Well, today is a day that we do go without food. God gives us special instructions for this special high day and as we think about it, often times that may be the word that comes to mind. What is the word that comes to mind when you think of the Day of Atonement? Is there maybe one word that kind of sums up the meaning and if there was one word, what would it be? Well, I think it’s a word that in our culture today you rarely hear unless the word “no” is in front of it.
You can look it up in dictionaries, but people don’t really seem to understand what it means. If you talk to people on the street they can tell you that they know what it is, but if you ask them, why is it important, I’m not sure that they would know exactly why it would be important. Well, this word sums up the day and I think it’s a word that is seldom practiced in society in this evil world. What is that word? Mercy. Mercy. Why is mercy connected with the Day of Atonement and why is mercy a vital key anyway? Is it really connected with the Day of Atonement or not, or is it really about something else? Well, let’s think about that for a little bit. Let’s take some time and notice a Biblical challenge to each and every one of us to understand it, to teach it and to put it to practice in our lives. And the Day of Atonement is a day that points to how essential it really is and how fundamentally it is a part of this very day and even more than that how fundamental it is to the character of God. So, let’s think about this wonderful word – mercy.
Now if you’ll turn with me over to Leviticus 16 we’ll take a look at how atonement is connected to God’s mercy. Leviticus chapter 16 we have some of the descriptions of what’s supposed to happen on this day in ancient Israel, so we’ll notice it as we find God speaking to Moses and giving instructions about the Day of Atonement. Leviticus chapter 16 we’ll start right at the very beginning. Leviticus 16:1-2 Now the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the Lord, and died;…You’ll remember the story: they had gone into the holy of holies, into the most holy place when they weren’t supposed to and they died there. So God is spelling out instructions more thoroughly for them so they can understand the significance of this special place….. 2 and the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.
And so here we find instruction that this a very special place. This is where the Ark of the Covenant stood. So what was so important about the Ark of the Covenant? Well, it was what it represented and what it held. The Ark of the Covenant was a beautiful little gold box and it was covered with, what we’re told here, is the mercy seat. Basically just a slab of gold and that mercy seat was representative of the throne of God. In fact, in ancient Israel God’s very presence was there in the Most Holy Place and so not to have the due respect and awe for God and His presence was to blaspheme. And so no wonder Aaron’s sons had died. Now God points out very clearly how important this very place is and the fact that this place was a place of mercy. That God’s throne is a throne of mercy. His very seat was called the mercy seat. Now that might sound a little funny when two guys came in and died and somehow this is a merciful place. Well, how can that fit together and why is that true? Is it possible to have mercy and justice fit together? Well, we’ll find that as we go through the story of the Day of Atonement in ancient Israel. Well, we skip down a little bit and we see a little bit more about the things that took place on this very day and it had to do with the sacrifices that were going to be offered. Aaron sacrificed for himself and also there were a couple of goats involved. Verse 15 says: Leviticus 16:15-16 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering,…and that sin offering ultimately points to Jesus Christ, the ultimate sin offering and He says that sin offering… which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat….And so we see this is an important, significant event that was taking place. It was for their atonement….16 So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions,…Because of their sin, that sin needed to be atoned for. It had to be made right with God. There had to be propitiation, there had to be an atoning sacrifice for sin. The goat represented that sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice that would be Jesus Christ. So when the Israelites gathered together before the tabernacle on this very day, they weren’t there just to receive a covering of sin, they were also there to receive compassion. They were also there for mercy; that mercy that could only come from God. The God who made them, the God who loved them and so God gave a way so that their sin could be covered and they could receive mercy from God. And of course, as they did this we see this wasn’t just something that was just some ritualistic thing that was only relegated to ancient Israel. If we look at verse 29 it says: Leviticus 16:29-31“This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls,…That’s chapter 16 v.29 and so they were to fast. They were to afflict their souls… and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you….Now why would that be important? Well, He says… 30 For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever.
And so God made a way for their sin to be covered. He said the Day of Atonement would be something that would continue to be kept long after ancient Israel faded away. And so today, we continue to afflict our souls, we continue to recognize we need atonement, we need an atoning sacrifice, we need, ultimately God’s mercy. This day was not just called the Day of Atonement, it was also called a day of forgiving. A day of forgiving, sometimes called a day of pardons. In fact, you look through this meaning of the Day of Atonement and the implication of that day, maybe better yet – it’s a day of reconciliation. A day of reconciliations where a right relationship could be restored and God restored a right relationship with Israel when He covered their sin.
Now, that happens with us as well doesn’t it? We don’t have to wait for just one day a year for that to happen, but the Day of Atonement represents that very thing. That all of us need God’s mercy and we need an atoning sacrifice. And so God spells it out very clearly that we need forgiveness, we need pardon, and we need a sacrifice and we need to be in a right relationship with God because sin separates us from God. Now, how would that be possible? How would it be possible to have a right relationship with God? We are sinful human beings; we fall so far short of the standards of God, so how is it even possible to be reconciled? How is it possible to be right with God? You see that’s where atonement comes in. Because of God’s mercy it is possible, because God is merciful. But you think of ancient Israel, how good were they at obeying God? Not very good were they. They weren’t very….did they deserve an opportunity to have their sins covered? They didn’t deserve it. So what made it possible? God’s mercy made it possible for them, made it possible that their sin could be covered through the representation of that goat which pointed to the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ, it would be possible. Not only for them to have their sins covered, but for us to have our sins wiped out and totally forgiven. And it is only by the mercy of God that it becomes possible to do this. And so on a day like today, mercy sums up God’s approach to this solemn Sabbath Day.
We don’t have a priesthood to make propitiation for us, but we have a high priest. We have Jesus Christ who did that very thing for us. And so, does it make the affliction worthwhile? Does it remind us of why we afflict our souls? Why do we fast on a day like today? Is it just to go without food and water so we’ll appreciate it that much more after sunset? Is that why we do it? You know, I wonder if ancient Israel really understood why they were fasting. It’s not just to get hungry, I mean if we just go hungry for the day all we taught ourselves is that ok, we can make it a day without food and water. But hopefully we’re realizing that if we continue to do this, if we continue to go without food and water, what would happen to us? Well, we die. Without physical food and water we will die. Physically we will be dead. It’s the same way spiritually; it’s to remind us of this great spiritual lesson. Without the mercy of God, spiritually we would be dead. Our fasting should remind us of that. That yes, we go hungry today but it’s to remind us of a greater spiritual truth, that without God in our life we will die spiritually. So we can put up with a little bit of a headache, or a little weakness, a little bit of being tired because ultimately it reminds us of our frailness, of how much we need God. Without God sustaining this universe it would all collapse as well. But we need God and His mercy and so we can put up with a little bit of a headache at the moment, can’t we? We heard of a mother who was struggling. A young mom had a very bad headache, (it wasn’t the Day of Atonement) so what would you do? Well, she went to her medicine cabinet; she found a little bottle of ibuprofen, she followed the directions exactly. It said, “Keep away from children” so she did. And her headache went away. Not saying that’s advice for young mothers but sometimes we all need a little bit of help don’t we? So we can put up with a little bit of headache, can’t we? But as we look at this day and we see how intricately atonement is connected with the mercy of God, we understand that even one of God’s names is, the God of Mercy.
Maybe take some time after atonement to look at that. God our Father is a God of mercy; Jesus Christ is a God of mercy. We know that. Paul reminded Timothy that God wants to save all. He wants all to come to repentance; He wants all to be saved. In fact, we sing about God’s great mercy. There’s a whole Psalm that time after time and stanza after stanza it reminds us that His mercy never fails. His mercy never fails – that’s Psalm 136. An amazing reminder that God is a merciful God and He makes a way that we can be forgiven. In fact in the New Testament, we flip over to Hebrews chapter 9 we see additional significance for us today. How this is not just something that is relegated to ancient Israel or the old covenant, but that actually this is something that’s important now. Under the terms of the New Covenant we recognize the significance of our high priest. So turn over to Hebrews, chapter 9 and we’ll rehearse a little bit of the story as we look at verse….let’s begin right at the very beginning. Hebrews 9:1-5 Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary…We read about some of those and what they did on the Day of Atonement with all the various sacrifices and some of the rituals that they went through. Paul talked about a tabernacle in verse 2…2 For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; 3 and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, 4 which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; 5 and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat.
Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. Wouldn’t it be great to hear some of those details and have additional information? We don’t get that right here, we’ll get some of that later I have a feeling. But we have some significant things that he just talked about that we can overlook so easily if we don’t take just a moment to notice what’s really said here. Here he describes this holiest of all, the Holy of Holies. That special place where the Ark of the Covenant was, where God’s glory resided with ancient Israel. And we see very clearly here that that was above the mercy seat. But what was below the mercy seat? What was below the mercy seat? Well, we have a description of what was in the ark, and in the ark we’re told that there was the manna. But also that there were the tablets of the covenant, the Ten Commandments were inside the ark. Now how many of us can keep the Ten Commandments perfectly? Well, we can’t do it perfectly, so even in this God was signifying that there’s a solution for sin. That even though we can’t keep the Ten Commandments perfectly, above the Ten Commandments is mercy. The mercy seat is above the Ten Commandments and overshadowing that we have the cherubim, overshadowing that mercy seat. And then the presence of God and so even in that we see the possibility for atonement, the possibility to be reconciled with God and it’s through His great mercy. In fact, he describes it a little bit further here. If you notice this seat of mercy sometimes in the Greek it’s translated reconciliation, some more difficult words – propitiation or expiation. Those are the words that are pointing to the atoning sacrifice of Christ, a cleansing, a forgiveness of sin. Now he says: Hebrews 9:6-12, 14 Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. 7 But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; 8 the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing….You see there was a physical priesthood offering physical sacrifices, but here we see this all pointed to a spiritual high priest who would sacrifice His life so that there could be total forgiveness, we could be one with God. So it tells us that in verse 9… 9 It was symbolic for the present time …So this isn’t just some ancient ritual that we ignore and don’t see the spiritual significance behind. He says this is for now; this is something we can learn from right now.
He said v.9… in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience—…Yes, even though their sin was covered back in ancient Israel, it didn’t make it right. They weren’t totally clean; it was just a physical covering in that sense. Says… 10 concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation….All of those kinds of things, but verse 11 gets to the spiritual significance, to today…. 11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption… So,Christ was the ultimate sacrifice and so we see in verse 14… 14 how much more…than bulls and goats… shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And so here we see so clearly that that sacrifice of Christ was to cleanse us, to purify us. And so He made a way that we don’t have to wait until the Day of Atonement to go before the throne of God, to come before God and His mercy seat. We can come anytime we want because Christ made a way. Our ultimate high priest, and so we see so clearly here that the Bible points to this very thing over and over, in fact probably you could say it’s a central message of the whole Bible. It’s forgiveness of sin and salvation through Jesus Christ. That’s the whole point; that’s the whole point of what God is doing and so that message cries out with the wonderful mercy of God. Now I wonder as we think about this scenario, how much do we reflect that character trait in our life? Are we people of mercy? If you look up through history, most civilizations didn’t look too highly on mercy. If you look at the culture in Greece where we find most of the New Testament written in Greek, they didn’t think too highly of mercy. They thought it was a weakness. The Romans did as well. One of the Roman philosophers wrote about mercy, he said it was a scourge on the soul of man. They saw it only as weakness. But the message of the Bible points to the importance of mercy.
Let’s think about that for a moment. How important is mercy? Well, there’s a passage that points out some of the requirements for you and I as God’s people. It’s in Micah 6:8. It’s a short little passage but it’s one that carries a lot of weight. We’re told three simple things that God says are requirements. Three ingredients I guess you could say, that make for a successful man or woman of God. Three things that don’t seem that complicated and we can read over them really quickly, but three things that are so vitally important that without these things I don’t think we can claim to be God’s people. Notice Micah it says: Micah 6:8 …what does the Lord require of you…What Are God’s requirements? Well we see first…to do justly…second…to love mercy…and third…to walk humbly with your God.
So here we are on the Day of Atonement afflicting our souls and fasting and realizing our physical weaknesses. Does that have a tendency to humble you? Does that have a tendency to slow you down just a little bit? I think it sure does, points to the significance of God and His love and we’re to put that into practice. In fact, it poses a difficult question, I think, for each and every one of us. Do we love mercy? That’s a requirement, not just to have it once in a while. But He says to love mercy. Maybe if you’re like me you love being critical. That comes a little easier sometimes it seems. Would this be something that defines us? Or do we like to put others down, or do we like to talk about other people, or we like to see the negative side? Have we really loved mercy the way that we must, the way that we should? Are we really compassionate to others especially those that we might see as somehow ‘under us’? Are we compassionate to them: Are we really kind, are we really forgiving? Because that’s really what mercy is about if you looked it up in the dictionary you’d see all those different definitions. It has to do with you know forgiving others, or excusing them. But a definition that I really appreciate is one that makes this question come to mind. Do I really love mercy? If I do, then that means I’m going to decide not to give someone what they deserve. See doesn’t that kind of describe what God is doing? Doesn’t the Day of Atonement kind of bring that to….what do we deserve? What do we deserve as sinful people that have alienated ourselves from God? Aren’t you glad that God is a God of mercy? He doesn’t give us what we deserve, but instead He extends forgiveness. He extends kindness to us. I think loving mercy is doing that very thing, deciding not to give someone what they deserve but instead extending them kindness and love.
If fact, you can’t shortchange mercy. I got to looking at it a little bit throughout the Bible. If you look it up in the Bible over 270 times mercy is found throughout the Bible. That’s not counting other times like merciful, or other renditions. There’s even more when you start counting all those things up. Someone once said, “If you turn a page in the Bible, every fourth page you’d find something written about mercy.” How important is that to God? How important is it for us to love mercy? I think it points to the very nature of God; it is part of God’s very nature to extend that mercy to us. The Psalms describe it over and over. Psalm 103 is one of those. Turn over there if you will. Psalm 103 we’ll begin in verse 8. Psalm 1points to how important mercy is as a part of God’s very nature.
Psalm 103:8-14 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy….So it’s not just that He’s slow to anger, but He also extends love and kindness. So it’s not just giving someone what they deserve and not doing it, not giving them what they deserve, but it’s going the extra mile and being kind and nice and good. So God does that very thing – He’s slow to anger and He abounds in mercy….9 He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,…Boy does that sound like the Day of Atonement? If He dealt with us according to our sins we’d be over, we’d be done, kaput, finished, gone. It says:…nor punished us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us….I think we can say, “Well, why? Because of what it says in the very verse before that, verse 11, because His mercy is so great. He is such a gracious God, a merciful God…13 As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.
14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. And so He points out pretty clearly here – mercy is not weakness. Mercy is not being too busy to enforce the rules, is it? Mercy is not the lack of will to punish because God does punish, there’s no doubt about that. But instead it’s actually a conscious choice to refrain from giving someone the negative consequences they deserve. It’s not doing that. So if you think about loving mercy, how do I extend mercy? Who do I extend mercy to? Everybody. Doesn’t it go – our wives, wives – our husbands, our children, our parents, our pastors, our teachers, our elders, our neighbors. You know the idiot on the highway that just cut me off. You name it, we are supposed to extend mercy. So, everyone is supposed to receive mercy. Do we do that? Do we really make that a part of our lives so that we can say that we really love it and that love is shown through our actions. You know there are so many that do that very thing. There are so many charitable organizations that do some fantastic things and I wonder sometimes if they’re not a little better at loving mercy than we are. That’s a sad statement when you think about it. Do we really love mercy? Does that mercy change who we are? In fact, I noticed it just the other day again. I went over to Mercy Hospital. Mercy Hospital, we have several Mercies all around here don’t we? Back in my hometown we had a Mercy Hospital that was run by the Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic charity. The Catholics do some amazing charitable work. My Dad was pretty good friends with a priest that worked at that hospital and his favorite joke was an interesting one that had to do with mercy. He always talked about the guy that was brought into Mercy Hospital and he needed an emergency surgery. And so they just took him immediately right into the operating room, they operated on him and there when he woke up was one of the Sisters of Mercy waiting by his bedside. She said, “Well, you know it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be all right. We got you into surgery just in time, we saved your life and everything is going to be just fine.” So she was consoling him and then she had to do her job. So she said, “By the way, how were you thinking of paying for this?” The man said, “Well, I don’t know.” She said, “Do you have insurance?” He said, “No, I don’t have any insurance.” She said, “Well, do you have a savings account?” The guy said, “No, I don’t. I don’t have a checking account either.” And the nun just kind of looked at him and said, “Well, eh, do you have any relatives? Do you have any relatives?” He said, “No, well actually I do. I’ve got a sister who’s an old spinster nun out in California.” And the sister just looked at him and said, “Listen, nuns are not spinsters! They are married to God.” The man said, “Well, in that case, can you charge my brother-in-law?” Now, I don’t know if they extended that much mercy or not, but I think it does begin to point to something. That when we look at the way God is, that this part of His actual being, His personality and His character, He is mercy. He represents everything that mercy is and that mercy that’s extended to us shouldn’t be something that we only accept, we just take it. “Well, I got a free operation, so this is great, wonderful.” Actually it has to do more than that doesn’t it? It should because there is this connection between mercy and repentance that can’t be denied throughout Scripture. And in fact, as we look through the Bible it is amazing to see God’s hand in this, because He doesn’t expect us to change first. Have you ever thought of that? What was your calling like? When God began to work with you, what was that like? Well, there’s a little description that connects to this in Titus 3. Turn over to Titus 3 at the very beginning of that chapter we’ll see this connection and how strong it really is between mercy and repentance and in fact, how mercy anticipates it. Let’s notice that in Titus as Paul writes to the young minister Titus he says: Titus 3:1-7 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men…So he gives them some marching orders, what they need to be doing. Reminding the people, reminding himself I’m sure as well…3 For we ourselves were also once foolish,…Yeah, we were all there once before and sometimes it’s tough to get out of that isn’t it? He says:… were also once foolish disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another….Maybe that describes where we were. Maybe that’s where we were when God began to open our minds to His truth.
Why did He do that? Because He’s a merciful God; He doesn’t want us to live in ignorance. He’s got a plan for everyone. He says, we were once like that but… 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done,…It wasn’t because we’re fasting today that God shows us His mercy, it’s not because we keep the Sabbath or the Holy Days, it’s not because of what we eat or don’t eat. It’s none of those things, He says it’s not by works of righteousness which we’ve done… but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. You see, God wants a right relationship with us. He wants to be at one with us. That means we’ve got to be forgiven. We’ve got to be right with him and He extended that mercy to us first. It started with God Himself and that extension of mercy wasn’t just something that we’re supposed to ignore and say, “Hey great, thanks.” No, there should be a response to that. The ultimate expression of that mercy is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ but God had to extend that mercy to us so that our relationship can be built because without it we can’t have a right relationship with God.
And so our response to mercy, should be repentance. A response to mercy should be repentance. Mercy anticipates that response. Now it doesn’t wait around for it but, it anticipates that response. In fact, if we look over just a couple of pages we’ll find this described even more in Romans 11. Look at Romans 11:25. In Romans where we’ll pick it up we find some interesting comments that tie in so completely with the Day of Atonement. Paul writes: Romans 11:25-33 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved,…So he points to the fact that there’s more to the story than just what ancient Israel went through. He says….. as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27 For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” 28 Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers…What’s he getting at here?…. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For as you were once disobedient to God,…You see as we look at ancient Israel we can look back and say, “Wow, what was wrong with them? Why didn’t they obey God? How could they mess up so thoroughly? How could they ignore the pillar of fire? How could they ignore the cloud? How could they not see God’s hand in coming into the Promised Land? How could they not see that He was fighting their battles? Boy, if I’d have been there I’d have never done that.” And so, that’s kind of the criticism on Israel but here Paul is saying, “Now wait a second, wait a second. You were once there too, you were once there. He says:… 30 For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, 31 even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy…Of course, he’s pointing to the sacrifice of Christ. That as we’ve accepted that sacrifice so that we can be right with God, and have a right relationship, they’re going to have that opportunity as well…. 32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! So, not only the Israelites, but as he points out here, the Gentiles as well. All people will have that opportunity through the mercy of God, through the sacrifice so when it comes down to being a part of the family of God, to obtaining salvation we are utterly and thoroughly dependent on God’s mercy. Absolutely, and salvation to all is another display of that characteristic. And so, what is our response? What do we do because of God’s great mercy? We change. We repent. We think differently. We put on the character of Christ. Our response to that wonderful mercy of God should be repentance and obedience. In fact, when you look through the Bible, mercy is the foundation of His covenant, of His agreement, of the ultimate salvation that we have through Jesus Christ. And so we see that over and over and over again.
Remember when Christ Himself said, “I haven’t come to those who are well, if you are well you don’t need a physician.” Right? But He went on to say he desires mercy. God desires mercy in us as well. Would it be fair to say that mercy is a mark or a characteristic of righteousness? Is that why He tells us to love mercy? There’s a remarkable statement over in the book of James. James 2. James 2. Just in case we get that feeling that somehow mercy might be a little bit of a weakness, let’s notice what James tells us. James he spells it out for us pretty clearly. James For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
That’s part of the lesson of the Day of Atonement isn’t it – Mercy triumphs over judgment. If God were to judge ancient Israel that was it – would have been over, but mercy triumphed. It’s no different with you and I. We are sinners who fall short of the glory of God. If it were only based on judgment that would be all, we would have no hope. But mercy triumphs over judgment. And so he points out very clearly there is a judgment. It doesn’t mean that it does away with judging; that’s not the case at all. Ultimate judgment is coming on this world and on all mankind. That is undoubted and so that will certainly take place. But what we find here, is it points to you and I. It’s a reminder that we have to love mercy because He says only the ones showing mercy will find mercy. Now it doesn’t say that in those exact words but that’s – read it again, verse 13: For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. You don’t show mercy? You’re going to be judged and you’re not going to receive mercy.
So how important is it for us to be merciful? No wonder Christ said in the beatitudes blessed are the merciful. Why? For they shall obtain mercy. That’s what James was talking about here. God is merciful; if you’re merciful you’re going to obtain mercy. Now flip that around. If we flip that around – the unmerciful will not be treated mercifully. Kind of a scary thought when you think of it. How important is mercy? You see that’s not God being harsh, right? That’s a realistic God. That’s a just God. God is not unwilling to forgive. God wants to forgive, He wants to be merciful. But if we are unmerciful people, we’re rejecting mercy which means we’re rejecting God. And that means we’re rejecting mercy for ourselves. They all fit together. James ties them all together with what Christ said in the beatitudes; Matthew says that very thing. Now if we don’t show mercy to others, we basically slam the door on mercy for ourselves. But if we offer compassion, if we offer forgiveness, we offer mercy that door swings wide open for the compassion, mercy and forgiveness of God. You see God is an awesome God. God is a just God and it certainly is a reminder that no wonder, no wonder at the very heart of atonement is mercy – the mercy seat.
And so now is the time, atonement reminds us it’s the time now to get rid of anger, get rid of that bitterness, get rid of hatred, get rid of jealousy, extend mercy. It’s time to experience the relief. It’s time to have the peace of God, it’s time to have the kind of joy that God wants us to have and that begins to come about by being merciful. Mercy is such is such an amazing big, broad, rich word in the Bible. Yes, it includes caring and it includes being concerned about somebody else’s problems. It’s not just that somebody did me wrong and so I don’t take it out on them. But I’m concerned about others; I’m concerned about their needs. I’m concerned about their concerns; I’m ready to help whoever is in need. You might write down Isaiah 58, Matthew 25. Both of those chapters have so much to say about mercy and its application, because it means I’m going to make the time, I’m going to take the time. It’s going to be a priority in my life to look out for others, to care for their needs, to comfort them, to visit them, to teach them, maybe to correct them, but to forgive them and to pray for them. All of those concepts are tied up in the Day of Atonement and mercy. There is an amazing passage in the Proverbs. Just a short little sentence but boy does it say so much. Proverbs maybe sums up this whole concept of the Day of Atonement and God’s great mercy. Let’s notice what it says here: Proverbs In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity…iniquity is that lawlessness, that sin that we all have….and by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.
There’s the whole scenario isn’t it? That’s the whole scenario – God extends mercy to us, He provides atonement, He provides that forgiveness, that propitiation, that expiation, that forgiveness of sin. The atoning sacrifice through Jesus Christ He’s given that to us and our response is to love God, to fear Him, to hold Him in awe and change our behavior, to put on Christ. And so this atonement reminds us that Christ understands what it’s like. He knows what it’s like to be a human being, He knows what it’s like to be rejected, He knows what it’s like not to receive mercy, He knows what it’s like to suffer, He knows what it’s like to be alone, He understands our condition. He understands you and I perfectly and what does He want? He wants us to be forgiven, He wants to have a right relationship with us. And so, that relationship comes through mercy. It comes through that wonderful character trait of God. In fact, Hebrews 10 describes the whole scenario. The whole scenario of the Day of Atonement and our great calling. Hebrews 10:19, notice this wonderful reminder that we’re given and shown the spiritual side of these things.
Hebrews 10:19-25 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,…We don’t need bulls or goats or calves or anything like that. That’s not the case anymore. We have the perfect sacrifice. We can come to the ultimate throne, to God’s very throne in the third heaven. And we can come with boldness, he says: … 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
You see that’s the ultimate application of God’s great mercy, the ability to come before Him in the Holy of Holies in heaven. To come to His very throne through the blood of Jesus Christ for forgiveness. And so, mercy is that ultimate reminder of God’s nature. And so today, we are humbled in our fasting but this time pictures humbling, pictures a time that we need mercy and reconciliation. And so as we come before God and every day on our knees we bow before that great mercy seat in heaven, we can expect God to pour out His compassion and His love upon us. So, let’s take that to heart. Let’s allow His mercy to lead us. To lead us to repent and lead us to obey and then we can truly be people of mercy.
We recognize we need atonement, an atoning sacrifice. Ultimately, we need God’s mercy. This day was not just called the Day of Atonement; it was also called a day of forgiving or a day of pardons. It’s a day of reconciliation where a right relationship can be restored, and God restored a right relationship with Israel when He covered their sin. We don’t have to wait for just one day a year for that to happen, but the Day of Atonement represents that very thing, that all of us need God’s mercy to be in a right relationship with God because sin separates us from God.
Given on October 4, 2014 by Steve Myers
Day of Atonement
United Church of God – Cincinnati East, OH Congregation
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