The Sermon on the Mount, Part 8

Sunset through chainlink fence - Sermon on the Mount Part 8, why does Jesus bless the merciful?

Why does Jesus bless the merciful?

 

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

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice…
Hosea 6:6

The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

Some people love to give and receive mercy. Others, not so much. I say that because most of the folks I talk with think they don’t need mercy. Mercy is for victims and losers. Mercy is for wretched and miserable people. In other words, mercy is for people who are poor, mourning, meek, and hungry. And these are the people Jesus describes as “blessed.”

To understand why Jesus blesses the merciful, the first thing we must do is define “mercy.” For many, being merciful means being tolerant and kind, but that definition is too narrow. In the Bible, mercy describes concrete endeavors–acts of love and compassion. Mercy is often linked with grace and forgiveness, and it is helpful to compare and contrast the three:

  • Graceis showing love to someone who does not deserve it.
  • Mercyis showing love to someone because they are helpless or hurting.
  • Forgivenessis prompted by grace and mercy, but grace and mercy are more encompassing. Mercy goes beyond a willingness to forgive those who have sinned against us. Being merciful is about having a loving attitudethat makes us generous and compassionate, and it is central to the definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13 (patient and kind, not jealous or boastful or proud or rude, does not demand its own way, is not irritable, keeps no record of being wronged, does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out).

Galatians 6:1 demonstrates how grace, mercy, and forgiveness are united: “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.”

We also find an excellent example of mercy in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37). Jesus tells the story of a Jewish man who was beaten and robbed while traveling the Jericho Road. After several Jews pass by and ignore his suffering, a Samaritan stops to help. The parable teaches us several things about mercy. First, the Samaritan did not deal with the causeof the man’s needs. He did not chase the bandits or point fingers at the men who had not stopped to help. He didn’t start a petition drive to get more police on the Jericho Road. Instead, he dealt with the injured man’s immediate needs.He treated his wounds and took him to a nearby inn where he could recuperate. Stopping to help the man cost the Samaritan both time and money, but he valued mercy more. This is not to say that Christians should not seek justice or protest wrongs. There is a time for that, but in a situation where someone is in pain, mercy’s first response will always be to the hurting person.

The first four beatitudes describe our relationship with God. The fifth beatitude turns our attention to the people around us and flows naturally from the prior blessings:

  • When I am poor in spirit(v. 3) I will realize how helpless and spiritually bankrupt I truly am.
  • Then I will mourn(v. 4) for my own sins and for how God’s will is ignored by humankind.
  • I will become meek(v. 5) because I will no longer feel the need to defend myself and manage how others think of me.
  • I will begin to comprehend how black my heart is and how lost I am without God’s guidance, and I will hunger and thirst for his righteousness(v. 6).
  • When I turn to God’s Word I will find nourishment. Many of the lies I have been taught all my life will lose their grip on me and I will begin to see the people around me with new eyes. I will no longer see them as people to be feared or hated or ignored. I will see them as they are–slaves to sin who are enmeshed in the ways of the world.

Just like I was! I spent many years ignoring God and putting myself first, so I can relate to others who are there now.

When we understand how similar we are to those we have often condemned, we will become compassionate. Eventually we may get to the point where we can say of anyone, even the most despicable person we know, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Our ultimate example, of course, is Jesus. Even after he was nailed to cross, he asked the Father to forgive the people who had crucified him. Why? Jesus said, “because they do not know what they are doing.”  That is still true of people in our world today. They harm themselves and others because they don’t know what they are doing. They do not realize the eternal consequences for their actions. If they did, they would recognize their spiritual poverty and turn to God. Jesus knew that and was merciful.

And if you are tempted to say, “Yeah, but that was Jesus; he can do things we can’t,” consider the life of Stephen, a deacon in the Jerusalem church who was sentenced to death for preaching the Gospel. Acts 7:59–60 recounts his plea for God’s mercy on his executioners: “As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ He fell to his knees, shouting, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!’ And with that, he died.”

Stephen and you and I can show mercy to others because God has first shown us mercy. But do we? Ask yourself:

  • When I encounter strangers who are hurting physically or mentally or emotionally, is my first response mercy?
  • When I pass someone who is destitute, do I feel pity, or is my first reaction one of disgust?
  • When a beggar asks for money, am I callous, or am I gentle?
  • When I am interrupted by someone in need while I am traveling, do I feel compassion, or do I feel inconvenienced?

 

Next: Blessed are the pure in heart.

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