In Wrath Remember Mercy

(Manuscript basis of message preached to the congregation of Ikthus Bacolod on February 6, 2022. Please note that the actual sermon might vary from the contents of this manuscript.)

Habakkuk 1:12

Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof. (ESV)

Habakkuk 3:2 — Oh LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, Oh LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. (ESV)

(Habakkuk does not believe that God will destroy with finality and beyond recovery the people whom he has created for his own glory. “We shall not die.” That is why he later on prays, “In wrath, remember mercy.” There is mercy for God’s people even in times of wrath.)

We are trying to learn from the Book of Habakkuk about God’s attributes so as to strengthen our faith when we face the troubles of this life because the people who know their God shall stand firm (Dan. 11:31). We have learned that God is sovereign and that he is also sagacious or wise. Because he is wise he has a very good reason for everything he does. Last Sunday, we learned that one of the reasons he does anything is because he intends to display his glory by doing good to his people. Today, by God’s grace, we will be studying another wise and holy reason or purpose behind God’s actions, and that is —

He intends to demonstrate his mercy fully.

But we have to backtrack a bit before we go further and relate what we will be learning today with what we learned last Sunday. We learned that the primary reason God does anything is: He intends to display his glory by doing good to his people. But if God’s glory is bound up with the good of his people, it follows that he must show mercy towards them if only for the reason that without his mercy they will end up in destruction. Why? Because we are sinners (see Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23).

Psalm 130:3–4

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (ESV)

There is however something we must clear up first before we proceed: What is the difference between mercy and grace?

Mercy is God withholding from us what we so richly deserve (his wrath) and grace is God giving to us what we do not deserve at all (salvation). Obviously, these two concepts do overlap and sometimes the distinction between them is blurred. But strictly speaking, mercy is concerned with our miserable state, while grace is concerned with our guilty state. In the Bible, mercy is sometimes translated as kindness, goodness, or lovingkindness and the like.

Going back to the connection between today’s message and last Sunday’s: If God, for the sake of his own glory, causes all things to work together for good towards his people, and if such good must include showing mercy to us (for without mercy we will perish in our sins), it follows that ultimately all his acts towards us, his people, are acts of mercy, even when they appear wrathful for the moment.

The Christian poet William Cowper puts it beautifully:

There is mercy in every place, And mercy, encouraging thought! Gives even affliction a grace And reconciles man to his lot.

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev’ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

Psalm 25:10

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

(In the KJV, this is translated as, “All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.”)

Psalm 23:6 (KJV)

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

We will be taking up three things this morning:

  1. Do not despair of God’s mercies because they are plentiful.
  2. Do not despise God’s mercies because they are his prerogative.
  3. Delight in God’s mercies even when they are paradoxical.

1. DO NOT DESPAIR OF GOD’S MERCIES BECAUSE THEY ARE PLENTIFUL. 

His mercies are plentiful.

Psalm 130:7 (KJV)

Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.

Psalm 103:8–14 (KJV)

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.

10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.

14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.

Exodus 34:5–7a

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin … (ESV)

In the final analysis, his mercies towards us are in and through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:3–5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (ESV)

Therefore let us not despair.

Isaiah 55:7–9

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Psalm 25:10–11 (ESV)

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love [mercy] and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great. (ESV) 

What a strange argument!

If you are still inclined to despair, remember the example of Paul.

1 Timothy 1:12–16

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (ESV)

2. DO NOT DESPISE GOD’S MERCIES BECAUSE THEY ARE HIS PREROGATIVE. 

God is merciful, but his mercies are supposed to lead us to repentance.

Romans 2:4 – Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

We must learn to strike the proper balance.

Exodus 34:5–7

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (ESV)

God is merciful, that is true. But if we are to avail of God’s mercy, we must repent!

Luke 13:1–5

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (ESV)

Mark 1:14–15

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (ESV)

“I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:21)

We make the mistake of thinking that we are entitled to God’s mercies. In a sense, that is true – if we repent! But even the, if ever God has promised to  show mercy to the repentant, it is only because God has chosen to be gracious to the undeserving and not because he owes anyone anything. Mercy is God’s prerogative.

Exodus 33:18–29

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (ESV)

“… God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment,” (1 Peter 2:4).

3. DELIGHT IN GOD’S MERCIES, EVEN WHEN THEY ARE PARADOXICAL.

“In wrath, remember mercy,” prays Habakkuk. And indeed God does. In fact, paradoxically, the way God shows mercy is through wrath.

I believe the best example of this in the OT is Job:

James 5:11

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (ESV)

Although our trials are often painful, it is in the end a great mercy to go through them because it is through our trials and tribulations that our character is conformed to the image of Christ, which is the great good that God intends to accomplish in our lives.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29)

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).

For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. (Hebrews 12:10)

It pleases God to see his holy image (of which Christ is the perfect representation) faithfully imprinted in the lives of his children and towards that end he tries us and chastises us.

CONCLUSION

The best example of God remembering mercy while showing wrath was in the case of Jesus Christ on the cross. The cross was actually a demonstration of the greatness of God’s wrath against our sins. But at the same time, the death of Jesus Christ was the greatest demonstration of God’s love towards us .

Isaiah 53:4–6

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (ESV)

Romans 5:8–9

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (ESV)

God poured out his wrath on his Son, exhausting all of it upon our substitute and Savior on the cross, that there may be no longer any wrath or condemnation left for all of us who have put our faith in Jesus! “There is therefore no condemnation – no more wrath! – for those who are in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1)

It was in the midst of the greatest wrath of all, that God worked out the greatest mercy of all! That is why it can be truly said, “In the cross of Christ the Righteous Wrath of God and the Marvelous Mercy of God paradoxically and wonderfully met and kissed each other.”

Let us pray …

Oh Lord, thank you that in the midst of wrath you remembered mercy. Help us to know your mercy in the cross of Christ. In the midst of this pandemic, help us to flee to him who absorbed the eternal wrath that was meant for us so that we might obtain the riches of your mercy and your grace forevermore. All for your glory! In Jesus’ precious name, amen.

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