Justice - or mercy?
“Throw the bum outa here!” How often we've heard, thought, or even said that. But do we want justice or mercy? Interestingly enough, in listing the “weightier matters of the law”, Messiah lists, in order, “justice, mercy, faith” (Matthew 23:23). Is it a coincidence they are listed in that order? Do you want justice or mercy? How much mercy will you and I be shown in The Judgment or even now? Here’s a scary verse just in case we haven’t read it lately:
“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
I don’t think any of us want “judgment without mercy”. I've decided it’s in my best interest to not be as harsh, impatient, judgmental, critical and - - unmerciful – as I at times have been. How about you?
It’s inspiring to be around people who have the gift of merciful joy no matter how rough the circumstances. They smile at incompetent people and say, “no worries, it’s OK.” Children of God who can overlook and forgive stinging jabs of gossip aimed at them – and leave behind a blessing in return. Blessed saints who seem able to mercifully accept the injustices and wrongs perpetrated against them – and speak a kind word in response. I marvel at them and pray and hope to join their ranks in time. How enjoyable it is to be around people who aren't sizing everyone up all the time – usually negatively. How gratifying it is to be around that special breed of people who believe in the best, hope for the best. They let people who have really messed up in life have a fresh start. The merciful. The blessed of God.
These are very gentle and merciful people. Jesus was like that. He must have exuded mercy and an accepting spirit to have had so many friends among the general public. Our Savior was known as a friend to cheats (tax collectors/publicans) and drunkards and women of ill repute (Luke 7:34). And HE’S going to be the judge (John 5:22-27)! But “sinners” still felt at ease around him. Don’t forget, Yeshua was an exact replica, a perfect image of his and our heavenly Father, God in the Highest (Heb. 1:3).
As we grow up, we too should be looking like, talking like and acting more and more like our Abba as well. And Abba is known as a wonderfully merciful father and God. He is also perfectly just. In fact we are told to exercise righteous judgment (John 7:24). But justice is covered with mercy in God’s house.
Matthew 23:23 lists justice, mercy and faith as “weightier” matters of law. Which is most weighty? Since we've all broken the law – I’m looking more for mercy than justice. And according to the story at the end of Matthew 18, if we remember how much mercy has been extended to each of us, you’d think we’d all be experts at doling out mercy. You’d think.
In the Holy of Holies was the ark of the covenant which contained the testimony, the Ten Commandments. Of course it was the 2nd set, as Moses had already broken all ten himself when he dashed the 2 tablets to the ground when he saw the sin of the Israelites with the golden calf (Ex. 32:19). But my point is, inside the ark, the throne of God on earth, were the Ten Commandments, the law. It represented justice, a foundation of God’s rule. Breaking the ten commandments required justice.
But ABOVE the law, atop the box called the Ark, was the solid gold Mercy Seat. No wonder it says “Mercy triumphs over justice.” Mercy sat higher and covered the Law. Have you thought of it that way?
If we each really understood how much we've been forgiven, Jesus said we would be among those who “love much” as well (Lk 7:47). Such was the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:37-50). She knew what she was – or had been. She knew how despised she was by the elders of her synagogue and community. They were wondering how she got in to their pious assemblage. But she also knew the loving mercy of this great man Jesus, the son of God, and it moved her to tears and repentance. Yeshua let her not only in His presence, but He allowed her to touch His perfect, holy body. More than that, he forgave her and accepted her. He offered His grace and love to her.
Jesus has not changed. Jesus’ body on earth today still accepts despised repentant sinners in its midst (see 1 Cor. 6:9-12). Jesus cleanses us of ALL sin (1 John 1:9). Focus on Luke 7:44-50. There we see it: justice – her sins were many. Mercy was extended. And then Savior concludes by telling her that her faith saved her. As a result, she could enjoy peace. Justice, mercy, faith. In that order. She received mercy and peace that day. Those despising her – got a dose of justice and no joy, no peace.
We can all tend to be harsh to those who messed up big time, even if it was years ago. Brethren, that’s not Father’s way. His way is for each of us to recognize we are ALL sinners, we each have been the Prodigal son, we are all worthy of the same penalty: death. But the prodigal son’s father was rushing to welcome him back into full fellowship in their community even before the son had spoken a word to him. They celebrated his return. But the elder son didn't want his brother who had shamed them all back into fellowship. Of course not! He couldn't even call him his brother (Luke 15:30). As I said in another blog, we don’t get to pick our brothers and sisters. This elder brother was acting like the prodigal had just now squandered everything on harlots. No love, no welcoming smile. Instead of offering him the right hand of fellowship, he gave him the cold shoulder. That’s not Father’s way.
Horrible sinners who have repented need to see the Father’s love in the eyes of their brothers and sisters. It’s easier to forgive and accept yourself when you experience forgiveness and acceptance from others. But the elder brother was not merciful like his father. So what happened? While everyone was rejoicing in the father’s mercy, the elder son ended up being the one outside the joyous and merciful festivities.
I get sick to my stomach each time I think of how much I’ve sinned. Maybe you do too. But then I rejoice with tears as I reach up and see my father reaching down to me. He wants to lift me – and you – back up into His holy and righteous presence. You’re His child. He wants you home and in the Body.
I began by asking if we want justice or mercy. We’ll be judged by the standards we dole out (Matt. 7:1-5). The merciful – and only the merciful – will receive mercy (Matt.6:5, 14-15; James 2:13). I also asked if it was just coincidence that Jesus listed them in this order: “justice, mercy and faith” Matt. 23:23). Our God is a God of perfect justice – and hence, we have all come under the death penalty for our sins. That is justice. A curse is judgment without mercy. We’d all been cursed with death if that was how it ended. But Abba graciously extended mercy by allowing us to accept our Savior’s death in our stead. And we are to learn – and extend mercy and acceptance to one another. And then we must have faith in His redemptive work to finish what He’s started in us (Phil. 1:6). Justice – mercy – faith. In that order.
I absolutely trust the righteous justice of holy God. But even more, I give thanks to Abba for his mercy. And to my King, Savior and husband for his grace and mercy in allowing me to be part of His body.