mercy

In my last post, we began our series on Micah 6:8. Israel’s rhetorical questions in Micah had a three-part progression, and verse 8 contains a similar progression. The response of a godly heart is outward (do justice), inward (love mercy), and upward (walk humbly).

Part I discussed how “walking humbly with God” starts by understanding our place is really under his heel, and not kneeling before the throne of the Father – we understand our need for forgiveness. Instead of taking pride in what we bring to God, we humbly recognize that no amount of personal sacrifice can replace a heart committed to justice and love. With humility, we focus on the heart – our heart – as it relates to our day to day relationship with God.

In Part II, we’re going to explore what it means to “love mercy,” our inward reflection, as we continue to revisit the words in Micah 6:8.

How Can We Pay for Our Sins?

When I was 13 or 14, I remember a visiting preacher in our Church who was talking about the phrase “Treasures from Heaven” as it related to Heaven’s grace. He talked about how there would be no poverty, no class separation, no war, no greed, no hunger, nothing but richness found in worshiping the Father. I don’t remember much else from that message, because like most young teenagers, my ADDEFG…squirrel!… kicked in.

treasureIn my spiral notebook I had sketched a giant treasure chest full of what I thought was a million gold coins, and thinking that when we get to heaven, St. Peter will give us this chest upon entrance, and then say, “OK, Now it’s time to pay for your sins.” Anyone who ran out of money would get the boot to Hades, and anyone with as little as a single coin could pay for admission.

While I’d love to have a million gold coins – and if anyone has a spare treasure chest sitting around collecting dust, I’ll be sure to send you my address – I don’t think that I’d be able pay for my sins through the first grade. Heck, I cussed out my kindergarten teacher on more than one occasion.

Nothing we could do or pay could earn the forgiveness for our sins that would let us in the door. The simple fact is that His mercy and grace are available to everyone. His forgiveness is free, there is nothing we can do to earn it – and we certainly don’t deserve it.

Far too many people often confuse mercy and grace. They’re really two mutually exclusive concepts, which are lumped together in scripture, prayers and even common phrases.

Grace in most dictionaries is defined as “God’s unmerited favor.” It is kindness from God we don’t deserve. There is nothing we have done, nor can ever do to earn this favor. It is a FREE gift. While true, grace defined in scripture is something that teaches us how to live! Doesn’t sound like the traditional definition of grace?

Titus 2:11-12 (NIV) 11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age”

Looking up mercy in the dictionary reveals that it means pardoning someone’s punishment or being compassionate to our offenders. It’s full and unconditional, and completely removes the stain of sin that surely means that we should be struck down right now, on the spot.

Yes the definitions include the same idea. If grace is God giving us what we do not deserve, Mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve. But the result of showing mercy may be giving grace in an ongoing relationship with the Father.

Loving mercy means faithfully embracing our pardon, and showing His grace to everyone. It’s an act of kindness, compassion or favor.

There are multiple places in the bible where we are told to be merciful. Mercy is not just a God & man thing, it’s for all of us to express. In the Micah, God expects His people to show love and compassion to their fellow man and to be loyal in their love toward Him, just as He had been loyal to them.

Christ’s Lessons in Mercy

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)  21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The question that lingers on is: Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

The same question is directed towards us today. How merciful are we? Do we love mercy? Shouldn’t we have mercy on our fellow men just as He had on us?

It may look like we are taken for granted or that they don’t deserve it. But that is the point. Being kind to others when they don’t deserve it that is mercy! Here is an encouraging word for you:

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.( Matthew 5:7 NIV)

Who Can Receive Mercy?

Matthew 9:11-13(NIV) – 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The Pharisees thought that the simple act of even eating with sinners made them unclean, and they were only to consort with people who were just as religious as they were. This was especially true for someone who was a rabbi, or teacher. But, he also understood the law that they were teaching and the real intent of it.

In fact, this phrase he uses: “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice” is entirely a summary of Micah 6.

This was a part of the way of life that they were used to, but none of them were actually living. Instead of being compassionate, they were using the rules to guilt people into things that benefited their leaders’ lifestyle and amplified their power. But Jesus knew that the heart of the law was compassion.

Isn’t the same thing true of how we relate to “Church friends” or those that we would likely invite to church? This same thought is often why we invite people to church who we know are believers, as opposed to a stranger, a person off the street or a “non-curched” friend. Sure, it’s nice to have more bodies in seats, but we’re called to make disciples of all nations and share the gospel. It’s the gospel of the Father’s grace and mercy poured out through Christ.

To love mercy doesn’t mean simply loving the mercy extended to yourself, or even with the “like minded.” That is easy right? Loving mercy means loving the opportunity to extend that same mercy to others. What does that opportunity look like? When people annoy you, frustrate you, hurt you, mistreat you and disregard you. That’s what the opportunity looks like.

God’s Expression of Mercy, Today

Micah 4:5 (NIV) – “All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.”

keep-calm-and-love-mercy-25Micah says, the rest of the unsaved world may continue to walk in the name of their false gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever. Do you see how verse 5 encourages a response to the source of God’s mercy in the past and the vision of God’s mercy in the future? Jude puts it like this,

Jude 21-23 (NIV) – “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

Jude uses the word ‘mercy’ three times. As you wait to experience the vision of God’s mercy, be merciful and show mercy. Mercy is a quality of God and a sign that we are his children.

Exodus 22: 25-27 (NIV) – 25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, 27 because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

What don’t we understand about this? The meaning is just as clear and applicable today as when it was written. The chief argument is unchanged: God is compassionate, therefore God’s people must be compassionate.

So, what would seven days of compassion look like?

When someone at work says a harsh word… when someone criticizes you, humiliates you or swears at you, what will loving mercy look like? What will the effect be on work colleagues? On your boss when you give mercy.

And at home –when you feel ignored, under-appreciated, or when voices are raised, what will an expression of mercy look like? What would the effect be of mercy toward a spouse, children, parents?

This is your homework: fill a week with little acts of mercy. Loving mercy, giving mercy, showing mercy.

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