December 16, 2018
In this issue: Obtaining Mercy by Jeff Smith
By Jeff Smith
I had the chicken pox when I was about six years old and I can still recall the horrible, Jobian itching that resulted. In my memory as well, however, is the soothing sensation of that lotion which was applied by my mother to the sores on my back and chest, which eased the misery until the illness was gone.
Most everyone realizes our souls often contract a disease just as painful to the conscience, the disease of sin. What will soothe our misery then? The answer is nothing but the unparalleled mercy of God, wrought through the death and resurrection of our savior and his son, Jesus Christ (Romans 7:24-25).
Before giving Moses the Ten Commandments for a second time, God took a moment to describe himself to the man again. The first set of tablets was destroyed when an irate Moses smashed them against the mountain upon seeing the Hebrews dancing with an idol — the message of mercy was already required in Israel. God describes himself as 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)
The Lord's nature has not changed and his ability to forgive the truly penitent has only been more firmly established in the age in which we live (Hebrews 1:1-4). At the same time, his mercy can be rejected by those who persist in doing evil or who simply refuse to repent of their sins, and the consequences of iniquity, though not its guilt or eternal doom, can pass through to your children and theirs (Romans 2:1-6).
David, for instance, was reputed to be a man after God's own heart, not because the king was perfect, but because he was humble enough to recognize and confess his errors and then beg for God's abundant mercy. On the occasion when David sinned with Bathsheba, it took a special rebuke by his friend Nathan to make David see what he had done, but when the king repented, the mercy of God shined bright. David's confession allowed Nathan to say, "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die" (2 Samuel 12:13).
While many would categorize adultery and murder as the most heinous of sins, God's mercy is greater and is able to forgive the genuinely penitent.
Jesus taught the apostles a lesson on God's mercy when Peter asked about how much mercy men must show one another — seventy times seven, he indicated, before illustrating his lesson with the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35).
God is merciful to us and so we should be merciful to one another; if we fail to show mercy to our fellow man, God will cease to show us mercy for we are no longer genuine in our pleas for grace. Both the discussion between Peter and Jesus and the ensuing parable teach something often repeated in Christ's New Testament: a major theme of the day of judgment will be the standard of mercy, and a lifetime of unwillingness to forgive others, from the heart, is willful sin which dilutes the effects of Christ's sacrifice upon an intractable soul. The golden rule applies here, but a little differently: judge others as you would have God judge you, with mercy and patience. Receiving and expecting mercy begins with a spirit that is willing to be magnanimous in extending the same to others (Matthew 5:7, 6:14; Colossians 3:12-15).
God, after all, is generous in forgiving our debts. Peter taught that God is longsuffering toward us because it is not his will that any soul should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Likewise, Paul wrote that God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (First Timothy 2:4). Prior to his first advent, Jesus was announced by Gabriel as the agent of God's mercy, "for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). God's prime objective through all the devil's temptation, trial, and trouble is to show his mercy to the maximum number of souls that can be convicted and converted (James 5:10-11). God wants you to be saved and forgiven of your sins and he has gone to extreme lengths to make it possible.
Obtaining God's mercy requires something of us, but it promises so much more.
Obtaining divine mercy requires a recognition of sin: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:8-10, ESV). While we are walking in the light, missteps will yet be taken that require a renewal of God's mercy upon us, obtained not through ignoring the sin and hoping the guilt will go away, but by honest confession and diligent repentance. To a godly person, sin feels like filth and it is; confession delivers cleansing and mercy. Denying the sin allows the blemish to remain and to make other blemishes look natural there instead of out of place; you get dirtier (James 1:27).
Obtaining mercy requires a healthy spirit of humility: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you" (First Peter 5:6-7, ESV). Admitting a weakness and asking for help requires humility be present in our hearts as we approach the divine throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-16). For some, this is the stumbling block that keeps them from ever being right with God — they are too proud and stubborn to admit they are wrong even to one who obviously knows it. Before you can walk in the light again, you are going to have to get down on your knees before the throne of grace and crucify your pride.
Obtaining mercy from God is facilitated by the restorative concern of spiritual people (Galatians 6:1-2). James urges you to "confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed...My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:16-20, ESV). One might find help with private sins and weaknesses by speaking privately to a brother or sister and asking for helpful prayer or assistance in bearing too great a burden. It is sometimes embarrassing to confess sin like this, but multiplying the numbers of people praying for you is worth it.
Obtaining mercy is not limited by the heinousness of our sins, but is an opportunity for God to prove again that his grace knows no such bounds. Paul ascribed eternal glory and honor to a God who could both forgive and enlist one who was formerly a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:13-16, ESV)
Obtaining mercy from God brings a sense of spiritual refreshment, equal to that experienced by members of the mob that supported the execution of Jesus, but who later made him their savior (Acts 3:17-19). The promise is of times of refreshing, relief to the guilty conscience, and confidence of better things for eternity. God's power to forgive is so great that he can obliterate it from your record completely: "For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more" (Hebrews 8:12, ESV).
Finally, obtaining mercy draws one closer to God, who gives more grace, and opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:7-8, ESV). Approaching that throne of grace will necessarily draw you closer to God, but you cannot come unless you want your hands washed — your sins forgiven through godly sorrow, a confession of fault, and a commitment to rise above it. Then God will forgive, lift you up, and put you on a path of righteousness which leads to Paradise. ~
From Watchman Magazine