This week in worship, we continue our worship series, “What is God Like? The Attributes of God based on Psalm 86. Pastor Doug will be sharing this week that “God is Merciful and Gracious.”
God is rich in mercy and transforms us from people who are dead in our selfishness and makes us alive in Christ.
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The first video below is JUST THE SERMON.
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The video below is the WHOLE SERVICE.
God is Merciful and Gracious
What’s the earliest memory you have of the word “mercy?” Is it from your home or Sunday School, a movie or song, a prayer or worship?
My early memories of the word “Mercy” include a man named Ned Martin. Ned Martin was not a relative, pastor, or friend. He was the play-by-play announcer for the Boston Red Sox when I was a boy. He was incredibly literate and would quote great writers like William Shakespeare and Ernest Hemingway. As I went to sleep listening to Red Sox games on the radio, I’d hear his catchphrase “Mercy!” which summed up moments of Red Sox history when something good, beneficial, and often unexpected happened that as a fan I was thankful for: “What a catch by Yastrzemski, mercy!”
Ned Martin’s use of the word mercy reflects one level of what we associate with that word. When someone shows mercy to us or is merciful, we welcome it as good and beneficial, unexpected, and we’re thankful for it.
The Bible teaches that God is merciful and gracious and that is good and beneficial for us, it may strike us as unexpected and we’re grateful for it. Psalm 86.15 says, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
Another aspect of mercy is withholding deserved punishment, while grace is the act of showing unmerited favor.
Mercy and grace are two sides of a coin – and the coin is love.
Mercy is compassionate love to the weak, and grace is generous love to the unworthy.
Jesus’s life and ministry are marked by mercy and grace. Listen to Matthew 9:9-13,
9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
This expression says a lot about Jesus’ understanding of what God is like, it’s a theme in the Bible, and reflects Jesus’ approach to people. God is merciful and gracious. Jesus is merciful and gracious. God wants you to be merciful and gracious. It’s not hard to understand. It’s harder to live and practice in your relationships and interactions with others.
Jesus uses this phrase a second time in Matthew 12:7-8 where once again the Pharisees are criticizing him for what his disciples are doing on the Sabbath (plucking heads of grain and eating them), and Jesus concludes his response by saying, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
God is more interested in a relationship than a ritual.
God wants to see mercy in your heart, soul, and life, more than burnt offerings or some religious observance.
Mercy is a sense of compassion and deeply felt love, especially for those who are suffering.
Zechariah 7:9-10 sums up how mercy and kindness look in our thinking, speech, and behavior.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”
You can ponder how well you’re doing those things individually, how well our leaders are doing them – especially those who claim to be Christians, and how we’re doing or not doing them as a nation.
Sadly, Zechariah reports the people failed to do these things. I’ll let him tell what happened as a result, (Zechariah 7:11-12),
“But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears in order not to hear. They made their hearts adamant in order not to hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts.”
God is merciful and gracious, but when people fail to show kindness and mercy and fail to protect and care for the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor, when people fail to render true judgments and devise evil in their hearts, then God’s wrath and judgment falls on the people. We don’t want to make the mistake the people made in the time of the former prophets and in Zechariah’s time. We want to hear and obey God and be merciful and gracious.
If ever there was a time for more mercy and kindness – it’s now. Nature writer John Hay, who spent decades in Brewster before moving to Maine when Cape Cod got too crowded, said near the end of his life, “It seems to me that we are in the midst of a crisis of empathy. We lack empathy for other species, other cultures, other peoples. This isn’t very grown up of us.” (The Prophet of Dry Hill, 91).
The Letter of James 2.1-13 describes what happens when we lack empathy, mercy, and love, and are motivated instead by bias, partiality and judgment and it concludes (James 2:13), “For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
You wouldn’t know that from a lot of Christian history.
It’s not apparent today observing how many high-profile individuals who identify themselves as Christians live, speak and act toward other people, or by the policies they push and support, but God’s Word says, mercy triumphs over judgment. Too often Christians, and many other people, seem to be better at and more frequent practitioners of judgment rather than mercy. When this is the case, we miss the heart of Jesus’ teaching, and we misrepresent the gospel.
A basic truth of the Bible is that God is merciful. Hebrew uses several words for ‘mercy,’ of which the most frequent is “ḥesed,” which means loving-kindness, mercy, love, loyalty, and faithfulness all rolled into one. One of the most repeated descriptions of God in the Bible is found in Psalm 86:15 and many other verses: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” (see Exodus 34:6, Deuteronomy 4:31, 2 Chronicles 30:9, Nehemiah 9:17, 31, Psalms 103:8, 111:4, 116:5, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2, James 5:11).
You know how you feel when you know you’ve done something wrong – that anxious, stomach churning sense of dread – before you’ve either confessed or been caught?
Sin ties us up in knots. Mercy is freeing.
That’s why it’s important to understand that God sees us through eyes of mercy, forgives us when we acknowledge our sin and turn from it, and God’s mercy is lavished upon us every day.
Lamentations 3:22-23 declares, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
These wonderful words about the love, mercy, and faithfulness of the Lord appear in perhaps the saddest book of the Bible – Lamentations; they’re written to people who experienced the deaths of many of their loved ones and friends.
In a book whose pages are dripping with tears, we’re reminded of the mercy of God. Why? Maybe because in the face of the worst that can happen to us – the death of those we love, it’s at those moments when we may doubt or question God’s love or faithfulness. It’s then more than ever we need to hear and be reassured that God’s mercy is real and new every day even in the face of the evil done by people. What if we began each day saying, “Lord, open my eyes to see and share your mercy in my life, in my relationships, at work, at school, in traffic, everywhere I am.”
In the New Testament, we see the emphasis on mercy in book after book.
Luke 1:58 states that when Elizabeth gave birth to her son who would become John the Baptist, “Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.” We began the service with three passages that highlight the mercy of God: Ephesians 2:4-5, Titus 3:4-5, and 1 Peter 1:3. These scriptures affirm that God is rich in mercy and transforms us from people who are dead in our selfishness and makes us alive in Christ. We have a new birth into a living hope and are baptized and renewed by the Holy Spirit. All this is done according to God’s mercy. God has been merciful to us and calls us to Be Merciful to others.
The promise of divine mercy is given in The Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
The encouragement to be merciful is stated in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Mercy is giving people what they need, not what they deserve. If you want mercy for yourself, share it with everyone else.
God desires us to be merciful in our relationships and interactions with others.
One way to tilt the balance in our own mind from judgment to mercy is to remember that only God is in a position to look down on anyone.
Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:45) that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
Jesus repeatedly shows mercy to the needy whose one request is usually, “Lord, have mercy on me.” In Luke 17:11-19 ten lepers call out to him (v. 13), “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” and he heals them. In Luke 18:38 a blind man shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And the Lord did. If you’re hurting today, have you asked Jesus for mercy? If you need forgiveness, have you asked God for mercy?
There’s also the example of the Apostle Paul – God showed him mercy rather than judgment. If anyone deserved judgment it was Paul who approved of those who stoned Stephen to death (see Acts 8:1-3). Paul was a persecutor of the church and then God’s mercy broke through his self-righteous pride and judgment on the road to Damascus.
We heard earlier the words of 1Timothy 1:12-17 where Paul described his experience with God’s mercy, concluding, “But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.” Paul became a great evangelist, missionary, and church planter. Everywhere he went he told the story of God’s mercy in Christ.
The vessel of mercy is perhaps the best container for conveying the good news about God’s love for us in Christ.
The greatest witness for the church through its history has been acts of mercy like starting hospitals, schools, feeding the hungry, taking in orphans and unwanted children, responding to disasters, and helping the most vulnerable in practical ways. Mercy benefits both those who extend it and receive it.
Mother Teresa wrote,
“We will never know all the good a smile can do. We speak about our God who is good, merciful, and compassionate. Are we a living token of that reality? Those who suffer – Can they perceive in us that goodness, that forgiveness, that living understanding? May no one ever come to you without going away better and happier. Everyone should see kindness in your face, in your eyes, your smile.”
Sometimes we may think or feel that some spiritual things are beyond us, or we just don’t get them. But the beauty of mercy is it takes no formal education or specific training or expensive preparation. We don’t have to be theological giants to practice mercy; we just have to act and speak mercifully on a consistent basis, to all people at all times, in person, on social media, whatever the context, and we need to encourage mercy in all aspects of our culture.
We can be thankful today because God is merciful. God sees us through eyes of mercy, forgives us, and God’s mercy is new every morning. If you want mercy for yourself, share it with others. God has told us, what is good; and what does the Lord require of us but to do justice, and to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God?
Would people use the words merciful and gracious to describe you?
Would you like people to do that?
There are few things that could have a greater impact on improving the quality of human life at every level of society than an increase in mercy.
Being merciful in our families, church, school, community, and in the world is one of the most attractive and inviting, and Christ-like things we can do. Being merciful not only makes us more like Christ, it makes you feel better, lowers your blood pressure and your stress level, and it’s one of the most effective ways of earning a hearing for the gospel.
Remember, it’s when we deserve mercy the least that we need it the most.
So, let us Be Merciful – who knows whose life God may touch, transform, and change through you? The first just might be your own.
Blessing: “Beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. And have mercy on some who are wavering; and have mercy on still others with fear,” “May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.” Jude 1:21-23; 1:2.
Questions for Discussion or Reflection
- Why are mercy and grace such important aspects of the character of God? What do they mean for you? What do they motivate you to do?
- In response to criticism, Jesus twice quotes Hosea 6:6 (KJV), “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Why is this verse so significant to the prophet and to Jesus? What are its implications for you?
- Have you ever judged someone in such a way which you later realized was not merciful, accurate, or fair? What happened? What did you learn from the experience?
- Lamentations 3:22-23 declares, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” How does focusing on the love, mercy, and the faithfulness of God help us when we’re lamenting or in grief?
- What does James 2:13 say about the relationship between living as a merciful person and God’s judgment of our life (see also Matthew 25:31-46 and Luke 16:19-31)?
- How can you cultivate the virtue and attitude of mercy in your interactions with and perceptions of others?