The Mercy of God

Steve Viars July 21, 2007 Psalms 145:1-9

 


- imagine what it would be like if we did not have the Bible, and we were trying to understand the Person and work of God...

-and let’s suppose that we weren’t starting with a blank slate because we lived in a culture that had all sorts of gods and goddesses from which to choose...

-if the God of heaven was trying to help us understand Him, what are the concepts that He would especially emphasize?...

- in some ways, we don’t have to just theorize about that...because we have that story in the OT...of a group of individuals who were called of God to be His people...

- and a series of promises were made to their family leaders...the 4 patriarchs...Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph...

- and then they were in bondage for 400 years in Egypt and they cried out to God and He heard them in their oppression...

- so God selected a leader named Moses to begin leading His children to the promised land...

- at that point it was crucial that the people be ...[dare we say it this way] Reaching New Heights in Our [their]Knowledge of God...

- so He demonstrated His power by parting the Red Sea...

- He showed them that He was personally present by leading them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night...

- He showed that He could provide for them by giving them manna and water in miraculous ways...

- so they were learning about His power, and learning about His presence, and learning about His provision...it was a crash course in the character of God...

- essential to that was understanding that He was unique and holy...

- eventually they were taught to say the shema – Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, He is one...

- they were given the 10 commandments along with other laws to guide them and govern them...

- all of this emphasized His holiness and His just expectations...

- so on the one hand they were learning a lot...but there had to be a question of how this fit together...

- God was unique, and God was holy, and God had just expectations [commandments/laws] for them...but?...there was no way they could keep those commandments perfectly...

- there was no question about their sinfulness...if anything, the law just magnified what they already knew...

- and there was no question about the miserable condition that resulted from sin...both in their own guilt but also in their strained relationships with others...

- so what could possibly be the connection between a holy God and His just commands...and a group of people who fell so woefully short?...

- they needed to know something else about the character of God...

-which is why He gave them explicit instructions to build a tabernacle...a tent of meeting...

- and because they would constantly be on the move, the tabernacle itself would be portable...they could take it down when they had to move and then set it up in the very middle of their next camp...

-time doesn’t allow us to think about all of the elements of the tabernacle this morning but the very innermost place, the holy of holies, contained the ark of the covenant...

- this was a piece of furniture that looked and functioned in some ways like a chest...inside they were to keep the 2 tables of stone which contained the 10 commandments, along with the additional laws given to Moses, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded...

- on top of the ark of the covenant were 2 cherubim [angels] facing one another...

- and it was at that place that God would especially manifest Himself...would especially meet with the representative of the people...

- and that point of contact was actually a seat...the top of the piece of furniture...what the cherubim were actually looking down upon...

- and it was critical for God’s people to understand that that point of contact revealed another essential aspect of His character...because it was to be called the seat of mercy...

- Exodus 25:22 says -- There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.

- the point of connection between a holy God and sinful man was the seat of...mercy...

- and it is interesting that that concept was so amazing to them, that when they were asked to give freely in order to construct the tabernacle to be a visual demonstration of the character of God, the people gave so much of their own money and possessions that Moses had to instruct them to stop giving...

- Exodus 36 records it like this...Exodus 36:4-7 - And all the skillful men who were performing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work which he was performing, and they said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the Lord commanded us to perform.” So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, “Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.” Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more.  For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it.

- they were significantly moved when they came to understand The Mercy of God...

- with that in mind, would you please open your Bible to Psalm 145?...[page 455 of the front section of the Bible under the chair in front of you...]

- we’re focusing our attention this summer on Theology Proper...the doctrine of God..

- we believe the only way we are going to accomplish the mission the Lord has for us in the coming days is not by human effort alone, or human ingenuity or skill...

- the foundation has to be...a growing knowledge of God...

- so far we’ve talked about God’s holiness, and faithfulness, and sovereignty, and presence, and love, and power, and justice...I hope those studies have been a challenge and an encouragement to you...

- now let’s turn our attention to God’s mercy --- read Psalm 145:1-9

 - I’d like us to divide our remaining time in this way....

I. The Presence of Mercy in the Person of God.

II. The Absence of Mercy in the Spiritually Empty

III. The Application of mercy to People Like Us.

I. The Presence of Mercy in the Person of God.

- one of the things we learn right off the bat in Psalm 145 is that mercy is...

A. An essential aspect of God’s character.  - v. 8 – The Lord is...merciful.

- we’ve seen this construction before...like on the day we studied the love of God...

- the Lord is this...and the Lord is that...it is essential to who He is and how He relates to people...

- that is why we read verses like...Psalm 119:156 - Great are Your mercies, O Lord; Revive me according to Your ordinances.

Psalm 86:15 - But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.

- the point is that we will have an incomplete view of the God of the Bible unless we understand that fundamentally He is...merciful...

B. Various definitions.

- Wayne Grudem – God’s mercy means God’s goodness to those in misery and distress.

- Charles Ryrie – Mercy is that aspect of His goodness that causes God to show pity and compassion.

- Millard Erickson – God’s mercy is His tenderhearted, loving compassion for His people.  It is His tenderness of heart toward the needy.  If grace contemplates man as sinful, guilty, and condemned, mercy sees him as miserable and needy.

- Now, some essential elements of mercy are already starting to surface...

1.  Mercy is aroused by the pitiful condition of someone less fortunate and often less powerful (both materially and spiritually).

- so somebody else is in a condition of need...mercy sees that...

2. Mercy always includes an emotional component.

- the NT Dictionary of Theology points out that mercy is “the emotion roused by contact with an affliction which comes undeservedly on someone else [similar to compassion and pity]...These feelings are the reverse of envy at another’s good fortune.”

- so there is no such thing as callous mercy”...people who don’t “see” will never develop biblical mercy, neither will people who don’t “care”...

3. Mercy always includes a willingness to act.

- while there is emotion, there is much more than emotion...

- Miley – Systematic Theology“Mercy is a form of love determined by the state or condition of its objects.  Their state is one of suffering and need, while they may be unworthy or ill-deserving.  Mercy is at once the disposition of love respecting such, and the kindly ministry of love for their relief.”

- so whether the person in need deserves kind treatment has nothing to do with it...and the merciful person doesn’t just talk about the need, or feel badly about the need...they do something to see that the need is met...

- that is why the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says “The mercy of God is not simply an emotion; it is always manifested historically in personal actions.”

- now, we need to go back to the tabernacle for a moment...because there is a crucial relationship between mercy and holiness that our world seldom sees or understands...[in fact, in a moment I’m going to argue that people in the world often think they’re merciful when their brand of it falls fall short of the biblical model...from the Tabernacle, we learn this...

C. Rooted in the idea that God, the great King, is willing to enter into a covenant relationship with His people.

- now, you might say, that’s a mouthful...and it is...

- but please keep this in mind...it is extremely significant that directly under the Mercy Seat was a copy of God’s law...

- that’s what makes mercy so rich...that’s what makes mercy so delicious...

- the more you understand the holiness of God...the more appreciative you’ll be of His mercy...

- a comment we often hear is...people are treated at the bar with more mercy than at the church...

- well, what does that mean?...they can live any way they want, and be accepted by the other people bellied up at the bar, so that must be a place of mercy...

- that’s not God’s mercy...

- mercy never ignores what needs to change...or acts as if there is no such thing as an objective standard of righteousness...

- mercy is better than that...it holds off the just payment for the sinfulness of man, and then it finds a way that that sin can be paid for...and then over time changed...

- mercy never leaves a person in the sinful condition in which they’re found...

D. Motivates God to be slow about meting out the just consequences for sin.

- we see that in our key text...v. 8 – The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger...

- the same concept is repeated almost word for word in...Psalm 86:15 - But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.

- so its not that the law wasn’t violated...its not that sin wasn’t present...its not that righteous indignation would not be an appropriate consequence...

- it is that God chooses to often relate to men and women through the lens of...mercy...

- you can almost hear Him saying...meet Me, at the mercy seat...

- and while we’ll talk about this more under applications to us...one of the clear implications is that human beings who are quick to anger...who are always mad about something...what they especially lack is the fruit of mercy...

- quick anger is the polar opposite of patient mercy...

- now, one question that often comes up is...what is the relationship of mercy...

E. Relationship of mercy to grace?

- there is no question that there is much overlap because of the way we find the two words used together so frequently in Scripture...

- R.C. Trench suggests that...Grace is extended to men because they are guilty.  Mercy is extended to men because they are miserable.

- to some degree, grace focuses on the fact of sin...mercy focuses on the consequences of sin...

- now, because this is such an essential aspect of the character of God, not surprisingly, we find it...

F. Especially manifested in the Person and Work of Christ.

1. in His birth.

- do you remember when Mary, the human mother of Jesus, learned of the plan of God that she would give birth to the Messiah...

- she sang a great song...we know it as Mary’s Magnificat...

- what was the theme of that song?...her amazement at the very doctrine we are studying this am...

- Luke 1:49-50 - For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him.

- a few verses later she sings...Luke 1:54 - He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy,

- then there’s the story of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist...and that passage emphasizes the same thing...Luke 1:58 - Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.

- you could say that the Christmas story is the personification of the mercy seat...

- how frequently did that come up in the life of Christ?...what was it that people in need were constantly crying out to Him?...

2. in His ministry.

- Matthew 15:22 – Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.

- Matthew 17:15 – Lord, have mercy on my son.

- Lawrence Richards, commenting on this aspect of the life of Christ, said...Jesus responded; in each case, He healed and He met the need.  There were two lessons for those who observed Jesus, and they are there for us as well.  First, those with needs must recognize Jesus’ ability to help them: each recorded cry for mercy is also an expression of faith in Jesus as the Son of God.  Second, those who come to Jesus invariable have their needs met.  This latter fact vividly expresses the attitude of God toward us.

- of course all of this means that...

G. Mercy is essential for our salvation.

- the first few verses of Ephesians 2 describe the problem... Ephesians 2:1-3 - And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

- thank the Lord that the first word in the next verse is...but...Ephesians 2:4 - But God, being rich in mercy...

- Peter says the same thing...1 Peter 1:3 - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

- Paul reemphasized it to Titus... Titus 3:5 - 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,

- that is why God has built cause and effect into this world...that’s why life without God does not work...that is why misery is always the by-product of sin...because God wants to meet you...at the mercy seat...at the cross of Christ...there is no other way...

- [for Christ hath regarded my helpless estate...]

- now, one other idea that rounds out our definition...for those who would say...I’m not sure God has enough mercy for me...

H. Mercy is available to all.

- there’s an extended discussion about all of this in Romans chapter 9 and chapter 11 that time just won’t allow us to touch this morning...but the argument concludes with Paul saying this...

- Romans 11:32 - For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

- now, that was a whirlwind tour to be sure, but several essential ideas stand out...

- there is incredible misery that attends trying to live apart from a relationship with God...the way of the transgressor is hard...

- and God cares about that...not in some bland “grading on a curve fashion”...or, let’s ignore the problem and see if it will go away...

- no, the law will always be in the ark of the covenant...

- and human beings will never be able to keep it on their own...

- and there will always be misery and confusion as a result...

- but God says...there is a way for us to meet...there’s a way for us to be reconciled...

- there is a way for your sin to be forgiven...and for your life to be changed...

- let’s get together at the seat of mercy...the Psalmist had it right...The Lord is merciful...

‑ now, there’s one other biblical emphasis we need to point out before we begin tying this together...and it's this...

II. The Absence of Mercy in the Spiritually Empty.

- we live in a world that is often merciless...

A. Evidenced by cruelty.

Jeremiah 6:23 - They seize bow and spear; They are cruel and have no mercy; Their voice roars like the sea, And they ride on horses, Arrayed as a man for the battle Against you, O daughter of Zion!

- Many here could speak of the cruelty and harshness they have experienced at the hand of people who do not know the Lord...

- in fact, Paul makes an incredible statement in Romans chapter 1...that is the passage that explains that as our culture continues to ignore God, there is a natural devolution that occurs...

- and  many of us would say with sadness that Romans 1 describes the country in which we live, and the world in which we live...and do you remember the climax of the argument...

- Romans 1:28-31 - And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful;

B. A sign of the end times.

- think about our culture’s music...think about culture’s video games...think about current world events...

- unmerciful...

C. Cannot be replaced by religiosity.

- Matthew 23:23 - Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

- Micah 6:8 - He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what the LORD requires of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

- I wonder how many people in the American church would be asked by God...where’s your mercy?

- now, what do we do with all this information?...

III. The Application of Mercy to People Like Us.

A. Be sure that you have come to Him for mercy in salvation.

- this is a very fascinating time in the history of our church...

- we have never had summer attendances like the ones we are having this summer...

- and on the one hand we are thrilled with that if that is what the Lord desires for us...

- but on the other hand, I can’t help but be concerned as a pastor...are there people coming to church, and believing that things are OK with them and God, but they’ve never met Him at the mercy seat...

B. Let your regular confession of sin remind you of your ongoing need for mercy.

- Proverbs 28:13 - He that covers his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy.

C. Let your regular dependence on Him create a growing appreciation for His mercy.

- Hebrews 4:16 - Therefore 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.

D. Seek to grow in mercy toward those in need.

- Matthew 5:7 - Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

1. in your family.

2. in our church.

3. in our community.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video