The Great Hope for Sinners

On the inexhaustible mercy of God

I cheated on her.” Tears welled up in Jim’s eyes as he looked across the room at his wife and continued. “I was a big shot in the business world. The pride got to me, and I thought I could do anything. I danced too close with someone at an event, one thing led to another, and … I made the biggest mistake of my life.”

It was the first time Jim and I ever met. We were at a dinner together with our spouses, and I’d asked for his story. And this was what he chose as a defining moment for his life. What surprised me most, however, was that the tears were not so much of sadness (the affair had been two decades ago), but of deep affection, from an inexhaustible well of gratitude for his wife, the love of his life.

The tears were not so much of sadness, but of deep affection, from an inexhaustible well of gratitude for his wife, the love of his life.

“She forgave me. I mean, she called me out for being an arrogant jerk and then set healthy boundaries. So I had to do my work for a season to own up to what I’d become, but she forgave me.” He looked as if he were about to break with joy as he stared with moist eyes across the room at her. “I love her so much.” What made this such a transformative moment in Jim’s life? He’d been shown mercy.

The Essence of God

Our God is a God of mercy. Jim’s story is an appropriate inroad to this divine attribute, because adultery is used throughout the Bible to describe the variety of ways we, as God’s people, have betrayed Him. We were created for intimacy and communion with the heavenly Father, but our idolatry and injustice have wreaked havoc on the relationship. Yet over and over again, like Jim’s wife, God reveals Himself to be merciful.

Mercy is not just something God does; it’s who He is. In Exodus, God reveals His name to Moses, and guess which attribute He opens with? Merciful. “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious” (Ex. 34:6 KJV). This is unprecedented.

“Like a pitcher filled to the brim and overflowing with wine, God’s identity spills over with the richness of His mercy and lovingkindness to His people.”

God’s name speaks to His identity—the place that goes deeper than actions or behavior, grounded down into the roots of His essence. It is revolutionary to consider that the King of all the earth, in His heart of hearts, is “full of compassion” (Psalm 116:5 NIV). Like a pitcher filled to the brim and overflowing with wine, God’s identity spills over with the richness of His mercy and lovingkindness to His people.

The Hebrew word in both these passages, racham, can be translated as “mercy” or “compassion.” It’s often used in the context of forgiveness, such as when Asaph rejoiced that God “was merciful; he forgave their iniquities” (Psalm 78:38 NIV). Like Jim, we often experience the character of mercy most profoundly when we’re on the receiving end of forgiveness. It changes the direction of our story and reunites us with the intimacy and communion we were made for.

Mercy for Sinners

You and I, however, are often not merciful. King Solomon recognized that the righteous will care for the needs of not only people but also animals, whereas even “the compassion of the wicked is cruel” (Prov. 12:10). The prophet Isaiah laments an enemy whose “bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants, nor will they look with compassion on children” (Isa. 13:18 NIV).

Human beings can be coldhearted beasts.

Fortunately, by contrast, God’s mercy is inexhaustible. David cried out in deep distress, “Do not let me fall into the hand of man,” recognizing how merciless people can be, and instead pleaded, “Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord for His mercies are great” (2 Samuel 24:14). David recognized the all-surpassing greatness of divine compassion that never fails.

Similarly, in the face of great destruction, the prophet Jeremiah found hope in God’s unflinching character: “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail” (Lam. 3:22). This means our God is the great hope for sinners, and we can depend on the assurance of His faithful love even when we’ve been faithless.

“Like a sculpture shaped by skillful hands, we have been chiseled into form by the extravagant love of God.”

God can’t be duped, however, nor will He permit His love to be mocked. While God is “slow to anger,” a hard-hearted testing of His patience is a bad idea. Resolute rebellion is ill-advised. Israel frequently experienced judgment, in the withdrawal of His mercy. Yet even then, in the barren land of exile, they knew they were not ultimately abandoned but found hope in God’s unfailing covenant love (Neh. 9:17; Neh. 9:19; Neh. 9:31).

A Merciful Savior

Jesus is the pinnacle of God’s mercy. When Mary finds out she’s pregnant with the Savior, she rejoices in song, praising God whose “mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation,” and who “has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful … forever” (Luke 1:50; Luke 1:54-55 NIV).

Mercy is also a main characteristic of Jesus’ ministry. After exorcising a legion of demons, He tells the liberated man to go home and proclaim how God has “had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). The sick, the blind, and the afflicted cry out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me!” and He gladly responds, healing and making them whole (Matt. 15:22; Matt. 17:15; Mark 10:47-48). It is because of God’s great forgiveness, Jesus teaches, that the immoral tax collector can cry out, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” and be heard (Luke 18:13).

Ultimately, it is at the cross that the mercy of God is most extravagantly shown. Here Christ meets the claims of justice in order to set us free. Here we plumb the depths of a God who is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4) and reveals Himself to be the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

God’s mercy also forms us as the body of Christ. As Peter puts it, “you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). Like a sculpture shaped by skillful hands, we have been chiseled into form by the extravagant love of God.

The Lord’s mercy provokes worship. When we recognize the extent of God’s compassion on our behalf, it pours fuel on the flames of devotion and evokes affection from the depths of our heart. As Paul encourages us, “by the mercies of God, to present [our] bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1), we offer ourselves in worship to the One who offered Himself for us.

 

Illustrations by Adam Cruft

Related Topics:  Intimacy with God

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6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;

5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; Yes, our God is compassionate.

38 But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them; And often He restrained His anger And did not arouse all His wrath.

10 A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel.

18 And their bows will mow down the young men, They will not even have compassion on the fruit of the womb, Nor will their eye pity children.

14 Then David said to Gad, I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the LORD for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man."

22 The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.

17 They refused to listen, And did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them.

31 Nevertheless, in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them, For You are a gracious and compassionate God.

50 AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM.

54 He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy,

55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever."

19 And He did not let him, but He said to him, Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you."

22 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed."

15 Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water.

47 When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

48 Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

19 You, in Your great compassion, Did not forsake them in the wilderness; The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, To guide them on their way, Nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go.

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