Scripture Reading: Matthew 17:1-27, Matthew 18:1-35, 1 Kings 8:10-13, Jeremiah 23:1-4
“Lord,” he said, “have mercy.”
This was the plea of a father made on behalf of his demon-possessed son. It is a request we have all cried out at one time or another, in different languages and circumstances. In big and small ways, we are constantly asking for mercy from the Lord and from each other.
Give us more time!
Help us find her!
Don’t lay me down for a nap!
(And as the years pass…) Please, just let me rest!
When Jesus healed the demon-possessed boy, His disciples gathered around to understand why they’d been unable to work the miracle themselves.
“Because of your little faith,” he told them. “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed… nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).
The disciples were unable to give this man and his son the mercy they needed because their own faith was so small. While the disciples couldn’t heal the boy or cast out the demon, Jesus could. In fact, earlier in this chapter, the mere radiance of His glory sent them falling to the ground in terror (v. 5). Indeed, Jesus is set apart by His glory.
Although there are certainly other times in Scripture when the disciples were able to perform miracles, this case is especially interesting because the man specifically asked for mercy, and the disciples were unable to give it. Later, in chapter 18, Jesus shared the parable of a servant who owes his master a huge sum—a sum so huge that he would need several lifetimes to pay it back. But then that servant turns around and finds somebody who owes him a couple of nickels, and starts choking him to give back his money (vv. 23-28).
Although we don’t literally put our hands around the throats of those who owe us something, we do choke others with our lack of mercy and forgiveness. There is a great chasm of difference between God’s mercy and ours, between God’s faithfulness and our faithlessness, between God’s glory and our need. Jesus’ parable forces me to look at the truth: Even when I actually want to be merciful and forgiving, in my own strength, my best efforts prove my ability to forgive is forever lacking.
The vastness of God’s never-ending mercy shows us our need for forgiveness is enormous. Grasping that need is the first step to understanding the gospel.
It’s difficult to remember mercy when someone hurts us. Some of us have been hurt so badly it feels like everything is ruined, that nothing can restore what’s been taken from us. The very thought of the offense can fill us with fear and loathing. But we do well to remember this: In order to forgive us, Christ had to die for us. He took the curse that we brought to Him and gave up everything, so He could give us mercy (Galatians 3:13). This is staggering.
True forgiveness costs everything. But God loves us so much, He freely gave everything. While this passage does remind us that we are like the unforgiving slave, the bigger truth here is that God is our compassionate Master, and He piles love and forgiveness on us all.
The gospel is true! God’s great love and mercy for us are greater than all our sins.