Matthew 5, particularly looking at verse 7, Understanding the mercy of the Lord. As we look to the reading of God’s word, please join me and pray. God, you indeed are the source of all light. And by your word, you give light to our souls. So we ask that you pour out upon us the spirit of wisdom and understanding. That being taught by you in holy scripture, our hearts and our minds would be open to know all the things that pertain to life and holiness. And this we ask through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. Beginning in verse 1, seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him, and he opened his mouth and he talked them saying, Blessed are the poor and spirit for theirs to the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure and heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The word of the Lord, may you please be seated. We have a tendency to make everything binary, this or that. Now, scripture is more often both and. In the prophet Hosea, the Lord speaks of his mercy and compassion on his people, and he said, I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and mercy. And of the Lord, Psalm 89 says, Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. Steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. And as we look to this morning’s beatitude, the choice before us is not either mercy or justice. The call to mercy is not a call to let go of justice. Justice is never merciless. Christian writer and Pastor Frederick Bukner, he put it this way, he said, Justice is the grammar of things. Mercy the poetry. Another writer, Mirslaw Wolf, Croatian theologian, he said, Only those who are forgiven and who are willing to forgive will be capable of relentlessly pursuing justice without falling into the temptation to pervert it into injustice.
Mercy, injustice. But the hard part for us is how do we let go of hurts and wrongs? How do we show kindness to those we don’t think deserve it? Usually meaning we want them to get justice and not mercy. What is required of us is a position of openness towards the other, a willingness for relationship. Where does that come from? When we don’t like the person or we want them to be a little more sorry for what they’ve done to us first. Well, that is given to us by God. And because we need God’s mercy and compassion, we are then to extend that to others. In Scripture, mercy can refer to pardoning someone’s wrongs, forgiveness. It can refer to being kind to those who are in need. Mercy covers a range of meaning, someone who is forgiving, someone who’s compassionate, empathetic, kind, shows pity. Matthew, he highlights mercy, in particular with forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer, even as we recited today, he speaks of the forgiveness of others and forgive us our debt as we have forgiven our debtors. And then in Matthew 7, he tells us, Judge not so that you not be judged.
For the judgment you pronounce, you will be judged. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you. This is an extension of mercy received to not exact a price, to give to others the mercy that you have been given. And mercy, it cuts against a hard heart. Matthew 9, Jesus told the Pharisees, Go and learn what it means. I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Nobody deserves God’s mercy. Mercy, it cuts against self-rightelessness. Jesus in Matthew 12, again, He told the Pharisees, If you had known what it means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would have not condemned the guiltless. Then He goes so far in Matthew 23 to speak their own condemnation, Well, do you, Biblew, and the scribes and Pharisees, Hippocrates, for you tithes, Mint, and Dill, and Cumun, but have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faithfulness. Mercy is an important part of being a disciple of Christ because Jesus is the embodiment of God’s mercy. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. It’s a future mercy, they shall receive. And it is that future mercy that’s the heart of our salvation.
We are saved from something to something. There is a future grace for our present needs. Need. Now, I’m sure you’ve heard that expression, pay it forward. You may not realize it’s been around in English since the early 1900s. The idea, though, is an ancient one. Rather than paying somebody back for a kind act, you pay it forward to somebody else. It’s a very noble act, noble gesture. Example would be if someone buys you dinner, another time you buy somebody else dinner. That kind act is going forward from what someone has done to you. But when it comes to our salvation, we see another principle at work. Future grace affects our present need. There’s a paying it backwards, so to speak. If you are coming into a large inheritance, that should certainly motivate you to generosity now. The Testament scholar, Robert Gullick, he put it this way, it’s in your bulletin, he said, The present does not condition the future as much as the future conditions the present. The display of mercy shown by the mercifuliful is already the mercy they will be expressed ultimately in the consummation. In other words, those who receive mercy are those who have experienced it and practice it and view of God’s work through Jesus Christ.
What you will receive is what you are experiencing and practicing now. There’s a fancy word for that even. It’s proleptic theology, and what that means is the future invades the present in advance of itself. We experience now, in part, what is yet fully to come. The apostle Paul, he tells us in Ephesians 2, You were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked. But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love, which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. By grace, you have been saved. You and I were dead in our sins, but then God shows up. He does something about it. We’re saved by grace. Paul then, after telling us this, he points us forward to what is yet fully to come. He says, And raise us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming age, He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace and kindness towards us in Jesus. We have been saved by grace with a future hope that is real and present. And that future hope affects us now.
When Jesus says, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy, this is not a pay-to-play option. We do not earn future mercy because of being merciful now. That’s not what He’s saying. From Martin Lloyd Jones, he says, A Christian is something before he does anything, and we have to be a Christian before we can act as a Christian. Grace first, a new heart first, then the operations of that new heart. In this way, mercy is a gift to mankind, even while a demand from God. How then can it be a demand if it’s a gift? Because we reflect to one another what God has already done for us. When we extend forgiveness and mercy to others, we are saying that we have no claim upon God, that He doesn’t owe us anything. Nothing. I cannot make others pay what they owe me when I have been given God’s free grace and mercy. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? So what trips us up? What are obstacles to this great grace? Well, the first obstacle to grace is you must be a believer. Forgiveness can be hard to be sure. The greater the sin that’s done against you, the harder it can be.
I’m not making light of that. Forgiveness can be slow. It can be in layers over time. We’ve seen that. Struggling forgiveness does not make you an unbeliever. And unwillingness to forgive, that’s a different story. Matthew 18, a well-known parable of the man who had this ridiculously large amount of an unpayable debt, and it was forgiven him. 10,000 tons of gold, which is about 200 years of a labor’s wages. And the point that Jesus is making is that it’s well beyond anything he could pay. Had no chance of paying it back. Then we read of the master who owed the note, out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant went out. He found one of his fellow servants who owed him 100 denari, and that’s about four months wages. You can pay four months back. Seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, Pay me what you owe. He had the man thrown in jail until the debt was paid. Of course, the master who forgave him hears of this. Then he summons him back. He said, You wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt that you pleaded with me.
And should you not 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 off all the debt. And Jesus ends with this. He says, So my heavenly Father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. A new heart looks like something. The man in the parable did not have one. The remedy is to turn to Jesus to confess your sin, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation. A new heart is required and a new heart is given for those who seek and ask. It’s not pay as you play, a future grace that’s extended now. Another obstacle then, besides unbelief, is our pride. We’re where we say something like, I know I’m a sinner, but I’m not as bad as he is or she is. We think that there’s something in us that makes us more acceptable in our unworthiness than others. I have a twisted way of thinking, but it’s really something we can struggle with. Somehow we think, I’m a sinner, but I’m in a category of the saveable people.
They are not. They’re excluded from that. And there’s a pride in our own self-worth of who we think we are, of what God owes us. In the story of the prodigal son, we see that so clearly in the elder brother who was so angry when his younger brother received his father’s mercy. Why? Because he thought he was owed more. He worked harder. He hadn’t made a mess of his life like his younger brother did. Commenting on the prodigal son, Wolf, he points out that without the fathers having kept his son in his heart, the father would not have put his arms around the prodigal. Their relationship did not rest on moral performance, and therefore it could not be destroyed by immoral acts. See the difference? The relationship was prior to the behavior. There was a willingness to embrace his son that was independent of what he was doing. Now, for both sons, the priority was the rules, the behavior. It certainly was for the older brother, and it kept him from seeing his own sin, his own self-righteousness towards the father. But it was not for the father. The relationship came first. When his younger son left, the relationship was indeed infected by transgression and had to be healed by confession and repentance to be sure.
But there’s an order to that, isn’t there? Before any of that takes place, the father sees his son and he runs to him first. Why? Because the relationship precedes the rules. Compassion should fuel our acts of mercy. You who are parents, you understand this? You understand the love you have for your children even when they mess up. Why? Because the relationship is prior. And the question then comes back, is this easy for you? Or do you struggle with extending mercy to those who you don’t think deserve it? Are you easily offended by things? Touchy. Now, it is true that an acute sense of justice is not wrong in itself. It’s wrong by itself. Some of us indeed are more hardwired in a black and white fashion. You have a firm sense of right and wrong. With that, there must be a love in our hearts that calls out for justice and mercy at the same time. It’s not one or the other. Real love becomes angry at sin. We know that. If you have ever dealt with someone who struggles with an addiction, you know what that looks like. Because of your love for them, you hate the destruction, the devastation in their life.
It’s awful. You hate it. You grieve the life that they have allowed to be taken from them, and rightly so. But that is very different from desire to punish, to want to make somebody pay for what they have done. There’s no compassion and mercy in that desire. You have to want more than justice. You have to want relationship with them. We have God’s love in our heart. And when we do, we long for both justice and mercy. We all know the story of Jonah, Jonah and the whale. God sends Jonas to the evil city of Ninnah, but to announce their destruction. Jonas rebeels and he runs from God. And the Lord pursues Jonas. He’s thrown overboard and he’s swallowed up. Seemingly near his end, from within the great fish, he prays to God. In a part, he says, The waters closed in over me to take my life. The deep surrounded me, yet you brought up my life from the pit. Oh, Lord, my God, my life was fainting away. I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you. In his mercy, the Lord spares Shona. Then off he goes to Nineva to do what he was told to do.
And what does he tell them? 40 days and Nineva is going to be overthrown. That’s one way to do it. But what about the whole miraculous giant fish part? You think that might have made its way into the message? Something like that, this incredible miracle takes place. You think you might have said, Repent, because God is merciful. Let me tell you about it. Let me tell you how I experienced this firsthand. Nope. 40 days, you’re toast. But independent from Jonah, the people repent. And then we read something quite remarkable in chapter 4. The people have repented, they’re repenting and mourninging their sin, but it displeased Jonas exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, Oh, Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That’s why I made haste to flee to Tarshas. For I knew that you are a gracious God, merciful, slow to anger, abounding and steadfast love, relenting from disaster. Therefore, now, O Lord, take my life from me, for it’s better for me to die than to live. And the Lord asked them this question, Do you do well to be angry?
He asked him that twice. And the second time he says, Yes, I do do well to be angry, angry enough to die. And we hear that response and it’s hard not to think it’s childish, it’s convictive. Because it’s easy for us to see. Because quite honestly, none of us have a beef with anybody from Nineva. Jonah did. He had reasons not to like them. Kind of like the Good Samaritan. I’ve never met a bad one. It’s easy to hear that and go, Yeah, we should be good to Samaritan. There was a good Samaritan. What a wonderful story. Wow, Jonas, you have a hard heart. Those Ninevahs, they deserve God’s mercy too. But what about the girl in your class who stabbed you in the back and it really hurt your feelings? Savoring thoughts? Something happened to her? Maybe her getting to a car wreck? Well, not a serious wreck. Just enough to show her how badly she treated you. Did that happen to anybody? Or maybe that person who betrayed you. What calamity are you daydreaming about for them so that they get a taste of their own medicine? Isn’t that part of our hearts?
That desire, when someone has hurt us, that we want them to pay? We can spend an inordinate amount of time daydreaming about things like that. Rehearsing it over and over in our mind, we’re not talking about things like that. How about politics? Anybody want to go there? Any room? I’m not talking geopolitically. I’m talking just in your own heart. I can’t affect all these other places around the world and what’s going on. I can control my own attitude of how I speak of and how I respond to and react. That’s within my ability. See, Jona was thankful for the mercy extended to him, but angry when God extended mercy to those he didn’t like. I deserve mercy, but Lord, they deserve justice. Mercy, grace is not something any of us deserve. That’s the whole point. It’s undeserved. God gives to us what we don’t deserve, and He withholds from us what we do. From Wolf, again, he says, We tend to translate the presumed wrongness of our enemies into an unfaltering conviction of our own righteousness. Hear that again. We tend to translate the presumed wrongness of our enemies into an unfaltering conviction of our own righteousness.
How easy that is. Well, they’re wrong, so therefore, I’m even righter. Well, maybe you’re both wrong. But that’s the tendency. Their wrongness gives me such a firm conviction of how right I am. The more right we think we are, the more then that that rightness must be paid out in full in order for justice to take place. And Jesus is saying, This is not pay to play. I fully paid your debt. I fully extended to you mercy and grace. And therefore, because of that, allow God’s future grace and mercy to invade your presence in advance of itself. Grace precedes the demand. Relationship precedes the rules. A desire to embrace precedes our desire for justice. And when we don’t desire relationship and embrace for that other person, the response is to be repentance, confession. It’s sinful. That those who are made in the image and likeness of God, that we must be open to relationship with them. Because God has opened himself up to relationship with us. That we have received his mercy, his grace. Allow God’s future grace and mercy to invade your presence. Because blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Pray with me.
Father, we do want to just tell you thank you. Or thank you for saving us from our sins that while we were dead in our trespasses, you saved us by Your grace. Father, thank you. And Father, we confess to you that we have such a hard time wanting that for others who’ve hurt us. And so, Lord, we ask that you would forgive us for those times and moments where we have savor’d vengeance. We have spent time daydreaming about them getting theirs. And Lord, we confess that is sin. We pray that you would remove that anger from our hearts that is separated from your love. And Lord, God, we would ask that your mercy and righteousness indeed would kiss in the lives of your people. We bless you and thank you this day for all that you have given to us through your son, Jesus, and whose name we now pray. Amen. Please stand together. Lord, have mercy.
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