Heb 4:14-16 ESV; Heb 10:19-25 ESV; Heb 12:18-24 ESV
INTRODUCTIONIn my first sermon in this series I mentioned that one reason why I was moved to teach on mercy was a heartfelt prayer by someone who quoted from Heb Chapter 12; we have come “to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb 12:24 ESV).
If the blood of Abel cries out for vengeance (Gen 4:10 ESV) then the blood of Jesus cries out for mercy on sinners like all of us. this is a tremendous truth.
So far in this series, I have focussed on how divine mercy frees us from our miseries flowing from the power and pollution of sin.
But the mercy of God goes to the root of things healing us from the penalty of sin and cancelling out the ultimate consequences of our guilt and rebellion against God.
The mercy of God is grounded in the very depths of God’s own being, it’s no afterthought once things have gone wrong in the world. Since Jesus is the Lamb slain from before the world’s foundation1)See Biblical References Rev 13:8 ESV; 1 Pet 1:18-20 ESV the divine provision of blood to cleanse us of sin is eternal.
The Father has always seen our misery and in Christ made provision for us before we could sin or confess or repent. There is a “wideness in God’s mercy” that is far more profound than the limits of human misery. The shape of this mercy for sinners was prophetically revealed in the Old Testament and enacted in the New.
THE SHAPE OF ATONEMENT
In the holy of holies, the tablets of the Ten Commandments were placed in the ark of the covenant as a perpetual reminder of law-breaking humanity’s deserving of divine wrath.
Yet over the ark and between the cherubim the all-holy God still dwelt in a cloud of glory.
The point of connection between the polluted realm of fallenness and the purity of the Lord came on the Day of Atonement when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies enveloped in a cloud of sweet incense to mediate for the people by applying sacrificial blood to the ark’s mercy seat.
The priest’s survival was a sign that God had accepted his sacrifice and cleansed and covered the sin of the people for another year (Lev 16 ESV).
We know Jesus is the true High Priest2)See Biblical References Heb 3:1 ESV; Heb 5:1 ESV etc. who entered the most holy place in God’s heavenly presence taking his own sacrificial blood (Heb 9:11-12 ESV).
The cloud of incense around the earthly High Priest shielded his eyes from the death-dealing glory of God above the ark, but Christ’s own death is the fragrance that satisfies God’s longing for a complete offering of life given in love (Eph 5:2 ESV).
Through the blood of Jesus, the glory of God is mediated to lawless humans so that in the place of endless misery there might be an eternal pleasure.
Whilst I firmly believe the heart of the cross is beautiful at a more profound level I agree with this statement by a theologian, “The cross is not and cannot be loved.” (Moltmann). In its appearance to ordinary human sight, the death of Christ is a foolish ugly scandal3)See Biblical References Isa 52:14 ESV; 1 Cor 1:18 ESV ff. .
It is a very uncomfortable thing to come terms with the misery Jesus endured to bring us into the mercy of God.
An ancient spiritual principle teaches that if the whole of humanity fell in Adam then Jesus needed to be a complete human being in order to save us.
Jesus had a human body, soul, spirit, mind, will and emotions4)See Biblical References John 1:14 ESV; Rom 8:3 ESV so that he could take upon himself the fullness of our miseries and deliver us in the fullness of God’s mercies.
What happened to Christ on the cross must encompass the words of the lamenting prophet, “ “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.” ” (Lam 1:12 ESV).
Martin Luther had a very powerful understanding of how Jesus took into himself our wretched condition.
These are true words, but in relation to how Jesus has obtained mercy for us, they need to be more pointed.
Christ himself recounted in the story of the unforgiving servant the terrifying decree that the Master spoke, vs.32 “‘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 18:33-35 ESV).
The same thing comes across in the words of James, “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13 ESV). Gethsemane was so traumatic on Jesus because he knew he must bear the severity of these decrees.
To the natural man, the cross (1 Cor 2:14 ESV) looks like Jesus passively enduring a terrible injustice (cf. Matt 27:14 ESV).
This is especially true today when our society, obsessed as it is by identifying with victims, women, gays, trans, children, coloured people etc., can only see Jesus as a victim.
But we see Jesus actively embracing the totality of human misery in obedience to the will of the Father and for his glory. Misery didn’t “happen” to Jesus, his “blood” wasn’t taken from him (John 10:17-18 ESV).
On one level. since misery is the result of lost glory, Jesus suffers as the most miserable of sinners, but on a far more profound level, his misery is his glory because it’s the means by which his Father is glorified (John 12:27-28 ESV).
The frequent mention of the blood of Christ in the New Testament5)See Biblical References Heb 9:14 ESV; Heb 10:22 ESV; 1 Pet 1:2 ESV; Rev 1:5-6 ESV; Rev 5:9-10 ESV; Rev 7:14-15 ESV etc. isn’t an appeal for sympathy towards Christ’s sufferings, but a testimony to the power of a life sacrificed for others that we might live freed from endless misery. This is what the power of the blood of Christ is all about.
In April last year about 1,000 performers comprising an orchestra, massed choir, plus professional and community ensembles gathered on the streets of the City of Perth to draw attention to the plight of the homeless. At the centre of the event was an endless audio loop of a recording made in 1971 of an anonymous homeless man constantly singing on the streets of London. Here is what was played again and again;
“Jesus’ blood never failed me yet, Never failed me yet Jesus’ blood never failed me yet, There’s one thing I know, For he loves me so…”
There’s something ineradicable about the impact of the blood of Jesus. Jesus was not ashamed to indwell the true breadth and depth, essence and darkness, of human misery.
Our miseries are a weak echo of the miseries he has made an end of in his death (cf. Heb 5:7 ESV). We can only see the true depths of human misery in the misery of Jesus’ cry, “ “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ” (Mark 15:34 ESV).
The suffering of the cross without the revelation of the mercy of the Father was an indescribably horrible experience for the Son of God. The death of Jesus was no mercy killing, he tasted the sentence of endless misery on our behalf. How could God the Father ask his Son to endure into the place of no mercy far from his presence? The only answer is his unconditional unlimited love for us.
The Prayer of Humble Access from the Anglican Prayer Book is true in what it affirms about God’s relationship with sinners, “We do not presume to come to your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under you table. But you are the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy.”
However, the merciful love working through the blood of the cross for us suspended Jesus’ experience of such mercy. In the wisdom of God, this absence of mercy for the crucified Jesus magnified mercy to humanity in Christ’s resurrection and exaltation far beyond any of the ravages of misery brought on by sin.
THE POWER OF THE BLOOD
In Acts 20:28 ESV Paul makes a statement which can be translated, “ “Pay careful …to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” ”
The blood of Christ has an infinite value, “glory”, which far outweighs in worth all the evil ever committed.
There’s a mercy in the blood shed for us that turns misery under wrath into glory in grace because Jesus first exchanged his natural glory for our sinful misery (2 Cor 5:21 ESV).
This is why the “sprinkled blood… speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb 12:24 ESV). To gaze into the cross through the blood is to gaze upon the love of God encompassed in the cloud of our misery and to have a final revelation of the majesty of divine mercy.
When this blood touches the human conscience, all is absolved and we are cleansed us from every guilty shame we feel about our miserable state6)See Biblical References Heb 1:3 ESV; Heb 9:14 ESV; Heb 10:22 ESV; 1 Pet 1:2 ESV; Rev 1:5-6 ESV; Rev 5:9-10 ESV; Rev 7:14-15 ESV .
I remember testimonies of people saying that when they first came to Jesus they just felt “clean”. God’s own blood purifies us from the depth of depravity and pollution caused by the loss of his glory7)See Biblical References 1 John 1:7 ESV ff; 1 John 2:2 ESV ; from wallowing in misery we know we are being re-glorified (2 Cor 3:18 ESV).
When the old saints spoke of “pleading the blood” for lost sinners they were not being ghoulish but reckoning with the only power that can shelter guilty humanity from the just judgment of the Lord.
From the time of Abel shed blood has cried out for divine vengeance, In our own time we might think of the blood of persecuted Christians, aborted babies, slaughtered Indigenous people, trafficked women, and most recently the victims of euthanasia8)See Biblical References Deut 24:15 ESV; Ps 9:12 ESV; Jer 46:10 ESV; James 5:4 ESV; Rev 6:10 ESV etc. .
Thankfully, much louder than these voices is the cry of the blood of Jesus pleading for mercy. In Jesus, there is “the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:14-16 ESV).
Jesus’ life in heaven is pleading mercy for sinners because his blood has cleansed the holiest presence of God (Heb 9:22-23 ESV). As the blood of the Passover lamb covered the Israelites from the destroying angel so Jesus’ blood covers the sins of the world (John 1:29 ESV).
To plead the blood is to claim the protection, deliverance and legal rights from the condemnation we have in Christ and to pray it will impact the lives of others. There is a dimension to this however which can easily be missed, or even avoided.
BLEED FOR THEM
Paul encountered countless sufferings9)See Biblical References 2 Cor 4:8-10 ESV; 2 Cor 6:4-8 ESV; 2 Cor 11:23-33 ESV; Eph 3:13 ESV; Phil 3:10 ESV; Col 1:24 ESV which in the normal course of events would have filled his life with misery.
But as with the rest of the New Testament10)See Biblical References Matt 5:12 ESV; 2 Cor 6:10 ESV; Phil 4:4 ESV; James 1:2 ESV there’s a note of joy rising above sorrow which is the distinguishing mark of what it means to follow Jesus. why?
Much greater than the miseries of his own condition the apostle chooses to endure suffering for others that he knows will make him more like Jesus.
This is a glory far greater than any misery. In describing deliverance from a crisis that he thought would kill him Paul uses the strongest language; “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor 1:3-4 ESV).
Deliverance from affliction by the “Father of mercies” empowered him to live out the message of mercy to multitudes.
Like Jesus, he understood that God has not saved us from the cross but through the cross. Any situation in life, no matter how naturally misery-inducing, when yielded with understanding to the Lord, can be transformed from an occasion for misery to a vehicle for God’s mercy to flow out to others.
Jesus said, “ “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” ” (Matt 5:7 ESV). This was supremely true of Christ himself whose mercy extended to the point of being deprived of mercy for us in dying that he might be immeasurably comforted for us in the resurrection from the dead.
Christ’s call on our lives is to move through the power of the Spirit from our natural passivity and languishing in misery to share into the proactive power of the blood of the cross.
The outpoured blood of Jesus was the most active thing that ever entered into the world, carrying the infinite healing energy of the loving mercy of God it has carried all before it (cf. Heb 9:14 ESV).
This blood speaks not of vengeance but of complete divine victory.
This is the power into which we are called, to offer up our lives as living sacrifices amidst the miseries we will undergo in this world so that these woes are transformed into mercies for others.
This is a high supernatural calling that inverts the whole order of life in a fallen world.
The mercy for which we can continue to plead personally will become in Christ mercy that flows out through us for the deliverance of many. May God in his mercy grant us such Christ-shaped life.
04: Mercy and Judgement.
MESSAGE, DELIVERED: Date 9th June 2019 Location: Alive@5
Author: Dr. John Yates
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|↑ 1.||See Biblical References Rev 13:8 ESV; 1 Pet 1:18-20 ESV|
|↑ 2.||See Biblical References Heb 3:1 ESV; Heb 5:1 ESV etc.|
|↑ 3.||See Biblical References Isa 52:14 ESV; 1 Cor 1:18 ESV ff.|
|↑ 4.||See Biblical References John 1:14 ESV; Rom 8:3 ESV|
|↑ 5.||See Biblical References Heb 9:14 ESV; Heb 10:22 ESV; 1 Pet 1:2 ESV; Rev 1:5-6 ESV; Rev 5:9-10 ESV; Rev 7:14-15 ESV etc.|
|↑ 6.||See Biblical References Heb 1:3 ESV; Heb 9:14 ESV; Heb 10:22 ESV; 1 Pet 1:2 ESV; Rev 1:5-6 ESV; Rev 5:9-10 ESV; Rev 7:14-15 ESV|
|↑ 7.||See Biblical References 1 John 1:7 ESV ff; 1 John 2:2 ESV|
|↑ 8.||See Biblical References Deut 24:15 ESV; Ps 9:12 ESV; Jer 46:10 ESV; James 5:4 ESV; Rev 6:10 ESV etc.|
|↑ 9.||See Biblical References 2 Cor 4:8-10 ESV; 2 Cor 6:4-8 ESV; 2 Cor 11:23-33 ESV; Eph 3:13 ESV; Phil 3:10 ESV; Col 1:24 ESV|
|↑ 10.||See Biblical References Matt 5:12 ESV; 2 Cor 6:10 ESV; Phil 4:4 ESV; James 1:2 ESV|