Summary: Believers have the wonderful privilege of showing God's mercy to others-and the responsibility.
Living A Merciful Life
Landing on the bleak Massachusetts shore at Plymouth in December of 1620, the Pilgrims had to endure a desperate winter. It was a winter filled with hunger-a winter in which about half of them died. As luck would have it though, there was an Indian in the area by the name of Squanto who spoke English. He had been kidnapped in 1615 by an English sea captain who took him to Spain, but he soon escaped and made his way back to England. By 1619, he had made his way to America where he stayed. To the Pilgrims, he was “a special instrument sent of God for their good.” Not only did he serve as an interpreter but he also showed them the best places to fish, how to plant, and how to cultivate. They worked hard, got their crops in the ground, had a bountiful harvest the following November, and invited their Indian neighbors to a Thanksgiving feast.
It is wonderful and refreshing to have mercy shown to us by others and then to show mercy in return. This is the way things should work in our interaction with others. And mercy is the subject of the next Beatitude and the next rung on the ladder that leads to happiness. Now we can’t start with this Beatitude and expect to find happiness. It must be preceded by obedience to the others Jesus has already issued.
Jesus reminds us that the foundation for a relation with him is to see our spiritual poverty apart from him. We must recognize our need for him. To this we add a mournful spirit as we mourn over our sin, the sins of others and sin in general as it is expressed in our world. Then we must be willing to free ourselves from a vengeful and vexing spirit that looks out for our own selfish interests and forgets about others. To this we must add a hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Christ. We must desire a lifestyle that is pleasing to him.
Oswald Chambers, in his book My Utmost for His Highest, says; “The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of rules and regulations; it is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting His way with us.”
In our passage, Christ incorporates the idea of mercy into his Sermon on the Mount. He tells us that if we are going to be happy, we must show mercy to others as he has shown mercy to us. The first four Beatitudes have dealt with inner principles, but the last four concern the outward manifestation of those inner principles. Those who realize their spiritual poverty apart from Christ will naturally be merciful to others. Those who recognize the horribleness of sin will naturally strive for purity of heart. Those who do not seek retaliation or revenge will naturally be peacemakers. Those who strive to live lives characterized by the holiness of God will not be surprised when others persecute them in some way. Mercy then is not an option but an attribute that God expects to characterize his people.
THE MEANING OF MERCY
When Jesus says we must be merciful, he means that we must be charitable or beneficial to others. We are to show compassion. We are to help those who are helpless and care for those who are afflicted with the pains and problems of this world. This attitude of concern will motivate us to reach out to the hurting.
The greatest example of what Jesus is talking about can be found in his own example of going to the cross to pay the debt for the sins of humanity. Beyond that, it is found in the mercy that he shows us day by day.
In our showing of mercy to others, we must be careful of the motives and intentions that are behind our acts. We must not perform merciful acts because we have a guilty conscience or because we have some ulterior motives. When we reach out to help those who are less fortunate, we should not do it because we have a guilty conscience. Such acts must come from a heart of love, not guilt.
Neither are we to be merciful simply to impress people. We must not perform our deeds of mercy and then announce to the world what we have done. Our motive should not be praise from them. We should not look for a pat on the back. Jesus said if that is the attitude with which we perform our acts of mercy that is all the praise we will get. We must perform our merciful acts out of love for God and others.
Jesus faced a lack of mercy and a complete misunderstanding of mercy by many that lived in his time. The typical teaching of the day was to love those who loved you and hate those who hated you. But Jesus taught that such an attitude was to be as bad as the worst sinner. There is no reward in that kind of lifestyle.