p>Ephesians 2:4-5 – 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.
In his new book, The Holy Wild, Mark Buchanan shares the story of a man who was talking to a book collector. As is typical of book collectors, this one was of course always on the lookout for rare books-the older and the rarer the better. I mean, he absolutely loved old books-their musty, brittle pages, their ragged edges, the engraved lettering on the covers rubbed almost smooth from countless hands. He loved old books!
Well, to make conversation the other man told this book collector, “I found an old book once…in my grandfather’s attic. It was a Bible. Somebody named Gutenberg printed it.”
“Gutenberg!” the collector said, “Where is it now?” The man said, “Oh, I tossed it out. It was very old, not much use.” The collector replied, “Do you realize what you’ve done? That was one of the first Bibles ever printed. One copy was sold at auction for $2 million dollars!” “Not mine,” the man said. “My copy wouldn’t have fetched more than a buck or two. Why, I couldn’t even read the thing. Some idiot named Martin Luther had scribbled all over it.”
Well, the moral of this story is this: sometimes we treat PRECIOUS things as WORTHLESS things. Like this foolish man we often look at TREASURES as CLUTTER because we’re ignorant of their true value…
…And, one example of this is seen in the way we treat WORDS.
I mean, OLD words that were precious to our parents or grandparents…well they are often cast aside as not having any value to the next generation-and a good example of this is the word: MERCY. Buchanan writes, “Mercy is a precious thing that we’ve come to treat as a worthless thing.”
Now, I think one reason we do this with this particular word is because these days we tend to think MERCY is obsolete. In our prideful minds many of us have come to think we don’t really need God’s mercy. We’ve come to look at ourselves as basically good people and as such we believe mercy doesn’t really apply to us anymore. So we either cast this valuable word aside…or we limit its use to those times we need to refer to “real” sinners: criminals and down-and-outers-people in the “ditch of life” so to speak. Well, on this Maundy Thursday I want us to remind ourselves how foolish this way of thinking really is-because the truth is we ALL desperately need the mercy of God. I mean, this word definitely applies to our situation because as Romans 3:10-11 says, “There is NO ONE who always does what is right, NOT EVEN ONE.
There is NO ONE who understands. There is NO ONE who looks to God for help. All have turned away. Together everyone has become useless. There is NO ONE who does anything good; there is NOT EVEN ONE.”
In other words-all of us are tainted with sin. ALL of us! Let me ask you….do you think of yourself as a basically GOOD person? Well, listen, according to this text and others like it, even if everyone agrees that you are a GOOD person-you are still not good enough. Even you are guilty of sin-sin that separates you from our Holy God and condemns you to spend eternity apart from Him. Do you remember Isaiah’s realization as he stood in the light of God’s holiness? He said, “Even our most righteous acts are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) So, the best attempts by our best people fall far short of God’s holy requirements. Max Lucado refers to this by saying, “We have attempted to reach the moon but scarcely made it off the ground. We tried to swim the Atlantic but couldn’t get beyond the reef. We have attempted to scale the Everest of salvation, but we have yet to leave base camp, much less ascend the slope.” The fact is we are ALL sinners. We are all “convicts” who have all broken God’s law. We are all “down-and-outers in the ditch of life” – All of us need God’s mercy.
Well, since this word does indeed have value for all of us, let’s remind ourselves of its meaning. What is mercy?
Tozer defines it this way: “Mercy is an attribute of God…it is an infinite and inexhaustible energy within the divine nature….which disposes God to be actively compassionate. As JUDGEMENT is God’s JUSTICE confronting moral inequity, so MERCY is the GOODNESS of God confronting human suffering and guilt. Mercy is not something God HAS but something God IS-and, it is not just a NOUN-it is also a VERB.” Tozer goes on to say that God is eager to act out of His great mercy toward us. When we admit our sin and ask for God’s forgiveness He readily gives it. Tozer puts it this way. He says, “God has put a safety lock on His wrath, but a hair trigger on His mercy.” So to sum this all up, the MERCY of God is His loving and gracious ACTIONS toward us. Tonight as we gather around this table we of course symbolize the greatest ACT of God’s mercy-the sending of His only Son to die for our sin. You see, to quote Tozer once again, “MERCY CANNOT CANCEL JUDGEMENT APART FROM ATONEMENT.” And Jesus died to atone for our sins. As 2 Corinthians 5:19, 21 says, “God was in Christ, [atoning]…making peace between the world and Himself…Christ had no sin, but God made Him become sin so that in Christ we could become right with God.” So-in God’s great mercy-here’s what happened. Here’s what we commemorate every time we share this supper. Whenever we eat of this bread and drink from this cup we remember that on the cross the perfect record of Jesus was given to you and your imperfect record was given to Christ.
To put it in modern terms, thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the moment you decided to become a Christian God clicked the “delete” icon and the list of all your sins on the screen vanished into cyberspace. Then He clicked the “paste” icon and the righteousness of Christ filled the column under your name. Now, whenever God opens your file, He finds the righteousness of His Son credited to you.
As 1 Peter 3:18 says, “Jesus was not guilty, but he suffered for those who are guilty in order to bring them to God.” Through Jesus’ death on the cross, God’s holiness was honored and we can be forgiven. Lucado says, “Ponder the achievement of God. He doesn’t condone our sin, nor does He compromise His standard. He doesn’t ignore our rebellion; nor does He relax His demands. Rather than dismiss our sin, He assumes our sin and, incredibly, sentences Himself.
God’s holiness is honored. Our sin is punished. And we are redeemed. God is still God. The wages of sin is still death. And we are made perfect….[In His great mercy,] God does what we cannot do so we can be what we dare not dream, perfect before God.” As Hebrews 10:14 puts it, “With one Sacrifice, He made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
After the first World War the United States gave vast sums of money to the dislocated orphans of Europe, but they still didn’t have enough money to meet the staggering need. In one of the places where they had set up an orphanage with funds from the states, a man came in. He was very thin-obviously suffering from starvation and he came into this orphanage leading a little girl.
She also showed signs of malnutrition-eyes too large, her little abdomen distended and her thin little legs and arms too small and too thin for her age. This man led her in and said to the person in charge, “I would like you to take in my little girl.” The official at the desk asked him if she was his daughter and he said, “Yes.” He asked if the mother had been killed in the war and again the man said, “Yes.” The official then said, “We’re very sorry, but our rule here is that only full orphans can receive any help. If one of the parents is living then we can’t take responsibility because we just don’t have enough room. There are too many full orphans for us to take a half orphan.” The father looked down at his little girl, and then he turned and said ,”You don’t understand. I’m sick. I was in a German prison during the war. I was half starved, and now I can’t work. I can barely stager around. I brought her down for you to take car of her.” And again the official said, “We’re sorry sir, but there’s nothing we can do. That’s the rule. We only care for full orphans.” The father thought a moment and said, “Are you saying that if I were dead, you’d take care of my little girl and feed her and she could live and have clothing and a home?” The official replied, “Well, yes, that’s the rule.” Then the father reached down and pulled his daughter’s thin little body up to himself and hugged her hard and kissed her. Then he put her hand in the hand of the hand of the man at the desk and told him, “I’ll arrange that,” and walked out of the room and committed suicide.
In a similar way our Heavenly Father mercifully acted to save us from our sins by sending His Son to die so that we might live. Remember, Jesus wasn’t murdered. He lay down His life for us. He willingly died so we wouldn’t have to. Ephesians 1:5 says, God, “…predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will.” But the parallel isn’t perfect because God’s mercy was much greater than this earthly Father’s. You see, Jesus wasn’t poor and starving. No, as 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”
This is what we symbolize now in the Lord’s Supper-God’s great mercy acting on our behalf…Jesus leaving the glory of Heaven to die in our place, or as Tozer puts it “…the GOODNESS of God confronting human suffering and guilt.”
Before we do, my son, Daniel comed to read the Scripture that tells us of the time Jesus gave us this symbol. Luke 22:1-34
We invite you now into a time of prayer. I would ask that you take a few moments to examine your own life and confess any known sin. Admit your need for God’s mercy. When you are ready come and kneel at one of these benches and Steve, and Aaron, and I will serve you. Remember, you need not be a member of this church to participate. All Christians are invited to the table. If you are His, this is yours.