God is extraordinarily generous to those who simply seek Him, but a sense of entitlement is a barrier
This article relates to the TLW Bible study post for July 18 and draws on these Bible readings which are set for July 18 in the Revised Common Lectionary, a resource shared by churches and chapels of many different denominations and streams.
OT: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a — God promises David a successor who will have an eternal rule and reign
NT gospel: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 — The promise of Jesus’ compassion for all who draw close.
NT epistle: Ephesians 2:11-22 — All who simply believe in Jesus are promised access to the Father without discrimination
The story this week is about God’s extraordinary generous nature to those who come to Him — not with any sense of entitlement, but simply appealing to His merciful love. We see this same sense of God’s heart coming through in three quite different situations.
1. David’s discomfort
First, we find David, who has recently been crowned King of Israel and Judah, living in more comfort and security than ever before. He now inhabits a palace on the hilltop stronghold of David’s City, which we know as Jerusalem, and the Ark of the Covenant has a permanent location there, too. But David has a conscience about that, and consults his chief advisor:
After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”2 Samuel 7:1-2
Nathan’s initial advice is superseded by a prophetic word, a profound word from the Lord which comes to him that night:
“Go and tell My servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build Me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as My dwelling.2 Samuel 7:5-6
It was hard for David to hear that the LORD didn’t need him to build a house for the tabernacle to live in. But instead, God would build a ‘house’ for David, a succession, and out of that would come not only a temple built under the fdrection of someone who had not shed blood, but also a kingdom and a reign of eternal duration.
” ‘When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.
” ‘He is the one who will build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever.’ “2 Samuel 7:12-13
Prophetic words often take some working out. God dwells in eternity, outside the constraints of time and place that are familiar to us. So a word from God can span more than one timeframe — and involve more than one person. Helped by hindsight, we can see what is happening here — David’s son Solomon would be the king who would see the temple built. Jesus, Son of God, would one day become known as the eternal King of kings and Lord of lords but would make His first appearance by taking on human form and identity, being born in Judah of Mary, who belonged to David’s family line.
The temple would be a house of prayer for all nations, for all people, not just the Jews. Jesus would later, in the last week of His life having entered Jerusalem for Passover week, refer to this a “My house”:
And as He taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’ ? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ ”Mark 11:17 NIV (see also Isaiah 56:7)
God’s offer to David in the word that Nathan brought was an unconditional covenant of what God would do, through Him, for all who would humbly seek Him. They would encounter Him by coming to the temple. Then, when the temple and its priesthood and its form of worship had run its course at Jesus’ death and resurrection, all who would seek God could come to know Him through Jesus and the new and better covenant He established for us as believers, through His sacrificial death to pay the price for the sin that separated us from God. “God so loved the world that He gave…”, John 3:16.
2. Jesus’ compassion
This is the generosity of God that we now encounter in the ministry of Jesus on earth.
The next snapshot is around the time of the Feeding of the Five Thousand — itself a picture of God’s generous provision, meeting a genuine practical need in a way which recalled the daily provision of manna in the wilderness at a time when the People of Israel were learning to depend on their Lord.
People who through sickness or disability could not work, did not earn and therefore did not eat. For Jesus and the disciples it was the opposite problem — the people and their needs were overwhelming.
Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, Jesus said to them, “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.Mark 6:31-34
The crowd anticipated where the boat was heading and, perhaps helped by a headwind, they could get there first.
Later, they escaped the crowd by taking a boat across the bay to Gennesaret:
As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognised Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard He was. And wherever He went — into villages, towns or countryside — they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged Him to let them touch even the edge of His cloak, and all who touched it were healed.Mark 6:54-56
This is a picture of Jesus and the disciples being put under severe pressure. There was no let up to rest or to eat. But that pressure is overruled by Jesus’ love and mercy. “He had compassion on them”, v.34.
It is also a picture of desperate people, people who knew that the touch of the Master, or even their being able to touch the Master, would bring God’s deliverance. “All who touched [the edge of His cloak] were healed.”
We know from all the gospel accounts that there were Jews who observed the law carefully, attended the synagogue, offered sacrifices in Jerusalem at the major festivals, and felt that they had therefore merited God’s blessing. They were angry at the suggestion that this is not the way of God’s gracious generosity. Whatever entitlement we might acribe to ourselves, undermines the undeservedness in God’s gift.
Not long before, Jesus had been roughly put out of the synagogue in his home town, Nazareth for suggesting that God’s mercy sought out those who looked to Him humbly for help — and some that were not even Jews!
3. The church’s welcome
This speaks to us about our practice as church — and really it doesn’t matter much what is written over the door and whether or not it has the steeple of a grand church or the noisy tin roof of a mission hall. All have their rites of initiation and their restrictions on participation. In the early church, this gave rise to some hostility between Jewish believers, who had a sense of entitlement from being God’s chosen people of old, and the new wave of Gentile believers who were treated as less deserving. Paul addresses the Greek Gentiles first:
Remember that (at one time) you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foregners to the covenant of promise, without hope and without God in the word. But now in Christ, you who once were far away, have been brought near by the blood of Christ.Ephesians 2:11-13
He explains that Jesus came to proclaim peace to those who were far away and also to those who were near, who both had the same need of access to the Father by the one Spirit.
For He Himself [Jesus] is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in His flesh [dying on the Cross] the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the Cross.Ephesians 2:14-15
The only distinction is whether one has believed in Jesus and trusted Him for new life and salvation. Apart from this step of faith, this intentional move from the independent life to submission to Jesus as Lord, there is no peace with God, and no forgiveness for sin, and no amount of religious striving will find it.
Once we have accepted who Jesus is, and received for ourselves what He has done for us, there is no distinction in heaven — whether we choose to worship in Roman Catholicism or as Protestants, conservative or charismatic, Methodist, Anglican, Pentecostal or non-denominational. The man-made rules which can prevent one group from receiving ministry in another only exist in unregenerate religion, not heaven. A competitive spirit among churches needing members is simply doing the devil’s work for him — it makes no sense with the perspective of the kingdom of God, and awareness that Jesus said, “I will build My church.”
Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.Ephesians 2:18 NLT
God’s generous gift in Christ is the same gift for all. The fallacy that some might be more entitled than others, or have a different salvation through the church or its sacraments, is the same barrier to God’s grace for any who are deceived by it. The rules, whether written or just assumed, that create exclusion come from the same fleshly prejudice and pride that Paul’s teaching exposes.
God so loved the world that He gave His Son Jesus. God so loves us that His hand is outstretched and giving — for any of us who overcome our self-sufficiency to be humbly honest about our need for Him.