Today I was reading in Isaiah about the Lord’s mercy to the children of Israel. So I’ve been pondering on the word mercy. It’s a desirable trait, but not a word we use often in normal conversation. The dictionary describes it as: “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” That’s like being nice when we could be mean. Choosing not to retaliate when we could easily do so.
We don’t deserve mercy from a holy God. We deserve punishment for our sin. But He chooses instead to show mercy. Oh, the sin won’t go unpunished. Christ bore the punishment of God’s wrath in our place. So now, if our identity is in being united with Jesus, we have nothing to fear. We rely on Christ as our Substitute and receive forgiveness.
Remember the story Jesus told about the king who called in a servant who owed him a huge debt? When the servant begged for mercy, “the master was moved with compassion, released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27). But that’s not the end of the story. The forgiven servant went out and collared a man who owed him some money. When begged for mercy, he showed none, but threw the debtor in prison. And that’s not the end of the story either. When some observers saw how the man who was forgiven much refused to show mercy on one who owed him far less, the incident was reported to the king. Justice was served. The unforgiving servant was tortured and imprisoned.
What was the point? Jesus was teaching a lesson about forgiveness. Those who are forgiven much (which includes all of us) should turn around and forgive others who are guilty of far less. That’s mercy. That’s compassion. Mercy or lack of it is easy to spot in a story like this, but harder to see in ourselves.
“Blessed are the merciful,” Jesus said, “for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). I want to be counted among the merciful, don’t you?
Here’s an old song lyric: “Mercy there was great, and grace was free; Pardon there was multiplied to me; There my burdened soul found liberty At Calvary.” (Lyrics to “At Calvary” by William Newell.) Remember that one? What does it mean to you today?