Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Beatitudes - Blessed Are the Merciful

After a weekend and a one day delay, we are back into our series through the Sermon on the Mount today.  Last week we started in the beatitudes and today we are continuing on to the next one.
Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.  Matthew 5:7 NKJV
This is very much a natural progression for the beatitudes.  If you truly see yourself in your spiritual poverty, if you truly see you utter lack of righteousness before God, if you truly have that meek humble heart, and if you truly are filled with the righteousness of God, then you will naturally be merciful.  What Jesus is saying here is not that we must be merciful in order to obtain mercy, but that if you received the mercy of God you will naturally be merciful, and happy.  I have posted on this several times in the past, but just to review, when you truly see yourself for what you were and what God has forgiven you of, you will have no choice but to have that attitude towards others. 

So with that in mind, we need to discuss just what mercy is.  Mercy and grace are not the same.  Grace is just about the man and his sin whereas mercy takes that an extra step in that it is about having pity on a man in misery because of his sin.  The greatest example of the difference between grace and mercy can be seen in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Then Jesus answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  Luke 10:30 NKJV
In other words, this man was mugged.  He was robbed, nearly beaten to death, and left alone on the side of the road to die.  This is where we find this man.  He was severely wounded, naked, and penniless. 
Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.  Luke 10:31-32 NKJV
These so-called religious leaders had no mercy on this unfortunate man.  In fact, they made sure they stayed far away from him in walking to the other side of the road.  Maybe they thought he was a transient.  Maybe they thought he did something to deserve his fate.  Maybe they just did not want to get involved or get their hands dirty.  Who knows what the reason was, but they willfully avoided showing any mercy to this man. 
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.'  Luke 10:33-35 NKJV
This is an example of mercy.  Note the Samaritan did not care how the man got into the situation he was in, he just desired to help.  He used his own efforts, resources, and time to make sure this man was ministered to through his suffering.  Mercy is not just a feeling, but it an action. 

So what does the Parable of the Good Samaritan have to do with sin?  Before we come to Christ, we are all slaves to sin and sin is a ruthless taskmaster.  Sin will leave you naked and dying.  In fact, as we know, the wages of sin is death.  People under slavery to sin are miserable.  They may not realize their misery because they have nothing to compare it to, but those of us in Christ who have seen what we once were know very well the misery of sin.  Our concern needs to be for that misery and not their sin.  It is only by the grace of God that we are not in the position they are in. 

The best example I can think of for this is prison ministry. I was once part of adult and youth prison ministries and while the adult ministry was visiting and ministering to those who became Christian while in prison, the youth ministry was not.  Each and every week, I was part of a team that shared the love of God with gang members, drug dealers, sex offenders, thieves, and more.  Our job was not to chastise them for their crimes nor was it to rub in the consequences of their actions.  Our job was to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them.  I know I am pretty hard on other Christians in this blog, but I am not so with nonbelievers.  That is because Christians who sin are willfully rebelling against what they know to be ungodly whereas those outside the church are slaves to those activities.  The proof is in the numbers.  So many go right back to their old life as soon as they get out of prison.  They say they want to change.  They say the are reformed.  They say they want to turn their lives around.  And I am pretty sure that many of them mean it when they say it.  Some may even change for a brief time, but they ultimately return to their sin.  Even if not the one that sent them to prison, they turn to something else.  They can not help but to sin.  Sinners will sin, plain and simple. Their hearts will never change, unless God gives them a new one.  Their only hope of turning their lives around is by the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit working in their lives. 

That is where mercy comes in.  Some people commit horrendous crimes and for each horrendous crime there is a victim.  Sometimes we see that victim on the news.  Sometimes we know that victim.  Sometimes that victim is someone very close to us.  Sometimes we are that victim.  We feel that desire for justice and punishment well up in our hearts and we find ourselves wishing awful things to happen to that person.  We have dreams of them suffering immeasurably for their crimes.  That should not be our hearts at all.  We are not called to desire wrath against sinners, but to desire repentance.  We are called to pray for their salvation and not their pain.  We are called to minister to them, not to hurt them.  It was Jesus who told us to love our enemies, to willfully give up our things to a thief, to love those who hate us, and to bless those who curse us.  Those are not just "good ideas," but how we need to live our lives.  Jesus loved us enough to die for us while we were still his enemies. Jesus loved us even while we hated Him.  Jesus desires us to come to Him no matter what wicked evil blasphemous things we may say about Him. That is our example.  That is our calling.  If we continue to desire punishment for another while we were forgiven for our sin, we really do not understand the mercy of God.   This is mercy:
And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." and they divided His garments and cast lots. Luke 23:33-34 NKJV
And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.  Acts 7:59-60 NKJV
That, my friends, is mercy.  Jesus was in the middle of the most painful humiliating thing you can imagine and going through it when he was completely innocent not only of what he was charged with, but of anything.  Jesus never sinned.  He did not deserve any kind of death yet he was being killed and killed horribly.  Yet despite all of that, He did not cry out for justice or vengeance.  No, he cried out for forgiveness!  Would that be the first thing that came to your mind if you were going through that? 

Lest you think that Jesus is an unfair example being the Son of God and all, we also have Stephen. Stephen merely shared a truth that others did not want to hear.  He did nothing deserving punishment, let alone the unimaginable pain and having large rocks thrown at you until you die.  Yet he did not cry out for justice for vengeance.  He also cried out for forgiveness.  He was concerned for their soul and not his personal justice.  He, just a normal mortal man, exhibited mercy in the midst of a terrible ordeal. 

And that is what it all boils down to.  Mercy is about caring for the soul of another over the justice you think is due.  It is about selflessness.  It is about humility.  It is about sharing with the world the same mercy God shared with you when you finally came to the end of yourself.  How does that make one happy?  That is an easy one.  Anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness make any kind of happiness an impossibility.  Can you be bitter and happy at the same time?  Of course you can not.  On the other hand, when you are merciful and when you are able to get past yourself, happiness is possible.   Responding in love and mercy leads to happiness.  Being concerned for others leads for happiness.  Seeing Jesus turn someone's life around leads to happiness. 

It is more than that, though.  When Jesus cried out for forgiveness of his persecutors from the cross, he was not just asking for their forgiveness.  He was also asking for ours.  Jesus died on the cross not because the Romans put him there or that the Israelites called out for him to be there. He was on the cross for our sins.  Our sins put Jesus on the cross.  Well, more accurately, Jesus went to the cross because of our sins.  Jesus chose the cross so that our sins can be forgiven.  Jesus chose to suffer so that we may live.  Jesus saw our sins and rather than desiring eternal punishment for our wrongs, He desired our salvation.  We have that salvation.  We have that mercy and if that does not bring you joy or if that does not make you blessed, then I do not think you understand just what Jesus did for you.  It means you have never seen the poverty of your spirit or your complete and utter lack of you righteousness.  We deserve an eternity of unspeakable punishment for our wrongs before God, what can possibly have been done to us that deserves worse?  I know we like to think that there are, but that is only because we are too self-centered to think that sins against us are somehow worse than the sins we committed against God.  Blessed are the merciful indeed, for they truly have received and understood the mercy of God.
With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless;  Psalm 18:25 NKJV

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