Last week we examined how God’s people are to act justly. Now we turn our attention to the follow-up command of Micah 6:8: Love mercy.
- compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.
What’s not to love? Yet from a human perspective, mercy is hardly ‘fair’ and the Bible is full of such examples:
- It wasn’t fair when a city who burned, beheaded, and dismembered people, repented of their evil and were spared destruction. [Jonah 3]
- It wasn’t fair when David, leader of Israel, slept with a woman, had her innocent husband slayed, then utterly repented before God and was restored. [2 Sam. 12:1–15]
- It wasn’t fair when the self-centered character of Jesus’s imagination, the younger son who dishonored, demanded and dwindled his family’s money, was welcomed and celebrated upon returning home. [Luke 15: 11 – 32]
- It wasn’t fair when the life-long criminal dying on the cross next to Jesus gained paradise. [Luke 23:40-43]
- It wasn’t fair when Saul, instigator of the murder of countless first century Christians, professed Jesus as the one true God and went on to became God’s chosen writer, teacher, and pastor. [Acts 9]
Actual people were hurt, wronged, and even killed by the above perpetrators. The injustices they committed were very real. And so was their repentance.
Repentance – the common thread in the above list. When a humble human heart turns from sin and turns to God, ushering in mercy and grace. What a beautiful thing.
Unless, of course, we’re the one who’s been wronged. We’ll stick with justice thank you very much. It’s easy to distance ourselves from the plight of Bathsheba, or the mothers of fathers who lost loved ones by the murderous hand of Saul.
‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’, Jesus tells us in Luke 6:36.
But how? He tells us that too, rather directly, in the preceding verse: ‘Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.’ [Luke 6:35]
Identify your enemy. Do him or her good. That’s how we show mercy. God’s great mercy, extended to us, enable us to do just that because God extends his mercy, his salvation, to our ‘enemies’. Sounds lovely, embraceable, until we truly think about it:
- What if that person, the one in real life who hurt me or my child, repents and receives God’s mercy?
- What If that group of people that I fervently oppose humbles themselves and turns to God?
- What if that criminal who committed that atrocity came to know God’s freely given grace?
- What if that political leader, the one who makes your blood boil, repents and turns to Christ?
Loving mercy may seem impossible now. We need God’s mercy to show mercy.
Church, would we rejoice if our enemy repented? Would we even believe them? A tree is known by its fruit, but have we grown so jaded we can’t even imagine the possibility of the gospel seed taking root and sprouting there? In him? In her? Would we grumble like sulky Jonah did while the city of Nineveh sat in sackcloth and fasted and ‘called urgently on God’ and ‘gave up their evil ways’?
Our God-given sense of justice flares when wrong goes unpunished, and rightly so. God’s mercy doesn’t negate his justice. God asserts ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ Neither does biblical mercy preclude natural consequences and/or punishment. The same God who instructed his people to leave the harvest at the edge of their fields for the poor and the foreigner [Lev. 23:22] also knows our penchant for laziness and said, ‘If anyone doesn’t want to work, he shouldn’t eat.’ [2 Thes.3:10] and ‘If you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.’ [Romans 13:4]
Mercy cannot be demanded; it can only be given.
And when God gifts someone with a contrite and broken spirit that leads to true repentance, made possible by the cross of Jesus Christ, we enter a new story. In fact Jesus told stories to show us how to love mercy and rejoice when others repent:
There was a man who had two sons. One demanded and squandered his inheritance, until he realized his sin and returned home and his father rejoiced… [and others in Luke 15]
The father rejoiced over his rebel son because the rebel son repented. God withdrew his vengeance on the brutal Ninevites because they turned from evil and turned to God. Repentance ushers in mercy; pride and stubbornness prevent it. Two criminals died on crosses alongside Jesus: one who acknowledged his sin and one who didn’t. One who reached out for Jesus, and one who mocked him. One who received mercy and grace and paradise, and one who was sentenced to hell. Which is what we all deserve. That’s how short we fall next to a holy God.
We’re only able to recognize mercy when we recognize what is just, what we rightly deserve. Jesus himself says he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He didn’t become one of us to do nice things and give inspiring speeches, he became one of us to take our place. He didn’t eat with tax collectors and prostitutes to assure them they were alright with God, to not worry about God’s standards because at least they tried hard, as he spent time with them he called them to repentance. A sinful person can’t come close to a holy and just God. So God in his love for us sent Jesus. In the ultimate swap, Jesus took our rightful punishment, God’s just demands were met, blood and mercy flowed from the cross.
Perfectly demonstrated, once and for all, enabling us to simultaneously act justly and love mercy. As Tim Keller puts it, “If a person has grasped the meaning of God’s grace in his heart, he will do justice.”
With God’s help, we can train ourselves to love mercy. We can…
- hug the child who broke the dish
- speak kindness while tempers flare
- pray for those who oppose us
- give and expect nothing in return
- bite our tongue from having the final word
- offer our spouse the bigger piece of cake
- yield the parking spot
- forgive our brother again, and one more time, and yet again
- give her the benefit of the doubt
- fill a need without any fanfare
- have compassion on our enemies
We can love mercy because we are lost without God’s.
‘Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.’ – Ephesians 2:4-5