************ Sermon on James 2:13b ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 12, 2006
"Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment"
I One Tiny Sin
A The words of James 2:10 are about the strongest in the entire Bible:
(James 2:10) For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.Ouch, I say to myself. That hurts.
How many sins have you already committed today? Perhaps this morning before worship you exchanged words with your spouse. Maybe you yelled unnecessarily at the kids. Maybe you showed disrespect to your parents. Maybe you told a lie already today. All of these are considered small sins. Yet, "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it."
We break the whole law every time we sin. If you commit adultery, you are breaking the whole law. If you murder, you are breaking the whole law. If you favor one group of people over another, you are breaking the whole law. If you fail to love your neighbor, if you hate your brother, you are breaking the whole law. If you fail to show mercy and to give forgiveness, you are breaking the whole law. The words of verse 10 let us know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we do not deserve a place in heaven if we commit even one small, little sin.
Many people go through life on a "comparison" basis. They compare themselves to other people and find that they really don't appear so bad. Compared to drug dealers, members of the Mafia, murderers, child molesters, spouse abusers, thieves, pornographers, prostitutes, and terrorists, they think they do not appear so bad after all. Compared to the thieves who broke into five homes in my neighborhood last night, they do not appear so bad. In the minds of these people, they are not really so bad. If you were to put their deeds on a balance scale, with good deeds on the one side and bad deeds on the other, the good would certainly outweigh the bad. Sure, they might commit a little sin once in a while: they might do something mean and nasty, or they might have evil thoughts about other people. But, they reason, what's so bad about a little sin when there is so much more that is good in our lives?
That's how they look at themselves. That's how they hope God looks at themselves.
These people see God as a kind of "comparison shopper." They like to think that God fills heaven on the basis of comparison shopping, that God shops around for the best possible value when it comes to peopling heaven. At least, that is how they would populate heaven if they were in charge. They want to believe that God picks people who aren't as bad as others. They want to believe that God picks people in whom the good outweighs the bad.
B Do you know what those who play the comparison game are doing? They are underestimating their sin and overestimating their good.
First, those who play the comparison game tend to under-estimate their sin. They don't think they really do anything bad enough to require saving. They don't think of themselves as being lost in sin and headed to hell. Yes, they might lie once in a while to the boss or to the wife or to their parents, but it is only a little white lie. Yes, they might take things from work or school, but they are only taking things that won't really be missed. Yes, they might look at some mild pornography once in a while, but that is not as bad as going to a strip club. They might goof off at work once in a while, but no boss can expect them to put in 100% all the time. They might have an argument with their wife and exchange harsh words, but they have never beat her up. Their sins aren't really so bad, are they? There are thousands upon thousands who think this way; there are thousands upon thousands who don't want to think that they are sinners headed straight for hell unless they know the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, those who play the comparison game tend to over-estimate their good. I hear it all the time: "I am basically a good person." The people who tell me this point to the good they do:
-give money to the Red Cross or Salvation Army
-plant trees on "Make a Difference Day"
-coach little league or softball
-show up for jury duty
-faithfully visit their elderly parents
-follow a good neighbor policy
It is wonderful that in God's providence they do things like this. But is it enough to save them? Of course not! Their good must be perfect. Their obedience must be perfect. They must keep the royal law found in Scripture. James mentions just one part of the royal law: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (James 2:8). But there are other royal laws as well, prime among them being, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Mt 22:37f).
I bet Pilate thought of himself as being basically a good person when he sentenced Jesus to death. After all, he did release Barabbas, the political prisoner the crowd wanted him to release. I bet King Herod thought he was basically a good person because he rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem – even though he did slaughter the baby boys of Bethlehem and some of his own family members. I bet King Jeroboam thought he was basically a good person when he built a golden calf at Dan and Bethel – after all, he used the same ceremonies and hours of prayer as was used at the Temple in Jerusalem and saved his people from making the long and tiring trip to Jerusalem.
How good are you, congregation? Where would you put yourself on a scale of 1-10? The measure of your goodness, I think you all realize, depends upon the standard you use. When we measure our goodness against rapists, murderers, child molesters, terrorists, thieves, and abusers then we may think we are looking good. But we are using the wrong measure. Measured against God and Christ and even the holiest of men our goodness is not so good. Measured against what James calls the royal law found in Scripture, our goodness is not so good.
Of course, it isn't only lost-in-sin man that does this. There are modern churches that specialize in underestimating sin and overestimating good. Their members prefer it this way. One man said, "Every other church talks about sin. This one doesn't." One woman said, "I don't want to leave feeling bad about myself; I want to leave feeling good." Do you hear the common refrain?
If we are honest we have to admit that many times we do the same thing. We tend to underestimate our sin and overestimate our good too. Sometimes we who are Christians can deny we have any sin left in us or can think we are wholly sanctified, pure, and righteous.
C As we take the Lord's Supper we need to face reality. What is reality? Reality is that even the smallest of sins is enough to label us as a lawbreaker in the eyes of God. Don't forget what James says:
(James 2:10) For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.Reality is that none of us are good enough for heaven. Reality is that all of us are more than bad enough for hell. Reality is that God wants to populate heaven, He wants to fill heaven, not with lawbreakers but with law keepers. God wants heaven filled only with those who have kept His holy and righteous law. The holy God has no place in His holy heaven for sinners. He has no place for people like you and me. That's reality.
As you eat and drink, face the reality of the sin and evil in your life – that it is worse than you think. As you eat and drink, face the reality of your goodness – that it is not as good as you think. As you eat and drink, realize you are a sinner who deserves to go to hell.
II Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment
A What hope is there for us, then? Every one of us has broken God's law. As the Apostle Paul says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). All of us deserve to be judged for our sins. And since "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23), there is no way any of us can escape the sentence of death for our sins.
B We have only one hope, and that is what James refers to in the words of our text: "Mercy triumphs over judgment." God is rich in mercy! He offers us a way of dealing with our sins so that we might enter His eternal kingdom. That way is by the blood of Jesus Christ. As Paul puts is, "The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:23). And, in Jesus Christ, not only are our sins forgiven, but we are also considered to have perfectly kept the law of God (see Rom 8:3-4). Christ's perfect life is credited to our account (Rom 4:1-8), and we are considered holy in God's sight.
When I think of this, I think of what David writes about God in Psalm 103:
(Ps 103:10-13) he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (11) For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; (12) as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (13) As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him ...If God were to treat us as we deserve, we would get judgment and everlasting hell fire. But God does not treat us as we deserve. Rather, He allows mercy to triumph over judgment.
"Mercy triumphs over judgment." Isn't that beautiful? Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that worth celebrating?
As you take the Lord's Supper, think about the mercy you get instead of the judgment you deserve. As you eat and drink, think of the blood of Christ that makes this possible.
III The Model for Us
This morning, out of gratitude to God, we are called to be like Him. God's mercy is the model we are to follow in our relationship with others. Like God, we are to show love and acceptance rather than judgment and hate. Like God, we are to let mercy triumph over judgment.
As you take the Lord's Supper I want you to think of how you can show mercy rather than judgment to those around you.
As you eat and drink, think of how "Mercy triumphs over judgment." Think of the judgment you deserve. Think of the mercy you get. Think of the mercy you can show.
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