February 2020  
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Marching to the Beat of a Different Drummer
Blessed Are the Merciful
Matthew 5:7
Although I've taught and studied through the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes several times, this time, for the first time, I noticed the tremendous emphasis Jesus places on righteousness.
As I mentioned last time, the Beatitudes group around two specific references Jesus makes concerning righteousness, He compares true righteousness to that of the Scribes and Pharisees, and will later remind us the first priority of life is to seek God and His righteousness.
Now today we come to the fifth Beatitude and it is about mercy. And to understand the Biblical teaching about mercy, we need to understand that it is a result of righteousness.
1. From Where Does Mercy Come?
When we consider from where mercy originates, we must keep in mind the arrangement and structure of the Beatitudes as a whole. As we saw last week, the first three beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–5 describe the emptiness of the person that Jesus describes as blessed.
They are poor in spirit, mourning over the sin and misery of their condition, and meekly accepting the hardships and accusations of life that come from being like Christ. Then, this blessed emptiness is followed by a hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God that fills us.
Then come three descriptions of how righteousness overflows in the heart and through the life of those who have been filled. That righteousness is seen in mercy (verse 7), in purity (verse 8), and in peacemaking (verse 9).
So the simple answer to our question is that mercy comes from the heart that is spiritually bankrupt, grieving over its sin, learning to wait meekly for the timing of the Lord, and crying out in hunger for God to fill us. And when we approach God in that way, the first thing He gives is mercy.
  1. the mercy that God blesses is itself the blessing of God that He gives to those who admit they need it. Then it grows up like fruit in the soil of this broken heart, meek spirit, and soul that hungers and thirsts for God to be merciful. The mercy we show comes from the mercy that we receive.
  1. there is another way to look at the structure and arrangement of these Beatitudes. As we've seen already, Jesus is much more interested in the inner relationship we have with Him than He is the external activities of religion. If we can get the inside figured out, then the outside will find its way.
What really matters is what is on the inside and that is obvious from these Beatitudes. The poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers are all internal qualities.
And that's where Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount. Then in the remainder of what He says, He deals with action and reaction and relationships.
But the premise on which it's all built is the right kind of heart attitude. To be a child of the king and a citizen of the kingdom of God is to be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart and a peacemaker.
  1. notice how the first four line up with the last four. The first four are inner attitudes and the last four are the lifestyle that flows from that attitude. For instance, where there is poverty of spirit and you realize you are nothing but a beggar, there will be a willingness to share what you've got with other beggars. Being poor is spirit results in us being merciful.
And when you are mourning over your sin, your heart will be washed by your tears of repentance. So the mourning results in purity.
Those who are meek will be peacemakers because that's what meekness seeks. And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled with all they need, even when they are being persecuted for righteousness' sake.
Jesus has an end product in mind that we will let our light shine and bring Him glory, and ultimately, the goal is to draw people to the Kingdom of God by the way we live. And the way we do that is by "seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness."
Unfortunately, far too often we thing about righteousness only in terms of its inner qualities. We limit it to the inner qualities, the first four Beatitudes. But that is not the end of it. In fact, it's just the beginning.
And we must never lose sight of the external dimensions of righteousness. Any righteousness we have that allows our light to shine bringing glory to God will not primarily be seen and experienced by the lost world around us through our quiet time and devotion to God. but in how we demonstrate mercy, purity and peacemaking.
As we saw last week, in the six illustrations Jesus gives in the sermon on how our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, every one of them has to do with human relationships. So it makes sense that the empty person who is filled with God's righteousness would act like God, and at the top of the list is mercy.
And the mercy we are to show to each other is the kind of mercy that God has shown to us. So the key to becoming a merciful person is to become a broken person. You get the power and ability to show mercy from the work God has done in your heart by showing you mercy.
So what does that look like?
2. What Is a Merciful Person Like?
Sometimes it helps to understand something if we can see what it's not. We can look at its opposite and that tells us what it is. So to help us understand what mercy looks like, I want to show you some examples in Scripture where mercy is contrasted with its opposite.
First, let’s look at
Matthew 9:10–13
"Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 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.”
So in this illustration, the opposite of mercy is sacrifice. Verse 13 is a quote from Hosea 6:6, where God describes the love His people have for Him as being like dew on the grass. It is there for a brief morning hour, and then is gone. And that's the way they worshipped. They followed the law, did what they were supposed to and nothing more.
In modern terms, it's kind of like coming to church for an hour on Sunday morning, putting a little token in the offering plate, shaking a few hands, and that's about the extent of our relationship with God.
And the point is that God wants his people to be alive in their hearts. He wants them to love Him with heart, soul, mind and strength. He wants them to understand and appreciate His grace and mercy and His great kindness toward them.
And He wants us to treat people the same way He treats us. In other words, He's not impressed with our Sunday performance; He wants a relationship that is contagious.
And notice how He begins the conversation. He sitting in a house with his disciples and some tax collectors and sinners come in and join them. The Pharisees see it and ask Jesus' disciples why He would do such a thing.
Now Jesus has three audiences and what He says is spoken for the benefit of all three. On the one hand, He has the tax collectors, and by the way, they were hated, but they were rich. They lived a very comfortable life by taking advantage of those who paid taxes.
Then there is the Pharisees. They were the best people in town. They knew they Law inside and out and they meticulously kept it and watched to see if everyone else was also.
The third audience is the disciples.
  1. begins by talking about sinners who are sick and miserable and in need of a doctor. And that includes all three audiences. The rich tax collectors are sick, the Pharisees are sick and the disciples are sick. And the good news is, is the medicine for all three! But the only way you decide to take medicine is to realize and admit you are sick.
Now the disciples have already done that. They are still learning what it means and that's why Jesus is sharing the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. It is for their benefit. His disciples are His primary audience.
The second group, the sinners and tax collectors, are generally a very receptive audience to Jesus. We find examples of both in the New Testament coming to Jesus and being converted.
The Pharisees are a different matter entirely. Most of them had no use for Jesus, and they are who Jesus is talking about when He references those who think they don't need a doctor. Obviously, they didn't believe they were sick. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was the one who was sick. After all, He has contaminated Himself by eating with sinners and they knew the rules!
But something huge is at stake here and they couldn't see it or feel it. They refused to spiritually comprehend what He was saying. They knew all about the external behaviors the law required, but that had no understanding of how the sickness of sin could be healed internally and eternally. Their relationship with God was nothing more than keeping the law.
  1. Jesus tells them the important things are not the sacrifices, but showing mercy. Now they were face-to-face with mercy. Jesus was not only teaching about mercy, He was modeling it. Mercy was sitting at the table with sinners and tax collectors. They were listening to mercy talk and seeing how mercy acts. Mercy was within their grasp, but they were only concerned with the trivialities of their religion.
We find another example of this same idea in
Matthew 23:23–24
“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. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!"
Now remember, we are looking for the opposites of mercy. So what do we find in these verses?
Here the opposite of mercy is pictured as the straining out of gnats. It's the same lesson in a different picture. In the first passage, the Pharisees were more concerned with not eating with sinners than they were showing mercy.
Here, it is being more concerned with whether you should tithe on your net income or gross income than you are with showing mercy. In both cases, Jesus is describing this preoccupation with trivial, little details and ignoring the really important things of the faith.
The lesson we learn from the words of Jesus when he says, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” and, “You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel,” is that one of the greatest obstacles and enemies to mercy we face is the trifles in life.
Therefore, when Jesus says, “Don’t neglect the weightier matters of the law,” he means, “Beware of going through the day doing only trivial things, thinking only trivial thoughts, feeling only trivial feelings.
The Lord wants us to slap ourselves back to reality from time to time so that we are consciously and intentionally living like Him. And at the top of the list is mercy. Mercy is not some unimportant, insignificant triviality. It is one of the weightiest, most important matters in all of life.
And Jesus is telling us, "If you want to be blessed, you cannot get bogged down in all the details of religion. You've got to free yourself from the bondage of religious and secular trifles, and devote your life to the weightier matters of the law such as justice, mercy and faith."
Another illustration of the opposite of mercy is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan in
Luke 10:25–28
25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” 27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
Another way of asking the man's question would be, "How should a person act who wants to receive mercy at the judgment day and inherit eternal life?"
Jesus says, "Those who will receive the mercy of eternal life are those who have loved God with all their hearts and their neighbor as themselves."
In other words, those who are merciful now to their neighbor will receive the mercy of eternal life in the future. He actually answers with the fifth Beatitude, and that becomes even more obvious as the conversation continues.
Luke 10:29-37
29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ 36 So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” 37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Here we have a very vivid picture of mercy and its opposite. In this story, mercy has three dimensions.
- It alertly sees
verse 33
“A certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was; and when he saw him. . .”
- It internally reacts
verse 33
“When he saw him, he had compassion”
- It externally responds
verse 33
“So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he sat him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him”
I find it very interesting that this parable makes the same point as Matthew 9:13. There Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’” Here he says, “Go and show mercy like the Samaritan, not like the priest and the Levite.”
The priest and the Levite stand for the same thing in the parable that the word “sacrifice” stands for in Matthew 9:13, namely, empty religion.
Now keep in mind, Jesus made up this story. So why would he choose to illustrate the opposite of mercy with a priest and a Levite? Why did he choose a pastor and a minister of music to make His point?
I see it as a warning to all of us that go to church and read our Bibles and claim to be Christians not to get caught up in the outward mechanics of religious activity and ignore the needs that are all around us.
So in answer to our second question, “What is mercy?” we conclude that mercy is one of the weightier matters of life. It is always in danger of being neglected because of our preoccupation with the insignificant, whether it is the amusements of the world or the pettiness of religion.
Third question:
3. Why Do Only Merciful People Find Mercy From God?
Matthew 5:7 says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
There is a great illustration of this principle in Matthew 18 where a king calls in a man who owes him millions of dollars and the man is unable to pay. So the king orders the man be jailed, along with his wife and kids, and his property liquidate. So the man begins to beg and promise he'll pay, and in an amazing show of mercy, the king forgives the entire debt.
Then the story takes a strange twist. The man who has just been forgiven this tremendous debt, something he could never hope to repay in a 1,000 lifetimes, goes out and finds a guy who owes him less than $20 bucks, and begins to choke him and threatens to throw him in prison.
So what's the point? That is a picture of the great heart of God as He extends this great mercy to us. And the expectation is that those who have genuinely received mercy will show mercy. And on the other side, those who haven't, don't.
And when you couple that with this Beatitude, what you discover is that the one who shows mercy gives evidence that they have received mercy. The one who has received mercy will be merciful.
In other words, if you are a merciful person, it is not just because you have a tender heart that is naturally moved with compassion when it contacts a need. We are merciful only because we have received mercy. And by the way, that is not just a one-time gift. God continues to fill our lives with mercy.
As Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 3:22, It is only because of the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed because His compassion never fails. That means, just like the other Beatitudes, it's not just a gift to get us into heaven in the future, it has a present-tense application as well.
David understood that. In Psalm 86:3, he said, "Be merciful to me, oh God, for I cry unto thee daily."
And in Psalm 23:6, he praises God because, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and in the future, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
That means if we have any mercy to share with anybody, it is the gift of God and if we receive any mercy in the future, it is the gift of God, and all of it, then and now is not because we earned it, but because God gave it.
Therefore, when God asks for a record of your mercy at the judgment day, He won't be looking for a time card that is punched with all the days and deeds you've done. You won’t say, “Here it is, eight hours of mercy. Now pay me what you owe me!”
Instead, God will be asking for your medical chart. And to have any hope of receiving mercy, you will meekly hand him the record that shows just how sick and messed up you were.
And as He looks through the details, He'll see all the ways you had to depend on Him as your Divine Physician and how the medicine of His Word and the therapy of His Spirit changed your life. And that record will reveal how you relied on His mercy to heal you of your unmerciful attitude. And the record will show how you shared His mercy with others.
And when He sees the evidence of your faith and His healing, He will complete your healing and welcome you into the kingdom forever because “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
Let's pray.
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