A Worm at the Gate of Mercy
So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-13
The story of Jonah is so crucial for our times, when rage and fury rise with little provocation. Dialogue breeds argument; consideration is mocked and tossed aside for contempt; and debate explodes into violence; the love of many is waxing colder and colder, among Christians and heathens alike. Jonah could probably relate. He had no mercy for his enemies; not even a little. He despised them and wanted them to be destroyed, but that was not alright with God, because a critical spirit can’t be light in a world of darkness.
The decree of God to go and preach to the vilest of Israel’s enemies left Jonah livid, but confident that he was justified to feel that way. So much so that he fled from the call. When God sent a violent storm that threatened everyone on the ship he was aboard, he didn’t try to save himself or anyone else. Why? He didn’t believe in showing mercy to anyone, even himself. When asked to pray for their safety, he refused, and insisted on being thrown into the sea to die. Begrudgingly, they did, but Jonah would soon discover that God was not playing by his rules of justice. Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
We don’t hear a word from Jonah till the end of the three days, when he finally asks for mercy for himself and promises to go and preach. It was a small breakthrough, but sadly, the time in the fish didn’t change Jonah much at all. He was willing to declare God’s word, but there was no love involved; the only overflow that came from his relationship with God was obedience; love was a mystery.
But Jonah could preach, and when he did, he brought the whole heathen city to its knees, and so God relented and did not destroy the people. But don’t wait for a celebration from Jonah. God’s mercy was injustice to Jonah. If he was going to obey, then God owed it to him to do what He promised and destroy the people. If God wasn’t going to kill the Ninevites, then Jonah demanded that God kill him. But God was not willing, because He was inviting Jonah to give thanks and so to draw near to Him to receive the love that he so desperately needed.
Thanks opens the door (or gate) to God’s presence. And love and mercy are the greatest gifts that a holy God can extend to those trapped in sin. But Jonah was consumed with hatred for these repenting people, not thankfulness. He couldn’t fathom that he was in Nineveh to represent what God Himself would do eight hundred years later when the birth of Jesus brought good news of great joy and mercy for all of mankind.
Jonah’s success could bring him no joy, so in truly ironic fashion, God sent a miraculous plant to grow up and provide shade for Jonah to comfort him from the harsh heat of the sun. But then God also sent a hungry worm to prophecy to Jonah by chewing up that plant and killing it, leaving Jonah back in the hot sun fainting, and of course…he wanted to die. So God reminded him how it felt to be comforted by the shade, and revealed the meaning of loving your neighbor as yourself. You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow…And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh…
Jonah ended his story with his failure and God’s rebuke. He didn’t defend himself or share how he repented and became a better man, which is the proof that his humble end was much greater than his rebellious beginning.
One hundred years later, Micah would revisit the story of desperate men whose fate was dealt with by the raging sea, with a significant twist. Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:18-19
My past embraced – my sin forgiven – I’m blameless in Your sight – my history rewritten. Cause You delight in showing mercy and mercy triumphs over judgement. Oh Love, great Love – fear cannot be found in You. And there will never be a day You’re uncertain of the ones you choose. So I will awake and spend my days loving the One who has raised me up – from death to life – from wrong to right – You’re making all things beautiful. Mercy by Amanda Cook
So, how and why does mercy triumph over judgement? The prophet Isaiah, a contemporary of Jonah, declared in Isaiah 53, But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Our mercy and our hope is rooted in one man, Jesus Christ. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…Romans 8:1. God didn’t set the bar low for grace and mercy. He didn’t give us just enough grace and mercy. His death made available all sufficient grace and tender mercies for all of our repeated failures, so when we run to Him in desperation, He would never have to say no. The last picture He left to us of Himself was with His arms wide open.
And with that picture in mind, let’s not forget God’s coming judgment. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay.” And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Hebrews 10:36-39
Get your hope up and fight to keep it up because, in Jesus, we have the only hope for this fallen world. But if the darkness of the world around us causes us to become jaded and critical, without hope, then our light becomes too dark to be seen by blind men. Mercy triumphs over judgment. Let’s triumph with it.