The Dangers of Divine Negotiation

The human psyche loves negotiation. Children swap hugs for a piece of candy. The husband who repeatedly misses dinner finds his release from marital purgatory with a bouquet of flowers. And the junior executive trades long weekends for a promotion. Most men and women turn their relationships into a type of transaction that resembles trades in a stock exchange. They then overlay this paradigm on their relationship with God, attempting to gain God’s favor in exchange for some religious moralism.

Many people believe their biannual church visits, their occasional prayer before bed, and their ability to avoid murderer’s row will persuade God to hand over a loving spouse, good health, or happiness. Other souls go further, abandoning alcohol, cigarettes, and porn subscriptions in exchange for divine blessing. Lastly, a small group of devote souls offer the greatest possible sacrifice, donating their massive fortunes and their life’s work to the poor hoping to garner some divine recognition. Though these transactional relationships with God may seem a touch impersonal, they often align implicitly and at times explicitly with the commands of Scripture. Those who set out upon a religious life of heroism expect God to notice their efforts.

Does God Respond to Negotiation?

But God is not a man or woman. He does not negotiate with humanity. The fallen and broken creature has nothing of value to offer the holy and perfect creator. The Prophet Micah details God’s perspective of human negotiation with these words:

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:7-9

God does not save men and women because they have smoked their last cigarette, looked at their last image of porn, or written a large check to a non-profit dedicated to the promotion of clean energy. Great sacrifices do not impress God. Rather, he demands holiness: justice, kindness and humility, character qualities only accessible to those who have been saved by God.

God does the saving apart from human negotiation (Mic. 6:1-6). God frees men and women from the slavery of sin, provides them with godly leaders, protects them from attacks, and guides them into the eternal promise land. Nothing remains to be negotiated. There is no divine itch humanity can scratch. God has done it all and offers happiness, eternity and heaven itself as free gift. We do not have to safe or sanctify ourselves. We simply repent and believe.

Those who attempt to appease, pacify, or manipulate God by dumping their vodka down the sink or by hopping on an airplane destined for the deserts of south Africa insult God. The last Adam has come and fulfilled all the requirements of the law. As Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.” Galatians 3:13-14 proclaims:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

No other sacrifice is needed. Those who continue to sit at the negotiating table tossing out good works schemes in exchange for divine favor will find only divine judgement. Everyone who relies on the works of the law remains cursed by them.

Jesus does not negotiate; he saves.

Does God Fail Us?

Many people in the pew find God to be a grand disappointment because they fundamentally misunderstand the nature of salvation. They attempt to follow the law in their own power, praying, giving, and serving in the praise team, hoping God will bless their efforts. But their struggles with homosexuality, greed, or depression do not improve. After several months or years of trying to please God, they reach a breaking point. Like the nation of Israel, they find themselves surrounded by an army of problems instead of a choir of angels. They conclude that their negotiation with God has failed. Jesus did not uphold his end of the bargain. But Jesus did. The Law condemns. The free gift of salvation remains.

Will you embrace it?

Insignificant People, their Sorrows, and The God who Cares For Them

Scholars have stared incredulously at Matthew 2:16-18 because the text possesses no parallel in the writings of Josephus or any other ancient historian. But the absence of a story does not prove it did not occur. Matthew’s story matches the sentiment of Josephus’s narratives which recount Herod’s murder of his second wife, his assignation of three of his sons, and the wrongful execution of the families of his political opponents. Hours before his death, Herod also ordered his family to kill a group of prominent Jewish leaders the moment cruel king breathed his last so that Jerusalem would mourn at his death. The violence described in Matthew 2 aligns with Josephus’s description of the troubled monarch.

The fact that the deaths of around twenty children from an insignificant town of about 1000 people failed to make it into the annuals of a secular history is not surprising. Rather it is the point. The history of God’s mercy is not tied to the history of secular power.  

The Proof of God’s Care

The events that prove significant for the people of God often occur in the Bethlehems of the world out of the view of the power, politics, and prestige which reside in Jerusalem. God saw the tears of those families long ago that escaped the notice of Josephus. He still sees the tears of his little people. He knows the grief of the traumatized teenager who was abused, of the single mom who was overwhelmed, and of the old man who has been left a widow. Though all of these and thousands of other souls walk the streets of life unknown to the world of politics, power, and fame, God knows them. More importantly, he left heaven to redeem them from this broken world.

Though our tears, sorrows, and griefs are real, they are not the end of our story because they are not the end of Jesus’s story. The prophet Jeremiah reminded those mothers long ago, “There is hope for your future…and your children shall come back (Jer. 31:17).” While Jesus escaped the murderous hatred of Herod, he would too would one day be pinned unjustly to a cross, dying for crimes he did not commit. But he would not stay dead. After three days in the tomb, Christ burst forth, breaking the bonds of sin and death and offering salvation to all those who repented and believed. In other words, He triumphed over death so that Rachel’s children could return. Those babies in Bethlehem that fateful night now reside with Christ in heaven. One day soon, they will reside in the new heavens and the new earth. Their sorrow was only the beginning of a much larger story that ends with men and women from every tribe gathered together in heaven praising God in a land free of tears, sickness, and sorrow. God sees the grief that millions of people secretly suffer. Jesus comes and suffers under that same grief so that he can once and for all rescue us from this broken world. The words of Jeremiah 31:3 ring ever true: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

In Christ, there are no insignificant people. There are no insignificant sorrows. Christ died the for babies in Bethlehem. He died for you. Place your hope in Him! We will all be home soon!

Don’t Skip Thanksgiving

The world wants to skip from Halloween to Christmas bouncing from horror themed self-indulgence to tinsel tossed materialism. The church can empathize with the sentiment. The social unrest, contentious elections, and COVID19 pandemic have cast a long, misty shadow of anxiety over most every part of the globe. The idea of stopping at grandma’s for Thanksgiving turkey seems to be an ironic exercise in American cultural futility. Why give thanks for such a world?

Though the world despairs, the people of God have every reason to give thanks in such a world. They understand the sovereign love of God. The church knows that all of today’s troubles are bound together by a golden thread of grace that culminates in the book of life. For the Christian, spiritual reality remains far more real than presidential elections, infection numbers, and GDP growth. What do those who see beyond the empirical world know?

Why Christians Give Thanks

They know that God will rescue his people and that Jesus will come again. To borrow the words of Micah 7:8b and 9b Christians are confident that, “when I fall, I shall rise…[and] in that day the boundary shall be far extended.” Though the believer may watch his political candidate go down in flames, get a pink slip, or receive a terminal diagnosis, he knows God will not let him be crushed. God will vindicate his people. Admittedly, God may not vindicate his people’s political candidates, business plans, or medical strategies. Our causes may flounder, but our faith will remain unmoved. We will prove to be more than conquers because God has pleaded our cause and has executed “justice (Micah 7:10).” Jesus died that we might be freed from the curse. Death, sin, and sorrow have no right to dominate our soul for Jesus has swaddled us in his righteous love. Even if our day is filled with adversity, mistakes, and sinful failures, we know the darkness will not last because “the Lord will be a light to me (Micah 7:9.).” Even on the worst day, the believer can confidently boast, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39).” Those whose names have been written in the book of life have every reason to be thankful. God will rescue from today’s trial.

God also promises to come again. The Christian’s future hope is not tied to suburban homes and white fences, large family gatherings, or exotic vacations. All these things can come and go and utterly disappoint our souls. Homes can flood, gatherings can descend into feuds, and vacations can prove to be a waste of time. The Christian hopes in something yet unseen but something far more secure, the new heavens and the new earth. When Christ returns the boundary of his kingdom shall be extended to cover all of humanity. All sin, disease, sorrow, anxiety, hurt, and injustices will be forced outside the walls of God’s kingdom and crushed. Inside the walls, Jesus will shepherd his people placing them under the shade of his blessed comfort and filling their hearts with the abundance of his riches. Because the believer knows her destination is secure, she has every reason to be thankful today. The new heavens and the new earth are coming.

Give Thanks!

Though the world maybe ready to skip from Halloween to Christmas, the church should embrace the cultural moment and give thanks. God promises to see us through today and to come again. The two things that fuel our anxiety, today’s problems and tomorrow’s possibilities, have been solved by Jesus on the cross. The baby born in Bethlehem on Christmas morn has conquered this world of goblins and vampires. Nothing can separate us from him. Give Thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving!