Grace What gracious behavior have you seen
THE GRACE OF GOD
As I was preparing for this devotion, I was really wondering what exactly I should be talking about. We are all waiting for Christmas, and at least your children will be very excited to see what you will give them as presents. And that's a good thing.
Presents should be exactly that - a pleasure!
In our work with youngsters, we can at least experience this again and again. Once a quarter the children can choose a few small gifts and mostly, I hope at least we employees also meet the kids' tastes.
But just as the kids are really happy at the moment of the gift, I'm just as sure that most of these gifts will probably become completely uninteresting after a few months and lie in the children's room in dust. And the poor parents can then dispose of them - I feel a bit sorry for them ;-)
I don't know if you can somehow find yourselves in it. But I think so. Maybe with a different gift, but unfortunately with the same principle.
Today, however, it should not be about any Christmas presents, but about a present with a completely different format. Everything we can give to humans becomes completely meaningless in relation to this. In the next few minutes I would like to look at a psalm with you, which revolves entirely around GOD himself and which wants to make clear to us a very special wonderful quality of GOD.
Today it is supposed to be about Psalm 136. It is perhaps a not that simple and somewhat unusual psalm and yet it is something very special. It expresses the boisterous joy that the psalmist felt as he reflected on God and his work with him and the people of Israel.
Read psalm together, congregation says his grace endures forever!
I think you already guessed what the big topic of this psalm is, right?
We will deal with GOD'S grace. I know this is basically nothing new to most of us. We have all heard this before. That is the first most important statement of this psalm! And it is something in which the true God differs from all human idols!
But something else: Did you notice the enthusiasm of the man who wrote this psalm?
“Praise the LORD for he is good! Because his grace lasts forever! "
He didn't just growled these verses in boredom. And what he understood was the fact that his God is a gracious God. And that had completely taken hold of him. He repeats this significant truth 26 times in his psalm: “His grace endures forever”
Grace means that God does not treat people as he deserves. But that HE has mercy on us with unbelievably great love and friendliness.
But more than that: If you are a child of God, then God's grace is not only there for you today, but embraces it, carries it and gives gifts to all eternity!
Those are really blatant words that this writer repeats over and over again! May I ask the question whether we really believe this here? I mean, most of you have a few years more under your belt than me and have had a lot of experience.
How about you Can you say that you know GOD as well as this man? Have you also experienced his grace? And is your gratitude for it just as great?
I wonder how long it will be before I really have this well-known fact in mind and really grasp its depth. If you feel the same, this psalm is an incredibly good tutoring session for both of us.
The psalmist gives us three quick food for thought that he is convinced will lead us, like him, to thank God with joy in our hearts.
The grace of God shows itself in creation
The first food for thought is creation. In it God's grace shows itself.
Lately this truth has been massively attacked again and again. According to popular belief, it took at least 4.6 billion years and trillions of planetary developments to go wrong until the earth was accidentally populated by inhabited planets.
God's Word tells us otherwise. It tells us about the unlimited, undisputed, eternal and almighty GOD who created the earth in his incredible wisdom. This is also an issue in this psalm.
A few years ago I gave a devotion on the first chapter in Genesis, and it struck me how much commitment God has shown to create the earth in this way. God was not content with a just as habitable planet. No, after each day, God checked that his work was really “well” created.
And what was the reason that God created all of this? Because it was extremely important to God in His grace that man should feel good.
Of course, above all, man should be happy about God himself, but that was no obstacle for God to give him all the wonderful things in addition.
And even today, after a lot of things got mixed up because of the fall, the beauty of creation is something we all enjoy.
Who of you has never gazed at the starry sky? These vast expanses are one of the reasons why I like campsites so much. Because I can sleep in the open air again.
This heaven was created because God is gracious to us! This is very clear in verses 7-9! And in doing so, like David, we often face these vastnesses and just like him have to ask:
"When I see the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have prepared, what is a person that you think of him, and the child of a person that you take care of him?" Psalm 8: 4-5
A fair question, isn't it? What can we give God that God should give us something like that?
My youth pastor once asked me how God felt before the earth and man were created. I don't remember what answer I gave back then. But what he wanted to make clear to me, what is fact, God has always been enough for himself. By that I mean that HE doesn't need anything from anyone. HE is the ETERNAL GOD! What should we humans be able to use in any form with our 50,000 days on earth?
That heaven, the earth, and we are there at all, and were created, we owe alone to God's will and his grace.
The writer of this psalm understood that. And it is good for us to think about this absolute basic of life every now and then. God's grace towards us shows in what HE has created for us.
God's grace shows in salvation
But not only creation testifies to God's grace. Even the writer of this psalm did not stop at being amazed at creation. God not only created and now remains inactive but would like to meet every person personally and graciously.
God's grace in the salvation of Israel
God is a God who saves by grace. God saved Israel from slavery in Egypt.
For the writer of this Psalm it was part of the history of his people. And the only reason he found why God had acted this way was God's incomprehensible and undeserved grace.
In order to be able to understand correctly how gracious God was to this people, we have to imagine how the Israelites fared in the slavery of Egypt!
I imagine it to be a bit like black slavery in America's cotton plantations. When the cattle are valued more than you are. When the death of a person leaves nothing to be desired. I think the Jews felt the same way back then. For 400 years they were humiliated and oppressed.
They were mistreated, their children were killed, and in the middle of the heat of Egypt they had to build cities in which others would later live. If the strict requirements of the Egyptians were not met, brutal blows were expected.
And out of this misery God saved his people. Nothing was too complicated and too expensive for him! Although this people did not deserve it in the least, and probably no Egyptian at that time would have given a cent for these dusty brick burners and stone haulers, God took care of them!
He led them out of Egypt without them having to fight. While they were eating the Passover lamb, Almighty God fought for them. He drew a final separation between the Egyptians and Israel, and all who tried to hold them sank into the sea. God saved his people. Mercy alone.
And the writer of this Psalm understood this only too well.
Now what does all of this have to do with us as the church of God? I mean we don't belong to God's chosen people Israel. But to draw the parallel to God's actions with his children is actually quite natural, isn't it?
Every child of God has such a gracious salvation to share. What actually distinguishes us from the Israelites at that time? They were caught in the slavery of Egypt, we were caught in the slavery of sin. They didn't have a chance to free themselves from Egypt, and that's exactly what we saw. Such a stubborn people would never have deserved God to save them and we, too, if we are honest, are not exactly intoxicatingly loyal and lovable creatures.
In fact, God's Word is even more revealing. When God looks at our life, he sums it up in the following words:
"For there is no difference, for all have sinned and do not obtain the glory of God" Romans 3:23
What do these verses mean?
Ultimately, they mean when God looks at my life and judges whether I was obedient to his will, I have to give me a grade of 6. When God inspects our lives, he finds nothing, absolutely nothing to look forward to.
The reason for this is: We have all sinned.
As common as this experience is for us, the consequences are terrible. God is a holy and righteous God and he cannot possibly go unpunished from disobedience to him.
And then we have another problem: God knows all things!
The NSA may have stored a yota-byte of data about us, but God knows everything about us. He knows us down to every loveless, envious or covetous thought!
-Why didn't God treat us the way we deal with an annoying fly? I could understand that. Every day our behavior challenges his anger. And yet there was no second, final flood.
-Instead, Jesus, God Himself came to this depraved earth. He who possessed the glory of God gave up everything to save us. HE lived the perfect life that HE, as holy GOD, had to claim from us! And then he went to the cross in our place and endured the punishment that HE as just GOD would have had to give us.
He had the scourge pulled over his back. He got the nails driven through his hands, even though it was my hands that did evil. HE was separated from God the Father, that was my deserved judgment!
The only thing that God still requires of a person is to see his own forlornness and to seek forgiveness from the Lord Jesus. And that's a personal matter. Nobody can do that for you. A gift of God's grace. But like any other gift, you have to accept it.
Because there is no difference, because all have sinned and do not obtain the glory of God and are justified in vain through his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Romans 3: 23-24
Manfred Siebald expresses his thoughts on it as follows:
Like drops in a bucket How come you don't curse us?
So should we be before God Instead woo and seek?
Passing away before God the Holy One How immeasurably he loves
And could never stand before you? how wide how deep how high
Can you understand this grace? For as long as there have been Christians, they have tried to understand why God did this! This grace is just as incomprehensible as it is self-evident. How much have you got used to this grace? Does the thought of Jesus and His salvation evoke the same enthusiasm in you as it did in the psalmist?
I think we have so much reason to be amazed at God's grace. God's grace shows in salvation.
God's grace shows in his care
Yet the psalmist does not stop at past grace. He recognizes God's grace throughout the history of his people up to verse 23 and into his daily life. God has guarded his people and provided for them, He conquered great and mighty enemies. But he didn't stop worrying today either. Yes he takes care of me! The psalmist cheers us. At this point, based on time, I don't want to go into God's wonderful work with his people any longer.
No much more I would like to encourage us today to think about how GOD has looked after us lately.
How did you experience God's faithfulness and grace over the past year? Where has God led you through the deserts of your despair? Where did God give you victory over sins? Sins as powerful as Sihon and Og. Where did he keep you when you were in danger? (17-20) Or where did he help you when people wanted you ill? What has he blessed you with in the last year (verse 21) How faithfully has he provided for you?
I found it very good to put these things in front of myself again. I am in a really stressful time myself and too often tend to just see the challenges and problems.
But I and Tine have also been able to experience God's care over and over again recently. The most blatant experience I can remember was two years ago. We had moved and at the beginning of the month we had just € 56 in our account. It makes you nervous to be honest ... at some point Tine dug out the wedding cards to read through all the congratulations. And guess what she found. 500 € in cash. Somehow we must have overlooked that when unwrapping the presents. And now this gift came at just the right time. God cares for us. And even if the time is stressful, it is a clear example for me that God will not forget me in the next few months either. Not because we deserve any special affection, no simply because HE is gracious. And for this HE deserves all my astonished adoration.
Spurgeon once said the following sentence: The days of a Christian are like diamonds of grace drawn on the golden cord of divine fidelity.
Do we have so much reason to praise God?
Throughout the centuries, brothers and sisters have experienced this grace of God even in difficult situations. When we leaf through the old and the new songs, we always find songs that thank God for his infinite goodness.
How precious is the undeserved gift of God's grace to us? Is it in the place of honor as with our psalmist or do we take it for granted?
I think this Christmas season in particular would be a good opportunity to start again or with a new zeal to rejoice in God's grace. We have a gracious God. His grace with us is eternal. AMEN
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