Dec 132013 2 Responses

Only a Baby Could Show Us This

“What are they really like?”

Without fail whenever I have a chance encounter with someone famous or I meet someone who knows someone famous, I always want to know “What are they really like?”

We know the public persona of people. We know the image they like to publicize, but what I’m interested in is their true nature. It’s especially true with figures who are divisive in nature. Politicians, controversial actors or athletes who have avid fans and detractors are interesting because both perceptions cannot be accurate. What are they really like?

What is God Like?

There is no one that has more impressions about him, but so little knowledge about him as God. Everyone thinks they know something about God, but very few people actually know him. One of the great questions of humanity is to ask “What is God like?” And one of the great gifts of the Bible is that it tells us the answer to that question. The reason that the Bible must be at the center of all that we do is that it alone tells the full truth regarding the character of God. Preaching can be simplified to the task of telling people what God is like.

Luke 1 gives us a glimpse of what God is like. As Zechariah is talking about God’s activity in the world of sending John as a prophet and Jesus as the Messiah, he speaks this great Benedictus showing us what God is trying to accomplish. (For Part 1 on Zechariah, click here)

He says that God is working in a miraculous way through His Son Jesus in order to:

remember his covenant

give knowledge of salvation

give light

guide our feet

God is doing these things and many more through Jesus, but why is God doing so? What is God like that he would do something like this?

Zechariah says, “because of the tender mercy of God.” God has done all of these things, the whole redemption plan, because of his tender mercy.

This is what God is like. The first word that comes to the mind of Zechariah regarding God following a nine-month silence, being inspired by God, and seeing God fulfill his prophecy is the word mercy. Not judgment or sovereignty, omniscience or omnipresence; the first word is mercy.

This is what God is like—he’s merciful.

Tenderness Is Not the Absence of Toughness

He’s described as having tender mercy. We often assume the opposite of tender is tough. When we talk about meat, we ask “Is it tender or tough?” Tenderness is often an absence of toughness. Yet when it comes to God these are not exclusive terms. God has clearly revealed himself as tough. Consider the Old Testament stories of God. Read about the life of Jesus. There is no doubting God’s toughness. He calls himself long-suffering. His love is clearly tough.

Yet his love is also tender. The word “tender” is a word that literally refers to the bowels or our inward parts. When compared with the hardness of bone and the durability of skin, our intestines are tender. They can be easily crushed or punctured. There is a special care that has to take place when operating on the intestines. The tools of orthopedics are hammers and saws, but the tool of a general surgeon are tiny robotics and gentle movements.

The ultimate inward part of us all is our heart. It’s the metaphorical center of life. Zechariah praises God because at his very core is a tender mercy. Kindness is not an addendum to God. Its is not a weak character flaw. It’s not some random addition or some minor characteristic. It is at the very heart of all that he does.

Merciful Heart and Hearty Mercy

The great preacher of old, Charles Spurgeon, says of this verse that it shows a “merciful heart and a hearty mercy.” Both of these can be seen in the forgiveness of sins.

It shows a merciful heart because God is compassionate toward the sinner. While he has every right to be angry with the sinner, to make a judgment upon the sinner, God instead has empathy and compassion toward the sinner. God’s heart is so merciful that even when it has a right to be tough, it is tender.

It shows a hearty mercy because God forgives sins that are so great and so numerous. His mercy is not limited to the small and mundane. God’s mercy overflows in that his mercy is greater than our sin.

God has a merciful heart and has hearty mercy.

Tenderness Pulls Us Close

One aspect of tender mercy is that it requires closeness. Tender mercy cannot happen from a distance. The compassion that flows from a tender mercy causes us to come close. As gravity pulls us toward the earth, so God’s tender mercy draws us toward God.

His tender mercy is seen in the life of Jesus. God visits his hurting creation. That is an expression of his tender mercy. It would have been better to stay afar. It would have been easier to stay in heaven. It was mercy that drove Jesus to this earth—tender mercy that had to be expressed, that had to draw near to our sorrow.

The Baby Reveals the Heart of God

Is there anything that shows the tender mercy of God as much as the Christmas story? Is there any more tender way for God to visit this planet than to lay aside all the outward appearance of his Godness, to slip off the Royal Robe, to take off the Royal Crown, and to come in the form of a tiny baby. Is there anything more tender than a baby? Is there anything that arouses our mercy more than a baby?

God did not announce his presence to this planet with a shout from a warrior.

He did not announce his presence with a great lightning strike or thunderbolt.

He did not announce his presence on this planet with a terrifying noise.

God announced his presence on this planet with the cooing of a baby.

The sounds of God when he showed up on this planet where not words of condemnation; they were not bold proclamations of truth. The first sounds of God when he came to this planet where the innocent noises of a newborn baby. That is the tenderness of God. He reached down to this planet and with the softness of the most precious form of human life, he made his appearance and dwelt among us.

The tenderness of God does not stop in the manger. It continued in his life as he reached out to the unlovable, the unreachable, and unmentionable of society. He healed the sick and hurting. He loved the broken and unnoticed. He befriended the outcast and sinner.

The same tenderness that is seen in the manger is also apparent on the Cross. In the midst of God’s toughest moment—when he is bearing the sins of the world through one of the most gruesome deaths possible, Jesus is displaying the mercy of God taking away our punishment and enduring it himself. The Cross shows the tender mercy of God.

This is God

We live in a world that thinks it knows God. Some see him as an overbearing, harsh father. Some see him as a distant being. Some see him as a best friend. Everyone has some concept of what they think God is like, but humanity can’t know God apart from God making himself known. Whatever we would dream up would be wrong. No matter how certain our convictions, they would be incorrect. God can be known only because God has made himself known.

With a cry in a manger, God announced to the world “Here I am.” This is what God is like. Jesus is God. In so many ways he is radically different than what we would have imagined God to be. He is so different that the experts of his day, the Sadducees and Pharisees, couldn’t even fathom that Jesus was God.

Of all the aspects of his character that are revealed in Jesus, one aspect that seems so unexpected is his tender mercy. Imagine those words together—God and mercy.

The message of this birth is that this is who God is. Believe what you want; say what you want, but make no mistake about it—at the heart of God is mercy. Mercy for the sinner, the rebel, and for all of those who open their eyes in faith and see him as a merciful God.


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