“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy – Matthew 5:7
Jesus is again saying something is contrary to our culture and to the world. In general, the world does not like mercy. They enjoy revenge and hate mercy. The irony is that no one celebrates justice who is guilty – they celebrate mercy. No murderer stands before a judge and rejoices when the gavel slams down with a guilty verdict. The reality of the world, as we have seen before, is that they are unaware of their guilt. So then, what is this mercy that Jesus is referring to? Does Jesus really mean that the basis of receiving mercy is giving mercy?
In the Scripture, there is a clear distinction between grace and mercy even though people often group them together. Richard Lenski says that mercy is compassion for people in need; it always deals with what we see of pain and misery. On the other hand, grace deals with the sin and guilt itself. I had a good friend wisely say, “Mercy is not getting what you deserve and grace is getting what you didn’t deserve or earn.”
Jesus does not specify as to whom we are to give mercy to. Jesus does specify a race, gender, circumstance or particular people group to extend mercy – rather He suggests we give mercy to all. The scary thing about Jesus is that His words are terrifying if we really begin to think about them. If we think of this verse in the negative sense, we then see that we will not receive mercy if we are not merciful. Now, is our salvation predicated upon our good works? Well, no and yes. We are justified before God’s sight on no merit of our own but if we fail to show fruit in our life, our faith is dead. Works do not save us but point to the fact that we have been saved; a lack of works reveals a lack of true, genuine salvation.
John Stott clarifies this verse, “The same truth is echoed in the next chapter: ‘If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you.’ This is not because we can merit mercy by mercy or forgiveness by forgiveness, but because we cannot receive the mercy and forgiveness of God unless we repent, and we cannot claim to have repented of our sins if we are unmerciful towards the sins of others. Nothing moves us to forgive like the wondering knowledge that we have ourselves been forgiven. Nothing proves more clearly that we have been forgiven than our own readiness to forgive. To forgive and to be forgiven, to show mercy and to receive mercy: these belong indissolubly together, as Jesus illustrated in his parable of the unmerciful servant.”
As I have said before, if I cannot forgive my brothers over petty disagreements how then should I expect God to forgive my cosmic treason against His holiness? Mercy and forgiveness flow from a heart that has been shown mercy and forgiveness. It is interesting to note that the third and fifth beatitude are extremely similar – it is the meek who are also merciful. For when you are meek you acknowledge to others that we are sinners and when you show mercy, you show compassion on others because you realize they are sinners too.
We Jesus illustrate this perfectly in Luke 10 in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer approaches Jesus and asks how to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds, “What is written in the Law?” The lawyer answers, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” The Lawyer then is seeking to justify himself and says, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with this parable. A man is left robbed, beaten and bruised on the side of the road. A priest happened to be walking by the battered man but decided to continue on without coming to his aid. Next, a Levite walks by the man and decides to continue on his journey. Lastly, a Samaritan man was traveling and sees the injured fellow and shows mercy upon him.
The Samaritan bandages his wounds, put him on his donkey and checked him into an inn and pays for his stay. Jesus responds to the Lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Mercy is showing compassion to those who are hurting; it binding up the wounds of the afflicted; it is assisting the needy; it is comforting the brokenhearted.
A heart transformed by the Gospel will long to show compassion and mercy to those who are broken. For in the Gospel, God has shown us abundant mercy and compassion in our broken state. We are the man broken, bruised and bleeding on the side of the road. Jesus is the true and better Good Samaritan who binds up our wounds, puts us on his donkey and pays for our hotel fees. Jesus is the one who shows mercy to those who historically have turned a blind eye. So brothers, let’s live in light of that. Let us show that we are good trees that are bearing good fruit. May we never forget how great and costly Jesus’ mercy was towards us when we were hurting and alone. Remember, it more blessed to show mercy than to turn a blind eye.