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(Part 29)


March 10, 2016

Today’s readings:
Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 106:19-23
John 5:31-47

What is mercy? It is withholding the punishment due for sin. “Turn from your burning wrath; change your mind about punishing your people.” (Ex 32:12b). Before mercy, there is serious sin and the punishment that should be due. Thus mercy becomes even more amazing and extraordinary, because punishment is due and is just, but is withheld.

But if God is merciful, why should He be angry and intent on punishing? God is a holy God and sin is an affront to the holiness of God. Turning away from God, rejecting or rebelling against Him, disobedience, looking to other gods as idols, all in the face of God’s goodness and divine care, are all serious sins that deserve severe punishment. God said to Moses, “your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned aside from the way I commanded them, making for themselves a molten calf and bowing down to it” (Ex 32:7-8a). Don’t such things merit the wrath of God?

Further, in the face of God’s mighty deeds among them, the Israelites continued to be rebellious. “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are” (Ex 32:9). Since God is about raising a people of His own, their continued rejection of His ways make them useless to His plans. And since God continues to work in the world through human instruments, He seeks a people that will obey Him and manifest His glory. “Let me alone, then, that my anger may burn against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation.” (Ex 32:10).

So there was justifiable reason for the wrath of God. But there was also His mercy, which predominated. “So the Lord changed his mind about the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.” (Ex 32:14).

Today we Christians, the new Israel, are much the same as our ancestors-in-faith were.

  • We have our idols. “At Horeb they fashioned a calf, worshiped a metal statue.” (Ps 106:19). These idols may be money, sex, power, consumerism, hedonism and the like. In our pursuit of these, we live contrary to God’s ways.
  • We demean God in whose image we are created and the name of Christ by which name we are known. “They exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating bull.” (Ps 106:20). We are supposed to be God’s light to the world and witnesses to Jesus. However, we instead wallow with everyone else in the darkness of sin and give a bad name to Christ and our Church.
  • We are unmindful of all the good God does for us, including our very salvation. “They forgot the God who had saved them, who had done great deeds in Egypt” (Ps 106:21). Our lives are totally dependent upon God, but we are ungrateful for all the good that He does for us--for life, health, family, day-to-day provisions, livelihood, service. Jesus has saved us, but we continue to embrace the world of sin.

And so we too are deserving of punishment, having turned against God and no longer being instruments of His will for the world. “He would have decreed their destruction” (Ps 106:23a). But God is merciful. It does not mean we can now abuse His mercy and continue to go about our sinful ways. What mercy is is actually an invitation to repentance, which is the way “to turn back his destroying anger.” (Ps 106:23b).

Moses understood the mercy of God. That is why he “bargained” with the Lord to spare a sinful people. We too need to understand the inscrutable mercy of God. “For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me.” (Jn 5:46). Jesus reveals a Father who is merciful. Further, Jesus, in his life and works, reveals a merciful God, reaching out to sinners. We see such mercy over and over again in the Bible, especially the life of Jesus in the New Testament. “You search the scriptures, .... even they testify on my behalf.” (Jn 5:39).

We rightly and justly deserve condemnation, but Jesus has saved us, and God continues to be merciful to us. We must not abuse such mercy, but with great gratitude look to God’s mercy as our way to a deeper life in Him.

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