Without Walls Sermon Summary
A Life of Mercy Always Outshines One of Judgement
Christmas has become many things to many people. To some it revolves around elaborate decorations and familiar music, while others focus on the giving of creative and brightly adorned gifts. Although none of these things in and of themselves are wrong, they do represent a somewhat skewed representation of what Christmas is supposed to be about
Christmas represents the greatest act of mercy ever shown to mankind. It is so much more than the story of a baby born in a manger and visited by wise men and shepherds. It is an offer of life beyond a judgement we could not bear, hope beyond the pain of this natural life, destiny beyond the despair of personal failure and love beyond the offenses that often paralyze us. It is the gift of freedom if we will receive it; given as a result of righteous judgement.
We don’t often relate Christmas as a story of judgement, though I believe that it truly was. It was God judging the value of the relationship He had with man. He was saying, you are worth me sending my only Son into the spiritual darkness of the earth to make a way for you to come back into right relationship with me. You are worth ransoming and I am willing to give my life to get you back. (Matthew 20:28) You see in Gods heart judgement is rendered in hopes of repairing and restoring relationships, while in man’s heart judgement is typically rendered so that adequate punishment can be applied.
It seems that in this natural life, one of mankind’s greatest demands is the demand for justice. But I can’t help but wonder if we truly want God’s justice in all areas of our life? Every day, in all situations? Justice not only for others, but for ourselves? Do we really want what we deserve? In all circumstances? You see, true justice is not making sure that others get what they deserve, but making sure that we get what we deserve as well. If we would be completely honest we would see that many of our demands for justice are simply selfishness in disguise, the desire to have our own way cloaked in some kind of spiritual vindication. The ugly truth is that we want to see people pay for what they have done, see them punished. As if somehow that will heal the pain we are feeling or fill a void in our lives. But do we really want justice across the board? Do we want justice for all the things we think but do not speak? Justice for the opinions we really hold rather than the ones we profess out loud? For the thoughts we have in the darkness, the quiet times, those thoughts that only we know and do not dare speak?
So how do we live our lives in a world of seemingly inconsistent justice? How do we live, act, respond to people we see as lesser than us or to those we feel are better, more gifted or accomplished? How do we interact with the homeless who have nothing to offer as compared to those with great wealth? The book of James talks of this in chapter 2:1-13. He clearly states that it is wrong for us to show favoritism and that we should remember that God has chosen those who are “poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and inherit the kingdom He promised to those who love Him.” We are admonished to keep the royal law and “love our neighbors as ourselves”, remembering that if you break one law, command or rule; that you are actually guilty of breaking them all. James encourages us to realize that we are being judged by the law that gives freedom not condemnation and that “mercy always triumphs over judgement.” Christ’s judgement is predicated on mercy instead of condemnation. John 3:17 says “For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world…” While God is looking to set people free, we are usually looking to have people punished. The sad reality is that most of the time we would rather see people punished in a tangible way for the wrongs they have committed against us rather than see them repent and receive mercy. This attitude is an underlying force that is feeding much of the restlessness we feel in society today, broken families, racial tensions and a general feeling of dissatisfaction.
The new buzz term that is taking the nation by storm both in and out of the church, is “social justice.” The progressives want justice applied to all of society as well as to the injustices of history. They want someone that looks more privileged to pay, but they certainly do not think that it should be them. And while we may disdain this attitude, we have allowed it to seep into our Christian thinking. Someone has to pay for my pain, the pain of my family, the pain of my people. The problem is that the debt that is owed by all of mankind (every tribe and tongue), is too massive for any one man, nation, denomination, family or ethnicity to pay. Jesus Christ was the only one that could make the payment to bring God’s justice to all societies, all peoples (past, present and future), which is exactly what He did. In doing so, he set the standard for bringing justice to all future debts, both personal and societal. The debts we feel are owed to us for sins committed against us. Pain and suffering inflicted upon us and offenses we carry, even when we believe they are justified. In reality we are called to handle those debts in the same manner that Jesus handled our debt. By offering mercy rather than condemnation.
How do we do it? How do we show mercy to those who have hurt us, to those who are walking in the dark places of society? How can we offer mercy to those who are sinning and don’t care, those who seem to be bringing it upon themselves?
First of all, we must remember who we were when we were walking in that same darkness. No matter how pristine we feel that our lives may have been, as believers we know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is a familiar story in scripture, found in Luke chapter 7:36-47. It is the story of Jesus having dinner at the home of a Pharisee. A sinful woman came and knelt at his feet, she began to weep and then wipe his feet with her very hair. At the same time she broke a jar of costly perfume on his feet and anointed him. When the Pharisees questioned his ability to discern what manner of woman was touching him, he told them a story. Suppose two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed much more than the other but neither could pay, so he mercifully cancelled both debts. Which one do you think loved him more? The Pharisee answered, I suppose the one that had the bigger debt canceled. Jesus said, you have judged correctly. From the moment I entered your house, you have not given any water for my feet but she has wept over me, wiping my feet with her hair. She has not stopped kissing me while you have offered me no kiss at all. She loves much because she knows how much sin she has been forgiven, but for those who feel they have been forgiven little, they in turn love little.
As believers we must live just within sight of our own sinful past, not so far away that we forget where we have come from and how much sin we’ve been forgiven. We have to remember what we have done, what we have said, how we have acted and where we have been. The selfishness, offenses carried, the gossip and slander we have spoken. We have to remember who we were before we were shown mercy. That memory is what motivates us to sacrifice what is precious to us in order to bring hope to those in need. We are called to be hope to those in darkness but how can we ever be light in the darkness if we never get near the darkness? In a room full of light, the light has no effect. How can we possibly affect the darkness positively if we only judge it from a distance, never getting near it? We have to walk through the darkness with a merciful spirit if we ever hope to have a positive impact.
Christmas is the day that Jesus chose to come into the darkness, to dwell among sinful humanity. He came into a poor family, born in a manger, a vulnerable infant with questionable lineage, from the wrong side of the tracks. In John 1:46 Nathanael asks “can anything good come from Nazareth?” But come he did, offering love, hope, forgiveness, acceptance and mercy. If the God of the universe came to people of darkness in that way, how should we go to people of darkness? How should we engage the world this Christmas season and in the coming year? With a spirit of fear, isolation or judgement? Or maybe instead by accepting them, relating to them, listening to their heart, offering unconditional love, showing them the only mercy they may ever experience. The same mercy that we have been shown.
Being merciful means that we release our apprehensions, pre conceptions and judgements to God. That we instead accept His judgements about all people in all situations. Knowing, believing, accepting that He longs to show mercy, not to condemn. Which quite honestly should be our desire as well.
I pray for you all a Merry Christmas and a Merciful New Year!
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