Justice: The Cost of Mercy?

As I look back through the first ten chapters of Hebrews three different but related themes stand out. First is the fact that Jesus is greater than all the prophets, and second is that He is our high priest, interceding and sacrificing for us. Finally, we learn that Jesus paid the penalty for sin, once for all. In short, the first ten chapters of Hebrews depict Jesus as the fulfillment of the law, mercifully taking on the sin of the world.

But I wonder if we can read through these chapters and misconstrue who Jesus is, because there is a temptation, even a tendency to make Jesus one-dimensional. Deliberately or not, we sometimes cling to mercy without acknowledging why we need it. Yes, we sometimes live in denial of our own sin, but we also live in denial of the fact that God is just.

As adults we may not think about justice that much, or talk about it explicitly, but we are born with a longing for it. My boys remind me of this roughly 25 times a day by proclaiming “that’s not fair.” And when we take time to reflect on it, we quickly see how vitally important justice is — in fact, it’s imperative for a free society. If someone were to physically harm your family, how would you feel if the judge, knowing that they were guilty, decided to be “merciful” and set them free without penalty. Bear in mind it is never yours to avenge, not if you are a Christ-follower. So it’d be pretty upsetting, wouldn’t it? Mercy to that violent criminal would cost you something. It would cost you justice.

But this is not how it works in the Kingdom of God. Yes, you are forgiven. Yes, the Judge is merciful. But justice is done. The price is paid. Jesus pays it. But how often do we forget that? How often do we fail to acknowledge the cost of mercy? Michael Ramsden, a speaker for RZIM, said that only in the Christian faith does God exercise mercy through justice. In other religions, mercy is exercised at the expense of justice. Do you see how even the simplest vignette illustrates this? If we take just a moment to reflect on it, we see that we do not want mercy at the expense of justice. We have a longing, an unquenchable thirst for both justice and mercy. But we only find them together in one place: Calvary.

The song “Jesus You are Worthy” by Brenton Brown and Don Williams beautifully conveys this truth. Here are the lyrics:

Jesus You are mercy
Jesus You are justice
Jesus You are worthy
That is what You are
You died alone to save me
You rose so You could raise me
You did this all to make me
A chosen child of God

Worthy is the Lamb that once was slain
To receive all glory, pow’r, and praise
For with Your blood You purchased us for God
Jesus You are worthy. That is what You are

Perfect sacrifce crushed by God for us
Bearing in Your hurt all that I deserve
Misjudged for my misdeeds, You suffered silently
The only guiltless man in all of history

Jesus You are worthy. That is what You are
Jesus You are worthy. That is what You are

Justice and Mercy. Justice and Mercy.
Meet at the Cross.

Justice and Mercy. Justice and Mercy.
Meet at the Cross.

Copyright © 2005 Thankyou Music/PRS

(adm. by worshiptogether.com Songs exc. the UK and Europe which is adm. by Kingsway Music)

You may be wondering how all this ties in to Hebrews 10. But I believe it does, because Hebrews 10:26-31 is a reminder, a pretty graphic reminder, not to forget that mercy has a cost, that mercy is through justice, not in spite of it.

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

This week may we remember that mercy comes at a price, that our God is a God of justice, and that we wouldn’t want it any other way. And may we be filled with gratitude that justice and mercy did indeed meet on the Cross.

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