Newsletter for January 2008
If you’re like me, every now and then you read a verse in the Bible and wonder what it is talking about. This was true for me regarding Psalm 56:8,
Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?
As I began to study these words of David, the first part of the verse was clarified simply by looking up some word meanings and definitions. Restated, it could correctly read like this: (God) You have recorded, documented and are fully aware of all the times I have been forced into exile (those who had forced David into exile were his enemies spoken of in verses 1-7).
But what had me thoroughly confused was the part about David’s tears being put into God’s bottle – what in the world did he mean? This was a bit more challenging and took a lot more research. Yet what I discovered was, to me, thoroughly fascinating. A very common practice existed among both Jews and Gentiles during the time David lived; a custom which, according to historical records, carried forward for several centuries and was widespread even during the years in which the New Testament was written.
People would purchase a specially made, small, earthen bottle which had the capacity of approximately one pint. This bottle was coated with something like a paint to help make it very water tight. The short neck of the bottle fluted to an opening that was sealed with a tight-fitting stopper.
Every time a tragic event took place in a person’s life, he or she would try to capture their tears in this bottle. The bottle was kept in the main room of the house, typically on a mantle in plain sight. This bottle of tears served as a constant reminder of all the heartaches, pain, and struggles endured by the individual. In fact, the bottle and all of the sorrows it represented were actually topics of conversation when people came by to visit.
It seemed odd to me that people would want to be continually reminded of their personal tragedies. As I thought about this, I was suddenly reminded of the following passage describing an event in the life of Jesus,
And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. (Luke 7:36-39)
The word “sinner” in the above verses comes from the Greek word “hamartolós” and apparently it was used at times to describe a woman who engaged in prostitution or had a reputation of being promiscuous. The Pharisees essentially taught that such a woman was beyond God’s forgiveness and was destined for Hell.
The kind of meal mentioned in this passage is one where a Pharisee would invite high-ranking Pharisees and other important people to his home. The meal itself would generally take place in the outer courtyard as the guests sat in a circle on cushions or pillows. The guest of honor was usually a noted Pharisee or teacher who would sit at the head of the circle, facing toward the courtyard gate with his back to the house. The “common” Jews were allowed to stand around the perimeter of the courtyard and listen to the teaching, questions, and answers.
We know the woman in this story was a Jew, since a Gentile, especially a Gentile woman, would never have gotten past the front gate of a Pharisee’s house. Because of her past indiscretions the Pharisees would have mercilessly condemned her. Repeatedly she would have been told that no matter what she did, God would never love or forgive her.
The scribes, Pharisees and priests had all rejected her. But something about Jesus touched her heart; there was something about what she had seen and heard about Him that caused her to believe that He had an understanding about God’s love that went far beyond what the religious leaders knew. Suddenly, she realized that there may be hope after all.
Humbling herself as never before and knowing that she would undoubtedly face harsh, public ridicule and embarrassment, she made her way through the crowd until she came up behind the place where Jesus sat. Her heart was aching to know that God still loved her and would forgive her for her sins. One by one, each voice grew silent as everyone turned their full attention to the scene unfolding before them.
She could hold it back no more. The shame, guilt, and sorrow for her sins began to pour from her eyes. She dropped to her knees and her tears flowed over the feet of the Son of God. Using the one thing that God has called the glory of a woman (1 Corinthians 11:15), she dried Jesus’ feet with her thick, beautiful, long black hair. Then, after kissing His feet, she opened a finely crafted alabaster box and began to anoint them with the wonderfully fragrant ointment inside.
She glanced up and saw Jesus looking down at her. It had been so long since a man had looked at her without either lust or scorn. She gazed into His eyes and the world around her seemed to fade as a pure, holy love that she had never known began to flood her soul. The deep pain she had felt just moments ago was swept away by an unexplainable peace. And then, in a voice filled with compassion and mercy, Jesus spoke to her the words she longed to hear, “Thy sins are forgiven.” In an instant, a heavenly joy erased the anguish of man’s condemnation, and she knew…”God loves me!”
There is no question that this is one of the most touching stories in all of scripture. As I meditated on both it and Psalm 56:8, the Lord drew my attention to what this woman didn’t do. In the depths of her pain and grief she could have gone home, taken her bottle of tears from the mantle, and cried her sorrows into it. Then, in the days to come, she could spend every evening staring at that bottle, allowing it to remind her of her failures and the love man said God would never give her.
Instead, even though she knew her stained life was an affront to God, she went boldly before the Son of Grace to find the love, forgiveness and acceptance that religion had refused her.
The Lord told me that there are innumerable Christians like this woman. They have strayed from the path of God’s divine purpose and made some very wrong choices. The guilt and self-condemnation they feel is only compounded by the condemnation laid upon them by so many of today’s church leaders and self-righteous Christians. The result is that they feel they have no where to go or no one to whom they can turn. Day after day they wonder if God loves them and if He will ever forgive them.
They may not have a bottle of tears on the mantle of their living room, but have you ever heard it said of someone going through great emotional stress that they are keeping it “bottled up” inside? Have you ever wondered where that term may have originated?
I know this letter is going out to a lot of Christians struggling with their past. Some of you are sitting in a prison cell as you read this, with months, or even years, remaining on a sentence that is a constant reminder of what you have done. Others of you are not behind bars, but you are still sitting in a prison constructed of your own guilt and the rejection experienced from the very ones who are supposed to represent God’s love to the world.
The lady you just read about had a choice: she could have walked right by that Pharisee’s house and continued living in a dismal world of grief and sorrow; or, she could take a chance that Jesus would be everything she hoped for. Man and the religion of her day said she was beyond hope; Jesus received her into His presence and looked at her repentant heart instead of her sinful past.
XXXX, I don’t know your life or your past. I don’t know what you may be struggling with on the inside. But I do know that the Jesus this lady met nearly 2,000 years ago is still reaching out to people with mercy, compassion and love that flows from the very throne of God. Please pay close attention to what God wants you to know about His love, forgiveness, and willingness to accept you:
For if ye turn again unto the LORD, your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come again into this land: for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him.
(2 Chronicles 30:9)
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:7)
For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. (1 John 3:20)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. (Hebrews 8:12)
I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. (Isaiah 43:25)
And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against me.
The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. (Jeremiah 31:3)
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Like the lady in scripture, you have a choice. Yes, there are many preachers, lay Christians, and churches who will continually remind you of, and condemn you for, your sins; rejecting you and refusing to receive you in their midst. But there is also throne of grace out of which is flowing a river of unconditional love and forgiveness. You can walk past that throne and keep your guilt, sorrow and pain bottled up; or, you can turn and pour it all out on the nail-pierced feet of Jesus.
Remember, God is not looking at your past; He is looking at your heart of repentance. And, not all churches are filled with Pharisees who would tell you that God’s throne of grace is off-limits to “sinners like you.” Run into the arms of your loving Savior. Feel His heartbeat as He holds you close and whispers, “Your sins are forgiven.” Linger in His presence and let Him fill your soul with a peace that religious order cannot give!
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Brother Martin, I really appreciate what you’re saying, but I’m not struggling with thoughts or feelings of condemnation.” Praise God…that’s wonderful! But there is a very good chance you may know someone who is burdened with such feelings. I have known of Christians over the years who were actually considering suicide because they were fraught with self-condemnation and guilt over something they had done, fearing that God would never love them again. Should you know someone going through such a battle, please pass this letter on to them or give them a copy.
No matter who we are or what we have done, God loves us! Wow…what a glorious life; what a glorious Savior!
Yours in that Eternal Love that never fails,