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Sermon illustrations

Mercy

Being Merciful with Ourselves

We need silence in our lives. We even desire it. But when we enter into silence we encounter a lot of inner noises, often so disturbing that a busy and distracting life seems preferable to a time of silence. Two disturbing “noises” present themselves quickly in our silence: the noise of lust and the noise of anger. Lust reveals our many unsatisfied needs, anger our many unresolved relationships. But lust and anger are very hard to face.

What are we to do? Jesus says, “Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). Sacrifice here means “offering up,” “cutting out,” “burning away,” or “killing.” We shouldn’t do that with our lust and anger. It simply won’t work. But we can be merciful toward our own noisy selves and turn these enemies into friends.

Henri Nouwen

The Debt Must Be Paid

Mercy goes beyond justice, it does not undercut it. If I forgive you the hundred dollar debt you owe me, that means I must use one hundred dollars of my own money to pay my creditors. I cannot really make you a hundred dollars richer without making myself hundred dollars poorer. If the debt is objectively real, it must be paid, and if it is my mercy that repays your debt, I must pay it. That is the reason why Christ had to die, why God could not simply say ‘forget it’. Instead he said ‘forgive it’ and meant that if we did not pay it, he had himself.

Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue. San Francisco, Ignatius Press. 1992, p.113f.

“I am Buying Your Soul”

One of the most powerful illustrations of grace and mercy in all of western literature has to be the great scene between Monseigneur Bienvenu and Jean Valjean in the stirring epic Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

Jean Valjean, having recently finished serving a long prison sentence for stealing bread (for his starving family), once again finds himself in desperate straits.

With nowhere to go on a rainy evening, he is offered shelter by the Monseigneur Bienvenu. With no money or work prospects, Valjean steals some silver from the parsonage, only to be caught by the local authorities.

Valjean is dragged back to the Monseigneur’s residence to be confronted for his wrongdoing. But instead of confirming the crime, Bienvenu sees the unfortunate event as an opportunity.

It is, with no exaggeration necessary, the opportunity to either condemn a life or to save one.

Employing distinctly atonement language, Bienvenue chooses the latter, and says to the stunned Valjean,

“Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man….Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”

Stuart Strachan Jr, Source Material from Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, Everyman’s Library, Alfred A. Knopf.

God’s Inexhaustible Mercies

One of the stunning realities of the Christian life is that in a world where everything is in some state of decay, God’s mercies never grow old. They never run out. They never are ill timed. They never dry up. They never grow weak. They never get weary. They never fail to meet the need. They never disappoint. They never, ever fail, because they really are new every morning.

Formfitted for the challenges, disappointments, sufferings, temptations, and struggles with sin within and without are the mercies of our Lord. Sometimes they are: Awe-inspiring mercies Rebuking mercies Strengthening mercies Hope-giving mercies Heart-exposing mercies Rescuing mercies Transforming mercies Forgiving mercies Provision-making mercies Uncomfortable mercies Glory-revealing mercies Truth-illumining mercies Courage-giving mercies.

Taken from New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp, © 2014. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

Kissing a Leper

Francis of Assisi was riding a horse down the road that went by a leper hospital situated far from Assisi, for then, as in biblical times, lepers were a rejected lot. Francis was not yet the saint of history; he was still caught between the lure of wealth and glory and the life of discipleship. As he rode along, he was absorbed in his thoughts.

Suddenly the horse jerked to the side of the road. With difficulty Francis pulled him back on course, but as Francis looked up, he recoiled at the sight of a leper in the middle of the road. He was a grey specter with stained face and shaved head, dressed in gray sackcloth. He did not speak and showed no sign of moving or of getting out of the way. He looked at the horseman fixedly, strangely, with an acute and penetrating gaze.

An instant that seemed an eternity passed. Slowly Francis dismounted, went to the man, and took his hand. It was a poor emaciated hand, bloodstained and cold like that of a corpse. Francis pressed the hand and brought it to his lips. As he kissed the lacerated flesh of the creature, who was the most abject, the most hated, the most scorned of all human beings, he was flooded with a wave of emotion that shut out everything around him.

That was an early step in Francis’s conversion, which took many months. But it taught him that following Christ may require doing some things that repulse us. What Francis didn’t know then was that something greater was prompting him, allowing him to do that which, humanly speaking, he was incapable of doing.

Taken from Arnoldo Fortini, Francis of Assisi, Crossroad Publishing.

Mercy and Minivans

My husband, Jeff, is an excellent driver. He has never had an accident, excepting two incidents in high school which hardly bear mentioning— Several years ago, I was driving across town to get to a speaking engagement during Friday rush hour traffic. Having waited three cycles to make a left turn at a busy intersection, I accelerated through a yellow light and continued on my way. A couple of weeks later a ticket came in the mail with photo evidence of my depravity. I had run the red light. Justice dictated that it would take two hundred dollars to clear my good name.

Or so I thought. Let’s just say we didn’t have an extra two hundred dollars lying around, and my embarrassment over the whole thing caused me to stall on paying the ticket. Jeff noticed that the deadline to pay was upon me and gave me a gentle reminder.

I was leaving town, and he generously agreed to get online and handle the payment. That’s when he discovered that it was not, in fact, my good name that was at stake, but his. Because the car I was driving was registered to him, my ticket had been put on his driving record—his excellent driving record.

His response? “It’s taken care of.” Mercy. He paid my ticket without grumbling, and my guilt was assigned to his record. In the eyes of the great state of Texas, the demands of justice had been met, albeit by another. I did not receive what I deserved, but Jeff did in my place.

Jen Wilkin, In His Image, Crossway.

A Messenger of the Divine Mercy

In a series of sermons for the Lenten season, pastor and author John H. Baumgaertner shares one of the greatest moments that can ever happen to a pastor, though, in truth it is available to all who have experienced the joy that comes from receiving God’s grace:

Every Christian minister from time to time is visited in the privacy of his study by some person who is completely crushed by a guilt that the despairing individual believes to be beyond forgiveness. And it is precisely then that a pastor is most grateful for the privilege of being what he is by the grace of God. A messenger of the divine mercy, a spokesman for the suffering Son of God. For he can say something like this “Let’s forget about you for the moment and talk about Jesus.

It’s because He came that I’m here, and I know it’s because of Him that you came to me. And you’re right. He has something He wants to say to you through me. He is saying to you, i came to make it possible for you and for anyone to find forgiveness in the love of the Father. That’s why He sent Me. He wanted Me to take the burden of your guilt on Myself.

He wanted Me to share your whole life that you might share Mine. I’ve done that. I’ve lived for you, and I’ve died for you. And I’ve been raised from the dead, and I’m living now to tell you that My Father loves you that much. And ai/ We ask of you is the willingness to believe that, to accept it We want you to know the joy of a penitent heart that has found forgiveness. We want you to live the changed and the radiant life of one who knows what it means to be born anew.

Taken from John H. Baumgaertner, The Bitter Road: A Lenten Journey with the Suffering Christ from Bethlehem to Calvary and the Garden, Concordia Publishing House, 1969, pp.19-20.

My Jesus Mercy

Al Capone, the most notorious gangster in American History, had these three words etched on his tombstone: “My Jesus Mercy”

Brian Loritts, Saving the Saved: How Jesus Saves Us from Try-Harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love, Zondervan Publishing.

New Mercies Each Day

One of the stunning realities of the Christian life is that in a world where everything is in some state of decay, God’s mercies never grow old. They never run out. They never are ill timed. They never dry up. They never grow weak. They never get weary. They never fail to meet the need. They never disappoint.

They never, ever fail, because they really are new every morning. Form-fitted for the challenges, disappointments, sufferings, temptations, and struggles with sin within and without are the mercies of our Lord.

Sometimes they are:

Awe-inspiring mercies

Rebuking mercies

Strengthening mercies

Hope-giving mercies

Heart-exposing mercies

Rescuing mercies

Transforming mercies

Forgiving mercies

Provision-making mercies

Uncomfortable mercies

Glory-revealing mercies

Truth-illumining mercies

Courage-giving mercies.

Paul David Tripp, New Morning, New Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotion, Crossway.

True Healing Occurs When…

Paradoxically…healing means moving from your pain to the pain…When you keep focusing on the specific circumstances of your pain, you easily become angry, resentful, and even vindictive. You are inclined to do something about the externals of your pain in order to relieve it; this explains why you often seek revenge.

But real healing comes from realizing that your own particular pain is a share of humanity’s pain. That realization allows you to forgive your enemies and enter into a truly compassionate life. Every time you can shift your attention away from the external situation that caused your pain and focus on the pain of humanity in which you participate, your suffering becomes easier to bear. It becomes a “light burden” and an “easy yoke” (Matthew 11:30).

The Essential Henri Nouwen, Shambhala, 2009, 54.

What A Return to God’s Mercy Really Meant

Rembrandt painted the picture of the prodigal son between 1665 and 1667, at the end of his life. As a young painter, he was popular in Amsterdam and successful with commissions to do portraits of all the important people of his day. He was known as arrogant and argumentative, but he participated in the circles of the very rich in society. Gradually, however, his life began to deteriorate:

First he lost a son,

then he lost his first daughter,

then he lost his second daughter,

then he lost his wife.

Then the woman he lived with ended up in a mental hospital,

then he married a second woman who died.

It was a man who experienced immense loneliness in his life that painted this picture. As he lived his overwhelming losses and died many personal deaths, Rembrandt could have become a most bitter, angry, resentful person. Instead he became the one who was finally able to paint one of the most intimate paintings of all time—The Return of the Prodigal Son. This is not the painting he was able to paint when he was young and successful.

No, he was only able to paint the mercy of a blind father when he had lost everything; all of his children but one, two of his wives, all his money, and his good name and popularity. Only after that was he able to paint the mercy of a blind father when he had lost everything: all of his children but one, two of his wives, all his money, and his good name and popularity.

Only after that was he able to paint this picture, and he painted it from a place in himself that knew what God’s mercy was. Somehow his loss and suffering emptied him out to receive fully and deeply the mercy of God. When Vincent van Gogh saw this painting he said, “You can only paint this painting when you have died many deaths.” Rembrandt could do it only because he had died so many deaths that he finally knew what the return to God’s mercy really meant.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Doubleday, 2009.

 

See also Illustrations on ForgivenessGraceJudgingLegalism

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Mercy. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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