Jesus said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36. What does it mean to be merciful? It is taking pity or having compassion on someone. God in His mercy (His pity and compassion) on us, invites us to come and have our sins washed away, just as He washes them away in Holy Baptism.
In the Lutheran liturgy, we confess our sins, calling upon Him in His mercy: “Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. … For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.” Having confessed our sins, the first thing we hear is this: “Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins.”
God looks at us with compassion. He takes pity on us. He forgives us. Which means out of the love God has first given us, we get to extend that love toward others, especially those in need of our pity and compassion: the poor who are among us, the needy and destitute, and those who sin against us.
Saint Paul tells us in Romans 12 what it means to be merciful: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. … Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Jesus calls upon us to forgive those who trespass against us, as He teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer, “for if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15.
We hear Paul’s exhortation. We hear our Lord’s command. But the word mercy is not at the forefront of our vocabulary. We are at war against God, for we are all members of the warrior race known as sinners. As sinners, we are spiritually blind, dead and enemies of God. Our sinful nature has been at war with God since our conception, and we’ll fight against Him until the day we die.
We’re not alone in our fight, for we have the devil and the world as allies. They’re forever opposed to God and seek to aid us in our battle against Him. When we fight against God (as we do every day, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment), we sin against Him, placing ourselves above Him and our will over His. In our hatred toward God, we sinners show others that we don’t have the love of God in our hearts and that we don’t live in fervent love toward one another.
When someone wrongs us, when someone sins against us, we don’t want to be merciful; we don’t want to forgive. We act like the unforgiving servant of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18. If we don’t forgive others and if we are not merciful toward others, how can we expect God to forgive us or be merciful to us? The fact of the matter is that we cannot. As a result of our sin, we should expect nothing better than that wicked servant received for his lack of compassion, and that is to be thrown into prison. For us, that prison is called hell, where we would be forever separated from God and His mercy.
But we have a God who desires to be merciful, wanting us to repent. We have a God who wants us to love one another, even as He has first loved us. We have a God who eagerly desires to give us His good and gracious gifts. We have a God, who in His mercy, has given His Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us and all our sins.
We have a God who, in the Person of Jesus Christ, willingly set aside His glory and placed Himself under the Law for us and was born in human flesh to be like us, except that He did not sin. But Jesus, who knew no sin, became our sin and died our death upon the cross. On the cross of Calvary our Lord was crucified. He agonized, bled and died.
To the world, the death of Jesus was gory and gruesome. But to Christians, the death of Jesus is beautiful because it means that He won our forgiveness, paying the debt we could not pay, for it is by His stripes — His wounds — that we are healed. Also, death could not hold Jesus, the Son of the living God, for on the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures. By His victorious resurrection from the dead, He has defeated sin, death and hell once and for all and has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
This means that God is merciful to us, showering us with His mercy through His Word and Sacraments. It means that we, moved by the Holy Spirit, get to be merciful to one another, as our Lord has been merciful to us. We get to forgive those who trespass against us, even as our Father in heaven has forgiven us.
Mark Schlamann is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Tooele.