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Sacrificial Mercy

Category Articles
Date April 23, 2010

. . . we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

Don and Carol Richardson had come, with their infant son, to the Sawi people of southwestern New Guinea for the purpose of bringing the good news of the gospel to them. After building a house Don set about the task of learning the Sawi language while Carol regularly administered first aid to these primitive, stone aged, animistic, cannibalistic people. The people were given to untold violence, treachery, and murder. They had learned to live in small villages with miles of jungle serving as a buffer to cut down on the violence, but it nonetheless consumed them. Don thought it a good idea to bring three of these communities together – the Haenam, Kamur, and Yohwi. Still tension and fighting continued. Within the first two months Don and Carol witnessed fourteen serious battles with bows, arrows, and spears. Finally Don had gained enough felicity with the language to enter into the manhouse where the leading men of the village met regularly to discuss serious matters. Don began to speak of Myao Kodon, the supreme God, who was all powerful, who did not live in trees or rivers, who was the One to whom they were all accountable. He respects no witchcraft and no fetish could keep him away from them. A look of defenselessness crept over their faces. Eventually, on later visits, he spoke of Jesus, Myao Kodon’s only Son, who was betrayed by Judas. When Richardson mentioned the betrayal of Judas one man whistled a bird call in admiration while others touched their chests in awe. Some of the men chuckled with glee. One said, ‘That was real tuwi asonai man.’ Don immediately realized that to the Sawi Judas was the hero of the story! He knew tuwi asonai man meant ‘having caught a pig, to do’, but what was the significance of it? He asked his language informant who pointed to a pig outside the house, saying that Hato had found the wild pig as a piglet, had brought it into his household, had protected and fed it, and the pig now felt very safe and content. Then his language informant asked Don, ‘What do you suppose Hato will do with his pig?’ Don knew that eventually he would slaughter it for his family’s food. Don then realized that the Sawi made treachery the highest virtue of their culture, befriending people in order to fatten them for the slaughter, planning one day to murder them. How would he ever reach them with the gospel! He racked his brain for months, trying to find a way to put the gospel in a form they could understand.

After months of living among the three groups of Sawi, Don and Carol realized this had been a mistake, that they were tempting these people to fight and kill each other, that Don and Carol should leave for another village and allow the Haenam, Kamur, and Yohwi to go back to their own villages. Don met in the manhouse to tell them of their decision. As Don went home he could hear the men talking long into the night. The next morning Don and Carol were told that today the people would sprinkle cool water on each other. This was a Sawi idiom meaning ‘to make peace.’ They watched as the Haenam people gathered on one side and the Kamur on the other side of a big opening. Then one man attempted to take his baby boy from his wife’s arms and move toward the Kamur. The mother was beside herself with grief, and clung in desperation to her son, and an older son helped his mother keep the baby boy from the father. Another man stepped forward with his son and moved toward the Kamur, his wife also weeping uncontrollably. He finally said, ‘I cannot do it.’ Then Kaiyo ran to his house and came out with Biakadon, his only son, six months old, and ran toward the Kamur. Wumi, Kaiyo’s wife, finally realizing what he was doing, ran after him but fell into a bog. Weeping, and covered with mud she realized her pursuit was hopeless. Kaiyo presented Biakadon to Mahor of the Kamur. He said, ‘Will you plead the words of the Kamur among your people?’ Mahor said, ‘Yes, I will plead the words of my people.’ Then Kaiyo presented Biakadon to Mahor, and he said, ‘It is enough.’ Then Mahor repeated the same ritual with his own son, Mani. They exchanged their sons, saying that peace would now reign between the warring tribes. All the men of both villages laid hands on the respective peace child. Then a huge celebration of dancing and rejoicing went on for hours. As long as the peace child was alive, peace would reign between the warring peoples.

Richardson then knew that he had a way to communicate the good news of Jesus to these treacherous, violent, superstitious people. Jesus was the peace child from Myao Kodon who could sprinkle cool water on them, who could stop the warring within each person’s heart, who could bring peace to the tribes and nations of the world.1

I want the glory of Christ’s death and resurrection to sink more deeply into your hearts and minds as you read this. Do we not too often think lightly on these eternal verities! The message of the true gospel begins with an awareness of man’s fall into sin, that he left fellowship with God by virtue of his rebellious and blind heart, his guilty and offensive past, and his unholy and unproductive life. In such a state of abject inability God the Father, in his electing grace, promises his people a new heart, a new righteousness, and a new holiness. Now the question is – how does God deliver on his promise? What is the place of God the Son in this glorious transaction?

It is all about Jesus’ sacrificial mercy bestowed on the elect whom God the Father has given him. In keeping with our three fold outline – God the Son produces the new heart in his crucifixion and resurrection (Rom. 6:6-11, 2 Cor. 5:14-17), he secures the new record through his atoning substitution (Isa. 53:1-2, 2 Cor. 5:21), and he embodies the new life as a source of holiness (John 15:5, Eph. 2:10, Phil. 4:13).

How does Jesus produce a new heart in his people? Having a new heart means regeneration, being born again. Jesus, the pure, undefiled Son of God, the second person of the Godhead, very God of very God, 100% God and 100% man, knows we need a spiritual heart transplant and he is the donor. In Romans 5:20 Paul the Apostle says that the Law came in that the transgression might increase, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. Paul, the great teacher, knows this statement will arouse controversy, so he takes up that controversy in Romans 6. He begins by asking, ‘What shall we say then to the idea that committing sin brings a greater experience of God’s grace?’ Paul knows that some may misunderstand him, thinking that since God loves to forgive sin, then we ought to sin more so that we can experience more and more of God’s forgiving grace. Paul then shows how ridiculous such a statement is. He points out that since the believer has died to sin (to the rule and reign of sin in his life), how then can he possibly think that more and more disobedience to God is a good idea? He shows that our union with Christ (being baptized into Christ) in his death and resurrection enables us to walk in newness of life. If we have died with Christ, then we also have been raised with Christ, and this enables us to walk in a new way of living, in gospel holiness. We can obey God because Christ has given us his resurrection life.

Paul then goes on to say in Romans 6:6-11,

knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over him. For the death that he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life that he lives, he lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Paul picks up the same idea in 2 Corinthians 5:14-17, saying that Christ died so that his people should no longer live for themselves but for him who died and rose again on their behalf. He says that anyone in Christ is a new creation, that old things have passed away, and all things have become new. So Paul is telling us that the death and resurrection of Jesus makes possible the new heart that God the Father has promised. Jesus offered himself up as the Peace Child so that the enmity between us and God can be removed. We need a spiritual heart transplant because we naturally hate God and love sin; and Jesus gives us his own heart by dying for us. He exterminates our old heart in his death. His resurrection from the dead makes possible the gift of his new heart.

But we know we are guilty before God, that our sins are vastly arrayed against us, promising judgment and condemnation. How does God the Son overcome our guilty record? He secures a new record by his atoning death. Isaiah says that all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall upon him (Isa. 53:5-6). Paul declares that God sent Jesus who did not sin, to become sin on our behalf, that we might become, might gain as it were, the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus did what we could not do – he lived perfectly, without sin, all his days on earth. The Father must have a perfect sacrifice (harking back to the Old Testament sacrifices which looked forward to the true Lamb of God offering himself for us), and Jesus became that sacrifice. This alone assuages our guilt, shame, and condemnation.

So God the Son gives us his heart in regeneration, and he gives us a new record by dying on the cross and being raised from the dead. But Jesus also embodies the new life as a source of holiness. Jesus reminds us that we can do nothing apart from him (John 15:5). He declares that we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). And he says through Paul that no matter our circumstances, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). The true believer, the one who has Jesus’ heart and Jesus’ righteousness, also has Jesus’ holiness. Jesus is his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:31). Trying to obey God out of gratitude for what he has done in Christ is a false and powerless notion. You are to obey God and you can do this only through the holiness of Jesus that the Father gives you. You can obey God. You can become a better husband, a better father. You can overcome sins that long have controlled and consumed you, bringing untold ruin to your family and you. A church full of people with Jesus’ holiness can live together in spiritual harmony and impact the community around them for good.

After Don Richardson understood how to communicate the gospel of grace to the Sawi people, village after village turned to Christ. They put down their treachery and savagery, their murderous, cannibalistic ways. They laid aside their fear and superstition. They practiced peaceful living. Many of them were martyred for their faith by other tribal communities who failed to embrace the gospel. They died with joy and peace.

The reason the church is so weak and impotent in the west is because we do not fully understand and communicate the full-orbed, Trinitarian gospel. God the Father, in his electing grace, has sent us his Son to purchase a new heart, a new record, and a new life of holiness. Jesus, therefore, ought to be everything to us, and when he is everything, even if we lose everything, he continues to be everything.


  1. Peace Child, Don Richardson, pages 193ff.

Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Al Baker’s sermons are now available on

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