Scripture: Psalm 123 (also Luke 18:35-43)


Title: Mercy


  • Introduction
  • Human mercy
  • Honour & shame
  • Jesus’ mercy
  • Conclusion


Today we continue our series on the Songs of Ascents – which we know as Psalms 120 to 134


The word ‘Ascent’ has to do with moving upward

–         The temple in Jerusalem was on a hill

–         On their way to religious festivals Jewish pilgrims might sing these songs as they ascended the hill to the temple


The 15 Songs of Ascents, then, are about being on a journey – not just a physical journey to Jerusalem but also a spiritual journey

–         As we make our way through these Songs of Ascents we notice the psalmist draws closer to God


The plan, over the next couple of months, is to explore the Songs of Ascents as we journey toward Easter

–         This morning we take a closer look at psalm 123

–         Last week, in psalm 122, the palmist sang about arriving in Jerusalem

–         Now that he has arrived his first word is a prayer to God for mercy

–         Not mercy in the sense of forgiveness for anything he might have done wrong – but rather, mercy in the sense of a reprieve from the wrong that has been done to him by others

–         From the New Revised Standard Version we read…


To you I lift up my eyes,     O you who are enthroned in the heavens! As the eyes of servants     look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid     to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God,     until he has mercy upon us.  Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,     for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than its fill     of the scorn of those who are at ease,     of the contempt of the proud.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this prayer for us

Human mercy:

In their book “A Higher Call” Adam Makos and Larry Alexander retell a true story of mercy from WW2…


The pilot glanced outside his cockpit and froze. He blinked hard and looked again, hoping it was just a mirage. But his co-pilot stared at the same horrible vision.


The men were looking at a gray German Messerschmitt fighter hovering just three feet off their wingtip. It was five days before Christmas 1943, and the fighter had closed in on their crippled B-17 bomber.


The B-17 pilot, Charles Brown, was a 21-year-old West Virginia farm boy on his first combat mission. His bomber had been shot to pieces by swarming fighters, and his plane was alone in the skies above Germany. Half his crew was wounded, and the tail gunner was dead, his blood frozen in icicles over the machine guns.


But when Brown and his co-pilot, Spencer Luke, looked at the fighter pilot again, something odd happened. The German didn’t pull the trigger. He nodded at Brown instead.


What happened next was one of the most remarkable acts of mercy recorded during World War II. Instead of finishing the American bomber off the German fighter pilot continued to fly in close formation with the bomber to protect it from German anti-aircraft guns on the ground


The German pilot’s name was Franz Stigler. Franz was a fighter ace. One more kill and he would have been awarded the Knight’s Cross.


But Stigler was driven by something deeper than glory. His older brother, August, was a fellow Luftwaffe pilot who had been killed earlier in the war. American pilots had killed Stigler’s comrades and were bombing his country’s cities. The temptation for revenge was intense.


Despite having strong reason to shoot, Stigler pressed his hand over the rosary he kept in his flight jacket. He eased his index finger off the trigger. He couldn’t open fire. It would be murder.


Stigler wasn’t just motivated by vengeance that day. He also lived by a code. He could trace his family’s ancestry to knights in 16th century Europe. He had once studied to be a priest.


A German pilot who spared the enemy, though, risked death in Nazi Germany. If someone reported him, he would be executed. Yet Stigler could also hear the voice of his commanding officer, who once told him:

–         “You follow the rules of war for you — not your enemy. You fight by rules (or principles) to keep your humanity.”  [1]


Many years later the two pilots, Charles Brown and Franz Stigler met in person


Whether in war or peace, mercy is part of humanity’s code

–         The capacity to show mercy, compassion and kindness is what sets us apart as creatures made in God’s image


One of the things we recognise from Franz’ story is that human mercy is circumstantial – by which I mean the circumstances need to be right for us to show mercy

–         Like Franz Stigler we need to be in the right place at the right time with the right resources to be able to demonstrate mercy to others

–         Sometimes we may wish to show mercy but it might not be in our power to do so because we aren’t in the right place at the right time or we don’t have the resources (or the power) that is needed to help

–         That’s okay – so long as we are always prepared to show mercy when the opportunity presents itself and it’s in our power to do so


Unlike us human beings, God is not limited by time or space or power

–         He is present everywhere and His resources are infinite

–         So God’s mercy is qualitatively different from human expressions of mercy


Honour & shame:

One of the big concepts found in psalm 123, which is perhaps not as obvious to us as the concept of mercy, is the idea of honour & shame

–         To understand where the psalmist is coming from we have to think in terms of honour & shame


An honour-shame mind-set is different from an innocence-guilt mind-set

–         Innocence & guilt are about the things we do

–         While honour & shame are about who we are


Innocence and guilt has to do with the personal moral decisions we make

–         For example, Franz Stigler made a personal moral decision not to shoot the struggling B-17 bomber out of the sky

–         He reasoned that would be murder

–         If Franz had shot the plane down he would have been guilty

–         But he didn’t – he saved the plane – and so he was innocent, in that situation at least


Honour and shame is different from innocence and guilt

–         Honour and shame is something that other people put on us

–         So if Franz had shot the plane down his superiors would have honoured him with the Knight’s Cross – a special medal

–         Ironically he wouldn’t be innocent but he would be honoured

–         By not shooting down the plane Franz took the risk of being shamed by his superiors – being branded a traitor or disloyal


Focusing just on shame for a moment…

–         I remember when I was about 15 or 16 riding along Ward Street in Hamilton on my bike and a couple guys rode past and spat on me

–         I had no idea who they were – it was completely unprovoked

–         They were simply looking for a fight

–         Now I didn’t feel guilty about that – I hadn’t done anything wrong

–         But I did feel shamed – they literally put shame on me by spitting on me


Now the temptation when someone puts shame on us is to retaliate and try to put shame on them as well (as if that could restore our honour)

–         I didn’t retaliate in this situation, mainly because they were bigger than me


Looking back on it now I think the reason they spat on me was because someone had tried to put shame on to them and they were simply trying get rid of that shame by passing it off onto me – it wasn’t personal


Shame, then, isn’t so much about making a mistake

–         Shame is a statement or action that says you are a mistake or you are nothing, you don’t matter


People can put shame on us in a whole variety of ways

–         Usually it’s by name calling – saying things like ‘you’re a looser’, or ‘you’re ugly’ or ‘you’re stupid’ or whatever

–         But they might also cause shame in other ways too – like physical or sexual abuse or by causing us social embarrassment

–         When someone tries to put shame on us, we have a choice

–         We can believe the lie that we are worthless

–         Or we can remember the truth that we are made and loved by God

–         That we are valuable to him

–         We are so valuable to God in fact that he was prepared to put His Son Jesus in harm’s way for us


In psalm 123 the author hasn’t done anything bad – he isn’t feeling guilty

–         But he has been made to feel shame

–         Other people are showing him scorn and contempt


To be shown scorn & contempt is to be rejected – treated like you are nothing, like you are a mistake

–         Scorn & contempt isn’t so much a criticism of what you’ve done

–         It’s more a criticism of who you are


But the psalmist chooses not to accept the shame that his enemies are trying to put on him

–         Instead the psalmist looks to God for honour


 To you I lift up my eyes,     O you who are enthroned in the heavens!


God is the one enthroned in the heavens

–         You can’t get any higher status or position than that

–         God has the most honour and he is the source of real honour

–         God has conferred on human beings the honour (and glory) of being made in his image


As the eyes of servants     look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid     to the hand of her mistress,

so our eyes look to the Lord our God…

It’s interesting how in today’s world we are used to having eyes on us

–         We are used to security cameras watching our every move,

–         Speed cameras waiting to snap us if we go over the limit,

–         Security guards monitoring us to make sure we don’t get out of hand

–         Managers keeping an eye on us to ensure we do our job, and so on


But here in verse 2 all eyes are on the master

–         The servants and the maid are not the centre of attention – the Lord is

–         The servants and the maid are trusted

–         They give their attention to the hand of the master

–         Why the hand?

–         Well the hand is symbolic of power & authority

–         A simple hand gesture from the master tells the servant what to do

–         The hand also protects and provides


By describing themselves as servants and maids who diligently look to obey God their master, the Jewish pilgrims are essentially saying…

–         ‘Our honour comes from the Lord – not from what other people think of us. We are not defined by those people who show us scorn and contempt.

–         We are defined by God himself – we are his servants, he is our master’

–         The implication is: there is honour in being a servant of God Most High


If you have suffered shame by the way people have treated you or the lies they have spoken about you then, let me say, you are not defined by the proud or the abusive

–         You are not defined by the flippant or by those whose lives are easy

–         You are defined by God Himself

–         You are his precious child – his beloved

–         And He (the Lord) places immeasurable value and honour and respect on your life – you are loved by him

–         Jesus came to transform our temporary suffering into eternal glory

–         He came to clothe our shame with his honour


Returning to verse 2, another thing we notice is the wonderfully inclusive language used here

–         Women are honoured alongside men, on the same social level as men

–         This is not a boys only club

–         Women have the dignity (the honour) of serving God, as men do

–         This might not seem like such a big deal to us now but equality between the sexes was a big deal 3,000 years ago


The Jewish pilgrims look to the Lord for mercy because they are fed up with being shown scorn & contempt by those around them


Mercy has to do with power

–         To show mercy one must be in a position of power

–         Mercy is basically using your power to help someone

–         There is no one more powerful than God and also no one more merciful


What we see here is that the psalmist does not ask mercy from the proud who are showing him scorn and contempt

–         Instead he asks God for mercy – he goes right to the top

–         This is an admission that God is the one who is really in control

–         The proud can only show contempt because the Lord allows it


It’s a bit like when Pilate said to Jesus, “Don’t you know that I have power to release you and power to crucify you?”

–         Meaning, “Don’t you realise I have the power to show you mercy?”

–         And Jesus replied, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above”

–         In other words, ‘Pilate, you’re not really in control here. This is only happening because God is allowing it. God could take away your power at any moment’


The proud are on notice – they are not in control, even if they think they are


As it turned out God allowed Jesus to be crucified

–         Crucifixion isn’t just physically painful

–         It is also incredibly shameful

–         Jesus hung on the cross naked while people heaped their scorn and contempt and insults on him

–         But three days later God honoured Jesus by raising him from the dead

–         Resurrection is honour


Psalm 123 ends in a way that feels unfinished

–         We are left hanging as the psalmist is left hanging

–         The pilgrim has asked God for His mercy but we don’t know, at this point, how God will respond

–         God is silent


This is often how the spiritual life is – we make our petitions to God in prayer and are left waiting with no quick results

–         Perhaps you have had a similar experience

–         Maybe asking God for healing and not getting it straight away

–         Or asking God for a job and then having to wait for months just for an interview

–         Or asking God for some direction in your life only to hear a long silence


The Lord’s timing is not our timing – but it is right in the end


Mercy can take a variety of forms

–         In the example of Franz Stigler and Charles Brown, mercy took the form of a reprieve from death

–         In psalm 123 the mercy requested was an end to contempt and shame

–         Mercy can also be the restoration of something that was lost


Jesus’ mercy:

Many years ago there lived a man who was blind

–         The man had not always been blind – he had lost his sight part way through life


It wasn’t the man’s fault that he was blind – it wasn’t because of anything he had done wrong and yet he didn’t feel good about himself

–         He survived by begging on the side of the road

–         No one really likes a beggar – they tend to make people feel guilty


Although the man couldn’t see he could certainly hear well enough

–         It wasn’t just the rude things people would say about him, it was their tone of voice as well

–         Most people tried to avoid him, some were afraid of him, others were irritated at the inconvenience he presented and just a few were abusive

–         He felt like a dead weight – not contributing anything to society, just getting under people’s feet, making them feel uncomfortable

–         He was made to feel shame every day


The blind man could never voice his frustration to others though

–         Even if they did stop long enough to listen how could they possibly understand the daily grind that was his reality

–         Being made to feel shame for who he was – something he had no control over – It wasn’t fair

–         Not that he would give in to self-pity – not for a moment

–         He had enough pity from others without adding to it himself


One day the man heard a commotion further down the street

–         He recognised the sound – it was a large crowd on the move

–         Crowds made him nervous

–         A crowd is an unpredictable thing – a dangerous thing, especially if you’re blind

–         But curiosity got the better of him and he asked what was happening

–         “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by”, they told him


Jesus of Nazareth

–         The blind man had heard of Jesus

–         Jesus would have known about shame and contempt

–         There were rumours about his heritage – his mother got pregnant before she was married (or so they said)

–         Nearly as bad as that, Jesus came from Nazareth – and everyone knows nothing good comes from Nazareth

–         Of course the blind man knew that was just a prejudice

–         It wasn’t fair to right someone off because of where they lived

–         Not everyone can afford a nice house in a leafy suburb


The blind man had heard how Jesus could heal people – make them whole again

–         This might be his only chance – maybe Jesus would heal him

–         Maybe he could see again and get a job so he didn’t have to keep begging

–         Maybe he could be free of the shame people kept heaping on him day after day – God knows he had had his share of contempt

–         So he cried out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”


This was a bold thing to say

–         ‘Son of David’ was another way of saying ‘Messiah’ or ‘King’

–         People were divided by Jesus

–         Many were uncomfortable with thinking he might be the Christ

–         The man had no qualms though

–         It was funny how he (a blind man) could see that Jesus was God’s promised Messiah, while others with 20/20 vision couldn’t see it


The people around told him, in no uncertain terms, to shut up

–         But he just shouted even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”

–         All those years of taking their shame – no way was he going to be quiet

–         It was worth the risk of getting punched in the face

–         They did not define him – God defined him and Jesus was from God


Jesus stood still and the crowd slowed to halt also

–         Then, without moving, Jesus ordered the blind man to be brought to him

–         The man had called Jesus a ‘king’ because a king he is

–         Standing still while one of his subjects was brought before him was a very kingly way of handling the matter


When the man was near, Jesus asked him…

–         “What do you want me to do for you?”

–         The man liked that Jesus didn’t make any assumptions

–         To be asked what it was he wanted made him feel respected – it empowered him, gave him a real choice and dignity


“Lord, let me see again.”


It was a simple sentence and yet it said so much

–         The blind man addressed Jesus as “Lord” – it was a way of giving Jesus honour, placing himself under Jesus’ authority

–         “Let me see again” – was an acknowledgment that Jesus had the power to restore sight and to end the contempt and shame he suffered


Jesus responded just as simply as the man had asked, saying…

–         “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.”

–         Not only did Jesus give the man his physical sight back, Jesus also restored the man’s honour by giving him credit for his faith

–         Jesus acknowledged the man’s spiritual vision


Those who had tried to the silence man were now the ones with nothing to say


But the man wasn’t worried about them – he could see again and was overjoyed, praising God as he followed Jesus down the road toward Jericho

–         The man’s joy was infectious – the people around him couldn’t help but join him in praising God too



Mercy – it is one of God’s defining characteristics

–         Jesus shows us what divine mercy looks like

–         Jesus shows us what it is to be made in the image of God



Let us pray…

–         Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us

–         And help us to pay your mercy forward

–         Amen.