Be merciful to me, but I am not so sure about showing it to you
By Don Ruhl
The Beatitudes in Matthew 5, which open the Sermon on the Mount, are more than perfect patterned platitudes. They speak of true life. He who does them not, does not have eternal life. Therefore, with all your getting, get the Beatitudes!
The fifth Beatitude shows that the Beatitudes are more than ornate oracles of order. Matthew 5:7 states the truth plainly, but we have problems practicing it plainly. We complicate it, looking for ways to avoid doing what Jesus said simply to do. We want the blessing without the action that brings the blessing. “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt. 5:7).
If we want mercy from God and man, we have to show mercy.
Mercy has two forms. When we fulfill what a person lacks, we have shown mercy because he deserves it. When we withhold punishment from someone we have shown mercy, although he did not deserve it. Let’s talk about the second one.
What shall we do with sinners, whether in or out of the church? What has God done with us?
Mercy Is Frightening
Preacher, show me the flames of hell, but do not talk to me about showing mercy to sinners, especially to the ones who have sinned against me.
Truth, law, and justice…piece of cake. They are objective. Truth is truth, law is law, and justice is justice regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the people involved. Therefore, truth, law, and justice make us comfortable.
Mercy…that is your most hated vegetable. It is subjective. Mercy comes from the heart. Mercy knows a sinner has violated truth and law, and therefore, deserves justice. However, mercy takes the person involved, considers the condition of that heart, ponders the change of that mind, and sees the conversion of that life. Therefore, mercy withholds justice. That seems weak to us. Therefore, mercy makes us uncomfortable.
People have created problems, but some people want to change. Our justice says we never want to forget what you did. Mercy says I am willing to work with you, although you are not what you are supposed to be yet. Mercy says I will help you and by that you shall help me, for you see, the merciful one knows he does not have his act together yet either.
Mercy knows that we cannot forbid sinners from coming to the church, because the church is a hospital for broken-lives, not a museum for perfect lives. Justice says you cannot forgive everyone. If we do, we will have sinners coming in from everywhere! Mercy responds that we have no choice, if we wish to have forgiveness. Mercy knows what Jesus said later in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. The Lord and Judge of our souls, explained that mercy receives mercy, but no mercy receives no mercy, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt. 6:14, 15).
Romans 9 declares that God shows mercy on His terms. However, since the first century church, people have had problems to whom God shows mercy, “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion’” (Ro. 9:15). The first Christians, who were Jews, fought it when they saw Gentiles coming into the church. People of every color, nation, language, social class, and culture fight it when they see another group coming into the kingdom.
Do you remember the point of the Parable of the Prodigal Son? Luke 15 shows that it began with this background. The Pharisees and scribes did not like the people with whom Jesus associated. He spoke three parables to explain His associations, “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’ So He spoke this parable to them, saying…” (Lk. 15:1–3).
First, He gave the parable of one sheep out of a hundred that was lost. The shepherd looked for it and rejoiced with his friends when he found it.
Second, He gave the parable of the lost coin out of ten. The woman looked diligently for her coin and rejoiced with her friends when she found it.
Third, He gave the Parable of the Prodigal Son, one out of two sons who was lost. The father let his son go, but waited anxiously for the return of his son. When his son returned from his wild living, the father rejoiced greatly. However, not everyone was happy about the young man’s return. “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him” (Lk. 15:25–28).
The older brother did not like the way his father operated and certainly did not want to show mercy to his brother. Jesus gave that parable to explain why He showed mercy and to explain that some people object to showing it.
Mercy Is God-Like
Show mercy and you touch God! Paul called God, “the Father of mercies” (2Co. 1:3) and “God…is rich in mercy” (Ep. 2:4), and James added “that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (Ja. 5:11).
Psalm 103 uses vivid imagery to picture the boundlessness of God’s mercy. Think on your sin, then think on God forgiving you. Can we describe the mercy of God? Can we paint a picture of it? David painted a picture for us in Psalm 103. See with your mind’s eye what he painted. “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:11–14)
Just how high are the heavens above the earth? The distance is great. Likewise, the mercy of God is great over all our imagination.
Just how far is the East from the West? Do the two ever meet? No, nor shall our sins ever meet us again when God shows mercy.
Just how deep is the pity of a father toward his children? Although I am a father, I do not know how to tell non-fathers how my children dwell in my heart. Here is the clincher: God is a greater Father than all of us.
Just how feeble are we? We are dust, made from dust and returning to dust. No one knows that better than God!
These things magnify the endless mercy of God!
Have I sinned against Him? I am ashamed of the magnitude and number of my sins. Yet, God in mercy forgives me. God, what can I do to show my eternal gratefulness? He says, as I have shown you mercy, show mercy to others.
In the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon, there was a special room into which the high priest entered once a year. It was the holiest place on earth. It was called the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place. Inside was the Ark of the Covenant. On top of the Ark were two cherubim. Between the cherubim and over the Ark was the very spot where God dwelt or at least where He met the high priest. That spot had a name. It was called the Mercy Seat. For there, the high priest made atonement for Israel. The holiest spot on earth was the most merciful place on earth. Mercy, therefore, is the very essence of God. Imitate God by showing mercy.
Listen to some brief teachings of Jesus on mercy, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mt. 9:13). “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (Mt. 12:7). “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Mt. 23:23).
Let us go and learn what it means that God desires mercy and not sacrifice. Let us learn what it means so that we will never condemn the guiltless. Let us understand that mercy is weightier than all other matters.
Mercy Is Reciprocal
Hear again what Jesus said in the fifth Beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt. 5:7).
James 2 shows that the brother of the Lord understood the message of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. James delivers the blunt message of mercy like this, “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Ja. 2:12, 13).
Remember God shall judge us by the law of liberty. Therefore, speak and act that we may not be judged. The law of liberty commands us to show mercy. However, if we do not show mercy, God’s judgment upon us will be without mercy. Did you hear the hard truth of the last sentence from James’s quotation? He who shows no mercy receives no mercy from God! Yet, mercy triumphs over judgment, that is, if you show mercy, you receive mercy, not judgment.
How could the Bible put it plainer? Show mercy; receive mercy. Do not show mercy; do not receive mercy. Did you find a loophole in any passage I have given? If you want to look for one, God shall look for one to keep from showing you mercy.
How many times has God shown us mercy? 10 times? 10,000 times? 10 million times? November 2, 1976, I became a Christian. I wonder, if God has shown me mercy only once each day since then, how many times has He shown mercy to me. Not accounting for leap years, He has shown me mercy 11,315 times! On February 25, 2007 my wife and I will have been married 30 years! No one on earth has had to show me mercy more than she. I am going to be real generous with myself and say that she has not had to show it daily. Let’s say I have said or done something against her once a week. How many times has she shown me mercy in 30 years? 1,560 times! Or 372 times, if months!
Yet, we are still happily married! Do you know how we prevent friction so that our marriage will not seize? We use the oil of mercy. Why can we not do that with each other in the church? We have to do it with each other in the church!
Again, from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus explained how we can be as God. After stating that we should show love to all and give greetings to all, He uttered a statement that is often misinterpreted, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:48).
Most people interpret that as to be sinless. In this context, Jesus meant to love all and to greet all. He talked about showing mercy! Show mercy and you shall be as your heavenly Father. If we show mercy to one another, we can live with one another.
Who is perfect among us? Is the world perfect? Is the church perfect? If you are not perfect and I am not perfect, shall we not show mercy to one another? You need mercy from me as much as I need mercy from you and we both need it more from God!
God wants to show you mercy right now! If you will state, “I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” you can be baptized right now and God will show you mercy, wiping away all your sins!