Matthew 5:1-12 Part 5

“Blessed the merciful; for they shall receive mercy.”

This past week we participated, some of us, in another electoral process.  Now, it’s not my purpose this morning to discuss the particular issues involved in that election, nor am I interested, in this context, in the outcome of the voting.

But, as I began to put my thoughts together concerning this statement of our Lord, “blessed the ones who are merciful”, I got to thinking about elections.  And to be more precise, I was considering the process of campaigning – as we know it today.  And, to be realistic, I suppose it’s been the same since campaigning began.

But, I found my thought process centering around the candidate and his campaign.  I read some of the statements by the people who were running for office in Virginia and New York, and other places; and I caught a little of what they were saying (positions) via the national networks.  And it struck me, as it’s done many times before, that the candidates never say anything.  They open their mouths – and words seem to come out – but nothing is ever said!

There’s rhetoric about “talking about the issues.”  Everyone says something about “let’s stick to the issues!”  But nobody ever says what the issues are.  Oh, the social or economic crisis of the day comes up; and there’s usually a very surface attempt to describe the terrible condition of a particular segment of society.  But that’s not talking about the issues!

The issues are not “social ills.”  And the issues have nothing to do with what the candidate says about another candidate.  And the issues have nothing to do with what one candidate says he’s going to do when elected.

The issues concern the candidate!  What are his presuppositions?  Where is he coming from?  What is his fundamental philosophy about life, government, economics, law, education, etc.?  Where does he begin when reasoning through a set of circumstances?  Where does he begin when thinking through a course of action?"  What does he believe?  What kind of man is he?  You see, what a man will do is determined by what he is!         

And this is a fundamental point of Christian Theology which is absolute in its definition, and universal in its application!  And, although candidates and leaders bear greater responsibility before God for what they are inside, this holds true for all of us.  What we do is generated from what we are.

And our Lord Jesus illustrates that it’s fundamental to Christianity, in that this Sermon on the Mount takes that same irrefutable starting point.  And with infinite wisdom He constructed a sermon which, although terrible in its impact, is perfect in its progressive description of the nature – character – and disposition of His sheep!

Beginning with a true and thorough perception of one’s own sin nature, He then progresses to the anguished mourning over that evil. And then to the resultant meekness proceeding from that process.  And then Jesus describes the ultimate remedy which all irrevocably seek who truly are poor in spirit, mourn their sin, and meekly submit to God.

And might I say that those who are hungering and thirsting after God’s remedy for their sin – righteousness – do so because they now know that the only hope for them is from the merciful heart of God through Christ Jesus!  And by His mercy, God fills them with the revelation of His righteousness – not delivering them to judgement – and graciously counts them as righteous in Him through faith.  By His mercy, their faith is counted as righteous in Him through faith.  By His mercy, their faith is counted as righteousness!

Is it easy now to see Jesus’ progression to the next one?  “Blessed the ones who are merciful; for they shall be treated mercifully."” The basic character of God, by which He abstains from His wrath toward us, is extended to His people through faith in Christ.  It is His mercy toward us.  Even though there’s nothing good in us; even though we’re evil and rebellious; even though we were dead in our sins; even though we would rather be gods ourselves, God pours out mercy upon us!  And the righteousness given to us in Christ, by the mercy of God, is manifested in the lives of Jesus’ followers by a disposition and demeanor which is merciful.

Now, since being merciful is an inevitable result of God’s mercy to us, and since Jesus’ followers all have this characteristic of Him, what do we say about it?  The merciful person is blessed, and he is the recipient of mercy from God.  He alone!  I’m asking you to hold up the description of Jesus’ people as a mirror, and look yourself square in the eye – and then answer the questions you ask yourself.  And answer them truthfully.  And let me give you the same warnings that I’ve given you four times already:  These are not just “ideal Christians” being here described – Jesus is preaching the nature of all His sheep.  And He won’t allow you to make exceptions – or to have extenuating circumstances.  Don’t try to fit His words to your nature!  You must conform to His Words!

And if, after applying the mirror test, you truly see yourself not possessing the merciful nature of Christ, then it’s closet time again!  Why, O God, is my nature not merciful?  Have I not seen myself?  Have I not realized that I have no righteousness before God?  Do I not truly know the blackness of my own heart?   Has the Spirit not shown me that I am vile, and have I not mourned the iniquity of my own heart?  Have I not yearned within me for the righteousness found only in the body of the Lord Jesus?  And, if I have, have I not yet been blessed with the merciful justice of God in His Son?  Why do I not treat my brothers with mercy?  If I’m not merciful, have I not yet received mercy?

The questions have to be asked – and they have to be answered truthfully.  And God is the One Who must be approached for the remedy.

Now, before I get to what a merciful nature is, let me first present one thing that it’s not.  You remember that, at the beginning of chapter five, I laid great stress on the fact that none of these characteristics of Jesus’ disciples is ever to be interpreted in terms of natural human disposition.  To say that some are born with this and that, and some are not; and that some temperaments and dispositions find it easier to be what Jesus says, is a gross denial of Biblical teaching!

This isn’t a gospel for certain temperaments; nobody has any advantage when face to face with God!  “All have come short of the glory of God.”  “Every mouth has been stopped” before God!  “There are none who are righteous, no not one.”

But what one finds in society today, and unfortunately also occupying the Churches, are those who are called “easy going” nice people – who have little or no concern for the Law of God and for discipline, and ignoring God’s holy Law in favor of freedom and mercy.  You see, this is a kind of “flabby” person, with an easy-going personality.  He overlooks and smiles at transgression or pretends not to see it – in favor of his incorrect definition of mercy.

But when we interpret this term we must remember that it is a characteristic – or attribute – which is applied, in the Scriptures, specially and specifically to God Himself!  So that whatever we may decide as to the meaning of “merciful” is true firstly of God!  And the moment you look at it like that, you see that this easy-going attitude that doesn’t care about transgression of God’s Holy Law is unthinkable when we’re speaking of God! 

So this isn’t natural mercy as is found occasionally in many.  There are all kinds of people who are involved in philanthropic work – and volunteer work – and works of helping; and in Churches; and in my opinion these works are in our society because of the influence of Christ and His Church in history!  The good works of even non-believers, although not counted to them as righteous, are used by God to relieve suffering.  And it is because of Christian history!  Atonement!

Many cultures and religions are absolutely bare of the idea of mercy, which indicates man’s natural, unregenerate heart.  Man is naturally cruel to man.  Not merciful.

So, what is it?

What is it that’s so intrinsic to the nature of God, and get so bereft in the nature of fallen mankind?  What is this which is so important to us that they alone are blessed who exhibit it?  What is it that is so critical to have in the world in which there is sin and death and corruption and suffering – but which won’t be needed at all after the second coming?  What is it that is of such prime importance to God as He judges our relationships with other people!  What is it that every man needs more than anything from the heart of God – but which is the most difficult for him to show towards his neighbor?

“Blessed the ones who are merciful.”

In order to do this justice, we’ve got to see what the Scriptures say about God’s mercy, because the mercy to which you and I are called has its source in Him!  He is merciful, and therein lies the definition.  And I think that one of the key passages that we can use is in chapter thirty-three of Exodus – verse nineteen in particular.  Here’s what it says:

 “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”


From this we can see that God’s mercy springs from His basic nature of Goodness.  I’m not going to take the time to define His goodness – but just to say what the Scripture says – “God is good.”  And His mercy flows out of that source called goodness.

Now, the first issue of God’s goodness is His bounty.  He has given, and He gives, liberally to all His creation and to all His creatures.  He has given being and life to all things.

And the second issue of His goodness is His mercy, which is His ready inclination to relieve the misery of His fallen creation – which leads us to say that His mercy presupposes sin.  You see, if there’s no sin, there’s no need for mercy.  A good example of that is the case of the angels which are in heaven with God.  God is gracious to them in that He elected them – that He preserves them – that He has placed Christ over them as their Head – and that He gives them a special place in serving Him.  All that is God’s gracious favor to the angels.  But, since they don’t sin, there’s no mercy.

And the Scriptures indicate that God’s mercy extends to His whole creation.  The Psalmist says “His tender mercies are over all His works.”  The fact is that the fall of man has affected the whole of creation – but God has mercy toward it all.

The Bible also says that God is merciful to men – and the children of men – helping them and succoring them, notwithstanding their sin.  He communicates to them all the necessities of life.  He makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  We’ll see that later on in this fifth chapter of Matthew.

And, lastly, there is a sovereign mercy which is reserved for the heirs of salvation and the Kingdom, which is communicated to Heirs in a covenantal way – through the Mediator, Christ Jesus.  And even though they deserve no mercy from Him, all of His tender mercies are poured upon them anyway.  And right here I must say this – there is nothing outside of God, which is obliging Him to be merciful to us.  There certainly isn’t anything about us, in our ugliness and evil, which might prompt His mercy; and there is no law or principle outside of God which necessitates His being merciful – otherwise God wouldn’t be the Sovereign God.  There would be something greater than He is.

But His nature is to be merciful to us – even in our filth and corruption – even to the point of becoming sin and going through the pain of suffering and death on our behalf.  And He did that even when we were dead in sin, and rejecting His mercy, and reviling His goodness, and rotting in our own corruption.  He looked at us with affection and sympathy and pity – and He didn’t respond in wrath toward our rebellion – and He took action on our behalf to relieve our eternal and our temporal suffering.

Because of His pity and sympathy for us, God sacrificed.  He sacrificed Himself.  He sacrificed Himself to Himself – in order to satisfy the demands of His Own justice.  In order that His wrath wouldn’t break out upon us and we be destroyed.

And He pities us so much that He places us in the body of His Own Son – and communicates to us, through faith, the Divine characteristics of Jesus so that we can have life and have it abundantly.  And He cares for us – and shelters us – and watches over us – and continues to forgive us – and shelters us – and watches over us – and continues to forgive us – and nurtures us to maturity – and He even considers our deaths as precious before Him.

All this! And we still have precious little mercy toward each other.  First we ignore Him, and ignore all this mercy that’s been poured out upon us.  We hardly ever even thank Him for it.  We even have to be prompted to thankfulness!

And, then, in our relationships with each other in the brotherhood, and to the extended family of mankind, we continue to place the old self in dominion.  I.  We.  Me!  And we don’t nurture, and relieve suffering, and succor, and help and forgive, and extend kindness and gentleness to each other; and we don’t return mercy for offense.

It’s hard enough to passively bear the offenses of others meekly – to receive the scorn and reviling of the world order, and even to bear the offensive weaknesses of each other in the brotherhood.  But that’s not all that Christ requires of us.  Passive Christian meekness isn’t all.

There must be active mercy!  And to call for that is to lay an additional weight upon our consciences, and to strain and stretch still further the obligation under which you and I come as recipients of God’s active mercy toward us.  God loved us when we were unlovely.  And, even now, we are lovely only because of the covering of Christ.  We have been showered with the mercy of God.

So, not only do we have the obligation – we have the nature to be merciful – that when we see suffering that we can help to alleviate, we do it.  That we preach and teach, or minister and evangelize the Gospel to people – who are all in desperate need of it.  That when we received scorn and reviling, we not only meekly accept it, but we return merciful compassion, kindness and gentleness.  That the brotherhood of believers especially receives merciful treatment from us, so that even when they might be ugly and offensive, they might not be able to miss the love of God coming back at them from bowels of Christian mercy.

People this is what Christ is describing us to be!  Get out the mirror and take the test.

Now, one misinterpretation, common in this verse especially, due to taking it out of context, has occurred with the last half of Jesus’ statement – “...for they shall receive mercy.”  And, perhaps, this is the most misunderstood of the beatitudes because of it.  There are many who would interpret it like this.... “If I am merciful towards others, God will be merciful towards me; if I forgive, I shall be forgiven.  God will be merciful towards me if I meet the condition of being merciful to others.”

The Lord’s Prayer has a well-known, exact parallel in it, doesn’t it?  “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”  And people begin to say, “Well, does that not clearly teach that I am forgiven by God only as I forgive others and to the extent that I forgive others?”

In the first place, if you and I were judged strictly on those terms, then I’m afraid that none of us would ever see heaven – because, with that interpretation, forgiveness is impossible!  People actually condemn themselves by thinking like that!  It is called legalism.  If that were the proper interpretation of Jesus’ words, then He would have cancelled the whole doctrine of Grace from the Bible!

The trouble is that people pick and choose what they want to read, and they don’t consider the context.  As we’ve pointed out, Jesus’ sermon is a progression of thought, each subsequent thought depending on the ones before it.  And that principle of interpretation is never more important than with this beatitude.

There is never any hint whatsoever in Jesus’ words that, in order for me to be forgiven, I must first forgive.  What He says is that His people are poor in spirit – they see their own unrighteousness.  And they mourn that sin.  And they meekly submit themselves to the God of Righteousness with a yearning desire for His solution to the problem.  These are already Jesus’ disciples!

And as we demonstrate in our lives the mercy of God through faith in Christ, God looks kindly and gently upon us.  He blesses us when we have the character of His Son.  We become blessed – happy, contented, joyful.  He treats us mercifully.

My mercy toward others is lodged between the segments of a golden circle which has, on the one side, the experience of the Divine mercy which quickens me, and causes me to search, and forgives me; and, on the other side, the experience of Divine mercy which follows upon my walking after the example of my Lord.  And between is my thankful response to His mercy.  It is not a means of acquiring favor!  It is the imitation of Christ.

God’s mercy to me – my mercy to others – God’s mercy to me.

So, God’s mercy is His forbearance with us in our sin.  His mercy means that He doesn’t destroy us – He withholds what is really due us!

As we offend, He doesn’t deal with us blow for blow.  We sin – He refrains from responding in kind!

Each one of us deserve anger, and the punishment only the Judge of Heaven and earth can administer.  But we don’t receive that!

And that is the basis for, and the definition of our mercy toward each other.  That’s what Jesus said!  So, take that mirror test.