What does "mercy" mean? And whose responsibility is it? These are some of the questions that Reverend Dennis Ashley addressed this morning in his message.
First, what is mercy? We think of it as the opposite of justice. Justice is when you get what you deserve. Mercy is when you don't. Rev. Ashley gave the illustration of a car speeding. If somebody speeds past you on the road, you hope that the police pull them over and justice is served. In other words, they should get the traffic ticket they deserve. Mercy, on the other hand, is what you wish for when YOU are the one speeding. You hope that the cop will know that you are a good person, and let you off with a warning. Basically, you hope for mercy for yourself and the people you like, and justice for the people you don't.
So, is this how God works? Does he pick and choose who gets justice and who gets mercy? Does he have the same criteria, depending on whether he likes you or not? Does he give you mercy only if you are a good person?
Oddly enough, the Bible passage for today (Titus 3:1-7) seems to say the opposite. Verses 3-5 read: "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy." He had mercy on us, not because we were good, but because he loved us. We are good because of his mercy. He is not merciful because we are good. This is called "Grace." Grace is what happens when God sets aside what we deserve, and instead gives us forgiveness, even adopting us into his own family.
So the next question is: who does God have mercy on?
Reverend Ashley argues that God's mercy is for EVERYONE. It is not just for good people. It is not just for people we like. It is universally available. And there is biblical proof for this.
2 Peter 3:9 states: "...he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." 1 John 2:1 reads: "...if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One." And Paul says in Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
So what is our responsibility in all of this?
First, if you don't know Jesus Christ, you need to meet him. Did you read the verse above from 1 John? It says that if anybody sins, they have an advocate. And that advocate is Jesus Christ. Going back to the speeding ticket analogy, Jesus is the guy who stands up with you in court and says "I know this guy. In fact, I'll pay his fine. In fact, put the points on my license instead of his." Now, the best thing is, since God is the judge, and is also Jesus' father, he says "Sure, son. You could use another brother. Let's not charge him, and then we'll adopt him." And there you go. You are part of God's family. The ultimate act of mercy.
Peter said that God doesn't want anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance. So, to get to this place of mercy, with Jesus as your advocate, you will need to repent. You probably know some ways that your life is not what God wants it to be. That is where you start. Now, you may be saying that this is too hard. You've tried to give up those things before, but you always keep coming back. God knows you need help. You need someone to save you, because none of us can do it on our own. Paul says in the book of Romans that you have to call on the name of the Lord. Talk to Jesus. Tell him the trouble you are having, and ask for his help. He will save you from your own sins. He has already promised that it is done. You just have to accept it. Back to the speeding ticket, it is as if Jesus is standing there in the courtroom, ready and willing to be your advocate, and you're saying "Never mind, Jesus. I've got this." Well, you really don't. None of us do. It doesn't matter what we've done or not done, we all have to make that decision to let him be our advocate, and to let God be our father.
So, you say, I have already done all of this. I have been a Christian for some time now. What does this have to do with me?
You are not off the hook. In fact, as God's child, you are expected to represent the family. As Christians, our job is to show the world God's mercy. Unfortunately, we are more likely to want to show God's justice. Our human mind wants people to get what they deserve. Especially people that we don't like, or that do things that we don't agree with, or who have wronged us in some way. But Jesus told us to love one another (John 13:34), to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31), and even to love our enemies (Luke 6:35). The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7, is about our responsibility , and it is all about forgiveness and mercy for others, no matter what they have done. Matthew 5:7 says "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." God's mercy is for everyone, and it is up to us to show it to a broken world.
I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.
For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.