14 And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. 15 Then Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, saying: 16 “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.” (Isaiah 37:14–16, NKJV)
Jerusalem was besieged and it appeared the city would soon be captured by Assyria. God’s prophet assured king Hezekiah that God would overthrow the Assyrian king (Isaiah 37:1-7). Now, messengers from Assyria’s king delivered a letter of intimidation and reproach to the king of Judah (Isaiah 37:8-13). Hezekiah’s faith remained in the Lord, and he brought the threat before Him. In verse 16, Hezekiah honored three attributes of God that we do well to remember when we come to God in time of trouble. He honored 1) God’s holiness and mercy (“the One who dwells between the cherubim” referred to the mercy seat in the Most Holy Place of the Jerusalem temple), 2) God’s sovereignty as the One true God (“You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth,” and 3) God as Creator of all things (“You have made heaven and earth”). When the enemies of truth and righteousness press down upon Christians, we assure our hearts and our faith with these eternal truths. Let us follow Hezekiah’s good example of faith. God does not forsake the faithful (Hebrews 13:5-6).
11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:11–13, NKJV)
Did Jesus condone sin by eating with sinners? No. A careful reading of today’s text shows Jesus knew these people were sinners, because He alluded to their need for a physician. Was He “judging” them? No. They were sinners – “sick” in sin. Far from condoning sin or “judging” people unjustly, Jesus showed mercy by calling sinners “to repentance” while eating with them (Luke 15:1-2). Those who complained against Jesus for doing so had no mercy in their hearts for sinners. Why? Because they did not see their own sin and their own need for mercy. All have sinned, but not all sinners see their sin and how much they need mercy. These self-righteous complainers had no compassion toward sinners because they refused to deal honestly with their own sin (Luke 18:9-14). We learn to be merciful toward others by learning we need mercy, too. Mercy does not ignore sin, it calls on sinners to face their sin and to repent. That is what Jesus did. The Pharisee offers his sacrifices to God, yet forgets to be merciful (Matthew 23:23-24). And, he complains against those who shows God’s mercy to sinners. What a dreadful place to be!
1 I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations. 2 For I have said, “Mercy shall be built up forever; Your faithfulness You shall establish in the very heavens.” (Psalm 89:1–2, NKJV)
God is merciful, but He will not at all clear the guilty who reject His mercy by refusing to repent and obey Him (Exodus 34:7; Nahum 1:3). A distorted view of God’s mercy lulls souls into complacency toward sin. Convincing themselves that God is too loving to see any soul be punished in hell, they willingly deceive themselves with the illusion that everyone will go to heaven. (Well, at least, most people!) Jesus often spoke of hell, and said many who call on His name will depart into everlasting fire (Matthew 25:46). God is not only merciful, He is also faithful. We can depend on Him, as surely as the heavens show His fidelity. We trust what He says is the absolute truth. Let us tell others of His ageless mercy and call them to find it for themselves in the gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 1:16).
11 Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O Lord; Let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me. 12 For innumerable evils have surrounded me; My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; They are more than the hairs of my head; Therefore my heart fails me. (Psalm 40:11–12, NKJV)
While pleading for God’s mercy to abide with him, David acknowledged God’s merciful protection comes from His steadfast love and truth. When evil surrounds us and our own sins overwhelm us, God’s mercy secures our souls. He supplies abundant mercy when sinful forces from without and within test our hearts and try our faith. God’s mercy flows from His eternal love. His every purpose and act is founded in His abiding love for us (John 3:16; 1 John 4:7-10). Simultaneously, it is His truth that safely protects us against evil and its forces. His word (which is truth, John 17:17) explains how mercy and truth meet to give us relief from our sins (Psalm 85:10). We do not mandate the mercy of God; His word of truth does that. It explains how and upon whom the Lord shows mercy (Romans 9:14-18). Truth teaches us that we cannot expect to receive God’s mercy if we are practicing sin. Sin brings wrath (Romans 1:18). Mercy comes when we repent and obey God’s truth (Ephesians 2:4-10; Hebrews 5:8-9; Titus 3:4-5). God’s mercy proceeds from love and is revealed by truth. All who put their trust in Him and do His will shall be preserved by His mercy (Psalm 40:1-8).
13 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!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:13–14, NKJV)
The depth of our sins magnifies the depth of God’s mercy. The Pharisee in this parable depicts “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” (Luke 18:9). The Pharisee justified himself in comparison to others. He considered himself to be superior spiritually – “not like other men” (Luke 18:11-12). When we cannot see our own sins we are unable to show compassion to others, much less receive God’s merciful forgiveness for our sins. God is ready, willing and able to show us mercy when we, in anguish over our sins, turn to Him for relief (Psalm 51:17). The tax collector was crushed over his sin. Even so today, a sinner who is “cut to the heart” over his sins receives God’s mercy when he repents and is baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:37-38). The contrite heart turns to God for compassionate forgiveness and receives it. It is precisely when we understand our own need for mercy that we are able to show mercy to others. The merciful do not elevate themselves above others, for they know their own need for mercy. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). The self-righteous do not give or receive mercy.
6 You will prolong the king’s life, His years as many generations. 7 He shall abide before God forever. Oh, prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him! (Psalm 61:6–7, NKJV)
King David was sure that God would hear his prayers and protect him from his enemies (Psalm 61:1-3). For his part, David would abide with God and keep trusting in God’s sheltering wings, sure of God’s favor and reward of a heritage and abundant life (Psalm 61:4-6). God prepared two things that would preserve the king, mercy and truth. By these the king would be guarded by God to lead the people in wisdom and righteousness. Like the king, each of us will be shielded by God and assured of His blessings when we are merciful and guided by truth. “God shall send forth His mercy and His truth” to save the righteous and reproach is enemies (Psalm 57:3). “Mercy and truth preserve the king,” and they also bless us when we walk in them (Proverbs 20:28). With David, we praise God for the extent of His mercy and truth, “I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations. For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens, and Your truth unto the clouds” (Psalm 57:9-10). Let us commit ourselves to being merciful and living by God’s truth. By doing so you will have His favor and reap eternal life.
23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24, NKJV)
Jesus did not pronounce this stinging condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees because they were careful to tithe herbs (this was commanded in God’s law to Israel, Leviticus 27:30). He pronounced woe upon them for abandoning the principles and motives that characterize acceptable obedience to God. They strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel with their minute correctness while failing to obey God out of justice, mercy and faith. They “passed by justice and the love of God” in their zeal to keep the law (Luke 11:42). Unfortunately, this passage is frequently used as an “either, or” proposition to justify disobedience in the name of justice, mercy, faith and the love of God. Jesus did not say that. He taught that careful obedience is useless unless it genuinely expresses faith, mercy and justice. Obeying God does not contradict justice, mercy, and faith. While being faithful to obey God, be just and merciful to others. Do not “pass by the love of God” lest you fall into condemnation (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).