Letter of the law versus the Spirit of the law.
Standing aside from the story we see clearly that the senior officer's grace and mercy in no way compromised, or weakened, or rebelled against the law, but it manifested the spirit behind and within that law.
In this simple story we see how God can and often does at His behest move in mercy within one of His Kingdom laws without compromising weakening or breaking His law. The Word of God is not the sword of man, but the sword of the Spirit.
When we coldly apply the letter of the law it can at times break a good person's spirit when the law was never intended to do that.
Incidentally despite there being theological differences between grace and mercy I struggled to define the difference. My youngest son, who had been attending a Bible college, helped me out here by stating that grace was getting what you did not deserve, while mercy was not getting what you did deserve.
Unger's Bible Dictionary describes mercy as kindness or compassion shown to a person who is not necessarily deserving of it.
Showing mercy is indeed a Christian grace. Jesus said that if are merciful, we will, when we need it, receive mercy.
He was not happy with those who were meticulous in their tithing but neglected more important Kingdom principles including justice, mercy and faith.
So I think it is safe to say that while never letting go of the plum lines of truth and justice we must also be able to display God's heart of grace mercy and compassion.
Another story and a true one.
I know a young man who gave his life to the Lord at the age of six. He loved God's word from that young age and got his dad to read it to him every night. He loved learning memory verses and at the age of ten he decided to read the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation in one year, which to the amazement of his parents he did. The next year he did it again, and also the next year. As a young man he led many of his friends to the Lord. He was greatly mocked at school for refusing to say or do ungodly things, but it did not phase him.
Then at the age of fifteen two things happened that rocked him to the core of his being.
A friend at school became ill with leukaemia, and the young man prayed for his healing, believing that God would heal. But the young man died.
Shortly after that, an older Christian boy, and a great example to the young man, committed suicide.
The young man went off the rails completely with deep anger towards God.
He left home at the earliest point and got involved with a bad crowd, getting into several fights every week. Then one night, the crowd challenged him to kick in a shop window and take a trophy from within.
This he did, and walked off up the road in full view of many bystanders carrying several little notebooks as a trophy. Someone called the police and he was arrested and called to stand before the judge on the charge of burglary.
Justice demanded that he be sentenced for breaking the law. There were no get out clauses written into the law.
I confess that to my amazement (and for the first time) I am on the verge of tears as I recall this!
The mercy of God touched the judge's heart. He looked at the 19 year old lad, read a few lines from a letter that a former teacher wrote about him, and without hesitation, let the lad off with a year's conditional discharge.
No fine, no community service or prison sentence. A clear record after one year.
The shocked solicitor didn't even get a chance to defend him and did not send the lad a bill for his time before and during the court appearance.
The young lad recognised that this was God's mercy, and it broke the years of anger.
Where sin abounded, grace abounded more!
(Interestingly, the young man eventually became a very successful lawyer!)
The judge was not approving or encouraging lawlessness. He showed mercy. Moved by the hand of God I believe he mixed mercy with justice.
In no way could that mercy be presumed by the same lad if there was a next time, nor could it be presumed on by another offender.
The laws of adultery were well understood in Israel, and the Pharisees, probably believing Jesus was 'soft on sin' dragged a woman caught in the very act of adultery before Him to 'test' him.
They were correct in that the woman was, and knew she was, breaking one of God's laws. She was 100% guilty and her accusers knew that.
The last thing she expected from that group of men was mercy. But that is what she got from the One who was asked to judge her.
Jesus knelt down and began to write in the dust. Almost certainly He was silently writing various sins that He knew were hidden in the lives of her accusers, because after writing He stood up and said to them
A remarkable thing happened.
Now alone with the adulteress Jesus said to her
To which she - almost certainly in shock - said to Him
Jesus finished the incident by stating to her
There is no mercy built into the letter of the law. It comes from the lawgiver and it is only as we grow in our understanding of Him that we can dispense it
The Sabbath law had no ifs or buts built into it, so the cold hearts of the Pharisees twice thought they had grounds for accusing Jesus and His disciples.
Jesus had to explain the Spirit behind the letter. The law was for man's good and was never a hindrance to doing good and saving life.
In the Old Testament a man could divorce his wife by writing her a letter of divorce. She had no security whatsoever.
The Pharisees asked Jesus about this issue, testing Him. (It is still a big testing issue)
Referring to Deuteronomy 24:1 the Pharisees then said.
To which Jesus replied..
Earlier Jesus had spoken to His followers about this question of just giving a written letter of divorce.
Where Jesus deals with this issue mainly from the man's perspective, Paul deals with it from a woman's perspective should she consider divorcing her husband.
Thus the covenant of marriage was declared to be inviolate - except for sexual immorality - and thus marriage was to not only commanded to be a safe and secure place, and in Godly order, but as Paul later explained in Ephesians 5 it was to represent the mystery of Christ and the church.
In Australia I saw an excellent poster campaign along the busy roadsides where the police regularly operate (the generally unpopular) speed cameras.
The poster shows a police officer looking up the road holding a speed camera. The caption says 'There's a reason behind it', and then we see that lined up behind the police officer is a long line of ordinary people. Mothers and children, the elderly etc. Suddenly we see the spirit behind the law. It is to protect people.
If there was a poster for these strict marriage laws we might see the words 'There's a reason behind it' and then we would see complete families standing together as one against the trials and tribulations of this world.
Hence the law is good and all who acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord will be in full agreement with that law.
Some will knowingly, willingly, break that law through hardness of heart, callousness, carnality, lust, boredom, ambition or whatever, and the full weight of the Kingdom law stands against them.
The young constable in our story would be right to write their penalty according to the law, and the penalty is that they become adulterers, and not only will blessings decrease or cease, but the chastening of the Lord will surely follow.
And he would be right to write out his ticket. The law is meant for such as these.
Sin is not harmful because it is forbidden, it is forbidden because it is harmful.
The innocent victims of such ungodly behaviour however find themselves in the very situation that the law was designed to protect them against.
They agreed with God's parameters, sought to live by those parameters, but through no fault of their own find themselves on the wrong side of those parameters.
The young policemen will still write out his tickets to such people in distress, thus further increasing their distress. The law that was meant to fully protect them is now adding to their plight.
The spouse who has divorced them has left them felling rejected worthless and abandoned. And above all feeling alone on their journey through life.
Does Jesus - the senior policeman in the story - agree with the young zealous constable, or does He who sees the heart and knows the Spirit behind the law (since He established it Himself) gently and graciously take the ticket off the young policeman and say 'My son, I think a little mercy is called for here'
Perhaps this extract from Paul's letter to Timothy should be included to complete the picture of the two policemen.
But in your thoughts understand this.
Jesus came to bring life and life abundant, and when the devil steals, kills and destroys he loves nothing more than the cold letter of the law to complete his work. (Luke 4: 9 - 11) thus portraying God as a merciless God, devoid of mercy and compassion.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth..
Where the Spirit is truly behind the letter of the law there is liberty.
Righteous judgement and appropriate consequences for the wicked and liberty for the captives.
When seeking to understand the heart of the lawgiver, the Spirit behind the letter of the law, recall His proclamation regarding His mission.
Some time ago I listened to a teaching on the issue of divorce and remarriage given by Derek Prince, and initially I could not come into agreement with it. He said that he felt that the issue needed to be wisely decided on case by case by the Church authority figures.
I now do agree with what he taught, but don't envy the task of ministering grace and truth as God would deliver it in each case. Wisdom from above is needed.
I think that the mainline denominations in Northern Ireland such as the Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Ireland have got it right when they leave it to the individual conscience of the minister in each church who accesses each situation.
In fifteen years of prayer ministry within the Body of Christ we have sought to discern and hear the heart of the Lord for each person. On one hand we have sought never to compromise on God's clear Kingdom truth, and on the other hand we have sought to bring the grace, mercy and compassion of God into play, and to wisely hold these two apparent opposites in correct tension. Always asking ourselves if we are being too legalistic, or too liberal?
At times it has not been easy!
At the end of the day of course its all of grace. Every thing from the authoring to the finishing of our faith, its all of grace. No wonder the word is mentioned nearly 140 times throughout scripture.
The truly humble and repentant marriage breaker can find grace.
Where sin abounds grace abounds more, but woe betide the man or woman who thinks they can use this as a licence for their selfish carnality. (Romans 6:1)
We must seek to obey, live by, and never compromise the truth, and be passionate rather than aggressive about sharing and declaring the truth, and seek to live out our lives from the twin bases of a great love for the Lord and a rightful fear of the Lord.
And we must always remain open to the abundant grace of our God so that like Jesus, we might be full of grace and truth.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
[see also The Pharisee spirit]