The last sentence of our vision statement at City of Refuge Fellowship reads “Our vision is to take part in the triumph of mercy over judgment and to see the glory of the Lord as it rises upon our city.” That first line comes from James 2:13, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” I love these few words. They almost sneak up on you in the midst of James’ denouncing of favoritism and teaching on faith and works. If not careful they can be completely overlooked and if so, then so much can be lost. The fact that James uses the word “triumphs” means that there is a battle, a race, a competition that is playing out between mercy and judgment. They are grappling with each other; in some ways they are even grappling with us to see which we will receive, which we will put our hope in and even which we will give to those around us. If there is indeed a battle going on within and around me between mercy and judgment then I believe I need to be aware of it, I need to take part in it and I need to be sure that James’ words are coming to pass in my life, that I am one in whom and through whom mercy is winning it’s battle.
I believe that the best example of mercy triumphing over judgment is found in John 8. Jesus was in the midst of teaching in the Temple when suddenly a group of pious men dragged before Him a woman that had been caught in the act of adultery. The present her to Jesus, they explain her sin and then they tell Him what He already knows, that the law of Moses called for her to be stone for her sin. Then they asked, “What do You say?” This poor woman, not only is her sin on display for all to know, but she has now become a pawn in the game of those trying to test, to trick and to harm Jesus. In the midst of this scene it seems as if Jesus ignores them. He stoops down and starts to simply write on the ground with His finger. The men continue to ask, to prod, to demand that He give them an answer. Jesus stands back up and simply says, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” He then goes back to writing on the ground. The Bible says an amazing thing, “Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one”. Jesus did not say anything that changed what the woman had done. He did not say anything that changed the Law of Moses. He did not say anything that explained her situation or gave an excuse for what had happened. I believe that all He did was give context to her sin and the sin of those standing in judgment. They were the same. No matter how pious or sinful, whether all adulterers or none adulterers, they were all the same, sinners in need of mercy. In fact, that woman, and the noticeably absent man she was having an affair with, the Pharisees and you and I all are the same, we are all sinners in need of mercy.
I realized something about this passage recently; the only one with the power to give mercy is the one that also has the power to pronounce judgment. After all of the accusers left the Temple Jesus stood up again and asked the woman, “Has no one condemned you?” She said no one had and then He said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Jesus had the power to condemn her, He will one day judge us all for our actions, but thank God that we have not seen that day yet. Jesus offered her what He came to offer all of us, mercy that would triumph over judgment. I believe that each time Jesus forgave sins when He walked this earth as a man it was because He knew that He would die for those sins. Jesus stood in the Temple fully aware that He would die for this woman’s adultery, He had already prepared mercy for her; I pray that she received it, I pray that she saw Him as more than a kind teacher but as the Savior of her souls, the Lamb of God that takes away not only all sins, but her sins.
I have asked our church to commit to a vision of reconciliation, a vision of mercy and a vision of triumph. Where we fall short sometimes is that we are excited or interested in the outcome. We are excited by the thought of those around us receiving mercy, but we must be completely committed to the process that will bring these visions to pass. The outcome is forgiven, cleansed, saved, changed people and communities but the process is not as exciting. The process is to face the woman caught in adultery and recognize that Jesus died for this sin and we must offer mercy so that judgment will lose its hold on her. To use our community’s struggles, we must face those bound by addiction, those trapped by selfishness, those deceived by culture, those harmed by those that should have loved them, rejected for their past and present foolish choices, those hungry and naked and poor because of bad choices and those that despise religion and the religious because of their own assumptions. We must face all of these and many more with mercy in our hands and mercy on our tongues and mercy in our hearts. We must face people trapped by sin as those Jesus has already died for. We must not be constantly offended but rather motivated, encouraged and even excited by the fact that this sin, every sin has already been paid for.
“Mercy triumphs over judgment.” It is true, all because of Jesus. Jesus triumphs over judgment, Jesus triumphs over sin, Jesus triumphs over death and Jesus has triumphed over the grave. I am praying for our church. I am praying for our community, that it would be a place where mercy clearly leads, where mercy clearly stands and where mercy clearly wins. The battle is no longer to find mercy, it is to believe it. I ask one final question today, how would your family, your community, your life change if you lived every day to see mercy triumph over judgment? In my life I believe I know what would change, I believe that salvation would come near and that Jesus’ blood would transform us all. That is the victory I want to see, that is the life I want to live. I am determined to live a life that sees every person as one in need of mercy and every sin as defeated by the cross. I believe today more than ever that “mercy triumphs over judgment.”