The Day After Good Friday

They shifted around listlessly. Through the walls they could hear the soft sobbing and occasional wail of the women in the next room. The men would look at each other briefly before ashamedly diverting their eyes.

How could they be so wrong? Everything had seemed so right.

Peter dabbed at the corner of his eye, but even he did not have any words for the moment. He sat and ruefully ruminated on the events of the the last day. In that amount of time, he had witnessed his hope, his confidence, and his future literally die.

Thomas’ voice cut the silence. “What do we do now?”

Peter broke out of his trance and stood up. “I’m going fishing,” he said as he gathered his cloak. “You guys can sit here, but I’m going crazy staring at these walls.”

“You can’t leave!” exclaimed John, “Everyone knows we were with Him. You’ll be ridiculed by everyone who sees you! The High Priest may even be looking for us!”

“John is right,” James chimed in,  “We should lay low and stay here until the dust settles. Let everyone forget about last night, forget about us. Some new scandal or news is bound to crop up soon enough. In the meantime, we can think about what to do next.”

“Next?” retorted a bewildered Peter. “What do you mean next? The man we followed and devoted our lives to the last three years is lying in a grave. Jesus is dead. We move on, that’s what we do next! Maybe there’s a Messiah yet out there.”

I’m not altogether sure this is what happened the day after Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, but this is the scene that plays in my mind. A band of disheartened, broken disciples sitting around, asking themselves, what happened? How did things go wrong so fast?

Just earlier in the week, Jesus had ridden into the city heralded as a King and now He lay wrapped in strips of cloth and returning to dust. Just two days earlier, they were confident they were following the Christ, the One who was to rescue Israel and establish His throne over the earth. Now He was just another teacher, a prophet maybe, and a failed Messiah. Messiah’s don’t die before they accomplish their purpose.

We who live in the future know the outcome of the story, what happens soon enough: the glorious resurrection of Jesus and His ascension! The fulfillment of numerous prophecies, the theological implications of the death of the Son of God, and the realization of where His Kingdom was. We have 2000 years of theology and study and speculation. The original disciples did not.

The feeling of defeat is something that is familiar. We know what it means to be broken, to be disappointed, and have our dreams and hopes crushed. We set our expectations high, and down and down they tumble from their lofty place. Things don’t always turn out as we thought they would.

A lost job. Failed relationship. Disease. The death of a loved one. Natural disaster.

And hopelessly, we cry out, Why? What do I do now?

What do you do when hope has hidden herself from you and despair blankets your heart? When depression and disappointment become your late night companions? Sorrow certainly may come with the night, but sometimes joy doesn’t show up with the morning. Or the morning after.

For the disciples, “Friday night” must have been a night of shock and tears and bewilderment. But “Saturday” would have been when the reality of the death of Jesus and the heaviness of defeat sunk in. “Saturday” was when they had to face each other and figure out how to pick up the pieces of their lives.

In the darkest nights of our lives, we can press on, knowing that though we don’t know what the morning brings, God on high does. When we’re bitter and lonely, heartbroken and upset, we trust in the sovereignty and goodness of our faithful Father. And we can trust this: our sorrow is not in vain. We know that for those who love Him, God works all things, seemingly hopeless things included, for our joy and good, and His glory.

All thing. All things.

Like the murder of His innocent Son.

Our suffering, our sorrow, our valleys of the shadow of darkness of death are not without purpose in the hands of a sovereign God. It’s a lesson in patience and trust. And patience and trust are hard.

We may not know what the future brings…. but we know that the story of Good Friday does not end with Saturday.

Easter is coming.

Jesus is Better

 

There’s a song that’s been a constant refrain in my head the past year. If I could have an anthem, this would be it.

Jesus is better.

Lately, other things have been clamoring to assure me that they’re of utmost value or importance. There have been highs and lows, joys and sorrows, times when I had enough and times when the dinosaur piggy bank my sister gave me had more in it than my bank account. Ministry success, ministry failure, relationships, rejection, uncertainty of the future, fear. How easy it is to dwell on these things and find identity in them.

But Jesus our King is constant! Jesus our King has defeated the tyrannical rule of sin in our lives! My life isn’t defined by fear or breakups or even success! My life is hidden in Christ, and He gives me His righteousness. He defines me. There is no other king, no other lord, no other we turn to.

And then we get to the bridge, which reminds me that more than the worst sorrow or the greatest victory, more than the best comfort or riches, Jesus is better. But sometimes it’s hard to believe, so like the man in Mark 9, we cry out, “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief.”

In all my sorrows, Jesus is better; make my heart believe

In every victory, Jesus is better; make my heart believe

Than any comfort, Jesus is better; make my heart believe

More than all riches, Jesus is better; make my heart believe

Let your heart take satisfaction in that today. Our song eternal: Jesus is better.

For more music from the Austin Stone, or for resources, visit http://www.austinstoneworship.com/.

 

Picture courtesy of verge network.org.

The Heart of the Matter

It’s so easy to look at people being knuckleheads in the Bible and think, “those ignorant people! How could they not get it? I would never do that!”

My Bible reading plan has me read passages from different sections of the Bible, which is really helpful especially when you hit Numbers. Assuming you make it past the laws in Leviticus. And then you hit the genealogies in the Chronicles, and you’re tempted to just give up. Reading from different sections has been helpful because it reminds me that the Bible is one grand story of redemption, and that God uses different genres, literary styles, and authors to accomplish this.

This morning, among other sections, I read from Jeremiah 9 and Matthew 23. In Jeremiah, the prophet mourns over his people because “they are all adulterers” (v 2), deceitful, oppressive, and evil, and it’s because of this: they have “stubbornly followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals.” (v 14) They’re in open, outward, outright rebellion against God by worshiping false gods! And the Lord calls them to repentance.

In Matthew 23, Jesus famously has a rebuke-fest with the scribes and Pharisees, the super religious. They do everything right. These guys even tithed of their mint and dill and cumin! When is the last time you tithed out of your spices? And yet Jesus calls them hypocrites and “white-washed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead peoples’ bones and all uncleanness.” (v 27) They appeared holy and pious, but remained wicked, greedy, and self-indulgent inside.

Israel had turned to other gods to try to find pleasure and salvation. The scribes and Pharisees had turned to law-keeping to find pleasure and salvation. So here we have God calling two groups to repentance: those who do evil, and those who do good. Those who break all the rules and those who are pretty good at keeping all the rules. And interestingly, both passages show that the reason they are both far from God is because what’s on the inside hasn’t been dealt with. They have uncircumcised hearts. (Jer 9:26)

David recognized this need when he pleads to God in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, o God!” This “man after God’s own heart” knew of the wicked bent of his own heart; he was repenting of sleeping with Bathsheba and having her husband murdered.

The antidote to being bad is not just being good. The Pharisees knew that God was displeased with their ancestors for following other gods, so they thought they could win his favor by being really really good and keeping all of God’s laws. But they, like their ancestors, didn’t really want God. Idolatrous Israel and the hypocritical pharisees were not that different. They both have unchanged hearts.

The gospel confronts the notions that you can find fulfillment by following your own passions and that you can find fulfillment by trying really hard to mold your behavior and outer appearance. By reminding myself, my heart of the gospel every day, I remember that all the pleasures of the world are to be found in God and his love in Christ, so I don’t have to seek it elsewhere. By reminding myself, my heart of the gospel every day, I remember that Christ didn’t die for me because I was beautiful, but to make me beautiful, and so all the good works and behavioral modifications I could ever muster up don’t change that fact.

This frees me to be honest about who we really are, and to be honest about who Christ is. This truth changes our heart, when we’re faced with the overwhelming love and grace of God in Christ.

Loving God and Loving People

I opened my Twitter Friday morning as my plane landed at LaGuardia in New York and witnessed my newsfeed blow up with the news of the SCOTUS decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. Simply put (in case you’ve lived in a hole the last few days) the Court ruled marriage as a fundamental right for all couples, regardless of orientation, gender, or state residence.

On one end, people cheered and applauded the decision as a step of progress for human liberty. On the other end, some Christians bemoaned the decay of morals and our country’s supposed religious foundations. Many just didn’t know what to say.

The ruling should really come as no surprise. The culture has been shifting for quite a while now, and we’re probably at the beginning of a post-Christian America. For better or worse, this is the cultural milieu we are in.

I don’t want to debate about whether homosexual practice is a sin or not. If you believe the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, then there is no escaping the fact that it prohibits homosexual activity, unless you do some hermeneutical gymnastics. Scripture tells us that when Adam and Eve rebelled against God, sin began its destructive ripple, wreaking havoc through all of creation, including a fallen sexual condition. The temptation to be sexually promiscuous for the heterosexual is every bit an evidence of the fall as is the sexual attraction between people of the same sex. God didn’t “make” anyone gay, it is just one of the many ways sin presents itself. But just as the Bible instructs me that obedience to God means sex is to be enjoyed in the confines of marriage with one woman, it instructs us that obedience to God means not engaging in same sex intercourse. It promises us that Jesus offers healing for all of our sexual brokenness and that living in obedience to Him gives us our greatest joy and His ultimate glory. Our sexual ethic is defined by our King Jesus, not our desires or what culture endorses. (Important to note here is that same-sex attraction isn’t anymore sinful than it is sinful for me to be attracted to women. The act is what is sinful, whether it be in the mind (lust) or body, because it is a distortion of the image of God and the union of Christ and the Church. More resources and information will be provided at the end of this article.)

Christians are faced with two challenges in this, the first being that God, in his Word, has expressly forbidden homosexual practice in the Old and New Testaments. This is not a case of us being inconsistent with the commands of the Bible, and contrary to rising popular opinion, the teachings aren’t as ambiguous as proponents of same-sex marriage advocate.

The second is that most of us have friends and loved ones who experience same-sex attraction and struggle through it in a way most of us will never understand. They’ve experienced deep hurt and pain and betrayal and rejection because of their orientation, and it is heartbreaking. They are real people who didn’t just “choose” to be gay.

Most Christians, when faced with these realities, tend to drift toward one of two extremes, both of which are wrong. The first is expressing anger and hatred toward the LGBT community. Bible verses are spit out without love, condemnation is cast, and verbal/physical abuse may occur. There is an insensitivity toward the LGBT community because of a lack of understanding and a gag-reflex because it seems so abnormal. People on this end tend to view homosexual behavior as very high in the hierarchy on the totem pole of sin. They believe they’re being faithful to God and the Bible in calling out sin, but they usually respond without the grace, love, and compassion we’re called to, remembering our own inherent depravity and sinfulness.

The other extreme is being so pulled by compassion that you decide homosexual activity really isn’t that big of a deal. Bible passages are reinterpreted or ignored because they seem outdated. People on this end irresponsibly make the charge that the Old Testament forbids things like eating shrimp and wearing clothes of two materials, which we do, so homosexual practice also must be okay since we’re “ignoring” those other laws. They say Jesus never explicitly taught on homosexuality, so how do we know he wouldn’t approve of it? It is the original trick the serpent used in deceiving Adam and Eve: “Did God really say…?” They begin viewing conservative Christians as bigots and hypocrites, and they do all this because they believe they’re being faithful to a Jesus who does not condemn but calls us to love all people.

Sometimes it seems like you have to pick one extreme and go with that, but I think the tension is actually a good thing! Jesus tells us that all of the law is summed up into these two commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. We’re called to live in the tension! We love God and what He has revealed to his through His Word, and in light of that, we love His image bearers, however broken they are. Love does not mean we approve everything someone does. It is not loving for my brother to not tell me if something I am doing is hurting me or others.

So what does this look like? It means to stay faithful to the biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage because God created both and ultimately defines them; they are not merely sociological terms. It means to love the LGBT community in a sacrificial way, listening to them, caring for them. It means that we don’t separate truth and love, but speak the truth in love and in a compassionate, gracious way. It means that our churches should be lights shining in the darkness. Russell Moore may have said it best:

We must stand with conviction and with kindness, with truth and with grace. We must hold to our views and love those who hate us for them. We must not only speak Christian truths; we must speak with a Christian accent. We must say what Jesus has revealed, and we must say those things the way Jesus does — with mercy and with an invitation to new life.

This is what I think Jesus would say to the person caught engaging in homosexual behavior: I think Jesus would look into their eyes in love and compassion and say, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.”

Christians, let us be the church. Let us be identified as those who love God and love His people.

Here are some further resources:

Why the Church Should Neither Cave nor Panic About the Decision on Gay Marriage – Russell Moore

Reaction to the Supreme Court Ruling – ERLC

5 Biblical Responses to Homosexuality – Sam Allberry (Sam is a minster who experiences sam-sex attraction, but because of his love for Jesus, remains celibate.)

Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency – Tim Keller

Is God Anti-Gay? – Sam Allberry (book)

Is Same Sex Attraction a Sin? – Sermon

Something Greater Than Marriage – Rosario Butterfield and Christopher Yuan

40 Questions for Christians Now Waving the Rainbow Flag – TGC

Review of “God and the Gay Christian” – Tim Keller

the people of the cross: how we respond

On Sunday, a video purporting to show ISIS beheading 21 Egyptian Christian men, “people of the cross,” was released by groups claiming loyalty to the Islamic State. In it, the men are dressed in orange jumpsuits as they’re led along a beach, each with a masked militant in tow. After a message by one of the militants, the Coptic Christian men are beheaded simultaneously, face down.

Murder is heartbreaking and wrong, but there is something gut-wrenching about being a Christian and hearing of the murder of 21 fellow Christians. Fellow brothers in Christ. Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross and in his resurrection, we who have put our faith in him are, in a very real way, part of the family of God, adopted as children of God, and co-heirs of the kingdom. We are literally family.

The names of the 21 men (via @spulliam):

21

There are many emotions Christians are feeling right now: righteous anger, sadness, and confusion. These are all appropriate responses to such a heinous crime, and now is a time to mourn for our departed brothers and their families. But even more so, now is a time to pray. When we pray, we remember and acknowledge our helplessness and need for our great God to intervene.

Pray for their families, that they may experience the great grace of God.

Pray for the persecuted Church, for their safety and that they may persevere. There are many who face the threat of torture and death every day.

Pray that our faith would be emboldened to live as these men, sacrificing everything for the name of Jesus. Oh that we would see that Jesus is better!

 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”

Jesus, John 15:18-21

Pray for those who murdered our brothers, that the Lord would save even among them! The apostle Paul, before he became a follower of Jesus, was one who stood by and approved the execution of Stephen, the very first Christian martyr. Saul (as he was known) went on to ravage the Church, dragging men and women into prison, intent on destroying the Christian movement. He was so feared, that even when he became a believer of Jesus, many Christians were wary and still afraid. And it was this terrorist that Jesus found and saved. It was this Saul who went on to become one of the greatest missionaries the world has ever seen. Oh that this would be a modern story! Would you pray with me that God would radically save a Saul from this evil group to radically transform the Arab world!

Our response as Christians is not violence against Muslims or mosques. Ours is not a struggle against flesh and blood and people. The members of ISIS are not our enemy. We war against cosmic powers over this present darkness and spiritual forces of evil. (Ephesians 6:12) This is spiritual warfare and the enemy is the devil.

Amid this tragedy, we have hope. The book of Revelation isn’t a sci-fi map of the future, but tells the reality of how the war is already won. This is not a cosmic tug-of-war where the victor is still unknown. The enemy is defeated. What Jesus began in his death and resurrection, he will finish when he comes back and puts the enemy under his feet and restores all things. There will judgement upon all wickedness and unrighteousness. The dragon, the serpent from the Garden of Eden, is still writhing, trying to take down people with him because he knows his time is coming up.

In Revelation 6:11 and 20:4, we see a picture of those who lost their lives for the sake of Jesus, including those who lost their heads in chapter 20. The end of Hebrews 11 mentions those who suffered great injustice, torture, and death for the sake of the gospel, “of whom the world was not worthy.” (v. 38)

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

Revelation 12:11

Conquerors. Overcomers by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. They loved not their lives, even unto death.

Jesus puts heads back on and restores all things. We look forward to the day King Jesus returns to restore creation and make all things new. Until then, we pray and push back the powers of darkness.

One of the greatest ironies is that, historically, the killing of Christians has never slowed down the Church; it has fueled her growth. What’s meant as a deterrent and attempt to dissuade “people of the cross” has done the opposite.

We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.

-Tertullian

Let us mourn, brothers and sisters, and let us pray. May the Church grow and the name of Jesus be advanced! May the justice of the Lord come quickly.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

————————————————–

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image…

Revelation 20:4

————————————————

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Revelation 6:9-11

the story of advent

Nativity scenes. Carolers. Presents. Egg-nog. Home Alone 2.

That’s often what comes to mind when I think of Christmas. For others, it’s Santas and lights and uncomfortable family reunions. Others still, it’s church services and a star in the sky.

For good reason, many Christians strive to ensure “the reason for the season” by keeping “Christ in Christmas.” So we read passages from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, or maybe one of the prophecies in Isaiah or Micah. Because that’s where we think the story of the Christ begins. But it really begins way before that.

I’ve recently began observing Advent. The Advent season begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas and involves anticipating Jesus’ second coming and remembering the anticipation of his first coming. If we don’t understand why the first coming was so important, we’ll miss the Christmas story, and why we look forward to his return.

Advent means waiting. We often read the Christmas story as Jesus showing up in between the Old and New Testaments. But the Christmas story doesn’t begin in the New Testament with the Gospels, or even with the prophets who spoke of a coming Savior.

The Christmas story begins in Genesis.

Back in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve had rebelled and sinned against God through the deception of the serpent. They didn’t believe they could really trust the goodness of God, so they disobeyed. Instead of smiting them dead on the spot, God curses the serpent, and invokes this promise to the enemy:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
He will crush your head,
    and you will strike His heel.” 

– Genesis 3:15, NIV

The promise was that the woman would have an offspring that would be bruised by the serpent, but that this child would crush the enemy’s head.

So Adam and Eve knew this Child was coming, someone to crush the enemy and restore what had been lost in the Garden. Where Adam had failed his bride at the tree, they looked forward to One who would save his bride at the tree. Where Adam had disobeyed, they looked for the One who would obey perfectly.

And so they waited, and looked forward to this Child who would come.

Abraham was promised something by God when God called him out from his father’s house:

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and IN YOU all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

– Genesis 12:2-3, ESV (emphasis added)

The problem was that Abraham was old. Old. And yet, God gave him a son in his impossibly old age as a sign that our circumstances are never greater than our God. The promise was that IN Abraham, not BY Abraham, would all the families of the earth be blessed. It was that offspring promised to our first parents.

And then God did something that seems like too much: He asks Abraham to offer his one true son, Isaac. Abraham gets his sacrificing gear together and treks with his son to the mountain. When Isaac observes that everything is there except the animal to be sacrificed, Abraham displays his trust in the promise and faithfulness of God:

“Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together. ”

– Genesis 22:8, ESV

God did provide a ram to take the place of Isaac on the altar. But no lamb was provided as an offering, the ultimate show of faithfulness. Where Abraham’s son was not sacrificed, a Son would be sacrificed as a display of the Father’s love.

And so they waited, and looked forward to this Lamb who would come.

Moses lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and they wandered the wilderness on their way to the promised land. But even though God had showed himself in great power and mighty acts and faithful displays of love, they still ran after other gods. Their hearts weren’t changed. Moses was a great leader, but he couldn’t change hearts because Israel was still under bondage of sin and shame and death. But there was a promise:

“The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

– Deuteronomy 30:6, ESV

So they waited for the ancient, promised Deliverer, the one who would deliver His people from the oppressive enemy and the shackles of sin and death. The one who would circumcise their hearts so that they could truly love the Lord and obey him. Where Moses delivered them from physical slavery, One was coming who would deliver them from spiritual slavery. Where Moses wasn’t able to fully lead his people into the promised land because of disobedience, there was One coming who through obedience would be able to bring his people into the great promise. Where Moses introduced the Law, a Prophet would come who would show that salvation came not through the works of the Law, but by the rich Grace of God.

And so they waited, and looked forward to this Savior who would come.

David was the shepherd boy turned warrior who famously felled the giant Goliath with a sling and stone. He was described as “a man after God’s own heart” and he seemed like a great deliverer and God anointed him king over Israel. But as great of a king as he was, he had the infamous incident with Bathsheba and Uriah, and his household was wrought with brokenness. He wasn’t the promised One, but there was a promise made:

“When your (David) days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish His kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever.”

– 2 Samuel 7:12-13, ESV

So David and Israel knew that the age-old offspring was coming, a King who would have an everlasting kingdom. It wasn’t just one of David’s physical descendants, for the prophet Isaiah would prophecy:

“Of the greatness of His government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.”

– Isaiah 9:7, ESV

Where David was unfaithful to his bride, One was coming who would be perfectly faithful and protect his bride. Where David would die and his kingdom become divided, One was coming who would be raised from the dead and have a kingdom that would never end.

And so they waited, and looked forward to this King who would come.

There are so many more examples that could be mined from the pages of the Old Testament, but this is what the world was waiting for. A Child, a Lamb, a Savior, a King. This is the promised Messiah we longed to see.

And then between the last pages of the Old Testament and the first page of our New Testament, there was silence from God for 400 years. It seemed as if maybe God had abandoned them. Maybe He had given up on His rebellious people.

Into this silence broke a baby’s cry one Bethlehem night. Into this longing, a longing that began back in Genesis, God himself stepped into creation as the promised Messiah, the promised Immanuel: God with us.

Advent means waiting. In light of his first coming, we eagerly wait for and anticipate his second coming, when he will restore all things.

when grace meets mercy

Grace. Mercy.

Those two words have become so common in Christian-speak. We talk and sing and teach about the grace of God and the mercy of God, and we use them rather interchangeably. But what do they even really mean?

Simply put, grace is when you get what you don’t deserve. Mercy is when you don’t get what you do deserve. *

Confused?

We must start off by understanding humanity and God. At the heart of it, humans screw up on a daily basis and God is perfect. We have this incredible knack of sinning, and God is holy. We’re broken people breaking the world even more. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

The justice of God is to exact punishment for crimes and sins. After all, that is what we expect our own law systems to do: to catch and punish criminals. If God did not do so,  He would not be a just and fair God. How just would our justice system be if we let violators of the law go free? The wages of sin is death, and that’s what every person rightly deserves, because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Justice is when you get what you deserve.

The mercy of God is that He does not always mete out the punishment right then and there. You and I, we deserve punishment and death on a nearly daily basis. How many times have you screwed up this year? This week? Today? Do you ever marvel that God hasn’t struck you down by lightning yet? I do. But it is the mercy of God that He has hasn’t struck us down, not giving us what we duly deserve. Mercy is when you’ve been speeding and the cop pulls you over, but doesn’t give you a ticket. It is the mercy of God that “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10)

The grace of God is that He gives us salvation and communion with Him. The grace of God is that He gives us Himself in Jesus, even though we don’t deserve it. It is that in spite of who we are and what we do, Christ loves us and died for us to reconcile us to the Father. We don’t deserve to be saved into a relationship with God! We’re getting what we most certainly do not deserve. Grace is when the cop who pulled you over takes you to lunch and offers you an escort to where you’re going so you don’t get pulled over again. “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and it is not because of yourself; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

Grace and mercy are similar, yes. But also beautifully different. If not for mercy, we would have perished a long time ago. If not for grace, we would be a hopeless lot. Mercy saves us from condemnation. Grace grants us eternal life.

Lucky for us, God is merciful and gracious.

“The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Psalm 145:8

And in Jesus, we see where the grace of God meets the mercy of God.

*These definitions aren’t absolute throughout the Scriptures, and sometimes the writers (and biblical translators) used the words for different purposes. For example, in the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10, “mercy” is used to mean compassionately caring for someone’s needs. The definitions I have provided are more to be understood in Paul’s writing, and what we mean when we talk about the terms in our understanding of what Christ has done for us in his death and resurrection; they have judicial implications.