Rich in Mercy
Text: Eph.2:4 "God, being rich in mercy"
The term "compassion fatigue" was first used in the 1990s to describe the problems then being experienced by healthcare workers who were being overwhelmed by the suffering they encountered on such a regular basis. It would not be long however before the description was to be more widely applied.
We have never been more aware of the appalling events that occur around the world every day. But an over-
Confronted by too much suffering, poverty, disease and death viewers can shut down emotionally, and even reject the information presented to them instead of responding to it. And as the media races from one crisis to another the troubles in the world begin to blur and merge into one another in our thinking. The sheer volume of bad news leaves us less and less affected by each successive story we hear and the public generally becomes bored with what once used to shock or disturb it.
Our God does not suffer from compassion fatigue – never! He knows everything there is to know about every squalid aspect of human life and he continues to care and to care deeply. The OT frequently celebrates this care by referring to the greatness of God’s mercy and compassion. Mercy and compassion go hand in hand and carry with them the idea of showing kindness to someone who is in a pitiable condition but who has no reason to expect to be shown any kindness at all.
It is the character of our great Creator God to behave in this way. Having made us he continues to take an interest in us despite our having foolishly rejected him and turned our backs on him and his plans for the human race.
Let me illustrate a little what I’m saying. Do you remember the time that Moses asked for a sight of God’s glory? This is how the LORD responded to him with a revelation of some of his attributes:
David knew about a good deal about this aspect of the LORD’s character and prayed for God to deal with him mercifully when he made some dire mistakes in his own life:
Ps.51:5 "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions."
This was how David prayed when he had messed up big-
Ps.86:15 "you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness."
Ps.103:8 "The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."
So great was the LORD’s reputation for having such a readiness to be merciful that it actually caused that reluctant prophet Jonah a problem! Jonah didn’t like the Ninevites. They were enemies of his people and he didn’t want to go and preach to them because he was fearful that the LORD might actually show mercy to them and that was the last thing Jonah wanted to see happen!
Jon.4:2 "And he prayed to the LORD and said, "O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster."
Well this evening we are going to spend our time thinking about what God has done for us as he has mercifully provided a salvation for rebel sinners and we’re going to focus our thoughts on some of those verses we read earlier from Paul’s letter to the Christian church in Ephesus.
"By grace you have been saved..." (Eph.2:5+8)
In the second chapter of his letter to the church in Ephesus Paul wanted to explain what God had done for his people and why.
The "what" he sums up in terms of salvation and we will see in a moment some of the different elements of this salvation that Paul wanted to highlight but we’ll begin with the "why".
In the opening 3 verses of chapter 2 Paul described the parlous state of men and women. All of them were naturally in the same boat, the whole of humanity. This was just as true of those who would later become Christians as it was for those who wouldn’t. Paul will not allow any space for someone to suggest that God chose him because of something he saw hidden within or some potential that God could tap into and develop.
All of humanity, wrote Paul, was spiritually dead. No-
In this way Paul paints a very dark backdrop to what he is about to declare. The darkness and hopelessness of that scene will serve to make the message of the gospel he proclaims shine out all the more brightly. The reason why it will shine so brightly is because God’s response to man’s predicament is absolutely astounding. The time for us to worry as Christians comes when we begin to grow tired of hearing about the gospel or when we are bored with it. When that begins to happen we need to remind ourselves what state we were in and what road we were marching along before the gospel came to us and transformed us.
Against this bleak backdrop Paul tells us about the attitude God adopted towards us. He does not drop the slightest hint that men and women are somehow "worth it" but instead he places all the emphasis upon God himself and in particular upon his mercy and love. Just look again at v.4
Eph.2:4 "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,"
Then in v.7 he goes on to speak a bit more about that wonderful compassionate generosity of God that led him to provide us with the salvation which we need:
Eph.2:7 "the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."
The word in my Bible the describes the riches of God’s grace is the word "immeasurable". Here are some of the ways those riches are described in other translations:
"exceeding", "unsurpassed", "limitless", "abundant", "overwhelmingly", "incomparable"
Do you get the point? God does not do things by half-
He is rich in mercy – he doesn’t have to watch the pennies as it were in case he might run out. And his love is no ordinary love, it is a great love, a love that operates on behalf of those who cannot operate for themselves, a great love that wonderfully provided what was needed, a great love that would even go as far as sending his own Son to be our Saviour. This is not love expressing a reward for good behaviour this is love poured out on the undeserving, love covering the faults of the wilfully resistant, love rescuing the desperately lost, it is love that freely gives life and then goes on and on giving.
Paul doesn’t want the Ephesians to congratulate themselves for becoming Christians as though there was something inherently special about them – but he does want them, and us too, to recognise that our every blessing comes from God and to respond properly to him.
If God has adopted such an attitude towards us and determined to demonstrate such depths of mercy and such wonderful love towards us we should not be surprised to find that the salvation he has supplied is a wonderful and complete salvation. Paul went on to explain to the Ephesians some of what this great and glorious salvation flowing from his mercy and love involves and in doing so he highlighted three aspects of salvation before finishing with a further explanation as to why God chose to do what he did.
When we were dead in our trespasses, he made us alive together with Christ v.5
He raised us up together with him (Christ) v.6
He seated us together in the heavenly places Christ v.6
Paul liked to speak about salvation as a great multifaceted thing. Do you remember how he did that in his letter to the Romans:
There Paul showed how God’s plan of salvation spans the ages – rooted in predestination all the way through our present experience and on into eternity with the yet to be experienced glorification. All spoken of as already accomplished – so sure and certain is God’s work and word.
Here in writing to the Ephesians he does something similar. Once dead in sin the believer has been given a new life and indeed the first act of that new life is to believe in Christ. Resurrection is also part of this salvation picture. Baptism portrays our dying with Christ as we are plunged beneath the waters and we are raised to newness of life as we come up out again. Yet while we live out our Christian lives on earth we only know this resurrection in part – our spirits have been made alive but we have not yet experienced the resurrection of our bodies. We live our lives in the tension of the ‘already but not yet’. But saved by grace through faith in Christ we will enjoy the resurrection of our bodies to have new bodies fully adapted to life in the new heavens and the new earth. Similarly our sitting with Christ in the heavenlies is something that is certain but we have not entered into as of yet. We have access to our Father in prayer now having a ready access through our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, but there is more, much more to come.
Don’t ever be tempted to minimise the greatness of the salvation that God has provided for sinners in the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t let others convince you that this salvation is a small thing and by consequence an indifferent matter – it is enormous both now and we will need eternity to plumb the depths of all that God has prepared for those he saves through faith in Jesus Christ.
To what end?
We have already seen that Paul has explained what drove our Heavenly Father to save us – he acted towards us in the richness of his mercy and out of the greatness of his love – but now we want to ask a further question: why did God do this? What is his purpose in it all?
We are perhaps used to focusing our thoughts about salvation upon how it affects us and what benefits accrue to us when we are saved by God’s wonderful grace. And all that is true but Paul here directs our thinking in a different direction. Take a look at v.7:
Eph.2:7 "so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."
I think that I have tended to read this is a personal manner as though all that the LORD was saying was that in the ages to come the individual Christian, ie. ME, would come to understand more and more about these immeasurable riches. And I do believe that there is truth in that – but it is not by any means the whole truth not perhaps the most important truth that Paul wanted the Ephesians to understand.
Paul is speaking about the Christian believer being taken as a trophy of grace. Have you ever visited one of those stately homes where as you walked round you saw the stuffed heads of animals mounted on the walls? We don’t do this much any more in the west as we have become aware of dangers of such practices leading to the extinction of certain species. But those heads were trophies designed to bear witness to the bravery and hunting skills of the Master of the house. Well that is similar to what God intends to do with the people he saves. He intends to hold them up as trophies so that others might see them (perhaps the world of angelic spirits which are already portrayed in Scripture as being intensely interested in the plan the Thrice Holy God had for saving anything but holy sinners) As these trophies of grace are considered the onlooker will be moved to marvel at the grace that was expended in saving and transforming such a one, moved to marvel at and praise the God who expended such grace.
Salvation, as Paul is careful to establish here, is all of grace – twice over Paul repeated that it is by grace that we are saved and further insisted that no man had cause for boasting that he had somehow contributed to his own salvation. But such a great salvation deserves to be celebrated, it is indeed praiseworthy – but it is God and God alone who is to be praised!
Our society loves the self-
Let us be amongst those who rejoice in such a salvation and let us give him all the glory!