6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
(Psalm 103:6-14, ESV)
Psalm 103 is one of those places in the bible where you are confronted with an unrelenting truth about God. Grace has commonly been defined and understood as God’s unmerited (undeserved) favor from God toward us. Grace is what God gives to us when we don’t deserve it. But, there is something else that happens in that exchange. At the moment of salvation mercy is extended, and mercy is something different all together.
Mercy is different because mercy is what God withholds from us when it is EXACTLY what we deserve. Don’t miss that. There is something that we all are guilty of and should be judged for. No one escapes.
My thought today is that faith is REJOICING in the mercy of God. The first time that I truly understood that God’s mercy was something worth rejoicing in was as I was reading and studying through the apostle John’s first letter. In 1 John 2:1-2 John is trying to help his readers understand the security and comfort that comes from Jesus being our advocate, our lawyer, in God’s court. As I read these words I was struck by the tenderness with which John writes these words.
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (ESV)
Right there, in the second verse we find this amazing and revealing reason for our rejoicing. Jesus is our PROPITIATION. This is one of those words that is not used very much any more (if at all). It has been translated “atoning sacrifice” or “the sacrifice for our sins” or some other variation. While this is technically correct there is one significant problem. One of the most important components of what Jesus did for us is missing.
Jesus atones, takes the blemish of my sin from me, by dying. When Jesus was crucified and he was killed, my sins were put on Jesus in such a way that he became guilty FOR my sin–and the sins of the whole world! This is the basic understanding of atoning. Jesus paid the price for my sin. But, the act of propitiation has another idea included. When Jesus atoned for my sin he also gave me something that I could not get for myself.
When Jesus was placed on the cross for my sins, God pronounced his judgment on all sin for all time and unleashed the unrestrained fury of his wrath upon his Son.
When Jesus was placed on the cross for my sins, God pronounced his judgment on all sin for all time and unleashed the unrestrained fury of his wrath upon his Son. God did not hold something back in reserve for us so that He can hold it over us. God has finished punishing sin. What is missing is the application of that punishment to those who never accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. You see, in order for me to receive grace Jesus had to die in my place. In order for me to experience mercy God had to pass my judgement onto Jesus.
God’s wrath has to be appeased. This is why an atoning sacrifice was needed in the first place. Now, this sounds like God has an ego problem. God has to be happy. But, this is the fundamental problem that we have to overcome. The problem is not that God’s ego was bruised by sin. God’s character is what was violated. The demand for punishment is never determined by the offender. Even in our flawed and broken justice system we try to find a punishment that “fits the crime.”
So, what then is the proper punishment for offending an eternal, holy and pure God? Is it not an eternal, profane and despicable hell? When my simple sensibilities are wounded, I want retribution. But, when God is the one offended, somehow God should not seek recompense. Why? God is gracious, some will say. God is good, others will argue. God is love, comes the reply. But, God’s goodness, grace and love are expressions of another more basic reality of God’s being–God is holy.
Worship is the only proper response to Jesus being our propitiation.
Jesus stands between me and a holy God and he received and endured the full thrust of God’s wrath. When this truth penetrates your mind and touches your soul…you will be changed. You can not continue living and working and attending church as if what Jesus did was just something to be thankful for. No, worship is the only proper response to Jesus being our propitiation.
Only when we appreciate what God should have done too us because of our sin will we rejoice in God’s mercy toward us. When we can understand how bad our sin really is we will begin to see that mercy is also a form of grace. Only a loving and gracious God could withhold his well deserved day in court and extend mercy.
Faith is rejoicing in the Mercy of God. Have you stopped to give God thanks today? Do not miss another chance to do it.