Tag Archives: mercy

Today’s Scripture – February 27, 2018

Luke 17:3b-4 (NIV) “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Jesus is just a few days away from Jerusalem and His ultimate suffering and death. So He takes every opportunity to teach His followers how the kingdom of God works, and how they are to live as residents of it.

In this short teaching, He again addresses the issue of forgiving those who have sinned against us. Most people are good with this teaching in theory, but weak in practice. When someone actually does something terrible to us or to someone we love, it suddenly becomes very difficult to forgive.

This teaching goes right along with Jesus’ answer to Peter in Matthew 18:21-22 when he asked if forgiving his brother up to seven times is adequate. Jesus’ shocking answer was no; he had to forgives seventy-seven time (or, in some versions, seventy times seven times). Here Jesus teaches that even if a brother sins against us seven times in a single day and repents seven times, he must be forgiven completely.

The reason for this requirement is not simply to be nice. Instead, Jesus consistently (and frequently) taught that each person’s forgiveness from God is contingent on us forgiving others when they sin against us. He taught in the Sermon on the Mount that if we will not forgive others, God won’t forgive us (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).

In Matthew 18:23-35, expanding on His answer to Peter, Jesus told the hair-raising parable of the unmerciful servant. In that parable, the servant’s forgiveness was revoked when he refused to forgive a fellow servant a relatively small debt, and he ended up being thrown into prison, “to be tortured until he should pay back all that he owed,” the ten thousand talents (millions of dollars) that had initially been forgiven. And in case His followers missed the point, Jesus finished that parable by saying, “This is how My heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart.” (Verse 35)

That seems unfair to some, but the parable clearly explains God’s reasoning. He has graciously extended forgiveness to those who repent of the dozens, hundreds, even thousands of sins against Himself, the infinite, holy God. But if, after we have had that massive sin debt forgiven, we harden our hearts and will not extend the same gracious forgiveness to those who commit comparatively fewer and comparatively less heinous sins against us, we prove that we are not worthy of His forgiveness, not open-hearted enough to receive it, and unloving enough to step outside of God’s grace. Thus our forgiveness will be revoked, and the penalty for our sins will again be on our record.

Father, of all of the teachings of Jesus, this one seems to carry the strongest import, and have the most devastating consequences if we disobey it. But it is one that far too many of us disregard, minimize, or try to explain away. That’s probably why Jesus taught it so directly, so often, and with such clear explanations. Help us to take this serious and oft repeated and reemphasized teaching to heart, so it changes our perspective and our worldview to be more in line with Your kingdom worldview. Amen.


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Today’s Scripture – September 11, 2017

Luke 7:40-47 (NIV) Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

Jesus saw the hearts of both the Pharisee across the table from Him and the sinful woman kneeling and weeping at His feet. He could see the deep repentance in the woman’s broken heart, and the judgmentalism that had the Pharisee’s heart bound as with iron bands. And in this situation, He also saw a teachable moment.

The parable that He told to the Pharisee talks about the gratitude that normally comes because of having a debt forgiven. But the real point is that the state of the heart enables the forgiveness in the first place.

The contrast between the Pharisee and the sinful woman could not have been starker, and Jesus could not have painted the contrast more clearly. The woman had a heavy load of sin that she was carrying and that needed to be forgiven. The Pharisee’s sin balance was significantly lower than hers because of his strict adherence to the law, but it is significant to note that it was not zero. But the lightness of his burden and his own comparison of himself to the woman made him feel as if he were fine with God, which really wasn’t the case.

The woman knew she was lost, that her burden of sin was unpayable by any means available to her. Thus she could only come to Jesus, whom she clearly saw as God’s representative, and plead for undeserved mercy.

The disparate actions of the two told their stories. The Pharisee didn’t even extend to Jesus, the representative of the kingdom of God, the normal courtesies of civil society by offering Him water to wash the dirt off of His feet (and yes, Jesus noticed). But the woman filled that void, washing His feet with her tears of repentance. The Pharisee didn’t offer the social nicety of a drop of scented oil for Jesu’s head. But the woman filled that void, anointing Jesus’ feet with a sacrifice of fine scented oil. The Pharisee offered Jesus no kiss on the cheek in greeting as was customary in that culture. But the woman filled that void, kissing His feet.

Thus the Pharisee, because of his little sense of his own sin and need for forgiveness, felt and demonstrated little love for Jesus. The woman, consumed by her guilt and deep sense of unworthiness before a holy man such as Jesus, demonstrated great love to the one she sensed could offer her forgiveness, even before that forgiveness was offered.

Father, no matter who I am, no matter where I am in the my faith walk, I can see two necessary things here. First, I must never forget where I came from, where I was when You found me, and how much You forgave me for. That will keep the fire of my love for You always burning brightly. Second, I must always keep my heart soft before You, so that I never grow proud, and cold, and blind to any sin that might creep into my life and cause me to grow judgmental of others. Help me in both of these, Lord. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 20, 2017

Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV) Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’  The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii.  He grabbed him and began to choke him.  ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ “But he refused.  Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in.  ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”


Jesus was very big on forgiving others.  He had already explained in the prayer that He had taught His disciples that God would forgive their sins only to the extent that they forgave the sins of others (cf. Matthew 6:9-15).

But now Peter is asking for more specifics.  How many times must a brother be forgiven who repeatedly sins against me?  In other words, how many repeat offenses does it take for God to determine that they have been forgiven enough, and are unredeemable enough not to require any more?  To Peter, seven times seemed to be on the extreme end of generous.  If someone sins against me an eighth time or more, he felt that they should lose the right to further forgiveness.

But Jesus had a far different take.  Not seven times, but seventy-seven times (or, as in some translations, seventy times seven times)!  This was not Jesus’ invitation to Peter to start putting tick marks in a record book somewhere to tell when he could start to withhold forgiveness.  Instead, He was telling him that there is no limit.  The people of God’s kingdom must ALWAYS forgive others, purely because they have been forgiven themselves by God.  And, to illustrate the point, Jesus told the parable of the unmerciful servant.

The debt that this servant owed to the king was completely unpayable – today it would be considered billions of dollars.  Because of his inability to pay, the man was doomed to be sold (along with all he had) to recompense the king for a bit of the debt.  But, moved by the servant’s repentance and pleading, the king instead cancels the whole debt, setting the servant free.

But that servant’s subsequent dealings with a fellow servant who owed him the equivalent of a few hundred dollars was scandalous.  Instead of offering the same mercy and forgiveness that he himself had received for an unimaginably larger debt, he withheld forgiveness, and had the fellow servant thrown into jail until the debt was paid, a fact that quickly became known to the king.

The king’s response was immediate, and fierce.  This ungrateful servant had been forgiven billions; how could he not forgive hundreds?  He had no gratitude for what had been done for him, and without his being worthy of such mercy at all.  Instead, he was willing to receive his own forgiveness of such a heinous debt, and then close up his heart to his fellow servant who needed his forgiveness.

The kings final judgment was that this unmerciful servant should be thrown into jail and tortured “until he should pay back all he owed.”  The king basically rescinded his forgiveness, and reinstated the whole multi-billion dollar debt on the unhappy servant.

The application is clear:  all people of the kingdom have been forgiven a debt of sin against the Almighty God that is unimaginably huge.  The forgiveness is granted, not based on the worth of the person asking, but on God’s own mercy and grace.  Compared to what has been forgiven, symbolized by a debt of billions of dollars, no amount of sin against me even matters.  Whether one time, or seven, or seventy-seven, or seventy times seven, or even more, it is completely insignificant by comparison.  And if forgiveness is withheld, then God will revoke the forgiveness that He originally extended, and the full load of sin will be back on my own shoulders.

This view goes against a lot of popular theology, but the parable is clear, and Jesus closing statement shows it even more clearly:  “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”  We must always forgive our brothers from the heart, or the consequences will be horrendous.

Father, it  is so easy for us to forget how much we have been forgiven.  And if we do that, it is easy for us to refuse to extend the needed forgiveness to others.  Instead, we make it all about us – feeling a deep need to be made whole when we are wronged, instead of taking Jesus as our model as well as our Savior.  Help us to not throw away our own forgiveness over wrongs that we refuse to forgive.  Instead, help us to forgive the hundreds owed to us by others as freely and as fully as we have been forgiven our billions.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 26, 2016

Matthew 9:10-13 (NIV) While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew left his job when Jesus invited him to follow Him.  But his old life wasn’t simply abandoned; it was transformed.

The first thing that Matthew did was to hold a dinner party, to which he invited lots of his old friends and business associates.  Jesus had changed Matthew’s whole life through His call, and he wanted everyone he knew to meet Him and get to know Him.

Jesus gladly accepted the invitation.  After all, these were exactly the kinds of people that he had come to reach with the good news of the kingdom:  the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), spiritually bankrupt people, who knew that they didn’t have a leg to stand on in God’s presence, and who hungered and thirsted for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).  Even though they had largely been written off by the religious leaders, they had not been written off by God.

But Jesus wasn’t there to party with these people.  This dinner was not a party.  Instead, as they ate together, all eyes were on Jesus, and all ears were focused on what He was telling them about God’s kingdom – the kingdom into which He was inviting them.

The Pharisees, as usual, were focused on entirely the wrong thing.  They didn’t even notice the room full of focused and expectant faces, all looking at Jesus as He taught them about God’s love and grace that was being extended to them.  All that they could see was that Jesus had willingly entered the home of a tax collector – an action that they saw as imparting uncleanness to any holy man.  And not only that, but Jesus was eating this man’s food, and sitting with and eating with a whole house full of even worse sinners!  They believed that it was the responsibility of anyone who claimed to be truly godly to separate themselves from anyone or anything that could corrupt them, but Jesus was doing exactly the opposite!

Their question to Jesus’ disciples was accurately captured by Matthew, who couldn’t help but hear it as it was spoken loudly and angrily right outside the window of his house.  When you add the tone of voice that they used in asking it, though, it actually sounded like:  “Why in the world is your teacher eating with people like that; tax collector and (ugh) sinners?!  What does He think He’s doing?!”

Jesus also heard the question as it was being asked, and was more than just a little irritated by the attitude of these men.  He looked right at them and answered their question.  “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I am here with these people because their souls are sick and they are dying from it.  So I have come to them to provide healing, and life, and a restored relationship with God – something that the truly righteous don’t need from me.  So, yes, I am eating with tax collectors and sinners to bring transformation into their lives, something that you are apparently too good for.  But I have a homework assignment for you.  Go to the prophet Hosea, and figure out what God meant when He moved the prophet to write, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6).”  Then come back and let’s talk.

In saying this, Jesus really struck a nerve with these men.  They knew that Hosea had prophesied to a people who were very good at the externals of their religion.  Their sacrifices were made on time, and exactly according to the rules.  But their hearts were hard and merciless, betraying the fact that they were actually very far from the God to whom their sacrifices were directed.  So, through Hosea, God challenged them to changed their perspective.  God would rather have hearts that are soft, filled with love and mercy toward their fellow man, than all the sacrifices in the world.  Because hearts like that would not only have love for others, but genuine love for God as well.

Father, once again, Jesus truck right at the heart of the issue.  A heart that is harsh and judgmental toward those whom You are trying to reach and to save is a heart that is far from You, no matter how many church services and Bible studies that they attend.  Help us, Lord, to truly see these lost ones the way that You see them, and to allow Your love to so infuse our hearts that we no longer focus on their uncleanness and sin, but on their lost souls that matter so much to You.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – Matthew 5:7

Matthew 5:7 (NIV) Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

The kingdom of God is no place for those who are stern, harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving.

Every single person who enters the kingdom of God does so through the gate of God’s mercy.  When they come to Him, spiritually bankrupt, broken by the understanding of their own sinfulness, humble, realizing that they deserve God’s condemnation rather than His blessing, and hungering to be transformed into genuinely righteous people, they receive God’s mercy, His forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus, and His transforming grace.

From that moment on, those people belong to God, and are expected to be representatives of Him and His kingdom.  As such, they are expected to show others the same grace and mercy that He showed to them, whether they consider those others “deserving” of it or not.

The parable of the unforgiving slave (Matthew 18:23-35) is the best illustration of this.  When the slave, who owes his master millions of dollars, throws himself at the master’s feet and begs for more time to pay, he receives far more than he asks:  complete forgiveness of the debt.  But when another slave, who owes the first slave a few hundred dollars, begs the first servant for more time to pay, the first slave shows no mercy.  He has the second slave thrown into prison until the debt is paid.  He who received unimaginable grace from the master shows none to his fellow who begs a much smaller mercy from him.

The master is justifiably angry at the first slave, and actually revokes the mercy that was originally given to him.  Since he would not extend mercy to another, the mercy that he himself received is negated (verse 34).  Then Jesus ends with the inverse of this beatitude:  “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35 NIV)

In God’s kingdom, the harsh and judgmental will receive no mercy.  Instead, they will be judged by God using the same standard that they use to judge others (Matthew 7:1-2).  But those who show the same abundant mercy to others that they themselves have received will continue to be show that same abundant mercy.

Father, thank You for Your abundant mercy.  Help me to always remember who and what I was when I came to You, humbled by the depth and breadth of my black sins, and with no hope of every being able to do anything to repay You what I owed.  You pronounced undeserved forgiveness into my heart, and transformed me completely, taking away the darkness and shame of my sins, and replacing them with light and joy in You.  How could I not extend the same abundant forgiveness to someone else?!  Even though it may be difficult in some cases, help me, Lord, to be as merciful to others as You have been to me, so that I can always live in Your kingdom.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 4, 2015

John 3:14-18 (NIV): “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

The bronze snake that Moses lifted up in the desert (cf. Numbers 21:4-9) was an antidote for the deadly serpents that God sent on the Israelites because of their grumbling against Him and against His servant, Moses. The serpents bit the people and killed many, and so the people asked Moses to pray that God would take them away. But God did not take the serpents away. The sins of the people had earned them this judgment, and the pain that went along with it, to remind them of the cost of rebelling against their God. However, in His mercy, God allowed Moses to make a bronze replica of the serpents, and to put it up on a pole, so that it would be visible to the whole camp. When someone was bitten by one of the serpents, they could look at the bronze serpent in faith, and would not die. Some refused, and died from the bite, but all who looked to God’s method of salvation were saved.

That serpent was a foreshadowing of Jesus. Just as the serpent was lifted up by Moses so that all could see it and look on it in faith, so Jesus would be lifted up on a cross where all could see and look to Him for salvation. Just as the bronze serpent did not remove the real serpents and the suffering and pain that they brought, caused by the sins the people committed, so Jesus’ death did not remove all of the suffering and pain in the world that is caused by the sins of the people. That suffering and pain is essential, because it acts as a motivator to turn away from the sin and rebellion that has caused that pain, toward the One who can save our lives. Just as merely looking at the serpent in faith provided salvation from the poison of the serpents, so those who look to Jesus in faith will be saved from the deadly poison of sin, and be given eternal life instead. And, just as the grace given through the serpent was indiscriminate, saving WHOEVER looked to it in faith, so the grace given through Jesus is indiscriminate; WHOEVER believes in Him, looking to Him for salvation, will not perish, but have eternal life.

Just as in Moses’ day, there are some who reject God’s method of providing salvation, either determined to find their own method (and then demanding that God accept it), or denying the reality of the consequences of being bitten by the serpent in the first place. But either course dooms those who take it. In grace, God has provided ONE method of receiving eternal life for everyone, open to all who will believe in Jesus.

As Jesus clearly pointed out here, God did not send Jesus to condemn the people of the world. He sent Him to save the world from the poison of their sins, just as He provided the bronze serpent to save the Israelites from the poison of the snakes. The saddest thing in the world is a person who, dying an eternal death from sin’s poison, rejects Jesus, the only divinely provided and powerfully effective cure for what ails him or her, and dying forever separated from the God who graciously provided a way to avoid it altogether.

Father, some complain that You made the door too narrow, providing only one way to receive eternal life: Jesus. But the miracle is that You didn’t have to provide any way for us to get to You. You could have justly left us to die in the poison of our own sin and rebellion. But Your great love compelled You to give Your one and only Son as the perfect restorative for what ails us. Thank you! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 22, 2013

Micah 6:6-8 (NIV):  With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

People have never been able to work themselves into God’s good graces by sacrifices and spiritual acts of devotion.  Many, either to make up for some wrong God has called to their attention, or to try to move Him in their favor, make extravagant promises, do acts of penance, or work long hours in the church or in a ministry.  But even though some of these things are not bad in themselves, they cannot make up for a single sin, and they don’t move God’s heart at all to act in a person’s behalf.  (Especially since God knows that the only reason the person is doing these things is not out of genuine love or devotion, but in a bid to try to manipulate Him.)

Paul had it exactly right:  “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3 NIV)  The people of Judah, horrified at the captivity of their brothers and sisters in the northern kingdom, and troubled that God was foretelling the same destiny for them, were all about trying to make it up to God by calling solemn fast days, bringing abundant sacrifices, making solemn pledges.  But God had seen all of that before, clear back to the days of the judges.  And all of it had only signaled a surface repentance, an attempt to placate Him until His anger had cooled down.

What God required for His people then is the same thing He requires of us now:  repentance that results in a completely different direction, a completely different lifelong orientation of our lives toward Him and His way of doing things:

  • ·        Act justly – Fair trading in every area of life.  From refusing to deal sharply, or have fine print in our business dealings, to ensuring that all with whom we are associated hold to the same principles.  This also includes coming to the aid of those who are powerless and mistreated, not to try and get them special treatment, but doing all that we can to help them get treated justly.
  • ·        Love mercy – Another aspect of justice, with even farther-reaching implications.  This includes showing mercy to the poor and downtrodden, especially those who are a part of the Church:  feeding those who are hungry, giving water to those who thirst, inviting the homeless in, clothing those who lack adequate clothing, and visiting those who are sick or in prison.  (cf. Matthew 25:31-46)  It also includes pulling out all the stops for those who are still trapped in their sins and lost; working tirelessly to bring them out of the darkness and into the light.  After all, what good does it do to make someone’s trip more comfortable if their destination is still hell?
  • ·        Walk humbly with our God – This means that each person who wants to experience God’s grace and His presence must live by His rules:  obeying His commands, avoiding sin and compromise at all costs, and seeking to know and to do His will.

It doesn’t matter what else a person does, if we do not clearly show forth these signs of spiritual life, all of the sacrifices we can make in the world won’t move God a single inch.  But, to those who live lives of justice, mercy, and genuine holiness, God will give His presence and His power to enable us to do all of these things, and even greater things than these!

Father, what great promises!  Help us all to truly turn from our own paths, to the life that You have not only commanded us to live, but the life that only You can empower us to live.  Amen.

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