Blessed Are the Merciful

Matthew 5:1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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

No one has received mercy like the Christian has received mercy! Of all the people on the earth, we who are believers in Christ, who have come to know Him by faith, who have embraced Him, we of all people have received mercy. God has been merciful to us. Jesus Christ put mercy on display. As those who have so richly received from the Father, from Christ, we should be merciful toward others. We as Christians have received mercy and we will receive mercy. We received mercy when we came to Christ, we receive mercy daily and we will receive mercy in the future.

What is mercy? We see this word often in the Bible but what exactly is mercy? What does it mean to be merciful? Is it the same as being loving or being gracious? Or is it something else?
There are similarities between, love, grace and mercy; but mercy is unique and more specific than grace or love. Mercy brings with it the idea of helping others who are helpless or are in some sort of misery. Mercy requires activity on the part of one giving mercy. Mercy is giving, like love is giving. Expressing mercy is critical for the believer. We have received mercy in dramatic ways. We are to be givers of mercy.

John Calvin expressed it well when he said, “They are blessed who are not only prepared to put up with their own troubles, but also take on other peoples, to help them in distress freely join them in their time of trial, and, as it were, to get right into their situation, that they may gladly expend themselves on their assistance.” Calvin is saying we will be happy as we share in other people’s problems and troubles, in their misery, and are willing to expend ourselves to do just that.

The opposite would be to see other people’s troubles and look the other way, ignore their plight and resist any effort to lend a helping hand. We can simply and selfishly take care of ourselves, our own issues, or we can share in other people’s problems.

Mercy is showing compassion and kindness to the needy through good, helpful deeds. We can be gracious to anyone, whether they have obvious needs or not; we can be gracious and be kind to someone who is having no apparent trial or struggle, but mercy is more specifically helping those who are suffering in some way, who really need a hand, who may need assistance.

Deacons are often called ministers of mercy, a special office of men who minister to those in need, those facing trials of various kinds, those who are in distress. However, Jesus has said in affect, we are all to be ministers of mercy.

Mercy, while it is much about giving and helping others in practical ways needed, it is not all about giving material things, it is not just being generous with our assets, with our goods. Mercy is also described in the Bible to include forgiving those who have sinned against us.

This morning as we consider mercy, I want us to see it in these two ways: First, to see it as being generous to those in need, facing a trial and such; and secondly, to see mercy as giving forgiveness to sinners in our lives. Both are important, both are biblical so I want us to see them from God’s word.

Matthew 6 verses 2-4 gives us a good example of what it should look like as we share with others in need. Jesus says it this way:

Matthew 6:2 Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Jesus begins by saying “when you give to the needy.” He doesn’t say “if you give to the needy.” No, it is “when you give to the needy!”

There is an assumption here that Jesus’ disciples will be those who give to the needy. Or you could say that Jesus’ disciples will show mercy. After stating this, Jesus goes on to state how to give or to explain what motives to avoid in giving. If our motive in giving is about making ourselves look good then we have lost the Christ-like motive of giving simply because we have been commanded to and because we have richly received as those who have been and are in great need.

If giving to others is motivated by personal greed, that is, to make ourselves look good in others people’s eyes, then that is not mercy, that is self-serving, that is giving in order to get recognition. It has little to do with an inner desire to help another person for God’s glory. That is not mercy at all.

Mercy recognizes a need, a real need, is moved with compassion to fill that need and follows through to act upon it by giving to meet it even sacrificially if need be even to our own hurt if necessary.

Proverbs 14:21 says this:

Proverbs 14:21 Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

What is behind this giving of mercy? Why are we as God’s children to be merciful? Peter explains in 1 Peter 2:10:

1 Peter 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Why are we to be rich in mercy toward our neighbor? Because we too have been in great need, we were lost, we were headed to hell, we were roaming like the blind, and God intervened – with what? With mercy. He looked down and he knew of our helpless state, he knew we were without hope on our own. And He gave. He gave to us, the poor in spirit, He gave to us who did not deserve His good gifts, He saved us. He was, He is, merciful to us; and we are to be like Him in this world.

So when we as Christians are merciful we are putting on display to others what we have received. In others words, we are acting like Christ, we are glorifying God, putting Him on display when we are truly merciful. We become a picture of who God is in other people’s lives. One may ask, “Why are you doing this for me, why are you taking the time to care for me, why are you giving me what I need at this moment?” Our response can be…One has been merciful, giving to me and I want to be like Him. God has given to me richly, more so than I can ever be to you, but in response to that, to Him, I am giving to you! Maybe they will see God in what we do. Maybe they will see our good works, your good works, and what? And glorify the Father who is in heaven. Maybe as we put God on display through merciful acts, others will come to Him, to His family, maybe worshipers will be added to the kingdom. Our lights are to shine, not be hidden, and many times that light will be those acts of kindness, acts of mercy.

Mercy can also be about forgiveness. One of the most generous, incredible acts of mercy given by God to any of us is forgiveness. In our sin we were helpless and God chose to forgive, through His Son. It is so complete. Our forgiveness is so complete that God said, “I will remember your sins no more!” Through forgiveness we no longer receive what we deserve which is separation from God and eternity in hell to pay for our sins. We have been saved from that, we have received mercy. Mercy is more than just giving practical things like money or goods to those in need. Mercy is also recognizing one’s lowly state as a human and through that identifying with the lowly state of another, as a fellow human, and being quick to say, “I forgive you when you sin against me.” When we do that we are removing our wrath toward them, we are refusing to give them what they deserve. We are glorifying the Father by being like Christ. When others hurt us, sin against us, and they don’t deserve forgiveness, mercy is reaching out to them and saying, “I forgive you.” That is being, expressing mercy. Let me show you this from the Scriptures:

Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 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. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 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.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 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. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

This is a fascinating story that Jesus tells of mercy and forgiveness. It is astounding in its beginning, that is, of one who showed extreme mercy and forgiveness to one who was in desperate need. It is also as astounding and extreme in how that same one that had been shown such mercy and forgiveness, how he then chose to withhold those graces from another person. One who had been forgiven to the extreme refusing then to forgive another for a comparatively minor debt.

At the beginning of this parable we find one who owed his master a large sum of money – that is probably a major understatement. The master threatened to sell this slave’s wife and his children and all that the slave owned in order to collect some part of what he owed. This slave would be stripped of all possessions and would be separated forever from his family because of the debt owed. If you are like me you may say, well, how about if they work out a deal that is mutually satisfactory to both of them, surely they can come together on this and have a plan to work this debt out. How about if the slave, in order to keep his loved ones, agreed to work the rest of his life to pay back what he owed, for instance work night and day and weekends, you know, whatever it takes, a second job, a third job. Well, there is a problem with that. The problem has to do with the amount he owed. The passage says he owed 10 thousand talents. How much is 10 thousand talents? I did some quick calculations and what I came up with is that if we compare to our dollars today this would amount to around 8 billion dollars. He owed 8 billion dollars. Now remember this is a parable, it is a story that Jesus is telling to make a point, it has a point. We don’t need to start asking, “How does a slave rack up a debt of 8 billion dollars?” Because how he got here is not the point. The point is that he owed a debt that he could never in his lifetime, could never repay. A second job, a third job, wouldn’t really help at all. He owed 8 billion dollars in today’s dollars.

He owed a debt that he could not repay - period. All he could do was beg and that is what he did:

Matthew 18:26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me,” and the master did. 27” And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.”

The master, we read, had pity on this servant. A component of mercy is pity. It is to see someone unable to recover on his own, the poor, the struggling, the needy, or the one who cannot make it without some kind of assistance. That describes this slave. It was in the power of the master to relieve this man and he did. This is mercy.

The story then takes a twist. The servant that was relieved of this huge sum was also a creditor and was owed money by another person. Someone owed him money too. Someone owed him, we read, “a hundred denarii.” How much is that? In our dollars this would be around $16,000.
And what does the servant who had been forgiven an $8 billion debt do? He refuses to forgive the one who owes him $16,000. He had been forgiven 8 billion dollars and yet refuses to forgive his brother $16,000. We read on to learn what he did:

Matthew 18:28 “…pay what you owe.” 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

This is the irony of the story. The one forgiven so much refuses to forgive a small amount. What kind of person is this? Who would do this? Well, honestly sometimes this represents us. Sometimes we may be this unforgiving, ungrateful servant. Sometimes we withhold forgiveness, sometimes we withhold mercy.

We, who have been forgiven a debt we cannot pay, have been released of an obligation that would have landed us in hell for all eternity, refuse to forgive others. We who have been shown extreme mercy refuse to show others mercy. No one has ever sinned against us as much as we have sinned against God. It is not even possible for us to show as much mercy as we have been given by God. And yet we may at times refuse to give what mercy we can.

Jesus ends this story with these sobering words:

Matthew 18: 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

A Christian is one who will have mercy on others. Let me say that again, a Christian is one who will have mercy on others, who will show mercy as those who have received mercy. Being merciful toward one another is what we have been called to. Why? Because we have been shown mercy. And because we represent God as we show mercy. We glorify Him as we show mercy.

I don’t want any of us to think that mercy from God is contingent upon our showing mercy, that somehow we earn God’s mercy by being merciful to one another. God has shown us mercy, and our response, a true believer’s response, will be to be merciful. If we are not merciful then it shows that we either have not yet understood or we understand little of God’s mercy by which we have been saved or we have not yet received God’s mercy as His child. Blessed or happy are those who are merciful.

I think some people may wrongly assume that being merciful is simply a personality trait, as though some are born to show mercy and others are not. We need to avoid such wrong thinking. If we believe that, we may go on to say, “Well, that is just not my personality to be merciful,” like that is some valid excuse to live in disobedience to God. And we may say this as if we get a pass on this characteristic of mercy. “I’m just not like that,” we say. Yet, the bible is clear that God’s children, Christians, will be merciful.

We will reach out to those in need. I’m not saying perfectly, we are not yet perfect. But, we will, in ever increasing measure, desire to give to those who are suffering whether it be our goods that they need or our time. We will be like the master who was forgiving. We will recognize the struggling, weak, troubled around us. We will see when our brothers and sisters are facing difficult challenges and we will respond in merciful ways. If we don’t then we are opposing God and we are living not like a believer but like a non-believer, like the ungrateful servant who refused to give help to another in need.

I really love the practical nature of this beatitude. It is not simply theoretical or abstract but it is really straight forward. We help people in need. I am certain that each one of us will have opportunity this week to show mercy to another person. Will we take that opportunity to live like our Lord, to represent Him well, to live putting Him on display by our deeds. By God’s grace and His strength we can do just that.

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