It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. - Romans 9:16
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Again and again, as he walked the streets of ancient Palestine, the distressed, the bereaved, the disabled would cry out for his mercy. Ten lepers on the way to Jerusalem: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13). Two blind men in Galilee: “Have mercy on us, Son of David” (Matthew 9:27). A Canaanite woman with a demon-oppressed daughter: “Have mercy on me, O Lord” (Matthew 15:22). The distraught father of a seizure-wracked son: “Lord, have mercy on my son” (Matthew 17:15). And perhaps most memorable of all, a blind man named Bartimaeus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47–48; Luke 18:38–39).
Of all the requests made of the Son of God in the Gospels, as he walked among us in human flesh and blood, the cry for his mercy is most prominent.
If you want to know who God really is, if you want to peek into his heart, it is not the display of his just wrath and cosmic power to which you should look. Rather, set your eye on his mercy, without minimizing the fullness of his might, and take in the life-changing panorama.
Many of us today are prone, by nature and nurture, to see God’s mercy as peripheral or incidental to who he is. We suspect that perhaps he shows mercy by accident or weakness. But if we let the Scriptures have their say, we will see that when God shows his mercy, he does so with utter intentionality and strength, and we as his creatures get our deepest glimpse of who he is not just in his sovereignty but in his goodness. Not simply in his greatness but in his gentleness. Not only in his towering might but also in his surprising tenderness.
But God’s mercy not only shows us who he is; it also tells us something essential about ourselves. That we have been shown mercy means not only that we didn’t deserve his favor, but that we deserved his righteous hammer against the anvil of justice. By rights, we should be under his impending wrath, like all mankind (Ephesians 2:3) — but oh for “the tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:78).
In the fullness of time, God sent his own Son not simply to dispense his mercy, but to embody it. Jesus is the Mercy of God made human. He didn’t just teach his people to echo God’s mercy in their lives (Matthew 5:7; 18:33; Luke 6:36; Luke 10:37), but he himself was, and is, the mercy of God to us. Fittingly, the distressed in the streets cried out again and again to him, “Have mercy on me!”— which is precisely what he did in his perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection.
The apostle Paul, who received his ministry because of God’s mercy (1 Corinthians 7:25; 2 Corinthians 4:1; 1 Timothy 1:13, 16), became the instrument of the decisive revelation. What Moses first saw at Sinai, and King David fell on in Psalm 51, and Jeremiah wept for after the destruction of Jerusalem, Paul saw on the other side of Christ, and he marveled. In all the Bible, Paul gives us the clearest vantage into, as Romans 9:16 says, the God “who has mercy” — literally, the mercy-having God.
Romans 9:22–23 give us the deepest glimpse into God’s heart, and what we find at bottom is mercy. Paul puts it in the form of a question, not because he’s unsure of the truth, but for rhetorical effect, because it is awesome and sobering to contemplate.
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?
Make no mistake: God does make known his omnipotence. And he does show his righteous wrath. He is holy. To not demonstrate wrath in a world of sin and rebellion against him would be untrue to himself and unloving to his people. But wrath is not his heart. Severity in God always serves his heart of mercy — to make known the riches of his glory to his people, who are the vessels of his mercy.
Our God is not simply sovereign, wonderful as it is to celebrate. And he is not only a God of uncompromising justice, thankful as we are that he is. He is the mercy-having God who invites us not only to look at his awesome authority and sovereign strength, but to set our eyes on his mercy and see into his very heart.
Entrust yourself to the God who has mercy. And cry with the ten lepers, with two blind men, with the Canaanite woman, with a distraught father, and with blind Bartimaeus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
It’s a cry he delights to hear and answer.