Read: Psalm 96.
Question and answer 11 bring to a close the first chapter of the Heidelberg Catechism. This chapter deals with the first thing we are to know in order to know our comfort: we must know our sins and miseries.
- teacher who teaches us these lessons, is quite insistent we understand fully what miseries our sins are, and what terrible consequences come to us because of our sins. Our teacher does not even want to talk about the mercy of God, until we have thoroughly mastered the material in chapter 1.
And we have not learned our lesson properly when we have it all in our heads only; we must have it also in our hearts. If we have it in our hearts, then we will confess that the terrible things our teacher says of us are all true; and that all we can do is fall on our faces in the dust before God.
This lesson about God’s justice and mercy is very important. We may want to find a way to escape the justice we deserve by appealing to God’s mercy. But it won’t work. Not even we, in our earthly relationships, want to set justice and mercy over against each other.
Let us imagine, for a few moments a small town in which a vicious murderer breaks into a home, kills the father and mother and drags the children away, where he treats them cruelly. Supposing the man is caught and arrested, tried and found guilty; but when the judge must sentences him, the judge says to him, “Justice demands that you should be executed. But I am going to be merciful to you and let you go free.”
So the man goes free, and after a few weeks, he commits a similar crime and brutally murders five little children. Again, he is apprehended, found guilty and brought before the judge for sentencing. But the judge once again says to the man, “I know now more than ever you are worthy of death. But I am going to be more merciful yet, and I am going to set you free again.”
At that point, the people in the small town would cry out, “This judge must be deposed. We want justice done. If that man continues to be merciful, we will all be dead.” And they will cower in their homes behind locked doors until justice is done.
God is merciful, but, let us never forget it: God is also just. He has to be just, or he is not God. Let us bow before his justice and confess that we deserve his just judgment. Then the way is open to talk about the wonder of the cross of Christ where justice and mercy met together and kissed each other.