The big idea of Mercy Season
Mercy Season is the time of year to discover what debt Jesus paid off for us (a death sentence), what new debt he laid onto us (a debt of gratitude), and how our actions as "mercy agents" fulfill the purpose he had when he made his sacrifice in the first place.
Here is the big idea, the Mercy Rhythm we focus on during Mercy Season:
God is carrying out a campaign to show his mercy to all of us, and the center of his campaign strategy is Jesus giving his life as a sacrifice for us. We deserved punishment, but we got a sacrifice instead. That is mercy.
The Bible is one long coherent story. The sad pattern repeated through most of this story is that humans disobey or ignore God, he punishes them, he shows mercy by giving them a second chance, and they fail again. They don't learn from judgment, or if they do learn anything, it doesn't last.
Jesus breaks that pattern. His mercy does not grant a second chance after punishment has been inflicted. It actually prevents the punishment from falling on us. He pays our fine. He serves our jail time. He even serves our death sentence.
Before Jesus, humanity had never seen mercy like that, not even from God. But in Jesus we get to see it. Mercy Season celebrates it. Jesus is our High Priest, and he presents his own blood as the sacrificial blood that offsets our punishment and grants us a pardon.
Of course, that isn't saying we didn't do anything wrong. We did, but we aren't going to pay for it unless we turn down the pardon.
Here is the other half of the big idea of Mercy Season:
God's campaign strategy for our era is to spread his mercy across the world through the people who have received it from Jesus. Those people forgive others and point them to Christ as the source of ultimate forgiveness.
When we accept Jesus's sacrifice on our behalf, it is exhilarating, and the deeper the hole we were in before, the more exhilarating it is to be lifted out of it. If you think you have done things so terrible that God could never forgive you, think again. They don't make sins that big. Sin is man-made. Jesus's sacrifice is God-made. The man-made thing cannot outweigh the God-made thing.
On the other hand, if you think you have been a pretty good person with just a few sins here and there, think again. The main thing God wants to know about you isn't the ratio of your good deeds to bad. It's whether you are a mercy agent on his team. Are you living in SYNC with his purpose to spread his mercy?
You might be thinking of God as a scorekeeper, like lots of people do. They think he has told humanity the rules of the game and now he is keeping a tally of our good acts and our bad ones. When our life is over, he will tell us what our total net score was and judge us accordingly.
Jesus laid down his life to kill that idea and replace it with the truth. God isn't in the scorekeeping business. He is on a mercy-spreading campaign. Anyone who joins his campaign team becomes a mercy spreader, a mercy agent. That's what the team is for--to fill the world with mercy, to show the world what it looks like and feels like.
Does that mean God has become soft-hearted and will go easy on evil? Does it mean the good news of Jesus is, "Hey, world! You can get away with anything now"? No, that is totally out of SYNC with Jesus's intentions when he made his sacrifice. He never intended his sacrifice as a permit to do evil. He was showing us mercy that would motivate us not to do evil any more and not to retaliate against people who do evil to us.
The grace period means punishment is postponed. We have time to get in SYNC with his mercy, to welcome it, to ponder it, to let it go to work on us and in us. As it does, it turns us into mercy agents. It SYNCs us with the Mercy Rhythm of heaven.
Our assignment now is to help make sure the whole world gets the memo about the pardon and the one condition God set for it--that we accept it authentically before the grace period runs out. One way to do this is to say to Jesus right now, "SYNC me!"
Bottom line of the big idea of Mercy Season:
We see ourselves in Christ as mercy agents, showing his mercy and urging people to take advantage of the grace period. We live in SYNC with Christ's intentions when he presented his own blood as a sacrifice in the Temple in heaven.
Our message as mercy agents is summed up in Romans 5.8: "God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death for us when we didn’t deserve it at all."
When you SYNC, when you See Yourself iN Christ as a mercy agent, you realize that what Jesus intended when he sacrificed himself is coming true in you. His mercy is solving your sin problem, taking over your life, and turning you into a forgiving person. You get connected, healed, and blessed. This is exactly what is supposed to happen during the grace period.
It is supposed to happen for everybody, but not everybody knows that yet. People are living as best they can without knowing what the mercy of Jesus looks like, how it works, and how you get it. If you know that mercy, your “cause” in life is to help everybody discover it. You are caught up in that cause, energized by it, and delighted every time you see even a small sign that the mercy is spreading.
If you don’t know that mercy but you do want a better world, please realize that is why God sent the mercy—to connect, heal, and bless the world. Nothing betters the world more or quicker than forgiveness, and there is no better source of transformative forgiveness than the self-sacrifice of Jesus. Why not join his campaign instead of starting your own or joining some other campaign that can't forgive like Jesus can?
Of course, to join his team, you have to get over your view (if it is your view) that karma is an iron law built into the universe, that we deserve whatever we get in life because of our previous good or bad acts, and nothing can change that. Jesus breaks that "iron law" for us, and opens up a whole new world of mercy.
The Big Idea in the flow of the biblical story
Here is the big picture, the flow of the story of the mercy of Jesus.
Everyone expected that the Messiah would come as an enforcer of God's law, showing no mercy to evil people (Isaiah 59.18-19)
Jesus announced (Luke 4.18-21) that he was fulfilling only the merciful part of the Messiah's mission (Isaiah 61.1-2a) not the violent part (Isaiah 61.2b)
That convinced the religious establishment that he could not be the real Messiah, which meant he deserved execution as a blasphemous fake.
He showed mercy by not using violence or putting a curse on those who took his life. In fact, he said they did not really "take" his life. He "laid it down" as a blood sacrifice, sealing our forgiveness. (John 10.18)
When we realize how he played his role in God's campaign, mercifully accepting the death penalty on our behalf, his wounds heal the scars of our souls. (Isaiah 53.5)
We turn into representatives or agents of this earthshaking mercy until he comes at the end of the grace period as the Enforcer, executing God's judgment on those who keep refusing to let his mercy work on them.
As mercy agents, we love to repeat the Mercy Declaration. It SYNCs us with the intentions Jesus had when he as our High Priest presented his own blood as our sacrifice. The Mercy Declaration connects us to the power of Jesus's blood, setting us free when justice would have killed us.
No wonder the cross is such a central Christian symbol. It is a mercy marker. We can't get enough of it. No wonder Jesus's suffering and death are thankfully celebrated in so many songs. In hindsight we see his execution was not a disaster but a God-send, a stupendous act of mercy.
If his sacrificial death happened as reported in all four gospels in the New Testament, our guilt before God is canceled. All that is left is for us to tell the whole world that their guilt can be canceled too. As fellow recipients of mercy, we can all enter an era of peace with God and each other. We are the wave of the future when the Messiah will return to spread his peace everywhere.
The Big Idea vs the Big Lie
If we get the Big Idea of Mercy Season, it protects us from the Big Lie, which is,
"What is wrong with the world is a few bad people and groups, and we good people ought to shame them, break their power, and make them pay for what they did."
This lie has some truth to it. Like bad apples, a very few bad people can spoil a lot of things for everybody. It is not good to tolerate that spoilage or pretend it is not serious. However, if "goodness" is about uniting the good people to punish the bad people, we are stuck with three nasty tendencies:
We "good people" accept no blame for any of the world's problems; they are 100% someone else's fault
When we make harsh judgments of others, we claim we are not being judgmental, only giving an appropriate response to intolerable evil
More and more we see life as an impersonal power struggle, and we get consumed by the fight we thought would help us.
If that is what “goodness” does to good people, isn’t it better not to be so “good”? Or at least if you are going to work to make the world a little better, don't get too caught up in your cause. The more involved you get, the more arrogant, judgmental, and impersonal you get, and who needs that? So billions of people either do not work for any cause or they only give a few dollars now and then.
All that is perfectly sensible if the Big Lie is the truth. But what if the Big Lie is a big lie? What if the real problem with the world is not a few bad people or groups? What if the real issue is the badness in all us “good” people?
What "badness" would that be?
The same badness that put Jesus on the cross in the first place--refusing to give him control of what we control, not honoring him as our King.
When we realize how that badness infects even the best of us, the Big Lie will never fool us again. That’s how evil loses control of the world. The lie is exposed. The "good" people own their share of the problem, accept God's mercy, and show mercy even to the "bad" people. The "bad" people also accept the mercy, and the "good" and the "bad" people unite as the "transformed-by-mercy" people. They are the people who see themselves in Christ.
Holidays and the Big Idea
Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), October 4-5, 2022
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was and is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, the 10th day of the 7th month (10 and 7 both symbolizing completeness). It was the only day when the High Priest would go into the inner sanctum of the Temple and renew the atoning blood on the Ark of the Covenant.
In the SYNC annual cycle, we celebrate the Day of Atonement in memory of the final sacrifice for our sin, which Jesus performed by presenting his own blood in the Temple in heaven (Hebrews 9.11-15). That was the game-changer in the relationship between humanity and God.
On our calendars in 2022, Yom Kippur is from sundown on October 4th to sundown on the 5th. Just another Tuesday night and Wednesday to most of us, but there is plenty to celebrate if we recognize this day as the pinnacle and the final day of Mercy Season.
From August 7th onward through Mercy Season, we prepare to celebrate the Day of Atonement by clearing our slate of all grudges, bitterness, and desire for revenge and by spreading the word that forgiveness is available through Christ. Only when we forgive others and live as agents of God's mercy are we able to celebrate Christ's atonement with integrity.
The mercy we celebrate on the Day of Atonement
Nothing distinguishes the world’s religions as sharply as forgiveness. Some say you must earn it; others say you can’t. Some say it involves a sacrifice and a priest; others say it does not. Some say it is crucial; others say it is unimportant or even unnecessary. But as far as I know, only one says it is handled exclusively by someone who is sitting down. “But our High Priest offered himself to God as one sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down at the place of highest honor at God’s right hand.” (Hebrews 10.12)
Our High Priest is seated because he does not have to get up to make sacrifices any more. He made atonement for us once, got it absolutely right, and it lasts forever. The value of his merciful sacrifice, the blood of a perfect person, more than offsets the staggering total weight of all the sins of all the billions of imperfect people who have ever lived and ever will.
At the moment Jesus died his sacrificial death, the thick heavy curtain separating the inner sanctum from the rest of the Jerusalem Temple was ripped from top to bottom. (Mark 15.38) By tearing the curtain, God was in effect “ripping his clothing,” a sign of grief according to Jewish custom. He was incredibly grieved that his chosen people kept up their sacrifices in the Temple as if to please him while at the same time they were accomplices in the Messiah’s crucifixion.
The torn curtain signaled that he would not take this hypocrisy any more. Its message was, in effect, “Tragedy! This holiest of holy places has had its day. No high priest ever needs to come in here again, and if any do come, they will not find me.”
So why was God not fighting mad when he left that holy place? We humans signed our own death warrant when we killed the King he had sent to earth. Why didn't God angrily enforce it on the spot? Why didn't he blow up the planet without leaving a trace? Or why didn't he send a plague that would wipe out humans but leave the rest of creation to carry on in peace without us?
None of those things happened because the Messiah had just made the perfect atonement for all sins, including the sin of those who got him crucified. After leaving the Temple in Jerusalem, God was not so much a “God on the loose” as a “God on the move.” He went on a mission of mercy not judgment.
He was coming out into the open, moving into a new earthly home that was much more accessible than the Temple's inner sanctum had ever been. His new home or “Temple” was a place purified by the atoning blood of the Messiah.
This “place” is actually a community: “We who believe are carefully joined together, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also joined together as part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2.21-22) Each of our bodies is also an individual “temple” of the Holy Spirit, which means that God remains “on the move,” “in the open,” plain for all to see. (1 Corinthians 6.19)
As Yom Kippur arrives, may every forgiven person on the planet celebrate the Messiah’s merciful atonement, and may every unforgiven person get a chance to hear about it and welcome it before the grace period runs out.
A prayer of welcome for the Day of Atonement
Our Father, welcome to your new Temple, our bodies and the Body of Christ. Thank you that through the Messiah’s sacrifice we were made holy enough for you to move in. Welcome!
An affirmation for the Day of Atonement
I will live as if God himself has moved into my body because that is what actually happened after my atonement was complete.