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Watch 2022 online sermons » Craig Smith » Craig Smith - Come Find Your Mercy

Craig Smith - Come Find Your Mercy

Craig Smith - Come Find Your Mercy
TOPICS: Come Find Your Mercy, Shame, Mercy

Feel free to go ahead and grab a seat. And we’re gonna be digging into a subject today that has been called the hidden epidemic of our era. It’s not one of those out front-and-center epidemics. You can’t track it like COVID-19. There’s not daily and minute-by-minute updates on infections and what kind of damage it’s doing. But I believe this is actually an epidemic that is every bit as damaging as COVID-19, if not more so because ultimately, honestly, what we’re gonna be talking about today has the potential to have eternal consequences, eternal impact. And what I’m talking about is the hidden epidemic of something called shame.

And I just wanna acknowledge right up front that some people might have a hard time believing that shame is an epidemic because we seem to live in a culture that is really shameless, right? I mean, the things that we used to consider wrong and bad we often as a culture now, we say they’re normal, they’re right. Things that we used to be afraid to talk about in secret we now celebrate in public. And so it’s kind of easy to look around our culture and go, “We don’t have an epidemic of shame. We’re actually a shameless culture. We just don’t have any of it.” And I get that, but what I’ve come to believe is that the surface level departure of shame as a culture has actually masked a deep entrenchment of shame at the personal and a profound level. The reality is that I think that shame is an incredibly damaging thing.

You probably should understand what exactly I mean by shame. Let me define it for you. Here’s what I mean when I talk about shame. Shame is the persistent feeling that our mistakes have made us unworthy of love and belonging. It’s the persistent feeling that because of the bad that we’ve done, because of the sin that we’ve committed, we’re unworthy of love and belonging. It’s not just that we acknowledge we have done bad things. We think that the bad things that we have done have made us people who are unworthy of love and acceptance. And that, I think, is a problem because that becomes a barrier between us and God. It becomes a barrier as followers of Jesus between us and experiencing what God really intended us to experience. And it becomes a barrier to us actually being able to communicate to others everything that God has for them. Shame is an incredibly destructive thing. Now, I wanna make a distinction because I think this is important. There’s a difference between what I’m calling shame and what we often call guilt. We sometimes use the two words together, almost as though they’re the same thing, but I don’t think shame and guilt are the same thing at all. I actually think that guilt can be a good thing.

See, guilt is what says, “Okay. That’s wrong. I did something wrong.” There’s nothing wrong with saying that I’ve done something wrong. There’s actually a power to guilt. Guilt can be a very productive thing. Guilt can cause us to repent. It can cause us to turn away from the wrong that we’re doing. It can cause us to turn back to God. Guilt can drive us to our knees before God asking for forgiveness. Guilt’s a good thing. Guilt’s productive. Shame, on the other hand, is almost always destructive because shame basically says that because of the wrong that we’ve done, God doesn’t have anything to do with us. And so shame can drive us away from God. Guilt can drive us to our knees before God, but shame actually drives us away from God who’s the only source of forgiveness and hope and redemption because shame says, “God doesn’t want anything to do with you even if he were to see you come down.”

Here’s the thing. Guilt tells us we need forgiveness. Shame tells us we’ll never get it. Are you with me? That’s the difference. Guilt tells us we need forgiveness. That’s a good thing. Shame tells us we’ll never get it because God doesn’t want anything to do with us. And I have come to believe over about 30 years of vocational ministry that shame is alive and well in our culture and in our churches, and it’s eating us alive. For the last 30 years, I’ve just had countless conversations with people sitting on the couch in my office or the couch in my home as Coletta and I talked to them. And they’re living under a cloud of shame that is driving a wedge between them and God and it’s driving a wedge between them and other believers. I just can’t tell you how many of these conversations I’ve had. One that really just weighs heavy in my heart is a young man that I got to know when I was a youth pastor back in Cincinnati and he was just this guy that’s just full of life. Everyone loved him. He just had this natural warmth about him. Everybody wanted to be his friend. He genuinely loved people and he loved God and he loved connecting people to God. I really thought God’s hand was on him to become a pastor of some kind. I thought he was being called to vocational minister. He thought that. He actually served with me as an intern once when I was at a church here in Colorado. And I just loved this kid and I was just so looking forward to seeing what God was gonna do through him.

Somewhere in his journey, he got addicted to pornography. And obviously, that’s an incredibly damaging addiction. It does incredible harm to us. It does incredible harm to our relationships for all kinds of reasons we’re not gonna get into today. But what was really worse in his life wasn’t the addiction itself. It was the shame that he felt because of it. He got into this place where he really could no longer believe that God could love him. He could no longer believe that God could forgive him. He could no longer believe that he had any business being with other believers who would love him and help him move past this addiction, and it just destroyed his life. He actually literally died this past year. And he was lying in a hospital. And nobody was really sure what was wrong. I believe at the bottom of my heart what really killed him was shame. It was this cloud that he was living under.

And the tragedy of that is, as we read through the Gospels… Well, guilt, again, is certainly a useful thing when we reckon if we’ve done something wrong and we go to God for forgiveness. Shame is not a useful thing, and yet, unfortunately, it’s a thing that just exists and persists in our culture and it does damage like it did to that young man. And many of you as you’re listening to this, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You feel this. And maybe it’s a shame that you felt because of the wrong that you’ve done and you’ve built it for yourself, or maybe it’s something that other people have cast upon you. They’ve made you to feel this, but it doesn’t matter how we get to it. When we get to it, it does the same thing. No matter how we get it, shame shades us from God’s love or shame shades us from the light of God’s love. It keeps us from experiencing it. It’s a little bit like walking around under an umbrella in the warm spring sun, or it’s worse than that. It’s like walking around under an umbrella where rain is pouring out of the umbrella itself when we’re walking around under blue skies.

And so over the next few weeks, we’re gonna lean into what the Bible has to say by getting out from under the shade of shame. And we’re gonna start by taking a look at an event from the life of Jesus as recounted for us by an eyewitness to it, a man named Matthew. So, if you wanna grab a Bible and start making your way, we’re gonna be in the Gospel of Matthew today starting in chapter nine. And actually, what we’re gonna see today is the story of how Matthew who wrote this became a follower of Jesus, which is interesting because, honestly, as we begin to see who Matthew is, we’re gonna recognize that Matthew is the kind of guy that honestly should have been living under shame. Matthew is the kind of guy that would probably have been living under this cloud of shame that would have made him feel like, “God doesn’t want anything to do with me.” And yet, what we’re gonna see is that God absolutely not only had a desire to have a relationship with him, but he had plans for him.

And so we’re gonna be in Matthew chapter 9, verse 1, which begins this way/ “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and he came to his own town. Now, some men brought to him a paralyzed man lying on a mat. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘Take heart, son. Your sins are forgiven,'” which seems like an odd thing to say, right? I mean, they’ve just brought this guy to him and they’ve laid him down. His legs don’t work. And so they’re…obviously, they’ve heard about Jesus’s ability to heal people. Maybe they’ve heard about his ability to heal people even with this kind of condition. And so they bring this man who’s paralyzed, they lay him down, and Jesus looks at him and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” And my guess is they kind of were like, “Thank you, but what about his legs? Because see, we were hoping you do something about his body. We weren’t really looking for any kind of spiritual thing.” And from our perspective, what Jesus says here may seem kind of out of the blue. It may even seem a little bit inappropriate. But what you need to understand is that in the first century, there was a very common belief that a person’s physical problems were as a result of their spiritual failings, a result of their sin. So, the natural assumption for most people was that he was paralyzed because of his sin.

And while Jesus later in the Gospels actually refutes that idea, he says, “That’s not where physical problems come from,” here in this instance, instead of kind of refuting that belief, he decides to kind of use it. And so what he does by saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” is he’s essentially saying to the people, “Hey, I’m gonna go after the source rather than the symptom. You think his physical illness is a symptom of his sin? Well, I’m gonna go after the source.” And they would have understood it in that context. So, in that context, what he says here makes sense, but that doesn’t make it any less shocking, which is why verse three says, “At this, hearing him say this, some of the teachers of the Law, the religious experts, they said to themselves, ‘This fellow was blaspheming.'” And blasphemy is not one of those words that we use very often these days, but it basically just means a serious insult against God. So, essentially, they’re saying, “This guy’s throwing shade at God. Who does he think it is? Where does he get off making this kind of a statement?”

Now, there’s two reasons why they would have said that. The first is they would have understood that by claiming to forgive this man’s sin, Jesus was essentially claiming to be God. Okay? And the reason for that is very simple. It’s that the only person who can forgive a sin is the person that was sinned against. Does that make sense? Think about this. If you wanna come up to me at the Littleton campus between services and you wanted to shake my hand, but instead of shaking your hand, I punched you in the face, which, let me just be clear, almost never happens. Okay? It’s extremely rare. Okay? But if it did happen, if I punched you in the face, you could forgive me. You might choose not to, but you could forgive me.

But what somebody else couldn’t do is like somebody couldn’t see that and come running over and go, “Oh, no. Pastor Craig, it’s okay. I forgive you.” You’d be like, “Not your option.” Right? He didn’t punch you in the face. When he punches you in the face then you can forgive him but you can’t forgive him for punching me in the face. You can only forgive someone who has sinned against you. Now, for Jesus to forgive this man who’s laying in front of him is basically to say that this man has sinned against him. And the only one that we sin against by all of our sin is God. Even when we insult another person or hurt another person, we’re ultimately sinning against God because God created that person as his image. They’re special to him. They’re of value to him. And when we treat them poorly, we’re sinning not only against them. We’re sinning against God.

So, for Jesus to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” he was essentially claiming to be the God against who all sin is done. Are you with me? That was the first reason why they said this is a serious insult against God. But there’s a second reason why they consider this blasphemy, a serious insult. And it’s the second reason that’s actually more significant in this context, and it’s this. It’s that Jesus forgave this man before he’d done anything to deserve it. Very important to understand. Jesus forgave this man before he’d done anything to deserve it. See, in the Jewish religion, in Judaism, it was possible to be forgiven of sin, but only after you had atoned for it. The only way to be forgiven for sin is if you had atoned for it, and literally if you had made a sacrifice. Maybe you sacrificed a bull or a lamb or a dove or some expensive grain you gave up that you’re essentially at that moment you were making atonement, or another way to think about it is you’re kind of making it right. You’re making up for what you’ve done wrong. And only once you’ve done that, could you be forgiven. And so deep in their hearts and their minds was this idea that you can only be forgiven once you’ve done enough to deserve it. But Jesus looked at this man who hadn’t made atonement. He hadn’t done anything to deserve it, and Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven,” and they went, “You can’t do that. He doesn’t deserve it.”

And I think it’s important that we recognize at this point that what we hear from the religious leaders is really the voice of shame because here’s what shame says when it comes to forgiveness. Shame says you can’t be forgiven until you’ve done enough to deserve it. That’s the voice of shame. It says you can’t be forgiven until you’ve done enough to deserve it, until you’ve made it right, until you’ve made up, or until you’ve somehow atoned for it. And the reality is that this is a message we’ve all heard our entire lives, isn’t it? Maybe you heard it growing up in your home. Maybe you heard it in a church that you grew up in. Maybe you heard it at school. Maybe you heard it on the court or on a ball field with a coach. The idea if you’ve done wrong, I will forgive you, but only after you’ve earned it, only after you’ve done enough to deserve it, until you’ve done something to deserve it.

Do you remember the original “Jurassic Park”? Anybody remember the original “Jurassic Park”? That there’s a line in the original “Jurassic Park” that speaks to this. It’s John Hammond. He’s the guy who built Jurassic Park. And he’s talking to a programmer who’d made a mistake and they’re kind of going back and forth. They’re bickering and John Hammond says an interesting thing. He says, “Hey, listen, I don’t blame people for their mistakes, but I do ask that they pay for them,” which almost sounds noble, doesn’t it? Like, “Oh, you don’t blame people for mistakes.” That’s great. But he says, “I do ask people to pay for them.” And it makes sense that, like, honestly, probably you heard that line like I did. I’ve watched that movie probably 20 times over the years. And it just kind of comes and goes. You don’t recognize that what you’re hearing there is actually the voice of shame. It’s a voice that’s common in our culture. It’s a voice that says, “You can only be forgiven once you’ve done something to deserve it.” But Jesus looked at this man and he said, “Your sins are forgiven,” even though he hadn’t done anything to deserve it.

And that was blasphemy. It was a serious insult against God. They couldn’t imagine that God could possibly function that way. And because it’s the voice, because it’s a message we’ve heard our entire lives, what Jesus says next is just absolutely astonishing. Verse four, “Knowing their thoughts,” Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” And if you had the ability to underline whether it’s digitally or with a physical Bible, I’d really encourage you to underline those words, “evil thoughts.” Pay attention to what Jesus calls their thoughts. They’re looking at a man that has been paralyzed. Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” They can’t believe that Jesus would say that because he hasn’t done anything to deserve it. He hasn’t atoned for it. And Jesus calls their thoughts… What’s the word? Is it misunderstanding? No. Is it bad theology? No. Is it a mistake? No. He calls their thoughts evil. He says, “You’re entertaining evil. You’ve invited it in. You made a seat for it at the table. You’ve made it feel like family. You’ve made it get really comfortable. And it’s evil.” He says, “You’re entertaining evil thoughts.” Now, that’s a really powerful statement, right?

Why would he call their thoughts that Jesus couldn’t forgive a sin for a man who didn’t deserve it? Why would he call that evil? And the answer is very simple. It’s something we see throughout the Gospels, throughout the stories of Jesus’ life, is that Jesus hates things that drive people away from God rather than drawing them to him. Jesus hates things that drive people from God rather than drawing them to him. He hates them. And I know that seems like a strong word, but I don’t think there is a better word for it. Throughout the Gospels, the only times we ever see Jesus get mad, and by the way, we do see Jesus get mad occasionally. That’s a little hard for us to reconcile sometimes, right because our natural temptations think of Jesus as this, like, peaceful, hippie-like person. But the reality is that in numerous occasions we see Jesus get mad, use some pretty harsh language. But every single time… Check this out. Every single time Jesus gets mad, you know who it’s at? It’s at people who are making it harder for others to get to God. It’s for people who are throwing up barriers making it harder for other people to get to God. It’s for people who are using shame to drive people away from Jesus himself. Jesus hates things that drive people away from God rather than drawing them to him. And so he looks at their thoughts and he says, “You’re entertaining evil.” And I don’t know about you, but that’s a disturbing thing for Jesus to say.

And for the last several weeks, I’ve been struggling with that. I’ve been wrestling with it. I’ve been asking myself this question and I invite you to ask yourself this question with me. The question is this. Who do I have a hard time thinking deserves forgiveness for their sin? Who do I have a hard time thinking deserves forgiveness for their sins? And I’m gonna be honest with you. I have some people in my life, some people who have hurt me badly. They have done sin against me. I don’t think it’s imagined. I don’t think it’s all in my mind. I think they’ve actually done it. And I would love to say that, you know, I’m such a perfect guy. I’m so much like Jesus. I’m such an amazing pastor that I’m just happy to forgive, but there’s a deep dark part of me that for some of these people goes, “I don’t know that they deserve it.” Now, here’s the thing. I’m being really transparent with you guys here. I have forgiven them. I’m willing to forgive them, but you know what?

There’s a part of me that feels like I’ve done a really amazing job because I forgave them and they don’t deserve it. How great am I? That’s sick. But it’s there. And maybe you have some little struggle like that that there’s somebody in your life that you feel like they don’t really deserve forgiveness. Maybe it’s somebody close to you. Maybe it’s an ex-husband, or ex-wife, or ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe it’s a teacher. Maybe it’s a parent. Maybe it’s a child. Maybe it’s a group of people. Maybe it’s people that you only know at a distance that have done damage to you. Maybe it’s a corporation. Maybe it’s another church. Maybe it’s the Democrats or the Republicans. Maybe it’s the people who refuse to wear masks or the people who insist on wearing masks. Whatever it is, we’ve all got these groups of people that we feel like they’re in the wrong, and honestly, because of their behavior, they don’t deserve forgiveness.

And then this is the much more disturbing question that I’ve been asking myself. Is it possible that Jesus is more bothered by my judgmental thoughts than their sin? Does that bother anybody else? Because that’s what we see here. Right? It’s very clear. Jesus is much more bothered by their thoughts than he is by that man’s sin. And in those places in my heart where, honestly, I struggle with the same kind of thoughts, I don’t know that they really deserve forgiveness. And yes, I’ll give it but I’m really going above and beyond. It’s in those places that I’m beginning to ask myself the question, “Is Jesus actually more bothered by my judgmental thoughts than he is by their sin?” And that doesn’t mean that the sin doesn’t matter. Okay? Let’s be clear about that. I’m not saying that the sin doesn’t count. I’m not saying that sin isn’t a real thing. It is. Jesus died for it. But is it possible that my judgmental thoughts are actually creating a barrier keeping people from getting closer to the God who has done the ultimate act of love and sacrifice in order to forgive them? It’s what I’m wrestling with.

Knowing their thoughts. Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” Which is easier to say? “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk?” But I want you to know that the Son of Man, that’s his favorite title for himself, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. And so he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up. Take your mat and go home. And the man got up and he went home. And when the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe and they praised God who had given such authority to man.” What authority? The authority to forgive sins, right? And that’s clearly what’s going on here. He said, “I want you to know that I have authority to forgive sins.” And the man gets up and he walks and then the people go, “It’s amazing that God’s given such authority.” What authority? The authority to forgive sins. And understand what Jesus is doing here is he’s saying, “Hey, you guys don’t think either one of these things is possible, right?” Which is easier to say, “Get up and walk,” or to say, “Your sins are forgiven?” You don’t think I can say either one of those things and it mean anything. You don’t think there’s any power behind either of those words. But how about this? How about if I can do what you think is impossible in front of your eyes, will you at least entertain the possibility that I can do deep in your souls what you also think is possible?

And so he looks to the man and he says, “Get up.” Oh, man, I wish I could have seen that, don’t you? I don’t know exactly what it’s like. I imagine him saying that and the man like, “Oh, you mean now?” And maybe he sends the signal, right? His brain sends a signal to his toes, just a little thing. And for the first time in years, his toes respond. They curl, right, they maybe twitch. And then he arches the foot and then in amazement he pulls his knees towards him and they come. And he gets his feet under him and he pushes up and he stands up, maybe shaky at first, but for the first time in years, this man is standing. And if I’d been him, I’d have been like, “If you did all that for me, well, what do I need to do now?” And what does Jesus say? He says, “Pick up your mat and go home. You don’t owe me anything. You didn’t have to do anything to deserve this and you don’t have to do anything to keep it.”

And the people watching, of course, are wrestling with this question. “If he can do what I thought was impossible in front of my eyes, is it possible that he can actually do what I thought was impossible deep in our souls? Can he actually forgive sins? And here’s the thing. He can. And the only thing more astonishing than Jesus’s authority to forgive is his willingness. Are you with me, church? The only thing more astonishing than Jesus’ authority to forgive sins is his willingness to forgive sins even the sins of someone who’s done nothing to deserve it, to make it right to atone for it. And that, throughout his ministry, that was the greatest point of contention between Jesus and the religious leaders. They couldn’t believe not only that he had the authority, but they were absolutely unable to believe that God himself would have the willingness, that it wasn’t just this man.

Verse nine says, “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth.” And you might wanna underline those words “sitting at.” They’re really important. He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collectors. He’s a tax collector. And here’s what you need to know about tax collectors. They’re terrible people. And we tend not to like tax collectors now, which I don’t think of the IRS, but that’s really… There’s almost no point of connection. Tax collectors in the ancient world were actually terrible people. They were traitors, first off. They betrayed their own nation to collect taxes because they were collecting taxes from their own people and sending them off to a foreign government.

And it’s interesting, the history of tax collecting is fascinating. See, when Israel was first conquered by the Babylonians, and later by the Persians, and then there were the Greeks, and ultimately, the Romans, during all that time that they were under occupation by a foreign government, governments were constantly sending tax collectors and saying, “Hey, go to Israel and collect a bunch of money and bring it back here.” And what was interesting is for a long time, they would send tax collectors to take their money, and the tax collectors would disappear. It’s the strangest thing. But they wouldn’t come home. And in Israel, they’re like, “No, we never saw him. I don’t know what happened to him.” You’re with me, right? They killed him.

And so somewhere along the line, the Romans wised up and they struck on a brilliant idea, which is, “We won’t send Romans to collect taxes. We’ll get Israelites to collect taxes from their own people because then they won’t kill them.” And they enticed them to do that because it was betrayal of their own nation. I mean, it was a terrible thing for a person to do in that ancient world. And in order to entice people to do that, they basically said, “Hey, you know what they owe, but you can tell them whatever you want. And feel free to pocket the difference. Just send us what we owe and you can collect whatever much you want.” And so often, they would double it or triple or quadruple it. So, not only were they traitors. They were also extortionists and thieves. They were genuinely bad people. Okay. That’s who Matthew is. He’s a tax collector. He’s a terrible person.

And Jesus is going along and he sees Matthew. And where is Matthew? He’s in the tax booth. He’s actually engaged in sin at this very moment. He hasn’t stepped away from it. He hasn’t repented of it. He hasn’t decided, “This is wrong and I need to turn around. I need to fix this. I need to make it right. I need to give back money and somehow make it up to people.” No, he’s actually engaged in sin in this very moment. And Jesus shows up, and what does Jesus say to him? “Follow me,” he told him. And Matthew got up and followed him. He said, “Follow me.” He said, “Come be with me.” He didn’t say, “Fix this and then come follow me.” He didn’t say, “Make it right and then come follow me.” He didn’t say, “Do something to deserve it, and then we can talk about you being one of my followers.” No. He just said, “Come follow me.” He found him in the midst of sin and he said, “Come follow me.”

And understand too, Jesus had just made the claim that he’s God, right, which means that what he’s essentially doing is he’s saying, “This is how God is. God is willing to build a relationship with you even before you’ve done anything to deserve it.” I don’t know why Matthew went. I mean, not exactly. I don’t believe for a second he fully understood everything about Jesus. He didn’t know who he was. But maybe he’d heard enough, he’d seen enough. Maybe he’d even seen what happened with this paralyzed man. He had enough of a glimpse of Jesus to say, “If this guy wants to hang out with me, I’m in. I don’t know why he does, but if he’s willing, I’m in.” And so he left the tax booth and he followed Jesus. And it wasn’t just him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house… By the way, that’s a statement of belonging. It’s a statement of acceptance in the ancient world. When you had a meal with somebody, you were saying, “We’re tight.” Well, Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners, and that’s not being used ironically. That’s who they actually are. They’re sinful people. They’re still in their sin. They came and they ate with him and his disciples.

And when the Pharisees, religious leaders saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? Doesn’t he understand the sacrifice he’s making? Doesn’t he understand how this is gonna destroy his reputation? Doesn’t he understand he’s not… “He’s not condemning them. He’s not putting shame on them. And without that, how could they possibly change? It’s like he’s okay with where they are. That’s not okay. That’s not cool. What’s he doing? And on hearing this, Jesus said, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” And pay attention to what he calls that group of people there. He calls them… What’s the word? Sick. He doesn’t whitewash it. He didn’t go, “Oh, it’s not sin. They’re not sinners.” No. He said, “They’re sick. They’re in need of healing. They’re in need of spiritual healing every bit as much as that paralyzed man was in need of physical healing. They’re sick.”

And here’s where the church really struggles to get it right. We always have. And I get it because it’s hard. The reality is this. Following Jesus is like walking on the peak of a roof. Okay? We wanna walk this line on the peak of the roof. And if we lean too much off in this direction, we’re gonna fall off that way. If we lean too much in this direction, we’re gonna fall off that way. We have to do this kind of interesting balancing act. And here’s the two sides we can fall off on. One side is the shame side. One side is we look at people who are caught in sin and we cast shame upon them, we cast shade on them. And they live in a world where they feel like the light of God’s love can’t reach them because what they have done has made them unworthy of love and belonging. We fall off on that side all the time.

The other side, though, is we can fall…we can get excuse people for their sin. We can say, “It’s not sin. We’re not… No, no. If we call it sin, then that means they’re sinning and that’s just a quick step to sinners, and that’s just the worst thing you can call everybody. And so we can’t do that.” We excuse sin and we sweep it away. We rename it. ”And Jesus doesn’t do that. I want you to notice that. Jesus doesn’t do that either. Right? He’s clearly not casting shame, but he’s also not whitewashing it. He says, “They’re sick.” Here’s the thing. Here’s why this is so important and we try to get this right. Shame says, “You need a Savior, but the Savior can’t stand you.” So, why would they come? Shame says, “You need a Savior, but the Savior can’t stand you.” Jesus on the other hand, the Savior says, “You need a Savior and here I am because I love you. I am with you because I love you.” And Jesus seemed to think that it was that that would actually bring change.

He said, “I didn’t come to call the healthy.” And I imagine he’s got air quotes around that because he’s talking to religious leaders who thought they were healthy. He said, “I didn’t come to call the healthy, but sick. It’s not the healthy need a doctor. And I’m the doctor. It’s the sick who do.” He says, “But go and learn what this means. I desire mercy, not sacrifice, for I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Pay attention to that. He says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” See, for the religious leaders, we’ve made the sacrifices necessary to be forgiven. We’ve done all that we need to do, so now we deserve for God to forgive us, but they don’t. Jesus says a shocking thing. He says, “Figure out what this means, guys. I desire mercy, not sacrifice. Your sacrifices, honestly, they don’t do as much as you think they do.”

And if we know the rest of the story, we get that, right, because it’s not that Jesus is offering forgiveness without atonement. It’s not that Jesus is offering forgiveness without the payment of the penalty. It’s just that he was willing to do it for us, right? That’s the Gospel, that Jesus loved us so much, he came, he died on the cross to pay for our sins to make atonement for our sins, then he rose from the dead to prove that he’d accomplished it. And so Jesus was offering atonement, but more importantly than that, he was offering mercy to people that, from the world’s perspective, didn’t deserve it because I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

If you’re not familiar with the word mercy or if you’re not quite sure how to think about in this context, this might be useful. Think about it this way. Mercy is kindness that withholds bad consequences of bad behavior in order to create redemptive relationships. Let me say that again. It’s important to understand. We’re gonna unpack this throughout the series. Mercy is a kindness that withholds the bad consequences of bad behavior. It doesn’t say it’s not bad behavior. It doesn’t say it’s not sin. It doesn’t say it’s not wrong. No. It’s actually bad. It’s actually sin. It’s actually wrong. And it has a consequence, but it’s willing to withhold those bad consequences in order to create redemptive relationships. Jesus said to Matthew, “Come follow me.” And it was in his following Jesus that he left his sin. Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors. And it was in that sense of belonging with him that they began to change from the inside out, not changing in order to have the relationship but changing because of the relationship. And that’s mercy. It withholds that separation. It withholds that judgment. It withholds shame in order to create redemptive relationships.

You understand what Jesus is saying here is, “Hey, there is a remedy to the shame business. And the remedy is mercy. Mercy is the remedy. Mercy is the remedy. I desire mercy not sacrifice.” In other words, hey, sacrifice for the sake of mercy, but never sacrifice mercy itself. You hear me, church? Sacrifice for the sake of mercy. Jesus made sacrifices for the sake of mercy. He sacrificed his reputation. He sacrificed his ability to get in good with the power brokers and the religious leaders of his day because of his willingness to extend mercy to the people who didn’t deserve it. He sacrificed that. He paid that price. He sacrificed his life for us. That’s the Gospel. He gave his life for us so that we didn’t have to pay the consequences of our sin, which is eternal separation from God. Sacrifice for the sake of giving mercy, but never sacrifice mercy itself because mercy is the remedy. It’s the remedy for our shame.

If you’re listening to this today and you’re a follower of Jesus, but you feel like God is distant and the light of his love feels dim and faded, I wanna suggest to you that there’s a very good chance that it’s because you’re living under the cloud of shame. And mercy is the remedy. If you’re listening to this and you’re not a follower of Jesus because there is a part of you that believes that there’s no possibility that the Savior wants anything to do with you. Maybe you are aware that you need a Savior but you’re having a hard time believing that the Savior wants anything to do with you, mercy is the remedy. And as followers of Jesus looking to be the hands and feet of Jesus, we’re looking to become like Jesus and join him on mission in the world, our ability to be on mission with Jesus depends on our ability to get a handle on mercy because mercy is the remedy.

Let me ask you a couple of questions. Over the next several weeks, we’re gonna unpack for more stories in Jesus’s life what this mercy is, and how we walk this line because it’s a balancing act. Honestly, following Jesus is more art than science, and living in this tension, and we’re not casting shame, and we’re not giving excuses, but we are living with mercy, that’s tricky. We’re gonna unpack that over the next few weeks. Before we do that, let me ask you two questions. Number one. Where in my life do I most need to extend mercy to someone? We’ve already asked a question and maybe you’ve already got somebody in mind.

Maybe the Holy Spirit’s already brought somebody and placed them on your heart that you’re struggling to believe that they deserve forgiveness. Maybe you’ve given it but you feel like you’ve gone above and beyond by doing it because they don’t deserve it. Where in your life do you need to extend mercy and then maybe this question along with it? What sacrifice might I need to make for the sake of mercy. It may be that God’s gonna call you to some sacrifice, something costly, not for the sake of your forgiveness, but for the sake of being merciful and demonstrating to somebody else the mercy of God that has come upon you? And the second question is this. Where in my life do I most need to experience God’s mercy for myself?

Again, 30 years in pastoral ministry, I believe that shame is alive and well and it’s eating us alive. I’ve had just far too many conversations with people who are followers of Jesus, they know what it means to follow Jesus, but their sin has decayed into shame, and that shame is shielding them from the light of God’s mercy. It’s shading them from the light of God’s love. And I know there’s many people listening to this that are in that place. Maybe you’re a follower of Jesus and you need to experience God’s mercy in your life and feel the freeing power of it. Or maybe you’re not a follower of Jesus and you need to experience the love of God and the forgiveness that he has for you because of his mercy. Would you pray with me?

God, on behalf of the followers of Jesus, we come before you and we give our heartfelt thanks to you for your mercy. We know that we’ve done wrong. We know that we have sinned. And we know that it is mercy that has been our remedy. Your willingness to withhold the consequences of our sin, and not only to withhold it but to place it on your own Son who paid the price of our sin so that we could be eternally forgiven, eternally free, brought back into a relationship with you. Your mercy is our remedy and we are grateful, Lord. Lord, as the followers of Jesus right now we’re praying for those that are listening to this message that don’t have a relationship with you. They’ve never experienced that mercy. We’re praying for them right now that you would break through the cloud of shame that says that they’re unworthy of love and belonging to hear a different message, that it’s not about what they’re worthy of, it’s about what you’ve done. It’s that you do love them, that you are merciful to them. You’ve purchased their forgiveness and you’re offering freedom.

And if, by the way, that’s you, if you’re listening to this, and you don’t have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus, maybe today for the first time you’ve heard that not only do you need a Savior, but your Savior is here. He’s knocking at the door of your life. He wants to be with you because he loves you. Mercy is your remedy. You don’t have to fix it. You don’t have to get it all right. You don’t have to deserve it. It’s being offered to you as a free gift. And if you’ve never accepted that gift, I’m gonna give you the chance to do it right here right now. You’re just gonna have a conversation with God. You’re gonna say something like this to God right now. Just please say this to him"

God, I’ve done wrong. I’ve sinned. I’m sorry. I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness. I know I can’t make up for what I’ve done. Thank you for being merciful to me. Thank you for sending Jesus to pay for my sins. Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross. Forgive my sin. Jesus, I believe you rose from the dead. And I understand that you’re offering me forgiveness, new life, eternal life, a relationship with God because you are merciful. I’m ready to accept your gift. Jesus, I’m putting my faith in you. Jesus, I’m choosing to trust you and what you did for me. Jesus, I’m gonna follow you from now and forever. Amen.

Are you Human?:*