I’ve been able, since the beginning of this year, to share devotions at a number of schools. Often it’s a real blessing, but there was one that I went to a few weeks ago, and the whole experience was just incredibly unpleasant.
I’ll tell you what happened:
I didn’t have my bike that particular day and so I had to go by car. I have no idea how most of you do this every day. Right out of my gate I was in traffic. You know, bumper to bumper traffic is do-able if it wasn’t for the handful of drivers who will break any law, traffic or social law, to get ahead of others. I was needing to turn right at the next robot and one young guy drove up on my right, blocking all kinds of traffic, I couldn’t go right, he wanted to go straight, and so we just sat there as I watched the robot turn from green to orange to red. And as if it wasn’t bad enough that his inconsiderate actions cost me a robot, the stickers on his back window were all kinds of nasty.
I finally arrived at the school and had to jostle with impatient parents to get to the gate; almost got rammed by one mom who decided to ignore a stop-street.
When I got into the parking area I thought I’d been told to park at, I thought I was safe. I got out, locked my door, and was half-way across the lot when one of the teachers came hooting up behind me, yelling at me to get out of her spot. I was half way through my sentence explaining that I was a guest and didn’t know where to park when she simply drove off with a few terse words.
All this when I was there to serve freely of my own time.
I was mad, I was hurting, and then I was to go share the stories of God’s love…
For many of you, this is your daily fare. People hurt you. Maybe a few hurtful words from your family before you leave home, fellow commuters hurt you on the roads with their words and actions, and then at work you’re treated like the furniture, though you’ve been there for years.
When you’re unjustly hurt by others, how should you respond?
Well we know the virtuous answers: Forgive, be kind, and respond in love.
But they don’t deserve it! You know what I could do: head straight to the principal of the school and give him a piece of my mind about the traffic around his school and the treatment of the teachers towards a guest. Threaten to take my story to the local press, and then follow through with it. How dare they treat me the way they have?
That’s what I could have done.
You know what it’s called when one person has the power to inflict punishment – sometimes righteous punishment – on another, but decides instead to extent kindness? Well that’s called mercy, and that’s what we’re going to be talking about tonight.
I’d like you to turn with me to 1 Samuel 24 and we’re going to read there an incredible story of mercy.
Allow me to give you a little context:
Saul was the king of the Israelites. He hadn’t fought his way to the top, God had chosen him and anointed him for that important position. But the Bible tells us that Saul eventually turned away from the LORD and feared his followers more than he feared God. God decided to choose another in his place, and chose David, who was also anointed for the important task of being king of God’s people.
It was a tricky time for David. He knew that he was God’s man to rule these people, but he also knew that God’s time hadn’t arrived for him yet – not while Saul was king.
David waited on the LORD, he waited on God’s timing. But you can read in the Bible about how Saul became more and more paranoid towards David. He became so afraid that this young upstart was going to overthrow him that he began to plot David’s demise… then he began to pursue David to kill him.
But God was with David in an incredible way. David was a great military leader, but on top of that God was watching over him.
David was a man who went through incredible pains during this time of his life. You can read about it in many of the Psalms. How many times does he cry out to God and say, “Look at me! Look at my heart God. See how I am always walking in your ways. I am righteous in what I do. But look at how my enemies pursue me.” And many of these times, his enemy was Saul his king. “Look at how my enemies pursue me. I will wait for you to judge them.”
In our text tonight, Saul goes for David again and gets something he hadn’t bargained for: mercy.
“After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, ‘David is in the Desert of En Gedi.’ So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, ‘This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, “I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish”.’ Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, ‘The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.’ With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way. Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, ‘My lord the king!’ When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He said to Saul, ‘Why do you listen when men say, “David is bent on harming you”? This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, “I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the LORD’s anointed.” See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, “From evildoers come evil deeds,” so my hand will not touch you. Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.’”
So David is running for his life. And then comes this amazing opportunity. David was already on the run from Saul for his life. He was surrounded by his band of strong and skilled warriors who were fully devoted to him. He’s being chased down by Saul who would gladly take his life if he got the chance – for no reason because David was walking uprightly. And then Saul, his pursuer, walks right into the cave David is hiding in; he walks in to relieve himself. Unattended by bodyguards; caught with his pants down; David was in the perfect position to end this. It wouldn’t have taken him 20 seconds to end the attacks against him, to gain the crown that was his to have.
But he spared Saul. Why?
David recognised God’s plan in Saul’s life and his own life, and decided to show mercy.
This is what mercy is. Mercy is when a victim is handed the sword of power and righteous judgment, and his offended is laid helpless before him, and the victim lays aside the sword, unties his offender, cleans his wounds, and shows him love instead of the punishment he deserves. That’s mercy. That’s what David did for Saul.
Tonight, from this passage, and from others, I want to give you two reasons why we should be merciful.
Firstly, we ought to be merciful to others because God has shown me mercy.
1st point: God has been merciful to me (Titus 3:3-5a)
Titus 3:3-5a says this: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
Let me ask you a question: Have you ever judged others harshly for something they’ve done, and then right after gone and done the exact same thing? Happens to me – all the time – but especially on the road. I can’t tell you home many times I’ve sat at a red robot, in a rush, and watched the lights for the crossing traffic turn orange, then red, and even after its turned red two or three cars come wooshing through. And as I drive off I think to myself, ‘How dare they? I should have just moved forward as they were coming through to show them how stupid they’re being. Maybe they would have smacked me, and I would have taken them straight to court. I wish a traffic cop was around and they’d just be stopped. They’re a hazard on the road. Can’t they see the robot’s red? They just think they’re more important than others.” Even as I’m thinking that, I see the robot ahead turn orange….”Awwwhhh, I can make it – I know I can!” And I fly through just moments after it turns red.
You know, we all need mercy.
But this is what we learn from Paul’s letter to Titus: Praise God! He’s been merciful to me! It doesn’t matter how others judge and condemn me, because the Judge has shown me mercy. When I deserved it least – He showed me mercy.
Remember what I said mercy was? Mercy is when a victim is handed the sword of power and righteous judgment, and his offender is laid helpless before him, and the victim lays aside the sword, unties his offender, cleans his wounds, and shows him love instead of the punishment he deserves. That’s mercy.
God is the victim of our Sin and sins. When we disobey, God is the victim. When we hate others, God is the victim. And God isn’t just a helpless victim, He’s the Almighty. He wields a mighty sword of power and righteous judgment, and we are ever stretched out helpless before Him. It would be just for Him to punish me, to cast me to my torturers for eternity. But look at verse 4, “the kindness and love of God our Saviour [has] appeared, [and] he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
God has shown me mercy. For all of my offences. When I gossiped - He had mercy. When I denied His power and went to others for help first – He had mercy. When I lied, and He knew it – He had mercy.
For all of my sins, for the worst of my sins – He had mercy.
But God’s plan doesn’t end there. God doesn’t intend for us to be a reservoir of His mercy, a dead-end pool always receiving and never passing on. God makes it crystal clear that mercy is to be extended from us to others.
2nd point: God expects me to be merciful to others
[Story of unforgiving servant. Highlight last verse: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”]
As I said, I went to one school and was treated unkindly by a teacher, how could I have responded? I could have done everything in my power to drag that teacher through the mud, and then the school as well. I could stand here and tell you which school it was, and the name of the teachers and drag their names through the mud.
But how can I? How can I do that? I can’t! Why? Because my God has shown me mercy! I would have to walk over the mountain of God’s kindness to me in order to take revenge on my debtor. Because debtor she is, she owes me an apology, and sorrow. But before I can get to her I need to climb over the mountain of God’s kindness to me, and at each step trample and spit on His mercy.
Now, how can I do that?
This unforgiving servant had to cast out of mind the kindness he’d just been shown in order to punish his debtor.
I want you to know that mercy towards others is a REQUIREMENT FOR THE BELIEVER. It’s not optional. It’s not for the super-spiritual. It’s not for the old. It’s not for the leadership. It’s for every believer – for every individual who asks for the mercy of God.
This is so important! Jesus spoke about it in the strongest terms. In Matthew 6, after teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus ended his lesson on our communing with God with this: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Can it be clearer?
He says also in the beatitudes earlier in Matthew: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” What’s the corollary? Those who don’t show mercy will not be shown mercy.
Paul catches this, “When you, a mere human being, pass judgment on [others] and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgement?” Let me ask you: Does anyone want an unmerciful judgment from God, before whom all must stand?
My friends here today, mercy isn’t for those who have conquered all sin; it’s not for the old who have walked with God for many years. It’s for you, it’s for me, if we’ve asked for His mercy. How dare we presume on the mercy of God and condemn our offenders as useless, stupid, or worthless.
Mercy towards others isn’t optional; it is a REQUIREMENT FOR THE BELIEVER.
But I want to teach you something more about mercy:
Maybe you say with me – I can deal with that. I can be merciful in the shadows, I can forgive from a distance, I can be kind behind the scenes. Mercy doesn’t end at forgiveness, friends, mercy goes on.
3rd point: Mercy goes beyond mere feelings
1 Peter 1:3-5 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”
In this passage, we see God’s grace and God’s mercy entangled so that you cannot separate the one from the other. Grace and mercy are closely connected. I’m sure you’ve heard it before: mercy is not receiving the punishment which we deserve; while grace is receiving the blessing which we don’t deserve. But here, mercy is used to describe it all. In God’s great mercy, He doesn’t just save us and leave us forever. No; in His great mercy He gives us hope, He gives us an inheritance, He gives us heaven. He gives us Himself.
How better can I describe this?
When Jesus entered Jericho to pass through, he encountered a sinful little man named Zacchaeus. How much did Jesus know about Zacchaeus when he entered the city? He knew his name, He knew what Zacchaeus did for a living, and He knew that Zacchaeus was a very sinful man. But when Jesus passed under the tree that Zacchaeus was using to get a better view of Jesus, He stopped, invited Zacchaeus down, and offered to go to his house and spend time with him.
Do you think Jesus could have forgiven Zacchaeus from a distance? Of course he could have. But He went into Zacchaeus’ home and He blessed him there.
God’s mercy is more than forgiving from a distance. God’s mercy moves Him to acts of kindness towards His offenders. God’s mercy move Him to find a way for our salvation. God’s mercy gives us an eternal family. God’s mercy gives us an inheritance to enjoy for eternity. God’s mercy gives us God’s favour in this life. God’s mercy is more than forgiving from a distance, and our mercy ought to copy His.
What does this look like? Jesus tells the story of the Jewish man who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road. The priest and the Pharisee walked on by. No doubt they felt sadness, compassion, and regret for leaving him behind. But the Samaritan didn’t simply feel; he stooped down and lifted the man up, tended his wounds, and at cost to himself left him with a caregiver. The Samaritan’s mercy went beyond feelings to action. And when Jesus asked the people around Him, which one was a neighbour and loved the hurting man, the response from the expert in the law was, “The one who had mercy on him.”
What does this look like in your day-to-day? Imagine you get sideswiped by a passing biker who leaves a scratch and stops to check the damage, you can forgive him – but mercy will check if he’s alright, make sure his bike’s okay.
When your wife, in a stressful time, yells at you undeservedly, you can forgive her – but mercy takes her hand, sits her down and listens to her pains and seeks to help.
On Friday night with the youth we learnt about a missionary group: Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Nate Saint, Pete Fleming and Jim Elliot. This group of missionaries moved with their wives and children down to Ecuador to share the gospel of Jesus with the tribal peoples there. After three years of seeing the friendly Quichuas (Kee-chew-wahs) coming to Christ, they felt called to begin ministering to the Aucas (Ow-cuz), a violently murderous tribe. Over the space of months, as families they planned, prayed, and got closer to the Aucas.
Finally God gave them an open door, and the missionary men set up base at the water’s edge near the Auca village. They met a few Aucas over the space of 4 days. The Aucas had killed all outsiders ever caught in their area, but the men believed the Lord would allow them to minister the gospel to them. On day 6 they were ambushed and brutally murdered.
It’s an incredible story, but it doesn’t end there.
The wives of those men, and their children, were mightily moved by God to forgive the Auca tribe, and the men that had murdered their husbands and fathers. A short while later, the wives were able to go to the Auca tribe themselves and share the gospel, and the tribe accepted Jesus’ forgiveness. Generations of feuds with neighbouring tribes ended as the gospel came in and they ceased killing altogether.
For the wives of those murdered men, they could have gone home to the United States and forgiven their husbands murderers from a distance – but mercy led them back, taking these murderers into their hearts, and showing them the way to be saved.
Why be merciful? Well because God has shown me mercy. Not only has God shown me mercy, but He’s called me to show mercy to others. And His example to us is not just to forgive and let go, but to forgive and reach out. Laying the sword down next to our offenders who deserve our punishment is one thing, but God calls us to reach out and lift our offenders up and help them to Him.