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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 2, 1998
Blessed are the Merciful
The events in Los Angeles in May 1992 demonstrated the true character of human nature – full of anger, hatred and greed. In the three days of rioting 54 people were killed, 4,000+ injured, 12,000+ arrested, 5,270 buildings destroyed or severely damaged – whole neighborhoods were wiped out – cost of nearly $1 billion in damage. As gruesome as the violence was, I believe the greater tragedies are the excuses that were made to justify the violence and looting. One lady said to the television crew taping her, “if you had treated us right, we would not be doing this.” Thus she blames others for her own actions. Another lady was loading the trunk of her car with merchandise she had just looted from a store. She was asked if she considered what she was doing stealing? She answered that she did not think it was wrong “because if it was the police would stop her from doing it.” Thus she bases her morality on what she is physically restrained from doing. A kid – maybe 12 years old who was carrying a bunch of things he had just looted from a store was asked why he was doing it. He said, “hey man, its fun.” Maybe worse of all were scenes of parents taking their children with them to join in the free-for-all of looting a Sears store.
By what stretch of the imagination could the murder, the beatings of innocent victims, the looting – outright theft, and the thousands of fire that were set and then shooting at the firemen and paramedics who responded – by what stretch of imagination could any of that be justified. Yet many excuses have been given and will continue to be given by those who have long ago forgot God’s commandments to men. They fit the description of Romans 1:32, “although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things (the list in the two prior verses include: greed, evil, murder, strife, malice, insolent, arrogant, unloving and unmerciful) are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
Some politicians and commentators said the violence was because the people were poor. Really? Strange that my mom grew up in South Los Angeles during the depression and knew what being truly poor was like. My grandfather was happy to get any work he could find. My father grew up in rural Mississippi in what would today be considered utter poverty. How come they did not riot? And why do not those in so many countries around the world that are truly impoverished – where hundreds and thousands of families live in nothing more than improvised shacks with no water and no electricity. Why are they not rioting?
The truth is that poverty did not lead rioting seen in Los Angeles or in various other places around the nation in this last decade. Rather anger, hatred, selfishness and greed do. All things characteristic of man’s sin nature. It was the greed mixed into the equation with the hatred and anger that resulted in the looting and burning – stealing anything you could take away and destroying anything you could not with little regard to whom it belonged.
Some sought to explain the rioting as the reaction of one race to their oppression by another race. Why then the destruction of so much property owned by people of the same race? Why so much random violence? Let’s face reality. Racial prejudice, discrimination and hatred go both directions. Here again is the true nature of man coming out. Man is proud and self-centered. His view of life is self-centered. Men view those that are like themselves as being okay, but anyone who looks different is suspect simply because of their appearance.
The solution to all the troubles that we saw erupt in Los Angeles that year as well as the various wars that are continuing to this very day is actually fairly simple, but man in his sinfulness is unwilling to seek it, much less do it. Men need to turn their eyes from themselves and the things of this world to Jesus Christ.
Racial problems? Galatians 3:26-9 tells us that all who are in Christ Jesus are sons of God, Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise. There is neither Jew nor Greek – and no group of people were as ethnocentric as the Jews of that time. They even hated the Samaritans more than the gentiles because they were a mixed breed of Jew and gentile. In Jesus Christ your physical heritage is of no importance.
Economic inequality? The same passage also says that in Christ Jesus there is neither slave nor free. The passage does not say that the slave is freed and placed on the same economic plane with the free man – but they are now both sons of God. The little book of Philemon brings this out. Paul had led a runaway slave named Onesimus to the Lord. Paul then sends this man back to his master Philemon as verse 15 puts it, ” . . . that you should have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” Onesimus remained Philemon’s slave and was “economically oppressed” but their relationship in Christ changed both of them so that Philemon treated Onesimus as a brother and Onesimus served Philemon out of love – not fear.
This brings us back to our study in the Sermon on the Mount. We have already seen in our study of the first section of this sermon – the Beatitudes – that this is not a list of things you must do in order to get into heaven. Rather, they are statements of fact describing the blessings that a person who is characterized by these qualities will receive. We have also seen that these character qualities are things any human can do on their own. They must be the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of an individual, and as such they describe the righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees (5:20) without which no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This morning we will be examining the fifth of these Beatitudes – “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” If this beatitude alone was in operation in the human race, the riots in Los Angeles in 1992 would not have happened and all wars would cease. But men are not merciful, they are cruel, and the cruelty continues.
First we must define mercy
General Idea: Webster defines mercy as, “compassionate rather than severe behavior toward someone in one’s power.” That is close to the definition of the Greek word being translated here. If mercy was the prevailing attitude of people, then we would not have people stealing from each other, abusing each other, killing one another. But man’s natural tendency is to be cruel – not merciful.
The Greek word here was originally used to describe the emotion aroused by contact with an undeserved affliction which comes on someone else. We might use the words “sympathy,” “pity” or “compassion” to describe that in English. Those following the Greek philosophy of stoicism regarded this as being a sickness of the soul. They feared it might cause partiality in judgement. The Romans followed this line of thought and considered mercy a weakness. They valued courage, strict justice, firm discipline, and absolute power, so they looked at mercy with contempt.
The meaning of the word broadened with usage and came to mean more than just the emotion of compassion for someone less fortunate, but also taking action and being “lovingkind” (which is it translated as in several occasions). In the Old Testament this was the kindness which we owe one another in mutual relationships. In the New Testament this is the divinely required attitude of man to man. We are to show it in both cases of earthly need and out of a concern for the eternal welfare of others.
The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-36 is a good illustration of mercy. Jesus replied and said, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. 31 “And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 “And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 “But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on [them;] and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 “And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.’
The Priest and the Levite who went could have had pity and maybe even sympathy, but because they did nothing to help they absolutely demonstrated that they did not have mercy. The Samaritan on the other hand saw the poor fellow and responded to the compassion he felt (vs 33) to help the man. That act of mercy cost the Samaritan something. First he stopped his journey to render first aid (vs. 34), then the next day took the man to a place where he could recover and paid for his care – even saying that if the bill ran higher than what he had already given the inn keeper, he would pay it on his return (vs 35).
I am glad to say that there were acts mercy in the midst of all the rioting in Los Angeles. You may remember the story of Reginald Denny who was yanked him out his truck and savagely beaten by five hoodlums. He was hit and kicked and then one of the thugs hit him in the head with a fire extinguisher knocking him out. Another went through his pockets and stole his wallet. Many of you may remember seeing this all this happen on the video taken by a news helicopter. Perhaps what you do not know is what happened after. Denny recovered enough to climb back in his truck and try to drive away. A young woman on her way home from work saw what had taken place and climbed up onto the side of the truck and called out directions for Denny – since his eyes had already swollen shut. Soon an unidentified man climbed into the truck and took over the driver’s seat the woman continued to call out directions since the windshield was shattered. Moments later two other men, T.J. Murphy and Tee Barnett, who had seen what had happened to Denny on T.V. also arrived to help. As they guided the big rig to the door of Daniel Freeman Hospital, Denny went into convulsions. He later underwent three hours of emergency brain surgery. The paramedics told the rescuers, “One more minute, just one more minute, and he would have been dead.”
The action of these four contrasted the violence of the others. They felt compassion toward the injured man and were moved to assist – even though it brought some risk to themselves. That is mercy.
MERCY & LOVE
It might be helpful to our understanding of mercy if we compared it to some related concepts. First, I want to contrast Mercy & Love. Mercy flows out of love. Love is greater idea of which mercy is a part. Ephesians 2:45 bring out this point. “But God being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.” God’s mercy comes as an act of His love. The actions of those four people that helped Reginald Denny was an act of mercy that came because they had love for a fellow human being whose skin color was different.
MERCY & GRACE
Next I want to talk about mercy and grace. They are closely related but they are not the same. Both deal with the pain, misery and distress of the consequences of sin, and both flow out of love. Mercy seeks to give help because of its compassion. Grace is an undeserved blessing freely given. Grace may be motivated by compassion (in which case it is nearly synonymous with mercy) or simply by goodwill. Because of that overlap there is sometimes confusion between the two. The good Samaritan was merciful in that he responded to his compassion for the injured man and sought to help him. He also demonstrated grace in that he also went on to give the man an undeserved blessing by paying for his continued care by the inn keeper. Mercy meets the need that is present, but grace goes beyond to be an additional blessing.
Mercy would describe those who in compassion would go to a disaster area and volunteer to help. Grace would go further and buy the materials needed to help. One says, “I want to help.” The other says, “I want to be a blessing.”
We can also see this in Ephesians 2:4,5 “But God being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.”
According to the passage, God in His mercy saw us when we where dead in our transgressions and made us alive. God in His grace went further to bless us with raising us up and seating us with Jesus. While mercy and grace overlap to some degree, but when they are distinguished from each other, mercy moves from compassion to meet the need while grace goes on to be a blessing.
MERCY & FORGIVENESS
Another facet to mercy is forgiveness. This is mercy that extends to someone who has wronged us or been against us. A soldier who helps an injured enemy soldier, a policeman who gently helps an injured looter to medical care. A parent that gives first aid and consoles a child who injured himself because he disobeyed. A spouse who seeks to comfort their partner when that person is not being obedient to Scripture and generally being difficult to live with.
Titus 3:5 tells us that we have not earned forgiveness by doing good deeds, but are forgiven simply “according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” Forgiveness flows out of mercy.
MERCY & JUSTICE
Mercy has a relationship to justice too, though that may seem contradictory. Justice gives exactly what is deserved, whereas mercy gives less punishment and more help than is deserved. There is a story out of the Civil War in which a young man fell asleep and guard duty, was caught and sentenced to die. His mother came to the commanding general and asked him to be merciful to her son. He explained what the young man and done, the seriousness of the offense and why he must die for it. This mother simply replied, “I did not ask you for justice, but for mercy.”
Mercy and justice seem to be exclusive of each other – and some apply this idea to God and say that He cannot be both just and merciful. For God to punish us in our sins would negate His mercy. For God to offer mercy without the punishment for sins would negate His justice. Yet, God is both just and merciful. God does not show mercy without punishing sin. God is merciful, but He does not overlook sin. To ignore sin would be to overlook the truth, and mercy and truth are inseparable, they are met together (Ps 85:10).
In a civil case a judge may be able to commute the just sentence for a crime, but that may be merciful, but it is not just. God, unlike a human judge, must perfectly satisfy justice when showing mercy.
In most acts of mercy, someone pays the price. The Good Samaritan paid a price in helping the injured man, and we do the same. In acts of mercy involving forgiveness there is also a price that is paid – which is absorbing the damage caused by the offender and no longer holding it against him. He did so toward mankind in that He paid the price for sin Himself in His Son Jesus Christ, and since therefore justice is satisfied, then mercy can be freely given. God’s mercy is grounded not only in His love and grace, but also in forgiveness based on His justice.
That brings up the whole question of how we obtain mercy. Some have looked at this beatitude, isolating it by itself and come to a false conclusion. Some have said that “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,” means that you earn mercy by first being merciful yourself. In other words, if you want to get mercy from other people you must give mercy first. However, that is simply not true in the sinful world we live in. Talk to Roy or any other fireman about the extra precautions they have to take in fighting some fires because of the danger of booby-traps. Or as in the case of riots – of being shot at while trying to save someone’s home. Several were wounded by the gunfire during the LA riots. They gave mercy, but did not receive mercy.
Others have taken this to mean that if you want God’s mercy, you have to earn it. If mercy was something that was earned it would cease being mercy. By definition mercy cannot be earned. When your employer gives you your wages he is not being merciful – now he may be gracious in giving you more than you earned, but that is grace, not mercy. What then does this beatitude mean?
Remember that you cannot isolate these statements. The Sermon on the Mount is not a random assembly of thoughts, but a well-constructed manifesto by the King concerning the nature of those who would be in His kingdom. Everything in it ties together. Each one of these beatitudes builds upon the previous.
The person who is here described and having the characteristic of being merciful and therefore receiving the blessing of receiving mercy has already demonstrated the characteristics previously mentioned. You cannot just pop up and be merciful in the sense demanded by the Sermon on the Mount as an isolated event, the other qualities must also be present.
The idea here is that those who are characterized by these other qualities already mentioned will also be merciful themselves and therefore receive God’s mercy.
Poor in spirit – kingdom of heaven
Mourn – shall be comforted
Meek – inherit the earth
Hunger and thirst after righteousness – they shall be filled
Merciful – they receive mercy
The concept here is akin to that of forgiveness found in Matthew 18 in which a man who was forgiven a huge debt of incredible proportions refuses to forgive a man who owes him a pittance by comparison. The man proved he did not have a clue as to the mercy that had been extended to him, and because he refused to extend it to another, the master revoked the previous mercy and threw him in jail. The person who is poor in spirit, mourning over sin, meek – submissive to God in all things, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness is going to be merciful. If a person is not merciful, then the other qualities are also lacking showing that they do not have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees, they are not true Christians, they will not receive God’s mercy.
What is the nature of this mercy we are called to give? We see it come up throughout the Sermon on the Mount. In 5:21-26 we are told about dealing with our anger. Mercy does not respond in anger – not even name calling. Mercy even goes on to seek reconciliation with those who have something against you. In 5:38-42 Jesus deals with the issue of revenge. Mercy does not seek revenge, but in a forgiving attitude adds grace and becomes a blessing even to those that personally wrong you. In 5:43-48 Jesus deals with the nature of love. Mercy goes beyond loving those that love you to also loving those that do not – your enemies. Mercy loves the unlovable. In 6:2-4 Jesus deals with almsgiving (the Greek word has the same root as mercy) and says that mercy does not seek to call attention to itself, but works behind the scenes in humility. In 7:1-5 Jesus deals with judging one another. Mercy approaches every case of judgement with humble self examination.
Mercy is to be characterized by humility, self control, forgiveness, and lovingly extends even to your enemies. Does your mercy resemble that?
Duane Ray was an Elder at Grace Community Church. His son had just finished High School and was looking forward to college. He had a job at a market. One night as he came in from the parking lot, he walked into the middle of an armed holdup. He did not know what was happening called out to the thieves, one of whom then turned and shot him dead. When Duane was told about his son, his reaction was one of great mercy – he said that he then, should be the one to tell this man who murdered his son about Christ. That is mercy.
God’s mercy toward us is the supreme example:
God’s compassion – out of the great love with which he loved us (Eph. 2:4) He extended His mercy.
God’s Justice – He is the just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:26)
Christ’s payment – (Rom. 5:8)
On the cross asking God to forgive them (Lk 23:34)
Our forgiveness – (1 John 1:9)
Does your mercy reflect God’s mercy? Do you have compassion on those around you caught up in sin – even if their sin is against you? Do you pity them and seek to mercifully help? It is as Martyn Lloyd Jones has said, “If I know that I am a debtor to mercy alone, if I know that I am a Christian solely because of that free grace of God, there should be no pride left in me, there should be nothing vindictive, there should be no insisting upon my rights. Rather, as I look out upon others, if there is anything in them that is unworthy, or that is a manifestation of sin, I should have this great sorrow for them in my heart.”
And since it is God that has brought me to salvation and it is His Holy Spirit that empowers me to live the Christian life, then “if I am not merciful there is only one explanation: I have never understood the grace and the mercy of God: I am outside Christ: I am yet in my sins, and I am unforgiven.”
Are you merciful? Do you have sorrow in your heart for those still in their sins even though they offend you? Have you pity upon all who are the victims and the dupes of the world, the flesh and the devil? That is the test of this beatitude. ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’
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