Mercy and justice (Psalm 85)

Justice is something we typically want for others; mercy is something we typically want for ourselves.  If you’re married, you probably see this played out on a daily basis.  When faced with your spouse’s shortcomings—sometimes as simple as an unfinished task—the “law” comes out.  “The dishes aren’t done,” you might insist, or, “the lawn needs mowed.”  But when the shoe’s on the other foot, you expect leniency.  A friend of mine told me that he’d come to realize that “law for you, grace for me” had become one of the defining features of his marriage.  And it hurt.

Earlier this week we’ve observed that God gives blessings to his people, and we’ve also seen that it’s only natural for us to desire justice for wrongdoing.  How these two traits fit together is a thing of beauty, so much so that it’s been sung even in the ancient worship songs of Israel:

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
12 Yes, the Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way. (Psalm 85:10-13)

The unnamed writer tells us that “righteousness and peace kiss each other.”  This same righteousness that demands justice for sin is unified with the peace of God’s salvation.

Nowhere do we find that more clearly demonstrated than in the cross itself, where God’s love and God’s fierce justice intersect on a hillside just outside the city.

John Stott writes:

“It is the Judge himself who in holy love assumed the role of innocent victim, for in and through the person of his Son he himself bore the penalty that he himself inflicted. As Dale put it, “The mysterious unity of the Father and the Son rendered it possible for God at once to endure and to inflict penal suffering.” There is neither harsh injustice nor unprincipled love nor Christological heresy in that; there is only unfathomable mercy. For in order to save us in such a way as to satisfy himself, God through Christ substituted himself for us. Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice. The cross was an act simultaneously of punishment and amnesty, severity and grace, justice and mercy.”[1]

At the cross we find both mercy and justice.  Justice, because Jesus paid the debt of human wickedness, and mercy, because this payment wipes our slates clean.  We therefore are released from the weight of our own shame, but we are also released from the weight of our social outrage.  That is, when we are confronted with radical evil—whether in the headlines or our own households—we look to the cross and recognize that true justice is found there, that when we demand blood God offers his own.

No matter the headline, no matter the circumstance, justice is ultimately found in the righteousness of God.  And so is mercy.  I don’t mean to say that there are no earthly consequences—as if God does not use such events even to discipline his own children.  But as Christians we extend mercy and grace to our brothers and sisters knowing their debts have been paid the same as ours.


[1] John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 158-9.


1 thought on “Mercy and justice (Psalm 85)

  1. I was just reflecting on the following passage of scripture when I just read the last paragraph again of your blog. You wrote about mercy and grace — and since I was just blown away by the following scripture I decided I might share it here with you.

    9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life– not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,
    10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
    11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.
    12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
    13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.
    14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you– guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Tim. 1:9-14 NIV)

    From an intellectual standpoint I was pondering the grace “given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” and how “it has now been revealed through the appearing our Savior, Christ Jesus.”

    Also I am pondering what it personally might mean to me — or rather how might the principle apply to me of what Paul exhorted Timothy “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you– guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”

    Context indicates to me that what Timothy learned from Paul … may have been the deposit that “was entrusted to” Timothy. Yet what might be the gifts or whatever that God has given me for his service? How is this to be “guard[ed] with the help of the Holy Spirit?

    Mulling over the verses around Matthew 10:22 as well. Jesus said, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matt. 10:22 NIV)

    Maybe I’m just pondering the strength that we need from God to remain loyal and active in his service. At times we drift along following the current. At other times we might be in the body of the ship fixing the motors (helping the body of Christ) to prevent drifting. Sometimes we might come along side others much like a tugboat helps guide a tanker into port.

    You concluded your blog with a an exhortive line. “But as Christians we extend mercy and grace to our brothers and sisters knowing their debts have been paid the same as ours.”

    I’m just going to tie in that line with something that Jesus said to a Pharisee named Simon who had invited Jesus over for a meal. (Since I just read the passage it is on my mind.) With copy and paste I’ll share the passage.

    36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.
    37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.
    38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
    39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is– that she is a sinner.”
    40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said.
    41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
    42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
    43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
    44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
    45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.
    46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.
    47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven– as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
    48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
    49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
    50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Lk. 7:36-50 NIV)

    Maybe we sometimes forget how many sins we’ve committed. Maybe in our lives we don’t have “serious sins” but then is our lack of love that we then have — is that in itself a major sin? It really is because we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. In any case, then we are able to see our trivial amount of love as something that is serious in God’s eyes. The number of scriptures that command us to “love one another” are beyond my ability to remember. The exact phrase “love one another comes up twelve times in the NIV. Five of these times in 1 John. Yet I think the number of general exhortations to love each other and others in scripture … may have been in the 200’s. Doing due diligence there are 200 verses that have the word “love” in the New Testament. Perhaps half of them use the term in such a way to show approval to idea we should love one another – if they don’t outright command it. Then other additional scriptures convey the idea of love without using the word “love.” Some verses for example encourage good deeds, generosity or compassion.

    In any case failing to love is a sin of ommision “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” (James. 4:17 NIV)

    So the net spread over us gets wider and as Paul wrote “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.” (Rom. 7:9 NIV)

    Now that we have the commandment to love one another spelled out so clearly — we are yet proved even more sinful.

    Randy once talked about giving a sermon that was a bit like a pitcher brushing back a hitter … the word of God has a lot to say that should knock us out of our complacency.

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