Sermon – 4th Sunday In Lent – 2 Chron 36:14-23; Eph 2:4-10 & John 6:4-15

What does Mercy look like to you. Do you have an image of what mercy entails? What do we mean and expect from God when we say in our Liturgy “Lord Have Mercy Upon Us?” The dictionary defines mercy as having compassion or forgiveness toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

The misconception that I think we have is that we can regard mercy as a passive action only. We tend to think of mercy as a THOUGHT – a mental ascent – I will forgive you, or I will not exercise the punishment you deserve. This tends to be because, for us, mercy is usually reactive – someone does something TO us and we respond.

The biblical understanding of mercy is far more than this.. Mercy is not passive. In fact, with God, it’s just the opposite – God’s mercy is very active. God’s mercy is about ACTION – sometimes very intense action – and it is also proactive. In other words god acts in order to BRING ABOUT a situation where he can show mercy!

Our reading from 2 Chronicles is an example of this. God’s chosen people have walked away from the ways of God. Being God’s people is more than a status – it is more than just being THE PEOPLE – it requires interaction with God. God had laid out very explicitly how it was that His people can have and stay in relationship with Him.

The people had chosen to ignore this. They ignored God and they ignored God’s ways.

So what does God do. Does he wait for his people to return to Him with their tails between their legs. Is he waiting for them to come to their senses and say sorry?

No. God sends messenger after messenger to his people – prophet after prophet – to tell the people to change – to turn back to him. Why? Because, he had compassion on His people. God is active and proactive in getting His people to recognize his compassion and mercy. It is over hundreds of years that God sends his prophets to tell HIS people to stop walking away from Him.

God’s mercy is patient.

How patient is he with us? How patient is he with his church? Outrageously patient. The religious leaders of Israel, the priests and the officers were unfaithful to God and this has meant that the people are also unfaithful. The nation from the top down had not just turned away from God, they had begun to follow other God’s. This is not about the breaking of some religious rituals. God desired an intimate relationship with His people – they were in a covenant. So, for God’s people to be worshipping other God’s was literally them committing adultery. That is what the whole book of Hosea illustrates.

How patient has God been with you and I – when we get it wrong when we ignore him, when we fail to do the things he has asked of us? When we are unfaithful to Him because we put our love into other things than God? God is Infinitely patient with us. He has not given us what we deserve, but time and time again he has given us what we do not deserve.

And notice, that the messengers that God sends – these prophets – are in a minority. Their message is one that goes against the entire direction of the culture of their day.

One of the prophets sent to tell the Israelites to return to God is Jeremiah. He becomes a lone voice – a minority against the huge majority who are defying God.

We must remember an important principle, one that we can only touch on this morning. It is this. To be in the majority does not mean you are necessarily right your thinking or position – the majority can be wrong – just as being in a minority does not mean you are wrong or mis-guided. A minority in scripture often has another name – a remnant; God’s people who stood against the tide of unfaithfulness to him.

God is patient in his Mercy, sending prophets to warn his people.

But the people refuse to listen. What a dangerous place to put oneself – ignoring the words, the commands, the pleading and the petition of the living God.

The consequence is that God sends Babylon against Israel. Jerusalem is destroyed and the people of God sent into exile for a generation – 70 years.

Has God’s mercy ended?

No. But how can sending an army to destroy the nation of Israel and send them into exile be merciful?

When we persistently ignore God he will get our attention – and that may sometimes require what we would consider extreme action. God’s judges Israel for it’s rebellion but his judgment is NEVER, NEVER devoid of mercy in scripture. Even in God’s judgment there is mercy and that is shown by the fact that Israel survives. And why does God judge Israel? Because he has lost his patience? No. His purpose is two fold. 1. The covenant God made with Israel had blessings and curses. Blessings if the people followed the ways of God and curses if they did not. God is a God of His word – and so if Israel disobeyed Him God, to keep his covenant HAD to judge them. 2. This means that the point of God’s judgment is to make Israel turn BACK to God.

God’s mercy is active & proactive. God acts now in order that Israel may be shown mercy in the future.

God’s active mercy is both physical and spiritual. We see in our Gospel reading physical mercy – the crowd is hungry and from the other gospels we know Jesus had compassion on them and he tells his disciples to feed them. The disciples see no way that they could feed a crowd this size, but Jesus takes what is available and miraculously feeds them all.

Jesus’ healing are also physical acts of mercy.

And in our Epistle reading we see God’s active mercy spiritually. Paul says that God is rich in his mercy – and that is shown in the incredible verse that says even when we were dead in our trespasses HE made us alive together with Christ.

Again, see how God’s mercy takes the initiative. He makes it possible for us to be reconciled with him. And He does that through judgment – judging his son, Jesus Christ, in our place on the cross. The cross itself is a sign of God’s active and proactive mercy – dying even when we were still his enemy, so that his mercy may be made available to us – and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ making us alive spiritually and physically.

So, we have seen that God’s mercy is firstly patient and secondly it is active, both physically and spiritually.

God’s mercy is also available – to absolutely anyone. Paul says that the life given through Christ happened while we were still dead in our sins.

This mercy has nothing to do with us – whether we are nice people, or whether we are from good homes or not, or whether we have tried to be moral or not – it has absolutely nothing to do with these things – it comes down to one thing – do you believe what God has said and done in and through Jesus Christ is absolutely true? If yes then the mercy of God is poured out upon you.

All that is required to receive God’s mercy is to ask him for it.

Just hear the words of Isaiah, 30:18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

What a fantastic image – the Lord God – the creator of the universe waits to be gracious to US. He is waiting to show us the mercy he has prepared for us to walk in. He says this morning to each of us “I HAVE BEEN gracious to you – I have done everything in order to be able to be merciful; to you; I am available – come on Christ the Saviour, I am waiting.”

And his showing mercy to us glorifies his name. We should want him to show us mercy because it glorifies him – his name is made great when we come to him asking for his mercy.

God’s mercy is patient; God’s mercy is active and proactive; God’s mercy is available now.

And finally God’s mercy is eternal.

Paul tells us a wonderful truth in our epistle reading – that when we come to know the living God – being saved by grace alone God raises us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places.

When we believe and accept Jesus as Lord and savior we enter into his death, resurrection AND ascension. Our place is with Jesus for eternity – that is assured – it is guaranteed to all who follow Christ. Of course we are not perfect yet – we struggle, we still do the things we do not want to do – we are not yet without our bad tempers, or bad thoughts, or bad words, or bad actions – but the right to receive it fully has been secured and the new life has already begun here on earth. We are being governed by heavenly standards and motivated by heavenly impulses. Its power, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, enables us to be more than conquerors.

In view of God’s mercy, his patient, active, available and eternal mercy, where are we with God this morning? Is God being patient with us right now? Are we separated from him, doing our own thing, ignoring the ‘prophets’ who are sent to us to say ‘come to God – give your life to him – he loves you and he wants you to be in his kingdom.’

Or maybe is he actively showing his mercy to some of us right now. Maybe things are tough in life – is God trying to get our attention? Is he beckoning us to come to him and allow him into our life? Maybe we are already walking in God’s mercy right now – is God’s name being glorified in our lives? Or maybe we need to hear this morning that God’s mercy is available – its available regardless of what we have done, or where we have been in life – he is waiting to be gracious, he is waiting to pour his mercy on us and we have nothing to bring to God for this – just our yes Lord – we believe and we are yours forever. Or maybe some of us are praising God because we know this morning that the Mercy of God in our life is eternal – and we are rejoicing and glorifying his name – and so Sunday morning’s is about the joy of praising his name.

Wherever we are let us cry out to him this morning asking for his holy spirit to fill us. As we come forward to share communion together let us ask God to meet with us in a powerful way. If necessary ask someone to pray with you after the service – speak to someone if you need to speak with someone. But please do not delay – God’s mercy is available this morning – he is patient, he is active and it is eternal. Receive it – and receive it fully.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

AMEN.

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