Bible Reference: Matthew 5:1-9
Grace and mercy and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
One of the most hauntingly eloquent words of Jesus comes from the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” When the world knows that we by faith are the followers of Jesus Christ and we have shown mercy to others, it will cause us to stand out as distinctly different from the rest of the culture. We will be radically countercultural, and we will never more accurately reflect God’s heart than when we show mercy to others as God has been merciful to us.
Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist and a member of the Nazi party during World War II, was a spy for the allies and is credited with saving over 1200 Jewish lives during the atrocities of that war by employing them in his manufacturing plants. In a movie depicting his life in that point of history, Schindler goes to visit Amon Goeth, a prison camp commandant. Just before he arrives, Goeth is sitting on the deck outside his house overlooking the prison camp. He’s been shooting a high-powered rifle, picking off those helpless Jewish people who are prisoners of war, killing them for sport. When Schindler arrives, Goeth says, “Control is power.”
Schindler says, “Is that why they fear us?”
“We have the power to kill,” Goeth says.
Schindler says, “Power to kill arbitrarily. Revenge is power to kill is better. But really that’s not power; that’s justice. It’s different than power. Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.”
“Power?” says Goeth.
“That’s what the Emperor said. A man stole and was brought before the Emperor. The man threw himself down and begged for mercy. He knew he was going to die. He knew he deserved to die, but the Emperor pardoned him. This worthless man, he let him go. That’s power. Pardon, forgiveness, and mercy – that’s power.”
The power of an act of mercy has the ability to change the world, and that’s what Jesus calls us to offer in His name. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said this: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
If we were going to define mercy, we might point to a person who deserves judgment, but it’s withheld, and compassion and kindness are shown instead. Yet mercy can also be broader. Psalm 145 says, “The Lord is good to all; his mercies are poured out over all his works.”
When we look at the life of Jesus, it’s interesting that in three separate stories those who are broken and in need beg for Jesus to show them mercy. The first is about Bartimaeus, the blind man sitting by the road outside Jericho. He knows Jesus is coming by, so he cries out, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus, despite the opposition of the crowd, calls the blind man to Him and heals him miraculously. The blind man whose sight is restored, having received mercy, follows Jesus.
We see the Canaanite woman beg for Jesus’ mercy in Matt. 15:22-28. Her daughter was demon possessed, and she even overrides Jesus’ initial reluctance and begs again. Even the dogs under the table eat the scraps that are thrown. Have mercy. The man who had a demon-possessed son said, “Have mercy on me, o Lord.”
So from the life of Jesus, we see this pattern:
- Mercy sees the distress, helplessness, and suffering.
- It responds with inner compassion.
- Compassion then propels us to relieve the suffering or reverse the distress. We show mercy.
That’s how we would follow the pattern of Jesus. Mercy is linked to forgiveness. In Titus 3 we read this: “According to God’s great mercy, he saved us.” So mercy was behind forgiveness. Forgiveness is the fruit of mercy. When God looked at our broken condition with compassion, affection, and sympathy, He sent Jesus Incarnate on a mission of mercy, and Jesus – in mercy – went to the cross. Mercy is the attribute of God that led to the forgiveness of the world’s sins in the name of Jesus, crucified and risen.
Mercy is also linked to love. Remember how we read in Ephesians 2, “According to God’s great love with which he loved us, he showed us mercy.” Mercy flows into forgiveness but out of the heart of God’s love.
So let me ask you this question: when your life is over and you stand before the living God, would you rather ask Him for mercy or for justice? I’m going to ask for mercy.
We have three questions to frame how we can apply this powerful truth of God’s mercy to our own lives. These three questions are not original to me, but they’ll provide a good framework for us to discuss.
First, Can God be merciful to me? In Lamentations 3, the prophet Jeremiah says, “This I recall to mind, and therefore I have hope. The Lord’s loving kindness and mercy never ceases. God’s compassions never fail. They are fresh and new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness.”
Or how David the King all through the Psalms pleads with God, “Have mercy on me, o God.” Or the story Jesus tells of the Pharisees standing in the Temple proudly naming all his attributes and all his good deeds, but in the back corner of the Temple, the publican falls on his face and cries out without lifting his eyes, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
The whole of Jesus’ incarnation – His coming to earth born of a virgin, living the perfect life, teaching of the kingdom of God, going to the cross, bearing the sins of the world, dying in our place, and then being raised from the dead. The whole of the life of Jesus is a mission of mercy. Jesus Christ embodies the combination of mercy and justice. Jesus, on the cross and in the resurrection, became the atoning sacrifice for our sins. In Jesus Christ, God has bridged the gap between His holiness and our sin to extend mercy and reconcile us to himself.
Yes, God offers you mercy in the name of Jesus Christ today.
The second question is, Can I show mercy to others as God has shown to me? Am I willing to be merciful?
I recently read a story of a Christian pastor whose son, Tim, was murdered at college. Tim had been working part-time job at a convenience store not far from where he went to school. One night a man, desperate because of a drug addiction, held up the store where Tim worked. Tim intervened and the desperate man murdered him on the spot. He was later arrested and sentenced to prison.
The Christian pastor, still grieving for the loss of his precious son, went to the jail and visited the murderer, the perpetrator of the crime against his son. He said to him, “I am the father of the man you murdered. I am a believer in Jesus. He has shown me mercy, and I want you to know that I forgive you in Jesus’ name.” Then he went on to share how Jesus can transform a life and set us free from guilt and shame, and that he could believe in Him. He shared the Gospel. That man refused the message of Jesus, but that father, the Christian pastor, in going to that prisoner – the murderer of his son – showed mercy.
Third, Can I be merciful to myself?
When I was young pastor, I was on the Bible Board at Park River, North Dakota. When I was there one week for meetings, a young mother from a nearby community asked if she could visit with me. She was a happily married woman with several children of her own. She began to unburden her heart and talk about how, when she was a young woman, though raised in a Christian home, she had a prodigal journey. During that time of being apart from God, she had become pregnant. She decided to hide her pregnancy from her parents whom she knew would be so disappointed, so she secretly went off and had an abortion. Later, thankfully, she came back to Christ. She reaffirmed her faith in Christ and asked for forgiveness. She professed her loyalty to Christ.
Now, a married woman and a mother, she still was haunted by her past. She said, “I have a reoccurring dream. In my dream, I’m going to church, but on the steps of the church just outside the door lies a large, dead snake. I’m deathly afraid of snakes; I can’t go in.” It was as if the Holy Spirit revealed to me that this woman, though believing in the forgiveness Jesus offers, had never been able to forgive herself for her past sins. She had never been able to be merciful and let go of her shame.
We shared the words of Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.” We talked about how she needed to be merciful and forgiving to herself because Jesus has already been merciful to her.
Can you forgive yourself for your past? Can you believe that the grace of Jesus Christ, the mercy of God in Jesus’ name, is greater than all your past shame, failure, and guilt?
Recently here at Faith Lutheran in Spencer, Iowa, we laid a dear saint to rest. Her name was Luella. She and her husband, Don, had been happily married many years and had a family.
Once in the course of their busyness of life, Don, who normally mowed the grass of their home, had a busy day and so Luella offered to mow the grass. So Don went out and started the mower. It was one of those old cast-iron mowers that was like pushing a lumber wagon through the grass. Don started it, left it in the driveway on low idle, and told Luella it was ready.
Luella, while Don was watching, came out and, without adjusting the idle, began to mow the grass. Well it was at too low an RPM and it couldn’t handle cutting the grass. So Don called out, “Make it go faster, Luella!” So Luella started running behind the mower. “No, No,” said Don. “Make it go faster.” Of course, he meant speed up the rpm’s of the motor of the mower so that it could handle the grass, but Luella thought he meant run fast with the mower. It was unable to cut the grass and it killed. Don threw up his hands, got in his pickup and drove off.
We’re like Luella if we think we have the capacity to be merciful all by ourself. Only when we have, in faith, invited Jesus the Savior and the Son of God, to come into our life and have asked Him to be merciful, forgiving us, and then ask His Holy Spirit to dwell within us, can we then offer the mercy and grace of Jesus to the people He brings to us.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Amen.
Rev. Lee Laaveg