Luke 1:46-55, 68-79 ESV | Luke 6:32-36 ESV | Luke 18:35-43 ESV
Whilst the mercy of God in the Old Testament period is often downplayed by Christians, it was only the merciful patience of the Lord which preserved human life from the time of the FallSee Biblical References Rom 3:25 ESV; Acts 17:30 ESV until the coming of Jesus.
Having said that, no matter how powerfully God’s mercy was expressed in his saving acts for Israel and in the Law and ceremonial rituals, it is only in the humanity of Jesus that divine mercy takes on a definite, permanent and unsurpassable form.
The coming of God in human flesh means the Creator and Judge has shared the depths and sharpness of our need for mercy.
Having lived all our lives immersed in misery our true need is easily overlooked. I was reading an article on mental health in Australia the other day. The author remarked that anxiety disorders are the leading cause of death in females between 5-44, 1 in 5 women in their 30s and 40s are alcohol dependent, women between 30 and 50 are 4 times more likely to die of an accidental overdose than in a road accident, but you never hear about this, and 1 in 5 Australians experience mental illness in any one year.
For men 1 in 8 will experience serious depression during life, 1 in 5 serious anxiety, 1 in 7 depression or anxiety in any given year. Human life is ravaged by misery. We need mercy!
In Jesus, and only in Jesus, is God’s heart of mercy fully exposed.
The mercy of God is no mere kindness for kindness sake, something he does to feel good about himself, it involves a plan whereby his own life penetrates inside the power of sin and evil to wreak misery, and through atoning suffering deliver us from the guilt that oppresses us.
The work of God in Christ takes hold of a world deprived through sin, of the full glory of its being and restores it far beyond where it ever else could be.
JESUS IS THE MERCY
Jesus’ coming is emphatically announced as a mercy; first in the Song of Mary, “ “his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation… He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,” ” and then in the prophecy of Zechariah, “ “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; vs.72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant,… to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, vs.78 because of the tender mercy of our God” ” (Luke 1:50, 54, 71-72, 77-78 ESV). “tender mercy” is a good translation, as is, “heartfelt mercies” (The Message), for the mercy that God reveals in Christ, comes from the deepest recesses of his being where he’s affected by our wretchedness.
The mercy from God that goes out to save wasn’t restricted to the people of Israel but extended to the nations. Paul explains this was at the heart of his missionary zeal, vs.8 “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, vs.9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” (Rom 15:8-9 ESV).
In the coming of Jesus, God set himself on the side of suffering people. In his merciful and assertive actions of teaching and healing Christ sided with fragile, fallen humans in a war against the entrenched forces of evil we have brought upon ourselves. I am not convinced that the Church easily understands the mercy of God.
There have been 31 reported suicide attempts amongst the asylum seekers on Manus Island since the federal election a few weeks ago?
What does that mean to God? Is the popular sentiment expressed towards ISIS brides in Syria who now want to return home, “She made her bed. Let her lie in it”, something Jesus would affirm?
In his perfect sympathy with human sufferings (Heb 4:15 ESV) Jesus brings a new and deeper revelation which challenges all our popular notions of God, “He was great not because he was above feelings, but because he could feel as no man could.” (P.T. Forsyth). Jesus never brought mercy by accusing people but by shouldering their weakness upon himself. Remember what his disciples said when they came across a blind man, “ “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” ” Jesus replied, “ “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” ” (John 9:2-3 ESV) And he proceeded to heal the man, as he always did.
APPEALS FOR MERCY
The tender mercies of God manifest in the softness of Christ drew forth from the miserable pleas for mercy,See Biblical References Matt 9:27 ESV; Matt 15:22 ESV; Matt 20:30-31 ESV; Mark 10:47 ESV.
A pagan mother comes, “crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” ”, Christ sets her daughter free (Matthew 15:22 ESV); a distressed father appeals, “ “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.” ”, the boy is delivered of the demonic presence (Matt 17:15 ESV); a blind beggar cannot be restrained, “he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” ”; straightaway Christ restores his sight(Mark 10:47-48 ESV).
These were all a fulfilment of those Old Testament prophecies we looked at last week of the day when pleas for mercy would become before God and he would hear and cleanse. When Jesus told the parable of the tax collector, who, “standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13 ESV), and who went home “justified”, he was recounting what he was already seeing happening in his ministry.
The Lord’s teaching about mercy was itself a mercy. “ “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” ” (Matt 5:7 ESV); “ vs.35 “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most-High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.vs.36Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” ” (Luke 6:35-36 ESV).
To be merciful, not powerful, knowledgeable etc., things we admire is what makes us to be like God.
Jesus’ words extolling the Father as merciful remind me of an incident in the life of Charles Spurgeon. “When I was racked…with pain, to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, ‘Thou art my Father, and I am thy child; and thou, as a Father, art tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as thou makest me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him. Wilt thou hide thy face from me, my Father? Wilt thou still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from thy countenance?’ … so I pleaded, and I ventured to say, when I was quiet, and they came back who watched me: ‘I shall never have such pain again from this moment, for God has heard my prayer.’ I bless God that ease came and the racking pain never returned.” Such is the mercy of our Father.
Remember the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan, “vs.36 “Which of these three [priest, Levite, Samaritan], do you think, proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” ” asked Jesus, “ vs.37 He [legal expert] said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37 ESV).
Christ spoke God’s Word to the self-righteous religious leaders; “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”See Biblical References Hos 6:6 ESV; Matt 9:13 ESV; Mark 12:33 ESV, “you have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (Matt 23:23 ESV). The arrogant and self-sufficient shunned Jesus but the humble and desperate flocked around him to receive God’s mercy.
In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, about the man who when released from an impossible debt by his master refused to cancel the tiny debt of a fellow servant, the conclusion is plain scary.
vs.32 “Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.vs.33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ vs.34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt.vs.35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” ” (Matt 18:21-35 ESV).
The mercy present in Jesus’ miracles was operating at multiple levels. But most importantly it is working inside him. At the tomb of Lazarus Jesus is “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33, 38 ESV).
He literally “snorts” like a war horse going into battle, in indignation, anger and agitation at the reality of the evil confronting him. Jesus is completely intolerant of the power of death to hold back the glorious purposes of God for us. he goes on to raise Lazarus from the dead.
In other places when Jesus is “moved with compassion” to healSee Biblical References Mark 1:41 ESV; Matt 20:34 ESV; Luke 9:22 ESV the word means the movement of the inner parts, like the intestines.
The whole life of Jesus is engaged battling and overcoming the onslaught of evil as he steps forth as a total revelation of the heart of God. In carrying the sorrow of God for the world in himself Jesus needed to be continually sustained through prayer.
As the mercy of God moves through the humanity of Christ his own humanity was being matured (cf. Heb 2:10 ESV). But something beyond teaching and miracles was needed to completely atone for human sin and restore the glory of God to miserable sinners.
Why does no-one talk like this these days? The Creator must share totally in human suffering and death. To bring mercy to the miserable will cost God everything. This is the mercy of the cross.
In Christ, God stepped into a human condition breaking up under the weight of guilt, shame and his own threatening judgement. Despite all empty boasts and technological optimism, we are all subject to inescapable inner bondage and anxiety about existence and its termination in death.
And as we age the demolition to which we are subject becomes increasingly unavoidable. Only the limitless mercy of God revealed in Jesus, which is Jesus, can deliver us. In Jesus is a mercy, that refused to be defeated and has triumphed for us all, his death and resurrection has triumphed over our stubborn refusal to cry out for mercy to God.
Last week I commented on how we seem to be lacking the urgency that underpins pleas for mercy found in the Old Testament. Such prayerful pleas for mercy are also characteristic of great moves of God in the Church. When Martin Luther spoke of “my boundless misery” no-one considered him a depressive or suffering from low self-esteem.
He meant that the real truth is that outside of Christ there are no places in life where a human being is free from the misery and wretchedness of the loss of the glory of God. Karl Barth puts this in a potent, raw and even brutal way unobscured by any makeover.
“I can toss and turn on my sick bed, I can transfer or be transferred from one sick bed to another. When it [sickness] is particularly severe, I can change hospitals, or, if I prefer, arrange for private treatment. But I am always sick, and my sickness is always the same. It is the incurable misery which dominates my life and always emerges in one form or another.”
If divine mercy flows to human misery then we surely need, an insight into how the Lord sees our present spiritual state, personally, in the Church and in the nation. Then we will cry for mercy, then the Lord will touch our misery. God’s heart wants to touch our hearts through the cross, the subject of our teaching next week.
We begin to sense the limitless nature of God’s mercy when we ask the most painful questions. Which are not about us but about Christ’s great sufferings. Why was there no mercy for Jesus when he died so painfully on the cross?
Where is the mercy of the Father when his Son cries out in utter misery, “ “My God…why have you forsaken me?” ” (Mark 15:34 ESV).
The mystery of God’s mercy is only fully unveiled when we see that when God appears to be a merciless Father, no Father at all, he is most fully the mercy our misery needs. Let’s keep asking the Lord to reveal to us how he sees our need for mercy and how he has fully answered our need in Jesus.
04: Mercy and Judgement.
MESSAGE, DELIVERED: 2nd June 2019 Location: Alive@5
Author: Dr. John Yates
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