October 27, 2019

Oh, Mercy Me!
Hebrews 4:14-16

I wish you could have known my grandmother. She grew up about 50 miles from here, just across the Clinch Mountains in Rose Hill, Virginia. She was one of the kindest, most loving people I’ve ever known.

Grandma had a lot of quaint sayings and we grandkids would often get amused at the way she’d express herself. One day, she saw a man jogging down the road in front of her house and she said, “Lawdy me, that man sure do like to jock. In fact, he jocks just about every day.”

One of the phrases Grandma used quite often was the phrase, “Oh, mercy me.” She’d use that phrase to describe just about anything that was unpleasant. If she burned the turkey in the oven she’d open the oven door and say, “Oh mercy me, I burnt the turkey.” If one of us grandkids broke a dish or spilled something on the floor she’d look at the mess and say, “Oh, mercy me. We’re going to have to clean that up.”

She also used the phrase when really bad things happened. If she learned about a neighbor’s death or a friend’s illness she’d put her head in her hand and say, “Oh, me. Oh, mercy me.”

As a child, I never thought much about the meaning of “mercy.” I just thought it was one of those words grandmothers used. But as I’ve grown older, the word “mercy” has come to mean much more.

What is mercy? Defined in the dictionary, Mercy is: Alleviation of distress; relief. Isn’t that what you and I need so often? Alleviation of distress. Something to bring relief from our pain. Yes, as we face the many difficulties of life, there isn’t anything we need much more than mercy.

How do we get this mercy? How can we get this relief from our pain, this alleviation of distress? I think we find a clue in today’s text, Hebrews 4:14-16.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

In today’s text we hear the word “mercy.” Verse 16 invites us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, so that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Yes, the Bible says mercy is available to all who seek it. It’s relief provided by Christ, not because we deserve it, but because he loves us and cares for us.

How does this mercy work? What does Jesus do to give us relief from our pain?

Before I explain what Jesus offers, let me explain what he does NOT offer. Jesus’ mercy does not offer an instant miracle fix to every problem.

I get so weary of folks who say, “If you’ll just come to Jesus and have enough faith, God will perform a miracle and your problem will go away.” I’ve got news for you, folks. That’s just not true.

If that were true, Peter and John would have never spent a night in prison. Stephen would have never been stoned to death and the apostle Paul would have never lost much of his eyesight. These were people of great faith, but the mercy of their faith didn’t include an instant fix to their every problem.

And then there’s a second thing that Jesus’ mercy does not include. Jesus’ mercy does not include an answer to all of our questions. So often, when we go through the agonies of life we seek answers. We ask, “Why is this happening to me? Why won’t God stop this?”

Sometimes, we preachers try to make you feel better by giving you simple, God-talk answers, but when those answers are tested in the crucible of life’s experience, most of them just don’t hold up. So if you’re looking for mercy in the form instant miracles or answered questions, you’re going to be disappointed, because Jesus’ mercy does not promise a solution to every problem or an answer to every question.

Then what is offered in the mercy of Jesus? How does Jesus give us relief from our suffering and distress? The answer is found in verse 15. The verse tells us that Jesus “empathizes with our weaknesses.”

The Greek word for “empathize” is interesting. It’s really a combination of two Greek words; the word “pathos” which means “suffer” and the prefix “en” which means “along beside of.”

So how does Jesus bring us mercy, he suffers along beside us. When we hurt, he hurts. When we cry, he cries.

In fact, the writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is not some far away priest who is oblivious to our suffering. Jesus is very familiar with suffering because he has suffered in ways neither you nor I could imagine.

Even though we face immense physical pain, our worst physical pain cannot compare to Jesus’ suffering on the cross.

Even though we face unbearable grief, our grief cannot compare to the losses Jesus endured.

Even though we experience terrible disappointment, our worst disappointment cannot compare to the disappointment Jesus experienced when his closest friends deserted him in his hour of need.

Even though we suffer great humiliation, our worst humiliation cannot compare to the Son of God hanging naked on a cross.

And even though we face great injustice, our worst injustice can never compare to the injustice Jesus experience on the day of his death.

That’s why the writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus empathizes with us because he knows what it means to suffer; and when we suffer he suffers right along with us.

One of the TV shows Pat and I watch on a regular basis is the show, The Good Doctor. It’s a hospital drama about a young surgical resident who is autistic.

In last week’s episode, the doctors discovered that one of their patients lacked the ability to feel pain. Obviously, this was problematic because pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong; and if you can’t feel pain, you can’t know when something is hurting you.

But the show’s plot took an interesting twist when you realized the patient’s biggest problem was not physical. It was marital. When the husband discovered his wife could feel no pain he realized she couldn’t feel his pain either. And if his wife could not feel his pain he wondered if they had a real relationship at all.

You know, that’s the way we get through our pain isn’t it. When we’ve got somebody who hurts along beside us it doesn’t take our pain away, but in some mysterious way, that mercy makes our pain bearable.

I don’t know about you, but I hurt when my wife hurts, and I hurt when my children hurt. And yes, I hurt when many of you hurt, and while my suffering does not make the pain go away, it does provide mercy, a measure of relief to help get through those times of pain.

And so it is with Christ. He brings us mercy because he hurts along beside of us and in some mysterious way; his suffering helps us bear the pain.

Several years ago I was in an accident. Among other injuries, I cracked my skull and suffered a concussion. For several months I suffered “post-concussion syndrome.”

While post-concussion syndrome is not serious, it can be awfully disturbing. Its major symptoms include sudden disorientation and lapses of memory. For about 3 months, I had episodes where my mind just wouldn’t work at all.

I’ll never forget what happened one night about a month after the accident. I was back in church moderating a business meeting. While I still felt a little shaky, everything went as planned; at least it did until I got to the end of the business session. When it was time to conclude the meeting, I couldn’t remember how to do it. So I just stood there and hoped someone would come to my aid. Thankfully, a man in the congregation said, “Preacher, would you like me to entertain a motion for adjournment,” and as soon as he spoke I remembered how to conclude the meeting.

After the meeting I retreated to my office, scared to death. I was terrified at what had just happened. Never before had I stood in front of a congregation without the power to think. I’d felt so helpless, so ignorant, so out of place. I began to wonder if I’d be that way the rest of my life. Finally, overcome with fear and desperation, I broke into tears.

Just as I did, I heard a knock at my door. It was my friend Betty. She had come back to check on me. Several years earlier, Betty had been in an automobile accident and spent several months recuperating from serious head injuries.

The first thing she said as she looked at my tears was “Gene, it’s ok. I can feel what you feel. I know what it feels like to ask your brain to function and have it say no. It’ll scare you to death. But I also know it doesn’t last forever. You will be ok, and I will hang in there with you until you are.”

Almost instantly, I felt a sense of relief. Betty had not changed my situation, but she had brought to me what I needed most. She had brought to me mercy, mercy on the wings of her empathizing experience. And that mercy was enough to alleviate my distress.

That’s what Jesus offers us today. He offers his empathetic mercy. He offers the experience of his pain to help us get through ours.

There’s an old African American spiritual that reminds us of the mercy we find when Jesus walks with us through our pain and our trials. It goes like this:

I want Jesus to walk with me. I want Jesus to walk with me.
All along my pilgrim journey, Lord I want Jesus to walk with me.
In my trials, Lord walk with me. In my trials, Lord walk with me.
When my heart is almost breaking, Lord I want Jesus to walk with me.
When I’m in trouble, Lord walk with me. When I’m in trouble, Lord walk with me.
When my head is bowed in sorrow, Lord I want Jesus to walk with me.

Yes, when Jesus walks with us, it doesn’t take away all our pain, nor does it give us all the answers, but it does give us mercy, mercy and grace in our time of need.

Oh, Mercy me. Oh, Mercy me. Jesus Christ is mercy for me.