I am particularly drawn to a couple of passages in the NT. First I consider John1:17- The law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. The second comes from Hebrews chapter 8 where we read "And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest".
As I have stated before I am intrigued by the multitude of terms which the Bible uses to apparently identify what Jesus provided for mankind through his earthly ministry and sacrifice, terms like redemption, forgiveness, salvation, reconciliation, etc. Most commonly we hear the word salvation to indicate what Jesus provided. Salvation from what one might ask? Well, rescue from God's wrath and displeasure is the usual response. Salvation saves us from God, God the Father more specifically. Somewhat confusedly we encounter the concept of divine mercy in explaining how salvation works. The offer of salvation involves mercy or unmerited favor but this mercy had to be bought with a price, the death of Jesus.
Mercy necessarily implies that the recipient is a malefactor deserving of punishment. The offense in this case is against a supreme authority figure who demands total compliance to his every dictate. Additionally this authority is honor bound to exact punishment for any infraction, with no possible recourse to mercy, unless an appropriate substitute can accept the punishment instead. Jesus is that substitute and thus activates God' mercy, a mercy bought and paid for with his own blood. Based on the doctrine of the Trinity Jesus was in fact God, so in effect God sacrificed Himself in order to allow Himself to grant mercy.
As I consider all of the above I ask myself this question: what is so amazing about mercy, especially mercy which is bought. Certainly the idea that Jesus would willingly die for my benefit is extremely noble. But what about God's part in this transaction? He is portrayed as the arbitrary rule maker who attaches horrendous consequences to breaking His rules and then supposedly He is handcuffed by His nature and must carry through with that punishment unless He can be bought off. In comes Jesus to pay the price and out of that story we are supposed to be thankful to God for such an escape plan.
We easily see from this story how man has come to reverence Jesus and avoid God like the serious threat He is portrayed to be. If somehow we can embrace the idea that Jesus was a part of God, then maybe God can be vindicated in this seemingly sordid and bizarre transaction, but even the notion of the Trinity leaves many scratching their heads in confusion.
This story prompts the question- what is so great about this kind of mercy. Mercy is granted or denied on the whim of the all powerful authority figure. In this case the authority figure makes the rules, determines the sentence , and then carries out the punishment all at his own discretion. No one else in involved.
If we changed up the story to use only human characters, I suspect our response to the authority figure would be less flattering. Let's imagine that a king proclaimed a curfew, violation of which carried a death sentence. As would happen, a young boy was caught in violation and awaited his execution. If then the mother stepped forward to offer herself as a substitute, we would marvel at the mother's love and commitment and probably loath the king for being totally arbitrary and ruthless. If the king actually accepted the substitution and killed the mother and freed the son, would that be a reason to honor and respect the king? Probably just the opposite.
I go back to John 1:17 which says that Jesus introduced the concept of grace which was in contrast to the law and its insistence on obedience. For me mercy is a concept inseparably associated with law keeping and the religious thinking under the Old Covenant of Israel. Laws were fixed, infractions noted, and punishment meted out, unless mercy was granted. As long as man believed in religious obedience as the route to godliness, mercy was the only possible answer. Mercy attaches to the law. Jesus brought grace, something vastly superior to mercy and unassociated with any judicial system mirroring that of Moses.