Monday, February 10, 2014

You Will Not Restrain Your Mercy from Me

This morning I read this in Psalm 40, and it blew my mind:

As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain
     your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
     ever preserve me!
For evils have encompassed me
     beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
    and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
     my heart fails me. (vv. 11-12)

What is so crazy?  David doesn't say that God will preserve him in spite of his own evils and iniquities.  I fact, he doesn't even ask God to preserve him, as if it were in question.  No, through the Holy Spirit, David spoke for God and testified that "You, O LORD, will not restrain your mercy from me ... For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me."  It is precisely because David is hopelessly mired the inescapable pit of in his own wretchedness (see vv. 1-2) that God remains faithful and steadfast.  God knew he was David's sole hope for rescue, and David knew it too.

Can you imagine that God is so full of mercy and compassion that when you're at your very worst, a stinking cesspool of selfishness, God is precisely at that point for you and full of love for you?  God delights in being faithful to the unfaithful, a rescuer to the hopeless.  This is what it means for God to be holy: when others would run away, that is when he is near. "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18; see also Isaiah 57:15).  All he asks is for a needy and contrite heart that cries out for him.

How can we know that God will be like this toward us?  After all, we certainly might be tempted to at least begrudgingly hold back some good from a messy, undeserving person.  But God doesn't curb it at all: "You will not restrain your mercy from me"!  In fact, to restrain his own mercy would be essentially to deny it.  Mercy is compassionate deliverance from an awful situation.  If God restrained his mercy by waiting for us to get our lives together, that wouldn't be mercy at all!

But the sureness of God's mercy rests on more than just a definition of mercy, however.  It rests on Jesus Christ.  Speaking of his looming suffering and death by crucifixion, Jesus said that "I have a baptism to be baptized with" (Luke 12:50).  A baptism represented a chaotic deluge, often of God's judgment (cf. Psalm 69:1-2).  He was overtaken by our iniquities--yours and mine--the "evils beyond number" of fallen mankind, so that only mercy and steadfast love would remain for those who come to God through him.  So the next time your eyes are opened to your sin and life feels like nothing but a suffocating failure, take courage and run to God through Jesus.  He will gladly receive you and rescue you.

[Postscript, 2/14: I realize that in wanting to put the work of Christ at the forefront, I think I've sort of put his person in an erroneous light.  To begin with, saying that God's mercy rests upon Christ and his cross does not and cannot mean that God the Father and God the Son were somehow at odds with each other over whether to have mercy on sinners.  Jesus said that he only did his Father's will and what the Father himself does (John 5:19-24) and that he and the Father are one (John 10:30).  And Paul reminds us that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19).  God himself was doing the reconciling.  And while in some sense that means the Father, it encompasses all three persons of the Triune Godhead.  And that very God is Jesus.

Second, I neglected to think of simply seeing mercy in Jesus' character--and in God's character throughout the Bible--as a testimony to who he is.  God "cannot deny himself" (2 Timothy 2:13); as he is, so he always will be.  We see God/Jesus doing concrete acts of mercy--raising widows' sons, providing bread to the needy, healing diseases--and that points us to his character as a person of mercy and compassion.]

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Sun of Righteousness
In the final Old Testament prophecy about Jesus--some 400 years before his birth--God spoke through the prophet Malachi that the Messiah would be "the sun of righteousness" (Malachi 4:2).  Later on, the author to the Hebrews said that Jesus, God's Son and this promised Messiah, is "the radiance of the glory of God"  (Hebrews 1:3).  Somewhere a while back I read a quote from John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion.* Calvin said,
Christ, our righteousness, is the Sun, justification, its light, sanctification, its heat.  The Sun is at once the source of both, so that light and heat are inseparable.  But only light illumines and only heat warms, not the reverse; both are always present, without the one becoming the other.  (3.11.6)
I love this, because though it's not up to date with modern physics, it shows so many great biblical truths so clearly.