The Marks of Mercy – Psalm 51

The superscription for this Psalm gives us the historical background: To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba” (Psalm 51:title, ESV). These events are recorded in 2 Samuel 11-12 when David lusted after & committed adultery with Bathsheba, covered up his sin by deceit & murder, and presumed he had committed the perfect crime with none the wiser. But God sent the prophet Nathan – “You are the man!” In contrition & repentance, David cried out to God in prayer which is recorded in this Psalm.  His spirit & heart is broken so he turns to the only One who can mend heart & soul. This Psalm shows how God is abundantly merciful on the penitent sinner. In the New Testament we read about God being “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2.4). But how rich is He in mercy? Make no mistake, the riches of His mercy are on display in the Old Testament just as they are in the New. God demonstrates the riches of His mercy in David’s life in Psalm 51.

Note: Observe that David addresses his prayer to Elohim and not Yahweh, Jehovah. It is as if he feels absolutely unworthy of voicing the proper name of God and simply prostrates himself before the Make

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

David immediately appeals to God for mercy, even before he mentions his sin. He begs/pleads for mercy as a brokenhearted sinner. This mercy comes from the “steadfast love” or “loving-kindness” of God. What a fitting word: loving-kindness. Wrapped up in it we see the certainly the love of God (that wonderful, matchless love) and the kindness/tenderness of God. And certainly it is steadfast.

By this mercy, God, “blot out my transgressions.” The first prayer is for mercy; this second is for the removal entirely of his offences from the book of God. Think India ink with a fountain pen – when you commit sin, the India ink bites into the pages of your life, mar it. Only the divine ink can blot it out, completely cover over that sin. This is according to the abundance of God’s mercy. Are you concerned about the abundance of your sins? Be advised that God has an abundance of mercy for the penitent sinner.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 

Not like a man washing his body but as a person would wash a fouled, dirty garment. The stains are not removable by human ability and work; only divine detergent, only the blood of the unblemished can wash thoroughly the offender. Wash me, the penitent sinner from my iniquity, that thing which pollutes me.

Hebrew parallelism is used to repeat the request: Cleanse me from my sin. Transgressions, iniquity, sin – in other words, cover every form of moral impurity, every offensive stain that is evil. And truly David’s sins are multiplied: adultery, fornication, lies, murder, self-deception.

3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

David, once self-deceived and refusing to acknowledge that he had done any wrong, fully acknowledges his wrongs. But truly he knew them for he committed them. They have been told him and he has been found out. I assume there is embarrassment, shame, guilt…as well there should be. Knowledge of sin will produce

But not only has David acknowledged his sins, but they are ever before him. On every face, over ever scene, in every place David looks he cannot escape his sin. It weighs on him and it is impossible to forget as long it oppresses the soul of man. Only God can remove this weight of guilt.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

While there are other parties David has offended (Bathsheba, Uriah, Israel), there is none that is higher than God. Every sin is against God! And every sin is an open offense before God and all of heaven. Nothing escapes his sight and he recognizes the evil of sin.

Hence, the perfect God is found true and right in his words and judgments. The iniquity was indisputably committed; it is unquestionably foul and wrong; and God’s condemnation of that sin is just and without blame.

5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Not that any baby is born with sin; sin must be committed and a baby can no more commit sin than it could perform arithmetic. Rather, David, in the throes of contrition over his sin, overstates the case in his confession to God. There is no good thing in his life at this point and David’s whole life is painted the hue of sin.

6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Mark 1 of mercy: Honesty with self over what you have done; truthfulness (6). The preceding 5 verses have been bringing us to this first mark. A person who receives divine mercy must first be honest about their state before a holy God. Honesty concerning your sin will enable you to recognize your sin and admit it plainly to God (that’s confession). And this recognition of sin will produce the contrition we see in this Psalm, the broken-heartedness over sin, the sorrow for his iniquity, and will lead to repentance.

David is saying he is an adulterer, he stole another man’s wife, he had that man killed, he lied about it, covered it up, he deceived people about it. What do we need to be honest about in our life? What’s your secret sin that your hiding from everyone else. You may fool the whole world, but the eyes of God are on you.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Mark 2 of mercy: Request for forgiveness (7-8). Hyssop is from the mint family of plants and was used for cleansing a person from defilement from touching a corpse or from leprosy. And surely David is defiled. So he asks to be purged (purified, removed) from his sin. Only with the complete removal of sin can David be clean/pure. Again the request to be washed (see v.2).

But if we are going to ask for forgiveness, be sure we also receive that forgiveness. God wants to hear the pleading of our hearts as we confess wrong. But don’t continue carrying around what God has forgiven. Have faith God has forgiven (and he has, 1 John 1.9) and move on to service (Heb 9.14). God can, will, and does forgive the penitent sinner.

Satan will whisper doubts in our ear; he’s been since the beginning. “Has God really forgiven you?” We need to confident and stand on the word of God – “Yes He has!” Don’t put a question mark where God has put a period.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

Request forgiveness and receive it. God wants to hear the pleading of our hearts as we confess wrong. But don’t continue carrying around what God has forgiven. Have faith God has forgiven (and he has, 1 John 1.9) and move on to service (Heb 9.14). God can, will, and does forgive the penitent sinner. Rejoice in His forgiveness!

9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

Mark 3 of mercy: Believe that God has forgotten as well as forgiven. And here is the difficulty for humans: that an omniscient God can forget sin. Nevertheless, Jeremiah 31.34b, Hebrews 8.12b. God can turn his face from our sins, blotting them out so as to never remember them. He no longer sees them. This harkens to the mercy seat (Exodus 25.17-22). The mercy seat was above the Ark of the Covenant and was the resting place of God. Every year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place and sprinkle blood on the mercy seat 7 times to make atonement for the people. The people drew near the mercy seat to receive mercy from the Lord.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Mark 4 of mercy: Allow God to work in you (v.10). See 2 Corinthians 5.17, God creates new motivation (heart) and desire (spirit). David is asking for restoration to the place he was before: a faithful and fruitful person. “Give me the fortitude to get on track and stay on track.”

11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Mark 5 of mercy: Believe in God’s presence (v.11). Does David have Saul in mind? Perhaps. But he has seen what it looks like to live without the presence of God and he does not want that. According to Ephesians 3.16-17, Christians have both the Spirit and Christ within them. Take heart that if you are forgiven, you are fit for His abiding presence.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Mark 6 of mercy: Restoration of joy (v.12). He’s back with a song in his heart and smile on his lips. Does not mean he has forgotten, but he has joy. Like Paul: he never forgot where he came from (chief of sinners) but he had joy (Philippians 4.4).

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

Mark 7 of mercy: Proclamation of salvation (v.13). Go tell someone about the God who saved you, what he has done. Was sin bad? Yes, but once on track, headed in the right direction, now we can benefit others.

In order to fully experience the mercy of God, it may be helpful to ask several pointed question to see if you are fully back.

Is the anger, hurt, & resentment still in force? Is the guilt, shame, & disappointment still overwhelming?

Are we in prayer as much as before or even more? It is not embarrassment but sweet conversation.

Can I thank God for the lessons learned & the character gained from this experience?

Can I talk about the hurt without recalling all the stuff that devastates? Can I do that without being hurt? Can I help others?

Do I accept full responsibility for my sins? Or am I still trying to blame someone or something else?

Do I still love myself or am I punishing myself?

Am I imposing some kind of consequence or penance for what I have done? By the way, that is legalism.

So long as anger, lack of prayer, blaming, self-imposed punishment remains, we hinder the full experience of God’s mercy.

We need to trust that Jesus has forgiven fully. God shows this kind of mercy to those who are merciful (see Matthew 5.8). That is the final question: it is not a question of what sort of life you are living; it is not a question of if you have interest in the kingdom of God. It is simply “are you showing mercy?” That is the test from the beatitude from Jesus. For if you do not show mercy, how can you expect God to show mercy to you? Since God has been so merciful to you, how could not show mercy to others? “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Luke 6.36). Receive His mercy.

Grow in the Work of Christ, part 1

Some say that all of chapters 1-3 is a prayer of Paul (see 3.14; 1.15). So this section (2.1-10) is a recitation of the spiritual history of the Ephesians and all who come to obedient faith in Christ. This text can be seen to track with Genesis 1: We have the chaos (v.1-3) out of which God brings order (v.4-9) and a new creation (v.10).

Access to His Grace (1-10)

God made us alive in Christ when He saved us by grace through faith unto good works.

1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins

And you were dead: And indicates this section is connected with the previous verses in ch.1. You is emphatic. Paul is using a historical present tense (lit. you being dead) to remind these Christians of the filth from which they have come, that is spiritual death.

All people outside of and away from Christ are the walking dead. They are spiritual zombies, “dead even while [they] live.” Isa 25.7, they wear casket clothes. Those we walk by every day, who we work with, eat, with, commute with, perhaps even live with – they are dead! Just like you used to be. But God…even as God worked a work in your life, so He is able to work a work in theirs!

In the trespasses and sins: Two terms for offenses against God. 1) Trespasses—a term which points to boundaries set by God which we are not go beyond or barriers set up to keep us from harm (esp. the Law and conscience). 2) Sin—”missing the mark” by failing to do what God said to do or doing something which God said not to do. Both trespasses and sins have the same killing effect.

2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—

In which you once walked: Or how they lived, going about with their dead lives. Walking is a figure used later in this epistle (v.10, 4.1; 5.2, 8, 15) and elsewhere in the NT (Col 4.5; 1 Jn 1.7).

Following the course of the this world: Here is the 1st antithesis to life with God. This is “earthbound motives” which are typical of the world. It is an ethic which stands juxtaposed with “the coming ages” (v.7). This system does not consider God and is opposed to God (cf. 1 John 2.15-17).

Following…of the air: Here is the 2nd antithesis to life with God. “Satan is here pictured as the ruler of the demons and other agencies of evil” (Robertson). Formerly, these Christians had their lives shaped by the master of evil as they followed his bidding. That these beings are of the air indicates that they are immaterial, spiritual beings, not necessarily that they “haunt” the atmosphere.

The spirit…the sons of disobedience: present tense, the devil is still working in the world, namely in “children in whom is no faithfulness” (Dt 32.20). He fans into flame their dislike for the will of God. Though he fell like lightning from heaven (Luke 10.18), is judged (John 16.11), and will soon be crushed under our feet (Romans 16.20), Satan energizes those not surrendered to God.

Those who are not surrendered to God are subject to Satan. There are only two energizing forces in this cosmic battle for the souls of men: God and Satan. And if a person is not surrendered to God, he is surrendered to the forces of darkness of whom Satan is the head. “And if people are surrendered to the power of evil, they become those whose habit of life is contrary to the living God, and so they are rightly called the sons of disobedience.

3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Among whom…our flesh: We all once lived points to Paul including himself with the Ephesian readers as among the sons of disobedience. Lived (or “conducted ourselves,” NKJV) stresses daily behavior. So the daily behavior of the unregenerate person is the gratification of “the longings and impulses of the self-centered life” (Foulkes 79). This is the pattern of life which emerges when left to our own natural desires and proclivities. Neither Jew nor Gentile are exempt.

We “all” did this before Christ. If you say you did not, there is no hope for you. We all gave into the base, carnal, earthy, selfish desires and appetites. That’s sin in its basic definition – gratify the selfish desires.

Carrying out…the mind: our habitual practice was to fulfill the will of the flesh and mind. “Lusts lead to acts” (Lenski). So not only self-centered passions, but the actual doing of those desires, both in the flesh and in our thoughts. Indeed, from our thoughts issue forth our fleshly practices.

Were by nature…the rest of mankind: Before becoming the children of God or light (see 5.8), we were by nature children of wrath. There was a Jewish thought that the Gentiles were ignorant of God “by nature” (see Wisdom 13.1). Paul affirms that all men—Jew or Gentile—are subject to divine wrath due to disobedience. Because of what they did, they were under the judgment of God. Like the rest of mankind could speak of Gentiles, but it seems best to understand it as the former state of these Christians before coming to obedient faith in Christ. All men, if left to themselves, develop the habitual practice (i.e. nature) of self-gratification (i.e. sin).

We see here three (3) fatal guides: 1) The world (v.2, “the course of this world”), 2) The devil (v.2, “the prince of the power of the air”), & 3) The flesh (v.3, “the passions of the flesh”). When one follows these guides, heeding their voice to “trespass” and “sin” against God, it leads to a very dark condition for man: 1) Morally dead (v.1, 5, “dead in trespasses and sins”), 2) Practically worldly (v.2, “following the course of this world”), 3) Satanically ruled (v.2, “following the prince of the power of the air”), 4) Wickedly associated (v.3, “the sons of disobedience among whom we all once lived”), 5) Carnally debased (v.3, “the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind”), & 6) Perilously situated (v.3, “children of wrath”). Here is the bleak picture of life outside of and away from God and Christ.

4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,

But God: When the night was darkest, in broke the light! God entered the fray.

Being rich in mercy: Mercy is not getting what we deserve (wrath, v.3). No doubt God’s mercy is immeasurable like His grace (v.7). It is our in abundance and overflowing.

Because…He loved us:  It is God’s infinite love which is the ground of our salvation.

“Mercy takes away misery; love confers salvation” (Bengal). God sees our deadness and offers us life in Christ. There is longing in the heart of God for us to be restored to life and vitality. You cannot have verse 4 without verse 1-3.

5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

Even when we…our trespasses: Repeat of the reality of verse 1; spiritual death by trespassing. There were “No Trespassing” signs up and we crossed the line, climbed the fence and we paid the penalty for trespassing – spiritual death.

Made us alive together with Christ: As Christ was raised bodily by the power of God, so we are raised spiritually by God’s power. So we have new life with Christ, even eternal life (cf. Rom 6.4).

By grace you have been saved: At the heart of spiritual resurrection is God’s grace., i.e. His unmerited favor. The construction of this phrase (also in v.8) reaches forward & backward in time while also touching the present. We have been saved, are in a saved state, and are being saved—all by God’s grace. This is ubiquitous in the New Testament: Acts 15.11; Romans 3.24; Titus 2.11.

6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

And raised us up with Him: Having been revitalized (v.5) with new life we have also been resurrected with Christ. As Christ walked out of the tomb, so we vacate our spiritual sepulchers. As Christ ascended after His resurrection, so the Christian ascends out of the “domain of darkness” and into “the reign of the Beloved Son” (Col 1.13).

And seated us…in Christ Jesus: Or enthroned us. What happened to Christ (1.20) has happened to the Christian also. “We are joined to him so that we are where he is” (Snodgrass 102). The heavenly places refers the spiritual realm where we “reign with Christ” (Revelation 20.4, 6).

Salvation is presented as an event which has occurred in the past (i.e. baptism) and a present possession and reality experienced by those in Christ. To enjoy salvation requires being joined to the Savior. The gift cannot be separated from the Giver.

7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

So that in the coming ages: that is, those periods and times from apostolic days until the second coming of Christ or the church age. Indeed, God’s grace has flowed freely and fully in history.

He might show…in Christ Jesus: throughout church history God has made known His grace in the example of the Ephesians and Paul (“us”). The riches of his grace must be immeasurable if He can show kindness (or love in action) toward such sinners! Grace is only found in Christ Jesus.

If God can show mercy, grace, and love toward the Ephesians and Paul, then couldn’t He show us the same? Haven’t we tasted the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in our own lives? God in kindness has freely and fully given us miserable, wretched sinners His grace.

8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

For by grace…through faith: Here Paul expands upon what he mentioned parenthetically in v.5. Here divine sovereignty and human responsibility meet in the rugged realm of redemption. Grace is God’s part; faith is ours. God’s grace appeared and brought salvation and teaches us the appropriate and right response to all that God has done on our behalf (cf. Titus 2.11ff).

This is…the gift of God:  That is, salvation by grace conditioned upon faith is a gift from God.  Man is unable to save himself. Further, man neither initiated nor accomplished salvation. God did and He offers the gracious gift of salvation to man who receives it unto himself by obedient faith. We were saved, are in a saved state, and are being saved by God’s continued favor upon us as we continue to trust Him for all things.

9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Not a result…no one may boast: If salvation were by works grace would no longer be grace (see Romans 11.6). Whether the works of the Law of Moses or any works man might attempt to perform to placate the divine fury—it does not matter. All man’s righteous works are filthy rags before holy God (see Isaiah 64.6). It is the law of faith by which boasting is excluded (Rom 3.27).

There are a lot of people today who believe that “if you’re just a good person, God will overlook all the bad you do and take you to heaven.” This heresy is straight from the pit of hell! Salvation by grace through faith is not of works. No amount of good deeds can atone for even one sin. “I’m basically a good person” is the statement of someone who does not know that Jesus says “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10.18). Further, the Bible says, “None is righteous, no not one…no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3.10, 12). So, according to God’s word, no one is “basically a good person” and no amount of good works will save us because our good works are really polluted garments.

10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

For we are His workmanship: Or His masterpiece. Lit. We are that which God has made. This is language which harkens to God’s creative power. But though the creation of the world was grand, the new creation is grander! To bring a world out of nothing is great; to restore that world from chaos is greater! We have been made anew by God (cf 2 Cor 5.17). So we are His people, possession, prize, (see Psalm 100.3).

Created…for good works: Good works will not save us. But in Christ Jesus we are made to engage in good works. Having been spiritually renewed we can fulfill God’s purpose in our lives.

Which God prepared beforehand: From eternity, God purposed that those whom He would create new in Christ would engage in good works (as opposed to evil works). “Before the foundation of the world it was ordained that whoever should be saved by grace [thru faith] should walk in good works” (PC 64).

That we should walk in them: In time, God has a blueprint for our lives which we are to live by. This walk is the habitual practice, the career of those saved by grace. “He who is not holy in his life is not saved by the grace of Christ” (Adam Clarke). “If we are not living a life of good works, we have no reason to believe that we have been saved by grace” (PC 64). “Boast not of Christ’s work for you, unless you can show the Spirit’s work in you” (Ryle 47). One cannot claim to be saved but refuse to serve.

If we would become the masterpiece of God (“His workmanship”), we must be “in Christ Jesus” and “saved by grace through faith.” Further, to truly be God’s masterpiece, we must engage in the works He has prepared beforehand for us to walk in.

The Blind Man from Jericho

I know sign language and have a couple of deaf friends. I have sometimes wondered what it would be like if I were deaf. I could probably manage but it would be a radical change, especially since I have been able to hear all my life. But blindness…blindness scares me. Even when I have to wear a blindfold for a game or something, I don’t like it. The ability to see is such a precious gift that we too often take for granted. Imagine you have spent your whole life is darkness. By the time you are grown, it is business as usual; you are blind and that is your life. In Luke 18.35, we find a man in just such a circumstance. He has probably been blind since birth. His world is darkness. There aren’t many jobs a blind man can do so he is forced to beg. And he lives in Jericho…one of the towns Jesus of Nazareth is passing through on his way to Jerusalem.

The sightless one

Matthew’s gospel tells us there were two men (Matthew 20.29-30). Mark gives us a name: Bartimaeus (Mark 10.46). There are any number of explanations for hamonizing this and you, O constant reader, can judge which is best. But here is a blind man, on the side of the road, begging. Get that: he was begging. He was asking for something, anything to sustain him for the day. And now here is a chance to hit the jackpot – a crowd. He can practically hear the Roman currency bouncing in their coin purses. But its strange…there is a lot of commotion from crowd; so much in fact this man has to inquire (and the Greek implies he kept on asking) as to what was going on. He is told, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

It is interesting to note that the God we serve is a God who “passes by.” In Genesis 18.3-5 when God makes covenant with Abraham, Abraham asks God “do not pass by me.” In Job 9.10, Job in his affliction says the one who made the Pleiades and Orion is the one who “passes by me.” In Exodus 33.17-22, God, revealing his glory to Moses in the mountain, passes by the cleft of the rock. And here in Luke 18.37 Jesus is taking up that mantle as the God who passes by. Not wanting Jesus to get away without making his request, the blind man cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Notice, this is not just Jesus of Nazareth, but this blind identifies him as the one who was to sit on David’s throne and reign. He is the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. And certainly, as Messiah, Jesus can show him mercy.

Note the criticism of the people. Luke says specifically that they were the people “in front.” The vanguard of the crowd had made to where this blind beggar was and they chided him for his audacity. It may have been for his appeal to Jesus Messiahship they chided him. Probably, though, they were much like the disciples with the little children; the master is too busy for a blind beggar. But this man, it would seem, knows that if anyone can help him even regain his sight, it is Jesus the Christ. So he begins to cry out even louder, perhaps even shrieking at the top of his lungs, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Nothing will hinder him from seeing Jesus (pun intended).

The Sovereign One

If ever there was a man of mercy, it was Jesus. He is our model of mercy. And the God who passes by, when he hears the frantic cry of one of his children, stopped (v.40) and commanded that the man be brought forward. The blind man (probably led by the hand) came near. I think of James 4.8a which says “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (ESV). What a picture here is painted of us, blinded by our sin and begging for mercy, draw near even as this blind beggar did and finding mercy incarnate. Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v.41). Ever a servant, Jesus stood ready to do what they man, full of faith, desires of him. “Lord,” says the blind man, still appealing to his authority and sovereignty even over blindness, “let me recover my sight.”

You see the faith required for healing in the blind beggar. If he had faith but had not caused a ruckus, would he have been healed? If he had faith, but would not cry out to the one who could save him, there could have been no healing. No, the faith necessary for healing was a faith that acted. As James says, “Faith without action is dead.” He cried out and came near and thus Jesus speaks to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” There was absolutely nothing the blind beggar could to fix his condition, but when he cried out with faith to the Sovereign One with power to heal, he “immediately” could see the face of the Lord. He then became a disciple, a follower and glorified God, unable to remain quite about the great miracle that had been worked by Jesus. But this led to others who saw what had happened also praising God.

“I once was lost but now am found – Was blind, but now I see.Amazing Grace, John Newton, 1779

The Lost Sheep

Once again we have a decent break in the chapter division for ch.15; I believe this is one unit of Scripture that is meant to be taken as a whole as Jesus shows us through vivid parable the grace of God, the pursuit of God, the gentleness of God, and the love of God. This is one of the most loved and (perhaps) oft preached chapters of the Bible. In fact, most unchurched people know about the prodigal son (v.11-24). I will do my best, in the treatment of this text, to maintain the structural integrity of this teaching of Jesus in ch.15.

But we must realize that this context is tied to the foregoing context. Notice Luke 14.35: He who has ears to hear, let him hear. That is how ch.14 ends; notice how ch. 15 begins: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. Did you see the connection? Jesus finishes his discourse on discipleship with an admonition to hear his words and the tax collectors and sinners heed that admonishment. The lowest of society are doing what says while the Pharisees and scribes, the religious leaders of the day, are grumbling (v.2). What a shocking contrast! Tax collectors were hated by the society – they were seen as helpers of the evil empire, the Romans. As Leon Morris puts it, “They were ostracized by many and regarded as outcasts by the religious.” Sinners were not much better; they lived immoral lives and were publically recognized for their lives which were contrary to the Law.

It is these kinds of people, the despised and disobedient, that Jesus received and ate with (v.2). To eat with someone was not merely to associate yourself with them, but also pointed to welcome and recognition of that person as worthy of fellowship. And so there is contempt in the words of the Pharisees and scribes as they comment on the situation before them: This man, Jesus, who is supposed to be some kind of religious leader, eats with this kind of riff raff! But remember, these people had gathered for a purpose: to hear Him. That is, to hear the voice of the one who speaks and the storms are calmed, demons flee, even dead bodies come back to life (see ch.8). There is life in these words, freedom and peace. No wonder it is these kind of people, tax collectors and sinners, those in social bondage, troubled by their past, dead in their transgressions and sins, who flock to hear Him.

Urged by the contempt of the religious leaders and perhaps burdened to vindicate his audience (for Jesus’ vidication will be found in an empty tomb), he speaks a parable to “them.” Them could be specifically the Pharisees and scribes (very likely) or it could be to the audience in general. Nevertheless, the parable is addressed to “them”: What man of you…. It is a rhetorical question; any one of them would do what Jesus proposes. The picture is painted of a flock of one hundred sheep. One goes missing. The good shepherd will not leave it to die in the wilderness; instead he will go and search until he has found that one lost sheep. Why? The ninety-nine are safe and sound; that one lost sheep is in danger in the open. This was customary.

And finding the sheep, the shepherd does not begrudingly grab the stubborn sheep and grumble all the way back to the flock. He does not beat the stupid animal for going astray. He does not even raise his voice to the animal. If he raises his voice, it is to rejoice over finding this one lost sheep. He gladly hoists this blessed beast onto his shoulder, smiling from ear to ear, as he lovingly takes it back to the flock. He rejoices with his neighbors for it is a happy occasion (v.6).

And here is the application in v.7: heaven rejoices over the repentant sinner even more than over the righteous who need not repent. To be sure, there is rejoicing for the faithful; but there is more joy over the returning sinner. And who was Jesus with? Those who needed a clearer picture of God. The Jews had muddied the water when it came to God. They believed God rejoiced over a returning sinner; but they did not picture God actively seeking out the sinner. And that is the revolutionary picture painted by our Savior. God is a seeking God, he is in pursuit of the straying sinner, doing everything in his power to track down and restore that straying sheep. A Jewish saying was, “There is joy before God when those who provoke Him perish from the world.” Do you see the burden these religious teachers had bound on the lost? But Jesus comes and presents a very different idea about God. He is God who lovingly searches every high and low, every peak and valley, seeking out his one lost sheep. What grand and marvelous news this must have been to the ears of those who came to hear him! They found themselves in the parable and identified with the sheep. God had come to seek and save them and sitting before was the incarnate reality of this truth.

God’s Mercy

There is no greater joy to a family than the addition of a new baby…unless you are a couple who have been unable to have children your entire marriage (which you view as a disgrace), you are both very old, and the Lord has shown favor to you to bless you with the forerunner with of the Messiah. Then, maybe you get a bit excited and you invite the whole family over to join in your joy. This is apparently what Zechariah and Elizabeth did when she had come full term and John was born. Relatives and family were there for the great occasion.

Luke records this event with a focus on the mercy of God (1.58). We usually think of the mercy of God in terms of salvation and forgiveness – God is so great in his mercy that he had compassion on sinful and sent his Son to die for us. By his mercy we are able to stand in presence and by his mercy he saved us. However, when it comes to the barren giving brith, we can see the mercy of God. God, who is rich in mercy, gives his humble servants Zechariah and Elizabeth a child who is to prepare the way of the Lord.

Luke then records for us the peculiar event of the naming of John. Elizabeth, knowing it would appear, that the angel has selected the name John for her baby emphatically says “not so” and states that he is to be called John. When the family and neighbors try to enlist Zechariah for help, he says that the childs name is already John (“His name is John,” versus Elizabeth’s state that he would be called John). In the original language, the name John comes first in the sentence, pressing the emphatic necessity that the child’s name is John. Zechariah views his encounter with the angel as something serious and acknowledges the word of the angel as haivng already come to pass.

Immediately, Zechariah’s mouth is loosed and he can speak. Notice the first thing he does: praises God. After months of silence, the first thing he seeks to do is praise the God who has shown mercy to his wife and him. Suppose this had been one of us. What would be the first thing out of our mouths having been struck dumb for unbelief? We can learn a valuable lesson from these simple and humble people that we ought to be praising God at all times for his great mercy that he has shown us.

One final note over this account: notice what happens when the mute man praises God – everyone is filled with awe. This is another theme in Luke, this amazement and awe that people have when something incredible/miraculous takes place. People began to understand that this was “God’s event.” God is at work in this situation and this child is going to be something special. As one commentator has said: “Plainly the events that had just occurred protended some mighty action of God.”