Craig Smith - Mercy Matters
Hey, welcome to Mission Hills. So honored to have you with us today. We are three weeks deep into our Living Proof series where we’re taking a look at seven stories about seven miracles that Jesus performed that are told to us by one of the eyewitnesses to those miracles, a man named John. John doesn’t call them miracles but he calls them signs because these seven things that Jesus did, they do more than just prove that he is who he had said he is, that he’s the Son of God, but they’re signs that point to what kind of God he is and what matters to Him and what matters to Jesus matters to us, or at least it should. At Mission Hills, we’re all about helping people become like Jesus and joining him on mission, and that sort of requires that we care about the things that Jesus cares about, and these miracles tell us a lot about that.
The problem, of course, is that there’s often a disconnect between what Jesus cares about and what we as his followers care about. I know I struggle with that. For instance, 2019 was a really good year in a lot of ways. God did amazing things at Mission Hills and around the world through the ministries that we support. He did some amazing things in my family and that was all great. But honestly, 2019 was hard in some ways, especially as a leader, I had to deal with some pretty difficult things that were pretty taxing. Honestly, probably the most draining of them was I had to make the decision and implement the decision to let two staff people go in 2019 for very different reasons. And that’s just not easy and I’m not the kind of person who can just do that and then sleep easy at night. I stay awake and I don’t make those kinds of decisions on my own. That’s always done with the wisdom and the advice and the support of the elder team as well as my executive team. And in spite of that, I still lay awake at night and I find myself just wondering, you know, “Did we do the right thing?” And I don’t necessarily mean was it the right decision, I mean, did we handle it right? I mean, did we handle the decision with as much grace, and love, and compassion, and mercy, and all those things, and did we do that leading up to it in the midst of it and coming after it? That’s the kind of things that I wonder about.
And honestly, I guess with those two decisions, if I were just really logical, I would say that I think if you know all the facts and the factors, we probably did okay. Not perfect, but not bad. But I also know that there are people who even though it’s because they don’t have all the facts or they’re looking at it from a different perspective, they’re seeing things a little bit differently that they might go, “I don’t know that you did do well. I’m not sure that you were nearly as gracious, and compassionate, and merciful, and kind and all those things as you should have been.” And the truth is they might be right. It’s kind of thing that I wonder about. So here’s what I know. I know that being right and being righteous are two very different things, right? Being right and acting right, they’re just not the same thing. You can be 100% right, but you can handle it wrong. And both of those things matter, being right and being righteous. They both matter. And it’s not an easy road to walk. I think most people can think of sometimes in their lives that you just kind of live in a tension between being right and being righteous. It’s just not an easy thing to do.
And what we’re gonna do today is we’re gonna take a look at a story that I think demonstrates the importance of wrestling like that. The importance of wrestling between those two different things because, unfortunately, the story we’re gonna look at isn’t gonna give you three principles to make the wrestling go away. It’s not gonna give you four steps to always being perfectly right and perfectly righteous at the same time. What the story is gonna do, it’s gonna tell us how important it is that we wrestle with both of those things.
Why don’t you go ahead and grab a Bible and join me. We’re gonna be in the Gospel of John today. John chapter 5. It says this, it says, “Sometime later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now, there is in Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five colored colonnades and here a great number of disabled people used to lie, the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed.” Just a couple things to know, first off, is that this story takes place in a place called Bethesda. In Aramaic, Bethesda means the House of Mercy. That’s really important to this story because the story is all about mercy and so, it’s not a coincidence it takes place in a place that was called the House of Mercy.
Now, there was a pool in this part of the city of Jerusalem, pool in this place called Bethesda, and there was an urban legend around the pool and the urban legend was that every now and then an angel would come and stir the waters of the pool and if you were the first one into the pool after the angel did that, then you would be healed of your disease. Now, I call it an urban legend because I don’t think there’s any reason to think that it was actually something that God did. In fact, archeologists have excavated this particular pool and they found that it had a spring underneath it that people didn’t know about, and there was an intermittent wind. And so, that was probably what caused the waters occasionally to stir. But the point is that there was this urban legend that if you got in there first when the waters were stirred, you could be healed. Because of that, people who had all kinds of physical disabilities and ailments, they congregated there. In fact, they would stay there day and night waiting for that. And so, that’s what John says. He says there’s a large number of disabled people because that’s where they were. And we have this idea then that you have a whole bunch of people in the House of Mercy who are in desperate need of mercy. Does that make sense?
Probably it was not the kind of place that most people would go to regularly. It’s probably the kind of place that most people in Jerusalem avoided. And if you were visiting Jerusalem, it probably wasn’t on the top 10 tourist destinations because it was an uncomfortable place. You had a lot of people with tremendous sickness, and disability, and misery, and it was probably really uncomfortable to see. It probably smelled really bad. There were probably flies and I just…we could go on. But the point is you just, it’s not the kind of place you went.
But Jesus isn’t most people. Right? And it’s exactly where Jesus went, he went to this place and it says, “Now, one who was there had been an invalid for 38 years,” which I think we can all agree is a long time, right? It’s a long time today. I mean, the idea of suffering from some kind of physical disability for 38 years, that sounds like a tremendous thing, but you need to understand that in the ancient world, it’s so much worse because in the ancient world, the average lifespan, I kid you not, was 35 years. Most people lived 35 years or less, which means that this man had suffered longer than most people survived. This is a man in tremendous need of mercy, and it says, “When Jesus found him lying there, when he saw him lying there and he learned that he had been in this condition for a long time…” Pay attention to that. Of all the people that are there in need of mercy, why does Jesus focus on this guy? Because of how long he’d been there. In other words, I don’t think we’re reading between the lines too much to say that Jesus looked around for the man who probably most needed mercy and who needed the most mercy. Of all the people there, he picked this guy because of his desperate need for mercy and he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
Does anyone else feel like that’s a weird question? Yeah. I mean, it’s such a weird question. You almost expect the man to be snarky, right? “Do I wanna get well? Oh no, no. I hang out here because I just…I like the company. The view, have you seen the view from my mat? It’s amazing, right?” It’s a strange question and I don’t know if that question…I don’t know how central it is to the point that God is giving us through the story, but it’s such an odd question. It’s such a unique thing for Jesus to do, an unusual thing for Jesus to do that I think we would miss something important if we didn’t push into it, lean into it just a little bit. He says, “Do you wanna get well?” And the obvious answer was, “Well, of course, I do.” Who would say otherwise? And I think we probably all have some things in our lives that we wish were different, right? We have some places of pain in our lives. Maybe it’s a physical issue. Maybe it’s a relationship that’s draining us. Maybe it’s a work situation. Maybe it’s something in our community, maybe it’s… Gosh, there’s just so many different things that it could be, right? And I think it’s we look at these things and like almost everybody we would go, “Yeah. I wanna be free of that. Of course I wanna be well.”
But here’s something I’ve come to understand in my own life and maybe this is true for some of you as well. I’ve learned that our suffering makes a pretty good shield. I’ve learned the things that I’m suffering with actually provide a pretty good shield for some things that I don’t wanna deal with. There was a time in my life where I was too busy, and I was working four part-time jobs. I was part time as a pastor to the church, I was part-time as a seminary professor, I was part time as a speaker, I was part-time as a leader of a nonprofit organization and all four of those part-time jobs did not add up to a single full-time salary. So there was a lot of stress to keep busy and I remember feeling like, “Yeah, but there’s just so many expectations on me.” There’s so many responsibilities on my shoulder that I felt like, “Yeah, I’m suffering.” And I probably was. I was headed towards burnout, but it’s interesting, I look at that season and I also go, “You know what? I use that as an excuse.” My suffering was a shield.
You know, I could say, “Well, I’m just so busy. There’s so many expectations, so many responsibilities, that’s why I’m not pouring into my marriage the way I should. That’s why I’m not loving my wife the way that I know I need to. I’m so busy, that’s why I’m not engaging with my kids as much as they need me to. I’m so busy, that’s why I’m not connecting and being active in my neighborhood as much as I should be. That’s why I’m not getting plugged into a Life Group or being on mission with Jesus.” In other words, if my suffering was a shield, then I could use it to keep from dealing with things that I know that God was working on me. I know that he was moving, and he was pointing these things out, but I could go, “Oh, yeah, I see that, Lord. Definitely need to do something about that, but I’m so busy. I got this thing.” And our suffering can be a shield. And I think a lot of us kind of struggle with something like that.
So, I’m gonna ask a question. I know I’m meddling, and the sermon just got started, but I think you need to ask yourself this question. What suffering have I turned into a shield? What legitimate suffering? I’m not minimizing and I’m not saying that it’s not real suffering, it probably is something that is legitimately very, very difficult in your life. But if you turned it into a shield to keep you from dealing with other things that God might be calling you to pay some attention to, what suffering have I turned into a shield? And then maybe, just maybe Jesus wants to ask you what he asked this man, “You’re suffering?” And he said to him, “Do you want to get well? Are you sure? Really sure? Even if it means you lose that shield. Even it means you let down your guard and we’re gonna have to deal with all that other stuff that you’ve been deflecting with this suffering?”
I mean, the fact that Jesus asked this man this, to me, suggests that Jesus knew there was more going on with this man than just his physical disability. He said, “Do you wanna get well?” “Well, sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred and while I’m trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Which is interesting because he didn’t really answer the question, did he? He gave an excuse. Well, not just an excuse, he actually cast some blame, didn’t he? “You know, I can’t get down because there’s nobody to help me down there, but also when I’m trying…” And whatever condition he had, we know that it meant he wasn’t very mobile. “When I’m trying somebody else always gets in front of me. They jump in front me, they get down there before I can get into. So, it’s kind of their fault, right?” He doesn’t answer the question. It was a simple yes or no question. “Do you wanna get well?” I mean, I would take even a sarcastic answer. “No.” Right? But we don’t even get that, right? Instead of a simple answer, he gives an excuse and he assigned some blame.
Again, I suggest to you, that probably suggests that there’s more going on here than just a physical disability. But it’s interesting that even though he made an excuse and assigned the blame, Jesus did not withhold grace. Jesus did not withhold mercy. Jesus continued to be merciful. And so, Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your mat and walk.” And at once the man was cured and he picked up his mat and he walked. Wouldn’t it be cool to see? And I imagine in my head that, you know, the command Jesus gives, “Get up,” it’s a pretty strong command. And so, he’s like, “Hey, do you wanna be healed?” “Well, I can’t get in there and there’s these people.” “Get up.” “Okay, Whoa, that’s never happened. I’m up.” And Jesus said, “Pick up your mat.” “Okay.” And then he says, “Walk.”
There’s no way that didn’t turn into dancing really fast, right? Jesus has mercy on him. He heals him. Now, the day in which this took place was a Sabbath. Here’s where the story gets really interesting. If you don’t know what the Sabbath is, I wanna catch you up. Maybe you’ve never heard about the Sabbath. Maybe church has not been a regular part of your life. Maybe you’re not really all that familiar with the Bible. That’s okay. We’re so glad that you’re here, but I wanna catch you up because this is important. And here’s the thing, you don’t need to have spent a lot of time in church or know much about the Bible to have heard about the 10 Commandments, right?
Again so we’ve all heard of the big 10, right? Well, one of those 10 Commandments that God gave his people says this, this is Exodus 28. Says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all of your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it, you shall not do any work.” Which is a really clear command in principle, but it’s a little fuzzy in practice, right? It’s clear in principle, “Hey, one day a week, don’t work. Stop working. Rest.” In fact, the Hebrew word for rest is Sabbath. Really clear in principle. Practice, it’s a little complicated because what exactly counts as work, right? How much work can you do before you’ve like crossed the line into working, right? Because you can’t just lay in bed. You’ve got to do a few things, but what is… And here’s the interesting thing. You know, God didn’t really answer that question. And so, in Jesus’ day, the religious leaders of his Jesus’ day were helping God out.
And I say that with a certain amount of sarcasm but also of sort of amount sort of self-admission. Because here’s the thing about religious leaders, you need to know about us. It’s about me too. We love to give really clear answers to questions that God left open. I go, “Yeah, God didn’t answer that question, but I can do that for you. Here it is.” We love to do that. And they’re helping God out there. And so, they’d come up with a bunch of other rules and regulations, a bunch of other laws to help people honor the Sabbath. Now, I believe, I really deeply believe that this was motivated by good things. They had good motives for this. They wanted to honor God and they wanted to help people honor God by obeying his commandment to rest on the Sabbath, to honor that day and because there wasn’t a lot of clarity about what exactly constituted work, they started filling it in and I think there was already good motivation, but there were several things they did.
Now, two of them, in particular, matter for us. One of them that was they said, “Hey, okay, here’s one of the things you need to pay attention to. You cannot move an object from one place to another unless it’s a very, very short distance. You can’t take an object out of one domain,” they said, “To another domain.” So, for instance, they could say, you know, “You can take a water pitcher from your kitchen counter to your kitchen table but you can’t take a water pitcher from your house to the well because you’ve moved from one place to another and that’s work, so you can’t do that.” Now, interestingly enough, Jesus said, “Get up.” “I’m up.” What’s the next thing he said? He said, “Pick up your mat.” Interesting. He didn’t have to say that. It’s not like Jesus was concerned he was littering or that he’d forget his stuff. He’s very deliberate. He said, “Get up, pick up your mat,” and the guy picks it up and the implication is he’s carrying it now. And then what does Jesus say? He says, “And walk.”
Now, there was another big rule and that was you could only walk so many steps on the Sabbath before you were working. And different rabbis, different religious leaders, they differed. They had disagreements and some debates around how many steps you could take, but all of them agreed on one thing, you couldn’t just walk around. That was work. And interestingly enough, that’s exactly very literally what Jesus said to him. He said, “Pick up your mat and walk around.” The Greek word he uses is “peripateo” and a bunch of you are like, “Is there gonna be a quiz? Do I do I need to write that down?” This is just a bonus for some of you because you like this stuff. Peripateo, pateo means walk. Peri means around. It’s where we get the word perimeter from. Literally what Jesus said is get up, pick up your mat, carry it, and walk around. Two of the most important regulations that have been put in place so that people didn’t dishonor the Sabbath. Why would Jesus do that?
Jesus is setting up a showdown between his mercy and their morality. You with me, Church? He’s setting up a showdown between his mercy and their morality, their understanding of what it means to honor God by the rules and the regulations, what it is to be moral. He’s setting up a showdown. So he says to the man, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk around.” And so, he did.” And, of course, the religious leaders were out there making sure that people were paying attention to morality and so, they saw him. Verse 10 says, “And so, the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, it is the Sabbath. The law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, pick up your mat and walk.” And you see what’s happening there? John’s making sure that we understand how important the mercy business is, right? He’s focused on the mercy. How does he identify the man? It’s the man who had been well, been made well, that’s mercy. When the man speaks to answer their question, he says, “Well, the man who made me well, the man who gave me mercy.” It’s all about the mercy. Mercy is front and center. And so they said, “Oh, well, who is this man who gave you mercy? Who’s this man who healed you? How long have you been struggling? How long you’ve been suffering? He’s taken that away. You know, praise be to God. That’s amazing.”
It’s also not what they said. They asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” Anything missing? Yeah, the mercy. There’s no interest in the mercy. There’s no interest in the healing. There’s absolutely no interest in anything other than their morality. Listen, this is a hard truth for a Bible-driven church, but it’s a truth that we have to come to grips with. It is possible to get so focused on morality that we forget about mercy. And that’s what’s happening here. I genuinely believe that their motivations were good, but they were so focused on morality that mercy wasn’t even on their radar. Even confronted with a man who suffered longer than most people survived, all they care about is morality. It’s possible to get so focused on morality that we forget about mercy and that’s a dangerous thing.
Now, it says, “The man who was healed had no idea who it was for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.” Jesus didn’t tell him who he was. He didn’t give him his name. He didn’t tell him anything. He just said, “Get up, pick up your mat, walk.” And the guy’s like, “Okay.” They’re like, “Who was it? Who told you to pick that up? Who told you to break our moral principles? Who told you that you could do that?” And he’s like, “I don’t know. I don’t know who it was.” And they grilled him. I guarantee you, it wasn’t a passing conversation. They interrogated the man, they pushed in, but eventually, they had to let him go because he’s just, “I’m sorry, I don’t know.”
Now, later, Jesus found him at the temple. Pay attention to that. They didn’t accidentally run into each other. It’s not like they were passing in the streets and Jesus is like, “Hey, you’re that guy.” He’s like, “No, you’re that guy and let’s talk.” No, no, no. Jesus went looking for him. Jesus found him and he said to him, he said, “See?” Literally, it’s behold, it’s a very powerful word, “Behold, you are well again.” That’s mercy, front and center. And then he says this. “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” That’s morality. And some of you are very relieved that I said that because some of you got nervous. Some of you got nervous because when we started talking all about this mercy business, you’re like, “Yeah but…” But, but, but, but, but morality matters. And I don’t want Mission Hills to go down that route that we’re just, you know, we’re just all love and all-inclusive, we don’t pay any attention to God’s commandments or his character. “And it sounds like you’re heading down that direction. Craig, what are you doing?” Some of you got nervous. So stop being nervous. For a second. I’m gonna make you nervous again, but let’s make sure it’s for the right reasons.
Listen, Jesus cares equally about mercy and morality. You hear me? There’s no question about that. Jesus cares equally about mercy and morality and he’s not just giving a passing nod to morality here. We wanna recognize that, okay? He puts mercy front and center, but then he doesn’t just like do a touch and go on morality. He says, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” What could possibly be worse than suffering longer than most people survive? What could possibly be worse than 38 years of a physical disability? Hell. An eternity separated from God in misery. Because the Bible is clear that the wages of sin is death and it’s not just physical death, it’s eternal separation from God in Hell. And Jesus taught us more about Hell than anybody else. And that surprises a lot of people because they think of Jesus as he’s all mercy and he is all mercy, but he’s also all morality. And Jesus understands that the wages of sin is death. And that because we are not living in alignment with God and his character and his commandments, there is an eternal penalty. There is an eternal price to be paid for that. And it is conscious, it is agony, and it is endless.
Why did Jesus teach so much about Hell? Because he’s all about mercy. Because morality matters, but he’s merciful. He loves us and so, he doesn’t want us to face that consequence of our sin, right? And it’s not just this guy, right? Let’s be really clear about that with each other. When it comes to morality, we all fall short. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?” You’ve done it, I’ve done it, every one of us has done it. We continue to do it, and there’s a consequence for it, it’s an eternal consequence. And that would be really bad news if it weren’t for the fact that the same Jesus who shows us that morality matters also shows us mercy because that is the Gospel right? Our sin separates us from God, but God loves us so much, he sent his Son, Jesus. Jesus came, he lived a perfect life, so we had no sin to atone for, no sin to pay off. So when he went to the cross, he went there as a willing substitute. He died on the cross to pay for my sin. He died on the cross to pay for your sin. He rose from the dead. He offers salvation by a relationship. We say yes to a relationship with Jesus, we put our faith in him, and we are forgiven, and we are free, and Hell is no longer a part of the package. But make no mistake about it. Mercy and morality both matter and we see both of them in the life of Jesus. Same Jesus who shows us that morality matters, and it does, he also shows us mercy.
And I think it’s important that we understand that what Jesus said to this man was not just, “Hey, there’s mercy. Hope you enjoy it. Now, stop sinning, you’re on your own”. That’s not what he’s saying when he says, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” What he’s doing is he’s actually giving an invitation. He’s asking the man to read between the lines just a little and go, “Hey, you see what I did with your body? Yeah. Maybe just maybe, the one who could do that with your body could do something about this other much bigger problem with your soul.” There’s an offer there. There’s an invitation there. How does the man respond to the invitation?
Verse 15, “The man went away and he told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.” That strike anybody else as strange? It should cause it’s a weird thing. And in the original Greek, John actually emphasizes the going away, puts it at the beginning of the sentence, which gives it a certain amount of weight in Greek grammar. And so, what he says very literally is going away, walking away. He went to the Jewish leaders and he said, “I know who it was.” You wanted to know. I didn’t know before, but I know now. His name is Jesus. Go deal with him. And see, the interesting thing about it is if I understand this, correctly, I’m pretty sure the man just sold out Jesus. He didn’t have to go find the leaders. They’d let him go. They grilled him and they finally gave up because like I think he just genuinely doesn’t know because he didn’t.
And then Jesus comes and he says, “Look, I’ve made you well but I am offering you something that’s more than just physical healing.” And the man went away. He went away from Jesus. He walked away from Jesus. He went to Jesus’ enemies and went, “I’ve that information you’re looking for.” Why would he do that? Because, and I think this is the only thing that makes sense. He was more afraid of what they would do to him than attracted to what Jesus would do for him. He was afraid of what the religious leaders would do to him. And understand, the religious leaders had tremendous power in those days. They had the ability to ex-communicate and they had the ability to say, “You can’t hold a job in this community. You can’t see your family.” They had tremendous power and they’ve demonstrated over and over again, they were more than willing to use it for the people that weren’t moral enough for them. The people that didn’t meet their standard of morality, they used their power in incredibly harsh and harmful ways. And he was afraid of that.
In fact, he was more afraid of what they could do to him than he was attracted to what Jesus could do for him. And here’s the thing. Like I wish this weren’t true and I wish this weren’t the point of the story, but I’m pretty sure it is. For these religious leaders, morality mattered more to them than mercy. And what was the conclusion of it? They drove this man away from Jesus, and that’s the unfortunate truth that we have to wrestle with. See, when we are more concerned with morality than mercy, we drive people away from Jesus. You hear me, Church? When we’re more concerned about morality than mercy, we drive people away from Jesus.
We could talk about so many different ways that happens. We could talk about the way that we deal with homosexuality, with the immigration issue. We could talk about politics. There’s just so many ways we could talk about the ways that we fall short on the example that Jesus has given us. But today is Sanctity of Life Weekend. It’s a day where, if you’re not familiar with it, it’s a day where churches all over America sort of stand together to affirm the sanctity of human life, meaning that every human life from conception is sacred to God as a human being. And it’s kind of a stance against abortion. And I wanna push into it a little bit because I think this was such a powerful place to begin to understand how this truth that we see in God’s Word sometimes goes unrecognized in the Church.
We always struggle with how much to talk about Sanctity of Life Weekend here at Mission Hills because on the one hand it’s really important, we believe this and we wanna affirm this. On the other hand, I know that many people listening right now have abortion as part of their story. I know there are many women here and men as well for whom abortion is a part of their story. And we have absolutely no interest in causing you a deeper wound than you’ve already experienced. We have no interest in driving the knife or twisting it and we know that just bringing the issue up is gonna cause pain and it’s gonna cause all kinds of suffering and we don’t have any interest in doing that. But at the same time, we also have to recognize and stand on what God says. And so, we wrestle with this and part of the reason that I think we wrestle with it is because we know that the Church has not always wrestled with it and that some of the people who have abortion as part of their story, they have received a whole big heap and dose of morality and little to no mercy. They’ve been told harsh, harsh things that don’t give any care about understanding.
Now, let me be clear. This is really important that nobody misunderstands me on this. I believe that every human life is sacred from conception, which means I believe abortion is wrong. I believe abortion is a sin. Let me be very clear on that. But I’ve talked an awful lot of women and men who have abortion as part of their story, and I have yet to meet one who is not in deep anguish over it. People seem to have this idea that people get abortions because it’s just easy and convenient and I’ve never met one of those people. I’ve met a whole lot of people who have abortion as part of their story because they were in a place of darkness and despair, and they didn’t know what to do, and they didn’t have anybody to guide them, and they didn’t know what alternatives there were, and it’s painful.
I have heard Christians say to people that have abortion in their story. I’ve heard them say, “You only did that so you could continue your sinful sexual lifestyle. It was a matter of convenience for you.” I’ve never met one of those people. But you know what? Let’s say that there are those people, let’s say that there are people out there who pursued abortion so they could continue to pursue a sinful sexual lifestyle. Do you think it might be worth asking what happened to them to get them to that point? Do you think that the person who is living that lifestyle maybe, just maybe grew up without a father, grew up in an abusive home, suffered sexual or physical abuse, and that’s part of their story too that led them to that place of darkness? Do you think maybe asking how they got to that point is part of this whole mercy business? Now, understand. Please, again, I’m gonna say it because I can’t stand the thought anybody would misunderstand me. None of that makes it right. None of that story makes abortion okay. The morality is what the morality is. But there’s power in mercy and in understanding the stories that led them to that. Listen to me. When we don’t, it drives people away from Jesus. There are women, I know women who will not darken the door of a church because of the harsh and uncaring and the merciless things that were said to them. Listen, when we care more about morality than mercy, we drive people away from Jesus. We do.
Let me teach you three things that I’ve learned about mercy from Jesus. Okay? Number one, mercy and morality don’t sit on a seesaw. It’s kind of a silly way of saying you don’t have to have less of one when you have more of the other. It doesn’t work that way. They’re not balancing like that. We seem to have this idea that, “Well, if I’m really gonna take morality seriously, if I’m really gonna take God’s character and his commands seriously, then mercy necessarily has to be less of a focus. But if I’m really gonna focus on mercy then I really can’t focus much on morality.” And I think the Church does that a lot. There are parts of the Church that that’s what they’ve chosen to do. But this idea that they’re sitting on a teeter-totter, that you can’t have a lot of one without a lot of the other, that’s garbage thought. It’s a lie from the pit. And if you feel that way, you need to ask the Holy Spirit to set you free from that lie because it’s just a lie. We see in the life of Jesus a consistent emphasis on the importance of both morality and mercy. Over and over again, Jesus says, “I love you.” Over and over again, Jesus says, “I heal you.” Over and over again, Jesus says, “I forgive you.” Followed immediately, “Stop sinning. Go and sin no more. Stop sinning or something worse.” That’s both, right? Morality and mercy, they’re not sitting on a seesaw.
Second thing that I’ve learned about mercy is this, that there is no mercy without morality. Fundamental misunderstanding in our culture. But the reality is if you don’t have a moral code, if you don’t understand right from wrong, if you don’t have some ability to discern what is, in fact, moral, you cannot have mercy. Because mercy is how we treat people with kindness who have sinned, right? We have experienced mercy. I have experienced mercy from God because I’m a sinner. If I wasn’t a sinner, I don’t need mercy. There’s no mercy without morality. What there is, is apathy, actually. “Oh, I’m merciful.” No, you’re not. You just don’t care about what God says is right and wrong or you don’t know what it is. That’s apathy. That’s not mercy. Sometimes what we get is a mercy that’s really, it’s kind of a wrongheaded do-good. If I just love people, if I don’t tell them that they’re doing something wrong, then I’m being merciful. No, no, no. If they’re living a life that is separated from God, they’re not in alignment with God, his character, his commands, and they’re on a road to an eternity apart from him to not tell them that, that’s not love and it’s absolutely not mercy. It’s apathy. Do you understand what I’m saying? There is no mercy without morality.
The third thing I’ve learned is this. The lack of mercy is a moral issue. Lacking mercy is a moral issue from God’s perspective. Those of us who lack mercy have transgressed God’s morality. It’s not a possibility, it’s not an option. Mercy is a moral issue. Listen, Jesus, “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites, you give a tenth of your spices, mint, dill, and cumin, but you have neglected the more important matters of the law.” Pay attention to that, the more important matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, morality matters, without neglecting the former because morality matters. Mercy is a moral issue. Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means. I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, they’ll be shown mercy.” Mercy is a moral issue. And when we’re more concerned with morality than with mercy, we drive people away from Jesus, which is the exact opposite of what we’re called to do as a Church. We’re supposed to be the light that draws them to Jesus, and we can’t do that by ignoring morality. But we can’t do that by ignoring the command of mercy or this truth that we’re given in the Gospel of John, that when we focus more on morality than mercy, we drive people away from Jesus.
A couple of questions for you. Number one, where am I most likely to fall off the roof when it comes to mercy and morality? It’s kinda like, you know, you’re walking down that peak on the roof and on one side there’s mercy and the other side there’s morality. Most of us tend to fall off. If we’re gonna fall off, we fall off in one direction or the other. We either fall off, we’re focusing more on morality than mercy or we focus more on mercy than morality. Which side do you tend to fall off? Good to be aware of that tendency because you can lean a little bit in the other direction. It’s also the case we sometimes to do that with individual things more than like as a general. Maybe it’s a general stance in one reaction, but the other is sometimes just this bigger issue. On this issue, I’m more focused on the morality and not so much in the mercy. On this issue, I’m all about the mercy but not the morality and I think it’s good to isolate those things, understand them because we need to lean in the other direction a little bit so we stay in the tension. So we stay on the peak.
And it’s so important we do that because question number two is this, who in my life most needs living proof of God’s mercy? So many of you are here and you’re part of this today because you have experienced the mercy of God. And having experienced the mercy of God, you become the agent of the mercy God. You become the living proof, the demonstration. So who in your life needs living proof that our God is a merciful God? And question number three, where the rubber meets the road. How will I be that living proof? How will I be the living proof of the mercy of God? Not by ignoring morality, because that’s not possible. If you ignore morality, it’s not even mercy anymore. And how am I gonna be living proof of the mercy of God, of the mercy of God that you’ve experienced, and you’re called to demonstrate? Would you pray with me?
God, this is kind of a hard truth, and it’s not really a fun one because it just hits too close to home for me. I don’t always wrestle successfully with this. It’s easy to lean one direction or the other and yet you show us here that we don’t have that option. Morality matters and mercy matters and somehow, we’re supposed to live in both. We ask for your forgiveness for the ways that we’ve fallen off the roof one way or the other and specifically because of the demonstration from this story in your Word. We ask for your forgiveness for the ways that we have not been merciful and that in our lack of mercy, maybe we’ve even driven a wedge between some people in our lives and you. What a shame that by our lack of mercy, we would drive people away from the God of mercy, from our God of mercy. We ask for your forgiveness and we ask for strength through your Holy Spirit, wisdom through your Holy Spirit to be able to somehow live in this tension. And ask that you’d use that, Lord, to draw people to yourself.
If you’re a follower of Jesus now, would you begin praying for the people around you, the people watching online? Because I believe there are people watching here that they don’t have an experience of the mercy of God. You’re listening to this and you don’t have a relationship with God, you’ve never been saved from your sin. And, honestly, maybe the reason that you’ve never said yes to faith in Jesus is because, well, you’ve had people in your life that focus so much on morality, that you didn’t get much of a glimpse of the mercy.
Listen, we’ve all sinned. That’s morality. But God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. That’s mercy. And if you’ve never accepted what he did for you, you can. Nothing you have ever done, whether things we’ve talked about today or any of those other things that are weighing you down with guilt and with shame, nothing you’ve ever done has the ability to exhaust the mercy of our God. The blood of Jesus is sufficient to pay for every single wrong you’ve ever done. If you’re here today and you’ve never allowed him to do that, if you never his gift of grace and mercy and forgiveness, you can do it right here, right now. Here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re just gonna have a conversation with God in your heart and you’re gonna tell him this:
Hey, God, I need your mercy because I’ve sinned. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross in my place. I believe you rose from the dead, and I know you’re offering me forgiveness and freedom because of your mercy. I’m saying yes. Jesus, I’m putting my faith in you. Right here, right now, I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.