|A Study of the Sermon on the Mount (Part Five)|
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Matthew 5:7 (NKJV)
"Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever." 1Chronicles 16:34 (NKJV)
The world craves mercy; it hangs precariously on it. We find ourselves in trials, and somehow we get through them, because of God’s mercy. Even if we do not know God, His mercy is extended to us again and again in His courtship of us. God’s goodness radiates His mercy, and it is new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). We see evidences of it in our lives even in our darkest moments – especially in our darkest moments. Troubles may abound, but if we are watchful for His mercies, we will see them in the details of our lives. Cataclysmic events we thought were beyond our tensile strength to endure, we survive with the promise that with Him we can do all things.
Mercy is a glimpse of the sweetness of Christ, a revelation of His divine concern for us, a glimmer of the shimmering radiance of heaven, a dewdrop from the ocean of God’s forgiveness. All the money and trinkets in the world cannot buy it, and all the material wealth in the world is not equal to it. Happiness cannot exist without mercy, and misery and fear cannot be vanquished when it is absent. Without mercy we cannot enter into the kingdom of God – no good works we perform can earn it. It is the crown jewel of God’s love – the brilliant diamond in Christ’s crown, appearing as a thorn to a world blinded by sin, it is saving grace for the Christian.
Without it the world is hopeless, and the death sentence pronounced by the curse of sin is incurable. With it, the vilest sinner can rejoice, creation finds the silver lining, and each of us secures a reservation in a land where God will wipe away every tear. Oh, the wonder of it! How great the joy that bubbles up in our hearts as we consider it and realize the treasure grove that has been opened for us because of it. How God’s love is magnified by it, how magnificent it becomes when we realize that the impossible has become possible because of it. The book He has written is filled with it; wisdom is given to us because of it, and we are called from foolishness by its power. When we repent, it becomes ours as clearly as if it were written in the sky in golden letters. Yes, our eternal destiny hangs on the utterance of a few simple words – "God be merciful to me a sinner! (Luke 18:13).
Where mercy is not elevated, a society is miserable. A culture that lacks mercy is one in which people become hardened and cruel, and because they have been treated harshly themselves, they desire to take their anger out on others. Where mercy is absent, people refuse to forgive, and bitterness grows up wrapping it tentacles around their hearts, giving them ambition for revenge. Where mercy is ignored, life is severe and suffocating, and the pain of it manifests itself in a thousand miserable ways. Where mercy is expunged, so is godliness, for the essence of mercy is God’s love.
Blessed are the Merciful
To understand the full relevance of the beatitudes, we need to comprehend the fact that they take an ultra position on the Christian’s behavior – they challenge us to God-like behavior. The Greek language reveals the extremity of this challenge, and brings us to a greater understanding of why we fall so short of divine perfection. We may easily throw around the word mercy, but in grasping the depth of this terse saying of Christ we will find that humankind has a long, long way to go to achieving the construct of mercy that Jesus describes. We are admonished by His words regarding the shallowness of our commitment to other people. Compared to Divine mercy, our shortcomings in this area bring us to an awful realization of our own utter selfishness.
However, God does not reveal this to us to make us feel inadequate. Rather, it is unveiled so that by contrast we may know the depth of God’s love for us, so that when we read, "His mercy endures forever," the profoundness of these words, the realization of God’s care for us, and the appreciation of His perfect concern will become manifest in our hearts. As we glimpse His great compassion, He beckons, saying, this is the type of behavior I am seeking to instill in you. This is the standard which I hold up, and which you consider impossible. However, remember that with Me all things are possible.
"Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’" Mark 9:23 (NKJV)
The words of Christ, and this inordinate mercy that He speaks of, are at variance with the world and its way of thinking, and are also opposed to our own flesh. There is no common ground, nor is there an understanding from the world, as to why a person should show the exceedingly deep and excessive mercy that Jesus speaks of. The Greek word for mercy here is eleemon, but it is translated from the Hebrew word, checed, which essentially means to identify with someone’s difficulty. It is sympathy in the deepest sense. Sympathy is comprised of two Greek words, syn, which means "together with," and paschein, which means "to experience" or "to suffer." And so the identification with the person suffering is to such an extreme that we are to endeavor to feel it ourselves, so that we may in some manner comfort that person.
There may not be many of us who are so concerned with others that we would undertake to feel things the way they do – especially if the person is in a hospital bed with terminal cancer. Our normal reaction to such things is to express our condolences, and then get the matter out of our minds. But Christ’s compassion goes much, much further. It asks us to essentially get into the shoes or the skin of that suffering person, and feel as he does. It invites us to identify with that person in a transcendent way so that we might bear some of his or her pain – might help carry the burden through intercession in prayer and be a consolation because of our deep concern.
The zenith of the matter, the quintessential truth of it, is found and exemplified in what Jesus Christ did for us. For through supernatural means He chose to take on human flesh, and suffer in our predicament, which was the deepest expression of concern possible. It was the greatest act of mercy the world has ever known. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…" John 1:14. Moreover, not only did He become as we are, He suffered so that we might escape the fate that was imminently ours.
In Hebrews 13:3 we see another admonition to identify with victims in this manner:
"Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also."
We might question this and wonder what good it does to identify in such a manner, especially for people whom we have never met. The answer is that God would not ask us, except that there is a spiritual dynamic that occurs when we obey Him. Perhaps we might consider it as a catalyst that causes a wondrous chemical reaction. Something of eternal significance, something that moves the heavens and perhaps changes the course of history, something that brings the power of the Messiah into a world that does not recognize His nail scarred hands, something that makes a sublime spiritual difference, undoubtedly occurs with such dedication for another.
Show Mercy through Your Works
This word, checed, also stresses pity in action rather than just existing in thought. As in James, where we read that faith without works is dead, we find that mercy without action is fruitless. We may have money in our pocket, but it will buy nothing until we take in out and spend it. We may have mercy in our heart, and the best of intentions, but if we fail to make the sacrifice of applying it in real life, it is useless. We cannot claim to be merciful in the least, if it is not revealed through our actions.
"If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?’" James 2:15-16 (NKJV)
"But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil." Luke 6:35 (NKJV)
Give and it Shall Be Given
How altruistic we may believe showing mercy is – how self-sacrificing. However, there happens to be something in it for us, by the way. The other spiritual dynamic that occurs when we show mercy to others, is that we receive it from God. However, if after we receive it we are not willing to give mercy to others, we will find ourselves in a dangerous position with God. In the parable of the man who received forgiveness of debt, but then sought to press one who owed him a small amount, we find that his forgiveness was retracted. He lost the mercy he was granted, because he refused to treat others likewise.
In counseling those who are depressed or unhappy about something in their lives, there appears over and over again a solution that never fails. When they get their minds off their own problems and begin to shoulder the burden for others, and concern themselves with others, their own depression is alleviated. There is no greater cure. When we have a pity party, rest assured that there are demons in attendance, for the self-absorbed soul feeds on itself without satisfaction. Until we live for others, our spiritual lives will be slow to prosper, and until we give mercy, we will never receive it from God in the measure He wishes to bestow it. Let us consider that living for others is the same as living for God, because when we do things for the least of our brethren, we do them for Christ (Matthew 25:40).
Crime and Punishment
What then do we say about criminals who murder and get the death penalty or are sentenced to life in prison? Is the government wrong not to allow mercy in such cases? Should we rather let criminals off with a slap on the wrist? Not in the least. We must not misunderstand the roles of the different authorities that God has placed in society. As individuals we are not to seek revenge, but the Bible is clear that the government is vested with the authority and the duty to punish lawbreakers. Moreover, it clearly indicates that under the New Covenant capital punishment is a legitimate penalty.
"For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake."Romans 13:3-5 (NKJV)
God would not allow leaders to "bear the sword" if it were not legitimate to use it. Additionally, the Apostle Paul speaks of acquiescing to capital punishment, which he would not have agreed to if it were against God’s laws.
"For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar." Acts 25:11 (NKJV)
To reiterate, if God’s mercy demanded that a person never be put to death for any offense, one can be certain that the Apostle Paul would have instead said something like: "You may put me to death, but that is against God’s laws – no man should be put to death for any reason."
Where then is mercy in these situations? Are we as individuals supposed to show mercy, but is society exempt? No, there is mercy in the proper governance of penalties for crimes, and it can be seen in many facets. First, proper penalties are mercy to society, and justice is essentially mercy to victims. A country that will not punish its criminals has no mercy on its populace. It invites criminal behavior and even anarchy – and in the final analysis will bring forth its own destruction. Moreover, a lack of punishment for criminals shows no mercy to other potential offenders who might be deterred from crime by seeing an example of punishment, but are bold to commit crimes when they believe they can escape punishment. Lastly, a lack of punishment is ultimately bad for the perpetrator of the crime. The sentence from a human court is a shadow of the divine sentence of eternal hell, and many who have been punished have found forgiveness and salvation because they were caught. Incarcerating them also stops them from adding to their list of offenses. We have all heard of prisoners who say that if they were set free they would commit similar crimes again.
Mercy in the Mirror
As humans we typically have planks in our eyes as we dissect the behavior of others. Whatever their sins are, we probably consider them less serious than our own. Nevertheless, due to God’s mercy on us, the harder we are on others, the more we seem to fail ourselves. How many times have we spoken accusingly only to be reminded by the Holy Spirit that we are guilty of a similar transgression? For instance, when we find that someone has lied to us and we respond indignantly, do we then remember that we have lied ourselves at least a few times in the past? God’s mercy in showing us these things humbles us and causes us to have mercy on others. It is not to humiliate us, but to teach us to extend grace to those who fail. Mercy is the gateway to forgiveness, and this is why we read:
"Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another…" Colossians 3:12-13 (NKJV)
Mercy allows us to start over again when we have alienated our spouse or friend. Mercy means that God will intervene and do something that will help us, even though we have pitifully failed at something. Mercy means that as we age and see our bodies deteriorate and malfunction, we will get through the day, and eventually be delivered into a bright world where there is no more suffering or pain. Science tells us that sound waves do not cease to exist, but continue somewhere in the universe. However, mercy means that the things we have said which are wrong, the vain words, the gossiping words, the mean-spirited words, the lying words, the idle words, no matter how many thousands or millions of them there are, can be forgiven and no eternal record of them will endure. Mercy means I have a gift from God so valuable it cannot be measured – and He wants me to bestow it on others, so that they might enter the riches of His kingdom.
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