“Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:24–26

God’s lovingkindness toward His chosen people is a subject that can never be exhausted. In His lovingkindness He graciously dispenses mercy—God-sized mercy— which is wholly undeserved, unmerited, unlimited, and unstoppable toward all who are drawn to Him by His Spirit and come to Him by faith. It has been said that God shows mercy to meet the need of human misery and He gives grace to solve the problem of human sin. It is only God’s mercy that He does not give man what man deserves and only God’s grace gives man what he does not deserve. These are both generally good ideas of the difference between the ways the two words are used in the Scriptures.

Webster defined mercy as “that benevolence, mildness or tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries, or to treat an offender better than he deserves; the disposition that tempers justice, and induces an injured person to forgive trespasses and injuries, and to forbear punishment, or inflict less than law or justice will warrant…. It implies benevolence…pity or compassion, and clemency, but exercised only towards offenders. Mercy is a distinguishing attribute of the Supreme Being.” Webster then proceeds to quote Numbers 14:18: “The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression…. ”

Paul uses a Greek word, translated as propitiation (satisfaction), in Romans 3 which relates to the Mercy Seat from the days of the Jewish tabernacle in the wilderness and Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Of all the articles of furniture in the tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant is premier. It was a chest within which were placed the two stone tablets of the law, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded. The rod was used of God to protect, the manna was used of God to provide, and the law was His prescription for His chosen people. The unique relationship between God and His people was spelled out in sacred symbolism by these three items.

Over these three items, Moses covered the Ark with the Mercy Seat. It was a flat surface over which God made His Shekinah Glory visible, demonstrating His presence among His people. Since the Ark top rested between the visible manifestation of God’s presence and the covenantal symbols which were placed inside the Ark, the top was called the Mercy Seat. It was upon this surface that the High Priest sprinkled the blood of the atonement each year as a covering. The consecutive layers of blood illustrated the fact that Israel had offended God’s holy nature and broken His law continually and that only through sacrificial blood could a covering be made between their offense and God’s righteousness. Of course, this priestly responsibility symbolized the death of the Lord Jesus Christ where His sacrificial death and shedding of blood paid the penalty of all the sins of believers throughout all the ages thus propitiating (expiatory satisfaction) the just demands of God against us (Isaiah 53:11; 1 Corinthians 2:11ff; 1 John 2:2, 4:10).

By God’s mercy, believers find they are absolved, shielded, and comforted. Absolving mercy is found only in Jesus Christ. His mercy is unmerited! Our text says that “God set forth” His Son as the propitiation. In pagan cultures it was always the offeror who attempted the propitiation, to appease his gods. In the authentic God’s case, He Himself does the propitiating and with the sacrifice of His Son He is satisfied. And so, to the undeserving, mercy is granted—not because of any personal merit, but out of the reservoir of omnipotent grace. Only by great grace may forgiveness of sins be granted to, and gained by, the repentant sinner. Only through the supreme merit of the sinless Son of God can justification can be poured out on the undeserving. All men are undeserving. All of self-effort and good works is unmeriting. Salvation may only be received by grace through faith (Titus 3:5).

Shielding mercy is found only in Jesus Christ. He is Himself your shield from the white hot wrath of God caused by your sin. He interposed Himself upon the cross between you and the wrath of God so that you were, and are, shielded for all eternity. His mercy is unlimited! As 1 Peter 1:3f declares, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (Ephesians 2:4ff).

Comforting mercy is found only in Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3f reads, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” His mercy is unstoppable! God is indeed just, and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus, not through any merit of my own, but for the merit of the sinless Son of God! Trust and obey.