“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,”
Let’s turn to the particular beatitude tonight, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy,” (Matt. 5:7). I’d like to look at just two questions tonight, and that is this: What does it mean to be “merciful”? How do I become “merciful”?
What Does It Mean?
What does it mean to be “merciful”? I’m going to read one of the most famous stories of the Bible for us to get a snapshot of what being merciful looks like.
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 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 your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)
There are three aspects of Mercy that we see in this parable:
- Samaritans hated the Jews and Jews hated Samaritans. For this Samaritan to stop and help a Jew would have been highly controversial and looked down upon. The call to be merciful is not a call to reach out to those who are just like us, but a call to reach out to whoever is in need.
- The call to mercy isn’t just to do actions, but to genuinely love someone. We are told that when the Samaritan saw the Jew, “he had compassion.” Meaning, he felt genuine pity and care for the man. We cannot simply grit our teeth and force mercy, it must be something that overflows from a heart that truly loves.
- The Samaritan inconveniences himself (what the other Jews were unwilling to do), bandages the man, and then carries him to a local inn and opens a tab on his own bill to pay for whatever the man may need to get better.
There could be more said about the nature of mercy, but those three aspects give us a good idea of what mercy looks like. I think at times we tend to imagine “being merciful” solely in the terms of forgiving people who have wronged us. And while that is most certainly a large part of it, the story of the good Samaritan shows us that being merciful could be summarized as: Showing costly, heartfelt love and care to whoever is in need. Denver mission trip.
How do I become merciful?
How does someone live a life like that? How do you access the power to become a merciful person? Well, again, I would like to look to a story that Jesus tells,
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.” (Matt. 18:21-35)
The shocking thing of this parable centers on the amount that was forgiven, and how little it effected the servant. “100 denarii was one-third of a year’s salary, or four months’ wages. Now suppose you continued to work as a day laborer earning 300 denarii each year. After 20 years of such labor, you will have earned 6,000 denarii. At this point, the king would say to his debtor, “Congratulations. You have worked for 20 years and have now earned 6,000 denarii. That’s enough to pay back one talent. You only have 9,999 more talents to go.” From this, we can easily see that if it takes 20 years to earn one talent, then repaying 10,000 talents would require working 200,000 YEARS!”
It is interesting to note that the same word for “pity” in verse 27 is the same word for the “compassion” that the Samaritan has on the man attacked by robbers in Luke 10. The King felt genuine compassion for the man, and thus forgave him. Imagine how powerful that moment must have been? To go from knowing that everything you own is being taken, you and your family, and for generations upon generations will now be slaves to pay off your massive debt, to hearing that instantaneously your entire debt is forgiven. Here, we see the king exhibit all three aspects of mercy. It is indiscriminate: the man he is forgiving is a servant, and one can only imagine what the man did to get into such an incredible amount of debt, but whatever it was, it probably wasn’t very wise. The king could have just labeled the man as “foolish” and felt superior to him, but he didn’t. It was heartfelt: the King felt pity for him (vs. 27). And it was very costly: if the man owed the king 10,000 talents and the king forgave him, that means that the king then had to absorb that loss.
Now, the shocking thing is that after receiving such incredible mercy, the man then goes out and finds a man who owes him peanuts compared to what he has been forgiven of and then chokes him, demanding he get his money back. The really bone chilling part of the story is that the man’s friend uses the exact same words the man did when pleading with the king, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But the man doesn’t listen and throws him in jail. The King hears about it and summons 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?”
The servant was functionally living as if he wasn’t really forgiven – he was still living as if he had a debt hanging over his head. To receive the pardon of the King frees you to pardon others. If the man wasn’t really forgiven, then it would make sense for him to strangle the dollars he was owed out of his friend – he needs all the money he can get his hands on! But if he is truly forgiven? If his debt has been completely wiped away? Then the mercy of the King enables us to become merciful.
Look friends, forgiveness is hard. It is difficult because it is so costly. When someone hurts you it creates a debt, and you can try to make them pay back that debt by hurting them back through words, actions, or silent resentment. If we choose to forgive someone, we must pay the debt of the hurt, and that is very hard. When you and I simply cannot be merciful, we cannot forgive, here is what we are saying – I cannot forgive you because I don’t have the ability to swallow this debt. So what do we do when we feel like we cannot forgive, when we cannot show mercy to someone?
Look to your King
In the parable it is stunning that the King would be willing to spend so much money on forgiving this servant, but in reality it is just pointing towards a greater King: Christ. We are the foolish servants who have gotten ourselves into a debt that will destroy us that we can never pay off. Jesus is the true King whom we have sinned against who had every right to throw us in the jail of hell, but instead showed compassion and paid the massive debt of our sin, not with money but with His very life. The King stepped down from the throne, and went up to the Cross, so you could be forgiven of all of your sin. All of it, wiped away.
When you see how completely Jesus paid your debt and how freely He did it, it is going to give you a bottomless wealth of mercy to give out as freely as you received it. So, when someone offends you, when someone hurts you, you can rest assured that Jesus forgave you of infinitely more, and out of that wealth you forgive. But what if they’re not even sorry? Has God ever forgiven you when you weren’t sorry? He has, forgive them. But I feel like if I forgive them I am saying that what they we did wasn’t wrong. Forgiveness is not endorsing what happened, it is recognizing that something was indeed wrong, but extending the same mercy that God extended to you. Trust God to take care of righting wrongs, and you be obedient to His commands. I don’t feel like forgiving this person. Then look at the holiness of God, look at the depth of your sin, and look at the glory of the Cross. If you can look at all three of those things together and your pride not crumple to the floor and forgiveness flow from you, there is something wrong. There can be two problems here: we either have temporarily lost sight of the gospel, and need to recalibrate our hearts on it, or we may not be a Christian.
Jesus ends his parable with this warning, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” If you cannot forgive someone else, maybe it is because you believe that you aren’t forgiven. Forgiving others is not the ground by which we are saved – not at all – but it is the fruit of being saved. Forgiven people forgive. Mercy-receivers become mercy-givers. That is the pattern of the Gospel.