February 10, 2008

Comfort for those who mourn

Last week in Sunday morning Bible study, we talked about the things that make us angry, not personally or selfishly, but stuff that happens in the world that concern us deeply. The women shared their passion against child abuse, lying, lack of personal responsibility, the abuse of women and other sinful behavior.

Then we looked at God’s anger. All of His wrath is against sin. As we discussed the differences between righteous indignation and our selfish anger and ways we could “be angry and do not sin” (see Ephesians 4:26), it came out that our passions could be God’s way of giving us a ministry. In fact, one person had turned her deep anger against abuse into an outreach and was helping abuse victims.

What about God? In His wrath against sinners, He did that also. John 3:16 is so familiar, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The passion of God against sin became His mission, but this mission was driven by love, the other side of anger.

Just as our anger can lash out and destroy, God could have let His anger concerning sin be a reason to wipe out the human race. He did it once when He flooded the earth saving only Noah and his family. But in John 3:16, we find that mercy and love overruled wrath. God knows our frame and our weakness. The next verse says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

If I am honest about my sinfulness, this verse should bring me to my knees in gratitude. God did not have to forgive me and give me new life, but He did. His mercy is overwhelming. But there is more. Isaiah spoke the following words that Jesus later quoted, words that show the mission of God in sending His Son.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3)
Jesus came with good news, healing, the offering of freedom to those caught in the trap of sin and bound in the prison of their own selfishness. He proclaimed that today is the day of salvation, now is the time to consider the options: believe in Him and have eternal life, or perish.

But God, who is “angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11), offers compassion that makes no sense to me. He who has every right to take vengeance on those who rebel against Him also offered me a righteousness that will glorify Himself as it comforts and gives joy and praise to those who mourn.

While this could include all kinds of mourning and grief (because God is compassionate and able to comfort us in sorrow), Jesus said it is specifically for those who mourn over their sin (Matthew 5). Any person who is sorry and in heaviness about the selfish or evil things they have done, can come to this same God who is “angry every day” and receive a “garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”

Jesus gives this comfort by giving us Himself. With Him, not only do I know His grace and mercy toward me, but also experience a different attitude toward others. This was the first thing I noticed when I became a Christian more than thirty-five years ago. I remember sitting on my front step in the sunshine and thinking I don’t hate everyone like I used to!

Jesus was sent to save sinners. His life offers many examples of passion for those trapped in sin. When His disciples asked Him to call down fire from heaven to consume some people who refused to receive Him, He rebuked them instead. He welcomed Mary Magdalene when all others turned from her. He told the woman caught in adultery and about to be stoned to death to go and sin no more. He welcomed the thief on the cross next to Him into His kingdom.

His gives His people that same passion. In other words, the comfort God gives is not just for me. He says I must pass it on. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 tells me, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.”

Jesus’ mission was to save sinners because God hated sin. He is showing me that instead of letting it be a mere emotion and hot spot in my heart, I also must turn my angry passion against sin into a ministry that reaches out to comfort those who mourn and share with them the good news of God’s love.

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