Speaker: Helen Jenkinson
Welcome to the 5th week of our teaching on The Beatitudes. If you remember, over the last few weeks we’ve learnt that they are not a checklist of qualities that we need to muster up in ourselves in order to gain God’s approval.
The great preacher CH Spurgeon described them as a ladder of light, as every one of them rises above and out of those that precede it. The whole ladder rests upon grace and grace puts every rung into place.
Today we are going to look at Blessed are the Merciful.
Have you noticed that the first 4 beatitudes are mostly to do with our relationship with God: Being poor in spirit so we recognise our need of him; Mourning over the fact that things aren’t how God intended; Our meekness in surrendering ourselves to God; Hungering and thirsting after righteousness and that righteousness is God himself.
So the first 4 beatitudes are all about the vertical- us in relation to God. The one we’ll look at today is mainly about the horizontal. Our relationship with others.
Does this remind you of anything?
If we invited Moses this morning, he would say “Of course. The first 4 of the 10 commandments are all about our relationship with God before moving on to our relationship with others.”
If we were to invite the disciples into church this morning what would they say? “Of course. Jesus said more or less the same thing when he gave us the great commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your soul, mind and strength. Did he leave it there? No he went on to tell us to love our neighbour as ourselves”.
What does that tell us? Firstly, we can’t have one without the other. We can’t focus on our relationship with God without focussing on our relationships with each other or vice versa. Doing that is like trying to ride your bike with a flat tyre - you’re in for a bumpy ride! However, it also shows us that if our vertical relationship with God isn’t right then that affects our horizontal relationship with one another. And vice versa. Our horizontal relationships with people affect our relationship with God.
So this morning we’re going to look at what this word mercy means and what it means to be merciful in practical ways
Before we read the passage, we need to get into the minds of the first century listeners to Jesus.
The Jews were used to the idea of being merciful. They knew the Torah.
They could probably tell you that in Leviticus, God had commanded them to take care of foreigners because they themselves had been mistreated foreigners in Egypt.
They were called to leave the sides of their fields unharvested so the poor could have the left overs. Remember the story of Ruth and Boaz?
So this idea of being merciful was recognised as a characteristic of God by Jews.
However, when we see the scribes and Pharisees in action in the new testament they were exhibiting the very opposite of being merciful. We see them as judgemental and self- righteous. More concerned about outwardly obeying a list of rules, most of which God had never commanded than helping those who they were supposed to be leading.
To the Romans who were ruling Israel at the time the very idea of mercy was completely preposterous. One Roman philosopher called mercy the ‘disease of the soul’. It was a supreme sign of weakness. Mercy was a sign that you didn’t have what it takes to be a real man and especially a real roman. The Romans glorified courage, strict justice, firm discipline and absolute power. They looked down on mercy because to them, mercy was weakness and weakness was despised.
Has a lot changed today in our world? Ever watched The Apprentice when they know someone is going to get fired? Or witnessed someone being bullied in the yard at school?
READ MATTHEW 5
WHAT IS MERCY?
When we think of mercy, sometimes the image of a battle or a fight comes to mind.
I want you to imagine Zorro. Remember him? Cape, mask, crusader against injustice? Imagine Zorro in a fight. The winner will be the one who can overpower the other. Zorro has got his opponent on the floor, he’s about to stick his sword into him to finish him off and the defeated man shouts ‘Have mercy’ and because Zorro is really a good guy, he relents and the bad guy survives. We tend to think of it in those terms- the winner reluctantly gives the loser a second chance. But the word that is used in verse 7 is way bigger and more beautiful than that.
The word used is Eleeo (el-eh-eh-o). It’s used as a verb meaning to feel sympathy with the misery of another which leads to action on behalf of another.
It’s a lot bigger than feeling sorry for someone. It’s entering into the pain of someone and doing something to help alleviate it- most frequently in action, less frequently in word. A feeling deep down inside that spurs you into action on behalf of another.
I don’t know about you but I find this a real challenge. It’s relatively easy to feel sorry for people. To sympathise with them. But eleeo takes it to another level. Its acting in order to help relieve that misery. That’s a completely different ball game isn’t it? It can be messy. It can be time consuming. It can be inconvenient. It costs. But, as Tristan said the other week, the beatitudes are a way of colouring in or adding detail to what Jesus says is the way to be salt and light. So this beatitude shows us how being salt and light, how the kingdom of God demonstrates itself in our dealings with others.
So where else has this word eleeo been used in scripture?
Most often when Jesus heals someone.
Matthew 9: 27. Healing of 2 blind men. They cry out to Jesus “Have mercy on us Son of David”. What does Jesus do? Does he say “Oh you poor things. It’s awful that you’re blind. Be blessed. I’ll pray for you?” NO! He is filled with compassion and heals them. He does something to alleviate their suffering.
Again in Matthew 15:22 with the Canaanite woman whose daughter was demon possessed. “Have mercy on me O Lord”. Same word.
Again in Matthew 17: 15 where Jesus heals a boy that nowadays we would say has epilepsy. “Lord have mercy on my son”.
What they’re really saying is “Lord please enter into the misery of this person that I love and do something about it”.
We might think- well that’s quite right and proper that Jesus shows mercy to these people but that’s not me. Not at all. In Hebrews 2:14-18 the writer is explaining about Jesus being our great high priest and he uses the same root word but as the word merciful.
READ Hebrews 2:14-18
Verse 17 is worth another read. 'For this reason, he (Jesus) 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.'
It’s not just that Jesus felt sorry for us but Jesus became like us in order to enter into the pain that being human often brings.
Why? So he could become our high priest. He could represent us before the Father. So he could make atonement for our sins.
Why? Because just like the people to whom Jesus showed mercy (eleeo) to in order to heal them, - something they couldn’t do themselves, he has done something for us that we could never do ourselves- he has shown mercy to us by taking our sin and nailing it to the cross.
I’m reminded of that Matt Redman song: 'Who alone could save themselves, their own souls to heal. Our shame was deeper than the sea, your grace is deeper still. You alone can rescue, you alone can save, you alone can lift us from the grave. You came down to find us, led us out of death, to you alone belongs the highest praise.'
Through the cross and his resurrection, Jesus showed us the utmost eleeos mercy of God by once and for all sorting out the pain of separation from God that sin and death brings.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE MERCIFUL?
What we’re going to look at first is what being merciful isn’t. In Matthew 25: 31-46 Jesus talks about how there will be a judgement like the separation of sheep and goats. What does Jesus say? Let’s look at verse 34-36:
'Then the King will say to those on his right, “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 ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” '
If you look at these verses out of context you could be mistaken into thinking that this was a checklist of deeds that we are going to have to prove we’ve done in order to get into heaven. But we’ve just heard the truth that Jesus became our merciful high priest for the precise reason that our good deeds CAN’T earn us a place in heaven. So what can it mean?
Being merciful isn’t a way to gain favour with God. It’s not a means to be saved, but it is evidence of our salvation.
What does James, Jesus’ brother say on the matter? Quite a lot!
James 2:14-18: 'What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.'
So if being merciful, showing mercy, is a result of our salvation, a result of experiencing Christ’s immense mercy to us who couldn’t save ourselves, how can we show that mercy in our daily lives, how can we be merciful?
Being merciful is deciding to forgive the things that offend us--whether a person has intentionally or unintentionally caused that offence. It’s hard isn’t it not to be offended and then even harder not to stew over that offence in our mind. What causes us to be offended? Is it not a pride issue that tells us that we are too good to be treated in such a way? What’s the antidote? Look again at the first beatitude. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Those that understand their desperate need of God because we recognise that we are just as sinful as the person who’s offended us and we also are in need of God’s mercy.
It is deciding to assume the best of someone and not the worst. To give people the benefit of the doubt.
When in a position to exercise power over others, we don’t, unless by doing so we are better able to protect or help them.
If we have a naturally forceful personality, we don’t take advantage of it to get our way.
We are sensitive to those who maybe have not had the same opportunities as us and we look for opportunities to empower them and help them grow into their own strengths and gifts.
We hold back from making comments that will cause others to feel embarrassment, shame or discomfort.
When we must confront another person we don’t enjoy it. We don’t feel it’s just a case of “getting this off my chest” or “setting them straight.” A merciful person feels the pain of the one they must confront, and if something needs to be said they say it as gently as possible. Think about the third beatitude. Blessed are the meek. To be merciful is choosing not to assert ourselves as being right when we make judgements about someone else, but to trust God to direct the person.
Being merciful is showing God’s love to those who maybe have never experienced it, maybe to those who reject us or ridicule us. Why? Because we have grasped the gut wrenching mercy that God feels towards them.
Think about the 4th beatitude – hungering and thirsting for righteousness, it is longing for Jesus’ righteous character to be displayed in our lives because we have grasped how much mercy we ourselves have received.
It is helping someone in a practical way, even if that might inconvenience us, even if it might be financially detrimental, even if it might mess up our carefully constructed calendars.
Think of the parable of the good Samaritan. This story Jesus told, perfectly encapsulates four aspects of mercy:
First, it sees the need, the hurt and distress and feels compassion. The Samaritan saw the man beat up, lying on the road and his heart went out to him. Noticeably, the ‘religious’ people who knew what the Torah commanded saw the same situation but reacted in a different way.
Secondly, mercy acts and provides practical help. What does the Samaritan do? He bandaged the man’s wounds, set him on his own animal, took him to an inn and took care of him.
Thirdly, mercy immediately helps and often goes above and beyond what is needed. He took a detour to an inn so the person could be taken care of- probably inconvenient to him. It might have also delayed his journey so his schedule had to alter. He paid for the man’s board and lodging which may have been financially detrimental to him.
And fourthly, mercy acts even when the person in distress is an enemy. The Samaritans were half breed Jews and were hated by the Jews. Often the feeling was mutual. So what was the reason the good Samaritan acted in this way? Did he do it to get some sort of reward? To get brownie points? No! Slap bang in the middle of Luke 10: 33 is this phrase: when he saw him, he took pity (eleeos) on him.
The only reason the Good Samaritan did all those things, his only motivation was that the eleeos of God was in him.
In our week of prayer and fasting we had a prayer walk. Laura, Rebecca and myself walked around the streets around the church and it forcefully struck me once again that if our mission statement of Jesus at the centre of our lives, our church, our community and our world is going to be more than a catchy slogan they we need to get to know the people who live in the community around the church. How can we demonstrate the eleeos mercy of God to Fishpool?
I read a line in a commentary on Romans the other day that has haunted me since. If you or your church disappeared tonight, would the community around you notice?
Reaching out into our community is a priority for us and there are going to be opportunities for us to get involved in that in the next few weeks and months
So what is mercy? Mercy is compassion in action.
Why are we called to be merciful? Because we have and are continually being shown mercy. God is merciful to us. In his love for us he became like us. Jesus, in his mercy, entered into the mess of human life to show compassion with action to the sick, the marginalised and supremely to die to atone for our sins.
In my study of Romans, I’ve re-realised how sinful I am. How in need of God’s grace and mercy I am. How great is the love and mercy that God has poured out on me that I should be declared justified because of what Jesus did for me on the cross- just as if I’ve never sinned. And because God’s mercy is continually being poured out on us, we are to share his eleeos with others.
Proverbs 3: 3 in the amplified version says this:
'Do not let mercy and kindness and truth leave you [instead let these qualities define you]; Bind them [securely] around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart.'
I love that, don’t you? Imagine a beaded necklace round your neck. Instead of precious stones that we might view as valuable, the beads are qualities that the Lord sees as of eternal worth: mercy, kindness and truth.
Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy