A sermon that I wrote.
|As you can see from my bio I am a preacher and have served as a pastor several times. I wanted to post at least one Sermon here in my portfolio. This is a sermon that I have preached several times at different churches and I wanted to post it specifically due to the literary element of the story. I believe it will be appreciated on this website. This story is not original to me but was first told as an allegorical illustration attributed to the Venerable Bede in the early 8th century. I have retold Bede’s illustration in modern language and terms, and I believe I have made it my own. I have moved emphasis from the executioners to the daughters and changed some parts of Bede’s original story. I believe he would approve of my modern version, but I cannot exactly ask him. I would not want to be accused of plagiarism, and also want to give Bede his due credit for crafting a true literary work of art 1200 years ago. I am a big fan of Bede despite the fact that he wrote some really nasty things about one of my wife’s ancestors who lived at the same time. Bede was an extremely cool guy, an educated scientist, historian, and mathematician as well as priest. His passion for giving English speaking people a copy of God’s word in their own language resulted in the first Anglo-Saxon copies of the gospel of John. Bede copied these by hand and distributed them to churches in England, 800 years before our popular “King James” translation. As a bivocational minister and engineer I feel a real kinship to Bede and he makes my list of 5 people I look forward to meeting in heaven.
As ministers our source and inspiration should always go back to the Bible. I claim no copyright or exclusive rights to God’s word or this message. If the reader wants to repeat any, or all, of my sermon I consider it only flattery. If the words I have written here open the meaning of God’s word to you, or help you understand it better in any way, then the credit should go to almighty God and his Holy Spirit, not to me. My primary mentor when I began to preach told me to never be so proud not to use another man’s work. He phrased it this way: “You take another man’s bones, but you hang your meat on it.” I believe I have hung enough of my own meat on these old bones to make the message my work, and I hope you enjoy it.
I am a Christian, a Baptist to be specific. If you belong to another branch of Christianity or are not a Christian at all, then you need to know what I am before you read my message. I make no apologies for what I believe, but neither do I condemn you for not believing it. I hope that even those with a different world view than I have can not only learn from my perspective, but teach me from theirs. If being exposed to a Christian idea or world view offends you then perhaps you might be better off reading something else. But if you are open to different ideas and opinions, then whether you are a Christian or not, I hope you enjoy reading what I have written.
Use one source and they call it plagiarism, use three and they call it research. (I’m not sure who said this first, can I take credit for it?)
Mercy, Truth, Righteousness, and Peace
Psalms 85 (kjv)
 LORD, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.
 Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah.
 Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger.
 Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.
 Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations?
 Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?
 Shew us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation.
 I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly.
 Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.
 Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
 Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
 Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase.
 Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.
I call your attention to the 85th psalm as printed above and would ask that you read the psalm in its entirety. Our focus is verse 10 but to understand verse 10 we must look at the context of the entire psalm. We can see that the 85th psalm a psalm of salvation and restitution, a psalm of forgiveness. We see in this passage that the captivity of Jacob is ended. Our sins have been forgiven, and God himself shall bless us and set us in the way of his steps. Forgiveness and salvation are of the Lord and available to us today. But how is that salvation accomplished? How is God able to forgive? That is explained here. Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Those words may not make a lot of sense to you right now, but before we are done I hope that you understand exactly what they mean and how they are relevant to our salvation.
There are some preachers and theologians in the world today that teach a dispensational view of the scripture and of our salvation. If by dispensation you simply refer to the way God works and how that has changed over the years then certainly this view is correct and helpful. There was a time when God worked through the prophets and judges, but now his spirit can dwell upon every man. There was a time when God revealed himself only to the Jewish nation, but today he is revealed again to all mankind. To look at the way God reveals himself to man, to divide that into time periods where God worked in different ways, and to label those time periods as dispensations can be a helpful way to organize our historical record and understand why God did certain things at certain times. But, if by dispensation you imply in any way that the gospel of Jesus Christ or God’s plan for our salvation has changed over time then you have perverted scripture. God’s plan for our salvation was formed before mankind itself and it has never changed. The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the act that saves us. It was that same death that saved the Old Testament saints. It is that same death that saves Jews and Gentiles alike today. In the Old Testament the coming sacrifice was not a clear. It was communicated through pictures and allegory, but they did not know the name of Jesus. They did not know he would die on a Roman cross. They did not know all the details, but they believed that a sacrifice was coming and that faith, that belief is what saved them from their sins. The New Testament makes this very clear as it gives Old Testament examples.
Galatians 3:6 is just one example of this where the New Testament tells us of Abraham’s salvation. Is says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” It was not the near sacrifice of his son Isaac that saved Abraham. It was not the sacrifice of lambs or any other animal. It was his faith, his belief in God that was accounted for righteousness. By grace are we saved through faith, and that is true today and it was true in the days of Abraham. God’s plan for the salvation of mankind has not changed and will never change. We are today saved by the same faith that saved Abraham, and Moses, and all the Old Testament saints. They were saved by their faith looking forward to what they believed God would do. We are saved looking backward at what is now already done, but it is the same faith. But what is that thing that God has done and how is our salvation attained. This verse will explain that to us, and if you will stay with me for just a few minutes I will try to open this passage to you.
Going back to Genesis and the creation of the human race we can see that God made us in his own image. Male and female, the bible tells us in Genesis 1:27, we were created in the image of God. Here in Psalms 85:10 we see four attributes. Four attributes of God that were part of man as he was created in God’s image and four attributes that we have perverted and destroyed: Mercy, Truth, Righteousness, and Peace.
Would there be any man or woman who could doubt the Mercy of God? The bible tells us in Titus 3:5 that our salvation is, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.” We deserve no mercy. It is we who have sinned. It is we who have come short of God’s glory. We deserve to be judged and condemned, but God has extended mercy upon us. Mercy is part of God’s personality and part of our salvation. Mercy is also part of God’s creation.
In our original created form Mercy endures, and we see acts of mercy all around us every day. Mercy, it’s a beautiful word isn’t it? In the midst of our greatest tragedies, in the midst of our greatest pain, we see men and women over and over again act with mercy. One recent example of this is the great earthquake that struck the nation of Haiti, a terrible, devastating disaster that killed some 200,000 people. Yet within hours of the event people touched with compassion began extending acts of mercy to the people of Haiti. Thousands of people and millions of dollars in aid and help began pouring in. Many people reading these words, I am sure, gave of themselves for this effort. Food, shelter, medicines, all came in to help those in need. And what? What I ask you, did the people of Haiti ever do to deserve your mercy? Nothing. There may be exceptions on a personal level, but the nation of Haiti offers nothing and has nothing to give back. The poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere there is no financial or military gain to be found in helping Haiti. Yet we do anyway, because mercy is part of our nature.
It is part of human nature to extend mercy. These acts of mercy are not limited to Christianity. It is not limited to the elect or the saved. People give regardless of their religious or moral beliefs. Christians, Jews, Muslims, they all worked together to bring aid to Haiti. I saw on the news where John Travolta flew his own personal plane to Haiti loaded with supplies. Most of you know that he is a believer in and supporter of Scientology. Do you think he limited aid to Haitian believers in his religion? Of course not! He gave and showed mercy because it was a part of his nature, just like it is a part of yours.
And yet this mercy, this mercy that is a part of God’s nature, and a part of human nature, has become the exception instead of the rule. While we see pieces of mercy from time to time, while we see remnants of God’s creation in human nature, too often we see people devoid of mercy. Millions came to Haiti’s aid when the earthquake hit, but the people of Haiti were starving long before that. For every merciful Oskar Shindler or Irena Sendler we see hundreds of men and women willing to look the other way while their fellow men and women are killed. For every example of international mercy like the Haitian relief we see hundreds of thousands of men and women killed in places like Darfur in Sudan or in Rwanda, or Bosnia, or Sri Lanka. Millions of people killed for their political beliefs, religious beliefs, race, or birthplace. How quickly we want to condemn the Nazis for the murder of 12 million in the holocaust, but how many millions have died since? No mercy still exists. A sliver of God’s original creation and intent may still be visible, but the original mercy, that mercy that was placed in mankind as we were formed in the image of God is gone.
Do children have to be taught to tell the truth? In our fables of George Washington and his cherry tree we praise the fact that he could not tell a lie. The truth is that we know to tell the truth. From the earliest age children understand what truth is and what a lie is. When a witness walks into a courtroom he gives an oath to tell the truth. We all value the truth and despise a lie. Knowing and telling the truth is a part of human nature, a part put there when we were created in the image of God himself.
Yet how much of that creation remains? As much as we know to tell the truth how long does it take before a child tells that first lie? We lie to our parents, and we lie to our friends. We lie to a patrolman to get out of a speeding ticket; we lie to our boss when we call in sick. Untruths and miss information become so much a part of our lives that the idea of a man who cannot tell a lie becomes the subject of comedy in the movies. Politicians lie to get elected. Scientists lie to get government funding.
We know we are supposed to tell the truth, there is a sliver of truth left in our nature, but most of what was placed there in the image of God has been lost.
Do we know what is righteous? Do we as children, in our natural state recognize right and wrong? The bible says we do in Romans 1. It says that the things which may be known of God are manifest in us, that they are visible in God’s creation, that they are written clearly and that we are without excuse. The first complaint of a child, a complaint I guarantee has been heard and made by everyone reading this; “That’s not fair.” How long did it take you friend, to recognize that life is not fair? The psalmist asked in another psalm, “Why do the wicked prosper?”
We know what right and wrong are. We make laws and enforce judgment in our society to enforce our ideas of right and wrong. Yet every day we see people who, “Get away with it.” We see people who abandon truth and righteousness and suffer no visible affects of doing so. Righteousness is one of the attributes of God himself. It was part of our original creation as we were formed in the image of God. Yet today, only a tiny piece of that righteousness remains inside the nature of man.
Is there any more Godly idea than that of peace? We great each other in many languages with the idea of “Peace be unto you,” and part with, “Peace be with you.” Throughout our world men cry for peace. All of us desire peace and pray for peace. We sing about Peace on earth, but how much peace is left in the nature of man. Men may cry “Peace Peace,” but we all know that there is no peace. From Afghanistan and Iraq to Sudan and Congo the nations and people of the world know no peace.
The manufacture and sale of arms continues at an unprecedented rate. In 2008 the world spent 1.5 trillion, yes trillion with a “T,” dollars on warfare. That is $217 for every man, woman, or child on the face of the earth. In Haiti the average income, before the earthquake, was $480 per person per year. And we spend $217 per person on war.
Yes we all want peace. It is part of God’s nature. It is part of our nature, part of our original creation when we were formed in the image of God. Yet how much of that remains today?
Mercy, Truth, Righteousness, and Peace; these four character traits; traits of God himself were all present in man as he was originally created. Yet all four have been perverted and degraded throughout the centuries. As we have fallen from God we have lost many of these items that were part of our nature when we were formed God’s image. And so the question is how? How does God, in his perfect salvation, restore these traits to us? How does God himself ensure our salvation, while still maintaining the character that is God himself? How can he extend mercy and maintain truth? How can God enforce righteousness, and yet maintain peace? The answer my friend is through our savior. This old story illustrates it better than I could ever explain:
Once upon a Time
Once upon a time, don’t you just love stories that start with, “Once upon a time?” I do. Once upon a time there was a great king who ruled a vast kingdom; an all powerful and all knowing king. And this mighty king had four daughters who he had named after different character traits, traits that were a part of the king himself, and traits that were evident and obvious in the personalities of his daughters. The daughters were named Mercy, Truth, Righteousness, and Peace. The king loved his daughters and pampered them for they were very much a part of the king himself. In addition to his four daughters the king also had a single son. A son who was known throughout the kingdom and was like no other in all the earth, a son who was the embodiment of the father.
In addition to these children the king had a servant, a servant that the king had created himself and molded in his own image. This servant had been elevated and put above all the other members of the kingdom, and had been given dominion and power over them.
In the course of time the king decided that he would test his servant, as kings often do and of course to test them is within the rights of a king. The king brought his servant in and told him, he told him that he had one small commandment for him. Just one! Just one little rule.
“Obey my commandment,” the king explained, “And you will be elevated further and given riches and honor. You will become my companion and will fellowship with me as my own children do.”
“But disobey,” the king warned, “Disobey my commandment, and you will die.”
And with that the servant went out and promptly broke the commandment.
Why is there any more to this story? The king gave the servant fair warning! He told him that if he broke the commandment the servant would die, and the servant broke the commandment! That should be the end, but it’s not. Praise God it’s not.
True to his word, the king took the servant and bound him, turning him over to three cruel executioners. Confined to the prison of this world the servant was afflicted with the pain and sorrow of this mortal life and afflicted with the impending coming of his own death. The shrieks and cries of the servant could be heard throughout the kingdom.
Hearing the cries of the servant from his prison cell, Mercy, the daughter of the king ran to her father’s throne. There, on her knees before her father she pleaded on behalf of the servant.
“Father,” she begged, “You cannot do this to the servant. To execute him and torture him in this way father, is to be without mercy, and if you, father, are not merciful, then I, Mercy, can no longer be your daughter.”
On her knees before her father Mercy’s tears dripped and fell on his feet and the king was touched with compassion. But as Mercy made her plea, her sister Justice entered the throne room. She had heard her sister’s request, but she had a plea of her own.
“NO! FATHER NO!” Righteousness cried. “Father it was you who made the law and it was you who proclaimed the penalty. You are a holy and righteous king father, and if you do not stand by your word Father, if you do not enforce the penalty, then you will no longer be righteous. And if you no longer righteous father, then I, Righteousness, can no longer be your daughter.”
As her sisters kneeled on each side of her father Truth entered the room. With a somber expression she confirmed her sister’s requests.
“There is no way,” Truth explained, “To be merciful and maintain righteousness. To be merciful would exclude justice and in order to please both of your daughters father, you would have to be untrue to one or the other. You would be a liar, and of course if you are a liar Father, then I, Truth, can no longer be your daughter.
Hearing the strife between her sisters Peace fled from the face of her father. For where such disagreement and strife were present, Peace could not dwell, and so she fled to the far ends of the kingdom, far from her Father’s face.
The situation in the kingdom was grim. The servant was lost, imprisoned and waiting execution. Peace was lost to her father, and it seemed like the king was in an impossible situation and would have to choose which of his daughters would be lost forever.
But then. . . then the Son walked into the room.
Turning to his father the son simply asked, “Father, why don’t you let me take care of this?”
The father asked him, “How son? How can you ‘take care of this? How can Mercy and Righteousness both be satisfied? How can I restore the servant and still maintain truth and peace in the kingdom?”
The son, who was like no other before or since simply told the king, “Just let me take care of it father.”
The father did not see the solution and still questioned the son, “But how will you accomplish this son? What will it cost?”
“Oh there will be a cost,” the son said with a tear in his eye, “You will have to give me up father, but only for a season.”
“Please father,” the son asked again, “Let me take care of this.”
“I don’t see how you going to do this,” the father told his only begotten son, “But you have my blessing, go.”
With Mercy at his side the son rushed to the prison that held the servant. The son burst through the prison bars and entered this physical world. He lived a mortal life as god, but also as one of us, Immanuel. He faced the greatest fear of mankind, our mortal deaths, and freely gave his life in the servants place, dying a convict’s death although being without sin himself. Then the son emerged from the prison of this world victorious with the restored servant by his side to retake his place at the Father’s right hand.
Mercy had been extended. The Righteousness of the King was held fast and that of the servant was restored. The penalty had been paid. Truth pronounced that all was truthful in the kingdom and Peace returned to her place with the Father.
Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
And that my friend, is the summation of our salvation, found only through the son, Jesus Christ.