Read Jeremiah 3
Focus on verse 12
When a person is caught red-handed in the commission of a crime they deserve to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law in order for justice to be served. When a judge sentences a person to less than the law requires we describe that as the judge showing “mercy” to the guilty person. I believe it is important to understand that when mercy is dispensed it does not mean the crime has been forgiven, or that justice has not been served. Forgiveness may be closely related to mercy in that in some cases it precedes the dispensing of mercy. Justice is served when the sentence for the offense has been served.
Here is how this might work. Suppose I get caught driving thirty miles per hour over the speed limit, and suppose the maximum sentence for this offense in the state it was committed is a $1500 fine, suspension of my license, and ten days in jail. When the judge reduces that to a $500 fine and twenty-four hours in the county jail, that is mercy. He has not forgiven me, since there is still a sentence that must be served. If that judge then proceeds to write our a personal check to pay my fine, and offers to send his assistant to spend the twenty-four hours in the jail for me, that would be grace. (It would also be highly unlikely) I would know I am forgiven when that judge assures me that my crime will be struck from the court record, and that he would still like me to attend Thanksgiving dinner with him and my mom and the rest of our family.
In today’s reading Jeremiah is quite graphic in his description of how offended God has been by the way the people of Judah and Israel have rejected Him and turned to worship the detestable idols of the Canaanites. Yet God is willing to extend mercy to His people, along with grace and forgiveness if they will only return to follow Him. The Lord’s words to Jeremiah are as follows:
Go, and proclaim these words toward the north and say, Return faithless Israel, declares the Lord. I will not look to you in anger, declares the Lord; I will not be angry forever. (v. 12)
The nature of God in the present has not changed. God continues to offer His mercy and grace to anyone who will repent and turn back to Him from whatever it is that has led him or her away from God. When we come to Him in genuine repentance He is faithful to forgive and to extend His mercy and grace to us – forgiving us of our offense and restoring us in relationship to Him. God’s message to us is still the same – “Return, O faithless children… …and I will bring you to Zion. (v. 14)