Happy Easter, everyone! Did you know that Easter is the only holiday we celebrate at the break of dawn? On Easter hundreds of millions of people get up before daylight to attend an Easter Sunrise Service. Why do they do that? Because at the break of dawn of a brand new day the followers of Jesus Christ realized He had risen from the dead. That single bit of news changed the world forever. He had risen from the dead! The Bible says, “Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to see the tomb.” (Matthew 28:1) They went expecting to finish the job of embalming Jesus’ body, which had been interrupted by the Sabbath observance the day before. What they found instead was an empty tomb and an angle announcing, “Don’t be afraid! I know you’re looking for Jesus, who was crucified. But He isn’t here! He has been raised from the dead [just] as He said would happen. So, come and see for yourselves, that there is nobody in this tomb!” (Matthew 28:5-6) A new day had dawned—a new day of mercy for us all.
Throughout history lots of people have claimed to be God, and Napoleon and a lot of other things. But Jesus has been the only one to prove it. He said, I’m going to prove it so they will know beyond a shadow of doubt. I’m going to let them kill me and then three days later, when there is no question as to the completeness of my death, I’m going to rise from the dead and show myself to hundreds of people beginning with those precious ladies who so faithfully prepared my body for the grave. All of human history has been split in two parts by this event, before Christ and after, B.C. and A.D. And now every time you write a date, it is referencing the life of Jesus. That never would have happened had he not risen from the dead. The Bible says, “A new day will dawn on us because our God is loving and merciful.” (Luke 1:78) That new day dawned on Easter morning! We now have access to God’s miracle mercy.
Every one of us stands in need of God’s mercy. No matter who you are or where you’ve come from or what you’ve done. We all need God’s mercy. If you had to choice between God’s justice or God’s mercy, you definitely want to choose mercy. Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is receiving undeserved forgiveness and unearned kindness. And that is something we all need. Not one of us would survive God’s just response to our sinfulness without his mercy. We all need God’s mercy.
What I want to do with you this Easter is twofold. I want us to look at WHEN WE NEED GOD’S MERCY AND HOW IT HELPS US. What are the benefits to possessing God’s mercy? What does it do for us? There are hundreds of examples in the Bible of how God’s mercy helps us. We’re not going to look at all of them today. I know you’re glad about that. Some of you are thinking, man, my ham is going to be cooked to death by the time we get out of here. So we won’t look at all of them today. We’re actually going to take the next eight weeks to cover God’s miracle of mercy. Today I want to share with you just a few examples of when we need God’s mercy and how it helps us.
FIRST, WE NEED GOD’S MERCY WHEN WE ARE ASHAMED. We need God’s mercy when we are ashamed because we’ve messed up. Anybody here ever mess up? I know I do. None of us is perfect. We’ve all messed up. The shame and the guilt from how we’ve messed up our lives can be overwhelming at times. Even when we push it out of our minds it still haunts us, it still weighs us down. Not a single person can measure up to God’s standards much less your own. Feeling ashamed is an awful feeling. Being caught doing something wrong is an awful feeling. Having everyone around you know you’ve messed up us a horrible place to be. We all stumble. We all fall. We all get entrapped by the same sins, the same mistakes over and over and over. We all mess up and feel ashamed. How does God respond to us when we’ve messed up?
There’s a story in John’s account of Jesus’ life that shows us how God responds to someone who really messes up. It reads, “One day Jesus was teaching a crowd outside the Temple, and some Pharisees brought a woman who was caught in adultery.” Pharisees were the religious experts, religious authorities. They were hypercritical and everybody hated them. They by the way hated Jesus. Common people loved Jesus, but the Pharisees hated him and were constantly looking for a way to get rid of him. It says, “They put her on display in front of the crowd, then said to Jesus, ‘This woman has been caught in the act of adultery.” She was caught in a wrong relationship. Sex outside the context of marriage is always a wrong relationship. They continue, “The law of Moses says to stone her. So what do you say?’ They were trying to trap Jesus into saying something they could use against him,” (They were trying to trap Jesus in a wrong reaction) but Jesus stooped down and started writing in the dirt with his finger.” (He’s doodling in the dirt! All eyes are now off the woman and on Jesus. They were straining now to see what Jesus is writing in the dirt. The crowd was probably thinking, “He’s stalling for time. He doesn’t know what to say. We’ve trapped him! But I think he was trying to show compassion for the woman by diverting attention from her to himself.) “They kept badgering Jesus, demanding an answer. Finally, Jesus stood up and said, ‘Here’s my answer: If anyone of you has never sinned, then you may throw the first stone.’ Then he stooped down again and continued writing in the dirt. When the accusers heard this, they began to slip away, one by one, beginning with the oldest, until it was just Jesus and the woman. (Friends, I want you to notice something very important here. I want you to notice how in public Jesus protected the woman’s dignity. But in private, he addressed her shame.) In goes on to say, At that point, Jesus stood up and quietly said to her, ‘Where are your accusers? Is there no one left to condemn you?’ ‘No one, Lord,’ she said. Then Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you! Now go on, and leave your sinful ways.” (John 8:2-11)
Notice that Jesus didn’t say it’s okay. He didn’t say that the way she was messing up her life was okay. He didn’t condone her behavior. He set her free to live differently. Here is the truth I want you to grasp: BY GOD’S MERCY WE ARE FORGIVEN AND WE ARE SET FREE TO LIVE DIFFERENTLY. So many people think they are stuck in the past, they are trapped in their current way or life, that they can’t beyond their past to live differently in the future. Jesus says, I want to forgive you and I want to set you free to live a different kind of life. This is the very thing that Jesus came to do. When talking about Jesus, the Bible says, “I was sent to announce freedom to all held captive and forgiveness to all who have been imprisoned.” (Isaiah 61:1) This isn’t just talking about physical prisons. It’s also talking about emotional prisons we get caught up in. How does that happen to us? What holds us captive? Maybe you’re trapped in a prison of regret. You can’t get forgive yourself over that thing that happened in the past and you’re in a prison of regret over the things you’ve done.
Maybe you’re in a prison of resentment over things that others have done to you. They’ve hurt you and you can’t seem to let it go. You can’t seem to forgive. You can’t seem to get beyond what has happened to you. Maybe you’re trapped in a prison of envy. You keep asking, “Why am I stuck in this job or this marriage or this physical illness, or this financial hole? Why do others seem to be doing so much better than me? Maybe you’re caught in a prison of worry. You worry constantly and it makes you sick. And you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. Why do the people around you seem to be doing so much better?
Maybe you’re trapped in a prison of addiction, or a prison of secret sins and secret habits? What does Jesus have to say about all this? He says, “I have come to save the world not to judge it.” (John 12:47) His first priority is to save you from your sins and set you free to live differently. The Psalmist understood this when he said, “O Lord, you are so good and kind, so ready to forgive, so full of mercy for all who ask your aid.” (Psalm 86:5) That’s the thing! We have to ask God’s aid. We have to cry out to him to help us. We have to seek his forgiveness and receive his mercy, knowing that he understands our condition. The Bible says, “Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin. So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will receive mercy and find the grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16) When you come to God and you admit you’ve messed up and need his forgiveness and mercy, he doesn’t respond in judgment. He doesn’t respond with condemnation. He responds with a miracle of mercy.
SECOND, WE NEED GOD’S MERCY WHEN WE ARE ANGRY. We’re angry because we don’t have all that we need. The fact of life is: we don’t always have all that we need all the time! We are not completely self-sufficient. We are fallen creatures. We are incomplete in ourselves. We are broken and crushed by the weight of our sins. We all have things we lack. God allowed that to happen so we would need him and we would need each other. If you had everything you needed, you would need God and you wouldn’t need one another. Our disabilities require us to recognize our need for God and our need for one another. There are needs in your life that only God can meet. And if you try to meet them on your own you’re going to be disappointed, frustrated, resentful and angry.
In the Bible we find a story of a man who was disappointed. It’s found in John’s account of Jesus’ life, the fifth chapter. It reads, “In Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda… A large crowd of all sorts of disabled people would lie by the pool, waiting for a miracle. There was a legend that every once in a while an angel would stir the water, and whoever was the first to get into the water while it was still moving would get what they needed and be made whole. One poor man had been waiting by the pool for 38 years. When Jesus saw the man and heard that he’d been lying there for such a long time, he asked the man, ‘Do you want to get well?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘I have no one to help me get into the pool when the water is stirred. While I’m trying to get there, somebody else always gets ahead of me.’ Then Jesus simply said, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and start walking!” At once the man was cured and immediately able to walk again” (John 5:2-9)
Imagine how angry this man must have been. He’s laid there for 38 years, unable to move himself into the healing waters. No wonder he’s angry. No wonder he’s frustrated and disappointed. If we are honest, we all have disappointments. We’re disappointed by the way our life has gone. We’re disappointed by what we haven’t accomplished or by the things we have allowed to imprison us. What does Jesus do with your disappointments? He responds with the miracle of mercy. Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to get well?” What kind of a question is that? Isn’t it clear that he wants to get well? He’s there by the side of the pool. He’s been there for 38 years. But here’s the thing: a lot of people are sick but they don’t want to get well. It’s easier to blame others. “I have no one to help me….”
To get healthy means change and change is scary. We can be really angry about how our lives are going, but do we really want to get well? Do we really want to change? Nothing is going to change until we are willing to change. Nothing is going to change until we are willing to immerse ourselves in Jesus Christ. That is where the healing comes from. It doesn’t come from within. It comes from God. BY GOD’S MERCY THE IMPOSSIBLE BECOMES POSSIBLE. The Bible says, “What is impossible with people is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27) The problem you think is impossible in your life becomes possible with God’s help. The situation you think is unmanageable becomes manageable with God’s help. The Bible says, “As you get to know Jesus better, He will give you, through His great power, everything you need for living a truly good life.” (2nd Peter 1:3a)
THIRD, WE NEED GOD’S MERCY WHEN WE ARE AFRAID. And perhaps there is no greater fear that the fear of dying. How foolish it is for us to go through life unprepared for something so inevitable. The mortality rate for every single human being is 100%. Death is inevitable. Death is unpredictable. Without faith, death is rather scary. I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “Pastor, I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of dying.” If you have faith, you don’t have to be afraid. We learn how to die from Jesus. He didn’t fight it. He didn’t fear it. He laid down his life willingly, trusting in the will of his father that he should be raised again.
That was not the case for the men being crucified beside Jesus. The Bible says, “One of the criminals being executed on a cross beside Jesus ridiculed Him saying, ‘If you are supposed to be the Messiah, why don’t you save yourself… and us too [while you’re at it]’. But the second criminal rebuked him, saying, ‘Man, don’t you even fear God when you are dying? We deserve to die for our evil deeds, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong!’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:39-43) So Jesus is dying on the cross with two criminals on each side of him. One man mocks Jesus and the other man asks for mercy. The man who makes fun of Jesus, he does so because he believes that when you die, that’s it. It’s over. There’s nothing more. But he was wrong. There is life after death. Jesus proved it when He rose from the dead. We will all be raised again, either to enjoy life in paradise with Jesus or to suffer eternally in the absence of anything good.
BY GOD’S MERCY WE RECEIVE ETERNAL LIFE. By God’s miracle of mercy we receive eternal life with Jesus. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life! Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, will live again!” (John 11:25) We will all live again. But the question is where? Will you be like the man who mocked Jesus? Or will you be like the man who asked for mercy? The Bible says, “Anyone who asks for mercy from the Lord shall have it and shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21) The Bible says, “The Lord God is waiting to show you how kind He is and to have mercy on you.” (Isaiah 30:18)