Mercy and Forgiveness
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were three pious Jewish youths who were thrown into a fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. We remember that they had refused to bow down to the king’s image as told in the Book of Daniel. God preserved them from harm. The king looked into the furnace and saw four men walking in the flames, the fourth like “a son of god”. The following is part of their prayer to God from within the flames:
In our day we have no ruler, or prophet, or leader,
no burnt-offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense,
no place to make an offering before you and to find mercy.
Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted,
as though it were with burnt-offerings of rams and bulls,
or with tens of thousands of fat lambs;
such may our sacrifice be in your sight today,
and may we unreservedly follow you,
for no shame will come to those who trust in you. (Song of the Three Young Men 15-17)
Israel was in exile. It was no longer possible to offer burnt offerings to God. Offerings were a way for the Israelites to acknowledge their sin-fullness before God – a way of approaching him great humility and thankfulness for his mercy. What is significant is that these young men approached God without any burnt offerings and he accepted their prayer. Without God’s help they would have burnt up themselves.
King David’s psalm speaks about the best way we can all approach God.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)
God is full of mercy and abounding in steadfast love. Nevertheless, how we approach God is all important. It is a matter of our faith, but also a matter of our heart. God takes sin very seriously. Israel was asked by God to make sacrifices to him, but nothing that we do can compare to the sacrifice that God made to us. He has given us his only begotten Son to die on a cross for our sins.
We remember the parable that Jesus told about the wicked slave who, once forgiven a debt my his master, turned around and was unforgiving to his fellow slaves. It concludes this way:
Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:32-35)
We will certainly never be able to pay our debt to God. Jesus has paid our debt for us. What is our attitude towards God for so great a sacrifice? Do we have a grateful heart? If so, then how do we demonstrate that heart in our love for God and our neighbors?