Where to Run

Mark 14:50-52 “Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.”

When Jesus’ disciples truly first came to grips with the danger involved in following Christ, they had a solution. “Everyone deserted him and fled.” At the moment, this seemed like a good plan. The more distance they could put between Jesus and themselves, the safer they would be. The less connected to Jesus they appeared, the more security they would have. They would run away and escape the danger.

But you know how the story continues. Did they find the safety they were looking for that weekend? Did they feel secure once they had put some distance between Jesus and themselves? Didn’t they rather spend the weekend huddled together in fear, reduced to a pathetic group of whimpering cowards? Weren’t they paralyzed and crushed by the guilt they felt over leaving him alone?

As a group, they were exposed and shamed like the last man to flee that night. “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” This young man was interested in Jesus. He was curious about him. But he certainly wasn’t prepared for the sudden danger in which he found himself. When the enemies of Jesus turned on him, he wriggled free and ran away like all the rest.

The application to us is obvious, isn’t it? We may be some of the loudest and stoutest defenders of Jesus when safe at church or home. Who’s going to oppose us? But how are we doing out there, in the world? Are we like those John wrote about? “They loved praise from men more than praise from God.” We may not literally get up and run away when Jesus’ teachings come under attack. But we are just as cowardly to bite our tongues and say not a word.

At school, maybe we don’t participate in all the immorality around us. But do we manage to fit in because we keep our mouths shut? Do we keep peace in the family by avoiding religious talk with our relatives? We see a possible confrontation coming over matters of faith and Christian life, and we turn and we run. When we have protected ourselves in this way, do we find the safety and security we were looking for?

Part of the suffering Jesus willingly endured for our sins was being abandoned by his friends in his hour of greatest need. Part of the reason he needed to suffer for sin was our own unwillingness to stand by him. And how does Jesus react to those who have bailed on him? Remember Jesus’ first words to these men the first time he was together with them again: “Peace be with you.” He holds no grudges. He demands no restitution. He simply promises them peace.

Only Jesus can give such peace. He had to suffer and die alone to secure it. No one could help him do it. He did not run to safety for himself. He gave himself up and made us safe. Flee to him in every need.

Beautiful Feet

Isaiah 52:7 “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation…”

Isaiah is speaking about the messengers who would run from the battle with news of another victory for God’s people. Over the mountains they came to Jerusalem to tell the people that the Lord had given them victory again. No sight could be more beautiful than those messengers, no news more welcome than theirs. Attacks against this people threatened more than a politically insignificant, Middle-Easter nation. These were the people of the promise. Theirs was the land of the promise. Every attack threatened to destroy God’s promise of a Messiah, the Savior from sin. Beautiful was not too strong a word to describe the feet that carried such welcome news of victory home.

How much more doesn’t this apply to those who bring news that God has sent that Savior and given us victory over sin by his death and resurrection! The Apostle Paul understood it this way in Romans 10. He quoted just this verse to describe those who go and share the message of faith in Jesus. That is why we can say 2700 years after Isaiah that you look beautiful in the news he describes.

We still look stunning when we “proclaim peace.” Isaiah’s word for peace describes more than an end to swords, spears, and shields. This is a peace that comes from knowing everything is settled between you and God. No sin stands between you. Your life can be full of blessing, harmony, fulfillment even when it is full of trouble, turmoil, and frustration. This is a “peace which passes all understanding.” Perhaps it will help to illustrate it.

Several decades ago a Lutheran missionary was flying back to the mission field in Africa. A man sitting next to him asked him why we would trouble the people of Zambia with our religion. “Here is the pious African offering his sacrifices to the spirits of his ancestors, keeping his own simple religion. Why would you want to confuse him with yours?” But the missionary pointed out that the pious African offers his sacrifices to the spirits because he lives in sheer terror of them. He has no real confidence in his god. He constantly fears whether he has done enough to keep them happy. We don’t come to impose another religion on him. We come to give real peace in Jesus Christ. We are introducing him to the God who loves him so much he gave his own life to save him. This is peace to which people living in Africa have just as much a right as any Westerner. The popularity and spread of Christianity on the African continent today is evidence that the message hasn’t lost its luster.

Perhaps we may take this peace for granted. It always seems like a good thing, but calling it “beautiful” sounds a bit much. Maybe we even reach the point where we don’t feel a regular need to hear it. The message is still spiritually nutritious, but not all that tasty. We don’t live as though our lives depend on it.

At just such times the Lord may shakes us up so that we feel the hunger again. Usually I am in the business of dispensing God’s good news of peace. But as a pastor, members of my own family have sometimes landed in the hospital with life-threatening conditions. Then I have been on the receiving end of God’s promise of peace. At such times I couldn’t tell you what my own sermon was about the week before. But I can tell you that the devotions we heard in the hospital were a life-line for physically and spiritually weary parents. The feet that brought that peace looked beautiful dressed in that news.

A Great Nation

Deuteronomy 4:6-8 “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?”

We usually think of witnessing as something we do with our mouths. Here the Lord reminds us that the witnessing we do with our bodies is often the first kind to be noticed. When the children of Israel observed God’s commandments, their witness led the nations around them to acknowledge that God’s ways are wise and understanding. In some cases, we know that they even led people of other nations to worship the true God: Rahab from Jericho who hid the spies; Ruth from Moab, the great grandmother of king David; Naaman, the Syrian general, who was healed of leprosy.

A wise people still listens to the Lord today when he says, “Let your lights so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Perhaps we fear that too many people would find us quaint or ignorant if they really knew everything we teach and believe.

But maybe it is in just such cases that the witness of our lives can help the witness of our mouths. When we are at peace with God because he has forgiven all our sins, and that peace is spilling over into peace in our families; when a loving and forgiving spirit pervades our relationships, that’s attractive. We may not have it all together, but when we are striving to keep God’s commandments in love, this produces a very desirable life. People who don’t agree with particulars of God’s word might admit there is something “wise” and “understanding” there. Some might even be willing to give us another listen.

If they do, they will find more than a set of rules to keep. In his grace, God has promised to be near. “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?”

Israel was a privileged people. No other nation on earth had their gods near them. All the other gods (which, of course, didn’t actually even exist) were conceived of as being aloof, unconcerned, self-seeking deities. Their character flaws were sometimes bigger than those of the people who worshiped them. They might help their people, if they felt like it. They might just as well take the day off and let the people suffer.

Not the God of Israel! His people were dear to his heart. His gracious presence accompanied them in the wilderness. He visibly led them in the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud. He talked to Moses face to face, as a man talks to his friend. He took up residence in the tabernacle, the Israelite worship facility. He fought their battles for them. He gave them food from heaven. He forgave their grumbling and rebellion time after time. He answered their complaints directly, often with a miracle. The Lord was near them.

What other people are so great as to have God near them the way the Lord has been near us? Once he came to earth as a child. He lived as a man and died as our substitute so that we need never be far from him again. Even now he makes every event of our lives, every waking or sleeping moment, his own concern. He is present when two or three gather in his name. He hides in bread and wine to be near us with his grace and forgiveness. He even makes our own hearts his homes by faith.

Christians don’t make up a nation in the usual sense of that word. But as citizens of God’s kingdom, no other nation is so great as the Lord has made us—to have his word, and to know his will, and to enjoy his unwavering presence in our lives.

Seriously

Deuteronomy 4:1-2 “Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you, and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.”

One reason to take God’s word seriously is that he takes it so seriously himself. The word for “decrees” in the Hebrew literally refers to something which has been carved or etched into something solid. That immediately makes us think of the ten commandments which were carved into stone. What was God telling us about how he felt about his commandments when he chiseled them into two sheets of rock? They could have been written on paper scrolls. But the Lord insisted that his 10 commandments be carved into stone. Then they could not fade, be erased, or be changed. We even use the phrase “set in stone” to refer to something that cannot be changed. God was serious about his word!

If there was still any doubt about that, look at the conditions he placed on following his commands. “Follow them so that you may live.” By “live” he is not referring to an enjoyable, successful life. By “live” he means the difference between life and death. God was giving his people a choice: “Follow my commands, and I will permit you to stay alive. Break them, and I will wipe you out and destroy you.” He is serious about his word!

Then he conditions their earthly happiness on keeping his commands. Follow them “so that you may go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” The last time Israel had a chance to take possession of this land had been 40 years earlier. They disobeyed God and refused to trust him. That led to wandering in the desert for forty years. Again, when God says, “Listen,” he wants to be taken seriously.

The Lord is no less serious about his commandments today. They are not suggestions.  Choosing to break the commandments still invites his anger. It still forfeits eternal life. On top of this, those who insist on living in some sin are only adding to their own misery. God designed each of his commands to take care of us in some way. Breaking them may result in short term pleasure but almost always leads to long term pain.

Note that Moses warning forbids adding to God’s commands as well as subtracting. What new rules would we like to make because, quite frankly, we don’t trust our Christian brothers and sisters? What traditions do we have, fine customs in and of themselves, we would like to codify into law and use to bludgeon someone else’s conscience? Too often people who do so think they are taking God’s word seriously. But this is the spirit of the Pharisee. It replaces the true Lawgiver with ourselves. We need to heed Moses’ warning, “Don’t add or subtract.”

If we take this word seriously, then we will realize we can’t keep it perfectly. Then there is another word we dare not ignore or change. For Jesus’ sake the Lord does not condemn us. He does not immediately end our lives. For Jesus’ sake he forgives our sin. Knowing that he is also a loving and gracious God kindles our desire to take his commands seriously and put them into practice. People to whom God has revealed himself as Savior and Redeemer find the power to do his will.  

Holy in His Mercy

Isaiah 6:5-7 “’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty. Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Does Isaiah’s reaction to seeing God seem strange? How many people aren’t desperate for such an encounter? Some practically demand visible evidence before they would believe in God. Maybe you have wished to see him for a few moments yourself. We could set aside living by faith and promises. Instead we could take in the visible glory of God.

It’s not that the Lord hasn’t given little glimpses of his divine glory from time to time. But have you noticed how people react when he does? Jesus showed his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. The Father spoke from heaven, Matthew tells us, and the disciples fell face down in terror. When Jesus appeared in glory to the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, again Paul falls to the ground before him. Isaiah’s reaction is similar. Why?

Isaiah understood himself and his sin. Perhaps he should have joined the angels in their words of praise, but he knew he was unworthy. His lips had been used to gripe and complain, to mock and insult, to lie and deceive, to curse and condemn. He associated with people just like himself. How could such a holy, high, and majestic God stand to have him in his presence, much less voicing his praise?

Let’s consider the question ourselves. How often aren’t we a people of unclean lips! Consider how far we fall short of the holiness of our majestic and all powerful God. Until we feel the agony over our sins that Isaiah felt, we will neither fully appreciate, nor understand, what the Lord did for him next.

“Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Imagine how Isaiah’s heart must have raced when the angel came flying at him with a hot, burning coal! Imagine his surprise when that coal didn’t burn his lips, but warmed his heart and lit up his soul. Imagine his relief when the seraph announced that Isaiah’s sins were no longer Isaiah’s, because God had taken them away.

Of all the ways in which our God is holy, different from every other being, none is more clear than this: The Lord of hosts is holy in his mercy. He forgives freely and instantly. Isaiah didn’t have to jump through hoops. He did not have to perform a long list of good works. He did not have to prove himself first. Neither do we. Our sins, like Isaiah’s, were taken away and atoned for when Jesus took them upon himself and died for them on the cross.

This is the one thing about the Christian faith which is absolutely unique. It also makes the holiness of our God most visible. He does not operate a performance based religion. We do not find our way into his favor by the way in which we serve him, like every other religion in the world. He favors and forgives us because of the way in which he has served us.

It may be true that when we look up at God in his glory and majesty, we are only tiny specks. But when he looks down at us, he does not consider the smallest or the weakest insignificant to him. Just because he is so powerful and majestic he can know and love each one of us individually. He reaches down to us as our friend and Savior. He is holy in his mercy.

The Majesty

Isaiah 6:1-3 “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with 6 wings: With two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

If we were going to invent god, a profane god, a god for this world, what would he be like?

I believe that we would create him to approve of some of our favorite vices–maybe even incorporate some of them into the religion to make it more enjoyable. At the very least, he would have to be tolerant of views he himself did not share.

You wouldn’t want him to be too big–big enough to be able to help out once in a while, but not so powerful that he could get out of hand. It’s a free country, after all, and everybody is equal. We wouldn’t want some uppity god getting bossy. Maybe we could subject him to regularly scheduled elections, in case we wanted to vote him out of office.

Nothing about him would be hard to understand. Certainly he wouldn’t bother us with facts about himself that didn’t appear immediately practical and useful. Heaven knows we already have enough to think about without having to think about god all the time. As long as we kept a few simple rules and treated each other politely, he would be happy.

That’s not the God who showed himself to Isaiah. He sits on a throne. That immediately tells us he is the King. His kingdom is a monarchy, not a democracy.

The grand scale in Isaiah’s vision reveals that we are puny by comparison. To even see the Lord, Isaiah has to look up–way up–because the throne is high and exalted. The royal robes fill the entire building. This God is not our equal, not even close. He is the Almighty, the Emperor. We are only the smallest of specks, the lowliest of slaves.

The angels acknowledge this as well. Though holy themselves, they didn’t strut around God’s temple as if they had some right to be there. They covered their faces and covered their feet in God’s presence as a show of humility.

Then they shouted back and forth to each other responsive words of praise. They did not lift up how they were feeling about him. They didn’t concentrate on their own service to him. Every word was about God himself.

Their praises addressed him in titles that reflected both his grace–the Lord, which means that he is the God of free and faithful love–and his power–the Almighty (more literally, “Lord of hosts,” the God who controls all the vast armies in creation). This Lord of hosts is holy–set apart and separate from every other being in his majesty.

What does this mean for us? You may be old enough to remember comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s famous line: “I don’t get no respect.” We need to be careful not to treat our Lord like the Rodney Dangerfield of divinities. Worship that degenerates into displays lacking self-control–uncontrollable laughter, barking like dogs–does not respect him as the Holy One of Israel. Hymns and songs with a contemporary sound may be both edifying to us and show respect for our Lord. But it is fair to ask whether those which croon to Jesus as if he were our boyfriend really respect him as the Mighty Maker and Ruler of the Universe. Every time we casually disregard even the smallest of God’s commandments, joke about our sins, or complain about how he is treating us, we fail to revere the Lord of hosts, who is holy in his majesty. This invites his judgment.

At the same time, the divine majesty Isaiah sees in his vision is not intended to drive us away from God in terror. In the popular children’s series “The Chronicles of Narnia,” the character Susan asks whether Aslan, the Lion who represents Jesus in the books, is safe. “Of course he isn’t safe, but he is good,” is the reply. Isaiah’s vision shows us that the Lord is not so small and weak that he could never hurt us. But this does not mean that the Lord is not good. He is good in every way. And in his goodness he remains the God who primarily uses this majestic power to rescue his people, especially from their greatest enemy, their very own sins.  

Bright Christians

Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

You can’t hide a city. What would you even use to try? Its size, and its location, if it’s up on a hill, defy hiding it. Uproot a forest of trees and pile them in front, shear herds of sheep and weave the largest covering you can imagine. People will still know it’s there. It is too big, and too prominent.

The light shining through us can’t be hidden, either. What God has done to us is simply too big, too powerful, and too life changing to try to hide. When our Lord convinces us that we are freely and fully forgiven because of his love in sacrificing his own Son Jesus Christ, we are changed as deeply and profoundly as possible. Except for the sinful flesh which clings to us, we are changed into the exact opposite of what we were. We have gone from being God’s enemies to being his own sons and daughters. We have been changed from slaves of hell to citizens of heaven. It is that light of Christ’s love for us which shines through us, not some light of our own. The light of Christ is too big and too prominent to be hidden.

It would make no sense even to try. It goes against its very purpose. Lights belong where people can see them. Common sense told the people of Jesus day to put a lamp on some sort of stand, not to cover it. Common sense tells us to hang our lights from ceilings. We don’t mount our light sockets to the floor.

When God lit you up in faith, he had every intention of letting his light shine through you to others. That was his purpose. A light needs to be where people can see it, and so do we. Jesus draws the conclusion, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

It is interesting that Jesus encourages us to “shine before men.” In this same sermon he criticized the Pharisees for doing their good works in front of others. He warns about the way they prayed and gave away their charity on the street corners where they could be seen by others. He even accuses them of announcing their “acts of righteousness” with trumpets.

With us, Jesus is looking for a clear difference. The Pharisees coveted attention for themselves. Jesus asks us to bring attention to our Father in heaven. Jesus inspires us to offer genuine acts of love, not put on an act concerned with what the onlookers see. He calls us to offer genuine love to those we help.

This goes beyond great acts of charity, or great sacrifices of time. It is not an on again, off again practice. This encompasses all of life. Christ’s light shines through how we eat and sleep and play. It shines through our conversation, how we treat our possessions, how consistent we are in our behavior whether public or private.

Our lights may shine brightest when we are not aware they are shining at all. At times of great tragedy, when we have lost a loved one, lost a job, or become very ill, the peace which our Jesus brings to our lives beneath the pain, the fears, and the tears can help to draw others to the Father. Then the light of God himself is shining, and new lights are popping up in people who are beginning to see.

Salty Christians

Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

When salt is around, it makes its presence known. The bite of its flavor is unmistakable. Put some on a wound or a sore, and you will feel its sting in a hurry. It doesn’t do its work in secret.

I don’t believe the point of Jesus’ illustration is hard to understand. When God takes believers in his hands and rubs them in or sprinkles them around, he uses you to change the world. No matter who you are or what you are doing, your very presence here helps preserve our world. As long as the Lord sees believers here, as long as they have opportunity to help make more believers, he has a reason to keep this planet running.

You remember what happened in Noah’s time, when the world almost ran out of such human salt. When all but 8 people in the world had turned away from God, he wiped it out with a flood and started over. Your presence as a believing child of God is sparing millions or even billions of unbelievers from an early date in God’s court of law on Judgment Day. Your life of love and witness may also preserve them forever by preserving them from a guilty sentence when that day finally does come.

Jonas Saulk may have found meaning for his life in developing a vaccine for polio. Neil Armstrong may have found meaning for his life in bringing space exploration to the surface of the moon. Bill Gates may find meaning for his life in controlling a majority of the computers on the planet. But in the eternal scheme of things, do their accomplisments compare with the simple way in which the Lord is already using you to change the world?

In connection with this, Jesus issues a warning. “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” The taste and effects of salt are unmistakable. But what if there is no bite or zing? In that case, the salt isn’t really salt anymore.

If you aren’t influencing the world as a child of God, you aren’t really a child of God. Your lack of fruit betrays a lack of faith. Then we aren’t good for anything. Then all God can do is throw us out.

Before we get any wrong impressions, let’s make a few things clear. Work in the church is one way we can serve as salt. It is a wonderful way in which we can serve as salt. But it is not the only way we serve as salt. The way we do our homework, serve our employer, or do our chores around the house also season this world with the gospel. The choice of words we use, the way we react when others hurt us, the help we offer to someone in need are all part of our Christian witness.

But if we refuse to serve alongside our fellow believers in the church when we are able to do so, we are losing our zing. If we will not defend our faith, if we try only to blend into our world, if we hope no one will ever notice we are different, we have lost that bite that makes us useful. The salt has lost its saltiness. Take warning from Jesus’ words, because our sinful flesh is constantly trying to make us bland, faithless, and useless to God.

That doesn’t mean that successfully changing our world makes us salty. Serving God’s kingdom and leading people to Jesus does not make us believers. But when we know by faith that God has made us his own children, then we are salt. Our lives make a difference. We live out our purpose and mission.

Let’s be thankful that God doesn’t say our sins could be forgiven, or might be forgiven, or should be forgiven. He promises us they are. Let’s be thankful that he doesn’t say that heaven could be ours, it might be ours, it should be ours. He promises us it is. Similarly, he doesn’t tell us that we could be salt, we might be salt, or we should be salt. He tells us we are. In bringing us to faith, this is what God has made us. We are salt, and may he shake and sprinkle, rub and pour us out, so that with us he can change the world.

Motivation to Pray

1 Kings 8:41-43 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name—for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you…”

This is part of King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple he built for the Lord in Jerusalem. Bible history bears out that what Solomon assumed would happen came true. In 1 Kings 10 we read that the Queen of Sheba came all the way to Jerusalem, not just because Solomon’s reputation, but because of his relation to the name of the Lord. Remember the Greeks who asked to see Jesus during holy week–men who had come to the temple that week to worship God? Remember the Ethiopian Eunuch whom the evangelist Philip baptized on his way home from Jerusalem?

These people traveled from hundreds, even thousands of miles away, for the privilege to pray to God at the temple. They traveled at a time when such long journeys were hard, tiresome, and dangerous.

And do we refuse or neglect to offer up our prayers to God when we don’t have to take even another step to do so? How easy for us to go to him in prayer today. Since God has lived here as one of us in the person of Jesus Christ, he has done away with the temple. Now he has made our own bodies his living temples. We can go to pray to him in the buildings we call “God’s house” today. He wants us to do so. But his special, gracious presence is with us at all times since Holy Spirit has made us his temples by faith. Why should we keep our mouths shut and ignore God when he has condescended to be so near us every moment of every day?

The encouragement to pray is just as strong for us as it was for the foreigner that Solomon describes: “…for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm…” God’s great name–his reputation as the God who truly exists, and genuinely cares for his people, and actually gets involved in the nitty gritty of their lives–this is what made the foreigner willing to travel thousands of miles to seek him. This is what draws us close to him and opens our mouths to speak to him today.

This God has “mighty hands.” When I used to shake my grandfather’s hand, he had these huge, powerful hands so wide that the tips of my fingers could not reach across the full width of his palms, with fingers as big around as quarters. They were the hands of a man who had worked as a dairy farmer all his life, and to some degree the size and power of his hands were the result of being a good provider, and a hard worker, all his life.

Our God has mighty hands–huge and powerful hands that can easily provide everything we need. These are hands that hold up the entire universe, but also work just for me. These are hands that have built and destroyed entire empires, but hands which give me all my daily needs, and hands which fight for my protection, and lift me out of every trouble.

Our God has “outstretched arms.” When a person intends to do nothing, he often folds his arms, especially if he wants to communicate his unwillingness to act to others. Our God’s arms are never folded. They are outstretched. He is always at work for us. If there is nothing else we learn from Bible history, this much should be obvious to us. This makes him absolutely unique among all the other so-called god’s of the world, because he is the only one who ever actually does anything to help his people.

Though it was too early for Solomon to be thinking of this picture, when we hear of outstretched arms, can we help but think of the arms of our Savior, stretched out on the cross, when the mighty hands which once created the universe were pierced with nails and held in place on that cross? Or can we help but think of the arms of our heavenly Father stretched out to us in welcome and love because Jesus’ outstretched arms, secured full forgiveness for us on the cross?

Far more than that foreigner, far more than Solomon himself, we know the full story behind God’s great name, his mighty hands, and his outstretched arms. When we enter God’s house, this is the saving work of God that we hear. And when God’s great name, his saving reputation, is preached to us, doesn’t that encourage our prayers?