a long time. You have been trying to make this family work. You have been trying to make this job work. You have been trying to make this body work. You have been trying to make this church work. You have been trying to make this life work. Don’t expect the work to end. But the Lord gives strength to his people, the strength to do the work he has given them.

Keeping the Joy-thief Away

John 17:13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”

If you read through chapters 13 to 17 of John’s gospel, you will see that Jesus understood the thief that threatened to rob his disciples of their joy. It wasn’t external stresses and disappointments. In the context of the last supper, the disciples were grieving because Jesus kept talking about the fact that he was going away. He was returning to his Father. He didn’t go into detail about how horrible the next day was going to be for him, at least not here, but he made it clear that his time with the disciples–visibly, at least–was just about over.

But the problem had less to do with Jesus’ absence, more to do with the disciples’ ignorance and lack of faith. They didn’t understand how necessary his sufferings and death were for their salvation. They couldn’t appreciate the advantage of having him ruling the universe from his Father’s side in heaven. They couldn’t process the many promises he made to them this same evening. All they knew was that very soon Jesus would be gone, and this replaced their joy with grief.

The disciples’ joy was stolen by the thought of losing Jesus. We lose ours by removing him ourselves. Again, the blame has less to do with our external situation, more to do with misplaced priorities and lack of faith. This theft of our joy turns out to be an inside job. No one and nothing from the outside takes Jesus or his promises away from us. We replace them ourselves. There are thousands of ways of perpetrating this heist all through the year. But the culprit remains the same: Hearts that failed to value Jesus properly, that let down their guard, and ended up giving his place to someone or something else.

Stop thief! It doesn’t have to be this way! The truth remains: Jesus gives us reason for joy! “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”

Remember that the things Jesus was saying at this very moment were words of a prayer. He was praying on behalf of his disciples. “I’ll keep you in my prayers” so easily becomes nothing more than a sentiment with you and me–the same thing as saying, “I feel sorry for you,” with no real prayer to follow. Jesus recognized the joy-thief in the disciples lives at this moment. He recognized the danger it could be for their faith. And he prayed for them. He prayed that they might have the full measure of his joy.

That’s not the last prayer he has said on behalf of his people. He prays for you every day. Actually, he never stops praying for you, even for a moment. John says in his first letter, “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1). Do you still sin? I know that I do, every day. But Jesus doesn’t hold those sins against us. He is constantly praying for us, reminding his Father of the sacrifice he made to take those sins away.

The things Jesus said so that the disciples might have the full measure of his joy aren’t limited to this prayer, however. During these hours at the last supper and on the way to Gethsemane he gave them words and promises specifically aimed at replacing their grief with joy. He promises to prepare a place in heaven for them; to come back to take them to be with him; that so long as they remain in Jesus’ words, Jesus and his Father will make their home inside of them; that after he goes, he will give them whatever they ask in his name; that he will send the Holy Spirit to be with them and comfort them and give them peace. He promises them that after a little while they will understand all of this, and their grief will turn to joy.

These promises are still our common property. Hold them close, and keep the joy-thief away.

Foundation for Faith

Luke 1:76 “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”

When actress Sally Field received her second Oscar in 1984 for her work in the movie Places in the Heart, she told the audience it led her to the conclusion, “You like me. You really like me!” Forgiveness leads us to an even dearer conclusion with God: “You love me. You really love me.” Forgiveness provides the true foundation for our faith in God.

There were many kinds of salvation people hoped that Jesus would bring. Most of their ideas are still spooking around. Perhaps more than any other misplaced hope, Jews of Jesus’ day hoped that he was the Messiah coming to be a political Savior. He would make their nation great and free again. Attempts to mix Jesus and politics in our time are still common. They still lead to questionable results at best. He didn’t come to be that kind of Savior.

After he fed the 5000, some people saw him as their economic Savior. They even tried to make him king by force. His many miracles of healing led others to crown him their health-care Savior. But while they embraced him as a doctor for their bodies, they were lukewarm to the idea of making him the physician of their souls.

If you preach Jesus this way today–the Savior of your finances or your health– you can build a religious empire, complete with your own television show and best-selling books. But you will have something less, not more, than Jesus came to bring.

All of these things are a “salvation” of sorts. They involve rescue from a kind of danger–political, economic, or health threats. They involve a rescue to safety of the same sort. But none of this involves the salvation Jesus came to bring.

What people really need is “knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” What does it take to draw a sinner back to God again? Sin makes us afraid of him, like Adam and Eve were after the fall. They hid from God in the Garden of Eden, because a just God punishes sin. Anyone who says he loves God, but doesn’t believe in the forgiveness of sins, is either a liar or an idolater. He may be a liar, because you can’t, you won’t love the God who is going to punish all your sins. You are terrified of him. Or he is an idolater who has created a make-believe god, one who doesn’t take sin so seriously as it really is.

Only those who know the God who forgives sin can love and trust God, because only they know he has already punished every sin in the death of Jesus Christ. Forgiveness rescues us from the danger of God’s judgment. Forgiveness makes it safe to come close to him, confident he no longer has anything against us. The “knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” is the foundation for our faith–it enables and empowers us to be near God once again.

Don’t Resist the Cure

Luke 1:76 “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”

Why do people resist going to the doctor when they don’t feel well? Why do they tolerate the pain as it grows worse, hoping that it is going to go away? The excuse might be, “The doctor is expensive.” Perhaps. More often the real reason is this: They fear the diagnosis, that something is seriously wrong with them. And because they fear the diagnosis, they fear the cure as well.

It is similar with forgiveness. People fear the diagnosis for which forgiveness is the cure. If I have to be forgiven, that means something is wrong with me. I have actually known people who became angry when they were told, “I forgive you.” “You forgive me? You are saying that I am the one at fault, that I have done something wrong? How dare you judge me that way!” “Don’t judge me,” is a very, very popular sentiment. To receive forgiveness is to agree with the judge, to accept his judgment. I am humbled, maybe even feel humiliated, when I have to admit that I have failed, and there is something wrong with me that needs to be forgiven.

Forgiveness can be hard to accept for another reason. With God, it doesn’t come cheap. God is still a just God, and someone had to pay the price. In the book of Hebrews we read, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). God impressed this on his Old Testament people with all the blood that was spilled in the animal sacrifices that took place in the temple. John the Baptist was the first to make the connection between Jesus and those sacrifices: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus’ blood, shed at the cross, paid the price God’s justice demanded for our sins.

We would feel better about ourselves if we could offer a milder solution of our own. But this is the true way of salvation. Zechariah says in this passage that his son John would “give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” Forgiveness does not mean that God excuses our sin. He never says, “That’s okay,” because it isn’t. It is hurtful. It is deadly. Real forgiveness fully recognizes this. And yet, God does not hold our sins against us anyway.

Forgiveness is not merely a kind sentiment on God’s part. It’s not that he lets his affection for us get the better of him and overrule his good sense. He is not an overly indulgent parent coddling his naughty child. Forgiveness is based on a historical event, and it results in God’s decisive action. The historical event, as we just mentioned, is the crucifixion of God’s own Son Jesus Christ.

As a result, God has taken decisive action with our sins. He forgives them all. In the Old Testament he gave his people beautiful pictures of forgiveness. He inspired David to write, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” He sent Micah to preach, “You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” He spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “I am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” When even God can no longer remember our sins, we truly have a reason to be happy.

In the New Testament we have the greater beauty of Jesus speaking a word of forgiveness so freely, so liberally, it almost seems too good to be true. To a paralytic who didn’t ask for it he says, “Son, be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven.” To the woman with the bad-girl reputation (well-earned it seems), crying over his feet at the house of Simon the Pharisee he promises, “Your sins are forgiven.” About the soldiers, fastening his arms and legs to the cross, driving nails through them, doing so with no apology, he prays, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Even in our lowest, wickedest moments he has left us the promise, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

It makes no more sense to resist forgiveness than to reject the doctor’s medicine. It is the one cure our sin-sick souls truly need.

A Place in His Heart

Daniel 9:18 “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.”

Not all the help we receive means we mean a lot to the helper. I had trouble installing new software on my computer awhile back, so I contacted customer support. After a few emails back and forth, a nice man named Jonah was able to pinpoint my problem. He got me up and running. He was a big help, and I greatly appreciate it, but I don’t think he’s going to start sending me Christmas and birthday cards now, or showing up at important family celebrations. I don’t mean anything to him. I was just case number 01551537, and that’s all I expected.

I once visited someone in the hospital who was struggling with great pain. One of the nurses in particular was gifted at helping this patient get relief. When my friend thanked the nurse for caring so much, the nurse made a rather startling confession. “I don’t care about you or your pain. I care about my job. That’s the reason why I work so hard at this.”

Sometimes we help because we care so deeply about someone, but not always. Sometimes our mercy, if you can call it that, comes because we have been made to feel guilty. So it comes with a grudge. If we can advertise the help we give a little, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day whom Jesus accused of making a public spectacle of their charitable gifts (complete with a Jewish version of the mariachi band playing in the background), we might like what it does for our pride. Maybe, like my software support friend, it’s just our job. At times, it may be nothing more than a matter of necessity: the stalled car ahead is blocking the road, and you aren’t going to get through until someone pushes it off to the side, so you get out to help.

Sometimes we might suspect even God’s help comes for less than sympathetic reasons. Does he assist because he has created these great cosmic principles by which everything is supposed to work, and he doesn’t want to break his own rules? Is the help I get today nothing more than a piece in a puzzle that all fits into some far grander scheme, and it is just my good fortune that my need fit into that plan? Many religions have gods who work mostly out of self-interest. Eastern religions don’t even have personal gods, just an impersonal “force” of some sort, and how can an impersonal force care about me at all?

But “mercy” means more than God’s help. And mercy is what Daniel pleads. Mercy means that when God looks at our misery he is genuinely moved by what he sees. He is filled with compassion. Crying children stir something inside of us that makes us want to help, to relieve their suffering, even if the children are complete strangers. It’s a matter of the heart as much as it is the hands.

We see God’s mercy so often in Jesus’ ministry. He came to preach to a people who were spiritually starving, whose souls were being fed the spiritual equivalent of sawdust–no grace, just rules. Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw these crowds, “he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” When he later feeds the 5000, he had originally intended to get away for a little vacation. But a large crowd tracks him down, and when Jesus sees them he has compassion on them and heals their sick, and teaches them, and feeds them. When Jesus goes to comfort his friends Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus, and he sees them crying, he is so moved by their grief that he starts to cry himself. Then, of course, he follows with the mercy of bringing Lazarus back to life.

Do you see what this means for you and me? Because Jesus is full of mercy, we have more than God’s help. We have a place in his heart. Our misery genuinely moves him, and it moves him to help. Even when help seems a long time in coming, and our prayers don’t seem to be answered, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. Sometimes God’s mercies involve things that pain him to see us suffer, but the pain is necessary to help and save us. He lets it continue until we are safe. Ultimately, mercy led him to give his life to rescue us from our own sins against him. Those sins are the root of our misery.

His relationship with us is never a cold, impersonal, professional relationship. Mercy means that we have a place in his heart.