In this very well-known and often quoted Scripture, we like to gloss over the first part and instead focus on the end…the promised things God will do for us. But in doing so, we miss two small but very important words contained in this verse. The first, is how this Scripture starts, “If My people…” “If” puts the burden and responsibility squarely on our shoulders to follow through with the conditions God has placed here…namely, for us to have a radical change of heart, mind, and spirit. It is only at that time and after that is completed, (marked by the second important word, “then”) that God will forgive and heal the land. You could call these prerequisites…things God requires of us beforehand…not because He’s a mean tyrant, but because He’s a good and just God.
None of us is immune to grief, suffering, and troubles…for they are just part of this journey we call life. But it’s good to reflect on the attributes of the Lord spoken of in this Scripture today. God’s love for us is everlasting and unconditional…for there is nothing in and of ourselves we can do to obtain this love…it is a free gift given by grace not our works. But also there is nothing so terrible we can ever do that this love can’t reach us. Mercy and kindness are central to God’s character, and it’s out of this great love for us that we can find forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
The area of our lives that the devil is most easily able to gain a foothold… is when we have unforgiveness in our hearts. II Corinthians 2:10-11 tells us that we need to forgive in order that Satan might not outwit us. When we harbor unforgiveness, we allow the devil to capture a place in our heart…setting up a position – a base of operations for further advancement against us. We need to remain then vigilant…forgiving and forgetting quickly, so as not to allow him the ability to take advantage over us.
Most of us would be quick to deny any root of bitterness in our lives…but let’s think about it for a moment. Do you hold a grudge against someone who in your eyes disrespected you? Or are you resentful against someone who hurt your pride and caused you pain and embarrassment? You may not be able to even remember the details of the incident…but still anger rises up every time you think of that person. A root of bitterness can take on many faces and lie deep within…so deep that we even lie to ourselves about its very existence. But know that bitterness poisons your life and hinders God’s work in and through you. The answer is forgiveness…allowing the past to be the past. For forgiveness is not meant for the perpetrator, but for yourself.
God is ever merciful and kind towards you…regardless of how badly you act towards Him. It tells us in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” We need to reflect the mercy God first showed us by forgiving others. Forgiveness is so very powerful…because it’s the starting point for both parties to begin the road towards healing. For without forgiveness, there will never be a release from all the negative and dark emotions of resentment, anger, and bitterness. For without forgiveness, you are never really set free from the past.
The Lord would like you to know that you are loved. You are valued and precious in His sight. Regardless of where you come from…how notorious your background may be, or how far you’ve walked away from Him…Jesus loves you. You may say to yourself, “No one can love me…I’m too bad of a person.” But you don’t know the Lord, and if you would just take a peek into His Word, you’d see that all of Scripture is a love letter to you. It’s written just for you, to encourage and exhort…to strengthen and establish and allow you to become the very best person you can be. By His wonderful grace – God’s loving kindness towards you – there is the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation back to your Heavenly Father. There’s no need to walk out this life alone with feelings of isolation and loneliness…Jesus loves you, just as you are, right where you are today.
Philip, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, had found a Ethiopian eunuch traveling the road between Jerusalem and Gaza. The eunuch was reading the book of Isaiah, but was perplexed, so Philip started with that scripture, (Isaiah 53:7-8) and explained to the eunuch the good news of Jesus. Later as they traveled together, they came upon some water and it’s here the eunuch asks, “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” Now in some late manuscripts verse 37 is added which says, “Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ The eunuch answered, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ ” Baptism is the public demonstration of a personal decision…it symbolizes spiritual renewal, forgiveness of sins, adoption by God and eternal life. If you are a Believer but have never been baptized…ask yourself the same question the eunuch did, “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”