RPM, Volume 17, Number 38, September 13 to September 19, 2015

Covenant Mercy

Luke 1:71-73

By D. Marion Clark


Let's review what God's Word taught us last Sunday. God is a keeper of his promises. He is a covenant keeper. He promised to send a Redeemer to save his people, and he did. And because he kept his first promise, we can trust him to keep his other promise to send our Lord one final time. The scripture we learned this from was Luke 1:67-70, the beginning of Zechariah's prophesy. This prophesy concerns the coming of the Messiah, for whom his son John will prepare the way. He next highlights the element of mercy that such a deliverance entails.


71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;

The "horn of salvation" whom the Lord is raising will save his covenant people. From whom? Their enemies who hate them. This is one unfortunate constant for the Jews, that they always have more than their share of enemies. Rarely, since the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, were they in a position where they could feel secure from enemies. Zechariah's line could have been said at any time in Israel's history. For his time, he would have thought of the Romans, but also Israel's neighbors.

Think of Israel as in the same circumstance as Yugoslavia when under communist dictatorship. Communism meant harsh control, but it also preserved peace. Once the authoritarian power was removed, the ethnic populations turned against each other. As hard as it may have been to be under the control of Rome, at least the empire preserved peace between old enemies. For the Jews, there certainly was more than one enemy.

Zechariah then refers to this deliverance as an act of mercy.

72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham…

God is sending a Redeemer, not because the people has shown themselves to be worthy, but because their Lord is merciful. This appeal to God's mercy is integral to calling on the Lord for help.

6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities (Psalm 103:6-10).

Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! (Psalm 25:6-7).

As good as they might try to be, they knew that mercy is what they must put their hope in. They could look to mercy because of the covenant that God had made with their father Abraham to bless him and his descendants, which was then reaffirmed with Isaac and Jacob. This promise for mercy based on the covenant was etched into the Jewish mind by their first great redeemer, Moses.

After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites came to the river Jordon ready to cross over into the Promised Land. Moses would not join them. God was about to call him to his heavenly rest. He gathered the people together to give his final instructions. In his speech he told them,

I must die in this land; I must not go over the Jordan. But you shall go over and take possession of that good land. 23 Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

25 "When you father children and children's children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27 And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. 28 And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. 29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. 31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.

That is the promise Moses left his people. God is merciful. He will not forget the covenant made with their fathers — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Zechariah the priest, now stands over his son John, who would be known as "the Baptist," and he declares that God has kept his promise to be merciful.


Let us this morning also attest to the mercy of God. Under the old covenant, Moses made a promise to the Lord's people that their God would not forsake them. Even though they may reject him, he would turn their hearts back to him and save them. Do we possess the same promise? Listen to our Redeemer, Jesus:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one (John 10:27-30).

Jesus is not going to forget us. He is not going to let us go. Why? Because his very death was a means of making a new covenant for us: Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance... (Hebrews 9:15). The new covenant that Christ made on our behalf is an even better covenant than the one made through Moses.

Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.
8 For he finds fault with them when he says:
"Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more" (Hebrews 8:6-13).

This is the mercy that God has shown us: that he has made a new covenant through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, his Son. No longer must we offer up sacrifices to atone for our sins, for he made the one sacrifice that is sufficient for all sins (cf. Hebrews 10:11-14). No longer must we be burdened with law keeping, hoping that we do a good enough job to be considered righteous enough for God. For Christ has become our righteousness; by his righteousness, his good works we are saved (cf. Romans 3:22; 1 Corinthians 1:30). Through faith in Christ we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9).

God's mercy is magnified in us because of who we were. Listen to the Word in Ephesians 2:11-13:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

God did not owe us anything. When Moses promised that God would be merciful and not forget his covenant, he certainly did not have us in mind. We were outsiders; we had no claim to the "covenants of promise," no hope. But God, who is rich in mercy called us who were far off into his kingdom.

Why did he call us? Because we proved ourselves worthy of inclusion? Listen again to the Word:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

Why has salvation come to us? Mercy. No other reason. No commitments were made to us; we had nothing to show for ourselves. God owed us nothing.

Consider the cost of this mercy. We were ransomed from our sins with the "precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18-19). God did not merely wave his hand and excuse our sins. There was only one means by which he might remove our guilt and remain just — to place the judgment on one who was willing, who was without sin himself, and who was able to bear the multitude sins of the world upon himself. Thus Christmas — the birth of the Son of God as the Son of Man, the incarnation.

Have you grasped this mercy? Luke tells us the story of a man who, for all his good religious character, had yet to know it for himself. He sought to honor God through obedience to his laws. He studied the scriptures. He considered himself a man who properly feared God, who respected God's holiness, and even acknowledged God's mercy. His name was Simon, a Pharisee, a Jew who belonged to a society whose purpose was to turn the hearts of the Jews to a proper adherence to the covenant.

Simon once invited Jesus into his home for dinner. During the meal, an embarrassing incident occurred. A woman Luke refers to as a "sinner," most likely referring to loose morals, enters the room, and goes over to Jesus. As in the custom of that day, Jesus is reclining on a cot facing the table and his feet away from it. She is weeping; she lets the tears fall on his feet and then actually wipes them with her hair. His feet are dirty; we know that because Simon had forgotten to extend to Jesus the common courtesy of providing him with water to wash off the dust from the street. She then anoints his feet with an expensive ointment. What is going on? She is a sinner who has come to terms with her sins; a woman broken by her guilt who is turning to the one person she believes has the power and the mercy to save her. And she is doing the best she can come up with. It certainly is not proper etiquette, but she wants to honor Jesus as best she knows how. She is even willing to enter into a place she knows she would not be welcomed to get to the one person she believes would give her welcome.

Who knows what she knew. Maybe she had only heard about Jesus; perhaps she had seen him perform his miracles, or she was among the crowds who heard him preach. Maybe one of her friends had been among the guests at the party that Matthew had held for Jesus. Unlike at Simon's house, the dinner table seated "tax collectors and sinners." Perhaps she was told what Jesus said when he was questioned about it:

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:12-13).

Whatever she knew before, she certainly found when she came to Jesus that he was one who extended mercy. For he received her repentance and faith, and pronounced forgiveness to her.

Simon? He thought Jesus must have not known what kind of woman she was. It did not occur to him that a godly man, certainly not a minister, would allow such a sinner to touch him. What was the difference between Simon and the woman? That Simon was good and needed little mercy, while the woman needed much? The difference was that Simon thought he was good, while the woman knew she wasn't. Thus, he could not relate to her experience of conviction and of receiving mercy.

There is another Simon in the New Testament, known as Simon the Magician. When Philip came to Samaria and preached the gospel, Simon responded because he was impressed with the signs Philip could perform. He was bowled over when Peter and John arrived and brought with them the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Simon was impressed with power; what he doesn't seem to have known, however, was conviction of his sin and the mercy found in Christ.

So many people are like these Simons. They are good people; successful people. They like religion or spirituality; they like churches that exude success. They follow the Christian faith because it is attractive or it seems the right thing to do. They go through the motions, as did the two Simons, never really knowing the Savior because they do not know their desperate condition.

It is a grace of God to be granted conviction of sin. People caught up in flagrant immoral sins are just as likely to justify themselves as those who are upstanding, moral citizens. It is an act of mercy for the Holy Spirit to break our hearts over our sinful hearts, to be filled with shame and remorse. It is an act of mercy, because then we can experience the greatest experience to know — God's mercy found in Jesus Christ.

There is another Simon in the New Testament. Jesus renamed him Peter. This Simon loved Jesus. He left everything to follow him. He loved Jesus so much that he promised to die with him if need be. This Simon failed miserably. Not only did he fail to keep his promise, he even denied knowing his Lord. Then Simon wept for his sin. He didn't weep for his bad luck. He didn't weep over the tough circumstance that he was placed in; he wept over his sin.

We may have enemies who are out to get us. Certainly Satan is one. We may face tough experiences, seemingly beyond our control, that make our behavior understandable. But understand that the real enemy from whom we need deliverance is our own sinful nature. He is the most pernicious, the most subtle, the enemy that loathes to let us go. If we know how terrible he is, then we can start to know how blessed, how wonderful is the mercy of our Lord to forgive us, to redeem us, to make us his.

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