Rob Morgan: His Mercy Extended
His Mercy Extended A Pocket Paper
The Donelson Fellowship
______________Robert J. Morgan
December 21, 1997 ----
When Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany he wanted to take over the German church and dictate the nation's religion. According to Erwin Lutzer, he falsely accused many of the clergymen of treason, theft, or sexual malpractice. Priests, nuns, and church leaders were arrested on trumped-up charges, and religious publications were suspended. He encouraged all marriage ceremonies to be conducted by state officials rather than by the church. In 1935 he outlawed obligatory prayer in the schools, and he did all he could to replace Bible reading with Nazi propaganda.
He had greater difficulty with the religious holidays, because Germans had faithfully observed Easter and Christmas for centuries, making it hard for Hitler to abolish them. What he did instead was simply set out to reinterpret their meaning. Easter became a holiday that heralded the arrival of Spring, and Christmas was turned into a totally pagan festival. In fact, at least for the SS troops, the date was changed to December 21, the date of the winter solstice. Carols and nativity plays were banned from the schools in 1938, and even the name Christmas was changed to Yuletide.
Now, sixty years later, we are amazed to observe the same thing happening in America as our social libertarians seek to drain Christmas of its religious significance and make it a purely secular, pagan holiday. They want to remove Christmas carols from our schools and nativity displays from our public parks. Our society wants to strip Christmas of its meaning. Well, they will not succeed here among the people of this church, because every day during the holidays we fix our thoughts on Christ, and every seven days we gather together to remind ourselves afresh that you can not even spell Christmas without Christ.
During the Sundays of this 1997 Christmas season, we've been feeding our minds on the oldest of all the Christmas carols, the Magnificat, recorded in Luke 1:46-55. This is the song composed by the blessed virgin after she had traveled to the hill country of Judea to visit her aged relative Elizabeth. Only days before, the angel Gabriel had announced to Mary that she would bear the Christ-child, and her heart was still trying to absorb the wonder of it all. She said:
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me-
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.
As I studied through this passage again this week, I became stuck in verse 50. It is a very simple sentence, but it seems to perfectly describe the biblical significance of Christmas. It says: His mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation.
Let's look at this verse word-by-word, the first word being His.
His-meaning God's. Mary has already described God as well as she could in the preceding verses. She, in fact, had attributed four different names or titles to him. He is the Lord; he is God my Savior; he is the Mighty One; his name is Holy. And what is he like? What does he do? Look at the next two verses: He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
As we said last week, Mary must have known very well the Old Testament, for this prayer oozes with quotations and allusions to Old Testament Scriptures. This part of her hymn, for example, sounds remarkably like Psalm 147: He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.
This is truly a remarkable passage. In verse 4, we are told that God is infinite. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. The other night I took the dog out for a little walk before bedtime and I looked up into the sky. You could see the big dipper, and beyond it dozens of other stars, twinkling beautifully and silently against the black velvet of the universe. Who can understand the immensity of space? But the God of creation counts his stars the way a child would count his marbles or a collector would count his figurines. He calls the each by name. He made them, and they belong to him. He is mighty and full of majesty, this God of ours. He fills heaven and earth.
And yet the preceding verse in Psalm 147 says that God is not only infinite, he is intimate. He not only cares about his stars, he cares about his saints. He sustains the humble. He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.
Charles Spurgeon said, "Compel your contemplation to this thought, that the same mighty hand which rolls the stars along, puts liniments around the wounded heart; that the same being who spoke the worlds into existence and now impels those ponderous globes through their orbits, does in his mercy cheer the wounded and heal the broken in heart."
This is the God to whom Mary was praying in Luke 1. This is the He of His as she begins verse 50. And then she goes on to supply the noun: His mercy...
Sometimes we think of mercy and grace as being synonyms. But grace is a word that conveys the totality of all God's goodness towards all the world and towards all the universe and towards you and me. Mercy is the special expression of God's grace towards those who are wounded, guilty, broken hearted, and dying. Suppose one of my daughters came to me and said, "Dad, I would really like to play softball this year, but I don't have any money for a bat and ball and glove. Will you buy them for me?" I might say, "Sure, let's go down to the sports store right now." That would be grace. Out of my own money in my pocket I would be providing for her needs and giving her help and assistance. But suppose the next day she came to me and said, "Dad, I got mad and swung my bat as hard as I could and released it, and it flew through the air and crashed through the windshield of a police car driving down the street. The officers are on the front porch and they want to talk to you about it." Well, she would need mercy.
I attended school at Wheaton Graduate School outside of Chicago. Exactly thirty years before I arrived there, one of Wheaton's graduates, Bert Frizen, was serving as an infantryman on the front lines of Europe during World War II. American forces had advanced in the face of terrible shelling and small-arms fire. For the moment, all seemed quiet. Bert's patrol reached the edge of a wooded area with an open field before them. They didn't realize that a battery of Germans was ready and waiting in a hedgerow about two hundred yards across the field.
Bert was one of two scouts who moved out into the clearing. Once he was halfway across the field, the remainder of his battalion followed. Suddenly the Germans opened fire and machine gun fire ripped into both of Bert's legs. The Americans quickly withdrew amid a firestorm of bullets.
Bert had fallen into a shallow stream and there he lay as the gunfire blazed over his head. He was badly wounded, but could think of no way out of his dilemma. And as if all that were not bad enough, he suddenly saw a German soldier crawling toward him. Death appeared imminent and he closed his eyes and waited. Nothing happened, and slowly he opened his eyes. Imagine his surprise to find the German kneeling at his side, smiling. The shooting had stopped. Troops from both sides seemed silent and uncertain, waiting to see what would happen next. Without any words being spoken, this mysterious German reached down and lifted Bert in his strong arms and proceeded to carry him over to the American side.
Having accomplished his self-appointed mission, he turned and walked back across the field to his own troops. No one moved. Moments later, the strange cease fire ended, and the shots were again flying back and forth. But not before all those present had witnessed the mercy of a man who risked everything for his enemy.
That is just what Christmas is about. We were under spiritual attack, pinned down and wounded by our sins, facing death and hell, enemies of God. But at Bethlehem, God himself, moved by love and mercy, walked into the line of fire and exposed himself to death to save us. Romans 5:8 says, if I may paraphrase it: While we were still God's enemies, Christ died for us.
Or look at the way Zechariah put it later in this chapter, Luke 1. Zechariah, Elizabeth's husband, was the old gentlemen who became the father of John the Baptist. When John was born, Zechariah composed a song very much like the Magnificat, and it is recorded at the end of the chapter. Look at verses 76ff:
And you, my child-referring to the infant John, the forerunner of Christ-will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun-in the last chapter of the Old Testament, Malachi refers to the coming Messiah as the Sun of Righteousness that will arise with healing in his rays-will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.
So Jesus Christ is the personification of tender mercy of God. His mercy...
His Mercy Extends...
The next word is the verb-extends. The word in the English is very interesting. Ex means out. An exit is where you go out. And tend is a word meaning to stretch. A tendon is a connective tissue around your joints that allows your body to stretch out. And so the word extend literally means out stretching, to stretch out. In other words, there is a vast gulf between our sins and God's holiness. There is a chasm of immeasurable distance. But the Lord reaches toward us in love, stretching out his arm of mercy. He stands on tiptoe, as it were, leaning over the railing of heaven, reaching down into your depression, down into your despair, down into your guilt and remorse and sinfulness. He is reaching out to you right now.
...to those who fear him
But who is it that really connects with the mercy of God? Verse 50 goes on to say: His mercy extends to those who fear him... After Katrina and I were married, I spent a year searching for a church to pastor. All the while I was continuing to do personal Bible study of my own. During that time, I devoted several months to studying the subject in the Bible of the "fear of the Lord." It was an amazing study, for it is such a prominent theme in the Bible.
What does it mean to fear the Lord? I remember being out in the ocean once, and suddenly the wind and the waves picked up and swirled and crashed around me. A powerful suction tore at me, and instead of some small, little lapping waves, all of a sudden I was faced with a surging tide that was a million times stronger than I was. I felt a flash of fear and I headed toward the beach pulling with all my might. I gained a new respect for the power and energy of the sea.
Sometimes we think of God as a peaceful lapping pool, a gentle ocean of love in which we bathe. He may be that, but his power and energy and his wrath can flare up in a moment. He surges and rises and crests and breaks like a raging ocean. The fear of the Lord is a gripping awareness of God's majestic power and the danger it presents to those who oppose or reject or disobey him. Jesus said, "Fear not those who can kill the body, but fear him who has the power to cast both body and soul into hell."
And until we live with a sense of fear and reverence and respect for God, we really don't know what life is all about. Proverbs 1:7 says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And what is wisdom? It is living a prudent and disciplined life. We cannot live a prudent or disciplined life until we possess a fear of God. Suppose you are at school one day and some buddies suggest that you leave campus, go to a friend's house, and drink some beer. If you say "No," they will want to know why. They will belittle you and make fun of you and even temporarily reject you. What will you do? We tend to base our decisions on whatever or whomever we most respect and fear. If you are intimidated by those buddies, you'll act the way they want you to. But if you fear God, knowing that he is watching you, that he sees all, and that he is a consuming fire, you will choose the prudent and disciplined path. Your wisdom will flow from your fear of God. And thus the writer of Proverbs says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
The fear of the Lord, then, is a gripping awareness of God's majesty and power and the danger it presents to those who disrespect him. And just as a person's love for the ocean is mingled with a gripping awareness of its majesty and power and the danger it presents to those who disrespect it, so it is with God.
As I studied the subject of the fear of the Lord, the interesting thing to me was the amazing promises that are conditioned by fearing God. Look at some of these verses in the book of Psalms.
Psalm 25:14-The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. In other words, the Lord reveals the secrets of his message, of his Gospel, of his Word to those who fear him.
Psalm 33:18-But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. Fearing God can keep you alive. He protects those who fear him.
Psalm 103:11-For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.
Psalm lll:5-He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
Psalm 115:13-He will bless those who fear the Lord-small and great like.
Palm 145:19-He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
There are many other verses as well, but time will not allow us to read them. Suffice to say that the fear of the Lord brings into our lives wisdom, protection, love, provision, blessings, and fulfilled desires. And-in Luke 1:50-mercy. The mercy of the Lord extends to those who fear him... But there is one more phrase in this sentence: from generation to generation.
From Generation To Generation
When we fear the Lord, the mercy of God is extended not only to us but to our children. Proverbs 14:26 says: He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.
In this day when secularism is doing what the Nazis failed to do, seeking to turn our Christian holy days into pagan holidays; in this day when our children are being subjected to a media brainwashing unequaled in history; and in this day when the foundations are being destroyed, let us never forget that the mercy of the Lord stretches out to those who fear him from generation to generation. And upon a night long ago, that mercy reached out and placed a baby in a cattle stall, whose life and death and resurrection bring life and light for all who know him.
'Tis mercy all, immense and free
For, lo, my God, it found out me.
Or, to put it a little differently, it was on...
That night when in Judean skies
The mystic star dispensed its light
A blind man moved about in sleep
And dreamed that he had sight.
That night when shepherds heard the song
of hosts angelic choiring near
A deaf man moved in slumbered spell
And dreamed that he could hear.
That night when o'er the newborn baby
The tender Mary rose to lean
A loathsome leper leaped in sleep
And dreamed that he was clean.
That night when to the mother's breast
The little king was held secure
A harlot slept a happy sleep
And dreamed that she was pure.
That night when in the manger lay
The Sanctified who came to save,
All the world tossed in the sleep of death
And dreamed that was no grave.