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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART FIVE

PRESENTED ON 03-29-08

 

       To date, we have covered four of the Beatitudes.  As I have previously done, let’s briefly review what we have discussed. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."   To be poor in spirit is to be of a contrite heart, to be humble before God always recognizing it is only by the grace of God we live and have our being and have opportunity for living beyond this physical existence.  To be poor in spirit is to admit to our spiritual poverty and destitution outside of the life giving power of the spirit of God.  

       “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Mourning is being grieved over sin and being grieved over sin flows from being poor in spirit. Mourning is the natural outcome of recognizing our total reliance on God and our need to respond to that condition by ordering our lives in accordance with Gods will.  To be poor in spirit is to discover our spiritual poverty which should lead to automatically being grieved at anything that would interfere with having reconciliation with God.  

       "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."   We saw that to be meek is to not glory in ourselves and to truly treat others as better than ourselves.  Just as being grieved and mourning over sin flows from being poor in spirit, being meek flows from mourning over sin and recognizing we humans are all in the same boat spiritually speaking and when we see faults in others we must realize we are no better and so in a spirit of humility we should help restore others who may be experiencing a trial or caught up in sinful behavior.  

       "Matthew 5:6: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."   Hungering and thirsting for righteousness we saw as being in a continual mode of willingness to change and recognizing that true righteousness is a function of the forgiveness of God facilitating the indwelling of the righteousness of Christ to which we respond by manifesting the law of love in our lives.

       Today we will address the fifth Beatitude,  "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."

       Mercy is a quality we don’t see a whole lot of in a world where our eyes, ears and emotions are assaulted daily by violence, injustice, stubbornness, bigotry, scams, prejudice and intolerance.  Yet our culture admires acts of mercy as seen in the attention it occasionally gets on the evening news.

       Ancient Rome did not share our admiration. Romans spoke of the four cardinal virtues of wisdom, justice, temperance and courage—but not mercy. The Interpreter's Bible states that the Romans despised pity!  The Greeks held similar views, thinking that mercy indicated weakness rather than strength. Aristotle wrote that pity was a troublesome emotion. The Pharisees, harsh in their self-righteous judgment of others, showed little mercy. Jesus told them they neglected the weightier matters of the law which included mercy.

       Jesus said the merciful are blessed because they will obtain mercy.  Taken at face value, we could conclude from this statement that because of our practice of mercy God will grant us mercy and forgive our sin.  This is not what Jesus is saying.  First of all this statement by Jesus says nothings about our receiving Gods mercy being dependent on our giving of mercy.  Jesus simply said “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”.  We know from other scriptures that God is merciful to us and our sins are forgiven not as a result of anything we do, including the expression of mercy, but because of the grace bestowed upon us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

       The spiritual quality of being merciful is in reality a dynamic of repentance.   Repentance is the one thing God requires of us as a prelude to His bestowal of his grace and even repentance is a function of Gods Spirit drawing us to Him.  By being a dynamic of repentance, being merciful becomes a response to the grace of God and, as Jesus said, the expression and manifestation of mercy will be reciprocated.   Our failure to express mercy, on the hand, should be a signal to us that we are not responding to the grace of God as we should.   

       Mercy is a very prominent spiritual quality.  It is an indispensable trait of character in our continuing quest to be Christ like in behavior. It is a quality given to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as we yield in obedience to God.  The scriptures teach that mercy is a vital dynamic and we see this dynamic emphasized throughout the scriptures.

       Matthew 18:23-35: Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.  "The servant fell on his knees before him. `Be patient with me,' he begged, `and I will pay back everything.'  The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii.  He grabbed him and began to choke him. `Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.  "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, `Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. "Then the master called the servant in. `You wicked servant,' he said, `I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

       Here we plainly see that exercising mercy is a critical behavioral dynamic associated with our being in the Kingdom.  God is extremely merciful to us and in return He expects us to be merciful to others.  We also see in this parable how mercy is a brother of forgiveness.  The expression of mercy is a prelude to forgiveness.  It triumphs over judgement.

       Apostle James wrote that judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!  James 2:13

       In the parable we see mercy leading to forgiveness of the debt. The master could have said I will give you time to repay the debt and I want you to jump through this hoop and that hoop and do this thing and that thing and if you don’t do these things the day of reckoning will come and I will have to pronounce judgement upon you.  But he didn’t do that did he.  He forgave the man the debt. There was nothing the man had to do.  All that was required was that the debtor come before the master and admit to his indebtedness.  Isn’t this a beautiful picture of us coming before God in repentance, admitting our indebtedness and having our sin forgiven.  Just like this debtor, we sometimes feel we have to repay the debt.  We somehow have to qualify for Gods mercy and forgiveness. 

       In 1971 the prolific song writer, actor and entertainer Chris Christopherson wrote and sang a song entitled "Why Me Lord."  It became a huge hit and has been sung and recorded by many artists. I have sung this song myself for offertory music.  It goes like this:

       Why me Lord. What have I ever done to deserve even one of the pleasures I’ve known? Tell me Lord, What did I ever do that was worth loving you for the kindness you’ve shown. Try me Lord if you think there’s a way I can try to repay all I’ve taken from you.

       The truth of the matter is that there is nothing we can do to deserve what we have.  There is no way we can repay what God gives to us and God doesn’t expect repayment.  God forgives debt. He doesn’t seek repayment.  He is truly a merciful God.  But God does expect us to respond to His mercy by being merciful ourselves and that is what the second part of the parable is telling us.

       Jesus shows us the wicked servant who not only shows no mercy but also shows no forgiveness.  He demands of his servant an apparent swift repayment and when that can’t be accomplished he brings judgement upon him and has him thrown into prison until he pays in full.  I don’t know how he is able to pay back what he owes while a prisoner but that’s another issue.   The lesson here is that this servant’s servant was asking for mercy.  He begged his master to give him some time to repay the debt.  His master not only didn’t show him mercy as he had been shown mercy, but pronounced judgement upon him for not immediately paying back the debt.  We see that his master, the one that had forgive him the debt didn’t take to kindly to his behavior.  This clearly shows that God, while merciful and forgiving is also a God of justice and will not tolerate blatant lack of reciprocating the mercy and forgiveness He bestows upon us. 

       English language dictionaries are of limited help in understanding the dynamics of mercy as contained in the meaning of the word as used by Jesus.  In English, "mercy" is normally used to mean showing compassion, pity, sympathy, forgiveness, tenderheartedness and refraining from harming or punishing offenders or ones enemies. These synonyms give us some insight into the meaning of mercy as they do express how a merciful person might act. However, none of these synonyms really define the kind of mercy Jesus was talking about.

       The Greek word used in Matthew 5:7 means essentially the same as its English counterpart. However, in all likelihood Jesus spoke in Aramaic, and the idea behind His statement about mercy came from the Hebrew/Aramaic word chesed.  William Barclay's Daily Study Bible commentary on Matthew states the following regarding this word:

       "It does not mean only to sympathize with a person in the popular sense of the term; it does not mean simply to feel sorry for some in trouble. Chesedh means the ability to get right inside the other person's skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings.  Clearly this is much more than an emotional wave of pity. This kind of mercy clearly demands a deliberate effort of the mind and of the will. It denotes a sympathy which is not given, as it were, from outside, but which comes from a deliberate identification with the other person, until we see things as he sees them, and feel things as he feels them."

       This kind of mercy equates with the Greek word for sympathy which means to suffer with, to experience things together with the other person, going through what he is going through.

       This, of course, is much easier said than done!  Having a sense of another persons feelings to this degree is very difficult to do because we are normally so self-concerned, so into our own feelings, that sensitivity for others to this depth often requires a great effort of the will. Normally, when we feel sorry for someone, it is an exclusively external act because we do not make the effort to get inside another persons mind and heart where we can see and feel things as they do. It is not easy to walk in another person's shoes.

       The scriptures show that it is because of God great mercy toward us that he forgives our sin.  This occurs, not because we can merit forgiveness but because of Gods mercy. God as our creator is able to get inside of us and feel what we feel and have mercy on us.  God expects us to do the same for others.  Developing that kind of mercy is a function of repentance.   We cannot claim to have repented of our sins if we are unmerciful towards the sins of others.

       The truly merciful are keenly aware of their own shortcomings which prevent them from condemning others.   To be merciful is to deal humbly and kindly with those in need. Nothing moves us to forgive others like the amazing realization that God has forgiven us. Our expression of mercy begins by experiencing God's mercy toward us. Perhaps nothing proves more convincingly that we have been forgiven than our readiness to forgive others.  Recognizing God's mercy is a key element in motivating our expressions of mercy. The merciful person is sensitive to others' needs and takes action to supply them.

       Jesus had the same human makeup we all have.  Therefore, Jesus was able to experience what we experience.  In writing about Jesus Christ the writer to the Hebrews said this:

       Hebrews 2:16-17: For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for  the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

       The Son of God was able to see things with human eyes, feel things with human feelings and think things with a human mind. Jesus was not remote, detached and disinterested, nor insulated and isolated from what being human is.  Consequently, He knows our frame. He knows that we are but dust. He can see in us a reflection of what He experienced as a man. He can thus extend mercy to us, completely understanding what we are going through.  It is our realization of this that should generate the expression of mercy toward others.  A great scriptural example of the expression of mercy is the parable of the Good Samaritan.

       Luke 10:30-37: A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,' he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' "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." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

       Go and do likewise.  Jesus gave this parable in response to a man who had asked Him what He must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told Him to love His neighbor.  And then He gave the parable to demonstrate what a neighbor is.  A neighbor is someone in need. A neighbor is someone who needs help.  The Samaritan wasn’t concerned about ethnic differences. He wasn’t concerned about getting his hands dirty.  He wasn’t concerned about sacrificing his time and money. His only concern was the welfare of the man in need.

       We humans have a tendency at times to look at the needs of others in a judgmental manner.  We hear expressions such as “He got what he deserved” or He got what’s coming to him.”  Just think if God looked at us that way. We won’t have a chance. But God is not that way.  The psalmist wrote "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy" (Psalm 103:8).  God is our model of mercy, and we are to reflect His mercy in our actions toward our fellow man.

       The key to exercising mercy is to identify with the thinking of others and try our best to see where they are coming form.  We all have different backgrounds, and life histories.  Our life histories produce our frame of reference. Our frame of reference plays a big role in how we behave.  We humans often behave according to wrong information and lack of understanding. We need to constantly be aware of that as we deal with each other.  Jesus  suffered terribly at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman authority.  Yet what did He do as He hung on the cross.  He said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Jesus realized their behavior toward Him was based on a distorted frame of reference. He knew they acted on wrong information and lack of understanding.  He knew they acted out of fear over losing their positions of power and authority. Jesus expressed mercy toward them even while suffering at their hands.  

       After His resurrection and ascension to the Father, Israel was given another 40 years to repent and accept His mercy and forgiveness.  Unfortunately they did not do so to any great extent and judgement was brought upon them in the events of A.D. 70. 

       The New Testament scriptures instruct us in a number of places not to judge our brother. The Greek word used is often the word that means to condemn.  Making judgments regarding our brother cannot be avoided as we must often make decisions regarding interpersonal and interactional relationships.  It is critical, however, that when making a judgement as to another persons behavior we do so with mercy in mind.

       We must judge people from the inside out, as it were. There are reasons why they and we act as we do. We must seek to understand where others are coming from.  We must seek to get into there skin, so to speak, and view things as they are viewing them. If we take this approach, we will place ourselves in a better position to exercise righteous judgement and also exercise mercy and forgiveness.  When we take this approach, justice is balanced with mercy.

       A French proverb states, "To know all is to forgive all."  This proverb is simply saying that if we really look inside another person deeply and clearly enough, we begin to see ourselves reflected in them. The circumstances and specific situations may be somewhat different, but the human nature expressed in them will be the same as in us. Once we recognize this, it greatly tempers our judgment of others and leads us to exercising greater mercy and forgiveness in out daily interaction with others.

       We must strive to be merciful in judgement.  When David sinned by having an affair with Bathsheba and having her husband killed, he deserved death under Old Covenant standards. David bitterly repented and God showed him mercy and forgiveness but also showed him that his actions would create upheaval in his family and constant war.  When David disobeyed and had Israel numbered against the will of God, upon repentance God forgave him but also gave him a choice of three punishments for his wrong behavior.  Rather than  making the choice himself, David acknowledged God as a God of great mercy and threw himself upon God mercy and had God make the choice.

       "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."  Let us truly respond to God great mercy toward us and be merciful to others.

SERMON SIX