\\ There is something enticing about a movie plot dealing with revenge.
From The Godfather to Hamlet to one of my favorite westerns The Outlaw Josie Wales,
the characters change, but we are drawn to stories of where people get even.
Revenge is so natural; it is like a reflex action.
But when a story breaks the cycle of bloodshed and an eye for an eye, we stop.
We sit up. We pay attention.
Such was the response to a movie made about five missionaries who received their crowns at the end of a spear.
It’s the story about Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming and Ed McCulley being brutally killed in the jungle of Ecuador by a tribe that anthropologists said was once the most violent society ever documented.
The movie doesn’t tell us the story from the perspective of one of the missionaries.
We learn what happened from the son of one of the missionaries.
Our heart is in our throat as we watch the plane take this young Christian man to his death and his little boy looks after him until he is out of sight.
We know the sense of foreboding the wife and child had would be proven true.
Here is where the story diverges.
The boy grows to manhood, and what will he do?
He goes back to the tribe.
He doesn’t go back to find his father’s murderer and get even.
No, he goes back to introduce them to the One his father served that was speared but did not spear back.
As amazing as that act of mercy is, the real miracle was what happened to the Auca Indians upon receiving these acts of mercy.
They broke the cycle of revenge.
Five young men at the beginning of their lives are not supposed to die so needlessly, nor so violently.
Revenge is our human way of fixing what seems broken,
Revenge is our human way of restoring the precarious balance of justice, of peace, to the universe.
But the problem is that revenge doesn’t restore peace.
Revenge moves a victim to the place of perpetrator and begins a whole new chapter of life not the way it is suppose to be.
The Auca’s prove this.
Maybe your life proves this.
But mercy caused these people to break their spears and lay them down.
When they did that it blessed their lives.
We have already noticed in our study of the first four beatitudes that the order in which they occur is intentional.
In one respect all of the Beatitudes describe the character of the Christian man.
The man who possesses this divine and divinely given character (and only he) is instructed to live as the rest of the sermon indicates.
If it is true that the first three beatitudes show how a man must stand in his relation as a sinner to God—
spiritually bankrupt, sorry for sin, and meekly humble—
and if it is true that the fourth beatitude contains the promise of God’s provision of righteousness for the man who so comes to God,
then it is logical to expect that the remaining beatitudes will reveal the transformed character of the one who now has been touched by Christ’s Spirit
The one who is now being progressively remade in Christ’s image.
This, in fact, is precisely what we do find.
The first four beatitudes deal entirely with inner principles, principles of the heart and mind.
They are concerned with the way we see ourselves before God.
The last four are outward manifestations of those attitudes.
Those who in poverty of spirit recognize their need of mercy are led to show mercy to others.
Those who mourn over their sin are led to purity of heart and mind and action (v. 8).
Those who are meek always seek to make peace.
And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are never unwilling to pay the price of being persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh of the beatitudes, beginning with “blessed are the merciful,” describe the outward workings of the inner character of the Christian.
He behaves as one who is merciful, pure in heart, and always ready and anxious to make peace.
Mercy is first, because it is what we experience first when we are saved by Jesus Christ.
According to Jesus the man who has tasted God’s righteousness is to show mercy to others;
he is to be pure in heart; he is to be a peacemaker.
What is mercy?
Shakespeare defined mercy in the well-known speech by Portia in The Merchant of Venice—
The quality of mercy is not strain’d.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesses him that gives and him that takes.
’Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown—
Shakespeare covered some of mercy’s qualities: impartiality, gentleness, abundance.
But this is not the full definition.
It is only the Bible that gives the word “mercy” its true scope and spiritual significance.
In some ways mercy may be compared with grace; that is, it is undeserved.
But it is not grace itself.
In the pastoral letters Paul even adds mercy to his normal Christian greeting—grace and peace—thereby implying a distinction between them.
“Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Tim. 1:2; cf. 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4).
What makes mercy different from grace?
Primarily it is the quality of helplessness or misery on the part of those who receive mercy.
Grace is love when love is undeserved.
Mercy is grace in action.
Mercy is love reaching out to help those who are helpless and who need salvation.
Mercy identifies with the miserable in their misery.
Mercy forgives the unforgivable.
We can’t state the definition of mercy without thinking at once of the cross of Jesus Christ.
It was there that God acted out of grace in mercy to fallen, sinful man.
In fact, God’s act was so complete at the cross that there is a sense in which it is only there mercy can be seen by a sinful man.
In his sinful, fallen state man could do nothing to save himself,
so God stepped forward to do everything that needed to be done.
Paul wrote of it in (Eph. 2:4–7).
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
We correctly sing: Mercy there was great,...
Now because we have experienced this mercy from God we in turn are to show mercy to others.
A popular Roman philosopher called mercy “the disease of the soul.”
It was the supreme sign of weakness.
Mercy was a sign that you did not have what it takes to be a real man and especially a real Roman.
The Romans glorified manly courage, strict justice, firm discipline, and, above all, absolute power.
They looked down on mercy, because mercy to them was weakness, and weakness was despised above all other human limitations.
During much of Roman history, a father had the right of patria pitestas,
of deciding whether or not his newborn child would live or die.
As the infant was held up for him to see, the father would turn his thumb up if he wanted the child to live, down if he wanted it to die.
If his thumb turned down the child was immediately drowned.
Citizens had the same life-or-death power over slaves.
At any time and for any reason they could kill and bury a slave, with no fear of arrest or reprisal.
Husbands could even have their wives put to death on the least provocation.
Today abortion reflects the same merciless attitude.
A society that despises mercy is a society that glorifies brutality.
The underlying motive of self-concern has characterized men in general and societies in general since the Fall.
We see it expressed today in such sayings as, “If you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will.”
Such popular proverbs are generally true, because they reflect the basic selfish nature of fallen man.
Men are not naturally inclined to repay mercy for mercy.
The best illustration of that fact is the Lord Himself.
Jesus Christ was the most merciful human being who ever lived.
He reached out to:
heal the sick,
restore the crippled,
give sight to the blind,
hearing to the deaf,
and even life to the dead.
He found prostitutes, tax collectors, the debauched and the drunken, and drew them into His circle of love and forgiveness.
When the scribes and Pharisees brought the adulteress to Him to see if He would agree to her stoning,
He confronted them with their merciless hypocrisy:
“He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
When no one stepped forward to condemn her, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more” \
Jesus wept with the sorrowing and gave companionship to the lonely.
He took little children into His arms and blessed them.
He was merciful to everyone.
He was mercy incarnate, just as He was love incarnate.
Yet what was the response to Jesus’ mercy?
He shamed the woman’s accusers into inaction, but they did not become merciful.
By the time the accounts of John 8 ended, Jesus’ opponents “picked up stones to throw at Him” (v. 59).
When the scribes and Pharisees saw Jesus “eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers,”
they asked His disciples why their Master associated with such unworthy people (Mark 2:16).
The more Jesus showed mercy, the more He showed up the unmercifulness of the Jewish religious leaders.
The more He showed mercy, the more they were determined to put Him out of the way.
The ultimate outcome of His mercy was the cross.
In Jesus’ crucifixion, two merciless systems-merciless government and merciless religion-united to kill Him.
Totalitarian Rome joined intolerant Judaism to destroy the Prince of mercy.
The fifth beatitude does not teach that mercy to men brings mercy from men,
but that mercy to men brings mercy from God.
If we are merciful to others, God will be merciful to us, whether men are or not.
God is the subject of the second clause, just as in the other beatitudes.
It is God who gives the kingdom of heaven to the poor in spirit,
It is God who gives comfort to those who mourn,
It is God who gives the earth to the meek,
It is God who gives satisfaction to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Those who are merciful ... shall receive mercy from God.
God gives the divine blessings to those who obey His divine standards.
The Old Testament prophet Micah identifies three essential virtues for living a life pleasing to God.
In 6:8 he states: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
What a foreign concept mercy is in so much of our present day and age that appears bent on venom, vitriol, violence, and vengeance.
As the spiral of terrorism and war escalates at a dizzying pace the call for mercy seems like a futile effort and a lost cause.
So what exactly is mercy and what is a merciful person like?
I want to try and paint a picture of mercy so we can understand merciful behavior.
Before we look at the picture, let’s briefly examine the frame.
The frame of this picture and what gives shape to its contents is the mercy of God.
Back in Exodus 25 God told Moses to make an ark for carrying the 10 Commandments of the Law.
The top section or lid of the ark was to be known as “The Mercy Seat” –
the Hebrew word for it is "kap-po-reth" and means “to cover”
but the root of the word means “to pardon”, “to atone for” and “to cover” as in a debt.
There were to be 2 cherubs covered in gold facing each other on either end of the mercy seat – with their wings touching
The Ark was to be placed in the Holy of Holies inside the tabernacle
Aaron the High Priest was only to go in there once a year on the Day of Atonement
with the blood of a sacrificed bull to sprinkle on the mercy seat to make atonement for his own sins and the sins of the people.
God would meet the High Priest and speak with him from above the mercy seat
The picture for us to hold in our minds here is this
...between God and His Holy, Just and Righteous Law there is a special place God has made for mercy.
In Psalm 86:15 David writes: “Thou O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
In the story of Jonah, the reluctant prophet to the wicked city of Nineveh,
when the entire city heeded the word of the Lord through Jonah and repented in sackcloth and ashes,
Jonah was ticked off with God and was actually hoping they would not listen and he would get to witness the outpouring of God’s wrath on these evildoers.
Chapter 4 states: 1-3
Just a thought: Do these sentiments of Jonah parallel any of your own for some other religious or ethnic or language group?
Are there any others who you feel and believe deserve to get their "just deserts"
would your sense of justice be offended if God brought them to repentance and faith?
Any married folk who in the spirit of Jonah would rather see their rotten spouse suffer the wrath of God than receive His sweet mercy?
Any parents who in the spirit of Jonah would rather see the children who have made your lives miserable suffer rather than receive God’s wondrous mercy?
Mercy prays not for God’s wrath and judgment but intercedes instead for God’s transforming love and grace.
In Genesis 45 we have the story of Joseph – now as Prime Minister of Egypt, revealing his identity to his brothers
They had years previously in hatred plotted to kill him, then sold him as a slave to some Ishmaelite traders
They told their aged father, Jacob, that he had been killed by a wild animal.
Joseph had subsequently endured many additional hardships in prison.
Joseph could easily have had his moment of revenge and retaliation for all his brothers had done to him.
He could have responded with “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”.
He could even have just banished his brothers from Egypt and sent them home empty handed to die of starvation in the famine
But instead he replied: "Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”
Like Joseph, mercy responds to the harsh words and evil deeds of others
not with retaliation or resentment or refusal to forgive
but by trusting that God in His timing is able to transform even the most painful of circumstances into a blessing for us
Not only a blessing for us but also for those who have hurt us deeply.
and even for those who right now oppose us and seek our destruction.
Mercy is watchful, observant and alert to unverbalized needs in its midst.
It observes the pain behind the smile,
it notices the tear in the corner of the eye,
it senses the fear and uncertainty in the brash and abrasive reply,
it feels the loneliness in the loud, talkative and seemingly self-assured
and it steps in to serve - on its knees, frequently without words and always without fanfare.
Richard Selzer in his book “Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery” writes these moving lines,
"I stand by the bed where the young woman lies, her face post-operative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and altogether they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, ...? The young woman speaks. ’Will my mouth always be like this?’ She asks. ’Yes,’ I say, ’it will. It is because the nerve was cut.’ She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. ’I like it,’ he says. ’It is kind of cute.’ All at once I know who he is. I understand, and lower my gaze. ...Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close, I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works."
Understanding and tender love - there is no substitute.
This is the stuff of real mercy.
A story from a nurse in an ER.
It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman in his 80’s, arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb.
He said he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am.
I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would be able to see him.
I saw him looking at his watch and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound.
On examination it was well healed.
So I talked to one of the doctors and got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and dress his wound.
While taking care of his wound I asked him if he had another doctor’s appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry.
The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife.
I inquired as to her health.
He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer’s disease.
As we talked, I asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late.
He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.
I was surprised and asked him:” And you still go every morning even though she does not know who you are?”
He smiled as he patted my arm and said: “She doesn’t know me, but I still know her.”
How like our Father we become as we allow His Spirit to flow in acts of mercy from us.
The word Jesus uses for mercy is "eleos," and it is full of great meaning.
It’s used to describe an attribute of God.
God is said to be "rich in mercy." (Eph.2:4)
Titus 3:5 tells us that we are saved by His mercy.
We find mercy, "at the throne of grace." (Heb.4:16)
And “..it is by His mercy that we have hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Ptr 1:3)
“Eleos,” in it’s root carries the meaning, "to wash over."
In the Greek culture, wherein Jesus lived, it was used in the context of "whitewashing" a wall
or "wiping out" an impurity
or "canceling" a debt.
You see mercy goes beyond sympathy to empathy.
It is "love in action."
You not only wash out the deed that was done against you but you find a way to help the person.
The parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, is an excellent example of mercy.
The Samaritan was a half-breed, half Jew/half Gentile.
The Jews hated them and the Samaritan’s responded in kind.
It is a Jew that is beaten up on the road, two of his fellow Jews, both religious, walk by, refusing to get involved.
But it is his enemy, a Samaritan, who not only is sympathetic to his plight but puts his love in action by
dressing his wounds,
taking him to an Inn,
staying until he has made it through the critical stages of his injuries
and then paying for his full recovery.
This Samaritan should of passed by,
but when you are filled with the mercy of God, you are saturated by His love and all barriers are broken down.
You see mercy is an action, not a reaction.
"Eleos," has it’s greatest meaning in forgiveness.
But even forgiveness can be too weak unless we understand that we not only are to wipe out the injury done to us by another
but we are to also help them to recovery.
And that’s the rub isn’t it?
It’s one thing for me to say “I forgive you”,
it’s another thing entirely for me to become actively involved in restoring you and growing our relationship.
Mercy’s clearest definition is Jesus Christ.
Our Lord didn’t just sit up in heaven and passively say, "Okay, okay, whoever, believes in Me, I’ll forgive them."
Jn 3:16 doesn’t say, "For God so loved the world that whoever believes in his son will have everlasting life."
It says, "For God so loved the world that he..” what? "..sent His one and only Son."
1 Jn 4:9 repeats the thought- "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might have life.. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
By action He demonstrated mercy, His “Eleos,” the white washing of our sins, with His blood.
As God gives you a fresh start each new day,
so should you reach beyond the pain and give to those who have hurt you a fresh start through your forgiveness.
Everyday, when you forgive, the anger, bitterness, resentment and pain that you feel from the wrong suffered from someone else’s hands is weakened.
It’s only through the giving of mercy that your emotional wounds will be healed.
If you do not show mercy and forgive the unforgivable you may never find total healing for your spirit, mind and body
Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
He was teaching that mercy to men brings mercy from God - not mercy from men.
Our corrupt, ego-centered, and selfish society often asks only one question;
“What’s in it for me?”
Jesus wants us to ask “ Lord, what is in it for you?
How can I meet their needs right where they are?
What acts of compassion can I do?”
Mercy is meeting people’s needs wherever their needs are –
in whatever the situation they find themselves.
It’s not simply feeling compassion but showing compassion,
not only sympathizing but offering a helping hand as well.
The true character of mercy is in giving –
giving of yourself and
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.