Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Two-Sided Coin

By God's definition, blessing and curse are two sides of a single coin. The Lord's stringent policies toward his people in ancient times provided for prosperity and security on condition of obedience; however, God specified horrible curses to befall those who would or could not to honor His terms. The blessing is the side of the coin we might prefer to see. God promises:

If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains . . . [and] increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit . . . And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. I will give peace . . . and none shall make you afraid . . . I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. - from Leviticus 26:3-12 (see the whole passage)

That sounds great, but look what was waiting when God's people fell short:

But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments . . . then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, . . . disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache . . . I will set my face against you . . . Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. - from Leviticus 26:14-17 (whole passage)

Persistent disobedience and disregard for God's standards had a specific and predictable result:

If . . . you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me,
then I will walk contrary to you in fury. - Leviticus 26:27-28

God's law of blessing and curse, or cause and effect, was so deeply ingrained in the Hebrew mind that the teachings and works of Jesus were a complete shock to the Jewish system. The scribes and Pharisees (the religious teachers and authority figures of Jesus' time) were unprepared for the the good news Jesus presented regarding forgiveness and fresh starts. When Jesus forgave a wayward heart, it was an offense to their ideas about God:

. . . [Jesus] was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and . . . they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” - Mark 2:2-5

The authorities were offended that one human being would dare to forgive the wrongs committed by another. Surely judgment was God's job, and justice must be meted out in the form of suffering. Yet that was not the case. To prove His point and further illustrate His authority, Jesus followed up forgiveness with physical healing, and then turned to explain his actions to to His critics:

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” - Mark 2:9-11

This was good news for people who were conditioned to think in terms of cause and effect, action and reaction, blessing and curse, obedience versus discipline -- and the good news was for everyone. Although Jesus was monitored closely by the Jewish authorities, He had wide contact with the general population, spending time in the company of people who had nothing whatsoever to do with religion. When the Jewish teachers asked Jesus why He associated with folks who did not even pretend to keep the rules, He responded this way:

Those who are well have no need of a physician,
but those who are sick. I came not
to call the righteous, but sinners.
- Mark 2:17

Throughout His ministry on earth, Jesus broke all kinds of rules - the religious do's and don'ts were redefined (see Mark 2:23-27). Jesus offered everyone - not just the "good" people - a new way of interacting with God, which superseded the old standard of blessings for complete compliance and curse for disobedience. We are called into this new way of thinking; we are offered unmerited grace and love:

. . . he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, - Titus 3:5
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9

What a blessing to live under Jesus Christ's new system, which allows us to take joy in living by God's standards, not in fear of punishment, but because we know we are loved and forgiven. May the joy of the Lord inspire you today. May the mind of Christ be in you to provide the desire and the ability do things His way.

To see the Old and New Testament passages which inspired this blog see Through the Bible in a Year's February 18th reading.

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