Old Testament Reading- Psalm 25:4-9
New Testament Reading- James 2:12-13
By Henry J. Rafferty CP -March 26, 2023
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” Genesis 1:1-3
There it is folks; God brings order to chaos. The earth was empty and without form, but God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Our Creator is always bringing order to disorder. After mankind’s fall into sin, our ancient ancestors, acting no different than we would, made a real mess of things as they followed their desires and listened to the lies of those that rebelled against God in the spiritual realm. Genesis 6:5-8 tells us:
"The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”
Again, we see God bringing order to chaos. He brings a mighty flood on the earth and destroys all that had gone astray in His creation, but He orders it again through the salvation of all that was still good in Noah and his family. The flood waters receded, and life began again.
Next, we see the Almighty choose Abraham as the father of a nation God would call His own. The Israelites would be that nation, but they were a stiff-necked people, stubborn and rebellious, but God loved them anyway. Soon this lot would find themselves slaves to the powerful Egyptians and their Pharoah. God heard His people’s cries and commissioned Moses to bring His people out of Egypt and back to the ‘Promised Land.’ Again, to bring
order out of chaos, God gave Moses the ‘Ten Commandments’ so that His people would have a means by which to live their lives. Something in which to strive, so that each person in the new nation would be able to govern themselves by God’s perfect law, not their own set of rules.
After a time, these people would add rule after rule onto the original ‘Ten Commandments’ until at last, it was nearly impossible to live without breaking the law. God sent prophet after prophet to help, but His people would not listen. Then God sent His own Son, the long-awaited Messiah, to bring order to the chaos that mankind had created. Jesus was born, raised, and lived amongst these people, He knew them intimately and He knew how hard it had become to live life by the Law. Matthew 5:13-20 tells us the following:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore, anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
It would seem, by what Jesus just said that we are in big trouble, that He has not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill it. It seems like it will be just as hard to live as before, and what’s that He says at the end about our righteousness surpassing that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law? So, what shot do we have, if we have to be better than the teachers and preachers of the law, the people who know the most about it, how could we possibly have a chance at heaven? But like the Pharisees, we have made a fatal error in thinking that the law alone could save us. The law was our guide to live by, a way to bring order out of chaos, not a set of rules in which to condemn everyone. We are the ones who want to create endless rules for the sake of fairness, or out of fear, or because we want to lord over others whom we think lesser than ourselves.
God gave us ten laws, that’s it, just ten originally and if you really look at those ten you could break it down to two, Love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself. Just two laws would cover all things, easy enough, right? Not quite, not with sin in the picture. What Jesus came to remind us though is that the law is just that, order out of chaos, but mercy, forgiveness, and love are what God is really concerned about.
Justice, everyone wants justice and the harsher the penalty the better it seems. When a
second grade teacher asked her young students to make the rules and discipline to be followed in the classroom, she was shocked at how strict they had made them. These young children, with even a small sense of right and wrong, didn’t bat an eye about strict and severe justice. Of course, they would never think that they would break their own rules until someone did, then they wouldn’t want the discipline that they originally stated. You may think that just kids would do that but don’t be too sure, adults do it all the time.
The ancient Romans showed up in droves for the execution of Christians in the Coliseum because they believed that the Christians were a threat to their way of life and to their Emperor. The people of our own country in the 1800’s would gather in town when there was a hanging, from cattle rustling to murder, to watch people swing from the rope. It was a form of entertainment for some people. In the modern era we are not much different than our ancient ancestors, everybody shows up for an execution. Ironic, many of the onlookers are no better than the one swinging from the rope but they neglect to see it in themselves.
The Gospel of John tells the story about a woman caught in adultery. We talked about it just a few weeks ago. Remember how the men brought her before Jesus to try to trap Him into saying something contrary to the law, which said that a woman caught in this act should be put to death by stoning. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. Then stood and said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then Jesus bent down again and continued to write in the dirt. After all the men left, He asked the woman, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
What did Jesus write in the sand? No one really knows for sure, but some speculate that He may have written the names of the accusers and their owns sins beside their names. Also, the law calls for both parties of the adultery to be put to death, where was the man? They tried to trip Jesus up but made fools of themselves in the process. These men were allegedly all about the law and justice in society, and only blood would suffice for the injustice. Just like those second-grade students, swift to rules and harsh punishment, until it applied to them. Jesus meanwhile was more about mercy, using this opportunity to show forgiveness and correction for the woman to go and sin no more.
Our New Testament lesson today from James 2:12-13 states,
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
During the American Civil War, people regularly cried out to President Lincoln to have deserters executed, to which he would ask these same people to take into consideration that these men may have families that will die at home if they don’t come back from fighting to work. Or the multitudes of northerners that wanted the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, executed as soon as the north won the war. Even though Senator Davis was guilty of treason, a crime punishable by death, this was not Lincoln’s wish, he just as soon hoped that Davis would fade away into the backwoods of the South never to lead again, than to inflame the Southern people to continued rebellion over what they deemed an unjust execution. President Lincoln exemplified what it was to be merciful especially when he had the power of the president, he knew that mercy triumphs over judgement.
Jesus came and showed us another way, the way that people had forgotten, the merciful way. When God brings order out of chaos, people focus on the law, but if we look closer don’t we see God’s mercy with it? He could have left Adam and Eve to their own devices and their own just rewards, but it was God that clothed them and continued to help them. It was God that had mercy on the human race by looking kindly on Noah and his family, saving all of us in the process. God was there and had mercy on the Israelites when they were freed from the bondage of the Egyptians and when they continually frustrated Him in the desert for forty years.
Finally, the Lord showed us the greatest mercy by sending His only Son to die a horrible death to pay the penalty for sin for us. What power does the law have over that? The law says that the penalty for sin is death and that’s true, but God’s mercy is what saved us from missing out on an eternity in His perfect light. Jesus Christ defeated death forever proving mercy truly triumphed over judgement. In your life, remember that you have not been perfect, none of us has and when we have done wrong don’t we hope for mercy? Now it’s your turn. God shows mercy to those who show it to others. Won’t you choose mercy? I hope you do because God sure has chosen mercy for us. Thanks be to God. Amen.