Saturday, July 24, 2010
His Ways Are Not Our Ways
This morning I read about the Watchman in Ezekiel 33. Some of you may know it well, some not at all. As thoughts formulated for this blog I was torn with what to title it because shortly after reading the passage in Ezekiel, the Holy Spirit led me on showing me how the "First will be last and the last will be first."
At the end of my study this morning all I could say in my heart was, "His ways are not our ways." I'm sure that by the end of this blog you will agree with me, that even though we'll look a lot at God's principle that the many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first, that the title heading I chose best describes this morning's venture. "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Is.55:8-9)
Let me begin with what God says to Ezekiel in chapter 33, if you will. He says, "Son of man, say to the house of Israel, 'This is what you are saying: "Our offenses and sins weigh us down and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?"' "Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!'"
Now this is what really stood out to me, "Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, 'The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his FORMER righteousness. If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. He will die for the evil he has done. And if I say to the wicked man, 'You will surely die,' but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right - if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that gives life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the sins that he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live."
He continues, "Yet your countrymen say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' But it is their way that is not just. If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, he will die for it. And if a wicked man turns away from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he will live by doing so. Yet, O house of Israel, you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' But I will judge each of you according to his own ways." (Forgive the punctuation errors.)
Powerful isn't it? So what came to mind next were a few NT (New Testament) passages that I've always wondered about such as Matthew 19:30 which says, "But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first." Then in Matthew chapter 20, Jesus told a parable about workers in a vineyard following this statement. The parable talks about how "...the Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard..." As Jesus continues in the parable he tells how the landowner went out again at the 6th hour and again at the 9th hour of the day and did the same thing. Finally, he went out at the 11th hour and there were still men standing around who had not found work that day. So the landowner hired them as well and promised them the same pay.
At the end of the work day, the landowner called his foreman and told him to pay the workers beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first. The foreman paid the workers who started at the 11th hour a denarius each and so on right down to those who started early. However, when he got to those who had started working first, they expected to receive more. "But each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner..."
But the landowner said, "Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?" He closes the parable out by saying, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
Stay with me here okay, I know this is a bit lengthy, but I think this is a very important principle. If the above parable wasn't enough, two further passages came to mind: The parable of the Prodigal or Lost Son and Jonah! At the end of the parable of the prodigal son, the elder brother who had remained with his father and had been the faithful, good son was angry and refused to celebrate with his family that the younger son that was lost had finally come home. In fact he says, "Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!" He was furious, maybe even jealous?
But his dad saw it differently. He said, "My son..., you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." Hear the heart of the Father?
Then again, back well over four hundreds years prior in the story of Jonah, hear the heart of the Father again. The wickedness of the "great city of Nineveh" was so much so that God's judgement was coming against it. However he wanted to warn them and give them a chance to turn around and escape judgement. So he sent Jonah to go and preach to them about what was about to happen to them. However, Jonah, according to his justice system, felt that they deserved to be destroyed and ran the opposite direction. (Seeing that Jonah was so righteous after all.) But Jonah now himself is in disobedience as he runs away and in so doing not only could have caused the entire city of Nineveh to perish, but the lives of the sailors on the ship he got on and all their cargo was about to perish with Jonah for his disobedience as well. Thankfully, God in his mercy, spared their lives. He saved Jonah and gave him a second chance to go and preach to Nineveh. (What irony.)
As the story continues, Jonah obeys this time and the entire city of Nineveh, from the king on down, goes into fasting, prayer and repents hoping God would have mercy on them! "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring up0on them the destruction he had threatened." Isn't that wonderful? However, Jonah felt otherwise. He gets angry, like the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son and grumbles against his Father-God and God had to break it down to him that it's because of His mercy to Jonah as well that he was in a position of blessing.
Many who are first are going to be last, and many who are last are going to be first. Rejoice with God. Make a conscious decision to agree with God even when you don't understand His ways - His system. As the heavens are higher than our ways and our thoughts, so are his ways and thoughts leap years higher and not to be compared with ours.
I hope this was as helpful to you as it was to me. I'd love to hear your comments.