When I worked as an agent of the court, I often would hear the term, "Throw yourself on the mercy of the court." Most often, this would be the approach of someone who knew they were guilty of the crime and was looking at the maximum sentence. They didn't have any defense for their actions and they knew they were guilty. Their hope was the court would see some value in their situation and would be merciful, resulting in a reduced sentence of time or expense. The new year gives us a chance for a restart in the way we think and act. Why not start the new year Mercy-full?
Napoleon Bonaparte (August 15, 1769 – May 5, 1821) was a French commander and emperor during the Revolutionary Wars of Europe (1789-1799) and is considered one of the most controversial leaders of that era. Recently, I heard a touching story about a mother who approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son who had been captured by his army. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice, and justice demanded death. “But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.” “But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied. “Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.” “Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son. (Luis Palau, “Experiencing God’’s Forgiveness“, Multnomah Press, 1984)
Why is it so difficult for us to ask for mercy? Because, we know we did the deed and we deserve the consequences. This makes it hard to believe anyone would pardon our behaviors and let us off the hook. So, we stand accused by our knowledge of the truth, and accept the consequences never even asking for mercy. We suffer unnecessarily rather than humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness from those we've hurt.
Sometimes, we are the only ones who know what our offenses are. We practice them in darkness where no one can see. We look over our shoulder are we dive into deceit, deception, and disgrace, only to rise with a soiled soul covered in the filth of our failures. The temptations of the flesh that drives us to do the unheard of, despicable, and detestable results in self-condemnation and unrelenting guilt and shame. Sometimes the one we need to receive grace from is ourselves.
You don't deserve or earn mercy. You don't demand it either. You can't buy it, work it off, or repay mercy. Mercy is a gift someone gives you. It is offered because of the character of the one who gives it, not the one who receives it. Only those who have power over you can award you mercy. When you fail to take responsibility over your life choices you give away the power to ask for and receive mercy. It takes courage to ask for mercy because it means accepting you have no power to change your circumstances. You are guilty. You deserve the punishment.
This is the sticking point; if you never ask for mercy, forgiveness, or grace, you'll be certain not to receive it. But, if you ask for mercy, for grace, apologize for the wrongs you've done, and change your ways (repent), then you'll be more likely to suffer less consequences in the future.
God is the ultimate judge in this world and we are all condemned to death, even while we live in sin, failing and falling short of perfection, and we are guilty of everything we do. We cannot avoid death, but we can live in faith that ensures us of grace and mercy...if we but ask for it. We must throw ourselves upon the mercy of the ultimate court. We must confess our sins, of which we have many. We must be humble in acknowledging our failure and ask for help in correcting our flaws. When we do this, God is faithful and merciful and will pardon our wrongs and award us with eternal life. Not because of who we are, but because of who he is.
4 "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,
5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions
—it is by grace you have been saved."