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Blessed are the Merciful

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When we bring to Jesus our spiritual poverty, our mourning over evil and our total powerlessness to do anything about these conditions that cause us to hunger and thirst for righteousness we experience mercy. We do not receive the punishment that our spiritual poverty and giving into evil deserve. Out of the abundance of his love our Heavenly Father gives us mercy.

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Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Matthew 5:7, NIV

There is no greater Gift than mercy

The first day that I got my driver’s license I took our family’s VW Super Beetle out for a spin. In my hometown, I think there was at the time only one one-way street in our small town. Well, I managed to be on that one street going in the wrong direction -cue the siren and flashing lights. It always takes an eternity for police to exit their car when you are trying to figure out how you are going to explain this to your parents. When the officer finally arrived at the car the conversation when something like this, Do you know you are driving the wrong way on a one-way street. Yes, officer I do now. Can I see your license? Yes, sir. Just got this? Yes, sir. Ok, I’m going to let you go with a warning – pay attention to the signs and you be careful now. That was mercy. It was a gift. I was guilty. I deserved the ticket. The officer had mercy on me – and my parents never heard that story – unless they happen to be listening today. You have had similar experiences. You know the relief that floods us when we do not receive the consequences we deserve. Sometimes mercies we receive are small like not getting the traffic ticket. Sometimes they are huge like our spouse choosing to stay with us when they have every reason and right according to our social and legal norms to walk out the door and never come back.

We all need mercy

“Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.”

(Ecclesiastes 7:20, NIV)

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way . . .

(Isaiah 53:6, NIV)

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

(Romans 3:23, NIV)

All the proof we need of our natural tendency toward sin is to reflect on our own attitudes, words, and actions. None of us are guiltless. None of us always love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. None of us always love our neighbor as ourselves. We all stand guilty of not loving God and not loving our neighbor. Which, according to Jesus, is the core of what God expects of us.[1]

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6, NIV)

Jesus is God’s Gift of Mercy to Us

The Father laid on Jesus all the spiritual poverty of humankind for all of history. The Father placed on Jesus all evil and the consequences of evil that cause the bitter tears of humanity for all time. The Father executed upon His Son, Jesus, the punishment that was rightly mine and yours and rightly the punishment of every person who has lived and every person who will live.

On the day that Jesus was crucified,

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.[2]

This is what mercy looks like. This is what mercy is. A great price was paid for the priceless gift God of God himself dying our death, enduring our judgment to give us mercy and to show us what mercy means.

God’s gift of mercy flows to us . . .

When we bring to Jesus our spiritual poverty, our mourning over evil and our total powerlessness to do anything about these conditions that cause us to hunger and thirst for righteousness we experience mercy. We do not receive the punishment that our spiritual poverty and giving into evil deserve. Out of the abundance of his love our Heavenly Father gives us mercy that looks like this:

· The Father envelops us in his rule and reign and makes the Kingdom of Heaven ours (Mt.5:3).

· The Father gives us real comfort for the consequences of evil by being ever-present with us and living in us (Mt.5:4).

· The brings us into His family and makes us heirs together with His Son so that we inherit the earth, participating in his purposes to reconcile all things to himself and reigning with him at the coming of the new earth (Mt. 5:4).

· The Father fills us with the righteousness of Jesus (Mt.5:5).

This is how we experience the blessing of mercy because Jesus is God’s gift of mercy to us.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

(Ephesians 2:4–7, NIV)

Having received this great mercy, Jesus commands us to

share the mercy we received with others

Mercy is not a sentiment. Mercy consists of actions that require a cost from us, just has the mercy we received required a cost from God. Jesus describes mercy when we are on the giving end like this in Luke 6: 27-36. This is the application part of the sermon – Jesus tells us in his own words how to be merciful.

““But to you who are listening I say:

· Love your enemies,

· do good to those who hate you,

· bless those who curse you,

· pray for those who mistreat you.

· If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.

· If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.

· Give to everyone who asks you,

· and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

· Do to others as you would have them do to you.

(Luke 6:27-31)

In the next 5 verses, Jesus summarizes these actions and assures us of blessing when we do them saying . . .

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:31-36, NIV)

We think that this is revolutionary and hard to do in our day, but

Mercy was Not a positive value in Jesus’ day

Rodney Stark, one of the world’s leading authorities on the sociology of religion in his book the Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement became the World’s Largest Religion wrote the following:

IN THE MIDST OF the squalor, misery, illness, and anonymity of ancient cities, Christianity provided an island of mercy and security. Foremost was the Christian duty to alleviate want and suffering. It started with Jesus: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me....

In contrast, in the pagan world, and especially among the philosophers, mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion: because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice . . . . classical philosophers taught that “mercy indeed is not governed by reason at all,” and humans must learn “to curb the impulse”; “the cry of the undeserving for mercy” must go “unanswered.” . . . “Pity was a defect of character unworthy of the wise and excusable only in those who have not yet grown up.” This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught . . .that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful. Moreover, the corollary that because God loves humanity, Christians may not please God unless they love one another was even more incompatible with pagan convictions. But the truly revolutionary principle was that Christian love and charity must extend beyond the boundaries of family and even those of faith, to all in need.[3]

It was to people who clearly understood that within their culture not only was it difficult to show mercy, if you did show mercy you were thought to be immature, weak, or just plain crazy that Jesus said, “be merciful just as your Father is merciful” and blessed are the merciful.” Worse than being treated as immature, weak, or crazy, non-Christians looked at you, a Christian, as a person undeserving of mercy, because you are merciful to those who do not deserve mercy. This cast a whole new light on Jesus’s promise . . .

They will be Shown Mercy

Well-meaning pastors and Bible teachers sometimes present this teaching stressing that we must give mercy to receive mercy. Taken to the extreme this emphasis is dangerous if it is not balanced with the teaching that in order to give the mercy that God requires of us, we must first receive the mercy that God offers us in Jesus. So, in that sense, we can never give mercy to receive mercy. We can only give mercy because the life of Jesus in us makes us merciful.

However, in another sense the idea that we must give mercy to receive mercy has merit because if we, having received mercy cannot, will not extend mercy to others this calls into question our status as “children of the Most High.” To put it another way, our inability to give mercy as we have received mercy calls into question whether we have personally received mercy through faith in Jesus alone.

When we understand the historical context, we can understand the promise that the merciful will be shown mercy not as a transaction: we must give mercy to get mercy. Rather, we can hear them as Jesus’ comforting words of assurance. I think Jesus is communicating something like this to those surrounding him on the mountain side.

When you give mercy like I am teaching you to do, don’t worry if people think that you are immature, weak, or crazy. Don’t worry that in showing mercy there will be no mercy shown to you. You can trust my promise that if you are merciful like God is merciful, you already have God’s mercy and when you stand before God as his child you will see with your own eyes, and it will be revealed in the depths of your soul that you always have been and always will be wrapped up in the loving mercy of God. Because . . .

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

[1] Matthew 22:34-40

[2] Matthew 27:45-46, 50

[3] Stark, Rodney. The Triumph of Christianity (pp. 112-113). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

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