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This is what Jesus tells the religious authorities when they criticize him for partying with sinners. I would say that this verse is the most important verse in the Bible for Christians and a summary of the gospel that we need to hear every day. Everything that God teaches us and commands of us is for the sake of mercy. Christian discipleship is this: receiving God’s mercy so that we can become God’s mercy for the world.
Now it’s important to tap into the biblical meaning of the word mercy, because the American pop-evangelical church has turned Christian salvation into a tacky afterlife insurance product. Mercy is not reducible to being forgiven for doing something wrong. That can be part of it. But mercy is also rescuing someone who is helpless and being crushed by their enemies, whether or not they did anything wrong.
Bible - Hebrew - Word - Sense - God
In the Bible, the Hebrew word hesed is usually used in this sense of pleading with God to show the Israelites “mercy” by rescuing them from their enemies. What hesed literally means is kinship love or what the King James Bible translates as “loving-kindness.” Hesed is the fierce, protective love that parents have for their children. To receive hesed from someone means that you are treated like family.
So when God shows mercy to sinners, it’s not so much that he’s deciding not to collect payment on a debt that we owe him. It’s more that he’s rescuing us from an enemy who is crushing us. God rescues us by becoming the sacrifice for our sins through Jesus’ crucifixion that proves he’s not holding our sin over us (Romans 5:8). It’s not that God needs Jesus’ blood sacrifice in order to forgive us; it’s that we need someone to take the weight of our sin in order to receive...
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