daily biblical sermons


DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY AND THE TRUE BIBLICAL GOSPEL OF MERCY
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, Second Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2017
Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 117, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, ‘Peace be with you.' Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.' Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe'" (John 20:26-29).


Thomas, who doubted Jesus' Resurrection because he was not present when he appeared to the other apostles, is now present this time when the risen Jesus appears again to them, and seeing him, he believes.


Our believing in the risen Jesus without seeing him is based on the faith of his disciples who did see and eat with him after he had risen from the dead. But Jesus blesses those who, like us, believe without seeing, basing our faith on the eyewitness testimony of those who believed in him after actually seeing him risen from the dead.


It is of the greatest importance to believe in Jesus' resurrection from the dead. The gospel contains many miracles that Jesus worked, and it was written so that we might believe in him as the Messiah and Son of God, the Redeemer and Savior of the world. This belief is important because it grants us life in his name.


This belief is not irrational, but rather is based on massive eyewitness testimony of people who saw his miracles and who saw him risen from the dead.


And what does this faith in him give us? It gives us "life in his name" (John 20:31). "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:30-31).


Jesus came to give us eternal life, the life of God living in us, a life that is not snuffed out when we die, but rather continues for ever with God in the fullness of his kingdom. This is why Jesus was sent into the world, to give us eternal life with God.


But why do we need Christ to have eternal life with God? We need him because we deserve eternal death in hell for our sins and offenses against God.


It is an error to eliminate Christ and just say that God is all merciful; therefore I need not fear his just punishment of my sins, because in his mercy he will forgive me.


It is an even worse error to say that God's mercy is so great that I can continue to enjoy a life of sin without worrying about his punishment, since I depend on his mercy and so do not fear but boldly enjoy living a sinful life. There are many in the Church today who have recently begun to preach this new false gospel of mercy.


It is very important to understand God's mercy correctly in a biblical way, according to God's revelation in the Bible.


First of all, God is just as well is merciful. He will punish us forever in hell for our serious sins (Matthew 25:31-46). We are all sinners on our way to hell for our sins when we die.


But God in his mercy devised a plan to save us sinners without contradicting or violating his justice. He sent us his Son as a man who would take our place, as our substitute, and make just reparations for our sins by suffering and dying for them on the cross so that all who believe in him and repent of their sins and abandon them might be declared righteous by God, since Christ has met and fulfilled all the demands of justice for us.


Hence those who repent and believe in him will not perish but will have eternal life. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).


In this plan of salvation, God plays his part, and we play our part. God's part is Christ's work of just reparation for our sins on the cross. Our part is faith in him. Our faith includes genuine repentance, which means stopping our sinful life and promising to abandon it.


Thus God remains both just and merciful, and his mercy does not cancel out or contradict or violate his justice. Justice is done, our sins are duly punished in the flesh of a proxy (Jesus Christ on the cross), and we are justly set free. The demands of justice are met, our sins are justly punished in our proxy, Jesus Christ, and we are justified, that is, declared righteous and acquitted.


But where is God's mercy in all this? God's mercy is exercised in that it is God himself who suffers our punishment for our sins for us on the cross, because of his love for us.


The true biblical doctrine of divine mercy, which we celebrate today on Divine Mercy Sunday, does not ignore God's justice. And it follows the gospel revelation that we must repent of our sins and completely turn away from them to be forgiven and declared and made righteous.


The true biblical gospel of mercy condemns the new popular false gospel of mercy, which is now beginning to be preached in the Church, that tells people that they don't have to repent but can continue enjoying an immoral life of grave sin and be forgiven anyway, because God is merciful and doesn't require genuine repentance if we feel that that would be too hard for us to do.


This is why believing (which always includes repentance) without seeing the risen Jesus is so important for us. It enables us to escape hell, which we deserve for our sins, and to inherit eternal life instead. So we are called to "repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). This belief without seeing grants us eternal life. "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him" (John 3:36).


The act that saves us is Jesus' vicarious death on the cross. "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3). He died to atone for our sins. He is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). He is our lamb of sacrifice who dies in our place before God for our sins. His sacrifice truly expiates them and propitiates God's justice by justly satisfying his just requirement that we die for our sins. So Christ substituted for us and did that for us. He, as our substitute, died for our sins. He did this because God is so just that he demands this, and because he is so merciful that he himself suffers this out of love for us.


So the conclusion is that our sins are completely forgiven and paid for. They are expiated and gone, and we are resplendent with righteousness before God.


How is this justification and forgiveness communicated to us? It is communicated to us primarily through the sacrament of reconciliation that Jesus instituted today, when he said to his apostles in today's gospel reading, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:22-23). By saying this to his apostles, Jesus gives them and their successors (the bishops and priests) the authority to forgive sins in his name.


What priests do in this sacrament of reconciliation is minister the saving, justifying merits of Christ's death on the cross to whoever confesses his sins and expresses a firm purpose of amendment of his life. The priest then gives the truly repentant sinner sacramental absolution, declaring him to now be forgiven and righteous before God.


Where are our works in all of this that we do to make ourselves righteous? There aren't any. Only Christ's work of reparation for our sins on the cross is involved at this point, not our good works. We simply believe and promise not to sin again, and Christ's merits do the rest. They forgive and justify us.


Sanctification then begins immediately after justification, which is a good moral life lived according to God's moral law and filled with good works.


If we were truly declared righteous, then our subsequent sanctification will manifest it. If we do not have a good life to show after our forgiveness, then we were never really forgiven or justified.


Here is where the new false gospel of mercy goes astray from the true biblical gospel of mercy, for it proclaims mercy and allows people to continue to enjoy living an immoral life without any genuine repentance. This false gospel of mercy lacks sanctification, a sure sign that it is not biblical and that no real forgiveness or justification has taken place.


The biblical gospel of mercy requires faith in Christ and genuine repentance, with a firm purpose of amendment, followed by a good life in accord with God's moral law.


The new false gospel of mercy, which we are beginning to hear today, requires none of this and allows you to continue to enjoy your sinful life with no need to repent or afterward follow God's moral law and live a good life of good works if you feel that that would be too hard for you to do.


Let us be careful on this Divine Mercy Sunday to distinguish the true biblical gospel of mercy from this new false gospel of mercy, lest we be led astray by it.

 

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