Mercy And Justice


top_signIn one sermon which George MacDonald is purported to have authored, he addressed God and His justice. The only Biblical text I can find is that from which he seems to have wandered—Psalm 62:12, which states, “And lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord, For You recompense a man according to his work.

In the King James, which the sermon quotes, lovingkindness is rendered mercy. The writer then makes a case for his interpretation of justice, leading into a denial of justice resulting in punishment.

How odd this discussion seems to me, but perhaps that’s because I’ve had good Bible teaching all my life.

The cultures around Israel during King David’s time (Psalm 62 is one of his) did not practice justice. They practiced vengeance. Consequently, the declaration that God would recompense a man according to his work was a statement of mercy. He would not punish a man for something his father did or punish the brothers or the children. God’s mercy was demonstrated in His justice, set in opposition to their vengeance.

How simple and straightforward. How righteous.

We are accountable before a Holy God for what we do. He does not pile on more than we deserve.

But here’s the thing. We are required by law to stop at stop signs. If I run a stop sign and get pulled over by a cop, I am guilty of breaking that law. No matter that I’ve not run a stop sign the prior 2000 times, or 200 million times before that. Stopping at the stop sign is what I am required by law to do. Fulfilling my obligation does not earn me points against a future time when I might slip up and run the stop sign.

In other words, there is nothing I can do to make up for my situation. I can only recognize my condition—I am a lawbreaker deserving of the just (and merciful) penalty for my actions.

What great news, then, that Jesus, who was not a lawbreaker, and therefore, faced no penalty, stepped in.

The amazing love of God is beyond comprehension here, because God did not wave His hand and dismiss my sin. He bore it Himself. He transferred my sin in the same way that the sins of Israel were transferred to scapegoats. It’s a mystical process, if you will, something that sounds too incredible, too hard to fathom. The Holy God, unstained in His being, complete in His purity, piled my sin on His shoulders. He bore my sin and carried my sorrow.

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (I Peter 2:24)

And in more detail from Isaiah

But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors. (Isa 53:10-12; emphasis mine)

Paid in full. The blood of Jesus Christ blots out my sin. I receive God’s mercy when I understand that my work is insufficient to pay what I owe, that Christ alone could afford to bear my sin because He bore none of His own. The angel of death passes over me as surely as he once passed over the Jewish homes that bore the blood of the spotless Passover lamb slain on their behalf.

What a clear picture of God’s redemptive work—the marriage of His Justice and Mercy—prompted by His infinite Love.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in December 2010).

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Published in: on March 3, 2017 at 5:16 pm  Comments (4)  
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Who Does God Love?


Advent Wk 3At Christmas, we highlight God’s love for humankind, evidenced by sending His only Son to take on flesh, and ultimately to bear the punishment for the sinners.

On the surface, the question who God loves might seem simple. He loves the world. Which is true. We know this because John 3:16 tells us so, but also because Jesus commissioned His followers to make disciples “of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19, NASB). Luke records Jesus’s words in Acts 1:8b: “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Those first disciples had walked with Jesus and listened to His teaching, watched Him be arrested and put to death, saw the place where He was buried, then witnessed the resurrected Christ walk into their room, talk with them, break bread, fix breakfast, and ascend into heaven. He left them with the command to tell everyone everywhere what they’d witnessed.

Why would they go to places all over the world—and why would we who have inherited this commission—if God’s love didn’t extend to those in the remotest parts of the earth?

But here “simple” comes to an end. Some believe the natural conclusion drawn from the fact that God loves the world is that God saves everyone: if you love ’em, you save ’em. This of course means the Paris terrorists are saved, the San Bernardino shooters are saved, Hitler is saved.

There’s something in most of us that recoils at such an idea. We want “good people” saved, but not the heinous ones. We want to tell the world that God loves them, unless the people are trying to kill us. Those, we’d happily send to hell.

But we’re an imperfect lot. Could it be that God loves Muslim terrorists, that if they were the only people in the world, He still would have sent His Son? And if so, does His love for them mean they are saved?

I know—too many questions. Talking about God’s love should make us feel good, not feel confused. But God simply defies our every effort to confine Him with our own mores and understandings. He is Other, which means greater, more Perfect than we can imagine.

The truth is, if God only loved the “good people,” He wouldn’t love any of us. None of us is good.

We forget that when we stare into the face of people who embrace evil and call it good. Most of us regularly fight the evil inside us, and hence, we are loath to call it evil. We get angry or jealous or selfish or greedy or covetous. We lust, we envy, we betray our friends, our spouses. We gossip, we lie, we say mean things about our boss, our coworkers, our in-laws. And we think we’re good because we didn’t shoot anybody today.

So who does God love—just the not so very bad, bad people?

He says He loves the world.

But in loving the world, is He therefore obligated to save everyone?

God isn’t obligated to do anything our human understanding dictates He should do. He’s already laid out how salvation works (John 3:16 again): He loves, we believe, He gives everlasting life.

The belief component is all important. Some people call this “easy believism” because they attach it to a false teaching Paul confronted in the New Testament. Some people thought that since they were “saved” or “in Christ” they could live however they wanted. After all, whatever sin they committed was forgiven, washed away by the blood of the Lamb.

Just one problem there. If we truly believe something, it affects our lives. If we believe our car will be repossessed if we don’t make the payment, we aren’t apt to take that money and go to Vegas or on a shopping spree. We believe we’ll lose our car if we don’t make the payments, so it affects how we act.

Husbands who believe their wives want something nice for Christmas act on that belief (to the best of their ability!) They would be foolish to say, Well, I didn’t get you a Christmas present this year because I bought myself some new golf clubs instead. His belief affects his actions, and wives all know this. So if he’s bought himself golf clubs, his actions demonstrate his true belief about his wife.

So too in our relationship with God. If we say we believe that Jesus came as payment for my sin, but we keep on sinning, willfully, knowingly, with no intention of changing our sinful behavior, we are demonstrating that we don’t really believe.

God loves, but we have fallen short of His glory, His holiness. All of us have. Everyone except Jesus Messiah. God doesn’t change His standards or go back on His word because He loves us. He declared from the beginning that rebellion carried a death sentence.

Jesus, of His own free will, took our sin that we who believe might have everlasting life. We who believe look so much like those who don’t believe. Except little by little who we are inside is being reshaped to look more and more like Jesus.

Those who don’t believe, those who say they believe by act in a way that shows they’re lying, have not escaped God’s love . . . or His wrath. In our human way of thinking, love and wrath seem incompatible. But Scripture leads me to believe they are not, when we’re talking about God. As I see it, God loves us so much, He isn’t going to force us to love Him back or to spend eternity with Him if we really hate Him. I’ve heard people say they’d rather be in hell than in heaven “with a God like that!” They hate Him.

God’s going to let them walk away. But He is also going to punish sin, just as He said He would. Since they’ve rejected Jesus’s payment of their debt, there’s nothing left but for them to pay their own debt.

So who does God love? The world! Absolutely. If only the world loved Him back.

Published in: on December 17, 2015 at 7:35 pm  Comments Off on Who Does God Love?  
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Living With Guilt


Convict_Chain_GangThere’s a perception among many that Christians are the most tortured, guilt-ridden people on the planet. After all, our God has all these rules, and He judges everyone and is probably just waiting to zap whoever he catches breaking one of his commandments.

That picture is a sad caricature of what a true Christian is like. Don’t get me wrong. I know there are people in a number of arms of the Church that have the perception that their salvation rests on the works they do. But that’s a misconception of the truth.

In reality, Christians are wonderfully freed from guilt, sin, the law. We freely acknowledge that we’re failures. No matter how we might like to live in obedience to God’s mandates, we admit we can’t—not a hundred percent of the time. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we become so engrossed in our own lives and projects and comfort and well-being, we sometimes don’t even know who our neighbors are.

We know we’re supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but sometimes it’s just so hard to get out of bed in the morning to have that time reading the Bible and praying that we know will bring us closer to Him. And doesn’t the church already have enough Sunday School teachers?

I could go on about pride and grumbling and judging and greed and gossip and selfishness and hatred in our hearts—you know, the kind Jesus says is as bad as murder. We Christians are a bunch of sinners, like all the rest of the world. But there’s this important distinction. We don’t bear the burden of our sin any longer.

No guilt.

No shame.

No secret desire to sneak into a tiny monastery cell and engage in self-flagellation.

We’re also not boasting about the sins we’re chalking up. We aren’t bragging about getting out of a speeding ticket by lying to the cop or planning how we can cheat the IRS when we file our taxes.

The truth about Christians and sin is this: Jesus Christ paid the debt we owe for all our sins—past, present, and future. The guilt that we were rightly bearing is off our shoulders.

yokeWhat we know now is God’s love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. Out of hearts filled with gratitude, we want to love God better, obey Him more perfectly, follow Him where He takes us. We simply owe Him our lives and we don’t want to let Him out of our sight.

Happily, we don’t have to!

And that’s such great news, we don’t want to keep it to ourselves. We want to let other people know how Jesus will also take the burden of guilt they’re lugging around off their shoulders.

I can hear people now: What guilt? I don’t have any guilt. That only comes from crazy religious people with their lists of do’s and don’ts. That whole sin thing is a religious construct to force people into their churches.

Well, actually, it’s not. First we have these natures in us bent to glorify ourselves instead of glorifying God and serving ourselves instead of serving others. In other words, our bent is to reject God’s authority and to live for ourselves. Some people deal with this by saying God doesn’t exist and we have to learn empathy. But the fact is, we never learn it perfectly. So even if we set aside our rejection of God and just looked at how we treat others, we can see that bent nature in us all.

Most people are quite aware they aren’t perfect. However, they have allowed society to talk them out of recognizing that not-perfect state as sin. It’s kind of like these criminals caught on security cameras in the act of stealing the packages or dog-napping the puppy or passing the note to the bank teller, then standing up in court after they’ve been arrested and pleading not guilty.

Well, of course they’re guilty! What they’re hoping for is to escape punishment by some technicality.

I don’t know if people who say they don’t sin are angling for the same escape or not. But I will say, if they don’t own their guilt now, they will one day.

The ONLY people who are living without guilt are those who have accepted the grace of God poured out on us as His gift through His Son Jesus who took our sins on Himself and paid the penalty we deserved.

Simply put, we’ve been forgiven.

I’ll add that we also have a virulent enemy who tries to make us feel guilty even though we’ve been forgiven. He throws our past in our faces and tries to shame us by our failures. He loves to discourage us so we don’t face each day remembering how accepted and loved we are by God.

We’re in a battle, but not against people who don’t believe like us or against a certain political slant or law. The battle we are waging is “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12b).

These are the forces that hate God and don’t want us to lift up His name, who want to see us stumbling under guilt we’ve imagined still belongs to us. These forces would love to see us fall into sin and besmirch the name of Christ by which we are known.

Sometimes we fall, but God is the One Who holds our hand. He won’t let us pitch headlong out of His loving care. He’ll bring us back into His arms and carry us if that’s what it takes.

It’s God’s amazing love that drives us forward. Now, instead of hating on God, we want to do His will. We don’t have a list we need to check off because it’s in our heart to pay attention to what pleases Him.

So for the Christian, living with guilt has been changed into living for the delight of pleasing God. The Chris Tomlin song “Amazing Love” says it well:

Amazing love,
How can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love,
I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You,
In all I do, I honor You.

The Foundation Of Hope


AdventCandles

I don’t know much about Advent. Here’s what the always helpful Wikipedia says about it:

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

I like that!

I didn’t grow up in a church that treated Christmas as a season, much less as one with an organized, scripted approach to the lead-up to the Big Day. Until lately my church didn’t do much, if anything, with Advent.

So this year we are forging a new tradition. Apparently liturgical churches have certain Scripture readings that go with the each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. We aren’t a liturgical church, so instead we’re receiving devotions centered on a particular weekly theme. Any guess what we’re focusing on this week? 😉

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope in preparation for writing my blog posts. To be honest, this is new territory for me. I’ve studied faith and thought a great deal about love and grace and trust. But hope?

Now I’m alert to the topic and have begun to see how frequently Scripture addresses it.

The thing that keeps coming back to me is that line from Romans 5 about hope not disappointing. I looked at Hope And Disappointment yesterday, but in the devotion my church sent, the contrast came up again. The truth is, a lot of Christmas is about disappointment.

Maybe that’s because a lot of life is about disappointment. When you’re young, of course, you don’t realize the permanent nature of disappointment. Yes, permanent. You didn’t win the high school football championship, so you say, We’ll get it next year.

But eventually there is no “next year” for high school football, and that disappointment about missing that block or dropping that pass or fumbling that punt return will just be there.

This is true about pretty much everything. Husbands and wives, who love each other dearly, nevertheless discover that their spouse is not perfect. That she doesn’t bake cakes like Mom did is disappointing, or that she has gained a few pounds or wants to stay home instead of pursuing her career and bringing in a second income is disappointing.

He, on the other hand, doesn’t take care of the yard the way Dad did, and he doesn’t like to go out or have friends over for dinner. Instead, he seems glued to the TV every weekend. It’s disappointing.

But kids, well, there’s nothing disappointing about our children, is there? I mean, they are so cute and cuddly and innocent and sweet. So precious. Until they begin to cry. At 2:00 AM. Until they poop in the diaper you just changed. Until they take longer to walk than you thought they should. Until they tell you no. Until it’s hard to potty train them. Until they don’t like to read, and you’re a bookaholic. Until . . .

You get the picture.

What in life isn’t disappointing? Sure, there are successes—like winning that high school football championship. But that was high school. What are you doing now? And how will you top it tomorrow?

There’s always a new goal, something else that we need, someone else we wish were here. It’s a great time, but if only . . . then it would be perfect.

Along comes the Bible announcing a hope that does not disappoint. There’s a specific reason why this hope is different from all others:

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom. 5:5-6)

The passage goes on to explain how Christ’s death for sinners accomplished something we need: reconciliation with God. So here are the twin foundations of the hope that does not disappoint: God’s love (which is as eternal as He is), and the relationship Jesus made possible for us to have with God.

The one Person who loves perfectly has lavishly poured out His love and He did so, not because of anything worthy in us. Just the opposite. He gifted us when we had nothing of value to give Him.

All we bring is our imperfect selves. What He brings is a robe of righteousness—the clothes fit for a king, bought and paid for by Jesus with His broken body and shed blood—which He gives to us who believe.

And those are things—God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice—that don’t change and won’t dissipate or fade away or need to be replaced. They are forever gifts—the foundation of hope that does not disappoint.

Published in: on December 2, 2014 at 6:58 pm  Comments Off on The Foundation Of Hope  
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People of Faith: Corrie ten Boom, Part 4


After leaving the Nazi concentration camp, Corrie spent over thirty years speaking and writing about God’s love and forgiveness.

The conclusion.

What an extraordinary woman, we’re tempted to say. What made her faith so strong that she could endure such cruelty, grief, illness and isolation and still trust God as well as forgive her enemies?

Corrie said clearly that her faith accomplished nothing. It was too weak, too unstable, and sometimes she had a hard time believing when all around people were suffering hateful treatment and dying. She recognized instead that Jesus who promised to be with her always, carried her through those horrific circumstances.

From the age of five when Corrie prayed with her mother and yielded her life to Christ, she looked to Jesus. Her godly parents taught her by example and instruction to trust Him. Their love for God’s Word and commitment to prayer became infectious.

Besides the influence of Corrie’s parents, her sister Betsie proved to be a spiritual mentor, living her life in obedience to God and His Word and challenging Corrie to do the same. Before their arrest, Betsie prayed for the invading German pilots whenever she saw their planes. During her imprisonment she prayed for the German guards who mistreated them. In the months before she died, as she and Corrie prayed, God spoke to her about life after the war. She told Corrie of her vision to tell the German people of God’s love and forgiveness and to open homes for the hurting. Betsie understood that everything in life up to that point had been preparation for the ministry to come.

As God led in miraculous ways, Corrie embraced Betsie’s vision. But she also knew the truth about forgiveness first hand. Life in a concentration camp bred selfishness and a lack of love. Taking the warmest spot for roll call meant someone else would be cold, hoarding vitamins meant someone else would go without. Then there was the temptation to think that the power to help and to heal others’ hearts came from within her rather than from God. When the joy went out of her worship, Corrie faced her sin, confessed it and received God’s forgiveness and renewed fellowship. Later God would teach her to rely on the power of His love in order to forgive, even as she had been forgiven.

In the Beje Corrie had developed the life-time habit of beginning and ending each day with Bible reading and prayer. In prison she inhaled Scripture like one starving. During her concentration camp experiences the Bible was her light and hope. “The blacker the night around us grew,” she wrote in The Hiding Place, “the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God” (p. 177).

Was Corrie’s “secret,” then? Her upbringing? The godly influences in her life? Her prayer life? Her willingness to listen to and obey God’s Word? Corrie insisted the “secret” was not hers.

To illustrate the point, she wrote in Not I, But Christ about a trip in New Zealand she and a few others took by car. Along the way, they came to a primitive bridge. A man in their group got out to inspect the structure to see if it was strong enough for them to cross.

This man did not inspect our faith in the bridge, he inspected the bridge. So often we are inclined to look at our faith … but we must inspect the Bridge. We must not look at ourselves, but at Jesus. And when we look at Him we know He is strong. (p.53)

When people would approach Corrie and remark about the strength of her faith she similarly answered that Jesus sustained her:

It was His everlasting arms underneath me that carried me through. He was my security.

If I say it was my faith, then you, whenever you have to pass through hardships, can say, ‘I have not Corrie’s faith.’ But when I tell you it was Jesus, then you can trust the same One who has carried me through, will do the same for you (Corrie: The Lives She Touched, p. 153).

Corrie’s world turned especially dark during the Nazi era because the depravity of Man seemed to win out, but the truth is, we all live in a fallen world with sinful people who inevitably sin against us. Some of us may think we haven’t suffered to the same degree as Corrie and thus dismiss the idea that we too need to look to God to give us the ability to forgive. We think, perhaps, we should be capable of handling the “small stuff” or, worse, that we only have to forgive the “big stuff.”

Others of us may have suffered greater trauma than Corrie. Instead of the loving foundation and support of a godly family, we were hurt by those very people God designed to care for us. Perhaps the sin against us was violent or re-occurring over a long period of time.

Do the differing circumstances relegate Corrie’s life message as inapplicable for people in the twenty-first century? Hardly. Corrie did not direct her audiences to look at her or to learn x-number of steps in order to achieve forgiveness—such information might become outdated or irrelevant. Rather, Corrie ten Boom, before the traumatic events of World War II, during its blackness and the ensuing ministry to tell others what she knew to be true about God, and after as she experienced the approach of death, did what any person in any circumstance can do—she looked to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of her faith. She trusted in the One she knew to be the Victor and obeyed.

# # #

Bibliography

Brown, Joan Winmill. Corrie: The Lives She’s Touched. Minneapolis: Special Edition, World Wide Pictures, Fleming H. Revell, 1979.

Rosewell, Pamela. The Five Silent Years of Corrie ten Boom. Zondervan, 1986.

Ten Boom, Corrie, and John and Elizabeth Sherrill. The Hiding Place. Chosen Books, 1984.

Ten Boom, Corrie, and Jamie Burkingham. Tramp for the Lord. Christian Literature Crusade, Fleming H. Revell, 1974.

Ten Boom, Corrie. Not I, But Christ. Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Ten Boom, Corrie. Prison Letters. Fleming H. Revell, 1975.

To read the entire article see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Published in: on May 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm  Comments (1)  
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Mercy And Justice And George MacDonald


In one of the recent interchanges about God and His justice, one commenter left a link to a sermon George MacDonald is purported to have authored (I have yet to find mention of the source). I’m still working my way through the lengthy document, but so far, the only Biblical text I can find is that from which he seems to have wandered—Psalm 62:12, which states

And lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord, For You recompense a man according to his work.

In the King James, which the sermon quotes, lovingkindness is rendered mercy. The writer then makes a case for his interpretation of justice, leading into a denial of justice as punishment.

How odd this discussion seems to me, but perhaps that’s because I’ve had good Bible teaching all my life.

The cultures around Israel during King David’s time (Psalm 62 is one of his) did not practice justice. They practiced vengeance. Consequently, the declaration that God would recompense a man according to his work was a statement of mercy. He would not punish a man for something his father did or punish the brothers or the children. God’s mercy was demonstrated in His justice, set in opposition to their vengeance.

How simple and straightforward. How righteous.

We are accountable before a Holy God for what we do. He does not pile on more than we deserve.

But here’s the thing. We are required by law to stop at stop signs. If I run a stop sign and get pulled over by a cop, I am guilty of breaking that law. No matter that I’ve not run a stop sign the prior 2000 times, or 200 million times before that. Stopping at the stop sign is what I am required by law to do. Fulfilling my obligation does not earn me points against a future time when I might slip up and run the stop sign.

In other words, there is nothing I can do to make up for my situation. I can only recognize my condition—I am a lawbreaker deserving of the just (and merciful) penalty for my actions.

What great news, then, that Jesus, who was not a lawbreaker, and therefore, faced no penalty, stepped in.

The amazing love of God is beyond comprehension here, because God did not wave His hand and dismiss my sin. He bore it Himself. He transferred my sin in the same way that the sins of Israel were transferred to scapegoats. It’s a mystical process, if you will, something that sounds too incredible, too hard to fathom. The Holy God, unstained in His being, complete in His purity, piled my sin on His shoulders. He bore my sin and carried my sorrow.

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
– I Peter 2:24

And in more detail from Isaiah

But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
– Isa 53:10-12 [emphasis mine]

Paid in full. The blood of Jesus Christ blots out my sin. I receive God’s mercy when I understand that my work is insufficient to pay what I owe, that Christ alone could afford to bear my sin because He bore none of His own. The angel of death passes over me as surely as he once passed over the Jewish homes that bore the blood of the spotless Passover lamb slain on their behalf.

What a clear picture of God’s redemptive work—the marriage of His Justice and Mercy—prompted by His infinite Love.

Published in: on December 30, 2010 at 1:59 pm  Comments (11)  
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