Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Mercy of God

God's mercy is a major theme in Scripture, the English word appearing some 341 times in the Bible. The four Hebrew and three Greek words associated with this term appear a total of 454 times and are also translated as "kindness," "loving-kindness," "goodness," "favor," "compassion," and "pity." Of the sixty-six books of the Bible, only sixteen do not use one of these words for mercy. The Old Testament has more than four times as much to say about mercy than the New Testament! We often think that justice and judgment characterize the God of Israel, while grace and mercy belong to the Lord of the Church. Exodus 33:19 and 34:6-7 show us this is the very nature of who God is, “Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”

While mercy is an important concept, it is somewhat difficult to define, especially since "grace" is often closely coupled with it and the two are frequently confused. These words may appear together many times, but they are not synonyms. "Grace" is most often associated with the sovereign dispensing of totally undeserved favor, and is specifically connected to salvation. "Mercy" is more often connected to the withholding of judgment: "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoices against judgment" (James 2:13).

Psalm 136 repeats the theme "for His mercy endures forever," each of the 26 verses listing incomparable aspects of God's loving kindness to us and no less than four times we read “Give thanks to the Lord for His mercy endures forever” (Ps. 136:1,2,3, 26). Not only does His mercy endures forever, we are told His mercy is “great” (1 Kings 3:6), is “plenteous” (Ps. 86:5), is “tender” (Lk. 1:78), is “abundant” (1 Peter 1:3), it is from everlasting to everlasting upon on them that fear Him” (Ps. 103:17), His mercy is manifold (Neh. 9:19). We can join in with the Psalmist and say, “I will sing aloud of your mercy” (Ps. 59:16).

Threefold Distinction 
As we study the Scriptures carefully concerning our subject we will see that that is a threefold distinction concerning the mercy of God. First, there is a general mercy of God, which is extended which is extended not only to all men, believers and unbelievers alike, but also to the entire creation "The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works" (Psalm 145:9). “He gives to all life, breath, and all things (Acts 17:25). Second, there is a special mercy of God, which is exercised toward the children of men, helping them and giving them all the necessities of life: “for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Mt. 5:45). Thirdly, there is a sovereign mercy which is reserved for the heirs of salvation, which is communicated to them in a covenant way through the Mediator. Just to explain the difference between the second and third a bit more; the mercies of God that the wicked enjoy now are only temporary meaning that they are for the present here and now. There will be no mercy extend to them beyond the grave. Isaiah 27:11 says, “For it is a people of no understanding: Therefore He who made them will not have mercy on them, and He who formed them will show them no favor.” God can never cease to be merciful, because that is the nature of who He is, “Gracious is the LORD, and righteous: Yes our God is merciful” (Ps. 116:5). But the exercise of His mercy is regulated by His sovereign will! It is pure sovereign grace which alone determines the exercise of Divine mercy; this is what Paul brings out in Romans 9:15 quoting Exodus 34 “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”

God’s Mercy with Sinners
The connection between the mercy of and the grace of God in His dealings with sinners is seen in Scriptures such as Ephesians 2:4-8, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Again in Titus 3:3-7, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

It is through or because of the tender mercy of our God that Christ was sent here to His people (Lk. 1:78). The merits of the Lord Jesus and His finished work on the Cross make it possible for God to righteously show mercy on us! If God gave us all what we deserve, we would all be, right now, condemned for eternity. In Psalm 51:1-2, David cries out, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." A plea to God for mercy is asking Him to withhold the judgment we deserve and instead grant to us the forgiveness we in no way have earned. God shows mercy to mercy to the truly repenting soul! We deserve nothing from God. God does not owe us anything. Anything good that we experience is a result of the grace of God (Ephesians 2:5). Grace is simply defined as unmerited favor. God favors, or gives us good things that we do not deserve and could never earn. Mercy and grace are best illustrated in the salvation that is available through Jesus Christ. We deserve judgment, but if we receive Jesus Christ as Savior, we receive mercy from God and we are delivered from judgment. Instead of judgment, we receive by grace salvation, forgiveness of sins, abundant life which begins here as we enjoy a relationship with God as our Father and look forward to an eternity in Heaven with Him

Our Response toward the God of Mercy
Because of the mercy and grace of God, our response should be to fall on our knees in worship and thanksgiving. When we remember that, "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22-23). Our hearts ought to remember what Micah said, "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardons iniquity...because he delights in mercy... He will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:18-19). It’s good to recall that, "The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children's children" (Psalm 103:17). Because He is the "King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God" (1 Timothy 1:17) and He is "the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (1 Timothy 6:15), we should therefore "give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endures forever" (Psalm 136:3).

Mercy Still Available Today
There are three specific examples given in Psalm 136 of God's sovereign provision. 1) He protects and shelters during the "wilderness." 2) He makes possible victories over great "enemies." 3) And He gives "food to all flesh" The details of God's provision and the many examples in the Scripture are inexhaustible. Yet in these three areas, we find hope for any situation "in time of need" Hebrews 4:16 declares, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." The apostle Paul reminds us that our God is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 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). This means that mercy originates from Him and that as we experience His mercy and comfort, we should share that with others.

Mercy on Display
Mercy is to be seen in the life of every Believer! A great example of such mercy is found in Luke 10 with the story of the Good Samaritan. When the Good Samaritan bound up the wounds of the man who had been beaten and robbed, he showed him mercy. When he took him to the nearest inn and paid for his lodging until he was well, he showed grace! His mercy relieved the pain and His grace provide for the healing!

The most obvious way we can show mercy is through physical acts, as the Good Samaritan. As the Lord Jesus specifically commanded, we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned and give practical help where we can! In Matthew 5:7 the Lord says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” This idea of showing mercy is not a New Testament idea. Look at what Deuteronomy 15:7-8 has to say about showing mercy, “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.” 

We are to show mercy to our enemies according to Luke 6:27-36. Paul reminds us Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

We see from theses verses that mercy is to be shown by our attitude as well as our actions. Mercy does not hold a grudge, harbor resentment, capitalize on another’s failures or weakness, or publicize another’s sin. 

Mercy shows pity as the Lord Jesus die from the cross when He could say, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). To the repenting thief on the cross mercy could say, “Truly I say unto you today you shall be with me in Paradise” (v43).

Mercy should be seen in the way we correct one another, “in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth…” (2 Tim. 2:25). Jude picks up on the same thought saying, “keep your-selves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction: but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (Jude 21-23).

We could also say that we can show mercy by praying for one another and reaching out to the lost.

In Matthew 18:23-35 the Lord Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. The first servant owned his master a great debt that he could not pay, he begged his master to be patient with him. We could say that he begged for mercy! But once forgiven he went out to someone who owed him far less by comparison and demanded every cent be repaid and had him thrown into prison. When the master heard this he, “summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you” (Mt. 18:32-33)?

As we have seen, we have been shown unlimited mercy that cancels our un-payable debt of sin, we continue to be shown mercy each and every day, how can we then refuse to show mercy to those we come in our lives?

Jeremiah reminds us “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23).

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