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To begin our meditation today I’d like to direct your attention to a passage that isn’t part of our sermon reading, or any of our other readings for today either. This passage is found in First Peter chapter 1, verse 12. It says…
“It was revealed to [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12 NIV).
Angels are so ethereal and mysterious to us that sometimes we forget that they are creatures. The Bible tells us that they are immensely powerful, but they are still being created by God. And as such, their powers and abilities aren’t unlimited. The angels who remained faithful to God are indeed sinless and holy, but they are still LEARNING about the great God who made them.
The angels know God all-powerful. They witnessed the creative power of the LORD when he put the universe in order. The angels know the LORD is utterly just. They stood at his side when Satan and his crew were cast out of heaven. The angels know God is all-knowing. Over the course of human history they have seen his prophecies come true, and have even carried some of these prophecies to mankind as his messengers.
But of all the things that cause the angels to praise God, it seems that the LORD’s MERCY is most amazing to them. They long to look into human history to see what God is doing to reclaim the fallen race of man.
There are, no doubt, many things that the angels could teach us about the LORD. But WE are actually in a better position to teach THEM about the LORD’s mercy—for we have experienced THAT first hand.
The story of God’s interaction with mankind is, above all, a story of mercy.
For the past eight weeks we’ve been getting to know one of the major characters in the Old Testament—king David. We’ve learned a lot about David and his time in history. We’ve seen how he was a sinner, just like us, prone to horrible sins and foolish actions. We’ve seen that the story of the LORD’s interaction with David is, above all, a story of God’s mercy.
David was just a shepherd boy. The youngest of his brothers. But the LORD took him from shepherding the flocks of his father, and made him the shepherd over the people of Israel.
When David sinned, for example, in committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband Uriah, the LORD responded with righteous rebuke, but also, with mercy and forgiveness.
Today as we look one more time into the life of David, we will again see the LORD’s mercy in action.
David was getting along in years by the time of our sermon reading for today. As an older man, David was beginning to lose the vigor and strength he once knew. Once a mighty warrior in Saul’s army, and a conquering king on his own throne, David had now been banned from the battlefield.
During a battle with the Philistines king David had nearly been killed. Only the quick sword of Abishai saved the king. And from that point on the men swore that David would never again take to the battlefield with them. They would not risk losing their king.
This must have been hard for David to take, but he listened to his men.
Perhaps it was David’s growing frailty that opened the door to temptation. We all know from experience that when we’re tired, or hungry, or weak in some other way, temptation can easily find a foothold in our lives.
Here is what happened to David.
1 Chronicles 21:1-19 (NIV)
21:1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.”
3 But Joab replied, “May the Lord multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?”
4 The king’s word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. 5 Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah.
6 But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him. 7 This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.
8 Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”
9 The Lord said to Gad, David’s seer, 10 “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’ ”
11 So Gad went to David and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Take your choice: 12 three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel.’ Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”
13 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”
14 So the Lord sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead. 15 And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the Lord saw it and relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
16 David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown.
17 David said to God, “Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I, the shepherd, have sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Lord my God, let your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people.”
18 Then the angel of the Lord ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 19 So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the Lord.
Once again we see that great king David, was just a man. Just a human being, corrupt and sinful just like you and me. Earlier in life David didn’t go around counting up the fighting men to see how strong Israel was. As a young man, when David faced Goliath, he rightly proclaimed,
“…it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:47 NIV).
But now things had changed, and David was counting men. Even Joab, David’s general, could see that this census wasn’t right. But David wouldn’t listen. Temptation had taken hold.
As is the case so often, when the deed was done, David’s conscience gripped him tightly. And in sad repentance, David confessed his sin to God.
Though a sinner, king David was a man after God’s own heart. When he perceived his sin, he repented and looked to God for forgiveness.
In this case, the LORD did a remarkable thing. He let David choose his own rebuke. Through the prophet Gad, David was given a choice, 1) Three years of famine, 2) Three months of enemy pursuit by the sword, or 3) Three days of plague from the LORD’s own hand.
David was in deep distress when this decision fell on him. And in the crucible of this pressure to choose, David’s faith in the LORD shines out brightly. All the tragedies and hardships that David had ever faced in life had taught him one thing: It was far better to fall into the hands of the LORD, than to fall into the hands of sinful men. For from men comes sin, and pain, and suffering. But from the LORD comes mercy. David’s words of response are worth hearing again, they are his confession of faith.
“Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands” (1 Chronicles 21:13 NIV).
Of all the things David had learned in life, this was the most valuable pearl of wisdom. With the LORD there is mercy. I pray that God would bless us all with this conviction before we exit this world: I will trust in the LORD, for his mercy is very great.
David’s sin of counting the fighting men of Israel had its consequences. Horrible consequences chosen by David himself. 70,000 men died. But still, those consequences were limited. And when the angel of the LORD stood ready to strike the city of Jerusalem down, the LORD stayed his hand.
We find the same thing happening in our own lives. Our sins have consequences. Sometimes those consequences are horrible, and chosen by no one else but ourselves.But the LORD’s rebuke is limited, whereas his mercy is unending.
Our sins bring suffering into our lives, but that suffering will only last for a time. The LORD has promised that all who trust in his Son Jesus will one day emerge from the sin infected world of suffering to see the glory of the LORD.
The LORD’s mercy is very great. He responds to our sins, with forgiveness. And even when his rebuke comes, it only comes for a time. But his mercy WILL endure forever.
In the book of Revelation the apostle John saw a wonderful vision depicting the future glory of God’s people. John wrote…
“21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV).
The LORD’s mercy on sinful mankind is very great. And we who know of forgiveness through the Son of God have begun to experience that mercy. And in the future God has promised that we shall know his mercy even better.
But let’s rewind for just a moment. Back to David. Back to Jerusalem under the upraised arm of God’s destroying angel. For there’s something we don’t want to overlook here. Something that shows us how the LORD’s can be a just God, punishing evil fully, and yet also a God who shows mercy.
When David saw the angel of the LORD standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand, poised to deliver one last blow, he fell facedown to the ground and prayed to the LORD. In verse 17 David prays,
“Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I, the shepherd, have sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? LORD my God, let your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people” (1 Chronicles 21:17 NIV).
David had experienced a lifetime o f the LORD’s mercy. And in his interaction with the true God, David had begun to take on the LORD’s character. Only in small ways, but it was true just the same. The image of holiness that Adam and Eve had lost in the garden was being restored bit by bit in David. Here we see godly compassion in David, and the desire to take the fall for others. To ease their suffering. To save them from death. By God’s mercy, David was modeling Christ’s attitude.
“…LORD my God, let your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people” (1 Chronicles 21:17 NIV).
And God answered David’s prayer in the most remarkable way. About a thousand years later, God’s hand did indeed fall on David’s family. On one single descendant from his family. A thousand years after this prayer, the full cup of wrath over the sins of ALL mankind was poured out on JESUS OF NAZARETH while he hung crucified on a Roman cross. And when the darkness was over, the hell which David, and Israel, and all of us deserved—was gone. Absorbed by the Son of Man, and the Son of God—Christ the King.
That’s why we can rejoice today. The LORD’s mercy is VERY GREAT. And because of Christ, the record of our sins has been swallowed up and lost forever.
No wonder the angels long to look into what the LORD is doing for mankind. What story could be more amazing, more important, more inspiring, more powerful, or more exciting?
Perhaps one day we’ll get to share our story with angels. Perhaps we’ll get to see their eyes grow wide with excitement and awe as we tell it.
But for now, there are others who need to hear this story. Countless others around us. People who have been taught that Jesus is just a great moral teacher, a bringer of laws. People who have been taught that Jesus is just a weak symbol of charity, a long haired hippie who liked to help the poor. These people need what we have. They need the truth of what Jesus really means. He is the physical embodiment of God’s mercy. He is the Mediator who stood between us and the hammer of God. He is our Savior, and theirs! He is the only way to truly know the God who made us all, and he is the only way to escape God’s final judgment.
In ancient days, the prophets wrote about him. Long ago, the apostles walked beside him. And today, we know him as our great Savior—through which we have come to know and possess the mercy of God. The angels long to look into these things. God help us to cherish this knowledge, this saving faith. And God give us the fire to make these things known today.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds, in Christ Jesus.