Monthly Archives: December 2013

God’s Mercy to Us

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” [Exodus 34:6-7 ESV]

We do not have the right to concentrate only upon God’s mercy, separating it from the rest of who He is, focusing only upon this one characteristic. When I say we “do not have the right” I’m really saying we do this all of the time and doing this is wrong. Focusing solely upon the mercy of God takes Scripture out of context by infusing our own meanings into Scripture without trying to discover what God is saying. Our sin is ever before God, permeating our very beings. We have to work at keeping perspective. God does this for us.

In the two verses quoted Moses is instructed to cut out of stone two tablets. Upon those tablets God will write the Law for His people. God had already done this with the first tablets, cut from stone and engraved with words by the finger of God. Moses, upon hearing the loud sin of the people as he was coming down the mountain, threw them down, breaking them. God did not rebuke Moses for breaking the first stone tablets. Moses broke the physical set upon which God had engraved the “ten commandments” in stone. None had the right to break any of the Laws given.

Could the people plead ignorance because they had not received the commandments? They had experienced the miraculous protection of God as He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. They had eaten food miraculously provided by God. Each one of them was created, formed and fashioned in the image of God. They had been told to consecrate themselves and wait as Moses went up the mountain to listen to God. Yet, the people lost  patience with God and with Moses, rebelling against God and the very way He had made them while God was writing His words to them in stone. It was wholly appropriate for Moses to break them and then place the copy of the commandments, now broken, in the ark of the covenant as a continual reminder of man’s sin and rebellion.

When God gave the Law, the ten commandments, a second time to Moses and the people, He gave us divine characteristics which define who He is.

He is merciful and gracious.

He is slow to anger.

He is abounding in steadfast love.

He is abounding in steadfast faithfulness.

He forgives iniquity and transgression and sin.

But, He does not ignore the guilty.

And then, He makes a statement which should stop everyone in their tracks. He states the sin of the fathers (and mothers) will follow their families. Children will repeat the sins of their parents. Does He limit by saying to the “third and fourth generation“? No, He is not limiting the affect of sin but showing how it cascades down through the ages, from person to person, generation to generation. Sin cannot be stopped until it is destroyed.

We cannot understand or grasp God’s mercy unless we, at the same time, understand and grasp His righteous judgment against sin. Sometimes the easiest way (for me, at least) to understand what is being said is to work through from the end to the beginning.

Sin is pervasive and He will hold guilty all who sin. He does not ignore sin. Having created man in His image He will not overlook anything which corrupts, not His character but what represents and reflects His character. Sin corrupts His creation and He must judge not only sin but the desire to sin and debase anything which reflects Himself. When we sin, when we actively rebel against God, we augment the corruption. God has judged sin and sentenced all those who sin to death.

But, He says He “forgives iniquity and transgression and sin.” There must be something between the forgiveness of sin and the not ignoring the guilty. That something is Christ, the mercy seat, the One whose blood covered the broken Law. We will examine the mercy seat in another post. For those who belong to Christ, when God sees them it is through the blood of His beloved Son. He forgave us because His Son took upon Himself our sin giving us His righteousness. He is the divine reason for our acceptance by God.

Notice He is steadfast in both love and faithfulness. He does not facilitate or waver in who He is. He is not influenced by outside forces, or compromise His character to appease anyone, or ask. If anyone can find a place in Scripture where it is undeniable God asks anyone to obey His will please show me. Better, find two or three places. When He says He will love and be faithful to those who are His, He is. But, He demands obedience.

He is slow to anger. This does not mean He does not get angry. There are too many places in Scripture where He obviously acts in anger. In every instance His anger is righteous and justifiable. His judgment against sin is righteous and justifiable. His anger brings suffering but not all suffering is caused by His anger. Ultimately, all suffering is brought by sin. Though we all feel the effects of sin, His common grace continues sustaining our lives. He drives people to repentance through suffering. He allows suffering to teach the reality of sin.

Being slow to anger and decreeing a means for forgiving sin exhibits His active love, mercy, for those He created, and His eternal grace. Beyond a doubt, God’s intent in leaving those who are His in this sinful place, in a world at war, is so we might be convinced, completely, utterly convinced, of His love and mercy.

How do we know?

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. [Galatians 4:1-7 ESV]

In His mercy He changed our genealogy.

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Mercy, God’s Decision

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. [Galatians 3:28-4:7 ESV]

Before Adam fell, rebelling against God, He determined to show mercy to us. He created Man, giving him His image, knowing Man would rebel, knowing how desperately wicked Man would become, how much it would cost to redeem Man from the slavery of sin. He knew all of the agony each would suffer at the hands of others, of His Son’s agony on the cross. He sees all those who are not redeemed.

God’s mercy continued as He sent His Son, who voluntarily came setting aside His glory and position in eternity, taking upon Himself the likeness of man from conception to death. He said He would do this (from eternity past) right after Man fell, after the rebellion which separated everyone from God. He determined to do this before He created anything. Man’s fall separated us from Him yet He did not separate Himself from us. Instead, He chose a path, a genealogical trail through history, even before history, to show us His promise fulfilled.

He chose Abraham, not because Abraham was sinless or special, but because Jesus would come from his genealogical line. He chose a nation out of all the nations. A rebellious and stiff-necked people who showed themselves as sinful as the nations around them. He gave them the Law and a Land, He set them apart, not because of anything they were but because of what He decided to do.

He chose Saul as King knowing he would fail then chose David, a young shepherd. Jesus would come through the line of David, a sinful man whose divided heart was drawn by and followed God. David, who murdered and committed adultery and coveted and stole. Who repented and gave himself to God over and over.

Follow the genealogy of Jesus and you will see God deciding the path through which His Son would come. We can say with assurance God chose the people of Israel as the lineage through which His Son would come. He gave them the Law, meant to teach them they could not obey the Law but needed grace. He gave them a land which He took from them, expelling them from the land like He expelled Adam and Eve from the garden, for sin and rebellion. Even today Israel’s hold on the land is tenuous. All we can say with certainty about God choosing Israel is that His Son was born a Jew. It was for Him, not the people of Israel, God determined to use the Jewish people.

God’s chosen are those who belong to Christ, the Chosen One, not those who are naturally born into a land or race. God’s mercy came to the people of Israel because He was preparing a time for His Son to enter the world and redeem those who are His. Everything else about the chosen people is ancillary. “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” [Romans 2:28-29 ESV].

God’s mercy has come in a real way. For those short years of His time on earth people could touch God’s mercy. They could listen to Him and speak to Him. They ate with Him and were fed and healed by Him. God showed Himself and His mercy in the very person of His beloved Son, Jesus. And we, the chosen of God, took His mercy and murdered Him. God’s mercy cannot be killed. It can be rejected. Nothing we do forces God to change.

That’s good for us.

Coming Into God’s Presence

Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. [33] And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”— not knowing what he said. [Luke 9:32-33 ESV]

And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” [Matthew 17:4 ESV]

Peter was practical, his thinking and acting focused completely on his immediate involvement in life. From acquiescing to Jesus command to let down his nets for a catch after a full night of futile work (“Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets” [Luke 5:5 ESV]) to his walking on water.

“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” [Matthew 14:28-30 ESV]

Peter’s only drawback was his inability to think beyond himself as the center of the world. It is a problem we all share.

While Pete’s life was full, he walked with and was taught by Jesus and after the ascension he traveled the world as the apostle to the Jews, I want to look at the mercy God showed him. Mercy is active love and God showed His active love toward Peter and the other disciples in ways far beyond their limited comprehension.

On the mount of transfiguration Peter came into the presence of God. As you look back in Scripture you will find only two instances where God “showed His glory” to a man. Both times on a mountain, the Mountain of God. Both times shielding those He showed His glory from seeing His face.

When Moses went to God to make the second set of tablets God passed by and shielded him with His hand.

Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen. [Exodus 33:21-23 ESV]

Then, when Elijah ran to God after killing the prophets of Baal and was threatened by Jezebel, he pulled his cloak over his head shielding his face from seeing God.

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. [12] And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. [13] And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. [1 Kings 19:11-13 ESV]

Are there any other instances in Scripture where sinful man was exposed to the glory of God? Adam and Eve before the fall? Joshua, who never left the tent of meeting while the glory of God was on it? Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) walking around in the fiery furnace with one who looked like a “son of the gods” [Daniel 3:25 ESV]? How about those who were given visions of God on His throne? None of these were shielded from what they saw yet all saw God. Better, all saw the preincarnate Christ, God the Son.

When Jesus was transformed (metamorphoo) before Peter, James and John, He was transfigured into that which He is truly. Peter, James and John saw Jesus with Moses and Elijah, the only three men who had ever seen God the Father’s glory. What the three disciples saw was Christ in His glory. We make the assumption this was the only time during Christ earthly life where He was transfigured, clothed with His true glory. Yet, Christ went alone many times, as was His habit, up mountains to pray. Just because we are told of one time does not mean He was transfigured only this one time. We have no witnesses of the other times He was alone and there is no reason to  believe He was not transfigured at those times, also.

Why Peter said what he did is a mystery. We can make assumptions, something we do willingly as we focus upon ourselves and try to understand a man who walked with Christ. That he and the others saw Christ in His glory is an act of love extended to few in this world. Not until we reach eternity will we see Christ in His glory. Peter, James and John saw Him while living in sinful, rebellious bodies.

There was nothing about these men which qualified them for such an honor. Peter was a sinful man who viewed the world revolving about himself, who wanted things his way. He acknowledged the sinfulness of his heart. He suffered the gentle stinging rebukes of Jesus because of his lack of faith. He denied Christ. By the end of his life he did not see himself worthy to even die the same way Christ died. Throughout, he received God’s gracious mercy even when he did not recognize it.

Mercy is more than God’s actions toward those in pitiable circumstances. Mercy defines God’s actions toward us all the time.

Jesus Born

Jesus Born

Babies do not choose birth,

their parents, family, their looks.

They cannot control circumstances,

where they are born, who is present, who is not.

Yet, He planned His own birth,

His parents, carefully chosen,

He chose hands and feet, a heart and a brain,

Helplessness.

He called the lowest of the low to Him.

They came, filled with wonder,

whose simple lives allowed them wonder.

He who created us in His image

came in our likeness, for we are His.

 

He walked and ran,

learned to speak, to read,

grew tired, weary,

hungered and thirsted.

He ate with people and fed them,

He drank with people and gave them drink.

He chose His life and all its happiness and grief.

He wept over Jebus, Salem, Jerusalem,

He wept over a tomb.

Then emptied it.

He who created us in His image

came for us who are His.

 

He spoke to people about who they are,

not what they want.

He challenged the thinking of their hearts,

moving their eyes from self

to God, their Father.

Not wanting to see God they removed Him,

violently.

He was murdered by those He loved.

He chose His death.

He who created us in His image

came to die for us who are His.

 

God cannot die.

He who knows all knows what death means.

He died.

He rose.

For death cannot hold Him who is life.

Nor will death hold those given life.

He chose to give life,

and calls to Himself those who wonder,

that a baby is born

in the image of God,

in the likeness of parents.

He who created us in His image

came to live for us who are His.

 

Gerald F. Ward, 12-24-2013

The Path to Bethlehem

The Path to Bethlehem

A short story from

Roar of the Lion:

Encounters with the Christ

     “I was sitting on this stone looking down on Bethlehem,” the old man said, his white hair and beard flowing in the soft breeze, “when I saw the angel.” He looked up in the summer sky, his eyes sparkling with memory. Both hands rose from his side, palms up, into the air before him.

“He looked as big as this hill. It looked like he was standing on Bethlehem. But he was between the village and me. And when he spoke my whole body heard his words, not just my ears.”

I looked at my companion, momentarily lost in his memory, reliving a long ago night. Once again he heard the words of the angel. His body trembled slightly. I asked him if he had been afraid.

“Afraid,” he exclaimed. “Yes,” he said, and then quickly added “no.”

“I might have been afraid, startled at first, for a moment. I was as afraid as anyone who found himself standing in the very presence of the Lord. The angel wasn’t the Lord. He was the Lord’s messenger. He told to us to not be afraid, so I wasn’t.”

“The others were down the mountain, there, at that level place.” We had just walked up the mountain. I had heard many stories about that night. I wanted to know if the stories were true and finding opportunity to investigate I came to Bethlehem. This shepherd told me what he witnessed that night.

“The angel told us the promised Messiah had been born in Bethlehem.” He talked while we descended the mountain. “We would find him lying in a feeding trough. Suddenly, there were many more angels with the first. They filled the sky. They outshone the stars and hid the moon with their brilliance. They sang ‘Glory to God’ while standing in the Lord’s presence. They sang ‘peace on earth’ while standing in mine.”

“I was only a boy. A shepherd. We lived in the hills with our sheep. Not in the village. Many people avoided us. Only lepers are lower than shepherds. But, angels sang to me.”

“Look over there, in the distance. That is Herod’s Keep.” My companion pointed to a hill toward the east of Bethlehem. “They say you can see Jerusalem from that tower.” I looked at the structure, fortified and imposing. It stood between the sunrise and Bethlehem and would cast a long shadow on the town each morning.

“I would often go down to Bethlehem to see Jesus. He would toddle to me with a huge smile on his face. Then he would look at me, right in the eyes, and touch me.  He was barely walking when my own little brother was born.” He stopped talking and stared at the fortification on the distant hill. “He was a beautiful, lively little boy when the soldiers came. Herod was mad.” He stood silently for a long moment before continuing. “I thought they had killed Jesus, too. They killed all the little boys.”

He took my hand and I helped him down the hill a short distance. We stopped at the level place he had pointed to moments ago.

“We were here. My father, my brothers. When I got to them they were staring into the sky. I didn’t have to ask if they saw the angels or heard them singing. They had. I could see it in their faces. It was night but their faces shown with great light.”

“I said to them, ‘I’m going to Bethlehem’ and started down the hill. We all came leaving the sheep here. My father said the angels would watch them. I believed it.”

He led me along the path they had taken to Bethlehem long ago. It led down one hill and then up to the village, the birthplace of David a shepherd anointed king. The way led through a deep ravine.

“For thirty years I thought he had been killed by the soldiers,” the old shepherd continued. “The shadow of death lay heavy on Israel. Roman soldiers were everywhere. By the time I married I no longer thought of the murdered children. I had driven the memories from my mind but not my heart. My resentment toward the oppressors grew daily.”

“Then one day a great teacher passed by on his way to Jerusalem. My wife led me to see him. I was angry. I had been angry for years. My anger was bitter in my stomach. My wife thought I would be less angry if I could only hear this teacher.”

“‘Let us go listen to him,’ she said. ‘He heals people of their sickness,’ she said. I was sick with anger, so I went with her.”

“We found him outside of Bethany. He stayed there often. There was such a great crowd of people. I had never seen so many. But then I have never been very far from here. Only to Jerusalem where there were always many more people. I hated crowds. Give me sheep – not people.”

“I listened to him from across a great space. Everyone heard his words no matter how many or how far away. He told stories about God’s kingdom. His words were – wise. They struck me to my heart.”

“When he got up to walk he did not stop teaching. As he passed us he was talking about King David and being a shepherd. Then he stopped right in front of me.”

“‘Who among you who has a hundred sheep,’ he said, ‘will he not, if he loses one, leave the ninety-nine on the hill?’ And he took my hand and gazed into my eyes. He knew I was a shepherd. ‘I must smell of sheep,’ I thought.”

“‘And he will go and find the one sheep who is lost,’ he continued. ‘And return with that sheep on his shoulders, rejoicing that he had found his lost sheep.’ ‘I have done that,’ I thought, as I looked back into his eyes. ‘I have found lost sheep and been relieved.’”

“‘So, your heavenly Father and all His angels rejoice when one lost sinner is found.’” With those words he smiled at me, touched my wife on the shoulder and moved on.

“‘It is he,’ I said to my wife, as years of anger and bitterness dissolved. ‘He is the baby I saw 30 years ago, the little boy born in Bethlehem. He is the one whose birth was announced by the choir of the Lord. He is alive.’”

“From then on, every time we heard the Scripture read we thought of him. Every time a teacher of the Law would teach we heard his words. And whenever he was near we would go hear him.”

My companion and I had stopped walking for a moment. The short journey to Bethlehem was half completed. “He was born over there,” my companion said, pointing. “Just as the angel said.” We had descended into the deep ravine and now began our climb.

“I saw him once, two years later. It was Passover and my sons and I had taken to Jerusalem lambs for the temple so they might be inspected and used for the feast. The lambs could have no blemishes.  I sold many lambs and was very happy.”

“He was in the temple teaching. There were large crowds around him quietly listening. Around the crowds were the religious leaders. They grumbled and whispered to each other. It was obvious they did not like him.”

“We stayed one night in Jerusalem. There were some lambs deemed unacceptable for the feast. We would lead them home the next day. We would be home by Sabbath.”

“There was a commotion in Jerusalem. And so close to the Passover! I sent my sons home with the lambs and stayed to see. The Romans were going to execute some men. They murdered people almost every week. There is a hill outside of the city where all of the crucifixions are done. Everyone sees. It is a horrible, humiliating way to die.”

“I watched as they drove three men to their deaths. One man they had beaten mercilessly. There was no place where there was not a cut or a gash. He carried his own cross, the wooden beam to which they would nail his arms. He stumbled right before me. The soldier grabbed a man next to me and forced him to carry the cross.”

“My heart went out to the condemned man. He could never have done anything to deserve such punishment. He stood. He looked at me in the eyes. It was Jesus. There was no hatred. He managed a small smile before trudging on.”

“I was crushed. My happiness turned to despair.”

“He had survived assaults on his life from infancy. But now he was only moments away from death. Angels of the Lord announced his birth. Maybe they would come defend him.”

“No angels came. They crucified him on top of the hill with the other two. I watched from a distance for a while then left. It was unbearable.”

We stopped at the outskirts of Bethlehem and stood still for a long time. My companion was again lost in thought. I did not force him to continue. While I waited I remembered his words, his stories, from the time we met until now. I could not forget them. He had seen much.

“The sky grew dark. I had walked already part way home in grief and anger and disbelief. It was so dark. There were no stars. And then the earth shook violently. It threw me to the ground. I imagined his angels finally came to fight for him. But the more I thought the more I knew they had not come. He had died. The world groaned and grieved his passing.”

“I was home before the beginning of the Passover Sabbath. Passover. A man of God was slain. I told my family and friends. We ate our Passover with bitter tears.”

He pointed to a place just outside of Bethlehem. “The angels told us to come over to Bethlehem and to look for a newborn in a feeding trough. We found him there,” my companion said pointing to a place a few steps away. Bethlehem spread out before us.

We had paused in front of a small grotto, the remains of a building jutted out from the hill. He looked in and pointed from one place to the next. “Here is where we saw Joseph. He stood as we approached his staff in his hand. Mary was lying there, but sat up when we came. And here lay the baby in a feeding trough filled with straw. He slept peacefully. It was just as the angel had said.”

“He was only minutes old. It was a cold night. When we told them what the angel said to us they told us what the angel said to them months earlier. We worshipped the Lord there. Then we went and told everyone who would listen what we saw and heard.”

“I did not see him born. But here he was. Angels sang about him.”

“I knew in my heart this little baby was Messiah. Still, it took the Lord another 30 years to teach me more I needed to know. I am still learning.”

“I thought he died as a baby. I knew he died as a man. Something in my heart knew our Lord was working.”

“Within days we began to hear rumors,” he said. “Rumors some had seen him alive. I did not see him die. But no one escapes the Romans as they go up that hill.”

“I remember standing here a few days after his death, thinking about the rumors which had reached my ears and remembered the night he was born. I believed the rumors. He had risen from the dead. How could death hold Him?”

“It was night, about the same time of night we had seen the baby. I was passing this place. I often do. That night I came and stood here, where we are standing. I was alone.”

“I did not see him come and stand next to me. I felt him. When I turned to see who was there I saw him. He reached out his hand and placed it on my shoulder. A real hand with weight to it and a grip. His eyes looked deep into mine. I had to say something. I said, ‘I knew you were alive.’ He smiled and said ‘Follow me.’ Then he was gone.”

“I have followed him, since.”

Mercy Received

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. [Psalm 51:1 ESV – To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba]

Mercy.

Our world sees needing mercy as weakness, something the strong does for those unable to do for themselves but only when they want. There is no compunction to offer mercy, no social obligation, no legal demand. Mercy becomes a symbol of control and a check put on a score card. We like it when we see people showing mercy to others. We wonder why many of those who need mercy have allowed themselves to come to the place of need. Even God says “I will show mercy to whom I show mercy” [Exodus 33:19 ESV]. We read into His words the implication He doesn’t have to show mercy to anyone. Even though we need His mercy. Nevertheless, He is the ultimate example of our obligation to show mercy to others.

We are only half right. We show mercy to others because He has shown mercy to us first. He is our example and the standard against which the evidence of our lives is measured. But I think we have misunderstood and misinterpreted His words to Moses. His showing mercy is not arbitrary, controlled by a whim or hormonal fluctuations. There are absolute circumstances where He shows mercy. There are absolute circumstances where He removes His mercy. He has stated these circumstances, made known His demands and expectations, defined His law and statutes and given both circumstances for compliance and rebellion. We do not judge Him.

In the Hebrew Scriptures most of the verses using the word “mercy” are found in the Psalms and Prophets. Mercy becomes a substantial yet poetic word used to describe God’s compassion shown to us. There are several Hebrew words used. One, racham, has the positive connotation of loving deeply and compassionately, with affection. Another, chanan, means to show favor or pity, gracious attention and consideration, generally toward one who is in great need. Both words are verbs and show an act of the will from one toward another.

In the Greek New Testament only one significant word is used for mercy, eleeo, which  means to show favor toward someone afflicted or wretched and in the greatest need. Again, it is a verb showing an act of the will from one toward another.

Mercy is relational. It is active love shown by God to all. It is the active love those who are His show to each other and to those who continually rebel against Him. It is a realization of the need for God’s active love, an understanding of the consequences of our need and a humble acceptance.

David knew he was sinning when he had Uriah murdered and then took Bathsheba as his wife. He knew the law and had a personal relationship with God. His faith in God was strong. It is not the sin which corrupted his flesh was stronger but his resolve to sin, his decision to sin and rebel against God, was more important to him than his desire to love God. He wanted to sin and God did not stop him. The ramifications of sin and the response of God to sin is too large for this small essay. David asked for mercy knowing intimately the consequences of his sin. David asked for mercy knowing God had shown His mercy to David all along. The only way David could express the depth of his misery over his sin, the crushing need for God’s mercy and acceptance, is through poetic words filled with emotion.

The Academic may dissect mercy, separating its various parts and discovering how each part works with the other. The student may learn all about mercy and how it should work in the cold environment of the lab or from the sterile pages of a textbook. But those who know mercy can only cry out in their hearts in fear of God’s wrath, in receiving God’s love through repentance and faith and in acceptance of His eternal compassion.

David expressed his deepest feelings through poetry. We don’t all need to write poetry to feel or to express our feelings. We all do need to think and feel as the whole person God has made us. We all do need to weep with mourning over sin and weep for joy in God’s mercy.

Lord, don’t let my thinking be devoid of feeling.

Have mercy on me, O God [Psalm 51:1 ESV]

And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. [2 Samuel 12:15-16 ESV]

David asked for mercy for his child, conceived through an adulterous affair resulting in the murder of his lovers husband. Yet, the child died. It was David and Bathsheba who sinned yet it was the child who died. Did God not show His mercy to the child? Ultimately, the momentary affliction of sickness to death brought the child into the presence of God. Then, David sought mercy for himself. In both cases, God showed mercy to those He loves.

Still, you will find this refrain throughout the Psalms and the Gospels. God’s people continually cried out to Him for mercy. His people are afflicted, assaulted, hurt and grieving and they cry out to God for His mercy while requesting God kill and destroy those who are afflicting and assaulting them. They want His mercy and for Him to not show mercy to those against them, causing their pain and discomfort. This is an enigma which I do not understand.

Many seek God mercy and then either accept it or reject it because His mercy does not fit their expectations. In the broadest sense His mercy is shown to every man every day, to every person, even when they do not realize it. As an integral part of common grace God’s mercy is given to the ignorant, the hypocrite and those who catch only a glimmer of His compassion. The righteous Judge shows mercy to all by not executing judgment against all. It is mercy which brings a condemned sinner into the presence of God. Yet, most will not recognize His mercy.

We are under God’s condemnation because of sin. Most people in this world, having dispensed with the knowledge of God in their rebellion, live in fear of the superstitious. They have replaced the truth of God with a lie of their own invention, accepting the lie as truth. To say you believe in superstitions, something foisted upon an unsuspecting, even innocent, people, denies the image of God in man which witnesses the truth of God. Yet, God continues allowing the superstitious to live using fear to drive them toward Himself. He prompts them with His Spirit to see the truth. Those who die saying the truth of the Spirit is a lie, die physically and spiritually. There comes a place where God’s mercy ceases and His wrathful judgment is exercised.

How do we know God shows Himself and His Spirit shows the truth to those in rebellion? He has told us.

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.[Genesis 15:5-6 ESV]

But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. [Job 32:8 ESV]

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
[Psalm 19:1-3 ESV]

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. [Romans 1:19-20 ESV]

What about the hypocrite, specifically the religious hypocrite? Those who say with their mouths they are following God, who even demonstrates religious piety, while continuing to rebel against God in their hearts. They recognize the concept of mercy without demonstrating they have received mercy. Jesus’ strongest words were not against “sinners” and “tax-collectors” and “prostitutes”, or even against the Roman occupiers who controlled Judah and Jerusalem. His most critical words were against the religious leaders.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. [Matthew 23:13-15 ESV (and following)].

Although receiving God’s mercy and grace they showed none to those who did not fit their expectations. By seeking to control others they try to control God and show they have no understanding of God’s grace and mercy.

Those who catch only a glimmer of God’s mercy need only that glimmer. It is enough for them to honestly see themselves as God sees them, desperately wicked, black with sin as with leprosy, totally depraved, completely unable to do anything righteous. But, a glimmer of God’s mercy also shows them how much God loves them. Though sentenced to death, eternal separation from God who is the source of life, His Son took upon Himself the judgment due me. In exchange for my sin He gave me His righteousness. His mercy is given and received, not earned or bought.

How do I know I have, or anyone has, received God’s mercy. Because I want to give others what God has given me. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” [Matthew 5:7 ESV].

Introduction: Mercy

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. [Matthew 5:7 ESV]

With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;

with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.

For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down. [Psalm 18:25-27 ESV]

Even though we distinguish the various characteristics of God speaking about this attribute first and next about that quality He is One and must be known as a whole. He is huge, larger than our ability to comprehend hence our desire to break Him into pieces. Our problem is a desire to control God through trying to understand Him. We take the various pieces we have identified and combine them in a way which makes some kind of sense to us and then, after a time, stop discovering more about Him and try to rest in our incomplete vision of who He is. We do the same thing with people seeing something we like or dislike and, because there are so many people and each is complex, we tag them or label them  and stop discovering more about them. They are who we say they are. God is who we say He is. Once our decision about Him or anyone else is fixed and entrenched neither He nor they change in the thinking of our hearts because our concept of them will not change. For many mercy is an eternal quality of God separated out from the rest of Him.

Mercy is God’s active love toward those He has created in His image with the added element  of offering reconciliation to those separated from Him because of rebellion. His active love for man is shown in the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, His Son and extends to those He has chosen for eternity.

Jesus is emphatic is His statements about the qualities and characteristics of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” [Matthew 5:7 ESV] continues defining the citizen. But with this statement there is an obvious expansion in the description of those who follow Him. With this verse, and the following two statements, we come to the working out of the first four verses showing the evidence of a changed life.

Once the whole person is changed, made by God to conform to the likeness of Jesus, the resulting actions will show the activity of the Holy Spirit in directing the citizen in a hostile world. As God takes those who are His through the transition from being one who sins and rebels to one who seeks God with their whole heart they begin to love God, love their neighbors and love themselves.

It is impossible for the unchanged person to show the evidence of love in their lives. Before they can begin showing love the person must be changed, recreated, with their eyes, hearts, words and actions directed by God and not themselves.

It seems like Jesus is repeating Himself and His teachings.  He does repeat Himself, saying the same thing in different ways, over and over, expounding on the principles of a Godly life and forcing His listeners to agree with Him or completely reject Him. Jesus forces the issues leaving no room for ignoring them or being complacent with them. He demands, as only a Sovereign may, our full being to conform to His absolute standard.

Here’s the rub. Jesus meets the ultimate standard for us. He shows mercy to us but then demands we show mercy to others as evidence we recognize His mercy to us. Where we were sinners, still sinful, He covers us with His blood, an act of merciful redemption.  Where He shows us our sin, bringing us to the low of repentance, He takes upon Himself the consequences of that sin, suffering the death justly ours.  Where He turns us toward God, constantly away from sin, He gives us the tools we need to constantly live for God. Where we are continually enticed and tempted by the world He gives us a hunger and thirst for Him by living in us as His Holy Spirit. If we live it is because of Him. When we die it is for Him, for we will be with Him only because of His great and eternal mercy toward us.

Mercy is God’s active love toward us individually. We show we recognize God’s active love toward us by showing mercy, actively loving, those around us.

When we are merciful to others it shows we love God for what He has done for us. It is His rightful demand we love Him. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” [Deut. 6:4-5 ESV].  He is God and that is enough. He has commanded we love those He loves. However, since we are not god, He is, we do not have permission to act like god. “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” [Leviticus 19:18 ESV]. So, we are to love God with our whole being, and we are to love even those who sin against us with our whole being. Everything in the Hebrew Scripture directs God’s creation, those made in His image, to love their Creator and to love those made in His image. In the New Testament, when the equivalent of an attorney asked Jesus “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  Jesus was quick to reply.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. [Matthew 22:36-40 ESV]

If we are honest with ourselves we will see the evidence of our lives and know, with the thinking of our hearts, how truly wanting we are in doing anything God requires. Being honest, however, will also show how much God has done for us and will do for us for eternity. His mercy is not once for now but once forever. He does not claim us as His to turn us back over to those who are our enemies but to fit us completely for eternity in His presence. He is brutally honest with us and demands we be brutally honest with ourselves and with Him.

Tempered with mercy.