Summary: “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’” Luke 18:13.
Our theme for today’s sermon is “God is merciful”. Mercy is at the heart of the Christian faith and God is not just merciful, He is rich in mercy. Mercy is an aspect of God’s nature that spares us the punishment we justly deserve. God’s mercy is unchanging and eternal. Cain killed his brother Abel and deserved to die but God’s mercy protected him. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Uriah, the Hittite but found mercy. As descendants of Adam we are all dead but God’s mercy has made available a new life. We can always appeal to the mercy of God but we need to do so with a repentant attitude. This is clearly evident in Scripture and in today’s Gospel reading we are confronted with different motives for coming into God’s presence. The proud Pharisee came to the Temple to boast. He boasted to the other worshippers of his good works as if that made him deserving of God’s mercy and favour. This attitude of the Pharisee is still at work in the lives of many people today. They are proud, self-righteous and judgemental and look down on others with contempt. Just as the tax collector in all humility asked for God’s mercy and was justified so also will God justify every repentant sinner who humbly appeals to His mercy.
Step One: The need for God’s mercy
a) We are all sinners
Man’s greatest need is the need for God’s mercy “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. (Romans 3:23) We are all sinners. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. The manifestations of sin are greed, bribery, corruption, sexual immorality, alcohol and drug abuse, hate, violence, crime and murder.
b) Sin separates from God
Sin separates man from God and all the evil in the world is the result of sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were expelled from God’s presence. Since God is the source of all goodness this meant that all their descendants had no access to His goodness.
c) God’s mercy reconciles us to God
God’s mercy reconciles us to God through Christ. Jesus Christ calls all those who labour and are heavy laden so that He can give them rest, so that they can be reconciled to God. (Matt. 11:28)
God is merciful and all of us are beneficiaries of His mercy. When Adam and Eve sinned, it was the mercy of God that clothed them with the skin of a sacrificed lamb. It was the mercy of God that drove them out of the Garden of Eden. If He had not done so they would have eaten of the tree of life in their sinful state and would have lived forever in that state without any means for redemption. God’s mercy is evident all around us. His mercy allows the sun to shine and the rains to fall on both the godly and the ungodly. His mercy allows the fields to yield an abundant harvest to bless all people. His mercy restores what has been destroyed or lost so that we have reason to thank, praise, and worship Him.
We all need God’s mercy and His nature is to have mercy. Out of His abundant mercy He has poured out His Spirit on all flesh. Let us avail ourselves of what God’s mercy has made available to us as we call on His Name.
Step Two: The demonstration of God’s mercy
a) The forgiveness of sin
The demonstration of God’s mercy is seen in the abundant life. God is merciful but He is also just and could not compromise His justice. His mercy made Him meet the demands of justice through His beloved Son Jesus Christ. The Son of God became the Son of man, without a sin nature, tempted in all ways as we are, yet did not sin. This was the only way that His death could pay the penalty for sin and make God’s mercy available to all.
b) The righteousness of God through Christ
Christ who was righteous became sin for us that we might be made righteous. His crucifixion and death dealt with every problem that resulted from our rebellion and sin. Jesus took our place and endured all the evil consequences that were due by divine justice to our sin. This was the only way for God to offer us forgiveness without compromising His own eternal justice.
c) Joint heirs with Christ as God’s children
We were identified with Christ in His death, burial and ascension. We died and were buried with Him and His victory over sin and death is our victory also and has restored the divine authority and dominion that God had given to man. As God’s children we have become joint heirs with Christ and have access to the Father’s presence and all His provisions.