The Benefits of Showing Mercy

The Beatitudes - The Benefits of Showing Mercy  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  28:21
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The Benefits of Showing Mercy
Matthew 5:7
There is a story about a politician, who decided to have publicity pictures made for his campaign. So he hired a photographer to come into his office and get pictures of him at his desk. On the day of the shoot, he wore his best suit, a brand new tie, and he even clipped a little American flag pin on his lapel. He had his hair cut, (what there was of it) trimmed and styled that morning. He wanted to look his best for the pictures because they would go on his mailings and poster.
And after different poses and angles, the photographer finished taking his photos and packed up his gear. And the politician asked when the proofs would be ready so he could start having all of his campaign materials printed. And the guy told him that they would be ready in just a couple of days and that he would have his assistant drop them off at his office. And he could call and let them know which ones, he wanted.
Two days went by and as promised, the assistant showed up at the man’s office with a sealed envelope with all the proofs in it and left it with his assistant. Now, this politician couldn’t wait to see himself, so he tore open the envelope, and his expression darkened with each photo that he viewed. Disgusted, he stuffed the pictures back in the envelope, grabbed his coat and went to his car.
He drove way too quickly over to the photographer’s studio, went inside and asked to see the man who took his pictures. When the man eventually came to the front desk, the politician threw the photos down onto the table and asked “What’s the meaning of this?”
Are you trying to wreck my campaign? Are you working for the other guy who is running for office? These photos that you took don’t do me justice.
And that poor man, looking at each of the photos that he had taken, turned to face that furious man and said, “Sir, trust me, you don’t want justice. You want mercy.”
And that is something that I think is true in life today. We want justice. We want social justice. We want legal justice. We want political justice. And what we are really saying when we push for those things is that we want people to get what they deserve. We want them to get what is coming to them. We want some wrong to be made right.
And most of the time, when we push for justice, it will benefit someone and probably be not so good for someone else. If you push for justice in a legal case – someone is going to win and someone is going to lose.
And as much as justice is a good thing, for the most part; we need something more than that because in the end we don’t really need justice. We need mercy.
And as we continue through this series with the beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5, mercy is going to be our topic this morning.
As we look at what it means to be merciful, we come to a transition from the first four, which focus on our need –
We are bankrupt in spirit, and broken with grief, which leads to meekness and an insatiable hunger and thirst for righteousness – for Him. We now move from our need, to what we need to do; from belief to behavior; from our situation, our condition to our responsibility.
Let’s pray before we read Matthew 5:7.
Matthew 5:7 ESV
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
So, the first big question is how do we define mercy? Merriam Webster defines mercy as:
Mercy noun
mer·​cy | \ ˈmər-sē
plural mercies
1a : compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power also : lenient or compassionate treatment
The main Hebrew word for mercy speaks of an emotional response to the needs of others. It means to feel the pain of another so deeply that we’re compelled to do something about it. In fact, people in Bible times believed that the seat of emotions was found in your gut. That’s why the King James Version uses the phrase, “bowels of mercy” to translate it.
William Barclay defines mercy this way: “To get inside someone’s skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings; to move in and act on behalf of those who are hurting.”
This idea of this is really captured in Matthew chapter 14. Right before Jesus feeds the five thousand, 14:14 reads:
Matthew 14:14 ESV
When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
The word “compassion” means that Jesus was so moved that His stomach churned, or literally, “his bowels yearned” for the crowd. And that churning in his stomach led Him to do something about it. He saw the need and then He went into action.
Mercy as an idea or in theory is absolutely meaningless. Mercy must move us. In addition, the emphasis in this beatitude is on those who are inclined to show mercy as a lifestyle, not those who are merciful on an occasional basis.
I like Chuck Swindoll’s definition: “Mercy is God’s ministry to the miserable.”
Mercy is one of the most wonderful characteristics of God. Scripture constantly reminds us that our God is a merciful God. He is great, He is rich in mercy. We can come to him because of his mercy. Micah chapter 7 tells us:
Micah 7:18–19 ESV
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
And when we show mercy, when we are merciful, when we are compassionate towards others, we are never more like God. When we show mercy, we are modeling the attitude that Jesus even commanded of us in Luke 6:36:
Luke 6:36 ESV
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
You need to be merciful because your father is. But not just a little bit. Not just some of the time or when you feel like it. You have to be merciful just like him.
Jesus’s half-brother James wrote some very strong words in the second chapter of his letter:
James 2:12–13 ESV
So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Jesus demonstrated mercy throughout his ministry and he expects his followers to as well.
And one of the things that a lot of us are guilty of is being merciless to those who sin differently than we do. We know our sins. But we think that the sins of other people are so much worse than those around us. Admit it. We do.
I know that I’m a sinner. But at least I don’t live the way that they do. I don’t do the things that they do. We come down so hard on some sins and we start judging the people who commit them. And a lot of times, the people who are the guiltiest of this are the most religious.
On two different occasions in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 to show that mercy is a required and not an option. In the first instance found in Matthew 9:13, Jesus confronts those who were judging Him for spending time with a bunch of sinners at Matthew’s house:
Matthew 9:13 ESV
Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In Matthew 12, the Pharisees play “gotcha” with Jesus when they catch the disciples doing something wrong by picking some grain on the Sabbath. Jesus takes these religious experts back to Hosea in order to show that they are missing the magnificence of mercy.
Matthew 12:7 ESV
And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.
If the religious people back then needed to learn that God desires mercy above any sacrifice that can be made, then I suspect that you and I need to be taught how to be merciful as well. You see, it’s our nature to criticize and withhold forgiveness. It’s also way too natural for us to ignore real needs when we see them because we’re wrapped up in our own little world.
Jesus told two parables to help us understand the two sides of mercy. The first one is found in Matthew 18 and emphasizes the need to extend forgiveness because in God’s mercy, He has forgiven us. Mercy releases the debt. The second narrative is found in Luke 10 and is known as the story of the Good Samaritan. In this account, Jesus establishes that our feelings of compassion must come out in action. Mercy restores the downtrodden.
We could say it this way:
Mercy is both forgiveness for the guilty and compassion for the suffering.

Releasing the debt

Matthew 18:21 ESV
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Before Jesus could answer, Peter responded to his own question by suggesting that seven times would be a good limit. The rabbis back then taught that you had to forgive someone three times and then you could retaliate, you could treat them like an enemy, you could get even.
Peter doubled that and added one for good measure. As Jesus often does, his answer to Peter was unexpected and disarming.
Matthew 18:22 ESV
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Seventy seven means there is no limit to the number of times we are to forgive someone because we can’t keep score when it comes to forgiveness. Mercy has about it a maddening quality because by definition it is undeserved, unmerited, and unfair. Since the truth of forgiveness without limits is hard for us to grasp, Jesus told a story to help illustrate what He meant.
Matthew 18:23–24 ESV
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
The king sent out his collection agents and they came back with a man who owed the equivalent of about $25 million.
Matthew 18:25 ESV
And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.
At this point, the servant did what most of us would have done.
Matthew 18:26–27 ESV
So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
The king was moved. He was filled with compassion (it says “out of pity” but it is the same word in Greek). The king not only sets him free, he also releases the debt. And that is exactly what mercy is all about. To extend mercy is to cancel the debt. The servant did not deserve this forgiveness; it was purely an act of mercy on the part of the king.
As this humbled man walked away with this wonderful gift of forgiveness, he ran into a buddy who owed him about 10 bucks. Instead of canceling the debt, he grabbed him and began to choke him saying, “Pay what you owe me!”
Jesus continues by telling us that the forgiven man’s friend fell to his knees and asked for some mercy. In fact, his plea was almost identical to the other man’s when he was before the king: “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.”
But, there’s one big difference. Instead of forgiving the wrong out of gratitude for the forgiveness he had received, verse 30 says,
Matthew 18:30 ESV
He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
We’re a lot like this man when we don’t forgive others. We enjoy putting people in prison when they wrong us because we want them to suffer and to hurt as bad as they hurt us. Word got around and soon everyone was talking about it. It wasn’t the fact that the man would not forgive his friend that shocked them. It was that he was so unforgiving after having found such mercy himself.
The king is really mad now. He sends his soldiers to bring the man before him.
Matthew 18:32–34 ESV
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.
What happened to that man will happen to each of us unless we learn to give mercy and forgive wrongs. Anger and bitterness will eat your insides out, as you lie awake at night stewing over every wrong that someone has done to you.
When we chose to not forgive, we are imprisoned in the past and locked out of all potential for change. Have you ever noticed that some of the most miserable people in the world are those who are unwilling to be merciful?
The first half of showing mercy is to release the debts of those who have done wrong.

Restoring the downtrodden

The second part has to do with restoring those who are downtrodden. In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to a lawyer’s question in which he was looking for a loophole, a legal limit so he would know who he had to help and who he could ignore: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers by saying that a man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, a distance of 22 miles. This road winds through the mountains and was known as the “bloody way” because thieves and terrorists used it to ambush unsuspecting travelers. That’s exactly what happened one day as robbers attacked a man, stripped him of his clothes and left him half dead.
This story gives us a very vivid picture of the four dimensions of mercy.

We notice the need

This is always the first step. We must notice someone in need before we will do anything about meeting that need. The priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan all “saw” the man, but only one perceived a person in trouble:
Luke 10:31–32 ESV
Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Both of these religious men had come from God’s presence but somehow God’s presence never got through to them.
Luke 10:33 ESV
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.
Do you see the needs around you? Here’s a simple prayer that will help each of us, “Lord, let me see people through your eyes.”

We feel it

All three saw the need but only the Samaritan felt the need: “he had compassion.” Someone put it this way: “Mercy begins when your hurt comes into my heart.”
He was shaken up when he saw the man who was beaten down.
If anyone should care in this world, it should be Christians. It should be us.

We need to act

The Samaritan saw the need, felt for the man, and then went into action. We see this in verse 34: “he went to him…” True mercy always involves motion. Some of us see needs and shake our heads. Others of us feel bad for those in pain. And those who actually move to meet needs are demonstrating mercy.

We need to care

When the Samaritan had a notion that something was wrong, he was moved in his emotions, he went into motion, and then he demonstrated devotion as he bandaged the man’s wounds, put him on his own donkey (which meant he had to walk), took him to an inn and took care of him.
The next day, he gave the innkeeper two silver coins, which represented two days’ wages in the first century. He even promised to come back and take care of any extra expenses. Someone said, “His help was prompt, thorough, generous, self-denying, to his own discomfort, and at his own expense.”
Jesus changes the question from “Who is my neighbor?” to, “Whose neighbor am I?” The first question focuses on the claim that others have on my time and resources. The second question reframes reality to what I owe to the suffering people all around me. The issue is one of character, not of criteria; about being a neighbor, not defining a neighbor.
The answer comes in verse 37:
Luke 10:37 ESV
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Your neighbor is anyone in need. And, you are a neighbor when you show mercy to the downtrodden. Will you walk on by? Start with the need that is near and you will be reminded of the nearness of Jesus in your own life. Mercy always demands that we do something.
Jesus declares that those who are merciful “will be shown mercy.” This is the only Beatitude where the promise is the same as the condition. The more we understand how much mercy we’ve received, the more we’ll give to others; and the more mercy we show, the more mercy we get.
The reason the merciful will receive mercy is that they have already received mercy, and that is the very thing that makes them merciful. Instead of judging others, we can offer people something they don’t deserve: unqualified mercy. We give them what we have obtained and in so doing, as Gary Thomas states, “We complete the circle, applying mercy to those who need it as desperately as we do.”
Warren Wiersbe writes:
“Mercy cannot be earned any more than grace can be earned. When you experience mercy and share mercy, then your heart is in such a condition that you can receive more mercy to share with others…how thrilling it is to go through life sharing God’s mercy and not having to judge people to see if they are ‘worthy’ of what we have to offer. We stop looking at externals and begin to see people through the merciful eyes of Christ.”
Let’s quickly look at two ways to put this into practice this week.

Who do you need to release from debt, forgive today?

Forgiveness is the virtue we most enjoy but least employ. Nothing proves more clearly that we have been recipients of mercy than our own readiness to forgive.

What downtrodden person can you restore this week?

You don’t necessarily have to go looking for someone because God will bring people along your path. What will you do? Will you be a taker, a keeper, or a giver? Determine right now to move from notion to emotion to motion to devotion.
We all need mercy. And the sooner we admit it, the better off we’ll be. When God takes our picture, we don’t want justice. What we should cry out for is mercy.
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