Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)
Mercy, most certainly, is one of the most beautiful words in the English language. It speaks of a forgiveness unmerited but, none the less granted to an individual. In the Bible we see the mercy of God displayed in the life of Jesus.
Tax collectors were notoriously greedy and merciless individuals. They extorted larger amounts of money than was their due and made a very comfortable living at the expense of their fellow countrymen. One day, God’s mercy was extended to a tax collector called Matthew…..and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the Gospel of John, Chapter 4, we read about a Samaritan woman who had had five previous husbands and was now living with a man who was not her husband. Not a likely candidate for mercy, but the love of God reached out to such as this woman and opened up the way of salvation to her.
In the Old Testament, we read of Joseph, the young man who was cruelly sold into slavery by his brothers, extending mercy towards the very men who plotted his ruin. Mercy triumphed over judgement.
There are many other beautiful examples of mercy in the Bible. In the New Testament, one of these is in Matthew 1:18-19.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a just man, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
Judgement is what was called for in this case, yet Joseph did not choose that path. Have you ever wondered why he chose another way? In Isaiah 42:1-3, Joseph would have read of a law that was higher than justice….it was mercy.
‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.’
In his book 'Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes’, Kenneth E.Bailey, has written; “ Joseph looked beyond the penalties of the law in order to reach out with tenderness to a young woman who was no doubt bruised and exhausted. Perhaps he saw Mary as a ‘dimly burning wick’. This definition of justice required a compassionate concern for the weak, the downtrodden and the outcasts in their need.’ Joseph chose mercy over judgement thus saving the life of Mary and the unborn child she bore.
When Christ came to earth, his mission could have been one of judgement and exacting payment from a sinful people. Instead, he reached out with mercy to the ‘bruised reed’ and the ‘smouldering wick’
Thank God for mercy.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Some of the most thrilling episodes in The Bible are when men like Joseph and Daniel show us how to live a life completely devoted to God, with not a hint of a concession. Even in times of temptation and trials, these men stand head and shoulders above many others that we read of.
So what was their ‘secret’? Quite simply, they decided that they would make no compromises; they would not experiment with what degree of sin they could indulge in before it harmed themselves or others.They trusted God with ‘ALL’ their hearts. They submitted to him in ‘ALL’ their ways’. Not so, Lot! The NLT Study Bible, speaking of Lot, tells us that; “Although he denounced gross evil, Lot preferred Sodom’s sumptuous lifestyle to life in the hills where there was clean living but none of the ‘good life’”.
Lot and his family lived in reasonable comfort in Sodom and Lot held on to his personal belief in God; but finally he could not hold on to both! It would be one or the other. Peter writes that Lot was tormented by the things that he saw in Sodom and Gomorrah. The Sodomites were totally unconcerned about their sin but Lot was not. He understood that his neighbours were living compromised and sinful lives. He understood sin. As someone once said, “Sodom would have destroyed Lot if the Lord had not destroyed Sodom.”
“However, though he was not wicked himself, he did nothing to remove himself from his evil situation. There is the problem. He lingered. He was willing to coexist with sin.” (John W. Ritenbaugh)
Does this not sound all too familiar? There are areas of sin that Christians today willing co-exist with. Amongst the last words that we read of Jesus speaking as a free man, before his arrest are these,
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)
Jesus knew that, like Lot, many of his present and future followers would find it a challenge to submit ‘all’ to God. But that challenge still echoes loud and clear down through the millennia to where we are today.He is still looking for those who will trust Him with ‘all’ their heart. He still calls to us to submit ‘all’ our ways to Him.
Who will rise to the challenge? Who will refuse to compromise? God grant, it will be every one of us.
‘He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.’ (John 3:30)
Recently, I was re-reading the sad story of one of the judges of Israel. His name was Samson. I came to this story for the first time as an adult, not having seen or held a Bible until I was aged seventeen. I have to be honest in saying that Samson has never been one of my favourite characters. I wonder if there is anyone else who shares my sentiments.
The NLT Study Bible observes that, ‘Samson was a rescuer of Israel without even trying or caring. He did not care about his people, his family or his God’. However, there is no doubt about it, God was able, for a short time, to use Samson despite his shortcomings. Eventually, though, Samson effectively abandoned his calling which led to his gifting being stripped from him. Only, at the end of his life, when he called out to God, did God anoint him again for service one last time.
Has the thought ever crossed your mind about how much more God would have used Samson if only he had had stepped aside from his own desires and followed God with a pure heart? It is a very sobering thought that, probably, most of the plan for his life was never realised. How true is that of many Christians today! I remember a preacher once saying that most people don’t get out of the way long enough for God to use them deeply.
When speaking about ‘Helping Others’, Madam Guyon wrote:
“It certainly is a great death to self to unselfishly release the work of the Lord. Do not step out of the path in which He leads you. When you mix your ‘self' in what He is doing, you only get in the way and slow down all progress.”
If only Samson had got out of the way, how different his story could have been. He could have been acclaimed with the likes of Joseph, David and Daniel. It’s too late now for Samson, but it’s not too late for us. Let us all endeavour not to ‘mix our self in what He is doing’ and stand back and see how much God can accomplish in, and through, each one of us.
A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. (Proverbs 29:11)
The story of Gideon is one of the Bible’s much loved stories and has been a children’s favourite for many generations. The protagonist was an unsuspecting hero who was taken from a lowly place of obscurity to become the much renowned judge of Israel.
However, Gideon isn’t the only hero in this story. There are thousands of others who get overlooked, but whose faithfulness and obedience is exemplary.
There came a time when Gideon amassed an army of 32,000 men to fight against the Midianites. It says a lot about Gideon’s character and leadership that such a sizeable army rallied at the call of a former unknown Israelite. However, as Gideon prepares for battle, God speaks to him and says:
You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. (Joshua 7:2,3)
However, this number was still too big and the number was reduced further. 9700 of the willing men were sent home while only 300 were allowed to remain and fight.
Think for a minute. How would you have felt, having offered yourself for battle, now being told you are not needed? Many a brave man would take offence at this, become angry or argumentative. However, that is not what we are told happened. We are told that they handed over their ‘provisions and trumpets’ to the remaining 300. Presumably they returned home as their comrades marched into battle.
We can feel sympathy for these men. They were willing to fight for freedom from their oppressors but were rejected. However, we can also feel intensely proud of them. They acted like men, not like children. As far as we know, they did not take offence at this rejection; they did not get angry or defiant. They did what they were told, thus allowing the enemy to be pursued and a great victory won.
I wonder how many battles are lost in life because people take offence; people make loud noises about perceived injustices? How many friendships are forfeited because a man or woman ‘gives full vent to his spirit’ rather than quietly accepting a seeming reproach with dignity and godliness? There is a nobility in being used by God but there is also a nobility in waiting quietly on sidelines.
“They also serve who only stand and wait.” John Milton
And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)
In the final chapters of the gospels, we read, with sadness, the details of Jesus’ death. However, in the midst of the darkness, there are beacons of light that shine brightly from Golgotha’s hill. Here are three of them.
The first is the repentance of the dying thief and Jesus’ word of hope to him:
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
The second is related to a man called Simon; we read in Mark 15:21:
“A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.” (Mark 15:21)
We can only imagine the impact that carrying Jesus’ cross had on Simon of Cyrene. Picture Jesus weakened from the scourgings, and faint from loss of blood. Perhaps at one point, He turned His bloodied face to Simon and uttered words of thanks to the one who was relieving Him of one of His burdens. I imagine that, arriving at Golgotha, Simon was not quick to return home. I can see him among the crowds of onlookers, mockers, and loved ones gathered at the scene watching and waiting to see this tragedy through to the end. Was Simon there when darkness covered the whole land from the sixth to the ninth hour? If so, he would have heard the pleading of Jesus, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. Luke 23:34. Then he would hear the final cry of triumph, “It is finished”. (John 19:30.) Perhaps only then he returned home.
Picture Simon, a subdued and solemn figure, entering his house, then sharing with his family the heart wrenching scenes of the day.
Although this is conjecture we do know that Mark, who mentioned Simon’s sons Rufus and Alexander in his gospel, was writing his narrative to Christians in Rome. Likewise, the apostle Paul, when writing his letter to the Romans says, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.” (Romans 16:13). Many believe that Mark and Paul are referring to the same family. It would seem that all were impacted by the life of Jesus.
The third beacon of light is the reaction of the centurion to Jesus’ death:
“And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)
Notice the centurion’s words; he saw ‘how’ Jesus died’. Friends, the lives of countless millions of people down through the ages have been affected by how Jesus lived and how Jesus died. The repentant thief, Simon of Cyrene and the centurion are just three of them.
The apostle Peter once wrote:
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12)
Let us thank God today for the example Jesus set us in life and in death as ‘how’ to live... and let’s go and do likewise.
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