Summary: We cannot understand God's dealings with people apart from His mercy
Vessels of Mercy
May 6, 2012
“Drink tonight. Feel better tomorrow. That would be a miracle. Well, meet a miracle.”
That’s the advertising message for a drink which is marketed as a hangover preventative - it’s supposed to enable you to consume alcoholic beverages, even to excess, actually, especially to excess, and not have to deal with that nasty aftereffect called a hangover.
I’m not kidding. And neither is this company, even though they use this play on words to sell their product. Here’s some of the ad pitch on their website.
You like to drink, but don’t like to suffer? Good. You’ve come to the right place. Mercy is a gift from heaven that prevents hell. Here’s what it’s all about. Mercy is a non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated (drink) proven to protect your body as it processes alcohol. It actually gives a safe, natural boost to your body’s defenses, and flushes your system of (the toxin) that causes your hangover. In other words, the toxin is the devil. Mercy is the angel. And with Mercy as your angel, you get some real health benefits, and no hangover symptoms. And that, fellow hangover-haters, is the miracle of Mercy.
How much Mercy (the drink that is) should you have? Well, they tell us that depends on how much alcohol you consume, but they recommend one can of Mercy for every five alcoholic beverages.
They also don’t recommend more than three cans in any 24-hour period, and helpfully add that, “If you are drinking responsibly, that’s all the Mercy you’ll need to have.”
Now – my math says that one can of Mercy for five drinks, multiplied by three cans in any 24-hour period means 15 drinks. And that’s “drinking responsibly.” I’d hate to see what drinking irresponsibly looks like.
Now, this sermon-opening look at a cultural view of mercy is not meant at all to rag on people who drink, even to excess. It’s certainly not to alert you to a product that can help you drink more alcohol than you should. In fact, did you ever think that, with the way God designed our bodies, the hangover is the real mercy, and God uses it to slap us upside the head and say “don’t drink so much!”
The reason for this opening illustration is to introduce our theme for this morning by helping us understand how our culture views mercy, how we may view mercy, and comparing that to the biblical view of mercy.
It’s clear from the play on words that this company uses to market their product, that they understand at least this much: mercy has a divine origin. Paraphrasing their marketing pitch might sound something like this: You like to sin, but you don’t like to suffer. Mercy is a gift from heaven that keeps us from hell.
In fact, in Romans 9:23, we see mercy identified as one of the most dominant themes in the whole salvation narrative. In that verse, those who are saved are called “vessels of mercy.” That’s us – as followers of Christ, we’re vessels of mercy.
For me, the study of this theme began as I thought of the number of times we see the word mercy used right alongside the word grace in Scripture. In several of Paul’s greetings in his letters to different New Testament churches, we see him write something like he wrote in
2 Timothy 1:2 (ESV) 2 To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Grace and mercy are so often seen together in scripture, so I wondered, what’s the difference between the two? Surely, if there are two different words used, there must be some difference in their meaning.
So I began to study biblical uses of the two words. First, we see how prevalent both are in scripture. Grace, of course, is the unmerited favor of God toward us – His creation. Grace in the New Testament is the Greek word charis, from which we get the English words charismatic, charisma, charity and more. One Bible dictionary defines this Greek term for grace like this:
Grace: particularly that which causes joy, pleasure, gratification, favor, acceptance, for a kindness granted or desired, a benefit, thanks, gratitude. A favor done without expectation of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of the Giver; unearned and unmerited favor. Cháris stands in direct antithesis to works, the two being mutually exclusive. God's grace affects man's sinfulness and not only forgives the repentant sinner, but brings joy and thankfulness to him. It changes the individual to a new creature without destroying his individuality (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:8, 9). Complete Word Study Dictionary
God’s grace is a consistent theme throughout scripture, especially tied to redemption.