"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7 NKJV).
It's scary to think where we would be without mercy! We demand justice for others, but we desire mercy for ourselves.
Abraham Lincoln wisely said, "I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice."
Studying the first four Beatitudes progressively leads us to believe that we are in desperate need of MERCY. When we remember that we have NO personal righteousness to offer God, recognize the horror of our sin, repent to live under God's control, and run after God's righteousness we realize just how MERCIFUL God has been to us. This new perspective leads us to be merciful people.
In this brief passage we will consider four motivations to have mercy:
- The Model of Mercy
Almighty God is our Model of mercy.
Lamentations 3:22-33 says, "Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness" (NKJV).
One cannot read the Old Testament without seeing the wonderful mercy of God:
- God's mercy allowed Adam and Eve to live, and even clothed them, after their sin.
- God's mercy sought out Noah and his family to be the sole human survivors of the great flood.
- God's mercy called an idol-worshiping pagan, named Abram, to be the father of a great nation.
- God's mercy spared Israel and her leaders time and time again in their rebellious sin.
- God's mercy sent Jonah to preach the gospel to the most sinister and repulsive culture on the planet – Nineveh.
When you look at God's dealings with mankind as a whole, you see MERCY. When you examine God's dealings with individual lives, as recorded for us in Scripture, you see MERCY.
Just in the life of King David alone (1 Samuel 16 – 1 Kings 2) we see the mercy of God demonstrated time and time again.
David's most famous transgression was committing adultery with Bathsheba, then having her husband (a faithful soldier in David's army) killed.
After being confronted by Nathan the prophet about his sin with Bathsheba, David prayed,
"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin" (NKJV).
Brother Lawrence, in his book The Practice of the Presence of God writes, "I regard myself as the most wretched of all men, stinking and covered with sores, and as one who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King. Overcome by remorse, I confess all my wickedness to Him, ask His pardon and abandon myself entirely to Him to do with as He will. But this King, filled with goodness and mercy, far from chastising me, lovingly embraces me, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys of His treasures and treats me as His favorite. He talks with me and is delighted with me in a thousand and one ways; He forgives me and relieves me of my principle bad habits without talking about them; I beg Him to make me according to His heart and always the more weak and despicable I see myself to be, the more beloved I am of God."
- The Mission of Mercy
If mercy can be identified in the Old Testament, then mercy is certainly magnified in the New Testament. The fact that a merciful God would spare mankind in their sin is one thing, but that this same God would send His only Son to save sinful mankind is quite another! The coming of Jesus Christ described in the gospels is truly a miraculous mission of MERCY.
Ephesians 2:1-7 summarizes this mission of MERCY - "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (NKJV).
We deserve death and hell, but are offered eternal life and heaven – that's MERCY! Instead of hell-fire, we find His forgiveness; instead of our destruction, His salvation; our rags for His righteousness - that's MERCY!
- The Mandate of Mercy
To the Jews hearing Matthew 5:7, they understood mercy is two ways; the pardon of injuries, and the giving of alms. In showing mercy we see the wretched condition of others and are moved to action.
While Jesus was fulfilling His mission of mercy, he issued some mandates to His followers (that's us).
In Mark 12:30-31 Jesus said, "'And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these" (NKJV).
Loving my neighbor as myself essentially means that I treat them the way I would want to be treated. Early in this lesson I stated, "We often demand justice for others, but desire mercy for ourselves." However, the mandate of mercy says, "Mercy for others".
This is difficult because mercy deserved is not mercy at all. The people in our lives that need mercy are the very ones that don't deserve mercy. They're guilty; they're harsh, they're selfish, they're sinners; just like us.
Timothy Keller, in his book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith writes, "Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn't mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness."
If you're still seeing yourself more on the receiving end of mercy and not the giving end, let me remind you that Jesus said in John 20:21, "As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you" (NKJV). This means that Jesus' mission of mercy now belongs to us. He was the Salt and the Light; now WE are the salt and the light. He came to seek and to save the lost; now WE are to seek and share the life saving message of the gospel with the lost. He has shown us mercy; now we are to show mercy to those around us.
It breaks my heart to see people who call themselves Christians be merciLESS. I think of the hate-filled cult known as Westboro Baptist Church. Their web address is www.godhatesfags.com. They spew hatred and venom in the name of God's holiness. One look at their protests exposes the fact that they do not represent the loving and merciful God we serve. Jesus didn't spend His three years on planet earth railing on the immoralities of Rome, or ridiculing the wretchedness of man. He said, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (NKJV). He also said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (NKJV). A merciless "Christian" contradicts Christ. Jesus was merciFULL and his followers should reflect that mercy.
- The Mirror Effect of Mercy
Perhaps the greatest commentary on mercy outside of the Bible came from the pen of William Shakespeare.
"The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed;
It blesseth him who gives, and him who takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
When mercy seasons justice. -
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. -
(The Merchant of Venice)
This conditional promise of mercy to the merciful seems to me much like the plea for forgiveness in the Lord's Prayer: "forgive us, as we forgive others". Shakespeare observes that mercy blesses those who give it and those who receive it. No one would be saved by justice alone, as all are guilty. But all who are saved by this great mercy, should be first to show mercy to others, if the mercy of God has really changed us as we claim. God satisfied justice with the blood of Christ, so that he could show us mercy. Do we value the justice earned by Christ enough to be merciful to the wretched sinners we see? Earthly power is most like God's when mercy seasons justice. Shakespeare's monologue ends with this "How shalt thou hope for mercy, rend'ring none?" It is not the just, but the merciful, who are promised mercy in return.