Summary: A short series on God’s character as shown in the psalms - Psalm 86 focusing on the mercy of God.
When it comes to your relationship to God as an individual, to our relationship with God as a church, what would you say is our greatest need? What is it, above anything else that we need as we approach God? What is at the top of the list for prime importance? I will tell you, because I know the answer! It is mercy. Mercy. It is to be looked upon by God, not as we deserve to be looked upon, but looked upon favourably. That is what mercy is. It is a greater need than any other. Because without it, we can never ever come close to God – we can never ever seek his face, we can never ever depend upon him and call him our Father. We need mercy.
Mercy is at the heart of the Christian faith. Listen to what Paul says about our salvation in Ephesians 2.4. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” God is not just merciful – he is rich in mercy.
Mercy is a word we bandy around. We use it often in our prayers. We sing it in our hymns and songs. I started to look through Praise! and count the number of items there that include the word – but I soon lost count. Then I looked through the Psalms – 27 of the psalms focus on God’s mercy and our need of it. But I guess that if we use it so often it is either a word we understand very well – an aspect of God’s character that we fully grasp, or one which is simply another piece of jargon.
Jargon is a great hindrance to us. This week I installed a new drive on my computer. It was a DVD+-RW drive which needed to be connected to the master IDE socket number 2 and the old drive reset to the slave IDE number 2. That all sounds very clever and knowledgeable – but I haven’t the faintest idea what it means! Beware using jargon – let’s make sure we understand, we grasp, even if we have understood, we appreciate, what we are singing and talking and praying about.
So, then, if it is of such great importance, then as we consider the character of God, which, remember is what we have been doing, we certainly need to think about God’s mercy. That makes sense. So far we have considered God as the Creator – the one who is far above the heavens and put everything in its place. What power, what might and majesty the creation displays.
Then we considered the Kingship of God – how he rules and reigns with supreme authority and wisdom throughout the Universe. But how can we come to such a one. How can we have a relationship with him? Only by his mercy.
Now, this psalm is packed full of God’s character. At first that might seem surprising. After all, David is in trouble. Look at verse 14. We do not know exactly what sort of difficulty he is in, but it certainly seems to be some sort of physical danger. However, his appeal to God is not based so much on the trouble he is in, but on God’s character.
When the chips are down, David does not, in his prayers, spend time explaining to God the intricacies of all that is going on – he appeals to his character. He does that because he realises that apart from God’s character, and in particular his mercy, he is unable to approach the throne. He needs mercy, in fact, more than anything. That is one of his very first pleas in verse 3. Well, we’re going to concentrate on verses 5, 6 and 7 to understand more about God’s mercy. What do these verses tell us about God’s mercy?
1. It brings us forgiveness (v5a)
Ephesians 2.4 that we read a moment ago tells us that fundamentally God’s mercy is about forgiveness. It is a fundamental and prime requirement. People all around the world, all around this country, even around this town, even here this morning, perhaps – are thinking the same thing. They are thinking that they will be able to approach God on their own merit. It’s human nature to think that way. It’s human nature to be proud but what the Bible does is shatter our illusions. And they are illusions.
Even your very best, your absolute best, is not enough to please God – that is what Paul writes to the Romans, “those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (Romans 8.8). And so, if we are to ever have a relationship with God our prime need, our first need is this – to be forgiven.