Blog / Boundless Love and Mercy

By Kim Prothro
Wednesday, February 22, 2023

 Grace  Love  Mercy  Propitiation
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It’s Ash Wednesday, a day that begins the preparation for the celebration of Easter, otherwise known as Lent.  

Joel 2:13 (NIV) says, Rend your heart and not your garments. Whenever I read this phrase in Joel I am taken back to a particular Ash Wednesday many years ago. I don’t think I had ever been to an Ash Wednesday service before. That year I felt compelled to go.

I arrived at the chapel at Marvin Methodist Church, around 11:30 in the morning. I sat on the left side of the room, near the windows. The late morning sun was streaming through the stain glass as I listened to the pastor read:

    Rend your heart and not your garments.

    Return to the LORD your God,

    for he is gracious and compassionate,

    slow to anger and abounding in love,

    and he relents from sending calamity.

    Who knows? He may turn and relent

    and leave behind a blessing—

        —Joel 2:13-14 (NIV)

My heart was gripped by the imagery of tearing one’s outer garment in anguish, but only as a show. I was aware of how easily I might say the words “I’m sorry”, and not mean it with my heart.

But the description of God also grabbed my heart that day. God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love. Shame and guilt may compel us to go to God and confess our sin. But it is God’s character and the Holy Spirit that draw us forward to receive His forgiveness.

Hebrews 4:15-16 (NET) says, We do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.

Mercy—what is mercy and how does it differ from grace?

Mercy is not getting what we deserve.

Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve.

Why would God give us either? Because of His boundless love and desire for relationship with us.  

From Genesis to Revelation we see God pursuing a relationship with those He loves.  The Old Testament book of Leviticus is filled with instructions on how the people could be reconciled to God, and the various feasts they were to keep each year. The highest and holiest feast was Yom Kippur, the Feast of Atonement (Leviticus 16). Several sin offerings were made, and blood was sprinkled on almost everything because of the people’s sin. One of the sin offerings was a bull, whose blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat.

The mercy seat was located in the Holy of Holies, and was the place where God met with the one chosen to represent Himself to the people. On this high and holy day, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat to forgive their sins (Exodus 25:17-22; Numbers 7:89).

Hebrews 9:22 (NET) tells us that almost everything was purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (of sin). The writer goes on to say that all these things commanded by God were “copies of heavenly things” (9:23, NIV). In other words, the earthy laws and rituals were pointing to something that was coming that would be enacted in the heavenly realm.

Hebrews 9:11-12, 24 (ESV) says, When Christ appeared as a high priest…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood… (He) entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.

The Hebrew for mercy seat means “propitiatory”and comes from a word that means “to cover over sin”. The blood sprinkled was a “propitiation” or gift to satisfy the righteous demands of God. Jesus is our propitiation sent by the Father on our behalf (Romans 3:25-26, 1 John 2:1-3). In the pagan world their gods were seen as unpredictable and liable to become angry over any small thing. They worried that their angry God would punish them. “The remedy was … a well-chosen offering… called a propitiation” (Tyndale Bible Dictionary). How beautiful that God chose His own son to be the gift and propitiation for us.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God…let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14,16, ESV).

This is what drew my attention on Ash Wednesday so many years ago. The stunning truth that God is gracious, and merciful and has given us the blessing of His Word, His Son, and the Holy Spirit so that we might know Him, be forgiven, and worship Him forever.

I pray, over the next forty days you and I can grow not only in our knowledge and understanding of who Christ is and what He has done, but love and worship Him in deeper ways because, “the person, the character, and the work of Christ are always fresh themes for wonder[1].”

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1861). Christ Set Forth as a Propitiation. In The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (Vol. 7, p. 201). London: Passmore & Alabaster.

Kim Prothro

Kim fell in love with Jesus and studying God's word in the eighth grade. That eventually led to a dream of attending seminary which she did after her children were grown. She graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary in 2013 with a Masters in Theology and was part of the original group of women who founded Womenary in 2008. She has been a past professor for Womenary and is currently the Director of Soul Care at Living Well Holistic Counseling and Wellness Center. Kim can be contacted at
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