Based on: Exodus 33:12-23
Have you ever played marbles? You know, the actual game where you put marbles in a circle and you and your opponent try to hit the marbles out of the circle. The game certainly isn’t as popular as it once was. It seems that it used to be the case that as you collected marbles you would see marbles of many different colors and patterns. You would pick and choose the ones you like best. Today, if you go to Wal-Mart and buy a package of marbles every single marble in that package is identical.
That’s how it is with this world. When God looks at all of humanity he sees sinner after sinner after sinner, he sees that we all equally deserve his wrath. Yet, out of the huge pile of identical human marbles God has chosen you and me. You are one of God’s marbles. This was entirely by God’s choice and it was only by his mercy and compassion.
And as we read the first lesson for today didn’t that question that Moses asked strike you as a rather bold? Moses said to God, “Now show me your glory.” You might think it is bold to go up to a NASCAR driver and say, "Hey, let me drive your car around the track a few laps." Or telling Bill Gates to put you in his will might be bold, but here Moses is talking to God. Moses is talking to the one who is responsible for every breath of air that Moses takes in to his lungs. What is even more amazing than Moses’ boldness is God’s mercy and compassion. God does what Moses asks him to do. God shows Moses as much as he is able to handle.
And as God is about to pass in front of Moses he says, “I will proclaim my name, the Lord.” Remember when God first called Moses to rescue the Israelites this is the name that Moses was to tell the Israelites when they asked who sent Moses. In your NIV bibles it is the word Lord in all capital letters and it means simply, “I am.” Here God tells us a little bit more about what that name means. He says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
What does this tell us about God? “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” First, it tells us that it is God’s choice on whom he will have mercy and compassion. While it is true that God has given each one of us a very unique set of traits and abilities, when it comes to our status before God we are all sinners. We are all the same. There is no such thing as being more of a sinner or less of a sinner, we all equally deserve God’s punishment. There is nothing in any of us that causes God to pick us over someone else. It was entirely God’s choice to reach into the pile of identical sinners and pull out you and to pull out me so that he could show us his mercy and compassion.
If it is God’s choice then it is not our choice. We have no right to say to God, “Why is that person in the church?” or to think less of someone or look down on them. The same is true for outreach. Now as we talk about outreach, let me mention that there may be in the near future some funds and resources available to us to help us with outreach. There is a possibility that Pastor Tim Flunker will come to St. John’s for a week in September. Pastor Flunker specializes in outreach to Hispanic communities and he will help us develop a a plan for outreach. The money to pay for him to come is provided by WELS Kingdom Workers.
As we apply what God says here to outreach when people come through those doors we realize that every marble is the same. There is no one on this earth who is more deserving or less deserving of hearing the gospel than someone else. I know that not everyone is able to go door-to-door and share the Gospel with people who may be strangers, but all of us can recognize that every single person we meet is another person for whom Christ died. We can let that knowledge influence the way we speak to them and treat them.
The question may come up, “What about those whom God did not choose?” We need to be careful here. God makes it clear that he chose some people to whom he will show mercy and compassion. As a believer it is a comfort to know that I’ve been chosen by God. But God does not say that he chose some people for his wrath. He did not pick up some marbles so that he could destroy them. Instead, in other places of Scripture God says that he wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Both statements are true whether we understand it or not.
Let’s look again at God’s words describing himself, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” What else to these words tell us about God? It tells us that God is going to have mercy and compassion on those he has chosen.
That word mercy is closely connected to the word grace. It is help from God that we do not deserve and that we have not earned. It is like the guy whom you ridicule and tease and cut down every chance you get but who is the first one to come help you start your car when the battery dies. Mercy is God saying, “I am going to help these people even though they have done nothing to deserve it and can do nothing to repay me.”
Mercy is exactly how you would describe Jesus Christ coming to this earth to die in our place. We needed help. Because of our sin we earn God’s wrath. Really, God was under no obligation to help us. If we all ended up in hell we would have no valid complaint to offer. But in mercy God carried out his plan to forgive all our sins and to make us his children and to give us a place in his house forever. That is mercy.
Compassion is similar but not exactly the same. Compassion is a deep love for someone who is helpless. Perhaps the best example we have here on this earth is the love a mother has for her helpless infant. In fact, the Hebrew word translated as compassion is related to a Hebrew word for a mother’s womb. When we talk about God’s compassion we are talking about a love that God has for us even though there is nothing in us worthy of God’s love. It was his decision to love helpless and unlovable sinners.
If mercy describes God’s act of saving helpless people then compassion describes his motivation. In the Gospels Jesus is described as having compassion. Mark records that Jesus had compassion on the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd. That compassion moved him to the crowd, to share with them the good news and lead them is only the good shepherd could. It is only God’s choice to love mankind that would move him to punish his Son for our sins and through that make us his children.
Finally, one last thing we will draw from this statement that God’s makes, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” When God says he will do something, it is as good as done. It has happened and it will continue to happen. God does have mercy and compassion on you. He has chosen you to be more than just a marble that it puts in his marble bag – he has chosen you to be his child for all eternity.