“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:15-16 (ESV)
As we look at the promises in today’s passage, let’s glance back just a bit at our promises from yesterday and remember our sleeping savior. On the stormy sea, the disciples were fearing for their lives. Experienced fishermen had to have been in storms before so to frighten them this had to be a really serious storm. Jesus needed sleep, he finds a cushion for comfort and goes to sleep unbothered by the storm. The very fact that Jesus needed to sleep reveals that He had a real human body that knew the feelings of fatigue and thirst and hunger. Hebrews tells us our high priest, is able to sympathize with human weaknesses. If Jesus had not known the weaknesses and temptations of humanity, He would not be a sympathetic High Priest, capable of offering us mercy and grace from the heavenly throne. But He does know our weaknesses because His experienced weaknesses too. He knew the pain of rejection: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11) There’s no pain or insult we might know that Christ hasn’t had—and because He knows such struggles, He invites us to come to Him.
“I love the LORD, because He hears My voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.” Psalm 116:1-2 (NASB)
What reasons come to our minds when we think about why we love the LORD God? This is an intensely personal “thank you” Psalm to the Lord for saving the psalmist from death. The occasion and author are unknown, although the language used by Jonah in his prayer from the fish’s stomach is remarkably similar. Compare Psalm 116:3-4 with Jonah 2:5-6. In these words in this song the psalmist tells how he reacted to the way the Lord responded to his call for help. These words may well also express our feelings in reaction to how God responses when we cry for mercy. It’s surely true that when the Lord responds by turning his ear to our call for help our hearts respond in love for Him. Yes He is a wonderful, faithful Lord and we do love Him. And isn’t it true that when God does hear our prayer it encourages us to again and again call on Him whenever we need help? This is a habit we want to have throughout our lives. Let’s join with the psalmist, saying what he said in our verse “I will call on him as long as I live.”
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8 (ESV)
Considering what resolutions you’ll make this New Year? New resolutions? Maybe rerun some for past years? It’s really a guessing game to help us believe we do have a renewed chance get it right. Right? God never conceals His expectations from us. We never have to guess how we should live. In response to the misguided ways in which people still seek to please God, the prophet of God, Micah clearly spells out what God does and doesn’t expect. It’s not the making of resolutions that God expects, He knows we will eventually fail them again. The people Micah addressed were being outwardly religious but inside stinking thinking and acting. These words were Micah’s rhetorical suggestions in hyperbole reflecting their hypocrisy. How about burnt offerings of year-old calves? Maybe thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil. Even go so far as to suggest giving their firstborn to cover their sins. This year perhaps we form our resolutions each day to show justice, to love kindness which is mercy, with humility walk with God. We do not have to make our life in Christ complicated. It is pretty simple how we should live. Let’s resolve to do so.
“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 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, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,” – Titus 3:4-6 (NASB)
How and why God saves people is a general point of discussion. This is because it is nearly impossible for one to consider any salvation is accomplished without some contribution on their part. It’s simple to read what God’s promises are about salvation from the curse and wages of sin (Romans 6:23). It’s more difficult for some to imagine their salvation having nothing to do with how they live their lives. But God promised, and we read His promise in the passage for today: kindness, love, and mercy, all represent aspects of God’s grace. Mercy is goodness given and conferred when it is not deserved or earned. Our our best and purest deeds are never good enough to save. This salvation brings for us divine cleansing from sin and the gift of a new, Holy Spirit-generated and Spirit-empowered, and Spirit-protected life as God’s own children and heirs⸺this is our new birth. It is a promise that is poured out upon us according to His riches in Jesus Christ, our Savior. What a promise it is and one that we can depend upon and live by.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 2:4-7 (ESV)
When the Apostle Paul packed the promises into what he wrote, such as today’s passage, we end up with long sentences and more verses. Sometimes the verse divisions* break up Paul’s intended flow. Four verses today are full of promises. Reading the parts of this long sentence together will help us to see the inclusive promises from God. All that God has done for us and all that He will do comes from His mercy and great love for us. We were dead when God made us alive in Christ. The power that raises believers out spiritual death and makes us alive spiritually is the same power that energizes every aspect of Christian living. It is by grace of God we are saved being raised up and seated – we know from the tenses used – “raised” and “seated” that these are immediate and direct results of salvation. Salvation of course, is very much for our blessing as believers, but even more its purpose is to demonstrate God’s eternal glory for giving believers His endless and limitless grace and kindness. All of these promises are only ours because we have by faith been permanently placed in Christ.
“And he called out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”” – Luke 18:38-39 (NASB)
Jesus and his disciples were passing through Jericho. Leaving the Jewish Jericho they approached the Roman Jericho*. As was usual, the people mobbed around Jesus. When Jesus healed the sick and the lame and the demon possessed, He did it totally, completely. He did no partial healings. In this story, when we read the account in the Matthew, there were two blind men. Mark gives us the name of one, Bartimaeus (Son of Thomas). Only Bartimaeus called out to Jesus. He had to ask what the commotion was and he was told it was Jesus. He immediately cries out calling Jesus the Son of David. And he asks for mercy. He knew it was only by mercy that Jesus would stop and heal him. Jesus asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The men’s faith was evident and they knew who Jesus was and what He could do. “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” Immediately Jesus healed him with the words, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” Matthew records that “Jesus in pity touched their eyes and immediately they recovered their sight and followed Him. What a merciful Savior He is.
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God…” – Luke 1:76-79 (NASB)
More on the tender mercies of our Lord. The passage is excerpted from the prophecy Zacharias offered at the birth of his son John the Baptizer. Zachariah is a common name found in the Bible. This one is not the prophet who wrote the Book of Zechariah many years before. As a priest, Zacharias served his turn in the temple. The Bible tells us that he was chosen by lot to enter the temple and burn incense. Because of the large number of priests, most would never be chosen for such a duty, and no one was permitted to serve in this capacity twice. Zacharias regarded this as the supreme moment in a lifetime of priestly service. It was then that the angel appeared to him as he was alone in the Holy Place. He was foretold that a son would be born to him and his name was to be John. When John is born, Zacharias offers a pray with this prophecy. The words, would be familiar to Zacharias because they are part of prophecies by Old Testament prophets*. The Father of the Baptizer confirms what was said by the prophets regarding his son.
*Malachi 3:1, Isaiah 9:2 and Jeremiah 31:34
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” – Jude 20-21 (ESV)
As true believers we can all be thankful that we have a sure foundation and cornerstone in Jesus Christ. This foundation is ours through the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. The truths of our Christian faith are found in the teaching of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). It is by the Word of God that Christians can build themselves up. Praying in the Holy Spirit is not a call to some ecstatic form of prayer, but simply our call to pray consistently in the will and power of the Spirit, as one would pray in the name of Jesus Christ. This imperative establishes our responsibility to be obedient and faithful by living out His salvation, while God works out His will through our lives (Philippians 2:12-13). It means for us to remain in the place of obedience where God’s love is poured out on His children. We are to wait in eager anticipation of Christ’s second coming to provide eternal life in its ultimate, resurrection form, which is the supreme expression of God’s mercy on us to whom Christ’s righteousness has undeservedly been credited to our account (imputed) by His mercy and grace.
“Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” – James 5:11 (ESV)
In our passage today our promise is mercy if we remain steadfast in suffering. It is those who suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ that are promised this mercy. Not only receive mercy but show mercy when we face tribulation, persecution ⸺ any undeserved action because of our confession of faith in God. As faith believers we recognize that suffering is a part of the life that comes with proclaiming the Gospel of salvation which comes only from believing in Jesus. His half-brother James, had not always believed in Jesus during His earthly ministry on earth. But James came to believe and was the leader of the early church in Jerusalem. James had seen the suffering firsthand. This included decapitation, stoning, imprisonment, whippings, beatings, and attempts to eliminate or squelch the believers of Jesus. So James reminds us to consider two things in this verse. First, that we remember how Job remained steadfast through the worst trials and suffering we can imagine. Second, that the Lord is full of both compassion and mercy – that means Jesus delights to show mercy to those who are suffering. That is why He willingly went to the cross to die.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” – James 3:17 (NASB)
Mercy! What a concept. For one might bestow it on one who cries for it but does not deserve it. A man arrested for taking part in the Capitol Riot on January 6, 2021 petitioned for release from jail. The judge refused. As the judge stated his reasons for denial, the man cried out “Your honor, have mercy on me! Please!” Circumstances, prior actions, published videos and words, left Robert Sandlin only able to beg for mercy. Mercy is shown to the undeserving yet needy. But not this time. “No mercy!” said the judge. The author of James instructs us to live by Godly wisdom from above. That wisdom comes with spiritual integrity and moral sincerity (it is pure). It is “peace loving” or “peace promoting” (peaceable). It includes kind, courteous and patient humility (gentle). It marks someone who is teachable, and willingly submits to both moral and legal discipline (reasonable). Has the gift of showing concern, pity, compassion for those who suffer pain and hardship (full of mercy). Such a person produces good works (fruit), steady in conviction (unwavering), and makes no unfair distinctions (without hypocrisy). Such not only displays mercy but has mercy within.