Sunday, 21 May 2017

Now You Have Received Mercy

I recently read an article that I quickly concluded must be the dumbest thing on the internet. On further reflection, I realise there is an inordinate amount of competition for that spot, so perhaps I was a little hasty and hyperbolic. Nonetheless, the article was daft.

It was entitled something along the lines of: "33 KEY SIGNS YOU'RE NOT LIVING THE LIFE YOU DESERVE."

There were several aspects of this article I didn't like. One example was the piece of advice that suggested that if there are people in your life who make you feel selfish and crazy, you must immediately cut them out, because they are more than likely "dragging you down". Cut them out! That'll teach them for accusing you of selfishness!

Anyway, the title of this article is in itself problematic. The presupposition behind much of this advice was that a) the life you deserve is better than the life you are currently living and b) if you don't enjoy the life you currently have, it must be because you deserve better.

The pursuit of "the life you deserve" is presumed within much of our culture to be a good idea, because people, or at least the people writing (and reading) such articles on the internet, assume they are fundamentally good.

But today's five words jar against this philosophy. Especially the last one.

The Bible says something very different from "seek the life you deserve!": it says something uncomfortable, exposing, brutal- but something that is fundamentally better news. Often people perceive Christianity to be exactly that- a tick list of things you need to do in order to get what you deserve out of God. But the Bible doesn't stand for that!

In the gospel, God gives me something that is infinitely better (literally!) than the life I deserve. It doesn't pat my ego, it doesn't give me false hope, and it certainly doesn't hold back.

The gospel starts by saying: those who are self-obsessed, self-serving, self- justifying and self-congratulating have only earned themselves death. Those who are twisted in on themselves, those who have cursing, death-ridden tongues, who have feet prone to the ways of destruction, who have lived without any fear of God have earned death. The gospel says: all have sinned, all have fallen short, all are worthy of death.

I know I'm in that "all." I know my own tongue and feet and heart.

So where is the "good news" promised by the gospel?

Well, the good news says warns me away from the self-righteousness and self-deceit that lies in the path that pursues "the life you deserve"! The life I deserve is a life of half-hearted,selfish, loveless, godless destruction that I have chosen for myself. The life I deserve is not, though I might deceive myself, the life I want! The life I deserve, the gospel says, is death. I am therefore in desperate need of something more robust, something more hopeful, something outside of myself that is far better news than "the life I deserve."


Mercy does not give me what I deserve. That's what mercy is, and that's why it's so beautiful, so precious and so surprising.

Shakespeare said, "mercy is mightiest in the mighty." There is therefore the mightiest of hope in the words of Psalm 103: "The LORD does not treat us as our sins deserve." What wonder, that the mightiest might exercise mercy, that he might be so gracious as to not give me what I deserve.

But there should be something in me that is disturbed too. Should God let me off the hook? If he chooses mercy than can he still be just? Surely I want a just God at the centre of the universe, not a God who will overlook unrighteousness?

What my unworthy soul longs for is a God who might be both just, and merciful.

And that's why the cross is such good news, and why it reveals the character of God so beautifully.

The cross bears witness to the fact that the greatness of God's mercy doesn't come instead of justice, but as well as.  God is shown to be just in his judgment of sin, and merciful in his forgiveness of sinners: as God's justice was poured out, so was his mercy. His justice was poured out on Jesus, so that his mercy might be poured out on me. Jesus faced the justice of God, so that I wouldn't have to. In my place, Jesus suffered the life, and death, I deserved.

And now I have received mercy.

In my life, I can get both fearful that the LORD might treat me as I deserve, or bitter because I feel that he has not given me the life I deserve.

But the death of Jesus cuts through both: it brings good news on both counts: the Lord does not treat us as our sins deserve.

Whatever sufferings I may be enduring, I am not enduring them because I deserve to. Maybe I do, maybe I don't. But however I am being treated, the witness of Scripture and the cross is that it is not my being treated as my sins deserve.

I can't dwell in bitterness knowing that God has treated me with mercy instead of judgement, and for the same reason, I can't dwell in fear.

Countless times in my life I have looked to the future filled with dread. But these five words cut through the dread that sees the grimness within and because of it gazes terrified to the future: now you have received mercy. Countless times in my life I have looked at the present filled with bitterness. But these five words cut through the bitterness that believes my pale collection of tainted, reluctant good deeds put God in my debt: now you have received mercy.

As I look to the future, process my past and experience the present, sinful though I may be, there is bright hope ahead, because now, because of Jesus,  I have received mercy.

"Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds you so much dread,
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head."
William Cowper 

"Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life..."
Psalm 23:6

"He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities."
Psalm 103:10 

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