Did you notice that last Thursday was World Happiness Day? I noticed that on TV they didn’t promote Jesus’ statements about happiness. Jesus made 8 statements (called the Beatitudes) about the people God blesses and we are up to number 5.
Last week’s Beatitude was “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Blessed are those who hunger for a right relationship with God, who hunger to live rightly and who hunger for justice in this world.
But it is possible to hunger and thirst for righteousness and be quite cold and critical of those who fall short of righteousness. Sometimes those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are hard, unforgiving, judgemental people – self-righteous. The next Beatitude says, Blessed are those who are merciful.
It is not entirely clear cut, but by and large, it appears that the first four Beatitudes are about our relationship with God and the last four are about our relationships with people.
So, when we say, “Happy are those who are merciful” we are moving into our relationships with one another. And it is no surprise. Followers of Jesus are meant to be nice people. Everyone knows that! There are heaps of passages about being merciful
Mercy has two aspects. One involves those people who have hurt us or wronged us in some way. We might long for them to be punished and that would be justice. But mercy means we forgive and we show kindness instead.
There are many passages about forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer, in just the next chapter and still part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Then a few verses later: “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Mt 6:14) So, one aspect of mercy is: when you have the right to justice, don’t seek it. Instead, show love and forgiveness. Love your enemies.
The other aspect of mercy is kindness towards those in need. We know that Jesus modelled this. He loved the unlovely; He befriended the lonely; He cared for those who were rejected; He touched and healed lepers. And we know that Jesus calls His followers to do likewise. The Good Samaritan is a story of mercy to a stranger in need. When Jesus separates the sheep and the goats, it will be on the basis of mercy. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (My 25:34-36)
In other words, much of what we characteristically understand to be Christian is tied up in this word “mercy”. Think of Christianity and you think of forgiveness, kindness, loving enemies, not being judgemental, caring for the vulnerable. That is just what Christianity is about.
There is a good reason why mercy is so central to Christianity: it is absolutely central to who God is.
The Old Testament word for mercy is chesedh. It is used about 150 times and over 90% of those times it describes God. Mercy is one of the core qualities of God.
Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.
Is there any other god who is merciful like the God of the Bible? No. God delights to show mercy. God loves forgiving. God gets thrill when He has the opportunity to forgive.
In the Old Testament God’s mercy is often linked with His faithfulness. He will not fail to be merciful.
5 Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
10 Continue your love to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.
God’s mercy is so huge it reaches right to the heavens. It is priceless. What would you pay to be forgiven? Can you put a price on God’s blessing? People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. There is security and protection in God’s mercy. Look at God’s generosity. They feast on the abundance of your house. This generous God has a river of delights. He is the very source of life and light.
In v.10 there is the plea that God will continue His love. But notice that there is a condition. In one sense God is merciful to everyone. He makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on everyone, irrespective. But in another sense it is those who know God and who are upright (or, in other scriptures, who fear God, who walk before Him or who keep His laws) who know God’s great mercy.
In Ps 136, every verse contains the refrain: His steadfast love endures forever. God is by His very nature merciful and His mercy endures forever. God is, at the core of His being, forgiving, generous, caring. He has mercy on those who suffer. He is the God of the widows, the orphans, foreigners and poor.
Of course, Jesus is the perfect revelation of the merciful God. Jesus was forgiving, and generous and caring. Jesus had mercy on the widows, the orphans, the foreigners, the poor, the rejected, the ill. Last month, in the evening service, Andrew preached on Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery. That was an example of mercy. There was forgiveness of sin but there was also the compassionate way in which He protected, and was gentle with, a woman who had been caught sinning and was about to be stoned by the religious leaders. Mercy is one of the defining characteristics of God.
God calls His people who have received mercy to be merciful – to be like Him. You will be able to remember lots of passages that link being merciful with the fact that we have received mercy.
Matt 10:8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
That verse didn’t mention mercy but it talked about mercy in action: heal the sick, rise the dead, cleanse lepers… Having received such mercy freely from your Father, give it freely. God says to us, “You have received my goodness. Go and give away goodness. I love being generous to you; go and delight in being generous to others. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.”
Or, you might think of the story Jesus told about the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:1-35. A man owed a king an enormous amount – a ridiculously huge amount – 10,000 talents. There is no agreement as to how much a talent was worth but the estimates of this debt range from $10,000,000 up to $800,000,000!
Clearly the servant couldn’t pay that debt. The king therefore ordered that he, his wife and children and all he possessed be sold to repay the debt. The man fell on his knees and pleaded for mercy. Somewhat surprisingly, the king had pity on him and forgave the debt nearly one billion dollars forgiven!.
The servant left but then spotted a fellow servant who owed him about one third of the average annual wage – let’s say $13,000. He grabbed him and began to choke him, demanding that the debt be paid. The second servant fell on his knees pleading of mercy but the first servant refused and had him thrown into prison until he had repaid the debt.
So, he had just been forgiven maybe nearly $1,000,000,000 but he refused to forgive $13,000.
The king heard about it, called him back and said, “I showed you mercy. Should you not have also shown mercy?” The result was that that servant was then handed over to the jailor to be tortured.
The best evidence that we have received God’s mercy is that we will then be merciful to others.
God expects His people, who have received His mercy, to be like Him and to show ready forgiveness and generous compassion – not just agree with it or to feel generally loving towards people, but to actually be generous to the real people around us.
Hosea 6:6 …I desire mercy, not sacrifice…
Jesus twice repeated that (Mt 9:13, 12:7). He told the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means.”
Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Being merciful is central to being a Christian because so central to being a Christian is the fact that we have received mercy. The church is to model mercy. That is not always the case. Churches can be very critical places. If someone makes a mistake the rumours start. The church isn’t always where the needy find a welcome and are generously cared for. In everything we do, we should live like Jesus. And when we run across lack of mercy, in the church, we should challenge it or try to change the culture.
A very good aid to being merciful is: put ourselves into the other person’s shoes. When we understand what the other person has been through, or why he/she acts in a certain way, then we will be far more inclined to forgive and to give. Mercy is the opposite of self-centredness. It means thinking about the other person’s needs, before my own. It is natural for me to always think first about myself but Jesus calls us to die to ourselves – die to the need to criticise or spread rumours, or save lots of money for ourselves. Die to selfishness. Think what it is like to be the other person.
Remember, God delights in being merciful. Can we also delight in being merciful – delight in forgiving, delight in helping, delight in being generous, delight in putting others first? Can we be like the God who has delighted in forgiving us and helping us in our needs? If we find it delightful, we will be happy.
Being merciful results from having received mercy but Jesus says that the merciful will receive even more mercy. God blesses those who are merciful by granting them even more mercy. No wonder Jesus says that those who are merciful are happy. They have the joy of knowing they are acting like God Himself and the joy of being further blessed by God.
Can I suggest that every day you look for opportunities to show mercy to someone?