Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:16
Why did I find mercy? Why does anyone find mercy? Was there something I did that granted me this privilege or this skill to find mercy? The King James Version says that there was this cause or reason that Paul obtained mercy. How do I find it? How do I obtain it? I mean, doesn’t everyone want mercy from You? What does it have to do with this “pisteuo,” this believing stuff? Are they tied in together and how?
In Matthew 15, the Lord shares this story of this Canaanite woman that comes seeking You, Jesus. She came crying out to You, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” Did this Canaanite outsider find the same mercy that Paul found and that each of us can find? Now, I want to start with this woman because she knew she was an outsider to the Jews and to their “beliefs.” But it didn’t stop her. She had heard about You, Jesus, and she knew and was demonstrating that she believed that You were the Son of David, the Jewish Messiah. It’s like she’s saying, “Lord, I know who You are. And I know who I am. I am nothing but an outcast, an outsider. But I need You desperately. I need You as my Messiah. I’m excluded from help unless You have pity on me.”
“Lord, I see You. I’ve heard about You. I’ve heard what You’ve done. Will You have mercy and see me? Will You give me value in Your eyes now that I see Your value?” Is this what real mercy looks like? How deep does mercy go? See, both Paul and Matthew use the Greek word “eleeo” for mercy. But the Greek idea and Your teaching about mercy are way different. The Greek idea has to do with emotions when we see someone who is undergoing undeserved suffering. It throws us for a loop I suppose because we realize that we have no control. I mean, when someone conducts particular actions that warrant, so to speak, their consequences, that’s different, that makes sense, that’s controllable. But stuff that comes that isn’t warranted by someone’s prior actions? That’s scary to know that bad stuff can happen to me without warning or reason. So we “feel” mercy for those kinds of things and people in them. But that’s not Your mercy.
In the Old Testament, mercy is different. It’s an “obligation of a covenant promise. The stronger party shows mercy to the weaker party. That means giving help to one who is in need. Mercy is a reflection of God’s help toward His people. Mercy demonstrates God’s love for His own creation. God loved us before He made promises to us. In fact, His help toward us did not depend on our keeping the terms of the promise. God desired to rain His love and compassion on us when we needed it most, after we have broken our relationship with Him, while we were outsiders.” (Skip Moen) Does that ring a bell? Was the Canaanite woman the only outsider? Wasn’t Paul an outsider because of his rebelious attitude toward God? Aren’t we all outsiders until that moment of need and surrender to You?
Mercy is meeting that need of the other in love in action. It’s deeper than a feeling. It’s when my hand moves to reach out to your hand and meet your need. It’s when I step in and get personally involved. It’s true strength because it comes from Your strength. You demonstrated it most in the way that You were powerful enough to forgive us and set us free from Your wrath and yet not compromise Your Law. How? Through Jesus at the cross.
Eleeo has everything to do with sacrifice. It’s about making choices for someone else’s good. It’s not about my soul being disturbed. It’s about acting selflessly to meet a need. I have to meet the uncontrollable. You put it there for a reason, Lord. I need to see my real status before You and before Your court of law. I need to see my need for You to be You in my life, my need for You as my personal Creator and Judge. Whether I see it or not, You are. But to see that and know that and accept that will change everything in my life, just like it did for the Canaanite woman and for Paul. But if You are sovereign, as You are, then You can use these “uncontrollable” circumstances in Your mercy and glory. I can find You in the situations I wanted to avoid before.
I wonder if this woman was in essence asking You, Lord, for sacrifice? Didn’t she want more than sympathy? She didn’t just want You to feel for her pain. She wanted You to give something of Yourself, maybe even to sacrifice being Messiah of Your people, to be her Messiah, and to see her as one of Your creations worth loving and caring for. And was that so out of character for her to ask that of You?
If anyone ever knew how to sacrifice themself for others, it is You. You are the Supreme Example of mercy. What about the cost of Your going to the cross for her and each of us? God, giving up His position and rights as God, to be treated as an enemy of God, to receive the punishment from God, that the enemies of God should receive. I can’t imagine the severity and the depth of that experience as You died on the cross and received the wrath of God that was intended for every man and woman and child who has or will ever live. And it cost You, God, in the loss of Your Son for people whether they appreciated that loss or not. How many of us would sacrifice so greatly for those who would spit on us with contempt. Mercy costs. Mercy costs greatly. You paid the greatest price ever.
“O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.” (Matthew 15:28) But faith is trusting that You will and You can offer that kind of sacrificial mercy that is needed and that You are the only One who can. The Canaanite clung to You. She wasn’t leaving of her own accord. She would be content to eat Your scraps if that’s all she could get because even a morsel of Your mercy would meet her needs. Even a morsel of You would be a beginning of You in her life. I mean, she was coming from a life where You were not a part of her life at all, and now, here she was, crying out to You in desperation. Just drop that morsel of You, Lord, and she would have a piece of You for the first time. She would finally be connected, even if she was inside Your house as one of the dogs. At least she would finally be inside Your house.
Why do You show us mercy? Why have You sacrificed for us? Paul, continues, so that, You, Jesus, would show “forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting.” What in the world is this “longsuffering” stuff? It’s the Greek word “makrothumia.” But it’s not about our idea of patience. It’s not about me and my response, but about God’s response, and specifically Your response to postpone judgment with a view toward repentance. So the Canaanite and Paul and you and I, get to demonstrate God’s mercy in our lives when we share how He has freed us from His judgment through our faith in Christ. My repentance and change of heart and life, my change of attitude toward You and my desperation for You and Your will in my life, become a pattern to others who can see and be drawn to believe. And it’s all because of what You have shown to us and done in and for us in Your death and resurrection life. Isn’t Paul’s life an example to all those that read and hear about him? Isn’t this Canaanite woman’s life an example? Isn’t she teaching me how I need to come to You and what believing looks like and acts like and how it depends entirely on You? And shouldn’t my life and words be an example like that, a pattern of what believing in You is?
Paul and the Canaanite woman saw something that I’ve seen, that we all need to see, if we haven’t yet. You are the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, and Yours is the honor and glory for ever and ever. (1 Timothy 1:17) They saw that and attached their lives to You in that truth. I believe that. I’ve seen that. I see it more and more every day. And I want to keep seeing and believing more and more every day. Lord, You are immeasurable, and forever won’t be long enough to search to the end of You, because You have no end. Paul and the Canaanite woman decided to fall into the hands of God. That’s what I want too. It’s doesn’t remove hardship from my life. But it let’s it be under Your control. I want to learn like David that it’s better to fall into the hand of the Lord than into the hand of man. Why? Because even when I am in a great “strait,” Your mercies are great. (2 Samuel 24:14)