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Matthew 05.7

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April 29, 2007 at FBC, Comanche; Expositional studies: Matthew

Text: Matthew 5:1-12; Matthew 5:7

      7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” [KJV]

“The Beauty of Mercifulness”

Introduction: The fifth beatitude:

 “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

In the first four Beatitudes, which have already been considered, a definite progression of spiritual awakening and transformation has been noted as one of the thrusts of our Lord’s teaching.

·        First, there is a discovery of the fact that I am nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing—poverty of spirit.

·        Second, there is conviction of sin, a consciousness of guilt producing godly sorrow—mourning.

·        Third, there is a renouncing of self-dependence and a taking of my place in the dust before God—meekness.

·        Fourth, there follows an intense longing after Christ and His salvation—hungering and thirsting after righteousness. But, in a sense, all of this is simply negative, for it is the believing sinner’s perception of what is defective in himself and a yearning for what is desirable.

In the next four Beatitudes we come to the manifestation of positive good in the believer, the fruits of a new creation and the blessings of a transformed character. How this shows us, once more, the importance of noting that order in which God’s truth is presented to us!

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” How grossly has this text been perverted by merit-mongers! Those who insist that the Bible teaches salvation by works appeal to this verse in support of their pernicious error. But nothing could be less to their purpose. Our Lord’s purpose is not to set forth the foundation upon which the sinner’s hope of mercy from God must rest, but rather it is to describe the character of His genuine disciples.

Mercifulness is a prominent trait in this character.  According to our Lord’s teaching, mercy is an essential feature of that holy character to which God has inseparably connected the enjoyment of His own sovereign kindness. Thus, there is nothing whatever in this verse that favors the erroneous teachings of Roman Catholicism.

The position occupied by this Beatitude in its context is another key to its interpretation. The first four describe the initial exercises of heart in one who has been awakened by the Holy Spirit. In the preceding verse, the soul is seen hungering and thirsting after Christ, and then filled by Him.

Here we are shown the first effects and evidences of this filling. Having obtained mercy of the Lord, the saved sinner now exercises mercy. It is not that God requires us to be merciful in order that we might be entitled to His mercy, for that would overthrow the whole scheme of Divine grace! But having been the recipient of His wondrous mercy, I cannot help but now act mercifully toward others.

What is mercifulness? It is a gracious disposition toward my fellow creatures and fellow Christians. It is that kindness and benevolence that feels the miseries of others. It is a spirit that regards with compassion the sufferings of the afflicted. It is that grace that causes one to deal leniently with an offender and to scorn the taking of revenge.  It is the forgiving spirit; it is the non-retaliating spirit; it is the spirit that gives up all attempt at self-vindication and would not return an injury for an injury, but rather good in the place of evil and love in the place of hatred. That is mercifulness.

Mercy being received by the forgiven soul, that soul comes to appreciate the beauty of mercy, and yearns to exercise toward other offenders similar grace to that which is exercised towards one’s self (Dr. A. T. Pierson).

The source of this merciful temper is not to be attributed to anything in our

fallen human nature. It is true that there are some who make no profession

of being Christians in whom we often see not a little of kindliness of

disposition, sympathy for the suffering, and a readiness to forgive those

who have wronged them. Admirable as this may be, from a purely human

viewpoint, it falls far below that mercifulness upon which Christ here

pronounced His benediction. The amiability of the flesh has no spiritual

value, for its movements are neither regulated by the Scriptures nor

exercised with any reference to the Divine authority. The mercifulness of

this fifth Beatitude is that spontaneous outflow of a heart that is captivated

by, and in love with, the mercy of God.

The mercifulness of our text is the product of the new nature implanted by

the Holy Spirit in the child of God. It is called into exercise when we

contemplate the wondrous grace, pity, and longsuffering of God toward

such unworthy wretches as ourselves. The more I ponder God’s sovereign

mercy to me, the more I shall think of the unquenchable fire from which I

have been delivered through the sufferings of the Lord Jesus. The more

conscious I am of my indebtedness to Divine grace, the more mercifully I

shall act toward those who wrong, injure, and hate me.

Mercifulness is one of the attributes of the spiritual nature that one receives

at the new birth. Mercifulness in the child of God is but a reflection of the

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abundant mercy that is found in his heavenly Parent. Mercifulness is one of

the natural and necessary consequences of a merciful Christ indwelling us.

It may not always be exercised; it may at times be stifled or checked by

fleshly indulgence. But when the general tenor of a Christian’s character

and the main trend of his life are taken into account, it is clear that

mercifulness is an unmistakable trait of the new man.

“The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again; but the righteous

sheweth mercy, and giveth” (<193721>Psalm 37:21).

It was mercy in Abraham, after he had been wronged by his nephew, that

caused him to pursue and secure the deliverance of Lot (<011401>Genesis 14:1-

16). It was mercy on the part of Joseph, after his brethren had so

grievously mistreated him, that caused him to freely forgive them

(<015015>Genesis 50:15-21). It was mercy in Moses, after Miriam had rebelled

against him and the Lord had smitten her with leprosy, that caused him to

cry,

“Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee” (<041213>Numbers 12:13).

It was mercy that caused David to spare the life of his enemy Saul when

that wicked king was in his hands (<092401>1 Samuel 24:1-22; 26:1-25). In sad

and striking contrast, of Judas it is said that he

“remembered not to shew mercy, but persecuted the poor and

needy man” (<19A916>Psalm 109:16).

In <451208>Romans 12:8 the Apostle Paul gives vital instruction concerning the

spirit in which mercy is to be exercised: “he that showeth mercy” is to do

so “with cheerfulness.” The direct reference here is to the giving of money

for the support of poor brethren, but this loving principle really applies to

all compassion shown to the afflicted. Mercy is to be exercised cheerfully,

to demonstrate that it is not only done voluntarily but that it is also a

pleasure. This spares the feelings of the one helped, and soothes the

sorrows of the sufferer. It is this quality of cheerfulness that gives most

value to the service rendered. The Greek word is most expressive,

denoting joyful eagerness, a gladsome affability that makes the visitor like a

sunbeam, warming the heart of the afflicted. Since Scripture tells us that

“God loveth a cheerful giver” (<470907>2 Corinthians 9:7),

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we may be sure that the Lord takes note of the spirit in which we respond

to His admonitions.

“For they shall obtain mercy.” These words enunciate a principle or law

that God has ordained in His government over our lives here on earth. It is

summarized in that well-known word:

“Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”

(<480607>Galatians 6:7).

The Christian who is merciful in his dealings with others will receive

merciful treatment at the hands of his fellows; for

“with what measure ye meet, it shall be measured to you again”

(<400702>Matthew 7:2).

Therefore it is written,

“He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life,

righteousness, and honor” (<202121>Proverbs 21:21).

The one who shows mercy to others gains personally thereby:

“The merciful man doeth good to his own soul”

(<201117>Proverbs 11:17a).

There is an inward satisfaction in the exercise of benevolence and pity to

which the highest gratification of the selfish man is not to be compared.

“He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he”

(<201421>Proverbs 14:21b).

The exercise of mercy is a source of satisfaction to God Himself:

“He delighteth in mercy” (<330718>Micah 7:18).

So must it be to us.

“For they shall obtain mercy.” Not only does the merciful Christian gain by

the happiness that accrues to his own soul through the exercise of this

grace, not only will the Lord, in His overruling providence, make his

mercifulness return again to him at the hands of his fellow men, but the

Christian will also obtain mercy from God. This truth David declared:

“With the merciful Thou wilt shew Thyself merciful”

(<191825>Psalm 18:25).

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On the other hand, the Savior admonished His disciples with these words:

“But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father

forgive your trespasses” (<400615>Matthew 6:15).

“For they shall obtain mercy.” Like the promises attached to the previous

Beatitudes, this one also looks forward to the future for its final fulfillment.

In <550116>2 Timothy 1:16, 18, we find the Apostle Paul writing,

“The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus... The Lord

grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.

In Jude 21, the saints are also exhorted to be “looking for the mercy of our

Lord Jesus Christ”—this refers to the ultimate acknowledgement of us as

His own redeemed people at His second coming in glory.


April 29, 2007 First Baptist Church, Comanche Series: Studies in Matthew

Text:  Matthew 5:1-12, esp. v. 7

Matthew 5:7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

“The Beauty of Mercy”

Introduction: “Being before Doing”

“Mercy and Truth” [Matthew 6:12, 14-15; Heb 2:17]. 

“The world … is unmerciful, as indeed also the church in its worldliness has often been.  The world prefers to insulate itself against the pains and calamities of men.  It finds revenge delicious, and forgiveness, by comparison, tame.  But those who show mercy find it.  ‘How blest are those who show mercy; mercy shall be shown to them’ [NEB].  The same truth is echoed in the next chapter [of Matthew’s Gospel account]: ‘If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you.’ This is not because we can merit mercy or forgiveness by forgiveness, but because we cannot receive the mercy and forgiveness of God unless we repent, and we cannot claim to have repented of OUR sins if we are unmerciful towards the sins of others….Nothing proves more clearly that we have been forgiven than our own readiness to forgive.  To forgive and to be forgiven, to show mercy and to receive mercy; these belong indissolubly together, as Jesus illustrated in His parable of the unmerciful servant [Matthew 18:21-35].  Or, interpreted in the context of the Beatitudes, it is ‘the meek,’ who are also ‘the merciful.’ For to be meek is to acknowledge to others that WE are sinners; to be merciful is to have compassion on others, for they are sinners, too.” [2]

Psalms 85:10

10    Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Titus 3:5

5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. 9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

Ephesians 2:8-10

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

1.    The Statement [Matthew 15:1-9; Prov 11:17]

A.     The Definition—one who has received mercy extends mercy to others

1)     Happy—μακάριος; blessed one. Blessed, possessing the favor of God, that state of being marked by fullness from God. It indicates the state of the believer in Christ; happy, totally fulfilled because of God’s blessing[3]

2)     Mercy—ἔλεος [eleos]; AV translates as “mercy” 28 times. 1 mercy: kindness or good will towards the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them.[4]

++  The Hebrew synonym would be chesed, which means “to have mercy on, to succor the afflicted, to give help to the wretched, and to rescue the miserable.” Anything you do that is of benefit to someone in need is mercy.[5]

B.    The Disposition—a further consequence which must inevitably be manifested when one is truly Christian

Are you, or aren’t you?  Are you forgiven? Then, you must forgive.

2.    The Story [Matthew 18:15-35]

A.     The Expression—pity over the effects of sin

B.    The Evaluation—saved by grace alone [Ephesians 2:8-10]

Jesus not only developed this biblical understanding of mercy, but displayed it perfectly when He asked from the cross of Calvary, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” [Luke 23:34].

3.    The Scriptures [Matt 9:13; Matthew 12:7; Matthew 23:23]

Matthew 9:13

13“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 12:7

7“But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.

Matthew 23:23

23“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe…, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

What does God require of the one who follows Him, is a citizen of the heavenly Kingdom?

Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice [truth], to love kindness [chesed], and to walk humbly with your God? [emphasis added].

4.    The Song [Lamentations 3:22-25] “Great is Thy Faithfulness

Lamentations 3:22-25 [KJV]

22 It is of the Lord’s mercies [checed] that we are not consumed, because His compassions [racham] fail not. 23 They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness [’emuwnah]. 24 The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope [yachal] in Him. 25 The Lord is good unto them that wait [qavah] for Him, to the soul that seeketh [darash] him.

Romans 1:29-31

29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful.[6]

Ephesians 4:29-32

29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

 

Conclusion and Application:

 We can be merciful spiritually, that is, meet the spiritual needs of others through:

  • Pity—empathize with the consequences of sin

!!    Augustine said, “If I weep for the body from which the soul is departed, should I not weep for the soul from which God is departed?[7]

  • Prodding

2 Timothy 2:25;

“With gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” Prodding means to confront people about their sin in order that God might give them forgiveness. [8]

Titus 1:13

13 This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.

  • Prayer

++  Prayer for the souls of those without God is an act of mercy. Do we pray for the lost? Do we pray for our neighbors? Do we pray for Christians who are walking in disobedience? [9]

  • Preaching [Romans 10:13-17]

++  Preaching the gospel is the most necessary and merciful thing you can do for the lost soul.[10]

Romans 10:13-17

13 “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” 16  However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Conclusion and Application

      Our Lord is saying that you are only truly forgiven only when you are truly repentant.  To be truly repentant means that you realize that you deserve nothing but punishment, and that if you are forgiven, it is to be attributed entirely to the love of God and to His mercy and grace, and to nothing else at all.  If you are truly repentant and realize your position before God, and realize that you are only forgiven in that way, then of necessity you must forgive those who trespass against you.


HAPPY ARE THE MERCIFUL

(Matthew 5:7)

The religion Jesus faced in His day was shallow, superficial, external, and very much ritualistic. The Jewish leaders thought they were secure and that they would surely be inhabiters of the kingdom. They thought they would be leaders in the Messiah’s rule.

But our Lord said to those people, “For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). Back in Matthew 3:7–12, when John the Baptist arrived on the scene and saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come for baptism, John said to them: “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’ ” (vv. 7–9). In other words, don’t count on your racial identity to save you. Then John added,

“For I say to you, that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (vv. 9–12)

John the Baptist was speaking of a tremendous judgment that would come on those who had nothing more than an external religion. The axe was falling, the fire was beginning.

Jesus confronted this external, self-righteous, selfish crowd and said, “What really matters is on the inside.” He was talking about character. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,” He declared.

Righteous on the Inside

Jesus bypassed all the supposed credits they had mounted to their own cause and went straight to the heart of the matter. Christ always puts the emphasis on the inside. He is not unconcerned with outward action, but only as it is produced by proper motivation.

Righteousness on the inside will produce the fruit of right action. But you can falsify action without reality, and that’s legalism. What Jesus wants is action that springs from right character.

The sixth and seventh chapters of Matthew deal with action: things we do or say or think. The premise on which the whole Sermon on the Mount is built is the heart attitude. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has put it well, “A Christian is something before he does something.”1

Introduction: To be a child of the King, a subject of the kingdom, is first to possess a certain kind of character, a character of brokenness, a mourning over sin, meekness, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercifulness, purity of heart, a peacemaking quality. We are not meant to control our Christianity. Our Christianity is meant to control us.

Living as a Christian means there is to be no veneer, no facade. Christianity is something that happens to us at the very center of our being, and from there it flows out to the activities of life. God has never been interested in only the blood of bulls and goats. He has never been interested in any superficial spiritual activity unless the heart is right. (See Amos 5:21–24.)

So Jesus confronted a crowd of externalists with some devastating comments. In the first Beatitude He said, “What you need to do is be spiritually bankrupt. You need to recognize that you are destitute and debauched beggars who have nothing good to bring to God and that your only hope is to see your condition and cower in the darkness and reach out as one who can’t do anything for himself. You must not be satisfied with your self-righteousness. You must weep great tears for your sinfulness. Further, you must not be proud because you have kept certain laws. You must be meek before a holy God. You must realize that you are starving for a lack of righteousness.”

The first four Beatitudes are entirely inner principles, dealing with how you see yourself before God. This fifth Beatitude, while also being an inner attitude, begins to reach out and touch others. This is the fruit of the other four. When we are broken as beggars in our spirit, when we are mournful and meek and hungering and thirsting after righteousness, being merciful to others will be the result.

The first four Beatitudes line up with the last four. The first four are inner attitudes and the last four are the things the attitudes manifest.

When we have poverty of spirit and we realize that we are nothing but beggars, we will be willing to give to another beggar, so we will be merciful.

When we mourn over our sin, we wash our hearts pure with the tears of penitence, and we will be pure in heart.

When we are meek, we will be peacemakers, because meekness makes peace.

And when we are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, we will be willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

Now, let’s look at what it means to be merciful. Jesus’ simple statement here is so profound and so broad in its implications that I hardly know where to begin. I have the feeling that there is no way I could begin to cover it all, even if I took the space of this entire book just for verse 7. But let’s take a shot at it.

The Meaning of Mercy

What does it mean to be merciful? The Jews of that day hardly knew. They were as merciless as the Romans. They were proud, egotistical, self-righteous, and condemning. What Jesus was saying really touched them where they lived.

People often want to take this Beatitude in a humanistic way. They say, “Well, if you’re good to everybody else, everybody else will be good to you.” Even the Talmud recognizes some sort of magnanimous human virtue in mercy when it quotes Gamaliel: “Whenever thou hast mercy, God will have mercy on thee, and if thou hast not mercy, neither will God have mercy on thee.”

It seems built into human thinking that if you’re good to everybody, they’ll return the kindness. Even people who look at it theologically, as Gamaliel did, think, “Well, if I do this for God, God’s going to do that for me.”

One writer paraphrased this Beatitude this way: “This is the great truth of life, if people see us care, they will care.” But it’s not that simple. If you bring God into it, there is certain reciprocation. If we truly honor God, God will care for us, as Gamaliel indicated. But the world does not work that way, believe me. In fact, the Roman world did not know the meaning of mercy, no matter what good was done.

A Roman philosopher said mercy was “the disease of the soul,” a sign of weakness. The Romans glorified justice and courage and discipline and power; they looked down on mercy. When a child was born into the Roman world, the father had the right of patria potestas. If he wanted the newborn to live, he held his thumb up. If he wanted the child to die, he held it down and the child was immediately drowned.

If a Roman citizen didn’t want his slave anymore, he could kill and bury him, and there would be no legal recourse against the citizen. He could also kill his wife if he chose. So if you were talking to people under Roman power, you could not try to tell them that mercy begets mercy on the human level. It just wouldn’t cut it.

It’s wishful thinking in our selfish, grabbing, competitive society, too. In our day, we would more likely say, “Be merciful to someone and he’ll step on your neck!”

The best illustration that this is no valid human platitude is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He was the most merciful human being who ever lived. He reached out to the sick and healed them. He reached out to the crippled and gave them legs to walk. He healed the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, and the mouths of the dumb. He found prostitutes and tax collectors and those that were debauched and drunken, and He drew them into the circle of His love and redeemed them and set them on their feet.

He took the lonely and made them feel loved. He took little children and gathered them into His arms and loved them. Never was there a person on the face of the earth with the mercy of this One. Once a funeral procession came by and He saw a mother weeping because her son was dead. She was already a widow, and now she had no child to care for her. Who would care? Jesus stopped the funeral procession, put His hand on the casket, and raised the child from the dead. He cared.

In John 8 he forgave a woman taken in adultery. What mercy! When the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eat with the tax collectors and the sinners in Mark 2:16, they asked His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” He ran around with the riffraff!

He was the most merciful human being who ever lived, and they screamed for His blood. If mercy carried its own reward, they would not have nailed Him to a cross and spit in His face and cursed Him. From the people to whom He gave mercy He received no mercy at all.

Two merciless systems, Roman and Judaic, united to kill Him. No, mercy as talked about here is not some human virtue that brings its own reward. That is not the idea.

Then what does the Lord mean? Simply this: You be merciful to others, and God will be merciful to you. God is the subject of the second phrase.

The word itself, merciful, is from the Greek eliamosuna, from which we get the word eleemosynary [supported by charity] which means benefactory. The word is used in this form only one other time in the New Testament. The other is in Hebrews 2:17, “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest.” Christ is the great illustration of mercy. He is the High Priest who intercedes for us, and it is from Him that mercy comes.

The verb form of mercy is very common in Scripture. In Matthew 6:3 it is used concerning almsgiving. The Hebrew synonym would be chesed, which means “to have mercy on, to succor the afflicted, to give help to the wretched, and to rescue the miserable.” Anything you do that is of benefit to someone in need is mercy.

We think of mercy so much in terms of forgiveness in salvation, but it is really a much broader term. It goes beyond compassion. It goes beyond sympathy. It means sympathy and compassion in action toward anyone in need. When our Lord talks about it here, the real eliamosuna is not the weak sympathy that carnal selfishness feels but never does anything about. It is not that false mercy that indulges its own flesh in salving of conscience by giving tokenism. It is not the silent, passive pity that never seems to help in a tangible way. It is genuine compassion with a pure, unselfish motive that reaches out to help.

In other words, Jesus was saying to them, “The people in my kingdom aren’t takers; they’re givers. The people in my kingdom aren’t the ones who set themselves above everybody—they’re the people who stoop to help.”

Jesus told them a story about a man who would not give even the necessary funds to care for his father and mother because he said, “I already devoted it to God in a religious act, and I dare not break my vow.” Jesus said to them, “You are in deep trouble. You have exchanged the commandment of God to honor your father and mother for a tradition that you’ve invented yourself.” (See Matthew 15:1–9.)

The Jews were good at that! They were merciless even to their own parents.

Mercy is seeing a man without food and giving him food. Mercy is seeing a person begging for love and giving him love. Mercy is seeing someone lonely and giving him company. Mercy is meeting the need, not just feeling it.

Mercy, Forgiveness, Love, and Justice

Our understanding can be aided by a brief discussion about mercy in relation to similar words in Scripture.

Titus 3:5 tells us that “He saved us … according to His mercy.” In Ephesians 2:4–9 we learn that God has saved us “being rich in mercy.” It is God’s mercy that allows Him to redeem us. So mercy is behind forgiveness. Mercy and forgiveness belong together.

In Daniel 9:9 (KJV) it says, “To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses.” Psalm 130:1–7 (KJV) also beautifully links mercy and forgiveness:

Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy.

Here’s an individual confessing sin, seeking forgiveness, and knowing that forgiveness comes from the fountain of mercy. We cannot think of mercy without its expression in forgiveness, and we cannot think of forgiveness without its source, mercy. But forgiveness is not the only expression of mercy. We cannot narrow mercy.

Mercy is infinitely bigger than just forgiveness. Consider these five verses (all from the King James version): “The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy” (Psalm 119:64); “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies” (Genesis 32:10); “for his mercies are great” (2 Samuel 24:14); “thy manifold mercies.” (Nehemiah 9:19); “the multitude of thy mercy” (Psalm 69:13). Forgiveness is an act of mercy, yes, but there are many other ways I can be merciful.

In Lamentations, maybe the most beautiful of all the mercy passages, it says this: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (3:22–23 KJV)

What about mercy and love? How do they compare? We said that forgiveness flows out of mercy. What does mercy flow out of? Love. Why has God been merciful? “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us” (Ephesians 2:4). Do you see the sequence? God loves and love is merciful, and mercy is forgiving, among many other things.

But love is bigger than mercy. Mercy is bigger than forgiveness and love is bigger than mercy, because love can do a lot more things than just show mercy. Mercy presupposes a problem. Love can act when there isn’t a problem.

For example, the Father loves the Son, and the Son does not need mercy. The Father loves the angels and the angels love the Father and neither of them needs mercy. Mercy is the physician; love is the friend. Love acts out of affection; mercy acts out of need. Love is constant; mercy is reserved for times of trouble. There is no mercy without love. See how God’s great love funnels down to our need under the category of mercy?

There’s a whole other category too. When we’re righteous and don’t need mercy, He still loves. He shall love us throughout eternity when we do not need mercy anymore. But in this life, love funnels down to us through mercy, and mercy narrows down to that one thought of forgiveness.

What about mercy and grace? You are about to get a real theological exercise, so hang on. The term mercy and all its derivatives always presuppose problems. It deals with the pain and the misery and distress. But grace deals with the sin itself. Mercy deals with the symptoms; grace deals with the problems. Mercy offers relief from punishment; grace offers pardon for the crime. First comes grace. Grace removes the sin. Then mercy eliminates the punishment.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, mercy relieves the suffering. Grace rents him a room. Mercy deals with the negative, and grace puts it in the positive. Mercy takes away the pain; grace gives a better condition. Mercy says, “No hell.” Grace says, “Heaven.” Mercy says, “I pity you.” Grace says, “I pardon you.” So mercy and grace are two sides of the same marvelous coin. God offers both.

What about mercy and justice? People say, “Well, if God is a God of justice, how can He be merciful?” If you look at it that way, if God’s a just, holy, righteous God, can He negate justice? Can He say, “I know you’re a sinner, and I know you’ve done awful things, but I have so much mercy, I’m going to forgive you.” Can He do that? Yes, He can. Why? Because He came into the world in human form and died on the cross and bore in His own body our sins.

He paid the price for all our sin. At the cross, when Jesus died, justice was satisfied. God said there would be no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. God said there had to be a perfect sacrifice to bear the sins of the world. Jesus was that. Justice was satisfied. Mercy does no violation to justice.

When I talk about the mercy of God, I do not speak of some foolish sentimentality that excuses sin. Too much of that is already going on, even in the church. The only time God ever extended mercy was when somebody paid the price for the sin involved. There is a false, foolish, sentimental mercy that wants simply to cancel out justice and does not want to make people pay for anything. King Saul spared King Agag (1 Samuel 15). That violated God’s holiness. David, in a counterfeit mercy shown to Absalom, let him off easy and sowed the seeds of rebellion in his heart (2 Samuel 13). Don’t ever forget it. Psalm 85:10 (KJV) says, “Mercy and truth are met together.”

God will never violate the truth of His justice and His holiness to be merciful. He will be merciful, but only when justice has been done. If Absalom had repented and had accepted the truth of God, then the mercy would have been real. But it was not, because he never acquiesced.

There are people in the church who sin and never really deal with the evil. Yet they want mercy. Look at James 2:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy. (vv. 10–13)

There will be a merciless judgment on people who do not accept the truth, the sacrifice of Christ. We are not talking about sentimentality. If you sin your life away and never acknowledge Jesus Christ, God offers no promise to be merciful to you or to accept you. You will have judgment without mercy.

The Significance of Mercy

So mercy is special. It is more than forgiveness. It is less than love. It is different from grace. And it is one with justice. The merciful one not only hears the insults of evil men, but His heart also reaches out to them in compassion. The merciful one is sympathetic. He is forgiving. He is gracious and loving. He is not so sentimental that he will allow sin to go unpunished or unconfronted just because somebody is sort of sad or tragic.

David wrote, “The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy” (Psalm 37:21 KJV).” If my son comes to me and says, “Dad, I did something wrong, and I’m sorry,” I’ll be merciful. But I’ve told my children since they were little, “If I find out that you haven’t told me the truth or you haven’t admitted something you’ve done, there won’t be mercy. There’ll be punishment.”

It was mercy in Abraham after he had been wronged by his nephew Lot that caused him to go and secure Lot’s deliverance.

It was mercy in Joseph after being treated so badly by his brothers that caused him to accept them and meet their needs.

It was mercy in Moses, after Miriam had rebelled against him and the Lord had given her leprosy, that made him cry, “Oh God, heal her, I pray!” (Numbers 12:13).

It was mercy in David that twice caused him to spare the life of Saul. (See 1 Samuel 24 and 26.)

In Psalm 109:14–15 we read about the person without mercy. “Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord, and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out. Let them be before the Lord continually, that He may cut off their memory from the earth.” Why? Why the call for God to be so judgmental? Why so condemning? “Because he did not remember to show lovingkindness [mercy], but persecuted the afflicted and needy man, and the despondent in heart, to put them to death” (v. 16).

The merciful are those who reach out, not those who grasp and take. God help us to be able somehow to overrule the inundation of a corrupt society and hear the voice of our God who tells us to give everything we have.

If somebody offends us, we should be merciful. Be compassionate. Be benevolent. Be sympathetic. If somebody makes a mistake or a misjudgment or fails to pay a debt or return something they’ve borrowed, be merciful. We must live the character of the kingdom.

Solomon wrote, “The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm” (Proverbs 11:17). Do you want to be really miserable? Be merciless. Do you want to be happy? Be merciful. In Proverbs 12:10 (KJV) we read, “The righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” Righteous people are merciful even to animals. The wicked are cruel to everything.

Do you want to read the characteristics of a godless society? Romans 1:29–31 [Lam 3:22-25] says, “Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful.”

Does this mean the climax of our society is being unmerciful? It appears so.

However, for those of us who have received mercy, how could we be anything but merciful? What did we deserve? If we needed mercy so desperately from God, how can we demand to be cruel to somebody? And that takes us to our next point. God is the source for our mercy.

The Source of Mercy

God is the source of mercy, but only for the people moving through the four preceding Beatitudes. Mercy is not a normal human attribute. Now and then someone might return a kindness, but that is not the norm. The only way to be merciful persons is to have within us the God-given mercy. And the only way to have that is to have the righteousness of God that comes through Christ. That’s what Jesus was saying. If we come by this Beatitude path to the place of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, to be filled by God, we will know mercy.

People want the blessing, but they do not want the belonging. They are like Balaam, the false prophet, who said, “Let me die the death of the upright” (Numbers 23:10). A Puritan commentator said, “Balaam wanted to die like the righteous all right, he just didn’t want to live like the righteous.” The only people who have mercy are the people who have come with a broken and beggarly spirit before a holy God and sought His righteousness.

The psalmist said, “As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him” (Psalm 103:11 KJV). We fear God, we come to Christ, and God gives us His mercy. Thus, the Lord said in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Nothing can rival the Cross for mercy, for it fulfilled Christ’s role as a merciful High Priest (Hebrews 2:17). Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse put it this way:

When Jesus Christ died on the cross, all the work of God for man’s salvation passed out of the realm of prophecy and became historical fact. God has now had mercy upon us. For anyone to pray, ‘God have mercy on me’ is the equivalent of asking Him to repeat the sacrifice of Christ. All the mercy that God ever will have on man He has already had, when Christ died. That is the totality of mercy. There couldn’t be any more. And God can now act toward us in grace because He has already had all mercy on us. The fountain is now opened, and flowing, and flows freely.2

The Substance of Mercy

What does it mean to be merciful? Matthew 5–6, Romans 15, 2 Corinthians 1, Galatians 6, Ephesians 4, Colossians 3, along with countless other passages, will all answer this question for you for they call us to be merciful. How can we be merciful?

We can be merciful physically. For instance, we can give a poor man money, a hungry man food, a naked man clothes, a bedless man a bed. The Old Testament is loaded with ways that we can show mercy. Mercy never holds a grudge, never retaliates, never takes vengeance, never flaunts somebody’s weakness, never makes something of someone’s failure, never recites a sin.

St. Augustine was so merciful to others that he invited people who had no place to eat to come to his big, beautiful dining room table. On the top of the table it is said he had engraved: “Whoever loves another’s name to blast, this table’s not for him, so let him fast.”3

The vindictive, self-righteous, defensive person who protects only himself is like the priest and the Levite who went on the other side of the road to avoid the helpless man whom the Good Samaritan later aided.

We also can be merciful spiritually. We look after their spiritual needs through pity, prodding, prayer, and preaching.

First, we can show pity. St. Augustine said, “If I weep for the body from which the soul is departed, should I not weep for the soul from which God is departed?”4 We cry a lot of tears over dead bodies. What do we do when it comes to souls? Do we have pity for their souls? If I as a Christian had no righteousness but was poor in spirit; if I stood mourning over my sin in a beggarly and hopeless condemnation; if I was wretched and doomed and meek; if I hungered and thirsted for what I had to have but could not produce—if, after all that, I was given mercy and pity from God’s great heart but did not let that same mercy flow to others—what kind of consistency would that be?

I hear Stephen saying as they cast the stones and crushed out his life, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60). He was pitying their souls. You and I must look at the lost with pity, not lording it over them or thinking ourselves better.

Next, we can prod. Second Timothy 2:25 tells us, “With gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” Prodding means to confront people about their sin in order that God might give them forgiveness. They have got to hear the gospel.

Paul wrote Titus, “Reprove them so severely that they may be sound in the faith.” (Titus 1:13). I can care for the soul of a sinner by rebuking him to his face. Such an act is not unloving. In Jude 23 it says that there are some people whom you have to save with fear, “snatching them out of the fire.” That’s not hatred or cruelty; that’s love.

Mercy prods. There has to be the confrontation about sin before there can ever be the realization of sinfulness.

Next we can pray. Prayer for the souls of those without God is an act of mercy. Do we pray for the lost? Do we pray for our neighbors? Do we pray for Christians who are walking in disobedience? Our prayer is an act of mercy, for it releases God’s blessing.

Finally, we can preach. I believe preaching the gospel is the most necessary and merciful thing you can do for the lost soul.

So, we can be merciful to a person’s soul by pity, by prodding, by prayer, and by preaching.

The Sequel to Mercy

The sequel to mercy is obtaining mercy. What a beautiful thing. Do you see the cycle? God gives us mercy, we are merciful, and God gives us more mercy. Second Samuel 22:26 says the same thing, that it is the merciful who receive mercy. James 2:13 says it negatively, “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy.” It’s there in Psalm 18 and Proverbs 14.

But now we must be warned of something, and this is critical: Some people think being merciful is how we get saved. This is the error of the Roman Catholic Church, that God is satisfied and gives mercy when we do merciful deeds. That view spawned monasteries and nunneries and everything related to them. But this is not the way to earn salvation. We do not get mercy for merit. Mercy can apply only where there is no merit, or it is not mercy.

The one who has received mercy will be merciful. The one who has received forgiveness will be forgiving. If you are a merciful person, you give evidence of being God’s child; so every time you sin, God forgives. Every time you have a need, He meets it. He takes care of you. He just pours mercy upon mercy upon mercy to those who show mercy, because they have received it from the merciful God. Are you merciful?[11]


7 The fifth beatitude marks a new emphasis in the beatitudes. Whereas the first four find their focus primarily in a state of mind or an attitude (and imply conduct only secondarily), this beatitude refers to the happiness of those who act, namely, those who are merciful toward others. This beatitude again has strong biblical overtones. Prov 14:21b reads ἐλεω̂ν δὲ πτωχοὺς μακαριστός, “blessed is the one who has mercy on the poor” (cf. Prov 17:5c, a phrase only in the LXX text: δὲ ἐπισπλαγχνιζόμενος ἐλεηθήσεται, “the one who has compassion will be shown mercy”).

Showing mercy to the needy became a key element in rabbinic ethics (see b. Šabb 151b; t B. Qam. 9.30[366]; cf. Str-B 1:203–5 and the excursus in 4:559–610). For the importance of mercy to Matthew’s presentation of the Christian ethic, cf. Matt 9:13

;

Matthew 12:7 ;

Matthew 23:23. What the poor and oppressed have not received from the rich and powerful, they should nevertheless show others. The point is analogous to that made somewhat differently in 18:33; there a servant who had been forgiven a great debt refused to have mercy on his debtor, whereupon his master said, “Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” Implicit in this beatitude is the judgment upon the wicked oppressors, i.e., the ones who have not shown mercy: to them mercy will not be shown (cf. Jas 2:13).[12]


“HAPPY ARE THE MERCIFUL …”

(Matthew 5:7)

The religion Jesus faced in His day was shallow, superficial, external, and very much ritualistic. The Jewish leaders thought they were secure and that they would surely be inhabiters of the kingdom. They thought they would be leaders in the Messiah’s rule.

But our Lord said to those people, “For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). Back in Matthew 3:7–12, when John the Baptist arrived on the scene and saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come for baptism, John said to them: “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’ ” (vv. 7–9). In other words, don’t count on your racial identity to save you. Then John added,

“For I say to you, that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (vv. 9–12)

John the Baptist was speaking of a tremendous judgment that would come on those who had nothing more than an external religion. The axe was falling, the fire was beginning.

Jesus confronted this external, self-righteous, selfish crowd and said, “What really matters is on the inside.” He was talking about character. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,” He declared.

Righteous on the Inside

Jesus bypassed all the supposed credits they had mounted to their own cause and went straight to the heart of the matter. Christ always puts the emphasis on the inside. He is not unconcerned with outward action, but only as it is produced by proper motivation.

Righteousness on the inside will produce the fruit of right action. But you can falsify action without reality, and that’s legalism. What Jesus wants is action that springs from right character.

The sixth and seventh chapters of Matthew deal with action: things we do or say or think. The premise on which the whole Sermon on the Mount is built is the heart attitude. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has put it well, “A Christian is something before he does something.”1

To be a child of the King, a subject of the kingdom, is first to possess a certain kind of character, a character of brokenness, a mourning over sin, meekness, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercifulness, purity of heart, a peacemaking quality. We are not meant to control our Christianity. Our Christianity is meant to control us.

Living as a Christian means there is to be no veneer, no facade. Christianity is something that happens to us at the very center of our being, and from there it flows out to the activities of life. God has never been interested in only the blood of bulls and goats. He has never been interested in any superficial spiritual activity unless the heart is right. (See Amos 5:21–24.)

So Jesus confronted a crowd of externalists with some devastating comments. In the first Beatitude He said, “What you need to do is be spiritually bankrupt. You need to recognize that you are destitute and debauched beggars who have nothing good to bring to God and that your only hope is to see your condition and cower in the darkness and reach out as one who can’t do anything for himself. You must not be satisfied with your self-righteousness. You must weep great tears for your sinfulness. Further, you must not be proud because you have kept certain laws. You must be meek before a holy God. You must realize that you are starving for a lack of righteousness.”

The first four Beatitudes are entirely inner principles, dealing with how you see yourself before God. This fifth Beatitude, while also being an inner attitude, begins to reach out and touch others. This is the fruit of the other four. When we are broken as beggars in our spirit, when we are mournful and meek and hungering and thirsting after righteousness, being merciful to others will be the result.

The first four Beatitudes line up with the last four. The first four are inner attitudes and the last four are the things the attitudes manifest.

When we have poverty of spirit and we realize that we are nothing but beggars, we will be willing to give to another beggar, so we will be merciful.

When we mourn over our sin, we wash our hearts pure with the tears of penitence, and we will be pure in heart.

When we are meek, we will be peacemakers, because meekness makes peace.

And when we are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, we will be willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

Now, let’s look at what it means to be merciful. Jesus’ simple statement here is so profound and so broad in its implications that I hardly know where to begin. I have the feeling that there is no way I could begin to cover it all, even if I took the space of this entire book just for verse 7. But let’s take a shot at it.

The Meaning of Mercy

What does it mean to be merciful? The Jews of that day hardly knew. They were as merciless as the Romans. They were proud, egotistical, self-righteous, and condemning. What Jesus was saying really touched them where they lived.

People often want to take this Beatitude in a humanistic way. They say, “Well, if you’re good to everybody else, everybody else will be good to you.” Even the Talmud recognizes some sort of magnanimous human virtue in mercy when it quotes Gamaliel: “Whenever thou hast mercy, God will have mercy on thee, and if thou hast not mercy, neither will God have mercy on thee.”

It seems built into human thinking that if you’re good to everybody, they’ll return the kindness. Even people who look at it theologically, as Gamaliel did, think, “Well, if I do this for God, God’s going to do that for me.”

One writer paraphrased this Beatitude this way: “This is the great truth of life, if people see us care, they will care.” But it’s not that simple. If you bring God into it, there is certain reciprocation. If we truly honor God, God will care for us, as Gamaliel indicated. But the world does not work that way, believe me. In fact, the Roman world did not know the meaning of mercy, no matter what good was done.

A Roman philosopher said mercy was “the disease of the soul,” a sign of weakness. The Romans glorified justice and courage and discipline and power; they looked down on mercy. When a child was born into the Roman world, the father had the right of patria potestas. If he wanted the newborn to live, he held his thumb up. If he wanted the child to die, he held it down and the child was immediately drowned.

If a Roman citizen didn’t want his slave anymore, he could kill and bury him, and there would be no legal recourse against the citizen. He could also kill his wife if he chose. So if you were talking to people under Roman power, you could not try to tell them that mercy begets mercy on the human level. It just wouldn’t cut it.

It’s wishful thinking in our selfish, grabbing, competitive society, too. In our day, we would more likely say, “Be merciful to someone and he’ll step on your neck!”

The best illustration that this is no valid human platitude is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He was the most merciful human being who ever lived. He reached out to the sick and healed them. He reached out to the crippled and gave them legs to walk. He healed the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, and the mouths of the dumb. He found prostitutes and tax collectors and those that were debauched and drunken, and He drew them into the circle of His love and redeemed them and set them on their feet.

He took the lonely and made them feel loved. He took little children and gathered them into His arms and loved them. Never was there a person on the face of the earth with the mercy of this One. Once a funeral procession came by and He saw a mother weeping because her son was dead. She was already a widow, and now she had no child to care for her. Who would care? Jesus stopped the funeral procession, put His hand on the casket, and raised the child from the dead. He cared.

In John 8 he forgave a woman taken in adultery. What mercy! When the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eat with the tax collectors and the sinners in Mark 2:16, they asked His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” He ran around with the riffraff!

He was the most merciful human being who ever lived, and they screamed for His blood. If mercy carried its own reward, they would not have nailed Him to a cross and spit in His face and cursed Him. From the people to whom He gave mercy He received no mercy at all.

Two merciless systems, Roman and Judaic, united to kill Him. No, mercy as talked about here is not some human virtue that brings its own reward. That is not the idea.

Then what does the Lord mean? Simply this: You be merciful to others, and God will be merciful to you. God is the subject of the second phrase.

The word itself, merciful, is from the Greek eliamosuna, from which we get the word eleemosynary [supported by charity], which means benefactory. The word is used in this form only one other time in the New Testament. The other is in Hebrews 2:17, “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest.” Christ is the great illustration of mercy. He is the High Priest who intercedes for us, and it is from Him that mercy comes.

The verb form of mercy is very common in Scripture. In Matthew 6:3 it is used concerning almsgiving. The Hebrew synonym would be chesed, which means “to have mercy on, to succor the afflicted, to give help to the wretched, and to rescue the miserable.” Anything you do that is of benefit to someone in need is mercy.

We think of mercy so much in terms of forgiveness in salvation, but it is really a much broader term. It goes beyond compassion. It goes beyond sympathy. It means sympathy and compassion in action toward anyone in need. When our Lord talks about it here, the real eliamosuna is not the weak sympathy that carnal selfishness feels but never does anything about. It is not that false mercy that indulges its own flesh in salving of conscience by giving tokenism. It is not the silent, passive pity that never seems to help in a tangible way. It is genuine compassion with a pure, unselfish motive that reaches out to help.

In other words, Jesus was saying to them, “The people in my kingdom aren’t takers; they’re givers. The people in my kingdom aren’t the ones who set themselves above everybody—they’re the people who stoop to help.”

Jesus told them a story about a man who would not give even the necessary funds to care for his father and mother because he said, “I already devoted it to God in a religious act, and I dare not break my vow.” Jesus said to them, “You are in deep trouble. You have exchanged the commandment of God to honor your father and mother for a tradition that you’ve invented yourself.” (See Matthew 15:1–9.)

The Jews were good at that! They were merciless even to their own parents.

Mercy is seeing a man without food and giving him food. Mercy is seeing a person begging for love and giving him love. Mercy is seeing someone lonely and giving him company. Mercy is meeting the need, not just feeling it.

Mercy, Forgiveness, Love, and Justice

Our understanding can be aided by a brief discussion about mercy in relation to similar words in Scripture.

Titus 3:5 tells us that “He saved us … according to His mercy.” In Ephesians 2:4–9 we learn that God has saved us “being rich in mercy.” It is God’s mercy that allows Him to redeem us. So mercy is behind forgiveness. Mercy and forgiveness belong together.

In Daniel 9:9 (kjv) it says, “To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses.” Psalm 130:1–7 (kjv) also beautifully links mercy and forgiveness:

Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy.

Here’s an individual confessing sin, seeking forgiveness, and knowing that forgiveness comes from the fountain of mercy. We cannot think of mercy without its expression in forgiveness, and we cannot think of forgiveness without its source, mercy. But forgiveness is not the only expression of mercy. We cannot narrow mercy.

Mercy is infinitely bigger than just forgiveness. Consider these five verses (all from the King James version): “The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy” (Psalm 119:64); “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies” (Genesis 32:10); “for his mercies are great” (2 Samuel 24:14); “thy manifold mercies.” (Nehemiah 9:19); “the multitude of thy mercy” (Psalm 69:13). Forgiveness is an act of mercy, yes, but there are many other ways I can be merciful.

In Lamentations, maybe the most beautiful of all the mercy passages, it says this: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (3:22–23 kjv)

What about mercy and love? How do they compare? We said that forgiveness flows out of mercy. What does mercy flow out of? Love. Why has God been merciful? “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us” (Ephesians 2:4). Do you see the sequence? God loves and love is merciful, and mercy is forgiving, among many other things.

But love is bigger than mercy. Mercy is bigger than forgiveness and love is bigger than mercy, because love can do a lot more things than just show mercy. Mercy presupposes a problem. Love can act when there isn’t a problem.

For example, the Father loves the Son, and the Son does not need mercy. The Father loves the angels and the angels love the Father and neither of them needs mercy. Mercy is the physician; love is the friend. Love acts out of affection; mercy acts out of need. Love is constant; mercy is reserved for times of trouble. There is no mercy without love. See how God’s great love funnels down to our need under the category of mercy?

There’s a whole other category too. When we’re righteous and don’t need mercy, He still loves. He shall love us throughout eternity when we do not need mercy anymore. But in this life, love funnels down to us through mercy, and mercy narrows down to that one thought of forgiveness.

What about mercy and grace? You are about to get a real theological exercise, so hang on. The term mercy and all its derivatives always presuppose problems. It deals with the pain and the misery and distress. But grace deals with the sin itself. Mercy deals with the symptoms; grace deals with the problems. Mercy offers relief from punishment; grace offers pardon for the crime. First comes grace. Grace removes the sin. Then mercy eliminates the punishment.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, mercy relieves the suffering. Grace rents him a room. Mercy deals with the negative, and grace puts it in the positive. Mercy takes away the pain; grace gives a better condition. Mercy says, “No hell.” Grace says, “Heaven.” Mercy says, “I pity you.” Grace says, “I pardon you.” So mercy and grace are two sides of the same marvelous coin. God offers both.

What about mercy and justice? People say, “Well, if God is a God of justice, how can He be merciful?” If you look at it that way, if God’s a just, holy, righteous God, can He negate justice? Can He say, “I know you’re a sinner, and I know you’ve done awful things, but I have so much mercy, I’m going to forgive you.” Can He do that? Yes, He can. Why? Because He came into the world in human form and died on the cross and bore in His own body our sins.

He paid the price for all our sin. At the cross, when Jesus died, justice was satisfied. God said there would be no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. God said there had to be a perfect sacrifice to bear the sins of the world. Jesus was that. Justice was satisfied. Mercy does no violation to justice.

When I talk about the mercy of God, I do not speak of some foolish sentimentality that excuses sin. Too much of that is already going on, even in the church. The only time God ever extended mercy was when somebody paid the price for the sin involved. There is a false, foolish, sentimental mercy that wants simply to cancel out justice and does not want to make people pay for anything. King Saul spared King Agag (1 Samuel 15). That violated God’s holiness. David, in a counterfeit mercy shown to Absalom, let him off easy and sowed the seeds of rebellion in his heart (2 Samuel 13). Don’t ever forget it. Psalm 85:10 (kjv) says, “Mercy and truth are met together.”

God will never violate the truth of His justice and His holiness to be merciful. He will be merciful, but only when justice has been done. If Absalom had repented and had accepted the truth of God, then the mercy would have been real. But it was not, because he never acquiesced.

There are people in the church who sin and never really deal with the evil. Yet they want mercy. Look at James 2:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy. (vv. 10–13)

There will be a merciless judgment on people who do not accept the truth, the sacrifice of Christ. We are not talking about sentimentality. If you sin your life away and never acknowledge Jesus Christ, God offers no promise to be merciful to you or to accept you. You will have judgment without mercy.

The Significance of Mercy

So mercy is special. It is more than forgiveness. It is less than love. It is different from grace. And it is one with justice. The merciful one not only hears the insults of evil men, but His heart also reaches out to them in compassion. The merciful one is sympathetic. He is forgiving. He is gracious and loving. He is not so sentimental that he will allow sin to go unpunished or unconfronted just because somebody is sort of sad or tragic.

David wrote, “The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy” (Psalm 37:21 kjv).” If my son comes to me and says, “Dad, I did something wrong, and I’m sorry,” I’ll be merciful. But I’ve told my children since they were little, “If I find out that you haven’t told me the truth or you haven’t admitted something you’ve done, there won’t be mercy. There’ll be punishment.”

It was mercy in Abraham after he had been wronged by his nephew Lot that caused him to go and secure Lot’s deliverance.

It was mercy in Joseph after being treated so badly by his brothers that caused him to accept them and meet their needs.

It was mercy in Moses, after Miriam had rebelled against him and the Lord had given her leprosy, that made him cry, “Oh God, heal her, I pray!” (Numbers 12:13).

It was mercy in David that twice caused him to spare the life of Saul. (See 1 Samuel 24 and 26.)

In Psalm 109:14–15 we read about the person without mercy. “Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord, and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out. Let them be before the Lord continually, that He may cut off their memory from the earth.” Why? Why the call for God to be so judgmental? Why so condemning? “Because he did not remember to show lovingkindness [mercy], but persecuted the afflicted and needy man, and the despondent in heart, to put them to death” (v. 16).

The merciful are those who reach out, not those who grasp and take. God help us to be able somehow to overrule the inundation of a corrupt society and hear the voice of our God who tells us to give everything we have.

If somebody offends us, we should be merciful. Be compassionate. Be benevolent. Be sympathetic. If somebody makes a mistake or a misjudgment or fails to pay a debt or return something they’ve borrowed, be merciful. We must live the character of the kingdom.

Solomon wrote, “The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm” (Proverbs 11:17). Do you want to be really miserable? Be merciless. Do you want to be happy? Be merciful. In Proverbs 12:10 (kjv) we read, “The righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” Righteous people are merciful even to animals. The wicked are cruel to everything.

Do you want to read the characteristics of a godless society? Romans 1:29–31 says, “Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful.”

Does this mean the climax of our society is being unmerciful? It appears so.

However, for those of us who have received mercy, how could we be anything but merciful? What did we deserve? If we needed mercy so desperately from God, how can we demand to be cruel to somebody? And that takes us to our next point. God is the source for our mercy.

The Source of Mercy

God is the source of mercy, but only for the people moving through the four preceding Beatitudes. Mercy is not a normal human attribute. Now and then someone might return a kindness, but that is not the norm. The only way to be merciful persons is to have within us the God-given mercy. And the only way to have that is to have the righteousness of God that comes through Christ. That’s what Jesus was saying. If we come by this Beatitude path to the place of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, to be filled by God, we will know mercy.

People want the blessing, but they do not want the belonging. They are like Balaam, the false prophet, who said, “Let me die the death of the upright” (Numbers 23:10). A Puritan commentator said, “Balaam wanted to die like the righteous all right, he just didn’t want to live like the righteous.” The only people who have mercy are the people who have come with a broken and beggarly spirit before a holy God and sought His righteousness.

The psalmist said, “As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him” (Psalm 103:11 kjv). We fear God, we come to Christ, and God gives us His mercy. Thus, the Lord said in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Nothing can rival the Cross for mercy, for it fulfilled Christ’s role as a merciful High Priest (Hebrews 2:17). Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse put it this way:

When Jesus Christ died on the cross, all the work of God for man’s salvation passed out of the realm of prophecy and became historical fact. God has now had mercy upon us. For anyone to pray, ‘God have mercy on me’ is the equivalent of asking Him to repeat the sacrifice of Christ. All the mercy that God ever will have on man He has already had, when Christ died. That is the totality of mercy. There couldn’t be any more. And God can now act toward us in grace because He has already had all mercy on us. The fountain is now opened, and flowing, and flows freely.2

The Substance of Mercy

What does it mean to be merciful? Matthew 5–6, Romans 15, 2 Corinthians 1, Galatians 6, Ephesians 4, Colossians 3, along with countless other passages, will all answer this question for you for they call us to be merciful. How can we be merciful?

We can be merciful physically. For instance, we can give a poor man money, a hungry man food, a naked man clothes, a bedless man a bed. The Old Testament is loaded with ways that we can show mercy. Mercy never holds a grudge, never retaliates, never takes vengeance, never flaunts somebody’s weakness, never makes something of someone’s failure, never recites a sin.

St. Augustine was so merciful to others that he invited people who had no place to eat to come to his big, beautiful dining room table. On the top of the table it is said he had engraved: “Whoever loves another’s name to blast, this table’s not for him, so let him fast.”3

The vindictive, self-righteous, defensive person who protects only himself is like the priest and the Levite who went on the other side of the road to avoid the helpless man whom the Good Samaritan later aided.

We also can be merciful spiritually. We look after their spiritual needs through pity, prodding, prayer, and preaching.

First, we can show pity. St. Augustine said, “If I weep for the body from which the soul is departed, should I not weep for the soul from which God is departed?”4 We cry a lot of tears over dead bodies. What do we do when it comes to souls? Do we have pity for their souls? If I as a Christian had no righteousness but was poor in spirit; if I stood mourning over my sin in a beggarly and hopeless condemnation; if I was wretched and doomed and meek; if I hungered and thirsted for what I had to have but could not produce—if, after all that, I was given mercy and pity from God’s great heart but did not let that same mercy flow to others—what kind of consistency would that be?

I hear Stephen saying as they cast the stones and crushed out his life, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60). He was pitying their souls. You and I must look at the lost with pity, not lording it over them or thinking ourselves better.

Next, we can prod. Second Timothy 2:25 tells us, “With gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” Prodding means to confront people about their sin in order that God might give them forgiveness. They have got to hear the gospel.

Paul wrote Titus, “Reprove them so severely that they may be sound in the faith.” (Titus 1:13). I can care for the soul of a sinner by rebuking him to his face. Such an act is not unloving. In Jude 23 it says that there are some people whom you have to save with fear, “snatching them out of the fire.” That’s not hatred or cruelty; that’s love.

Mercy prods. There has to be the confrontation about sin before there can ever be the realization of sinfulness.

Next we can pray. Prayer for the souls of those without God is an act of mercy. Do we pray for the lost? Do we pray for our neighbors? Do we pray for Christians who are walking in disobedience? Our prayer is an act of mercy, for it releases God’s blessing.

Finally, we can preach. I believe preaching the gospel is the most necessary and merciful thing you can do for the lost soul.

So, we can be merciful to a person’s soul by pity, by prodding, by prayer, and by preaching.

The Sequel to Mercy

The sequel to mercy is obtaining mercy. What a beautiful thing. Do you see the cycle? God gives us mercy, we are merciful, and God gives us more mercy. Second Samuel 22:26 says the same thing, that it is the merciful who receive mercy. James 2:13 says it negatively, “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy.” It’s there in Psalm 18 and Proverbs 14.

But now we must be warned of something, and this is critical: Some people think being merciful is how we get saved. This is the error of the Roman Catholic Church, that God is satisfied and gives mercy when we do merciful deeds. That view spawned monasteries and nunneries and everything related to them. But this is not the way to earn salvation. We do not get mercy for merit. Mercy can apply only where there is no merit, or it is not mercy.

The one who has received mercy will be merciful. The one who has received forgiveness will be forgiving. If you are a merciful person, you give evidence of being God’s child; so every time you sin, God forgives. Every time you have a need, He meets it. He takes care of you. He just pours mercy upon mercy upon mercy to those who show mercy, because they have received it from the merciful God. Are you merciful?[13]


 

The Fifth Beatitude... Blessed Are the Merciful: for They Shall Obtain Mercy

It might be beneficial to consider this beatitude against the background of an Old Testament story. The Book of Judges describes a very strange king who had a peculiar hobby. Whenever he captured another monarch, he cut off the man’s thumbs and his great toes, and then let him eat beneath the royal table. The captives were as dogs begging for food. Their hands resembled claws as they tried to seize food thrown down by the king. Eventually, this man whose name was Adoni-bezek, was captured by the men of Judah. It is written: “They... caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes. And Adoni-bezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me” (Judg. 1:6–7). This old story is a great example of the truth: “You reap whatsoever you sow.”

The Lord also told a story of a man who was forgiven an enormous debt, and yet refused to forgive a fellow servant. Jesus explained that the man was severely punished (see the exposition supplied in Matt. 18:23–35). The New Testament consistently teaches that if we expect forgiveness from God, we must be prepared to forgive our neighbors. When a man refuses to be merciful, he should not anticipate mercy. Mercy begets forgiveness and this is the message of the Christian gospel. Jesus instructed His disciples when they prayed to say, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Paul, writing to the Ephesians .said, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). An embittered, unforgiving person is the most unlovely, unattractive soul in the world. They repel, but never attract.[14]


Mercy; Merciful

mûr´si, mûr´si-fool (חֶסֶרḥeṣedhרָחַםrāḥamחָנַןḥānanἔλεοςéleosἐλεέωeleéōοἰκτιρμόςoiktirmós): “Mercy” is a distinctive Bible word characterizing God as revealed to men.

In the Old Testament it is most often the translation of ḥeṣedh, “kindness,” “loving-kindness” (see LOVINGKINDNESS), but raḥă̄m, literally, “bowels” (the sympathetic region), and ḥānan, “to be inclined to,” “to be gracious,” are also frequently translated “mercy”; eleos, “kindness,” “beneficence,” and eleéō, “to show kindness,” are the chief words rendering “mercy” in the New Testament; oiktirmos, “pity,” “compassion,” occurs a few times, also oiktı́rmōn, “pitiful,” eleḗmōn, “kind,” “compassionate,” twice; ́leōs, “forgiving,” and anı́leōs, “not forgiving,” “without mercy,” once each (Heb 8:12; Jas 2:13).

(1) Mercy is (a) an essential quality of God (Ex 34:6, 7; Dt 4:31; Ps 62:12, etc.); it is His delight (Mic 7:18, 20; Ps 52:8); He is “the Father of mercies” (2 Cor 1:3), “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), “full of pity, and merciful” (Jas 5:11); (b) it is associated with forgiveness (Ex 34:7; Nu 14:18; 1 Tim 1:13, 16); (c) with His forbearance (Ps 145:8, “Yahweh is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great lovingkindness”; compare Roman 2:4; 11:32); (d) with His covenant (1 Ki 8:23; Neh 1:5), with His justice (Ps 101:1), with His faithfulness (Ps 89:24), with His truth (Ps 108:4); mercy and truth are united in Prov 3:3; 14:22, etc. (in Ps 85:10 we have “Mercy and truth are met together”); (e) it goes forth to all (Ps 145:9, “Yahweh is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works”; compare 145:16, “Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing,” the Revised Version margin “satisfiest every living thing with favor”); (f) it shows itself in pitying help (Ex 3:7; Ezr 9:9 f), supremely in Christ and His salvation (Lk 1:50, 54, 58; Eph 2:4); (g) it is abundant, practically infinite (Ps 86:5, 15; 119:64); (h) it is everlasting (1 Ch 16:34, 41; Ezr 3:11; Ps 100:5; 136 repeatedly).

(2) “Mercy” is used of man as well as of God, and is required on man’s part toward man and beast (Dt 25:4; Ps 37:21; 109:16; Prov 12:10; Dan 4:27; Mic 6:8; Mt 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy”; 25:31-46; Lk 6:36, “Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful”; Lk 10:30 f, the Good Samaritan; Lk 14:12-16; Jas 3:17).

(3) In the New Testament “mercy” (eleos, usually the Septuagint translation of ḥeṣedh) is associated with “grace” (cháris) in the apostolical greetings and elsewhere. Trench points out that the difference between them is that the freeness of God’s love is the central point of charis, while eleos has in view misery and its relief; charis is His free grace and gift displayed in the forgiveness of sins—extended to men as they are guilty; His eleos (is extended to them) as they are miserable. The lower creation may be the object of His mercy (eleos), but man alone of His grace (charis); he alone needs it and is capable of receiving it (Synonyms of the New Testament, 163 f).

(4) From all the foregoing it will be seen that mercy in God is not merely His pardon of offenders, but His attitude to man, and to the world generally, from which His pardoning mercy proceeds. The frequency with which mercy is enjoined on men is specially deserving of notice, with the exclusion of the unmerciful from sonship to the all-merciful Father and from the benefits of His mercifulness. Shakespeare’s question, “How canst thou hope for mercy rendering none?” is fully warranted by our Lord’s teaching and by Scripture in general; compare especially the parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Mt 18:21-35).

(5) As the rule, the American Standard Revised Version has “lovingkindness” for “mercy” when ḥeṣedh is used of God, and “kindness” when it is used of men in relation to each other. “Compassion” (translation of rāḥam) is also in several instances substituted for “mercy” (Isa 9:17; 14:1; 27:11; Jer 13:14; 30:18), also “goodness” (translation of ḥeṣedh referring to man) (Hos 4:1; 6:6).[15]


Jesus Gives the Beatitudes—Matthew 5:1-1249

Matthew 5–7 is called the Sermon on the Mount because Jesus gave it on a hillside near Capernaum. This “sermon” probably covered several days of preaching. In it, Jesus revealed his attitude toward the law of Moses, explaining that he requires faithful and sincere obedience, not ceremonial religion. The Sermon on the Mount challenged the teachings of the proud and legalistic religious leaders of the day. It called people back to the messages of the Old Testament prophets who, like Jesus, had taught that God wants heartfelt obedience, not mere legalistic observance of laws and rituals.

The most well-known and provocative portion of the Sermon on the Mount is known as the Beatitudes (5:3-10). These are a series of blessings promised to those who exhibit the attributes of God’s kingdom. Over the centuries since Jesus first presented the Beatitudes, many interpretations of them have been offered. There are strengths in each one, and combinations of elements from several can create new interpretations. Five of the main interpretations are as follows:

1.    Perfectionist legalism. This view was developed during medieval times and teaches that there are higher standards for “disciples” (clergy and the monastic orders). It teaches that true followers should live on a level of righteousness above normal Christians. However, Jesus’ sermon does not teach two different standards for Christians, and we must not read into the sermon salvation by works.

2.    Impossible ideal. Widely accepted after Martin Luther, this view states that the sermon functions like the Old Testament law, forcing people to realize their sinfulness and helplessness and so turn to God. However, Jesus provides enablement to fulfill his requirements, so these demands are not impossible. Scholars also see the use of hyperbole (overstatement to make a point, as in “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off” in 5:30) as an accepted teaching method during Jesus’ time to stress moral urgency.

3.    Only for Jesus’ disciples. Albert Schweitzer said that this teaching was only for the disciples, who thought that Jesus would return in their lifetime and that the moral demands were not for all time. However, Jesus makes no reference to the end of the world or to his return in this sermon.

4.    Kingdom age. Dispensationalism teaches that these laws are for the kingdom age (Millennium) and are only an example for us and our day. Jesus offered the kingdom to the Jews, but they rejected it. Thus, the reality was postponed until the Second Coming. However, nothing in Jesus’ teaching ever exempted the disciples then or now from these principles. They are principles for disciples for all ages.

5.    Social gospel. Protestant liberals have used the ethics of the sermon as a mandate for the church to usher in the kingdom of God by means of reforming society. However, the teachings of Jesus here cannot be isolated from all his other teachings about himself, evangelism, personal faith, and devotion.

There is another way to understand the sermon in light of a double-pronged interpretation. The kingdom has been inaugurated (beginning), but not yet realized (completion). So there remains a creative tension between the “already” and the “not yet” aspects. Those who obey Jesus now experience, in a partial way, the wonderful benefits he described.

We must not let the promise of future blessing deter us from the radical demands for discipleship that Jesus presented. We must ask what the Beatitudes meant in the Jewish milieu in which Christ delivered them. We must also interpret the phrases in their historical (cultural) and logical (the developing message) contexts.

So then, the Beatitudes

t    present a code of ethics for the disciples and a standard of conduct for all believers,

t    contrast kingdom values (what is eternal) with worldly values (what is temporary),

t    contrast the superficial “faith” of the Pharisees with the real faith that Christ wants, and

t    show how the future kingdom will fulfill Old Testament expectations.

The Unbeatitudes
We can understand the Beatitudes by looking at them from their opposites. Some, Jesus implied, will not be blessed. Their condition could be described in this way:
Wretched are the spiritually self-sufficient, for theirs is the kingdom of hell.Wretched are those who deny the tragedy of their sinfulness, for they will be troubled.Wretched are the self-centered, for they will be empty.Wretched are those who ceaselessly justify themselves, for their efforts will be in vain.Wretched are the merciless, for no mercy will be shown to them.Wretched are those with impure hearts, for they will not see God.Wretched are those who reject peace, for they will earn the title “sons of Satan.”Wretched are the uncommitted for convenience's sake, for their destination is hell.

Matthew 5:7

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (niv) Merciful people realize that, because they received mercy from God, they must extend mercy to others. The word “merciful” implies generosity, forgiveness, and compassion, and it includes a desire to remove the wrong as well as alleviate the suffering. Jesus repeated this warning several times in this Gospel (see 6:12, 14-15; 18:21-35). We must be people who show mercy. That they will be shown mercy is not contingent upon how much mercy they showed; it is not that God will be merciful because these people have been merciful. Instead, believers understand true mercy because they have received mercy from God. Also, this promise does not guarantee mercy in return from people. The believers’ comfort comes in the knowledge that, no matter how the world treats them, God will show them mercy both now and when he returns.[16]


Chapter XVIII. The Sermon on the Mount—The Kingdom of Christ and Rabbinic Teaching.3-1062

(Mt 5–7)

It was probably on one of those mountain-ranges, which stretch to the north of Capernaum, that Jesus had spent the night of lonely prayer, which preceded the designation of the twelve to the Apostolate. As the soft spring morning broke, He called up those who had learned to follow Him, and from among them chose the twelve, who were to be His Ambassadors and Representatives.3-1063 3-1064 But already the early light had guided the eager multitude which, from all parts, had come to the broad level plateau beneath to bring to Him their need of soul or body. To them He now descended with words of comfort and power of healing. But better yet had He to say, and to do for them, and for us all. As they pressed around Him for that touch which brought virtue of healing to all, He retired again to the mountain-height, and through the clear air of the bright spring day spake, what has ever since been known as the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’3-1065 from the place where He sat, or as that ‘in the plain’ (Lk 6:17), from the place where He had first met the multitude, and which so many must have continue to occupy while He taught.

The first and most obvious, perhaps, also, most superficial thought, is that which brings this teaching of Christ into comparison, we shall not say with that of His contemporaries—since scarcely any who lived in the time of Jesus said aught that can be compared with it—but with the best of the wisdom and piety of the Jewish sages, as preserved in Rabbinic writings. Its essential difference, or rather contrariety, in spirit and substance, not only when viewed as a whole, but in almost each of its individual parts, will be briefly shown in the sequel. For the present we only express this as deepest conviction, that it were difficult to say which brings greater astonishment (though of opposite kind): a first reading of the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ or that of any section of the Talmud. The general reader is here at a disadvantage. From his upbringing in an atmosphere which Christ’s Words have filled with heaven’s music, he knows not, and cannot know, the nameless feeling which steals over a receptive soul when, in the silence of our moral wilderness, those voices first break on the ear, that had never before been wakened to them. How they hold the soul entranced, calling up echoes of inmost yet unrealised aspiration, itself the outcome of the God-born and God-tending within us, and which renders us capable of new birth into the Kingdom; call up, also, visions and longings of that world of heavenly song, so far away and yet so near us; and till the soul with subduedness, expectancy, and ecstasy! So the travel-stained wanderer flings him down on the nearest height, to feast his eyes with the first sight of home in the still valley beneath; so the far-off exile sees in his dreams visions of his child-life, all transfigured; so the weary prodigal leans his head in silent musing of mingled longing and rest on a mother’s knee. So, and much more; for, it is the Voice of God Which speaks to us in the cool of the evening, amidst the trees of the lost Garden; to us who, in very shame and sorrow, hide, and yet even so hear, not words of judgment but of mercy, not concerning an irrevocable, and impossible past, but concerning a real and to us possible future, which is that past, only better, nearer, dearer,—for, that it is not the human which has now to rise to the Divine, but the Divine which has come down to the human.

Or else, turn from this to a first reading of the wisdom of the Jewish Fathers in their Talmud. It little matters, what part be chosen for the purpose. Here, also, the reader is at disadvantage, since his instructors present to him too frequently broken sentences, extracts torn from their connection, words often mistranslated as regards their real meaning, or misapplied as regards their bearing and spirit; at best, only isolated sentences. Take these in their connection and real meaning, and what a terrible awakening Who, that has read half-a-dozen pages successively of any part of the Talmud, can feel otherwise than by turns shocked, pained, amused, or astounded? There is here wit and logic; quickness and readiness, earnestness and zeal, but by the side of it terrible profanity, uncleanness, superstition, and folly. Taken as a whole, it is not only utterly unspiritual, but anti-spiritual. Not that the Talmud is worse than might be expected of such writings in such times and circumstances, perhaps in many respects much better—always bearing in mind the particular standpoint of narrow nationalism, without which Talmudism itself could not have existed, and which therefore is not an accretion, but an essential part of it. But, taken not in abrupt sentences and quotations, but as a whole, it is so utterly and immeasurably unlike the New Testament, that it is not easy to determine which, as the case may be, is greater, the ignorance or the presumption of those who put them side by side. Even where spiritual life pulsates, it seems propelled through valves that are diseased, and to send the lifeblood gurgling back upon the heart, or along ossified arteries that quiver not with life at its touch. And to the reader of such disjointed Rabbinic quotations there is this further source of misunderstanding, that the form and sound of words is so often the same as that of the sayings of Jesus, however different their spirit. For, necessarily, the wine—be it new or old—made in Judaea, comes to us in Palistinian vessels. The new teaching, to be historically true, must have employed the old forms and spoken the old language. But the ideas underlying terms equally employed by Jesus and the teachers of Israel are, in everything that concerns the relation of souls to God, so absolutely different as not to bear comparison. Whence otherwise the enmity and opposition to Jesus from the first, and not only after His Divine claim had been pronounced? These two, starting from principles alien and hostile, follow opposite directions, and lead to other goals. He who has thirsted and quenched his thirst at the living fount of Christ’s Teaching, can never again stoop to seek drink at the broken cisterns of Rabbinism.

We take here our standpoint on Matthew’s account of the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ to which we can scarcely doubt that by Luke3-1066 is parallel. Not that it is easy, or perhaps even possible, to determine, whether all that is now grouped in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ was really spoken by Jesus on this one occasion. From the plan and structure of Matthew’s Gospel, the presumption seems rather to the contrary. For, isolated parts of it are introduced by Luke in other connections, yet quite fitly.3-1067 On the other hand, even in accordance with the traditional characterisation of Matthew’s narrative, we expect in it the fullest account of our Lord’s Discourses,3-1068 while we also notice that His Galilean Ministry forms the main subject of the First Gospel.3-1069 And there is one characteristic of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ which, indeed, throws light on the plan of Matthew’s work in its apparent chronological inversion of events, such as in its placing the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ before the calling of the Apostles. We will not designate the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ as the promulgation of the New Law, since that would be a far too narrow, if not erroneous, view of it. But it certainly seems to correspond to the Divine Revelation in the ‘Ten Words’ from Mount Sinai. Accordingly, it seems appropriate that the Genesis-part of Matthew’s Gospel should be immediately followed by the Exodus-part, in which the new Revelation is placed in the forefront, to the seeming breach of historical order, leaving it afterwards to be followed by an appropriate grouping of miracles and events, which we know to have really preceded the ‘Sermon on the Mount.’

Very many-sided is that ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ so that different writers, each viewing it from his standpoint, have differently sketched its general outline, and yet carried to our minds the feeling that thus far they had correctly understood it. We also might attempt humble contribution towards the same end. Viewing it in the light of the time, we might mark in it alike advancement on the Old Testament (or rather, unfolding of its inmost, yet hidden meaning), and contrast to contemporary Jewish teaching. And here we would regard it as presenting the full delineation of the ideal man of God, of prayer, and of righteousness—in short, of the inward and outward manifestation of discipleship. Or else, keeping before us the different standpoint of His hearers, we might in this ‘Sermon’ follow up this contrast to its underlying ideas as regards: First, the right relationship between man and God, or true righteousness—what inward graces characterise and what prospects attach to it, in opposition to Jewish views of merit and of reward. Secondly, we would mark the same contrast as regards sin (hamartology), temptation, etc. Thirdly, we would note it as regards salvation (soteriology); and, lastly, as regards what may be termed moral theology: personal feelings, married and other relations, discipleship, and the like. And in this great contrast two points would prominently stand out: New Testament humility, as opposed to Jewish (the latter being really pride, as only the consciousness of failure, or rather, of inadequate perfectness, while New Testament humility is really despair of self); and again, Jewish as opposed to New Testament perfectness (the former being an attempt by means external or internal to strive up to God: the latter a new life, springing from God, and in God). Or, lastly, we might view it as upward teaching in regard to God: the Kinginward teaching in regard to man: the subjects of the King; and outward teaching in regard to the Church and the world: the boundaries of the Kingdom.

This brings us to what alone we can here attempt: a general outline of the ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ Its great subject is neither righteousness, nor yet the New Law (if such designation be proper in regard to what in no real sense is a Law), but that which was innermost and uppermost in the Mind of Christ—the Kingdom of God. Notably, the Sermon on the Mount contains not any detailed or systematic doctrinal,3-1070 nor any ritual teaching, nor yet does it prescribe the form of any outward observances. This marks, at least negatively, a difference in principle from all other teaching. Christ came to found a Kingdom, not a School; to institute a fellowship, not to propound a system. To the first disciples all doctrinal teaching sprang out of fellowship with Him. They saw Him, and therefore believed; they believed, and therefore learned the truths connected with Him, and springing out of Him. So to speak, the seed of truth which fell on their hearts was carried thither from the flower of His Person and Life.

Again, as from this point of view the Sermon on the Mount differs from all contemporary Jewish teaching, so also is it impossible to compare it with any other system of morality. The difference here is one not of degree, nor even of kind, but of standpoint. It is indeed true, that the Words of Jesus, properly understood, marks the utmost limit of all possible moral conception. But this point does not come in question. Every moral system is a road by which, through self-denial, discipline, and effort, men seek to reach the goal. Christ begins with this goal, and places His disciples at once in the position to which all other teachers point as the end. They work up to the goal of becoming the ‘children of the Kingdom;’ He makes men such, freely, and of His grace: and this is the Kingdom. What the others labour for, He gives. They begin by demanding, He by bestowing: because he brings good tidings of forgiveness and mercy. Accordingly, in the real sense, there is neither new law nor moral system here, but entrance into a new life: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father Which is in heaven is perfect.’

But if the Sermon on the Mount contains not a new, nor, indeed, any system of morality, and addresses itself to a new condition of things, it follows that the promises attaching for example, to the so-called ‘Beatitudes’ must not be regarded as the reward of the spiritual state with which they are respectively connected, nor yet as their result. It is not because a man is poor in spirit that his is the Kingdom of Heaven, in the sense that the one state will grow into the other, or be its result; still less is the one the reward of the other.3-1071 The connecting link—so to speak, the theological copula between the ‘state’ and the promise—is in each case Christ Himself: because He stands between our present and our future, and ‘has opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.’ Thus the promise represents the gift of grace by Christ in the new Kingdom, as adapted to each case.

It is Christ, then, as the King, Who is here flinging open the gates of His Kingdom. To study it more closely: in the three chapters, under which the Sermon on the Mount is grouped in the first Gospel3-1072 the Kingdom of God is presented successivelyprogressively, and extensively. Let us trace this with the help of the text itself.

In the first part of the Sermon on the Mount3-1073 the Kingdom of God is delineated generally, first positively, and then negatively, marking especially how its righteousness goes deeper than the mere letter of even the Old Testament Law. It opens with ten Beatitudes, which are the New Testament counterpart to the Ten Commandments. These present to us, not the observance of the Law written on stone, but the realisation of that Law which, by the Spirit, is written on the fleshly tables of the heart.3-1074

These Ten Commandments in the Old Covenant were preceded by a Prologue.3-1075 The ten Beatitudes have, characteristically, not a Prologue but an Epilogue,3-1076 which corresponds to the Old Testament Prologue. This closes the first section, of which the object was to present the Kingdom of God in its characteristic features. But here it was necessary, in order to mark the real continuity of the New Testament with the Old, to show the relation of the one to the other. And this is the object of Mt 5:17-20, the last-mentioned verse forming at the same time a grand climax and transition to the criticism of the Old Testament-Law in its merely literal application, such as the Scribes and Pharisees made.3-1077 For, taking even the letter of the Law, there is not only progression, but almost contrast, between the righteousness of the Kingdom and that set forth by the teachers of Israel. Accordingly, a detailed criticism of the Law now follows—and that not as interpreted and applied by ‘tradition,’ but in its barely literal meaning. In this part of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ the careful reader will mark an analogy to Ex 21:and Ex 22

This closes the first part of the ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ The second part is contained in Mt 6. In this the criticism of the Law is carried deeper. The question now is not as concerns the Law in its literality, but as to what constituted more than a mere observance of the outward commandments: pietyspiritualitysanctity. Three points here stood out specially—nay, stand out still, and in all ages. Hence this criticism was not only of special application to the Jews, but is universal, we might almost say, prophetic. These three high points are almsprayer, and fasting—or, to put the latter more generally, the relation of the physical to the spiritual. These three are successively presented, negatively and positively.3-1078 But even so, this would have been but the external aspect of them. The Kingdom of God carries all back to the grand underlying ideas. What were this or that mode of giving alms, unless the right idea be apprehended, of what constitutes riches, and where they should be sought? This is indicated in 6:19-21. Again, as to prayer: what matters it if we avoid the externalism of the Pharisees, or even catch the right form as set forth in the ‘Lord’s Prayer,’ unless we realise what underlies prayer? It is to lay our inner man wholly open to the light of God in genuine, earnest simplicity, to be quite shone through by Him.3-1079 It is, moreover, absolute and undivided self-dedication to God.3-1080 And in this lies its connection, alike with the spirit that prompts almsgiving, and with that which prompts real fasting. That which underlies all such fasting is a right view of the relation in which the body with its wants stands to God—the temporal to the spiritual.3-1081 It is the spirit of prayer which must rule alike alms and fasting, and pervade them: the upward look and self-dedication to God, the seeking first after the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, that man, and self, and life may be baptized in it. Such are the real alms, the real prayers, the real fasts of the Kingdom of God.

If we have rightly apprehended the meaning of the two first parts of the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ we cannot be at a loss to understand its third part, as set forth in the seventh chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Briefly, it is this, as addressed to His contemporaries, nay, with wider application to the men of all times: First, the Kingdom of God cannot be circumscribed, as you would do it.3-1082 Secondly, it cannot be extended, as you would do it, by external means,3-1083 but cometh to us from God,3-1084 and is entered by personal determination and separation.3-1085 Thirdly, it is not preached, as too often is attempted, when thoughts of it are merely of the external.3-1086 Lastly, it is not manifested in life in the manner too common among religionists, but is very real, and true, and good in its effects.3-1087 And this Kingdom, as received by each of us, is like a solid house on a solid foundation, which nothing from without can shake or destroy.3-1088

The infinite contrast, just set forth, between the Kingdom as presented by the Christ and Jewish contemporary teaching is the more striking, that it was expressed in a form, and clothed in words with which all His hearers were familiar; indeed, in modes of expression current at the time. It is this which has misled so many in their quotations of Rabbinic parallels to the ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ They perceive outward similarity, and they straightway set it down to identity of spirit, not understanding that often those things are most unlike in the spirit of them, which are most like in their form. No part of the New Testament has had a larger array of Rabbinic parallels adduced than the ‘Sermon on the Mount;’ and this, as we might expect, because, in teaching addressed to His contemporaries, Jesus would naturally use the forms with which they were familiar. Many of these Rabbinic quotations are, however, entirely inapt, the similarity lying in an expression or turn of words.3-1089 Occasionally, the misleading error goes even further, and that is quoted in illustration of Jesus’ sayings which, either by itself or in the context, implies quite the opposite. A detailed analysis would lead too far, but a few specimens will sufficiently illustrate our meaning.

To begin with the first Beatitude, to the poor in spirit, since theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven, this early Jewish saying3-1090 is its very counterpart, marking not the optimism, but the pessimism of life: ‘Ever be more and more lowly in spirit, since the expectancy of man is to become the food of worms.’ Another contrast to Christ’s promise of grace to the ‘poor in spirit’ is presented in this utterance of self-righteousness3-1091 on the part of Rabbi Joshua, who compares the reward formerly given to him who brought one or another offering to the Temple with that of him who is of a lowly mind (השרעתו שפל) to whom it is reckoned as if he had brought all the sacrifices. To this the saying of the great Hillel3-1092 seems exactly parallel: ‘My humility is my greatness, and my greatness my humility,’ which, be it observed, is elicited by a Rabbinic accommodation of Ps 113:5, 6: ‘Who is exalted to sit, who humbleth himself to behold.’ It is the omission on the part of modern writers of this explanatory addition, which has given the saying of Hillel even the faintest likeness to the first Beatitude.

But even so, what of the promise of ‘the Kingdom of Heaven?’ What is the meaning which Rabbinism attaches to that phrase, and would it have entered the mind of a Rabbi to promise what he understood as the Kingdom to all men, Gentiles as well as Jews, who were poor in spirit? We recall here the fate of the Gentiles in Messianic days, and, to prevent misstatements, summarise the opening pages of the Talmudic tractate on idolatry.3-1093 At the beginning of the coming era of the Kingdom, God is represented as opening the Torah, and inviting all who had busied themselves with it to come for their reward. On this, nation by nation appears—first, the Romans, insisting that all the great things they had done were only done for the sake of Israel, in order that they might the better busy themselves with the Torah. Being harshly repulsed, the Persians next come forward with similar claims, encouraged by the fact that, unlike the Romans, they had not destroyed the Temple. But they also are in turn repelled. Then all the Gentile nations urge that the Law had not been offered to them, which is proved to be a vain contention, since God had actually offered it to them, but only Israel had accepted it. On this the nations reply by a peculiar Rabbinic explanation of Ex 19:17, according to which God is actually represented as having lifted Mount Sinai like a cask, and threatened to put it over Israel unless they accepted the Law. Israel’s obedience, therefore, was not willing, but enforced. On this the Almighty proposes to judge the Gentiles by the Noachic commandments, although it is added, that, even had they observed them, these would have carried no reward. And, although it is a principle that even a heathen, if he studied the Law, was to be esteemed like the High-Priest, yet it is argued, with the most perverse logic, that the reward of heathens who observed the Law must be less than that of those who did so because the Law was given them, since the former acted from impulse, and not from obedience!

Even thus far the contrast to the teaching of Jesus is tremendous. A few further extracts will finally point the difference between the largeness of Christ’s World-Kingdom, and the narrowness of Judaism. Most painful as the exhibition of profanity and national conceit is, it is needful in order to refute what we must call the daring assertion, that the teaching of Jesus, or the Sermon on the Mount, had been derived from Jewish sources. At the same time it must carry to the mind, with almost irresistible force, the question whence, if not from God, Jesus had derived His teaching, or how else it came so to differ, not in detail, but in principle and direction, from that of all His contemporaries.

In the Talmudic passages from which quotation has already been made, we further read that the Gentiles would enter into controversy with the Almighty about Israel. They would urge, that Israel had not observed the Law. On this the Almighty would propose Himself to bear witness for them. But the Gentiles would object, that a father could not give testimony for his son. Similarly, they would object to the proposed testimony of heaven and earth, since self-interest might compel them to be partial. For, according to Ps 76:8, ‘the earth was afraid,’ because, if Israel had not accepted the Law, it would have been destroyed, but it ‘became still’ when at Sinai they consented to it. On this the heathen would be silenced out of the mouth of their own witnesses, such as Nimrod, Laban, Potiphar, Nebuchadnezzar, etc. They would then ask, that the Law might be given them, and promise to observe it. Although this was now impossible, yet God would, in His mercy, try them by giving them the Feast of Tabernacles, as perhaps the easiest of all observances. But as they were in their tabernacles, God would cause the sun to shine forth in his strength, when they would forsake their tabernacles in great indignation, according to Ps 2:3. And it is in this manner that Rabbinism looked for the fulfilment of those words in Ps 2:4: ‘He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision,’ this being the only occasion on which God laughed! And if it were urged, that at the time of the Messiah all nations would become Jews, this was indeed true; but although they would adopt Jewish practices, they would apostatise in the war of Gog and Magog, when again Ps 2:4 would be realised: ‘The Lord shall laugh at them.’ And this is the teaching which some writers would compare with that of Christ! In view of such statements, we can only ask with astonishment: What fellowship of spirit can there be between Jewish teaching and the first Beatitude?

It is the same sad self-righteousness and utter carnalness of view which underlies the other Rabbinic parallels to the Beatitudes, pointing to contrast rather than likeness. Thus the Rabbinic blessedness of mourning consists in this, that much misery here makes up for punishment hereafter.3-1094 We scarcely wonder that no Rabbinic parallel can be found to the third Beatitude, unless we recall the contrast which assigns in Messianic days the possession of earth to Israel as a nation. Nor could we expect any parallel to the fourth Beatitude, to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Rabbinism would have quite a different idea of ‘righteousness,’ considered as ‘good works,’ and chiefly as almsgiving (designated as ṣedaqah, or righteousness). To such the most special reward is promised, and that ex opere operato.3-1095 Similarly, Rabbinism speaks of the perfectly righteous (צדיק גמור) and the perfectly unrighteous, or else of the righteous and unrighteous (according as the good or the evil might weigh heaviest in the scale); and, besides these, of a kind of middle state. But such a conception as that of ‘hunger’ and ‘thirst’ after righteousness would have no place in the system. And, that no doubt may obtain, this sentence may be quoted: ‘He that says, I give this “Sela” as alms, in order that (בשביל) my sons may live, and that I may merit the world to come, behold, this is the perfectly righteous.’3-1096 Along with such assertions of work-righteousness we have this principle often repeated, that all such merit attaches only to Israel, while the good works and mercy of the Gentiles are actually reckoned to them as sin,3-1097 though it is only fair to add that one voice (that of Jochanan ben Zakkai) is raised in contradiction of such horrible teaching.

It seems almost needless to prosecute this subject; yet it may be well to remark, that the same self-righteousness attaches to the quality of mercy, so highly prized among the Jews, and which is supposed not only to bring reward,3-1098 but to atone for sins.3-1099 3-1100 With regard to purity of heart, there is, indeed, a discussion between the school of Shammai and that of Hillel—the former teaching that guilty thoughts constitute sin, while the latter expressly confines it to guilty deeds.3-1101 The Beatitude attaching to peace-making has many analogies in Rabbinism; but the latter would never have connected the designation of ‘children of God’ with any but Israel.3-1102 A similar remark applies to the use of the expression ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ in the next Beatitude.

A more full comparison than has been made would almost require a separate treatise. One by one, as we place the sayings of the Rabbis by the side of those of Jesus in this Sermon on the Mount, we mark the same essential contrariety of spirit, whether as regards righteousness, sin, repentance, faith, the Kingdom, alms, prayer, or fasting. Only two points may be specially selected, because they are so frequently brought forward by writers as proof; that the sayings of Jesus did not rise above those of the chief Talmudic authorities. The first of these refers to the well-known words of our Lord:3-1103 ‘Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.’ This is compared with the following Rabbinic parallel,3-1104 in which the gentleness of Hillel is contrasted with the opposite disposition of Shammai. The latter is said to have harshly repelled an intending proselyte, who wished to be taught the whole Law while standing on one foot, while Hillel received him with this saying: ‘What is hateful to thee, do not to another. This is the whole Law, all else is only its explanation.’ But it will be noticed that the words in which the Law is thus summed up are really only a quotation from Tob 4:15, although their presentation as the substance of the Law is, of course, original. But apart from this, the merest beginner in logic must perceive, that there is a vast difference between this negative injunction, or the prohibition to do to others what is hateful to ourselves, and the positive direction to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.3-1105 The one does not rise above the standpoint of the Law, being as yet far from that love which would lavish on others the good we ourselves desire, while the Christian saying embodies the nearest approach to absolute love of which human nature is capable, making that the test of our conduct to others which we ourselves desire to possess. And, be it observed, the Lord does not put self-love as the principle of our conduct, but only as its ready test. Besides, the further explanation in Lk 6:38 should here be kept in view, as also what may be regarded as the explanatory additions in Mt 5:42-48.

The second instance, to which it seems desirable to advert, is the supposed similarity between petitions in the Lord’s Prayer,3-1106 and Rabbinic prayers. Here, we may remark, at the outset, that both the spirit and the manner of prayer are presented by the Rabbis so externally, and with such details, as to make it quite different from prayer as our Lord taught His disciples. This appears from the Talmudic tractate specially devoted to that subject,3-1107 where the both exact position, the degree of inclination, and other trivialities, never referred to by Christ, are dwelt upon at length as of primary importance.3-1108 Most painful, for example, is it3-1109 to find this interpretation of Hezekiah’s prayer,3-1110 when the King is represented as appealing to the merit of his fathers, detailing their greatness in contrast to Rahab or the Shunammite, who yet had received a reward, and closing with this: ‘Lord of the world, I have searched the 248 members which Thou hast given me, and not found that I have provoked Thee to anger with any one of them, how much more then shouldest Thou on account of these prolong my life?’ After this, it is scarcely necessary to point to the self-righteousness which, in this as in other respects, is the most painful characteristic of Rabbinism. That the warning against prayers at the corner of streets was taken from life, appears from the well-known anecdote3-1111 concerning one, Rabbi Jannai, who was observed saying his prayers in the public streets of Sepphoris, and then advancing four cubits to make the so-called supplementary prayer. Again, a perusal of some of the recorded prayers of the Rabbis3-1112 will show, how vastly different many of them were from the petitions which our Lord taught. Without insisting on this, nor on the circumstance that all recorded Talmudic prayers are of much later date than the time of Jesus, it may, at the same time, be freely admitted that here also the form, and sometimes even the spirit, approached closely to the words of our Lord. On the other hand, it would be folly to deny that the Lord’s Prayer, in its sublime spirit, tendency, combination, and succession of petitions, is unique; and that such expressions in it as ‘Our Father,’ ‘the Kingdom,’ ‘forgiveness,’ ‘temptation,’ and others, represent in Rabbinism something entirely different from that which our Lord had in view. But, even so, such petitions as ‘forgive us our debts,’ could, as has been shown in a previous chapter, have no true parallel in Jewish theology.3-1113

Further details would lead beyond our present scope. It must suffice to indicate that such sayings as Mt 5:6, 15, 17, 25, 29, 31, 46, 47; Mt 6:8, 12, 18, 22, 24, 32; Mt 7:8, 9, 10, 15, 17-19, 22, 23, have no parallel, in any real sense, in Jewish writings, whose teaching, indeed, often embodies opposite ideas. Here it may be interesting, by one instance, to show what kind of Messianic teaching would have interested a Rabbi. In a passage3-1114 which describes the great danger of intercourse with Jewish Christians, as leading to heresy, a Rabbi is introduced, who, at Sepphoris, had met one of Jesus’ disciples, named Jacob, a ‘man of Kerr Sekanya,’ reputed as working miraculous cures in the name of his Master.3-1115 It is said, that at a later period the Rabbi suffered grievous persecution, in punishment for the delight he had taken in a comment on a certain passage of Scripture, which Jacob attributed to his Master. It need scarcely be said, that the whole story is a fabrication; indeed, the supposed Christian interpretation is not even fit to be reproduced; and we only mention the circumstance as indicating the contrast between what Talmudism would have delighted in hearing from its Messiah, and what Jesus spoke.

But there are points of view which may be gained from Rabbinic writings, helpful to the understanding of the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ although not of its spirit. Some of these may here be mentioned. Thus, when3-1116 we read that not one jot or tittle shall pass from the Law, it is painfully interesting to find in the Talmud the following quotation and mistranslation of Mt 5:17: ‘I have come not to diminish from the Law of Moses, nor yet have I come to add to the Law of Moses.’3-1117 3-1118 But the Talmud here significantly omits the addition made by Christ, on which all depends: ‘till all be fulfilled.’ Jewish tradition mentions this very letter yod as irremovable,3-1119 adding, that if all men in the world were gathered together to abolish the least letter in the Law, they would not succeed.3-1120 Not a letter could be removed from the Law3-1121—a saying illustrated by this curious conceit, that the yod which was taken by God out of the name of Sarah (Sarai), was added to that of Hoshea, making him Joshua (Jehoshua).3-1122 Similarly,3-1123 the guilt of changing those little hooks (‘tittles’) which make the distinction between such Hebrew letters as 

ד and ר

ה and ח

ב and כ

is declared so great, that, if such were done, the world would be destroyed.3-1124 Again the thought about the danger of those who broke the least commandment is so frequently expressed in Jewish writings, as scarcely to need special quotation. Only, there it is put on the ground, that we know not what reward may attach to one or another commandment. The expression ‘they of old,’3-1125 quite corresponds to the Rabbinic appeal to those that had preceded, the zeqenim or rishonim. In regard to Mt 5:22, we remember that the term ‘brother’ applied only to Jews, while the Rabbis used to designate the ignorant3-1126—or those who did not believe such exaggerations, as that in the future God would build up the gates of Jerusalem with gems thirty cubits high and broad—as reyqa,3-1127 with this additional remark, that on one occasion the look of a Rabbi had immediately turned the unbeliever into a heap of bones!

Again, the opprobrious term ‘fool’ was by no means of uncommon occurrence among the sages;3-1128 and yet they themselves state, that to give an opprobrious by-name, or to put another openly to shame, was one of the three things which deserved Gehenna.3-1129 To Mt 5:26 the following is an instructive parallel:’ ‘To one who had defrauded the custom-house, it was said: “Pay the duty.” He said to them “Take all that I have with me.” But the tax-gatherer answered him, “Thinkest thou, we ask only this one payment of duty? Nay, rather, that duty be paid for all the times in which according to thy wont, thou hast defrauded the custom-house.”’3-1130 The mode of swearing mentioned in Mt 5:35 was very frequently adopted, in order to avoid pronouncing the Divine Name. Accordingly, they swore by the Covenant, by the Service of the Temple, or by the Temple. But perhaps the usual mode of swearing, which is attributed even to the Almighty, is ‘By thy life’ (חייך). Lastly, as regards our Lord’s admonition, it is mentioned3-1131 as characteristic of the pious, that their ‘yea is yea,’ and their ‘nay nay.’

Passing to Mt 6, we remember, in regard to Mt 6:2, that the boxes for charitable contributions in the Temple were trumpet-shaped, and we can understand the figurative allusion of Christ to demonstrative piety.3-1132 The parallelisms in the language of the Lord’s Prayer—at least so far as the wording, not the spirit, is concerned,—have been frequently shown. If the closing doxology, ‘Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory,’3-1133 were genuine, it would correspond to the common Jewish ascription, from which, in all probability, it has been derived. In regard to Mt 6:14 and Mt 6:15, although there are many Jewish parallels concerning the need of forgiving those that have offended us, or else asking forgiveness, we know what meaning Rabbinism attached to the forgiveness of sins. Similarly, it is scarcely necessary to discuss the Jewish views concerning fasting. In regard to Mt 6:25 and Mt 6:34, we may remark this exact parallel:3-1134 ‘Every one who has a loaf in his basket, and says, What shall I eat to-morrow? is one of little faith.’ But Christianity goes further than this. While the Rabbinic saying only forbids care when there is bread in the basket, our Lord would banish anxious care even if there were no bread in the basket. The expression in 6:34 seems to be a Rabbinic proverb. Thus,3-1135 we read: ‘Care not for the morrow, for ye know not what a day may bring forth. Perhaps he may not be on the morrow, and so have cared for a world that does not exist for him.’ Only here, also, we mark that Christ significantly says not as the Rabbis, but, ‘the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.’

In Mt 7:2, the saying about having it measured to us with the same measure that we mete, occurs in precisely true same manner in the Talmud,3-1136 and, indeed, seems to have been a proverbial expression. The illustration in Mt 7:3 and Mt 7:4, about the mote and the beam, appears thus in Rabbinic literature:3-1137 ‘I wonder if there is any one in this generation who would take reproof. If one said, Take the mote out of thine eye, he would answer, Take the beam from out thine own eye.’ On which the additional question is raised, whether any one in that generation were capable of reproving. As it also occurs with only trifling variations in other passages,3-1138 we conclude that this also was a proverbial expression. The same may be said of gathering ‘grapes of thorns.’3-1139 Similarly, the designation of ‘pearls’ (Mt 7:6) for the valuable sayings of sages is common. To Mt 7:11 there is a realistic parallel,3-1140 when it is related, that at a certain fast, on account of drought, a Rabbi admonished the people to good deeds, on which a man gave money to the woman from whom he had been divorced, because she was in want. This deed was made a plea in prayer by the Rabbi, that if such a man cared for his wife who no more belonged to him, how much more should the Almighty care for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Upon this, it is added, the rain descended plentifully. If difference, and even contrast of spirit, together with similarity of form, were to be further pointed out, we should find it in connection with Mt 7:14, which speaks of the fewness of those saved, and also Mt 7:26, which refers to the absolute need of doing, as evidence of sonship. We compare with this what the Talmud3-1141 says of Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai, whose worthiness was so great, that during his whole lifetime no rainbow was needed to ensure immunity from a flood, and whose power was such that he could say to a valley: Be filled with gold dinars. The same Rabbi was wont to say: ‘I have seen the children of the world to come, and they are few. If there are three, I and my son are of their number; if they are two, I and my son are they.’ After such expression of boastful self-righteousness, so opposed to the passage in the Sermon on the Mount, of which it is supposed to be the parallel, we scarcely wonder to read that, if Abraham had redeemed all generations to that of Rabbi Simon, the latter claimed to redeem by his own merits all that followed to the end of the world—nay, that if Abraham were reluctant, he (Simon) would take Ahijah the Shilonite with him, and reconcile the whole world!3-1142 Yet we are asked by some to see in such Rabbinic passages parallels to the sublime teaching of Christ!

The ‘Sermon on the Mount’ closes with a parabolic illustration, which in similar form occurs in Rabbinic writings. Thus,3-1143 the man whose wisdom exceeds his works is compared to a tree whose branches are many, but its roots few, and which is thus easily upturned by the wind; while he whose works exceed his wisdom is likened to a tree, whose branches are few, and its roots many, against which all the winds in the world would strive in vain. A still more close parallel is that3-1144 in which the man who has good works, and learns much in the Law, is likened to one, who in building his house lays stones first, and on them bricks, so that when the flood cometh the house is not destroyed; while he who has not good work, yet busies himself much with the Law, is like one who puts bricks below, and stones above which are swept away by the waters. Or else the former is like one who puts mortar between the bricks, fastening them one to the other; and the other to one who merely puts mortar outside, which the rain dissolves and washes away.

The above comparisons of Rabbinic sayings with those of our Lord lay no claim to completeness. They will, however, suffice to explain and amply to vindicate the account of the impression left on the hearers of Jesus. But what, even more than all else, must have filled them with wonderment and awe was, that He Who so taught also claimed to be the God-appointed final Judge of all, whose fate would be decided not merely by professed discipleship, but by their real relation to Him (Mt 7:21-23). And so we can understand it, that, alike in regard to what He taught and what He claimed. ‘The people were astonished at His doctrine: for He taught them as One having authority—and not as the Scribes.’3-1145 [17]


----

Is 55:1, 2; John 4:14; 6:48ff; 7:37

[1]New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Mt 5:6). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[2] Stott, John R.W., Expositional Studies on the Sermon of the Mount

[3]Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary : New Testament (electronic ed.) (G3107). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

[4]Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible : Showing every word of the text of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurrence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (G1656). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.

[5]MacArthur, J. (1998). The Only Way to Happiness : The Beatitudes. Chicago: Moody Press.

[6]MacArthur, J. (1998). The Only Way to Happiness : The Beatitudes. Chicago: Moody Press.

[7]MacArthur, J. (1998). The Only Way to Happiness : The Beatitudes. Chicago: Moody Press.

[8]MacArthur, J. (1998). The Only Way to Happiness : The Beatitudes. Chicago: Moody Press.

[9]MacArthur, J. (1998). The Only Way to Happiness : The Beatitudes. Chicago: Moody Press.

[10]MacArthur, J. (1998). The Only Way to Happiness : The Beatitudes. Chicago: Moody Press.

1 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 1:96.

2 Donald G. Barnhouse, Expositions of Bible Doctrines: Bible Study (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 9:4.

3 Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975), 149.

4 As quoted in Watson, The Beatitudes, 144.

[11] MacArthur, J. (1998). The Only Way to Happiness : The Beatitudes. Chicago: Moody Press.

cf. confer, compare

LXX The Septuagint, Greek translation of the OT

t Targum

B. Baba Qamma

Str-B H. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, 4 vols. (Munich: Beck’sche, 1926–28)

i.e. id est, that is

[12] Hagner, D. A. (1998). Vol. 33A: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 1-13 (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Word Biblical Commentary (93). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

1 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 1:96.

2 Donald G. Barnhouse, Expositions of Bible Doctrines: Bible Study (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 9:4.

3 Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975), 149.

4 As quoted in Watson, The Beatitudes, 144.

[13] MacArthur, J. (1998). The Only Way to Happiness : The Beatitudes. Chicago: Moody Press.

[14] Powell, Ivor, Matthew’s Majestic Gospel

[15] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

[16] Life Application Bible

[17] Edersheim, Alfred The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah

 

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