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Monday, January 09, 2006

Mercy defined: "You have punished us less than our iniquities deserved."

I was struck this evening by this portion of Ezra's prayer to God upon discovering that the remnant in exile had sinned by intermarrying with the peoples of the various pagan nations:
And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? O Lord the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.
What greater description of God's mercy can there be but this? Even though he lived before the coming of Christ, Ezra knew mercy when he saw it. He knew the patience of God. And when he learned of God's people sinning in spite of the full mercy of God, it brought him great grief. He never once questioned the justice of God in punishing sinners but rightly saw that anything less than complete and total destruction was "less than our iniquities deserved."

I think of J.C. Ryle's commentary on John 13 when he wrote that God's love is in one sense even more amazing toward the redeemed than the lost. He reflected Christ's immense patience with the continued sins of those who've been shown mercy, as opposed to those who've never experienced it. How often we redeemed forget the mercies of God and reveal our ungrateful hearts.

It is my hope that I may have something of Ezra's heart-brokenness at my own sin especially in light of the cross, where surely God has "punished us less than our iniquities deserve" by laying that punishment on His own beloved Son. May I set myself daily at the foot of the cross in wonder at His mercies and strive to live a holy life not out of a desire to justify myself but as a response of worship of the mercies of my risen Savior:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)