Thursday, April 3, 2014

Blessed Mercy (Matthew 5:7)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7, NASB95)

Mercy is such a wonderful thing. It embodies all that springs from the heart of one to care for the needs of another. It even extends to doing this when the one being helped is not one who we would deem help-worthy. In describing mercy we see it linked with words such as compassion, help, and pity.

The ultimate source and example of mercy is our God. He created everything perfect, without any defect, and this includes man and all of the heavenly beings—His angels. Yet we find in Scripture that one of those angels, one on whom He bestowed great glory, became prideful and decided that he was going to elevate himself above God. Scripture records for us that because of His pride he was cast down (Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:11ff are thought while possible descriptions of kings have a deeper picture of Satan behind them). And in being cast down he appeared before Eve and Adam to tempt them in the garden with similar lies. Here we find him referred to as “the serpent” (Genesis 3; see also Revelation 12:7-12). This encounter resulted in Eve taking the apple, eating it, and giving it to her husband who ate it as well. Right away they knew things changed, and walls began to come up. They hid from God, their bodies from each other, blamed others for their actions. As a consequence of their disobedience (sin) they were judged, put out from the garden, and separated in their daily communion with God.

Sin became the story of man and spiritual death his condition. This was the result of his actions and it remained such except that our God who is right and just is also compassionate, loving, and merciful. In response to the fullness of His attributes He provided a way for man to enter back into a relationship with Him, and that was by faith. It was the pride and actions of man and Satan that led to their fall, and God being rich in mercy was willing to forgive man for His actions. But his forgiveness would not come without a cost. In the Old Testament, men followed after God by faith, even offering up sacrifices of obedience. While many saw these sacrifices as their penance and their own works contributing to gaining God’s favor, those who trusted God by faith saw them as an obedient response to God’s great mercy being shown to them.

But even this was temporary and a pale shadow of God’s greatest mercy which was to be shown. God sent His Son, being fully God Himself and existent for all time (not being a creation of God), to be born as a man for the ultimate purpose of going to a cross to shed His blood as the perfect, once-for-all-time sacrifice fully satisfying God’s demand for justice in response to sin. Again, there was nothing man did to deserve this, but God did it because He loved us, and the only requirement for it being applied to us is to believe by faith. At the moment we believe and are saved we become children of God, joint heirs with Christ, receiving life here and now and inheriting life for all of eternity. Scripture tells us,

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:1–10, NASB95)

Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Our God could not have shown us any greater mercy, and in response He calls us to be merciful to others in the same way that we have found mercy in Him. Mercy is not the abandonment of justice, but it is the taking on of the burdens of one by another. Jesus took the burden of our sin upon Himself and fully satisfied the penalty of our sin, which is death.

Mercy is more than forgiveness, but it is compassionate action. It is giving in some way to someone something to which they were not entitled because you made a choice to do this for them. In Luke 6 we also read Jesus speaking similar “blessed are” statements. As we move through the chapter we come to a section on God’s mercy, where we read,

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32–36, NASB95)

We don’t want to get this beatitude backwards in thinking that our merciful salvation is dependent upon our merciful acts toward others, because then it would no longer be mercy but reward. Rather, knowing the love of God we are to live as people of God who are merciful toward others, and in so doing we ourselves experience the mercy of God in our lives and find it returned by others. In this, as we read in Luke 6:35, “your reward will be great.” As we look even to the body of Christ, comprised of other believers, we read,

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12–15, NASB95)

During the past two years of searching God’s direction for our next place of ministry we have seen God’s mercy shown to us in many incredible ways, and most of those ways have come through the hearts and acts of others. They have done so graciously, being moved in their hearts to freely extend themselves, and for that we are incredibly grateful to them and to our God. And in this we are not alone, as we have also observed our God time and time again extend Himself through His saints to touch lives.

Beatitude facet number 5: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

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