Friday, 3 December 2010

Engraved on the Palms of His Hands

Isaiah 49.13-14 says:

Sing O heavens!
Be joyful O earth!
And break out in singing O mountains!
For the Lord has comforted His people
And will have mercy on His afflicted.

But Zion said,
"The Lord has forsaken me,
And my Lord has forgotten me"

What a contrast! God is encouraging praise in the earth because of His commitment to have mercy and comfort His people, but they aren't having any of it. They see it differently. "God has forsaken me. He has forgotten me. I'm abandoned".

Have you ever felt like that? Forsaken! Forgotten! Abandoned! What's wrong with this picture? How is that the people of God could be so far from recognising how God truly felt and how committed He is to their well being?

In the following verses we have a clue. Isaiah 49 15-16 says:

Can a women forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely they may forget,
Yet I will not forget you.
See I have engraved you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.

When the Israelites were taken captive many of them made a print of the walls of Jerusalem. They then had this tattooed on the palm of the hand. It reminded them of their heritage, of what they had lost, of where they hoped to return; one day. God uses this as a powerful metaphor to demonstrate to Israel His love and commitment to them as His people. He is a God of covenant and remains committed to them, despite their failures.

This picture points to the New Testament where Jesus bears in His resurrected body the marks that secured our forgiveness. They are a permanent sign to Him and us that we are loved. They are there to inspire faith in us. Jesus invited Thomas to place his fingers in His nail pierced hands and put his hand into the side of Jesus with the comment; "Do not be unbelieving but believing", John 20.27.

Isn't it remarkable that we will have perfect bodies in the resurrection but His body will bear a permanent reminder to us of the cost of redemption. We will never forget His deep love for us. But what now? How do we handle the trials of life? What inward posture should we adopt that will help to see us through?

I want to show you how some Biblical characters handled life to inspire you in your journey. Let's begin with Sampson. This is a man with great strength physically. From birth he was called to be a Nazarite. No razor came upon his head and his great strength lay in his long hair. But this man also had a weakness, beautiful women. He wasn't very discerning about the kind of women he got involved with.

The story of Sampson and Delilah is probably one of the best known in the Bible. Through her continual requests to know the secret of his strength he finally gave in. The Bible says he told her all that was in his heart. What amazes me is that on the first three times that he lied about where his strength lay she had the Philistines lying in wait to attack him. How can you be that stupid? He doesn't seem to connect that she is behind the whole thing. This is a woman who is out to exploit him for money and he is besotted with her. The first blindness that came to him was one of good judgement.

Having told her where his strength lies, she shaves his head while he is asleep and he is taken by the Philistines and they blind him. The sad part is that he didn't even recognise that his strength had gone. Having been taken captive by them they then mocked and humiliated him. He was used to entertain them. Imagine how he felt; betrayed, humiliated, alone, forsaken, forgotten.

But the Bible makes a small statement that is easy to miss. His hair began to grow back again. This speaks to me. It speaks of the power of redemption, the power of forgiveness, the power of the cross. Hair can be cut, but if the roots remain it will grow back again. Roots are what sustain growth in hair, in trees and plants. They are hidden beneath the surface, but they are what really counts.

So despite his great failings in life Sampson believed he could be strong again. Having lost his sight, he regained his vision. The lust of the eyes was what got him into this mess. Now he could see more clearly. His spiritual vision sharpened. Given all he had done wrong he prayed an outrageous prayer. It was full of faith. Sampson relied on one fact; God knew Him, God had called Him and God could be relied on even now to help. Here's his prayer in Judges 16.28:

"O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me just this once, O God, that I may, with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!"

Remember me. And for those who are engraved on the palms of His hands, He cannot forget. Despite our weaknesses and failures, God is faithful. God's power and grace are never limited by human failure and sin. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound, Rom 5.20.

Imagine what was going on in Sampson. They mocked and humiliated him. They used him to entertain them. He had to 'perform' for them, Judges 17.25. Not only that, they gave honour to their god Dagon declaring, "Our god has delivered into our hands Sampson our enemy!" Judges 17.23-24. But Sampson believed God was bigger and he dared to ask for strength. 'Remember me'. And God did.

The sacred text records that Sampson killed more in his death than he did in his life. 20 years of fighting the enemy and his greatest victory is at the end. God remembered. Think of what would have happened if he had just given up; if had resigned himself to a life of constant humiliation and mockery by the enemy; if he had said to himself; "I've blown it, now God can't use me".

What failure in life haunts you? What part of your history does the enemy use to mock you? How long will you 'perform' for the enemy before you dare to ask God for strength. God did not answer Sampson's prayer because he deserved it. He answered it because of His grace. He remembered this man and Sampson ended his life a hero.

Notice that Sampson did not look for an easy way out. He knows it will cost him his life. Listen to his last words in Judges 16.30, "Let me die with the Philistines!" Yet his final resting place is in Israel, in his father's tomb. Through sin his life was cut short but through God's gracious remembrance he defeated the enemy, silenced their mocking and showed that their god was no god at all. No wonder Heb 11.32 cites him as a man of faith.

Let's turn to Hannah; a women in deep distress because she is childless. Not only that, there is another wife who mocks her and a husband who does not understand her pain, "Am I not better to you than ten sons?" Doesn't that sound a tad egocentric? Not put off, she goes to God in prayer. The heart of it is, "Remember me", 1Sam 1.11. She is ready to act, but she needs God to act first. And He does. He remembers Hannah. He answers her prayer. She gets a son and God gets a young man dedicated to Him. Win win.

Unlike Sampson, Hannah had done nothing wrong. She was a godly woman; a prayerful woman; a righteous woman. In her pain and distress of wanting a son she came to a realisation. Maybe God wanted something too. She may not have known how bad Eli's sons were or God's plan to judge his house, but she intuitively felt that God needed her to surrender this child back to Him. So she promised to give him in service to God. It was another amazing act of faith. In the end she was blessed with three more sons and two daughters, 1Sam 2.21. God is no mans debtor.

What need is there in your life that you feel desperate about? Are you praying to have that need met? Maybe, like Hannah, you need to ask with a view to giving it back to God. The problem so often with what we receive is that it becomes 'ours'. And our possessions can eventually possess us. Hannah's prayer included a promise to give back to God what He gave. This released God's provision for her. In her pain; in her need; in her frustration, she discerned something of the purpose of God and He remembered her.

Finally think of the Thief on the Cross in Luke 23.42. We know nothing of his background. Was he a good man who went bad? Was he someone who hit on hard times? Was he simply a bad person all his life? We don't know. What we do know is that when the other thief began to berate Jesus, this man spoke up. His conscience was sensitive to the fact that Jesus had done nothing to deserve death. He knew Jesus was righteous. Not only that, he knew that he and the other thief both deserved their punishment. They were indeed guilty.

While defending Jesus and admitting his own guilt he dares to say something to Jesus as they both hang there - soon to die, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom". Jesus answer shows it's never too late. Dying prayers can still change destinies when the grace of God is at work. Sampson, Hannah, the thief with no name. All of them with a deep need. All of them in anguish. All of them prayed. All of them asked, 'Remember me'. All of them received an answer.

Each one of these Biblical characters teaches us something. No matter where we are coming from in life, God is ready to act on behalf of those whose hearts turn towards Him. He remembers, for we are engraved on the palms of His hands. Remember that next time you are tempted to give up. It isn't over 'til it all over. Faith has the capacity to write an epilogue, just when you think the story is finished.

If God is telling us to break out into singing, perhaps, despite our perspective, He knows something we have yet to learn. He is truly, madly and deeply committed to us as His people. And Jesus bears in His hands the proof of that love. How can He ever truly forget?