This post is the 6th in the series of posts on the Beatitudes—a section that spans from Matthew 5:3-12. In this section, the Lord Jesus describes 8 attitudes that should be present in the life of everyone who claims to be his follower. In this post, we will be looking at the fifth attitude—the attitude of mercy as described in Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
When John Wesley was a missionary in Georgia, Governor James Oglethorpe had a slave who stole a jug of wine and drank it. Oglethorpe wanted the man beaten, so Wesley went to Oglethorpe and pled for the slave.
And the governor said, “I want vengeance. I never forgive.” To which John Wesley said, “I hope to God, Sir, you never sin.” [Haddon Robinson, What Jesus said about successful living, p. 62].
Not only during Wesley’s time but also in Jesus’s time, mercy was often despised. It was a sign of weakness to the Greeks and Romans to show mercy. One Roman philosopher said, “Mercy is a disease of the soul.”
Coming to that kind of culture, Jesus pronounced these shocking words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” [Matt 5:7]. These words are shocking even to our culture that exalts vengeance, bitterness, and indifference toward those who hurt us. Yet, Jesus calls his followers to display a spirit of mercy. One more call to counterculture living!
Jesus says mercy, rather than being a disease of the soul, is the mark of a soul no longer under the control of this disease called sin. It is that kind of a lifestyle that is a “blessed” life—a life that receives God’s approval!
“Mercy” is one of the most beautiful words in the English language and certainly one of the most precious truths in the Christian faith. One Greek dictionary defines mercy as “the moral quality of feeling compassion and especially of showing kindness toward someone in need. This can refer to human kindness and God’s kindness to humankind.”
I trust the following story will help us get a good understanding of this word, “mercy.”
A soldier in Alexander the Great’s army was caught after deserting them. And his punishment was death. So, his mother came and pleaded with Alexander repeatedly, saying, “Please have mercy.” Alexander replied, “He does not deserve mercy.”
The wise mother responded, “If he deserved it, it wouldn’t be mercy.”
So, mercy is not something that is given or received because one deserves it. Mercy is an act in response to a need—spiritual, physical, or emotional. One writer described mercy in this way: “Mercy understands the hurt; feels the hurt and moves to cure the hurt.” In other words, mercy involves the mind in that it understands the hurt; it involves the emotions in that it feels the hurt, and it involves the will in that it acts to cure the hurt.
God’s Mercy Demonstrated.
Isn’t that how God displayed mercy toward us? He saw how sin hurt us and, moved by compassion, acted by sending his Son to cure our sin problem.
He does not give us what our sin deserves—which is judgment—but in mercy, withholds it from us and, in his grace, gives new birth to all who turn to him. That’s why Peter wrote, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” [1 Pet 1:3]. That’s why Paul described God as being “rich in mercy” [Eph 2:4]. The writer of the book of Hebrews invites us to go confidently to God’s throne of grace where we can “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” [Heb 4:16].
I love the way the Old Testament prophet Micah describes God’s mercy in Micah 7:18, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”
Sinners that we are, we deserve nothing but God’s judgment. Yet, Micah says that God not only withholds that judgment but, on the contrary, delights to show mercy. He is not reluctant at all—even though we hurt him very badly.
We Are Required to Show Mercy.
The same Micah in the previous chapter said this, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” [Mic 6:8]. Would you notice what God requires from his people? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. I want to focus on the second one—“mercy.” The same God who delights to show mercy [Mic 7:18] requires his people not just to show mercy, but to “love” showing mercy!
To put in simple terms, those who have received God’s mercy ought to show that same kind of mercy with the same type of attitude that God displays when he gives it to others. And that is precisely the point that Jesus states here in Matthew 5:7, as well as in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Remember, Jesus is describing in the Beatitudes the lifestyle of true Christians—those who have received mercy. But how do they know they have indeed received mercy? By their display of mercy to others! These are the kind of people—the merciful ones—that Jesus says are approved of God. These are the people upon whom God’s favor rests. They are the blessed ones. And they are the ones who will receive the full experience of God’s saving mercy in the future, “they will be shown mercy” when they leave this world.
The danger of Not Showing Mercy.
Refusal to show mercy has profound implications. Jesus implies here that only the merciful will receive mercy. And James, in his letter, uses stronger language in this regard. James 2:12-13 states, “12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 He because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Mercy and judgment are two opposites. What we receive is what we will give and what we will get in the total sense in the future.
If we have received God’s mercy, we will give it to others in this life, and we will also get God’s mercy in the fullest sense in the future. But if we have not received God’s mercy, we will not give it to others in this life, and we will not get his mercy in the future. Instead, we will only get his judgment in the future. That’s James’s point.
You see, the world finds revenge delicious. It stays up all night, planning on how to get revenge. But we as Christians ought to hate thoughts of revenge but delight in showing mercy to those who need it. But by granting mercy [without approving of their evil actions], we can hopefully help them turn from their evil. Of course, true reconciliation cannot happen without repentance. But mercy has the power to move the other person to turn and seek forgiveness and thereby be reconciled.
The Beauty of Mercy.
Mercy is a beautiful thing. Without it, you and I would be doomed forever in hell. God, through his mercy, has made a way through Christ for you and me to enjoy eternal happiness instead of eternal torment. And when we display such a merciful attitude as a lifestyle, we are clearly showing we have received God’s saving mercy and that we will receive it in the fullest sense in the future. That’s the rock-solid assurance of the genuineness of our salvation. A judging spirit destroys intimacy—in all relationships—including marriage. If one or both spouses are constantly judging the other, how can intimacy grow? Both will want to get far away from the other.
That’s why, as the prophet Micah said, we must “love mercy.” This is God’s heart, and he wants us to imitate his ways. No better place to display that in the home—in our relationships with our spouses.
A wife got into an accident while driving a brand-new car. Upset and worried about what her husband might say, she frantically opened the glove compartment to retrieve the insurance papers.
As she pulled it out, she saw a note in her husband’s handwriting, “Dear Mary, when you need these papers, remember it’s you I love, not the car!”
All of us are messed up and imperfect sinners. That’s why relationships cannot be sustained without mercy. And where there is no mercy, there is no real intimacy. Oh—the marriage might still function, and the couple may continue staying together for decades. But it’s not a healthy marriage. It’s not a marriage where intimacy is fostered.
A man once told his pastor about the arguments he was having with his wife. And when the pastor asked details, he said, “Every time we fight, my wife gets historical.” The pastor said, “You mean hysterical.” “No,” said the husband. “Historical. She brings up issues that happened 20-30 years ago.”
You see, where that kind of record-keeping is maintained, there’s no possibility of real intimacy. No possibility of healthy relationships. That’s why mercy is the key to healthy relationships. It is through mercy we have a relationship with God. And it is through mercy, we can have relationships with others.
How to Grow in Showing Mercy.
So, how can we love mercy? How can we delight in showing mercy? By continually looking at our sin and the forgiveness we receive as a result of the Son of God suffering on the cross to purchase our pardon. By reminding ourselves of this truth: “I deserve hell. Yet, God, you have shown and continue to show mercy to me—a terrible sinner! Jesus, when I see you, I see the complete embodiment of mercy. Help me to be like you.”
When we pursue such an attitude, we will not be able to say, “I will not show mercy to the one who has offended me.” You see, we cannot keep looking at the cross and see the crucified Savior bleeding and crying out in pain for our sin and still say, “I cannot forgive so and so. You don’t know how much he or she has hurt me. They don’t deserve mercy.” But folks, if they deserved it, it wouldn’t be mercy at all. Would it?
The more we look at our sin, the more we look at Jesus on the cross, the more our hard hearts will melt. The more we will see how much we have offended an infinitely holy God and yet how great mercy he has shown us, and how much daily we still need his mercy. And when we see that, the more we will be willing to let go of the offenses against us—petty and grand offenses—and the more we will grow in wanting to grant mercy to others.
Is there anyone in your life you need to show mercy to? Then give it to them. I don’t mean just providing mercy as an obligation, a grudging duty with sort of an attitude that says, “I’ve got to show mercy.” Instead, do it with an attitude that says, “I get to show mercy. Freely I received, freely I will give!” But that can happen only if you love mercy. And you can love mercy only if you reflect more and more on God’s mercies in your own life [Rom 12:1-2].
Remember, showing mercy is not an option. It is clear proof of a redeemed heart. Receiving mercy is where our new birth started when in poverty of spirit, we mourned over our sins and, in meekness, turned to Christ for mercy. And as soon as he saved us, he started working in us through the Holy Spirit to hunger and thirst for righteousness—a life that pursues God’s righteous commands in our day-to-day life—beginning with God’s command of delighting in granting mercy to those who offend us.
So, I ask you, “Have you received God’s saving mercy personally?” Perhaps you are unable to show mercy to those who need it because you have not received it yourself. Maybe you have not seen your sin in all its ugliness and never went to the cross for mercy. If such is the case, ask God to open your eyes to see how ugly your sins are. Ask him to take you to the cross. Ask him to grant you mercy. That’s the starting point. Then you will have the power to be merciful to others. And that will have a powerful effect in helping them to turn to Christ as well.
Remember, the teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount is a mirror that Jesus holds in our faces to help us see if we are truly God’s children. Are you indeed God’s child? If so, you can be assured these words of Jesus in this beatitude do apply to you. Blessed indeed are the merciful, for they and they alone will receive mercy when Jesus, the embodiment of all mercy, comes to set up his kingdom!
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