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Blessed are the Merciful

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Blessed are the Merciful

Matthew 5:7

November 16, 1997


We have now reached the mid-point of our study of the Beatitudes. Four down - four to go. It’s really interesting, though, that this doesn’t just represent the mid-point on the continuum of our study. It also represents a turning point. A major shift in the focus of the Beatitudes. Now, to see that shift, I want to take a few minutes this morning to review what we’ve learned so far.

Broad Context

First of all, we know that the Beatitudes are found in the overall context of the Sermon on the Mount. And that’s vital because it tells us that the Beatitudes have something to do with Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God. In the SOM, Jesus tells us about the nature of the Kingdom of God, and what it means to be a member of the Kingdom of God. So, in essence, He is saying, “This is what Christianity is all about. And this is how a Christian lives.”

Now, within this overall context what is the purpose of the Beatitudes? Well, the first thing we notice is the location of the Beatitudes in the sermon. They come first. They serve as the introduction of the whole sermon. And in that capacity, this is what they do: they define and describe the true nature of a Christian. Altogether, then, they give us a portrait of the character of a Christian.

Now then, the rest of the sermon is built on that introduction - the remainder of the sermon draws out the implications of the principles laid out in the Beatitudes. In other words: “This is who a Christian is, this is his nature - and this is how that same Christian lives in the real world. This is how that same Christian responds in specific life situations”

So, the rest of the sermon doesn’t make sense apart from the Beatitudes. It’s utterly ridiculous to think that a person could live out the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus speaks of turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, and all of the high ethical standards - without first knowing what kind of person is capable of living that kind of life. No human being can do it in his or her own strength. It is only possible when a person has been transformed by the power of God’s Spirit.

The First Four Beatitudes

So, the Beatitudes describe what that transformation looks like - what happens in the heart and the character of a person who has come into a relationship with Jesus Christ and is now a new creation.  And this is what we’ve learned about the nature of a Christian so far:

·        Is Poor in Spirit - is radically dependent upon God; has come to the end of his rope and has recognized his utter need for God.

·        One who Mourns - whose heart is broken because he understands the tragedy of sin and the tragic consequences of sin in his own life and in the world, and turns from it with all his heart. Mourning is really about repentance.

·        Is Meek - is surrendered to the will and control of God. One who has let Him have the reigns of his life.

·        Hungers and Thirsts After Righteousness - whose deepest yearning - greatest passion - is not for stuff or fame or power or any other earthly thing or person, but for a right relationship with God and everything that is of God.

Now, you may be thinking, “But Keith, these Beatitudes are much more profound than I ever realized. And if I’m going to be honest with myself, have to admit I don’t always exhibit each of these characteristics. Does that mean I’m not a Christian?”

And the answer is, “Not necessarily.” If the qualities we just talked about are repugnant to you. If they repel you, and you have no desire whatsoever to see them in your life, then “Yes, it’s not likely that you have been saved and transformed by the grace of God.” Because this is the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

On the other hand, if you have asked Christ into your heart and you do truly long to see these qualities in your life, but you find yourself falling short, don’t be disheartened. Don’t beat yourself up. That’s not what this is all about.

Jesus is describing His own nature and the ideal nature of all who follow Him. But we know we will not perfectly attain these qualities on this side of heaven. Still, Jesus says, “This is your true nature. So seek after these qualities, cling to them, embrace them. Put yourself before God daily so He can work them out in your life.

And He says that when we do embrace them, we will experience the full blessings of the Kingdom. Eight times, He says, “Blessed are you; Congratulations to you who are marked by these characteristics, for you will enjoy the deepest blessings of the Kingdom of God - blessings that cannot be matched by any blessing of the world.” Again, look at the blessings we’ve seen so far:

·        When we poor in spirit - when we live in a state of dependence upon God - the Kingdom of God and all its resources is made available to us.

·        When we mourn over our sins and the sins of the world, we will know the comfort of a loving and gracious God who can forgive every sin and heal every wound.

·        When we are meek - when we submit ourselves to the will and control of God - we will experience the very best life this world has to offer.

·        And when we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we will be filled as nothing else can fill us.

Now, I said earlier that we have come to a turning point in our study. And it’s very important that we see and understand the significance of this shift in focus. When you begin to understand the deeper meaning of each of these Beatitudes, you begin to see that there is a natural progression from one to the next. Each one builds on the one before it and leads to the one that follows it.

·        Poverty of spirit is ground zero – the recognition of our need for God.

·        But as we look to him, we become deeply aware of our sinfulness and unworthiness before him, and this leads to mourning or repentance.

·        But Christianity is not just about repentance. After we have repented, we turn to God and we give Him the reigns of our lives, which is the definition of meekness.

·        And that leads to a right relationship with God and a deeper yearning for everything in His Kingdom.

The Shift

So there are the first four. They are distinct, but they do have something in common. They all have to do primarily with the vertical relationship - the relationship between God and man. But now comes the shift. The next four will focus primarily on the horizontal relationship - the relationship between man and man.

Now this is not just an interesting observation. There is a critical principle here that is vital to the Christian life, and it has to do with the relationship between being and doing. Being, which has to do with who we are in Christ and our relationship with Christ, must always be the foundation on which all our doing is built.

This is the way Christ, Himself, lived. As you’ve read through the Gospels, have you ever noticed how often Christ withdrew from the crowds and the hectic pace of ministry in order to be alone with the Father. If Christ, the Son of God, knew that He could not “do” without first “being”, how in the world do we think we can do it?

That’s why Jesus says to us in John 15, “I am the vine and you are the branches. He who abides in me will bear much fruit.” You see, God does want us to bear fruit - to do something. But the bearing of fruit comes as a result of abiding, which is being. So, being must come before doing. Because we must first be filled before we can give.

So we must maintain this proper relationship between being and doing, but we can be sure that when we are right with God it will have a dramatic effect on the way we relate to and live with other people. And that’s what we’ll explore in the next four Beatitudes.

Blessed Are the Merciful

This morning we will look rather briefly at the fifth: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

I’ll never forget once in my first church, I was preaching on mercy and in that church we always had a children’s sermon. And I because I wanted to somehow tie it in with the regular sermon, I was trying to think of some way of illustrating the concept of mercy on a kids level. And the only thing I could think of was how when I was a child we had occasionally found an injured animal, and we felt sorry for it, and as an act of mercy, we tried to nurse it back to health. So, I asked the children if they had ever found an animal that was hurt. This one little girl piped up immediately, “Yeah, I found a hurt cat once, and I took it home, but my Daddy killed it and threw it in the trash can.” Well, how do you recover from that?

What do we mean when we speak of mercy?

·      Spiritual Gift of Mercy - has to do with a ministry of compassion to those who are hurting.

·      Ministering to the needs of those who are poor and oppressed; especially in the Old Testament, we find a close relationship between mercy and working for justice.

·      Forgiveness - often when a person asks for mercy, he or she is asking for forgiveness. And when we think of the mercy of God, we are usually thinking of His forgiveness.

Making Ourselves Aware of the Needs of Others

And all of them are correct. Each one is a visible expression of the Biblical concept of mercy. And what strikes me about them first is that they reveal the importance of making ourselves aware of the needs of others. And though it flies in the face of popular culture, putting the needs of others before my own is an important Biblical principle.

·      Rom 12:10  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

·      Rom 15:1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

·      1 Cor 10:24  Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

·      Phil 2:3-4   Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

These are difficult words to a selfish society. But when a Christian realizes how much he has been given, and how little he deserves, selfishness really does begins to look ugly. How can we be selfish when God has blessed us so much? So out of the overflow of God’s blessings in our own lives, we are able to look beyond ourselves and turn to the needs of others.

A Desire to Relieve the Suffering of Another

But mercy is more than just thinking of others or even putting the needs of others before my own. It has to do in particular with wanting to relieve the suffering of another person. And it’s very important to see in this the active quality of Biblical mercy. It’s much more than pity or mere sympathy. William Barclay says it is to “get inside of the other person’s skin until we see with their eyes, think with their mind, and feel with their feelings.” And then once we have identified with them on this level, we are moved  by compassion to help relieve their suffering.

Practical Applications

Now let’s think about what this means in the real world and how we live it out.

1.                  On the simplest and most common level, I believe it has to do with being considerate of others even when they aren’t considerate of us or fall short of our expectations.      

a)                 How often in a given week do you feel that someone has taken advantage of you or has failed in some way to meet your expectations?

b)                 And what is your typical response when this happens? Well, if you’re in the flesh, you get angry; you feel slighted; you want to stand up for your rights or set ‘em straight.

c)                  When I first moved to Columbus I was really shocked by the service that I often received at various business establishments. I grew up in a small town, and in a small town, your reputation is everything. The customer really is always right. But in the big city, it’s not always like that. I began to feel that people were rude or just downright incompetent. Things weren’t done on time, and if they were they weren’t done well. And I’ve got to be honest with you, I began to develop somewhat of an attitude. I started expecting the worst from others, and I usually found it. I started treating clerks or secretaries or service people like they were machines rather than people.

d)                 But God really started convicting me, and in essence, He said, “You don’t have a spirit of mercy. You don’t think about the needs of the other person. Maybe it’s really not his fault. Maybe he’s having a bad day. Maybe she just found out her husband is having an affair with her best friend.

e)                 The point is that we don’t know what’s going on in the other person’s life. Maybe they are incompetent. But maybe it’s something else. When we embrace this quality of mercy, we take the time to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and it changes our attitude toward them.

f)                    Servant Evangelism has helped me with this more than anything else. Developing the habit of doing nice things for people for no good reason has a way of helping you to think about the needs of others.

g)                 I remember one night in Florida when Pam and I were on vacation…

h)                  And on the simplest level, that’s Biblical mercy in action.

2.                  On a deeper level, it is to be moved by compassion to help those who are oppressed.

a)                 As you read through the Bible, one of the things you begin to notice is that God has a special place in His heart for the poor and the outcast and the downtrodden.

b)                 I spent some time looking for all the verses that reflect God’s heart for the oppressed, and there were so many I couldn’t get through them all, but listen to just a few:

i)                    Ps 9:9  The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

ii)                  Ps 69:33  The LORD hears the needy and does not despise his captive people.

iii)                Ps 140:12  I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.

iv)                Ps 147:3  He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

v)                  Isa 40:29  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

vi)                Luke 4:18-19  "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

vii)              Matt 25:35-40  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.  Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?  The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

c)                  It’s not easy to get involved with the oppressed. It’s not pretty or glamorous, and it certainly isn’t exciting. And if we try, we can rationalize our lack of involvement. It’s their fault. If they would just work a little harder maybe they’d get somewhere. They deserve their lot in life. They’re just reaping what they’ve sown.

d)                 And there is some truth to that. Certainly not in the case of all who are poor and oppressed, but some, yes. But where would we be if God had left us to reap what we had sown? You see, it doesn’t really matter why. The point is that God wants to deliver them. He has compassion for them no less than He had compassion for us. And as His children, He wants us to share his heart.

e)                 On a less cynical note, maybe we just feel overwhelmed. The needs are too many and too great. We don’t even know where to begin. This is a very real struggle.

f)                    But I want to challenge you not to let those thoughts keep you from getting involved. Look around you. See who is hurting. See who is in need. See who is being oppressed, and let the heart of God move you to works of compassion compassion.

g)                 I know this, my own work among the poor and oppressed has helped me to better understand the blessing of this beatitude. It says, you get what you give. You give mercy, you’ll receive mercy. And without exception, when I have spent time in this kind of work, I have always come out of it the greater blessed. I always end up getting a deeper glimpse of God’s love and mercy for me. 

3.                  There’s one more level on which we have to deal with the Biblical concept of mercy, and it has to do with forgiveness. To show mercy is to give grace when judgment is deserved.

a)                 And as difficult as it may be, the Bible clearly says that a Christian must always practice forgiveness.

i)                    Peter: 7 times? No, it is a lifestyle, not a matter of keeping count.

ii)                  Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

iii)                It’s the only part of the prayer that Jesus comments on. The first thing that He says after the Lord’s Prayer is this: For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

iv)                Jesus told a parable of “The Ungrateful Servant.” It’s the story of a man who owed the king more money than he could ever pay in a thousand lifetimes. But the king had mercy on the man, and forgave him the debt. But within minutes, that same man went out on the streets and found a man who owed him pocket change. And he demanded that the debt be paid, and when it wasn’t, he had the man thrown in jail. Well, when the king heard about it, he was outraged and he had the man brought back before him. And we’re told that he turned him over to the torturers.

v)                  Now, if you’ve ever known anyone who is living with unforgiveness in their heart, you know what it looks like for a person to be turned over to the torturers. It is literally “hell on earth.”

vi)                A person who refuses to forgive is a person who is filled with anger and bitterness, and over the years, that bitterness just begins to eat away at everything good until there’s nothing left.

b)                 In great contrast, Jesus says the one who shows mercy is blessed. And why is that. Do we earn forgiveness by forgiving others? Of course not. What Jesus is saying is that we can’t claim to have been forgiven of our sins if we turn right around and refuse to forgive others. Because it shows that we don’t really understand the depth of our own sin and the mercy God has shown us.

c)                  On the other hand, when we have truly experienced forgiveness of our own sins, it will forever change the way we view others. We will forever understand that everyone else is in the same boat. We’re all sinners.

d)                 What was wrong with the Ungrateful Servant? He didn’t really know that He was forgiven. He was out collecting debts.

e)                 Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that forgiveness is easy. Being a Christian doesn’t  insulate us to the pain of another person’s sin against us. The pain is just as real.

f)                    But when we look to the cross, we find One who endured more pain than we can imagine - and completely unjustified! And when we look at His body, torn and bleeding, not for His own sin, but for ours, and we hear his words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” How can we ever be the same?

You see the cross is where mercy begins, because no one can make the journey to the foot of the cross and behold the grace of God, and partake of His unfathonable mercy and not be forever changed.

Are you having trouble forgiving someone? Are having trouble showing mercy to those who are downcast and oppressed? Are you having trouble putting the needs of others before your own - showing kindness to others when they fail to meet your expectations?

Maybe it’s because you’ve never been to the foot of the cross. Or if you have been there, maybe it’s because you’ve moved. Don’t you think it’s time to go back?

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