Mercy. We don’t use the word much. But we should.
The men and women of Jesus’s day were well acquainted with the word. When the sick needed healing, they cried, “Have mercy on us, Son of David (Matt 9:7).” The apostle Paul regularly spoke of mercy, opening his letters to his protégé in the faith, Timothy, with these words, “Mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2).” Moreover, Jesus made mercy one of the characteristics of kingdom membership when he said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” To know Jesus one must know mercy.
Wayne Grudem succinctly and helpful defines mercy as “God’s goodness to those in misery or distress.” In other words, the merciful are souls who demonstrate the love of God to those suffering misery or distress. To do this well, we must understand how the mercy of God has remedied the human condition.
Why Everybody Needs Mercy?
Though the average person tends to assume the recent displays of evil seen in the news are a new phenomenon, the world’s problems began in Genesis 3 long before industrialization, the sexual revolution, or race riots were a thing. In Genesis 1-2, God created the world in perfect goodness and installed Adam and Eve as the rulers of earth. Shortly into their reign, the first couple decided to rebel against God, cutting off both themselves and the universe from communing with the Divine. Brokenness replaced the goodness of God. Everything from Adam and Eve’s souls to the blades of grass that they walked upon fell under the curse of sin. God told Eve “I will surely multiply you pain in childbearing (Gen 3).” To Adam God said, “cursed is the ground because of you…By the seat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you were dust, and to dust you shall return.” Death had settled upon the earth.
For this reason, children come into the world stillborn. Summer breezes get blown into tornados that destroy lives. And unthreatening cells mutate into cancerous tumors that kill our loved ones. The whole world longs for redemption (8:20-23).
The human mind is also cursed. Since the Fall, men and women have been unable to access the light of divine truth. Rather as the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:18 all men and women have a “darkened…understanding, [and are] alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” The hardness of the heart propels every soul towards selfishness. Marriages break apart, crooks have their wages garnished by the IRS, and churches split over the color of the carpet because men and women commit sins. In other words, the brokenness of this world affects everything from our healthcare to how we approach relationships.
Though men and women correctly work against the effects of Fall, creating new drugs and advocating for governmental reforms, they cannot finally overcome the consequences associated with the cursing of the ground and the corruption of the soul. The church father Athanasius astutely pointed out over a thousand years ago,
“You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself.”
The recent failed marriage of two billionaire philanthropist brings this reality to home. On its own, the fallen soul cannot escape sin and its disposition to sins.
The consequence for both is Death.
How Does God Save us?
When God looks down upon the human race, he feels compassion for his creation. He descends from heaven not to consume sinful souls with the fires of his righteous judgement but to rescue them from their sorrow and misery. He comes as an infant in a stable to be the fulfillment of all righteousness. He encounters sin and sins and overcomes both. When men and women cried out to Jesus for healing from their physical ailments, Jesus healed them. The blind saw, the lame walked, and the lepers became clean. Though Jesus never sinned, the sins of others led him to the cross and to death. But death does not win. Jesus burst out of the grave alive, conquering both sin and sins. Paul beautifully sums up the mercy of God in Ephesians 2:4-5 writing, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Through his mercy which is closely tied to his love and grace, God delivers sinners from their misery and distress.
He also does it freely without condition. His mercy is not dependent upon our mercy. Paul writes, “he saved us not because of works done by us in righteousness but according to his mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).” As the soldiers drove the nails through his hands, Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Lk 23:34).” Jesus came not to save the nice, the gentle, and those disposed to signing autographs for young fans. In Matthew 9:13, Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” God dispenses his mercy freely without consideration of our past failures. God holds no grudges. The moment we approach him, he runs to us. The God of the Bible is forever merciful. Come to him.
Keep coming to Jesus
The soul that has found forgiveness through the mercy, love, and grace of God should never stop seeking mercy. Though the human heart proves fickle, uniting itself to almost anything that catches its eye, God’s character and passions remain fixed. If we fall into gross sin, stumble away from the church, or feel far away from God, we need only to join David who pleaded in Psalm 51:1: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” God’s mercy last well beyond our conversion.
While God’s mercy certainly deals with our sin, it also applies to our physical bodies. The Jesus who healed lepers still heals. Though healing often comes through medicine, the success of that medicine depends upon the mercy of God. All good things come from the lord, including physical healing.
What About Unanswered Prayers
Hearts who have lost a loved one could be tempted to object and question God’s mercy for it would have seemed to have failed. The question is not one of failure but of manifestation. In Matthew 6, Jesus implores his listeners to pray for the kingdom of God to come. In other words, God’s kingdom is not fully manifested. Though God saves sinners, the redeemed still sin. After Jesus’s death, Paul had to rebuke Peter for showing ungodly favoritism. In the same way, sickness and illness remain after Christ’s ascension. Just as believers still sin, they still get sick and die. Though we do not understand the limited display of God’s mercy in this earth, we do know that his mercy will be fully revealed one day soon. Isaiah writes of that day, “I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed (Is 65:19-20).” The God who triumphed over the tomb will one day wipe out all sin and every evidence of sin. Our God is merciful.
How God’s Mercy Informs Our Mercy
The soul that has experience God’s mercy through the deliverance from sin and sins will readily seek to deliver others from the miseries of sin and sins. In the parable of the unjust steward who refuses to show, Jesus offers these words of condemnation, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not have mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you?” The answer is unquestionably, “yes.”
To be merciful, souls must extend forgiveness and help to others irrespective of their circumstances. The Pharisees who attained a level of false righteousness refused to do this. Though they faithfully attended church, they refused to help the hungry or the sick on the Sabbath (Matt 12:7). They could quickly point to the commonsense notion that the hungry and the sick should have planned better. Had the hungry worked harder, invested better, and spent less, their life would not be in state of disarray. Similarly, if the sick had just followed their doctors advice, moved in with their children, or simply eaten better, they would not be in a state of crisis. Instead of mercy, they offered condemnation and anger. “Why did you do that?” As the famed reformer Martin Luther noted,
True holiness is merciful and sympathetic, but all that false holiness can do is rage and fume.
Those who know the mercy of God, stop fuming and help those in distress and sorrow. This is the grand sign of salvation as Jesus notes in Matthew 24:34-36. The righteous are not those who lead political movements, preach crusades, or gain 10K followers on Twitter. The righteous are defined by simple acts of mercy: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” When Christians encounter needs, they should meet those needs.
Christians should also address the needs of the soul. Paul described his ministry as a ministry of grace and mercy (2 Cor. 4:1). The merciful preaching of the cross causes men and women “to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the cross.” The gospel alone saves. Those who have encountered the mercy of Christ will share the saving mercy with those who are suffering.
Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.