Blessed are the Merciful

image1. Where does mercy come from?

The first three beatitudes in verses 3–5 describe the emptiness of the blessed person: poverty-stricken in spirit (v3), grieving over the sin and misery of his condition (v4), and accepting the hardships and accusations of life in meekness without defensiveness (5)..

This condition of blessed emptiness is followed in verse 6 by a hunger and thirst for the fullness of righteousness. Then come three descriptions of how righteousness shows itself in the life of the hungry. Mercy (v7), purity (8), and peace-making (v9).

So the answer to the first question is that mercy comes from a life that has first felt its spiritual bankruptcy, and has come to grief over its sin, and has learned to wait meekly for the timing of the Lord, and to cry out in hunger for the work of his mercy to satisfy us with the righteousness we need.

The mercy that God blesses us with is itself the blessing of God. It grows up like fruit in a broken heart and a meek spirit and a soul that hungers and thirsts for God to be merciful. Mercy comes from mercy. Our mercy to each other comes from God’s mercy to us.

The key to becoming a merciful person is to become a broken person. You get the power to show mercy from the real feeling in your heart that you owe everything you are and have to sheer divine mercy. Therefore, if we want to become merciful people, it is vital that we cultivate a view of God and ourselves that helps us to say with all our heart that every joy and virtue and distress of our lives is owing to the free and undeserved mercy of God.

2. What Is Mercy?

Or: what is a merciful person like? I have tried to find where mercy is contrasted with its opposite. First let’s look at Matthew 9:10–13.

And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

Mercy Contrasted to Sacrifice

This is a quote from Hosea 6:6 where God accuses the people that their love is like the dew on the grass. It is there for a brief morning hour, and then is gone, and all that is left is the empty form of burnt offerings.

The point is that God wants his people to be alive in their hearts. He wants them to have feelings of affection toward him and mercy toward each other. He does not want a people who do their religious duties in a perfunctory or merely formal way.

Jesus saw sinners as sick and miserable people in need of a physician, even though they were the rich money movers of the day, the tax collectors. They were sick. He had medicine.

But all that the Pharisees saw was a ceremonial problem with becoming contaminated by eating with sinners. Their life seemed to be a mechanical implementation of rules. Something huge was at stake here. But they could not see it or feel it. They were enslaved to the trivial issues of ceremonial cleanness when eternal sickness was about to be healed.

The opposite of mercy is bondage to religious trivia.

Mercy Contrasted to Straining Out Gnats

Matthew 23:23–24:.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

What is the opposite of mercy? The opposite of mercy is the straining out of gnats.

The lesson we learn is that a great obstacle and enemy to mercy is the preoccupation with trifles in life.

The bondage to triviality is the curse of the unmerciful.

Mercy in the Parable of the Good Samaritan

Another illustration of the opposite of mercy is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25–37.

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?" 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 you mind; and your neighbour as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live."

Jesus answers that the persons who will receive the mercy of eternal life are those who have loved God with all their hearts and their neighbour as themselves. In other words, "Blessed are those who are merciful now to their neighbour, for they shall receive the mercy of eternal life in the future."

Here we have a very sharp photograph of mercy and its opposite. Mercy has four dimensions in this story.

First, it sees distress (verse 33: "A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and he saw him").

Second, it responds internally with a heart of compassion or pity toward a person in distress (verse 33: "When he saw him, he had compassion on him").

Third, it responds externally with a practical effort to relieve the distress (verse 33: "He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him").

And the fourth dimension of mercy is that it happens even when the person in distress is by religion and race an enemy (verse 33: "But a Samaritan . . . "). A half-breed Jew with a warped religious tradition stops to help the Jew who hates him.

3. Should a Merciful Person Always Show Mercy?

Real life is very complex for Christian people who seriously want live out their faith in a sinful world. What would you answer to these questions?

Can a Christian be consistently merciful and yet be a parent who punishes a child for disobedience instead of turning the other cheek to the child’s insolence?

Can a Christian be consistently merciful and yet be an employer who pays good wages for excellent work but dismisses irresponsible employees who do shoddy work?

Can a Christian be consistently merciful and yet be a legislator who enacts laws that give stiff penalties for drunk driving and child abuse?

Can a Christian be consistently merciful and yet be church leader who follow the biblical mandate for church discipline and challenge a member for a public sin?

Each of these four questions corresponds to a sphere of life: the sphere of the family, the sphere of business and economics, the sphere of government and law enforcement, and the sphere of the church. And my answer to the questions is that it is God’s will that as long as this age lasts there be a mingling of mercy and justice in all these spheres.

A Mingling of Both Justice and Mercy in This Age

God’s will is that sometimes we recompense people with what they deserve, whether punishment or reward (call that justice). And God’s will is that sometimes we recompense people with better than what they deserve (call that mercy). In upholding the claims of justice, we bear witness to the truth that God is a God of justice. And in showing mercy we bear witness to the truth that God is a God of mercy.

A biblical parent will usually follow the wisdom that sparing the rod spoils the child (Proverbs 13:24; Ephesians 6:4). But there will be times when a child’s fault will be forgiven without punishment to teach the meaning of mercy and woo the child to Christ.

A biblical judge will usually be scrupulously just by impartially sentencing criminals according to the grievousness of their crimes (Romans 13:4). But there will be times when he will dispense clemency for some greater good.

A biblical employer will usually pay a fair wage and insist on good workmanship (2 Thessalonians 3:10). But there will be times when he will pay more than a person’s work deserves, and go an extra mile, with a sick or aging or distressed or inadequately trained employee.

And a biblical Deacon will call public sin in the church to account and exercise discipline and even exclusion from the fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:1–13), but will also remember the parable of the wheat and the tares that teaches patience with the imperfection of the church till the end of the age (Matthew 13:24–30).

How Can We Know When to Show One or the Other?

If we ask, How shall we know when to do justice and how to show mercy? I know of no hard and fast rules in Scripture to dictate for every situation. And I don’t think this is an accident. The aim of Scripture is to produce a certain kind of person, not provide and exhaustive list of rules for every situation.

The beatitude says, "Blessed are the merciful," not, "Blessed are those who know exactly when and how to show mercy in all circumstances." We must be merciful people even when we act with severity in the service of justice. That is, we must be

poor in spirit,

sorrowful for our own sin,

meekly free from defensiveness and self-exaltation,

hungering and thirsting for all that is right to be done,

perceptive of a person’s distress and misery,

feeling pity for his pain,

and making every effort to see the greatest good done for the greatest number.

4. Why will only merciful people find mercy from God in the judgment day, if salvation is by grace through faith?

The text (Matthew 5:7) says, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." In other words, in the age to come when we meet God face to face, the people who will receive mercy from him are people who have been merciful.

Is this a salvation by works? Do we earn his mercy by our mercy? No, because an "earned mercy" would be a contradiction in terms. If mercy is earned, it is not mercy; it’s a wage. Be assured, if we get anything good at the judgment, it will be mercy, 100% mercy!

When God asks for a record of your mercy at the judgment day, he will not be asking for a punched time card. You won’t say, "Here it is. Eight hours of mercy. Now where’s my wage?"

Instead, God will be asking for your medical charts. You will hand them to him in all lowliness and meekness, and there he will read the evidences of how you trusted him as your divine Physician, and how the medicine of his Word and the therapy of his Spirit took effect in your life because you relied on them to heal you of your unmerciful disposition. And when he sees the evidence of your faith and his healing, he will complete your healing and welcome you into the kingdom forever. Therefore, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

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