Summary: God enables those who have received mercy to witness to the gospel through deeds of mercy.
“Who is my neighbor?” “Who is my neighbor?” One of the most intriguing and studied questions ever asked. It all began when a religious leader, in order to test Jesus, asked: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus’ answer was simple, if impossible: “Obey the law and you will live. Love God, heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
But the man, desiring to justify himself, said: “And who is my neighbor?”
Today’s sermon is nine of twelve in a study of the church in Acts 2. We call it “dynamic” because of the two-fold meaning of that word. Dynamic means both living and active, both enthusiastic and powerful, both vigorous and purposeful. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that God’s Word is living and active, and so were Christians whose lives were transformed by that Word. As a result, they grew outwardly (in evangelism) and inwardly (in edification). And the world was awed, and the Christians had favor with all the people.
One reason they impressed a watching world was because the Word they preached was paired with a ministry of deed which proved their belief. It is that ministry of deed, witnessing to the power and effect of the gospel, which we consider today.
The question, “Who is my neighbor?” prompted Jesus to tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Because that account is so familiar and (at the same time) demands so much to understand and apply it correctly, I decided we should take a more direct path to the command to engage in mercy ministry. But I ask you to think about “Who is my neighbor?” so you could think on that as we hear Jesus from Luke 6. [Read Luke 6.27-36. Pray.]
The story is told of an Irish boxer who got converted and became a preacher. One day as he was setting up his tent for meetings, some local toughs came and began heckling him. One of them took a swing at the preacher and hit him on the cheek, knocking him down. He got up and pointed to his other cheek and said, “Jesus told me to offer you this one also.” So the guy clobbered him, knocking him down again. The boxer turned preacher rose slowly to his feet, took off his jacket, and said, “Jesus gave me no further instructions.” Pow!
We might not make such a silly mistake, but how do we apply Jesus’ teaching? It seems that many Christians simply ignore the words of the Lord, preferring to avoid people who might demand of us sacrifice and service. Why does Jesus raise the bar so far above our reach?
After the worship service we will hear from one of the directors of a ministry with which some of us will be involved beginning in the fall. One of their mottos is: “Tutor One Child, Change Two Lives.” That clever slogan points out that tutoring affects the one who gives as surely as the child who receives. There is much to be said about the benefits of mercy ministry, about the needs we might meet, about those who need extra help. (I think our guest will about that.) I want to focus, not on those who might receive your ministry, but on you who give.
I find that distinction significant in Jesus’ explanation of deeds of mercy. Many Christians feel that service must lead to evangelism in order to be good. But in Luke 6, Jesus promises no such result. In fact, he specifically commands that we love our enemies, do good to those who persecute, and lend to those who cannot repay, expecting nothing in return. Mercy—at least in this passage—mercy is not a means to another end; it is an end in itself. That end is what I hope we can explore today. To arrive there, please hear three things from Jesus.
1. We Must Give Mercy Even to the Undeserving (Luke 6.27-31)
Many Christians divide the poor into two categories: the “deserving” poor, whose poverty is not their responsibility, and the “undeserving” poor, whose poverty is due to their own sin and foolishness. But we must be careful of judging.
Jesus does not measure mercy by what is “deserved.” Love your enemies — they do not deserve it; do good to those who hate me — surely they have not earned my favor; bless those who curse — they are unworthy; pray for those who abuse — why should I ask God to help those who mistreat me? Give to everyone who begs — I would soon be as poor as any.
To understand Jesus’ point, we must hold two truths at the same time: mercy underserved which looks to change lives. This Biblical model is based on the grace which God gives. “God’s grace is not unconditional acceptance, but it is undeserved” (Tim Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 226). God does not save those worthy of his help; he makes friends out of enemies, and daughters out of strangers: we were enemies, so that his grace comes undeserved; we are made into friends, so that his grace has conditions.