Merciful Gracious Compassionate ~ 20160207 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
02/07 Merciful, Gracious, Compassionate; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160207_merciful-gracious-compassionate.mp3
We are seeking to know God, to increase in our affection for him as we listen to what he says about himself. This greatest of all beings, is profoundly worthy of our adoration and worship. We have looked at some of his essential attributes, those describing his very being, his essence, how he relates to his creation, to time, to space. We have looked at some of the characteristics which set him apart from us, in a class by himself, utterly unique and different - holy, and we are looking at some of the characteristics of which we find a faint reflection in us his creation, we who are made to reflect his image.
Last time we looked at God's goodness. We used Stephen Charnock's definition: “the goodness of God is his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures.” We saw that God is good in and of himself, in his very nature. He is the source of all good. And although he is not obligated to extend his goodness to any, he is good to all. In varying degrees, as he sees fit, he gives to each one better than we deserve. He is inclined to do us good. And he is our ultimate good. Although many settle for enjoying his good gifts, our supreme good is to enjoy forever the good giver of all those gifts.
In Exodus 33,
God's goodness is defined here by God's right to freely extend grace and mercy to whom he will. His goodness is then declared to Moses in chapter 34
God's goodness is proclaimed as mercy, grace, longsuffering, covenant love, faithfulness, and justice. Today we will look at God's mercy, his grace, and his patience.
Although there is much overlap in these concepts, the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921; p.206 ff.) helpfully distinguishes them according to whom they are directed. He writes that 'mercy is God's goodness toward those in misery and distress; grace is God's goodness toward the guilty; longsuffering is God's goodness manifested in patience toward those who are deserving of punishment.'
Moses (d. 1406 or 1220 BC)
Throughout the Scriptures we see that God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger. God revealed this to Moses. In Moses' instructions to the generation who would enter the promised land under Joshua, in Deuteronomy 4, he warns the people in coming generations not to fall into idolatry. He says that you will 'provoke the Lord to anger... you will soon utterly perish from the land … you will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples... you will be left few in number …where the Lord your God will drive you. And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands.' but he gives them hope and confidence, based on the character of God.
He grounds this hope, hope for repentance, hope of forgiveness, on the fact that the Lord is a merciful, compassionate God. God is inclined to be good toward those in misery and distress, even when that misery is self-induced.
Jonah (c.782-753 BC)
Some 500 – 700 years after Moses, Jonah, the reluctant prophet, is sent by God with a message of judgment to Nineveh, the great city of Assyria. When he finally delivers his message, the pagan king proclaims a fast, for everyone to turn from evil and cry out to God. He says:
Jonah's refusal to proclaim God's judgment on this wicked enemy of Israel was due to his understanding of the goodness of God, his inclination to extend help toward those in distress, to be patient toward those who deserve punishment, to be forgiving toward those who are guilty.
Hezekiah (715-686 BC)
Some 30 – 50 years after Jonah, Hezekiah had already seen the northern 10 tribes of Israel conquered by Assyria because of Israel's idolatry. After the wicked King Ahaz led Jerusalem in the abominations of rampant idolatry, King Hezekiah sought to cleanse Jerusalem from idolatry. He sent out an invitation to the remnant of Israel and Judah to return to the Lord and keep his Passover in Jerusalem.
Hezekiah finds hope for wayward people punished for their idolatry in the character of God. God is compassionate, merciful, gracious. He will turn away his fierce anger if his people will return to him.
Nehemiah (445 BC)
300 years later, after Judah had spent 70 years in captivity in Babylon, Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, and with Ezra sought to restore proper worship to God. In Nehemiah 9, a public prayer of worship and confession of sin, they recount the history of God's grace and mercy from Abraham through Egypt to Moses into freedom,
Then they recount the supernatural conquest of the promised land under Joshua, and their subsequent slide into complacent idolatry.
After the time of the judges, throughout the time of the kings,
The people under Ezra and Nehemiah turn to the Lord in hope in spite of their repeated history of sin because of God's character. He is ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, great in mercies. He does not forsake them.
Undeserved, Unmerited, Free
Mercy is God's goodness toward those in misery and distress. Grace is God's goodness toward those who deserve only punishment. In order to truly appreciate, to truly enjoy God's mercy and grace, we need to grasp what mercy and grace really mean, and how we relate to them. Mercy means I am miserable and needy. I am in a position with no way out and no way to help myself. To cry out for mercy is to recognize the desperate nature of my situation and ask for help from outside. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story that helps us to feel the weight of our desperate situation.
This is where the footnotes in your Bible can be very helpful. This servant owed ten thousand talents. What is that? What is a talent? The footnote in my Bible says that a talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years' wages for a laborer. I'm not sure what you take home in a year, but this man had embezzled 200,000 years worth of wages. He could not pay. He could never pay. So he was being sold. His wife, his children, everything that was dear to him was being sold. There was nothing this man could ever hope to do that would dig his way out of a hole that deep. It seems he didn't even understand the depth of his situation. He doesn't ask for mercy. He asks for patience. He asks for more time, an extension on the debt. As if given enough time he could somehow pay of the debt. But God doesn't work that way. Look at the response of the king.
Out of pity. Literally, his innards were moved for him. In the depth of his gut, he was moved with compassion. Pity. His situation was hopeless. The king knew that no amount of time would make it possible for him to repay even a fraction of what he owed.
But the king had been wronged. Robbed blind. This man was a liar. A cheat. An enemy. He had abused the king's trust, misused the king's resources. He deserved to be sold. He probably deserved much worse. He deserved to be hated. But instead the king was inclined toward pity. In verse 33, the king says 'I had mercy on you.'
The master released him fully. Complete pardon. The debt forgiven.
If you go on to read the rest of this parable, you will see that the point of the parable is how utterly out of place our unforgiving attitude toward the petty offenses of our brothers is in light of the staggering debt we have been released from. Clearly the servant didn't grasp the magnitude of the undeserved mercy that had been freely extended to him when he deserved so much worse. He just didn't get it. Although offered free pardon, he continued to operate as if he were under a system of debt. His heart wasn't moved. He wasn't changed.
Grace vs. Debt
Romans helps us understand grace by contrasting it with its opposite. In Romans 3:19, Paul has established the universal guilt of all mankind before God.
And then in verse 23 and following, he holds up the hope of grace.
Justification, legal pardon, forgiveness, being declared not guilty, our debt expunged, is a gift rooted in God's grace. It was not free. It is the most costly of all gifts. God paid the purchase price. Redemption in Christ Jesus, propitiation by blood sacrifice. God is not righteous if he merely lets sin slide, looks the other way, brushes it off as if it were no big deal. God in his patience had passed over former sins. This left a question mark on the righteous character of God. Does he really care about justice? How can he justify ungodly people? The price was paid in full. He paid it himself. He gives it to us by grace as a gift. Romans 4 clarifies what this means.
If you work, you earn wages. They are owed to you. They are due. Literally, this phrase could be translated 'to the one who works, the wages are not counted according to grace but according to debt.' Grace is the polar opposite of debt. Grace is unearned, undeserved, freely given, with no obligation. If you work you are entitled to a paycheck. And we have worked. We are entitled. The wages of sin is death. God owes us. He owes us death. He is only obligated to give us what we have earned. Grace is in a completely different category. We cannot demand it. We cannot presume upon it. God is in no way obligated to extend to us the least bit of grace. He is free to give us what we deserve, but it costs him dearly to extend to us grace. Faith is in a different category. It is not work. It is a total departure from the system of debt and obligation. It is a helpless dependence on the promised generosity of another, taking him at his word, gladly receiving a gift.
In Romans chapter 11, Paul speaks of the future of ethnic Israel, and the current unbelief of the majority of Jews, and he says:
Grace is freely extended to a remnant of Israelites, like Paul. It is not based on performance. If it were in any way attached to merit or obligation or earning, it would not be grace. Grace ceases to be grace if you are entitled to it.
2 Timothy 1 speaks of
God saved us, God called us not because of works but because of his own eternal purpose in Christ, because of grace - God's inclination to extend goodness toward those who deserve nothing but evil.
Ephesians 1 is an extended hymn of praise of God's glorious grace.
Ephesians 2 describes us as
And then he says:
Remember that you were separated, alienated, strangers, having no hope and without God. But now you have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Remember the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Remember God's undeserved, unmerited, unrestrained, free gift.
Until we feel the weight of the debt we owed, until we realize the extent which it cost God to forgive us, until we recognize he wasn't obligated to, he is just and free to exact from us every bit of what we owe, we, like the ungrateful servant, will not get grace. We will not understand mercy. Our hearts will not be moved. We will still operate under a system of debt. And we will miss out. If we feel entitled, if we feel God owed it to us to extend grace and mercy, we just don't get it. God would be just to give us all what we deserve, but God is inclined to deal well and bountifully with us. God is inclined to pity us, to extend goodness toward those in misery and distress. God is inclined to withhold his punishment toward those who continue to sin, eager to bring us to repentance. God is inclined to extend his voluntary, unrestrained, unmerited favor toward guilty sinners, granting us justification and life instead of the penalty of death, which we deserve. Let us praise the immeasurable riches of his mercy and grace!
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org