Mercy: The Disposition of the Kingdom of God
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” This verse has been looked at in many different ways. One legalistic approach says the only way we will receive mercy is by being merciful. This is not what Jesus is saying.
What is mercy? And how does it differ from grace? In the Bible the words are often used interchangeably. Grace is a loving response when loving is undeserved. Mercy is a loving response prompted by the misery and helplessness of the one who receives mercy. Mercy exists when something is done to alleviate distress. Mercy is given (to us) to be shared.
Mercy weds God’s severe obligation to justice with the loving warmth of personal action. Mercy explains how a loving and holy God can relate to sinners without compromising his righteousness. People think of the kingdom of God as a severe place, but it’s the opposite.
MERCY IN ACTION
1. Compassion ― Jesus doesn’t name a specific category of people for whom it’s OK to demonstrate mercy. Rather, his parable of the Good Samaritan defines mercy for us. To be a “neighbor” is to take action to assist the hungry, the sick, those who sin against us. The Samaritan did not deal with the cause of the man’s misfortune by chasing the robbers. Nor did he complain about society’s failure and the need for the government to do something to fix it. He stopped and cared for the immediate need in front of him.
Mercy relieves the consequences of sin in the lives of others, both the sinned against and those who sin. Do you first point out others’ sin against you before you show them mercy? I do. I want you to know exactly what you’ve done, and how merciful I am being in showing you mercy. But that’s not mercy, that’s self-righteousness. Mercy is given to be shared.
In Jesse’s message last week we saw there is a legitimate place for responding righteously to injustice and being outraged at sin. But these are not mercy. Mercy is compassion for the sinner, the outcast, the suffering.
2. Forgiveness ― Then there’s Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers. The only reason they didn’t kill him wasn’t because of mercy, but because some Midianite traders came along, and the oldest brother was afraid of how murdering Joseph would affect Jacob, their dad. Later, when famine struck the land, the brothers came to Joseph in Egypt and stood before him “at his mercy.” They didn’t recognize him, but Joseph recognized them. He felt compassion toward them and wept for them, but then he did something. He extended forgiveness: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good… So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:20-21).
We show mercy as we have received mercy, from a kind a merciful God. Nothing enables us to forgive but our awareness that we have been given forgiveness. The merciful servant is not a picture of giving mercy to receive it, but of receiving mercy and therefore showing it. Mercy takes action. It does something.
1. God is merciful ― Luke also recorded the Beatitudes, and Luke 6:27-36, about mercy, is his first explanation of them. Jesus says, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Jesus is saying, “Be kind to the ungrateful and wicked (which is us), because your Father is merciful toward you.” Mercy describes the disposition of how God relates to us. It provides a new vocabulary for how we are to relate to others: forbearance, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. God had compassion and pity on lost sinners. Yes, the cross answered God’s justice, but his motivation was compassion: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The cross makes mercy real because it defines its meaning. God did not treat us as we deserved. We deserved his anger and judgment. But we received kindness, forgiveness and mercy. God is rich in mercy.
2. Be merciful ― Mercy transforms our desire to win a battle to a desire to represent Christ. How we relate to each other in our sin reveals how well we have grasped the gospel. Are you merciful to your spouse? To your kids? Our God is a merciful God; and the citizens of his kingdom must be merciful.
WHAT DOES MERCY LOOK LIKE IN OUR LIVES?
1. Kindness expressed ― God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked (Luke 6:35). Kindness is applied compassion in thought, word and deed. We move toward those in sin, those who are weak and helpless. We display kindness. We should look very different from the world.
2. Forbearance for Sin ― Forbearance is not ignoring a wrong but choosing to overlook an offense, to wipe the slate clean. Cleansing the conscience is not our job; it’s the work of the Spirit. Forbearance is proactive forgiveness. It’s agreeing that if, in our sin, we didn’t get what we deserve, we are not going to hold others in their sin. I’m not going to hold you hostage to your sin. It doesn’t mean we remove correction, but we do it from a motive of mercy. We look to connect the person to the Savior.
3. Sympathetic toward Weakness ― We encounter each other’s humanity, imperfection and sinfulness. Mercy is sympathy toward the weak. Mercy says, “I understand weakness because I have weakness.” Sometimes a person’s change can be so slow. We think, "Are you ever going to change?" But because of the cross, weakness becomes the place for patience. How do your respond to the limitations of your spouse? Of your children? Mercy is given to be shared. In Luke 6:35, Jesus promises, “your reward will be great.” He is not promising to change our enemies, but to change us into sons of God. It’s about relationship with him. We want to be merciful as he is merciful.
Mercy sweetens all it touches. It blesses those who receive it and those who give it. Take all the mercy you can get and give it to others. Listen to the entire sermon here.
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