It’s easy for us to forget the astounding grace of God. We who live in America and are part of western civilization have been so blessed and – frankly – have lives that are generally free from true hardship, that we take for granted all that God has given us. What amazes me is that despite this, our culture is growing exceedingly dark because we’ve turned from God’s generous mercy. In doing this, we create our own sufferings.
God’s template for us is simple: Trust in and obey Him. When we do this, He blesses us because He loves to give good gifts to those who become His beloved children. When we reject the sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ and the salvation He brings, we open up a whole can of serpents.
Rather than living lives that cause God’s face to shine upon us and which curry God’s favor, more and more people turn away because they want to do life their way. Of course, this isn’t new. It began in the Garden and carries to this very day. The extent of our rebellion varies, but between the sin in our souls, the lure of the world, and the thrusting knife of Satan who wishes to twist our loyalties and priorities toward his, many people think it’s a good idea to build their own tower of Babel in the hope of controlling their individual destinies.
This is why we see the fulfillment of 2 Timothy 3:1-9 all around us:
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, slanderers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power; avoid such people as these. For among them are those who slip into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, worthless in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their foolishness will be obvious to all, just as was that also of Jannes and Jambres.
Yet, knowing this is the human condition, these last days sins are simply a continuation of those which have been with us since the beginning. They can lead to extremely dark places. It’s not hard to see someone in the grip of these nineteen iniquities. Cain certainly qualifies with the murder of his brother Abel. Let’s pick a couple of these characteristics with which to label him: ungrateful, without self-control, brutal, holding to a form of godliness. There are others that surely led to his rash act which had such extreme consequences. Do you think based on the believing loyalty God required in Old Testament times, that Cain made it to heaven? Only if he truly repented, which I don’t know that we see in the Biblical text.
Another intriguing situation centers upon the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus. The text indicates that initially both cursed Him. But then, something happened to the one.
John MacArthur in his Study Bible Notes for Mark’s Gospel indicates that these men probably had committed worse crimes than thievery. Theft wasn’t a capital punishment per the Roman laws. It’s likely that these two may have been fellow murderers along with Barabbas. Perhaps if things had turned out differently, Barabbas would have been one of the three crucified on Calvary that day with Jesus going free. That wasn’t God’s plan, so Jesus was placed between these two desperately wicked men. Initially they showed their true colors in their curses.
What happened? What changed for the one? Close to death, the one man’s sins flooded over him. From our above list he could have exhibited the following: arrogant, disobedient to parents, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, conceited, led on by various impulses. Take your pick. He saw the extent of his evil life. The Holy Spirit convicted him of his eternal destiny. In an act that only God could do, this man acknowledged his transgressions, believed in Jesus as the Son of God, and called out to Him for salvation. In His great mercy, the Lord granted this murderous thief what only He could. God gave him paradise rather than hell. He was transported immediately from the deepest darkness of Satan’s pit of despair to blinding brilliance in the presence of God. In an act of supreme irony, this man’s crucifixion – the worst thing that ever happened to him – turned out to be the most wonderful. How’s that for what God can do?
He didn’t need to go through twelve steps for reconciliation. He didn’t have to be baptized. All he did was repent, ask for God’s mercy, place his confidence in Christ, and it was granted.
Many people today have a past that is every bit as despicable as this man on the cross. Some have partaken of Satan’s blood and caroused with demons. It doesn’t matter. If such a person is truly repentant and asks God for the return of his soul, He will grant it. The question we have to ask is: How might that which is horrible in our life benefit us just like the one who hung there beside Jesus?
What’s incredibly important for a person like this – and really for every single one of us regardless of our past – is that upon receiving God’s grace in our lives, we become obedient to His commands. It is only through our obeying what the Lord tells us to do that we demonstrate our true conversion. When we stop rebelling, and follow hard after God, what a difference that makes! It opens up the pathways for Him to bless us. Do you think God will pour out His favor and blessings upon the disobedient? Yes, rain falls on the just and unjust, but God’s favor is something else entirely.
When we trust in Him, it likely causes a big smile to crease God’s face. He can point to us and say, “That’s My child!” Just like with Job, when we show our believing loyalty through obeying Him, it doesn’t matter what comes our way, God will see us through it. More than that, we will realize untold blessings. They may not be of the physical variety that God blessed Job with in the second half of his life – I’m not talking about prosperity as it’s been corrupted these days. No, we have the Lord’s promise of eternal glory in His presence. Before then, while we’re still here in this life, He may pour out wealth of some kind upon us or the healing of our infirmities, but that isn’t at all the objective. Our eyes should be upon Jesus. When they are, He will do what He’ll do for us in this natural realm. But this isn’t our home. Who cares about riches that corrupt and moths destroy, or even this physical body?
What should be our prayer? Lord, Thy will be done!
What an amazing result that brings.