When George H. W. Bush was Vice President, he was sent to represent the United Sates at the funeral of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
According to Gary Thomas who related the story in Christianity Today, Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow
Mrs. Brezhnev’s stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest.
“There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power,” Thomas observed, “the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that the same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband.”
Mercy is a universal desire felt by all people. Both religious and non-religious. It is a frequent theme of the Psalmist as found in today’s Bible reading, Psalms 56 and 57. Mercy is mentioned 118 times in this collection. 10 times the Psalmist pleads with the Lord with the simple request, “Be merciful to me.”
The Hebrew word literally means “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior. To favor or bestow. To be gracious. Or considerate.
In the New Testament “mercy” or “merciful” is found 66 times. W.E. Vine says it “is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it.”
Often grace and mercy are found together in the New Testament epistles. It is often said that grace offers what we don’t deserve. And mercy withholds what we do deserve.
The Bible says that “God is rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4). And that He is “the God of all grace” (I Pet 5:10). His grace and mercy was perfectly demonstrated in the sending of His Son to earth to be the sacrifice for our sins. Since, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:23) what we deserve is death. What we don’t deserve is salvation. Yet, God’s grace and mercy withholds the punishment and offers redemption, restoration and pardon when we accept His gracious gift.
In our sinful state, David’s mournful cry, “Be merciful to me, O Lord,” is our sorrowful supplication as well. But it is not a disconsolate request bereft of hope. The Hebrew writer offers this encouraging, promising, guarantee: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
We can confidently request, “Lord, be merciful to me…”
…When we’re hurting.
…When we’re sorrowful.
…When we’re lonely.
…When we’re discouraged.
…When we’re confused.
…When we’re anxious.
…When we’re emotionally conflicted.
…When we’re mentally distressed.
…When we’re physically suffering.
…When we’re tempted, tried and tested.
…When we’re seeking solace.
…When we’re returning to Him after a sinful absence.
This realization of God’s great mercy, ought to therefore motivate us to be merciful. In His Mountain Message Jesus offers this challenging assurance “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7).
Just like we all stand in need of Divine mercy, so we should freely and without reservation extend mercy to our friends. Our family. Our brethren. The mercy that forgave the prodigal son, bandaged the wounds of the beaten man on the Jericho road, heard the cry of the thief on the cross, and paid the penalty for our sins at Calvary, is the same spirit that accords mercy to those who have hurt us.
When we pray, “Lord, be merciful to me,” listen closely. He’s saying to us, “Be merciful.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman