COG 125: Mercy, Part 1 | God
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Okay, so I want to just dive right into our new series, but let me say a couple things first.
1. The Celebration of God team and I want to make sure you always have free episode notes, transcripts, and related resources for each of our shows. It’s just another way we will try to equip you to worship God better this year than you did the year before.
2. This is our third year and 125th episode of The Celebration of God podcast. How awesome is that! Now, if you’re just learning about The Year Long Celebration of God, I want you to go to our website — CelebrationOfGod.com — and listen to our introductory podcast episodes. They will help you understand what The Year Long Celebration of God is and how to use it to mature your worship.
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3. One of the things I really miss about our first celebratory year was the focus we put on the major and minor holidays in The Year Long Celebration of God. We talked a lot about them the first year, and we kept everyone abreast of them the second year, but we’re likely not going to talk about them as much as I would like this year.
So, even though we hope to mention them from time to time and remind you about them on social media, please check out CelebrationOfGod.com to access all of our holiday resources. They will help you elevate the holidays to a place where they truly glorify God.
And speaking of glorifying God, I’m very excited to talk about God’s immense mercy.
1. The Season of Mercy
Within The Year Long Celebration of God we take each of the four seasons to focus on a unique element of God’s character — I know, how crazy to try to select only 4 attributes of our infinite God!
But we landed on Mercy, Grace, Life, and Power not because these concepts are the most important things about God, but because there is so much practical application to our lives and the fact that the holy days on the Christian calendar fit them so well.
So, this year we’re excited about starting each Season with a 4 part series highlighting the chosen attribute.
The first part of each series will help us understand each unique attribute as it relates to God and His character.
The second parts will carefully consider how each of the attributes affect our salvation.
The third part of each series will look at how God expects us to live out the attribute in our own lives.
And the final episode of each series will emphasize how we can celebrate God by giving special attention to the chosen attribute.
We will be in the Season of Mercy from now through the end of November, so let’s begin our season long celebration of the mercy of God.
2. The Definition of Mercy
I’m just going to come out and say right from the beginning that the distinction between mercy and grace is very important, but also vitally subtle.
They’re so closely related that some people use the ideas interchangeably, while others draw a firm line between the two with little to no overlap.
Here on this podcast we’ve often described mercy as God not giving us the consequences we deserve, while grace is God giving us blessings we don’t deserve. And I stand by this easy to remember understanding of the terms.
But this Season we want to deepen our appreciation for God and His mercy, so we need to dig deeper.
So, let’s start with . . .
A. A Secular Definition
According to Merriam-Webster, mercy has three main understandings.
The first definition is “compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power.”
The second definition is “a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion, or a fortunate circumstance.”
There you can see the blending of the not giving us what we deserve and the giving us what we don’t deserve.
And the third definition is “compassionate treatment of those in distress.”
Honestly, this one is so similar to the first with the main difference being that the individual in the first definition can easily be seen as deserving a negative consequence, whereas it could be argued that the person in the last definition is a victim of an unfortunate circumstance and is, therefore, not necessary deserving of what may happen to them.
But the key in these three definitions is the repeated word, compassion.
According to Merriam-Webster, compassion is "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”
And that is a beautiful definition of mercy.
So, let’s move to . . .
B. A Biblical Definition
The most common Hebrew and Greek words translated mercy are also frequently translated compassion. In fact, the Hebrew word most often associated with mercy is translated compassion far more times than mercy.
Another Hebrew word translated mercy one time has the idea of sparing something and is also translated pity, concern, desires, and compassion.
Allow me to read an excerpt from Millard J. Erickson’s 1,253 page systematic theology called Christian Theology.
On page 322 he writes, “God’s mercy is his tenderhearted, loving compassion for his people. It is his tenderness of heart toward the needy. If grace contemplates humans as sinful, guilty, and condemned mercy sees them as miserable and needy.”
Before I continue with the quote, I want to make the observation that Erickson is suggesting that grace and mercy are similar in the good that they do — whether that good be to withhold pain or to provide blessing. But it’s the ultimate motivation for the good that distinguishes the two. Grace does good to those who are guilty, whereas mercy does good to those who are needy.
It’s a subtle, delightfully nuanced understanding, but each is beautiful and necessary. Continuing on with the quote . . .
“The attribute of mercy is seen in the pitying concern of Jehovah for the people of Israel who were in bondage to the Egyptians. He heard their cry and knew their sufferings. It is also seen in the compassion Jesus felt when people suffering from physical ailments came to him. Their spiritual condition also moved him. Sometimes both kinds of need were involved. When Jesus saw the crowds were helpless like sheep without a shepherd, he had compassion on them.”
In both of those comparisons, God is interacting with man from a compassionate understanding of man’s absolute impotence.
GotQuestions.org says this, “Mercy and grace are closely related. While the terms have similar meanings, grace and mercy are not exactly the same. Mercy has to do with kindness and compassion; it is often spoken of in the context of God’s not punishing us as our sins deserve. Grace includes kindness and compassion, but also carries the idea of bestowing a gift or favor. It may help to view mercy as a subset of grace. In Scripture, mercy is often equated with a deliverance from judgment, and grace is always the extending of a blessing to the unworthy.”
In his book “Basic Theology,” in a section devoted to the love of God, Charles Ryrie says “closely related to love are goodness, mercy, long-suffering, and grace. Although distinctions are made, they are not exact. Goodness may be defined as God’s benevolent concern for His creatures. Mercy is that aspect of His goodness that causes God to show pity and compassion. Long-suffering speaks of self-restraint in the face of provocation. Grace is that unmerited favor of God shown to man primarily in the person and work of Jesus Christ. All of these concepts are related and stem from the love of God who is love.”
What’s interesting is that most Christians have no problem conceiving of the love of God. We talk about it, tells others about it, and — generally — feel pretty good about it. However, though we would rarely ever beg God to love us — for we are convinced that He does — we regularly plead with God for mercy.
Though we have no problem celebrating God’s love, when was the last time you heard a child of God praise His mercy?
Why is this? What are we missing concerning this glorious virtue?
Let’s consider . . .
3. Man’s Response to God’s Mercy
If you have never read “The Knowledge of the Holy” by A.W.Tozer, I highly recommend it. It’s only 117 pages long, and it is beautiful and deep yet concise and accessible.
Please allow me to and pay close attention as I read chapter 18. It’s short. It’s powerful. It’s entitled simply, “Mercy.”
“When through the blood of the everlasting covenant we children of the shadows reach at last our home in the light, we shall have a thousand strings to our harps, but the sweetest may well be the one tuned to sound forth most perfectly the mercy of God.
“For what right will we have to be there? Did we not by our sins take part in that unholy rebellion which rashly sought to dethrone the glorious King of creation? And did we not in times past walk according to the course of this world, according to the evil prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience? And did we not all at once live in the lusts of our flesh? And were we not by nature the children of wrath, even as others?
“But we who were one time enemies and alienated in our minds through wicked works shall then see God face to face and His name shall be in our foreheads. We who earned banishment shall enjoy communion; we who deserve the pains of hell shall know the bliss of heaven. And all through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us.
“Mercy is an attribute of God, an infinite and inexhaustible energy within the divine nature which disposes God to be actively compassionate. Both the Old and the New Testaments proclaim the mercy of God, but the Old has more than four times as much to say about it as the New.
“We should banish from our minds forever the common but erroneous notion that justice and judgment characterize the God of Israel, while mercy and grace belong to the Lord of the Church. Actually there is in principle no difference between the Old Testament and the New.
“In the New Testament Scriptures there is a fuller development of redemptive truth, but one God speaks in both dispensations, and what He speaks agrees with what He is. Wherever and whenever God appears to men, He acts like Himself. Whether in the Garden of Eden or the Garden of Gethsemane, God is merciful as well as just.
“He has always dealt in mercy with mankind and will always deal in justice when His mercy is despised. Thus He did in antediluvian times; thus when Christ walked among men; thus He is doing today and will continue always to do for no other reason than that He is God. If we could remember that the divine mercy is not a temporary mood but an attribute of God’s eternal being, we would no longer fear that it will someday cease to be.
“Mercy never began to be, but from eternity was; so it will never cease to be. It will never be more since it is itself infinite; and it will never be less because the infinite cannot suffer diminution. Nothing that has occurred or will occur in heaven or earth or hell can change the tender mercies of our God. Forever His mercy stands, a boundless, overwhelming immensity of divine pity and compassion.
“As judgment is God’s justice confronting moral inequity, so mercy is the goodness of God confronting human suffering and guilt. Were there no guilt in the world, no pain and no tears, God would yet be infinitely merciful; but His mercy might well remain hidden in His heart, unknown to the created universe.
“No voice would be raised to celebrate the mercy of which none felt the need. It is human misery and sin that call forth the divine mercy.
“[Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy!] the Church has pleaded through the centuries; but if I mistake not I hear in the voice of her pleading a note of sadness and despair. Her plaintive cry, so often repeated in that tone of resigned dejection, compels one to infer that she is praying for a boon she never actually expects to receive. She may go on dutifully to sing of the greatness of God and to recite the creed times beyond number, but her plea for mercy sounds like a forlorn hope and no more, as if mercy were a heavenly gift to be longed for but never really enjoyed.
“Could our failure to capture the pure joy of mercy consciously experienced be the result of our unbelief or our ignorance, or both? It was so once in Israel. ‘I bear them record,’ Paul testified of Israel, ‘that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.’ They failed because there was at least one thing they did not know, one thing that would have made the difference.
“And of Israel in the wilderness the Hebrew writer says, ‘But the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.’ To receive mercy we must first know that God is merciful. And it is not enough to believe that He once showed mercy to Noah or Abraham or David and will again show mercy in some happy future day. We must believe that God’s mercy is boundless, free and, through Jesus Christ our Lord, available to us now in our present situation.
“We may plead for mercy for a lifetime in unbelief, and at the end of our days be still no more than sadly hopeful that we shall somewhere, sometime, receive it. This is to starve to death just outside the banquet hall in which we have been warmly invited.
“Or we may, if we will, lay hold on the mercy of God by faith, enter the hall, and sit down with the bold and avid souls who will not allow diffidence and unbelief to keep them from the feast of fat things prepared for them.”
And then he ends the chapter by quoting that beloved hymn from Charles Wesley.
“Arise, my soul, arise; Shake off thy guilty fears; The bleeding Sacrifice In my behalf appears. Before the throne my Surety stands, My name is written on His hands. My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear: He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear. With confidence I now draw nigh, And ‘Father, Abba, Father,’ cry.”
Tozer’s main focus was not so much a treatise on the mercy of God, but it was a call to believe in the infinite compassion of our Creator-King. And in so believing, we may actually find peace and contentment and joy and spiritual victory in the never-ending mercy of God.
I believe it’s the Christian’s deep knowledge of His own sin coupled with His myopic belief in the necessity to earn God’s favor that blinds him to God’s mercy. Our pride believes we deserve good things from God. We deserve His love and grace because we so often are good and noble. That’s the one extreme lie we believe. But on the other hand we so often see ourselves through the eyes of God and recognize the fact that we are wholly deserving of punishment.
Too bad our reflection stops so infinitely short of the truth. Whereas we see ourselves as deserving of God’s wrath and nothing more, we miss the fact that it’s in our helplessness and our hopelessness that God is pleased to show His compassion.
The fact that we deserve death and hell and negative consequences of all sorts makes us exactly the pitiable creature God so loves. And it’s His love that limits His mercy, not our worthiness. Our unworthiness strips us of any hope for mercy, but God’s infinite love powers His mercy toward us.
My friends, I pray that as we turn our minds to the mercy of God this Season that we will do exactly what the author of Hebrews commends: “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
In Titus 3:1-7 we read, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2 to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. 3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Our works earn us death, but God’s kindness, love, and mercy win us life eternal!
If these truths don’t ignite a fire in your heart to better know God and His mercy, then I have to wonder if you’ve every truly experienced it.
How many friends have you told about your favorite food, sports team, diet, or movie? How passionate do you get when you find out your favorite artist is dropping a new album? How tired do you friends get of hearing about your new love interest, and yet how much more do you wish to know of them?
If you have truly tasted of the mercy of God, I invite you to continue your study with us this Season. Dive into the mercy of God and confidently allow it to envelope you.
Allow me to end with Lamentations 3:22-23, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”
Before the day is over, I challenge you to thank the Lord for His mercy, tell someone else about His mercy, and confidently look forward to His mercy the next day.
But also ask Him to give you a better appreciation for His mercy. Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you about your potential apathy concerning the mercy of God, and ask Him to use this Season to mature you in the knowledge, understanding, and practical application of God’s mercy.
Please share this series on your favorite social media outlets and join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing God’s mercy in salvation.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
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AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.