The Beatitudes: The Merciful
Passage: Matthew 5:7
Let's turn now to Matthew chapter 5 as we are walking through the Beatitudes.
So, Matthew 5, we've hit a few of these so far. Remember, the Beatitudes are just a list of "Blessed are . . ." different groups, and basically, these aren't different groups that are not united in any way. These are all characteristics of kingdom citizens.
So Jesus is displaying for us, again, what life in the kingdom looks like. And so, I love that it starts with, "Blessed." That word also means that we are approved by God. God looks at this kind of living, and He loves it. He says Amen to it. He approves of it.
And I don't know about you, but I want to hear from God, "Well done, good and faithful servant," more than I want to hear the world patting my back. And so, Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who understand their spiritual bankruptcy, that they have nothing to offer God in and of themselves, to commend themselves to God, for their own righteousness. We are a people who have nothing before God; we're undone; we need His mercy.
Blessed are those who mourn. In other words, mourning over our sin. Being grieved that we have sinned against a holy God.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. And man, how much more does this shine out from the world's way? The world's gonna say, No way, not the meek inherit the earth. The assertive ones, the powerful ones, the ones who push their way ahead and run over people. They're the ones who inherit the earth. Jesus says, no, it's exactly the opposite -- it's the one who is content in Christ, knows that he deserves nothing, who defers to others; and THEY are the ones who are actually inheriting the earth in the end.
And then, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Man, if understand our need of Christ, there ought to be this insatiable thirst, this hunger to become more and more like Jesus.
And so today, Matthew 5, verse 7, flows out of all of those: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. So, first of all, what does it mean that they shall receive mercy? And if you've been walking with us the last couple of weeks -- if you're new, maybe that's gonna throw you off. But the last couple weeks, you should have already heard us talking a lot about what I'm about to tell you.
On the surface, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" sounds like, "You've gotta do something in order to receive mercy." In other words, you have to be merciful to people so that God will in the end be merciful to you. There is some truth to that, and I'll get to that at the end, but what I'm saying here is, we have to remember that the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount are not primarily describing for us conditions that we have to meet in order to be saved, in order to be in the kingdom. But rather, He is laying out, this is what kingdom living looks like. The marks of someone who has received mercy, who has been saved, who is a disciple, is that they are going to show that by their being merciful.
So again, friends, it's important to read scripture in its context and to not build a doctrine on one single verse, but to build a doctrine on verses within the context of its surrounding verses, and the book that it's in, and the entirety of the Bible.
And by the way, another reason that we know this can't mean a works-based kind of salvation and righteousness. We know that. Why? Because, look: If you think, I earn mercy from God by being merciful . . . Earning mercy is a contradiction in terms. The moment you feel like you're earning it, it's no longer mercy. What makes it mercy is the fact that you can't earn it! And God freely gives it to you and me.
So that's NOT what it means. What it DOES mean is, the person who, again, is broken over their sin, and has turned to God, really repented of their sin, and received the mercy of God -- that person, if they are not being merciful to others, they've gotta go back and check whether they've really repented, and received the mercy of God. Because a tree is known by its fruit. The characteristic of someone who has embraced and cherished the mercy of God, is that they would be lavish in showing mercy to others.
And this isn't a New Testament idea only. There's an entire book in the Old Testament, the book of Jonah, written to show the people of God, look: If you don't have compassion for others, then something's wrong with the foundation. You don't know what you've been given freely. Remember, Jonah preaches to Nineveh, and then he's upset. Why? Because Nineveh repents and God doesn't destroy them. And what does he do? God, I KNEW you would do this -- in other words, not destroy Nineveh. I KNEW that you are a God who is slow to anger, steadfast in abounding love, that You are a God of mercy. I knew that -- that's why I ran away the first time and didn't want to preach.
The same characteristics of God that were to his benefit, that brought mercy to him? He's now ticked off when it's being extended to someone he doesn't think deserves it. And so that whole story of God allowing a plant to come over Jonah's head to shade him from the sun, and then allowing a worm to come and eat up the plant, and that plant to wither away? I think that whole thing is to say, "Jonah, don't forget -- it's only by My grace that you have this covering over you, that you can be called a people of God."
Israel was chosen, not because of anything they did, but because of God's mercy and grace. And He says, look, I can easily take away that covering. And I've given it to you. And so He says, look, you're angry about a plant that I had nothing to do with. Shouldn't my heart beat with compassion for people that I DID have something to do with, who were created in My image?
So it's not a new idea. This has been God's heart from the beginning. So what does it mean to be merciful? I think it means to, yes, show forgiveness or relent from retaliation or punishment that someone deserves who has wronged you.
But I think it also means to reach out, to provide for, to care for those who are hungry, suffering, hurting, and who are in need -- to have compassion that moves to action. That's what it means to show mercy.
I love how Richard Lensky distinguishes it from grace in this way:
The noun, "elos," mercy, always deals with what we see of pain, misery, and distress -- the results of sin. "Charis," grace, always deals with the sin and the guilt itself.
So the one extends relief; the other pardons. The one cures, heals, and helps; the other cleanses and reinstates.
So both of these things are in view. First, who do we extend mercy to? First of all, to those who have wronged us. Why? Because we know that we have wronged God and did not deserve His mercy in the first place.
So I think the greatest parable to see this -- turn with me to Matthew chapter 18. I want you to see this scene of Jesus with his disciples, and Peter asks this question that launches Him into this parable. So, Matthew 18:21. Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?"
Now, before I go on, that is they way; our way is always to look for, God, how much do I have to do to be okay with you? Like, what boxes do I need to check? We don't usually think, man, show me the line and I want to go overboard with It. We're like, How much? So, how often is my brother going to sin against me, and I forgive him?
"As many as seven times?” Now in Judaism, to forgive someone THREE times is to have a forgiving spirit. So I think what's happening here is that Peter is going, like, Hey, man, I think I get what You're teaching us. I'm gonna go over and beyond, not just forgive three. I'm gonna forgive Seven. And I think he's expecting Jesus to pat him on the back and say Bravo.
Look what He does: Jesus goes, "No, I don't say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times." And By the way, that's not supposed to be another number that's higher than seven. It's meant to mean this: that you should not even be keeping record of how many times! It should be that overflowing. It should be immeasurable.
So in order to teach that, He's gonna get to Peter's heart, because you don't know how much you've been forgiven. So look at this parable, verse 23:
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
So, friends, I think this parable -- don't miss it -- is trying to stress something huge to us. He's asking, "How far do I have to go?" He's keeping a record of it. And He's like, "You have missed the reality of what's happened for you." It's not informing the way you live, because you're asking that question. And so, this is why I think this parable that Jesus says to His disciples is meant to highlight a few things that we've got to remember.
The first one is this: The enormous debt that we are in because of our sin, the debt that we owe to God because of our sin -- how enormous it is. So when you say, Where's he highlighting that?
The fact that He said that the servant comes who owes him ten thousand talents. A talent would be equal to about twenty year's wages. For a common laborer, that would be about 600,000 dollars. So ten thousand talents is like saying six billion dollars in debt. So what is being communicated to us in this parable, is the servant is so in debt that there is NO way he's going to pay it back. It's even laughable that he's crying out for mercy, Have patience and I'll pay it back to you. We're meant to laugh at that, like there's no way he can pay it back.
And I think what Jesus is saying is, Peter, you have forgotten the enormous debt that you were in because of your sin. And friends, THAT is the gospel. If anyone here knows the gospel, they know that we are in so much debt that there is nothing we would ever do; it would be laughable for us to even start, to even think that we could pay back what we owe to God. That's the first thing this parable wants to bring out.
And not only how enormous our debt is. Therefore this parable wants to bring out how enormous is the mercy that we have received in Christ. Look at verse 27: Out of pity for him, the master releases him and forgives him the debt. That ought to shock us. Again, six billion dollars, forgiven. It's meant to shock us, the enormity of His mercy. And for us who know the gospel, we know that the way He forgives and cancels that debt is through the death of His own Son. As Colossians chapter 2 says, He cancels our record of debt, nailing it to the cross. So we who know the gospel know that the way our debt is removed is through a costly sacrifice of His own Son.
Therefore -- you're tracking with those two thoughts, therefore, you ought to have that "greatly distressed" feeling. Look at verse 31: "When the fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed." In other words, if you understand the enormity of debt that you were in, and the enormous mercy that God had to remove that debt through the death of His Son, it would be absolutely just mind-boggling that that would not extend to forgiving someone a much lesser debt. It would move us to be greatly distressed. Why are they greatly distressed? Because they see that something is off. They've watched, they've seen the mercy he's received and they see that it's not going out, and so it's making them look backwards and say, Has this really even happened? Does he even understand the mercy he's received?
And so they go and report it to the master, and what happens in verses 33 and 34, we find out that the master puts him in prison until he pays. So again, remember, six billion dollars, until he pays me -- NEVER. It's meant to show us, that's the punishment. Those who do not know Christ, at the end of the day, if they don't receive the one way God has given for our debt to be removed, we will spend eternity being punished for it.
And so, look: Hebrews 2:3 says, "How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?" We're to feel the weight of, Do you know what you've been forgiven from? How much debt you had, and what's coming for you, if you don't receive it. And that's the issue here. It ought to move us.
That doesn't mean we don't care about justice. It means that, friend, you and I as Christians -- our M.O., what we gravitate to quickly is to forgive people who wrong us. To show them mercy.
And that's the whole story with my father, who disowned me, and man, as I'm following God, something in me is not allowing me to not go back and show him mercy and forgiveness. 'Cause I couldn't get away from it. I just kept seeing what God had done for me. So, friends, may this be, especially in a season where people are yelling at each other and throwing things at each other, may we be a people who are quick to show mercy.
And then, not only as I said, to someone who's wronged us, and showing them forgiveness or withholding punishment, but I think again, as I've said, mercy means having a heart of compassion that moves me to meet the need of someone who's hurting. Okay?
Now, I'm gonna take you to a couple of passages to see this, and I think they're both very important to see together. Go to Matthew 9 and look at verse 10 with me:
"And as Jesus reclined at a table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples." Again, tax collectors and sinners -- these were the morally debased, the horrible people, the social outcasts. They're coming and reclining with Him. So look: "When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' And when He heard it, Jesus said, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick' (now look at verse 13, I think we have to underline this) 'Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous but sinners.'"
So I think verse 13 is the one that we gotta camp on and say What does that mean? "I desire mercy and not sacrifice"? I mean, isn't sacrifice good, to go and sacrifice something, to lay something down for God as an act of worship? And what He's saying to the Pharisees is, No, all your sacrifices you're doing, that's not what I desire. What I really desire is MERCY. Is for your heart to beat with compassion for others and move in mercy.
And so now I want you to see in a very well-known parable, and in the context of the parable, how Jesus expands on this. Now go to Luke chapter 10, and I want you to see it. Again, a very familiar parable, but I want you to see how this teaches us what it means when Jesus says, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice."
Look at this. Luke 10:25.
"And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' He said to him, 'What is written in the Law? How do you read it?' And he answered, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.' And he said to him, 'You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.'”
And now look at this in verse 29: "But he (very important phrase) desiring to justify himself . . ." Again I say to you, the way of the world, the way of religion is, How much do I have to do, what are the boxes that I have to check -- again, just like the previous parable, how many times do I need to forgive?
Now, seeking to justify -- what's the mark I have to hit -- "Seeking to justify himself, he asked this question: 'Who is my neighbor?'"
In other words, the implication is, How far do I have to extend with this kind of love? This kind of loving my neighbor as myself. Okay, so now enter a very well-known parable. Here it is. Verse 30:
“Jesus replied, 'A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite (so in other words, an assistant to a priest), when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (verse 32) But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. (Now look at these key verbs you see here). He had COMPASSION. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, "Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back." Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man?'"
Now, isn't that interesting, he asked "Who's my neighbor?" and Jesus said, "No, the better question is, who's being a good neighbor to this man, who's on the road?"
So as I said, mercy isn't just loving someone or forgiving someone who has wronged you. This person -- he didn't know the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan. He had not wronged the Samaritan. And yet he moved. And so look what he says, he asks them a question -- "Which of these three men, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" And in verse 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
This is what I desire. So now I'm telling you that we get a parable that explains to us what Jesus means when He says, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice." You say, Why? Here's why: Because the priest and the Levite, the pastor and the associate pastor, they saw this guy, and they went right by him, cause why? They were headed to the temple to make a sacrifice. They were doing some good; they were going to the temple and were going to make a sacrifice. They were doing their religious duty. And what Jesus is saying is, that kind of worship is not what I desire. THIS is the kind of worship I desire. A Samaritan.
And look at the way, again, mercy is explained to us in the life of the Samaritan. First of all, it says, in verse 33, he saw him and had compassion on him. So in other words, we're not quick to walk by people who are hurting. We look at their life. We gaze into their life, and our heart moves with compassion for them. Why? Because we look at them and we see US, before Christ moved in. And our heart moves with compassion. And verse 34 is key, mercy isn't just compassion; mercy is action and involvement. Verse 34: He went to him, and bound up his wounds. So being merciful means you roll up your sleeves. You get your hands dirty.
And then, being merciful means sacrifice. Look at verse 34: He put him on his own donkey. So he sacrificed himself. He took himself off and put the man on his own donkey. And then, look at what else mercy is. It's not just being compassionate and moving in, getting your hands dirty and sacrificing, but it's extravagant. Verse 35. He takes care of him, takes him to the inn, and pays the innkeeper, and says When I return, whatever else he owes you, I'm gonna repay that as well.
Let me tell you what that is. That's Luke 7. When the woman is weeping and washing Jesus' feet. And Jesus turns to the people who are kind of disgusted by this and says, Let me tell you something: This lady has not stopped weeping at my feet and washing my feet. And then He says something that I think is very important for us to hear: The person who is forgiven much, loves much. The person who has been forgiven little, loves little.
This is what's going on here. Extravagance. It means that you and I understand that we have been forgiven much. And so I'm not looking at a limit. I'm going overboard with it.
And I want to say one more thing about mercy: It's a Samaritan moving toward a Jew. It's someone that you wouldn't normally associate with. That's amazing.
Matt Maloney is one of our missionaries here at Providence; he is in Indonesia. He's on furlough, with us another 2-3 weeks. You'll hear from him in the coming weeks. By the way, if you have an opportunity to grab Matt Maloney and go to lunch with him, and hear stories about the mission field, you're gonna be blessed.
I had lunch with Matt this week, and he told me a story from Indonesia. He said there's a pastor on a staff at a church in America who felt called to go to Indonesia. He goes to Indonesia and is walking through a hospital ward, praying for the patients, and he sees this hallway, this section off part of the ward that no one was going down. He asked, why aren't we going to pray there? The guy says, Oh, no one goes down there; we don't pray there. Because that's the AIDS ward and the people who have horrible diseases; they're literally knocking on the door of death. They're gone. It's pointless and a waste of time to go in and pray for them.
And he goes, No, that's why I came. I'm going there. And he goes down that hallway, and he's just praying over these people who are hopeless. This is mercy. He prays over them, and a few of them get miraculously healed. This guy has a vision, he goes to Indonesia, and this happens. And they go, "We need Jesus and we're gonna serve Him with our lives." So some of these patients and he have set up an NGO now, and they're actually reaching out now to some of the most hopeless and outcast in their society there in Indonesia -- people who are being trafficked, sex trafficking, human trafficking, and reaching out to them. Look what God is doing, through a man and a woman who saw someone who was so hopeless.
And this is the way that we ought to look at our own selves -- that we were THAT hopeless. And somebody moved in. And so, what's the blessing, before we pray?
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. And again, I know you're like, "Wait a minute you already said, you receive mercy when you become a Christian, and then we should show it by being merciful. So what is this future 'we shall receive mercy?'" Remember, there is a sense that there is a day coming where there is a day of judgment. There is a day coming that we WILL be saved. And we will NOT incur the wrath of God that we deserve. And so we look forward to that day, remembering how much we've been forgiven, and our heart, our M.O. Is to go with mercy. Let's pray.
Father, we love you. We thank You, God, for Your word, we thank You for the extravagant way that You loved us, when we were beaten up and left for dead on the side of the road. When we were hopeless; when we were in the ward, so to speak, that no one would enter in. Religion passes by on the other side of the road, and says to us, Get yourself out. And it's laughable because there's no way we could ever pay the debt. No way. So religion passes by the other side of the road. And I am so grateful, Lord, that You, in Your compassion, because of Your great mercy and love, You moved in. You went into the ward. You crossed the street. You put on human flesh. You entered our broken world, and You did it in a very sacrificial manner by laying Your life down for us. And what we get is extravagant mercy. Not just a little -- extravagant. We don't even deserve a little, and yet You have canceled out the record of debt that stood against us. And so, God, we who have been forgiven much, may we be marked by loving much. Those who have hurt us, and those who are hurting. God, we need You.
And finally, Lord, I pray for the one here who maybe is hurting, who maybe does not know mercy and has never received Your mercy. God, would You open eyes to see again, that we are hopeless. We need One who has saved us. And that they would turn to You, Jesus, to find hope. We love You, we need You. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.