Sunday, December 13, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer

The God I Wish You Knew
#8—God is merciful 

Introduction and offering:

2 Corinthians 8:7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

See that you excel in the grace of giving. One translation says, “be the best” in giving; another, “become more and more generous.” And who is our example of this? Jesus.

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

Jesus excelled in the grace of giving—He gave everything for us. When you follow Jesus, you become more like Him and you become more and more generous. This challenges me: am I becoming more like Jesus? Am I more and more generous? Prayer.

ILL: Do you ever screw up? What do you want when you do? Mercy!

A couple weeks ago, I had an important meeting that somehow got deleted off my calendar, and got replaced by another. I was talking with my son Andy when he said, “It’s 2 o’clock; time for our meeting.”

“What meeting?” I asked.

“The Leadership Summit meeting—the one you set up.”  

Oh yeah—the meeting I called and that I invited a friend to be at to help me. I hurried to the meeting and was only able to be there for 15 minutes. I apologized profusely to those who had made time out of their busy schedules to meet with me. I screwed up. And everyone yelled at me and stormed out of the room. No—they showed me mercy. They forgave me and carried on without me.

Mercy! That’s what I need. Lots of mercy! How many of you need mercy too!

I’ve got good news for you. The God I wish you knew is merciful. This is part 8 of our series, “The God I Wish You Knew.” We’ve been looking at God as Jesus revealed Him. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. And when you look at Jesus, you’ll see that God is merciful.

The Big Idea: The God I wish you knew is merciful. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.

Some of you will recognize the last sentence it comes from Jesus in:

Luke 6:36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Jesus says that our Father is merciful. God is merciful and calls us to be merciful too. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. How is God merciful? We’re going to explore that. The apostle Paul describes God like this:

Ephesians 2:4-5 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.

God is rich in mercy. I like that. God is rich in mercy; He’s loaded! He has an abundance of mercy—He’s not running short any time soon—ever! You’ll never come to Him for mercy and have Him say, “Darn, I’m fresh out today!” In fact, His mercies are new every morning.

Lamentations 3:22–23 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his mercies never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

God’s mercies never fail; they are new every morning. I told you about one failing last week. I could tell you lots of stories like that—stories for every day of the week. I need new mercies every day. Fortunately, the God I wish you knew is merciful. He is rich in mercy. His mercies never fail.

 

  1. What is mercy?

In English, mercy defined in a couple ways. First, it is “compassion or forbearance shown to an offender.” In other words, mercy is not getting what you deserve; it’s letting someone off the hook.

  • With justice, you get what you deserve.
  • With mercy, you don’t get what you deserve.
  • With grace, you get what you don’t deserve.

Let’s picture it this way:

ILL: You look in your rearview mirror and see the dreaded blue lights flashing. What’s the first thing you check? Your speed. How fast are you going? You’re going ten over. Even worse, it’s a school zone! You’re busted. Now one of three things can happen.

Justice: you get a ticket for $210. That’s the law and that’s the fine for going 10 over in a school zone. That’s justice. You can’t complain.

Mercy: the officer lets you off with a warning. You’re grateful.

Grace: the officer lets you off with a warning and gives you a card for a free coffee at Dutch Bros!   You’re ecstatic!

In this first definition of mercy, compassion or forbearance is shown to an offender. You are shown mercy; you don’t get what you deserve; you are let off the hook.

God is merciful in this way: instead of the justice we deserve, we receive mercy. Instead of the punishment we deserve, we are forgiven. God is merciful.

Jesus told a story in Matthew 18 that illustrates this kind of mercy. A king decides to settle accounts with some of his servants. One man comes in who owes him 10,000 lifetimes of salary—a debt beyond comprehension and certainly beyond repayment. The king orders that the man, his wife and kids and all he has be sold to repay the debt. The man begs the king, “Be patient with me and I’ll pay back everything.” It’s impossible. Surprisingly, the king feels pity and forgives the entire debt. The man is off the hook—he’s let off scott free!  

A few hours later, he bumps into a friend who owes him money—3 months wages. It’s a lot, but it’s nothing compared to what he’s just been forgiven. His friend does exactly what he just did: begs for mercy. But instead, the man has him thrown in prison. Someone reports this to the king.

Matthew 18:32–33 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?”

The servant had received mercy, but refused to show it to another. He was in the king’s debt and legally obligated to repay him, but was shown mercy and let off the hook. His debt was forgiven. This is mercy. And the God I wish you knew is merciful. He is the King who forgives our enormous debt and lets us off scott free! Jesus says, “Be merciful as your Father is merciful.”

The second definition of mercy is “compassionate treatment of those in distress.”   Helping those in need is sometimes called “acts of mercy.” As we’ll see in a moment, most of the references to mercy in the gospels are this kind of mercy: helping those in need. Healing the sick. Feeding the hungry.

Jesus told a story in Luke 10 that illustrates this kind of mercy. It’s the story of Good Samaritan. A Jewish man is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he is attacked by bandits that beat him, rob him and leave him for dead in the road. Along comes a priest—a pastor—he sees the man but does nothing except walk on by. Then along comes a Levite—an assistant pastor—he too sees the man and just walks on by. So two good religious Jews have just left their brother in the road and done nothing. Then along comes a Samaritan—an enemy of the Jews, someone you would expect to finish the man off! Instead, he takes pity on the man, binds up his wounds, puts him on his donkey, takes him to an emergency room and pays for his care! Jesus asked, “Which of the three was a neighbor to the man who fell in the hands of the robbers?

Luke 10:37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

What is mercy in this story? It is simply showing compassion to someone in need, helping someone who needs help.

God is merciful and He shows this kind of mercy to us. He helps us in our weakness and need.

Mercy is offering compassion and forgiveness to those who fail, and it is offering compassion and help to those in need.

I read once that the Biblical notion of mercy is stepping into another person’s skin, and seeing life from their perspective. God’s mercy was supremely expressed in Jesus. At Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation; God came to earth as one of us. Almighty God entered our world wrapped in human flesh, as a helpless baby. God literally stepped into our skin, and saw life from our perspective. Jesus is God’s mercy in its fullest expression, so it’s no surprise that we see God’s mercy everywhere in the life of Jesus.

 

  1. The teaching of Jesus: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

Mercy is a theme in the teaching of Jesus. It shows up in the Beatitudes, where Jesus said:

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

Blessed or happy are the merciful. What’s the opposite of merciful? Merciless. Hardhearted. Mean. Does anybody say, “Happy are the merciless?” Or the hardhearted or mean? Mean people suck! Merciful people are blessed or happy, and one reason is that they will be shown mercy. What goes around comes around. It’s the law of reciprocity. Show mercy; get mercy.

Mercy shows up in Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount:

Luke 6:36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

And it shows up again, interestingly enough, in His judgment on the religious leaders of His day.

Matthew 23:23 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Here, Jesus accuses the religious leaders of neglecting the more important matters: justice, mercy and faithfulness. They weren’t to quit tithing—Jesus clearly says that they should continue to do that, but do it while paying attention to the more important matters. They had neglected mercy. They were hard on people. Instead of a helping hand, they loaded people up with more burdens. They offered condemnation and rejection to sinners, instead of offering forgiveness and help.   Jesus addresses their lack of mercy in other places too.

Matthew 9:9–13 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

“Go and learn what this means.” Then Jesus quotes a verse that they would have known.

Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

The prophet Hosea said that God wanted mercy, not sacrifice; He wanted the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. God wanted something more than their ceremonies, their sacrifices and burnt offerings. He wanted them to love Him and love each other. He wanted mercy. He wanted relationship. Religion tends to devolve into ceremonialism, ritualism. We end up going through the motions of our ceremonies, our rituals, and as Jesus said, neglecting the more important matters.

ILL: When I was in college, I traveled with a band called The Joyful Noise. One Friday afternoon, we were setting up our gear in a church in Portland. We got hot hauling the gear in, and so we stripped off our coats and set them on the communion table. Big mistake! An elder in the church wandered in, saw our coats on the communion table and went ballistic. He let us have it with both barrels. We were disrespecting the holy furniture! We apologized and moved our coats, but he was still mad. I think Jesus might say, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” What’s more important to God: the communion table (a piece of furniture) or people? He had lost sight of the more important matters.

This is what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had done too. They were upset with Jesus because He was eating with irreligious people, violating their rules. What was more important: their rules or these people? Clearly, Jesus was more concerned about people than their fussy religious regulations. “I want mercy, not sacrifice.” Jesus wanted them to show mercy to other people more than concentrating on their sacrifices, all their religious rituals.

Christianity is about mercy and relationships, not rules and rituals. It’s about loving God with all you’ve got and loving people too. “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Jesus said it again in:

Matthew 12:1–8 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” 3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

This time, the issue is keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath law was very simple: every 7th day, don’t work but rest. But they had made it very detailed and complex. Work had to be defined and they came up with 39 categories of work; each of those was broken down into thousands of small tasks. In this story, the disciples were guilty of several infractions. By picking the grain they were guilty of reaping; by rubbing it in their hands they were guilty of threshing; by separating the grain and the chaff they were guilty of winnowing; and by the whole process they were guilty of preparing a meal on the Sabbath day. (Barclay)

Here again, religion was no longer about relationship but about rules or rituals. Jesus pointed out that their great King David had broken the law by eating the consecrated bread, and that the priests on duty in the Temple on the Sabbath violate the Sabbath by working! Their own Scriptures showed that there are legitimate exceptions. And Jesus explained that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. In other words, the law was given for our benefit, to serve us. God’s purpose in giving the Sabbath law was to help us, not to burden us. Religion elevates the rules above people; mercy puts people first.  

They were upset that the disciples were eating on the Sabbath! Religion is easily offended; mercy is not. What would mercy have done? Offered them food. Offered to help them.

Jesus insisted on mercy. Why? Because He is God and God is merciful. Mercy shows up in Jesus’ teaching, but especially in His actions.

 

  1. The prayer Jesus always answers: “Lord, have mercy on me!”

There is one prayer that Jesus always answered: “Lord, have mercy on me.” People in need often called out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me,” and every time, Jesus did. Here are a few examples.

Matthew 9:27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

What happened next? Jesus asked them, “Do you believe I’m able to do this?” When they answered yes, Jesus touched their eyes and healed them. “Lord have mercy on me!” And He did.

Matthew 15:22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

What happened next is really interesting! Jesus didn’t answer this woman, so she continued to cry out until finally his disciples begged him to send her away. The inference is that the disciples suggested to Jesus that He give her what she wants and gets rid of her. Jesus responds that He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. This seems odd since in other places Jesus clearly says that He has come for the whole world. And we know that He healed Gentiles, like the Roman centurion’s servant in Matthew 8. So why does Jesus say here that he’s only come to help the Jews? Some have suggested that it was a matter of timing: the promised blessings of God’s Kingdom were to come to Israel first and then to the rest of the world. And others have suggested that Jesus is awakening faith in this woman. He knows what He’s doing, and He is answering her prayer by helping her come to faith.

The woman kneels before Jesus and says, “Lord, help me.” Jesus replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.” This sounds so harsh. To call someone a dog was an insult. But Jesus’ tone and facial expression aren’t recorded, and those change everything. If I smile and say to a friend, “You dog,” he doesn’t take it as an insult. I think Jesus must have been smiling and said this in such a way that the woman didn’t take it as an insult at all. She certainly wasn’t put off by it like you would be by an insult. Instead, she had a snappy comeback. “You’re right—you shouldn’t feed the children’s bread to the dogs. But even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the children’s plates.” How many of you have dogs that park themselves right under the baby’s high chair? They know where the food is coming from! I think Jesus laughed, and then He said, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed.

It looked for a moment that Jesus wasn’t going to answer this prayer, “Lord have mercy on me.” But He did. He always does…although not always as we hoped.

This last story was hard for me to write. I wrote it on Friday just before we put our dog down. Lucy has been part of our family for 14 years. For the last 14 years she has followed me wherever I go in our house or on our property. She has gone on every run and walk with me for 14 years. She has been my constant companion and one of my best friends. I cried, “Lord have mercy on me.” We’ve had a lot of loss this year. But Lucy didn’t get well, and mercy for her required that we put her down. But God has shown me mercy in other ways: comforting me, reminding me, healing me, helping me. I’ve been praying, “Lord, have mercy on me.” A couple more examples:

Matthew 17:14–16 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

“Lord, have mercy on my son.” This is the heart cry of a parent for a suffering child. What happened next? Jesus had words for His disciples, then healed the boy. He had mercy on that boy and on his father.

Many of you know that our second son, Jeff, had Asperger’s, a form of high-functioning autism. Like this father, we prayed for our son—for years. We prayed for healing, and while Jeff was never fully healed, we saw growth and improvement. We asked for mercy for him and for us, and God answered in many ways. Not only did we see small steps forward in Jeff, but we saw improvements in our relationship with him. And when Jeff died unexpectedly at 22, God had mercy on us in more ways than I can count.

“Lord, have mercy on my son, my daughter.” Moms and dads, do you have a special needs child, a child who has wandered from you or from the faith, a child that is breaking your heart? Let’s pray right now and ask God for mercy. Prayer.

Matthew 20:29–30 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

This is blind Bartimaeus and a friend. They are in Jericho, last stop for pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. That’s where Jesus is headed—to Jerusalem to give His life for us. He’s on His way to do the most important thing that will be done in human history. And a couple blind beggars interrupt Him, crying for mercy. The crowd hushes them, but they just shouted all the louder, “Lord, have mercy on us!” What happened next?

Matthew 20:32-33 Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 33 “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” 34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

What happened next? Jesus stopped. On His way to the cross to give His life for the world, Jesus stopped for two blind beggars…and had mercy on them. Jesus healed them. Jesus was not too busy then, and He’s not now either. He will hear your cry and answer.

“Lord, have mercy on me.” I believe this is the prayer that Jesus always answers, and if you call on Him, He will have mercy on you too.

I’ll finish with a story Jesus told in Luke 18.

Luke 18:9–14 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”

“Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Many people call this “the Jesus Prayer” and they pray it over and over. It’s a good prayer, and one that I want to invite you to pray with me right now.

If you need God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness and God’s help in some area of your life, in just a moment I’ll ask you to stand and we’re going to pray with you and for you. I want you to simply put your hands up like this in a posture of surrender and reception. I want you to simply pray the Jesus Prayer, and people around you will touch you and I’m going to pray for all of us.

Prayer

What will I do?

Who will I tell?