Last week in our morning service we began a series of messages on the Book of James. (First sermon "Hear-Do" is here). We saw how James was not impressed with the kind of faith that was more words than actions. He does have some strong things to say about 'words' in a later chapter, but in his second chapter he talks about what kinds of 'works' he expects a living faith to produce.
In verse 13 James uses the phrase 'Mercy triumphs over judgment'. We can apply that verse in different ways.
We apply this verse to the message of the Cross. Central to the Christian message is the claim that at the Cross, what seemed like the ultimate defeat was actually the ultimate victory. Jesus, according to John, was the lamb of God who took away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Through His grace we can find love and forgiveness. Through faith in His resurrection power we can find new strength for living. According to Paul, we “were full of darkness” but now we have “light from the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8).
We can apply it to ourselves. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. We become full of thoughts about 'not being good enough' or 'not up to the task'. Sometimes we feel that our contribution to changing anything is so minimal that we give up trying. We get held back by our mistakes. We feel a sense of shame about past failures and compromises. This verse 'Mercy triumphs over judgment' encourages us to recall that through Jesus Christ we are forgiven and God looks at us as God's children, free and in the process of reconstruction and capable of doing beautiful things.
We apply this verse to others. James is pretty clear that a genuine faith is a welcoming faith. That a faith that makes others feel like outsiders is the exact opposite of the way Jesus made people feel. In fact, the people whom Jesus made feel most uncomfortable, were those who used religion to make themselves look better than everybody else. Jesus was known as a friend to the outcast, to the sinner, to those whom others rejected. Following His example we are to be known by our love and compassion for all, without prejudice.
Such a a focus on mercy can seem a little scary. It means welcoming those whom we don’t like, or don’t agree with. It means loving and blessing our enemies, friends, family, outsiders, insiders and all in between. To live like that is to be both hearers and doers of the Word! We certainly can't do it alone. We need all the help the Holy Spirit provides. We need each others encouragement and practical help.
These insights of James weren't new. Centuries before James wrote his words, the prophet Micah had spoken of God's requirements for faithful people. 'To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.'(Micah 6:8)
'Mercy triumphs over judgment.' A gem of a verse from the book of James! I came across this song about forgiveness and mercy by singer/songwriter Amanda Cook, called, appropriately, 'Mercy triumphs over judgment'. Enjoy!
And if you in the area and want some more about James, then come by Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, 10:00 am this Sunday :-)
Rev Adrian J. Pratt