Meditations in 1 Peter : 24: Receivers of Mercy
1 Pet 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The word for church in the original text is ekklesia meaning a ‘called out people’. It is the same sense as when used of a people who were called out to the market square by a town crier. We have been called out of darkness by God and taken into the kingdom of the Son, a kingdom of light. And because that hasn’t happened to just me, but to many of us, we are “a people”, a body of people with one head, Jesus. We are now the “people of God”, God’s people. Because of what Jesus achieved on the Cross we belong to Him: “the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) Thus Paul taught, “you were bought at a price.” (1 Cor 6:20 & 1 Cor 7:23) Thus we are now the people belonging to God, the people of God, millions of us all over the world and stretching back in history to the day of Pentecost and stretching into the future until the day Jesus returns and winds everything up – millions and millions of redeemed people, the people of God.
But then Peter says something that emphasizes even more the wonder of being part of this people – how we came to be part of this people. He speaks about mercy. Now William Shakespeare understood something of this wonder when he wrote the Merchant of Venice. Antonio, the merchant of Venice, had foolishly signed a bond granting to the Jew, Shylock, who lent money, a “pound of flesh” if he defaulted. He does default and so Portia pleads with Shylock to release him from the bond. Eventually she declares to him, “Then must the Jew be merciful,” to which Shylock replies, “On what compulsion must I?” She then responds with those famous words, “The quality of mercy is not strained,” meaning that compulsion is precisely contrary to the spirit of mercy, which is not “strained” or forced. Mercy is a voluntary thing, it is not given because the Law demands it, but despite the Law, and so mercy, in Shakespeare’s words, “drops gently like heaven’s rain”, a natural and gracious quality rather than a legal one.
Once we had been under the Law and condemned by justice. We deserved to die and death was on the horizon as the punishment for all our sins. God could have left us in the state for we deserved it. Punishment is what is deserved for wrong doing so that was all we could look forward to. But then, amazingly, the plan of God is revealed and we see that even before the foundation of the world the godhead had planned how to redeem us. Mercy was the quality of what emanated from the throne room of heaven. Surely the angels must have looked on in amazement. Surely these foolish human beings deserved to be judged, deserved to be destroyed, but instead it is a member of the godhead who steps forward to the place of punishment and takes what is deserved for every sin. Why is this happening? Why is he doing that? The answer has to be mercy.
Yes, make sure you are quite clear on this: mercy is undeserved grace. There was absolutely no reason why this had to happen. This is the thing about mercy – it is freely granted for no other reason that the giver gives it!
When the Bible describes God as merciful; it means that it is natural for Him to express mercy rather than judgment. When Lot ended up in Sodom and was led out by angels to avoid the judgment it was, “for the LORD was merciful to them.” (Gen 19:16). He could have left them to die with the rest but in His mercy He led them out. Moses instructed Israel about the future, “When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him. For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.” (Deut 4:30,31) When Israel fall, the Lord could just leave them, but He didn’t because of his mercy. Looking back, Nehemiah confirmed that this was exactly what had happened: “For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you handed them over to the neighboring peoples. But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.” (Neh 9:30,31) Yes, the Lord could have given them up for that is what they deserved but mercy was seen when he restored them and raised them up again.
Perhaps one of the most amazing prayers recorded in the Bible is that of Daniel who intercedes for his nation which is going into exile and apparent extinction. In the early part of it he prays, “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him,” (Dan 9:9) and near the end concludes, “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” (v.18). He knew his God and he knew that he could appeal on the basis of mercy. Israel had utterly failed the Lord yet he pleaded for their future on the basis of the Lord’s mercy – and his prayer was answered! Hallelujah!