Blessed Are the Merciful

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.

A Quick Response To Public Failure

Tpublic-sinhe unconfessed sin of the believer is always unpleasant. It always dark, dirty, and filled with hurt. Quite naturally, something so awful loves darkness and secrecy. But eventually the secrets will come to light.

And when a Christian’s sin comes out into the open, its effects can extend well beyond an individual heart or home. The nature of a person’s sin can require that society, employers, and the government take action. The consequences of a believer’s sin can lead to the arrival of a pink slip, a legal summons to appear in court, or flashing blue lights in their yard. And when sin becomes public knowledge, the evil desire that once could have been addressed with a quick prayer now appears to be fearfully out of control. The whole local community of believers can feel hurt and dirty.

But thankfully things are not out of control when a believer sins publicly. The Scriptures are full of narratives that recount the public failures of God’s people. Abraham had an affair, Moses struck a rock in front of thousands of people, and King David conducted a census. The Scriptures have a lot to say about we should respond to public sin. And the message is very hopeful!

Three Ways to Respond:

1. We call our brothers and sisters to repentance.

First, we accept what has happened. We call sin, “Sin” and acknowledge that sin comes with real consequences. Sin has to be addressed. The man who embezzles money from his employer should make restitution.  When Zacchaeus stole from people, he offered to make restitution. Jesus did not absolve him from the consequences of his sins (Luke 19:8).  And when David decided to number the people of Israel, God judged David and killed 70,000 men (1 Chronicles 21:7-17).

Second, we need to encourage our brothers and sisters to action. Sorrow is great. But, tears do not save nor do they mean someone is truly sorry. Our friends may only be grieving the fact that they have been publicly humiliated. As Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 7: 9-10:

 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

How do you tell the difference between real and fake sorrow? True sorrow over sin, true repentance always leads to action. When Zacchaeus repented of stealing, he promised to return four fold what he took and he promised to give up to half of his goods to the poor. His covetous greedy heart was replaced with a kind, generous one. His repentance was defined by action. As Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Zacchaeus did just that!

Similarly, David cried out to the Lord and said, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly” (1 Chronicles 21:7b).  And then, David went out and offered sacrifices for his sin. Both men took action to revealed a repentant heart.

If our sister has embezzled money from her company, we must go to her privately and encourage her to take action. We must encourage her to repent. She should confess her sin to those whom she has sinned against and to God. And then she must stop stealing and make restitution. She must repay the stolen money. Repentance leads to practical change. We must call our brothers and sisters who sin to pursue repentance.

And third, we must forgive. Once a brother and sister repents of their sin, we must extend them forgiveness. We must  forgive them as Christ has forgiven us (Col 3:13).  Forgiveness means that we will no longer dwell on a person’s sin, we will no longer talk about their failures, and we will no longer allow a few actions to determine how we relate to our friend. In short, we will stop trying to punish the person for what he or she has done.

Practically this means that when we wake up, we no longer meditate on why George got fired from his job. We no longer discuss Sally’s road to prison over coffee. And we greet Jim with the same smile that we showed him prior to him repenting of his affair. To forgive, “means to release a person from punishment or penalty.”  If we love Christ, we must be quick to fellowship with those who used to be thieves, adulterers, and liars.

2. We need to love our brother and sisters caught in sin.

The world is quick to judge and hold grudges. The church should be the opposite. Yes, we should take sin seriously. Yes, we should call our brothers and sisters to repentance. And yes, we should practice church discipline if they refuse to turn from their porn addiction. But we should always be quick to extend love and mercy.

We should freely extend mercy to those who have sinned publicly both before and after they seek forgiveness. We should make our friends meals, care for their families, and give them opportunities to prove their repentance. We should not make an embezzler the church accountant, but it would be great for us to get her a job at the local factory. It would be great for us to rent her a house at cost so that she could begin to repay her debt. Regardless of the severity of the sin, there is no limit to the nature of our forgiveness. We are to forgive our brothers and sisters “seventy-times seven” (Matt. 18:22).

And, we should readily remind our brothers and sisters that they are not their sin. If they have repented, they are no longer defined by their sin. The adulterer is no longer an adulterer, but a fellow brother in Christ who has been redeemed from his sin by the blood of the cross. He is a justified sinner just like everyone else in church.

3. We need to be careful.

Anytime we encounter sin, we must avoid the temptation to wag our little finger. We must avoid the temptation to puff up our chest and say, “I would never do that.”

Friends, we could all do that. If Noah can get drunk, if Abraham can let his wife marry another man, if Samson can sleep with a prostitute, and if David can kill a man, we too can mess up and mess up big time. Our ability to avoid the newspapers is not based on our moral aptitude or will power. Notice what Paul says in Galatians 6:1

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

We should go to those who have fallen. We should encourage them to repent. We should work to see them restored. We should strive to see them become active members of our church again.

Those who are doing well should help those overcome be sin especially public sin. As Paul says in I Thessalonians 5:14 “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

But we must do so in humility. We must engage the hurting, realizing that the power to change people is not found in our works, wisdom, or methods. We are not stronger than our fallen friends. We are just as vulnerable as those we help. We need to point our own hearts to the gospel just as much as we point our fallen friends to the God of heaven.

And we must make sure that we are quickly confessing our sins. We must regularly examine our hearts. We must regularly confess our sins. We must take our own sin seriously and flee from it. We must watch ourselves and make sure we have allowed sin to get a death grip on our heart. If we do not, we too will be exposed one day.

Final Thoughts

Public failure is, well, public. And it is unpleasant. But such sin is not the end of the story, of anyone’s story. We don’t lock up our friends and throw away the key. We keep ministering to them. We keep calling them to repentance. We keep loving them. And we keep watching our souls.

Why Don’t They Get It?

why-dont-people-get-it“Why don’t they get it?” is a question we often ask as parents. Why don’t our kids understand that crawling off the sofa, sticking Cheetos up their noses, and driving their cars via their knees while texting never ever ends well? Why? Why?

But if we are willing to be honest; it is not just the kids that we wonder about. When we look around our churches, we can be tempted to ask them same question. “Why don’t they get it?” Why doesn’t Sally see that her complaining is super unhelpful, why doesn’t Jim realize that criticizing other peoples’ kids produces nothing but useless conflict, and why doesn’t Susie understand that her constant attack on sugary drinks is not leading people any closer to Christ? Why don’t people understand the beauty and glory of Christ like we do? Why don’t people get it?

The easy answer is, “they cannot get it.” Apart from Jesus’ divine revelation none of us can get it. No one can understand spiritual things on their own. In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus heals a blind man in Bethsaida. But he does not heal the man in the usual way. He first touches the man’s eye and then ask if the man can see. The man responds in verse 24 saying, “I see people but they look like trees, walking.” Some people have assumed that the man did not see at first because he lacked faith. His faith was only powerful enough for a half healing, if you will.

But this is not what is going on. No mention is made of the man’s faith. And Jesus is more than powerful enough to overcome a little unbelief. Look at all the miracles Jesus performed for the disciples benefits. They were not exactly the most ardent believers as Jesus began his ministry.

Rather Christ performs the miracle in stages because he wants his disciples and us to understand an important lesson. We do not lead ourselves to Christ. Jesus is showing us that salvation and spiritual knowledge comes exclusively through him.

The man starts out blind in the narrative. Christ touches the man’s eyes; he begins to see. Jesus touches the man’s eyes a second time and he fully sees.

Right before the miracle in Mark 8:21 Jesus directly asked his disciples, “Do you not understand?” In short, he asks them,  “why do you not understand who I am and what I am about. Why don’t you get it?” The disciples have seen Jesus perform bunches and bunches of miracles. And yet they don’t get it. They don’t understand who Jesus fully is.  So, why don’t they get it?

Well, Jesus doesn’t leave us in suspense. He answers his question with a miracle. Jesus shows them that spiritual knowledge comes only through the miraculous power of Christ. Through this miracle, Jesus teachers the disciples that they are blind and that they can only see when Christ gives them sight. And by working in stages, Jesus shows his disciples that people can be a different parts of the spectrum. Some see vaguely. Others see clearly. But both have encountered the living God and have received their sight from him. Both can only see what they see via God’s help.

What does this mean for us?

First, we must embrace humility.

The reason we get something, the reason we don’t struggle with complaining, bad language, or credit card debt is not because we are something special. We have not worked hard enough nor been bright enough intellectually to earn this standing. We have received mercy through Christ Jesus our savior. We have the understanding we have because God has caused our blind eyes to see. We are started out just as blind as everyone else. We must not forget where we came from.

And we must know where we are going. We are on our way to perfection in heaven. But we are not there yet. And though God has granted us some spiritual wisdom and insight, we have not arrived. Remember Peter. In Mark 8:29, we see that Peter final gets it and declares that Jesus is the Christ! And then Peter turns around and tells Jesus to abandon the gospel. In short great growth is meet by great failure.

The same is true of us. We should want to be peaceable, kind, and out of debt. But the moment we place our hope in our nice words, or our generous giving, or in our budget, we become prideful and prone to sin. If we measure our success by our own standards and fail to realize that God also wants us to love our spouse better, to stop judging others eating habits, we still have some serious blindness in our own souls. In short, God wants us to conform ever part of who we are to who he is. This is a lifelong task. No one has arrived. No one sees perfectly this side heaven.

Second, we must extend mercy to others.

The reason we handle complaining better than our kids is not because we are superior people. We avoid the whininess of life, because God has been gracious to us. He has opened our eyes fully while our kids see only vaguely on their way to saving faith. Instead of condemning people as stupid, worthless, or worthy of punishment, we should extend mercy to them. As we discipline our kids for the hundredth time, we don’t blow up in anger telling them that we were never as reckless as them. Rather, we discipline them in love, telling them that we know obedience is hard. Instead of shouting at our cranky family member, we should endure their prideful boasts knowing that only God’s mercy keeps us from committing the same sin. And when people at church fail to see theology the way we do, we do not beat them into submission with logic. Rather, we lovingly point them to the Scriptures trusting God to work in both of our hearts.

Because here is the great truth. If God begins to open people’s eyes, he will give them full sight. He will not leave them half blind. We very well may not be God’s intended agent of change in someone’ life. But God is still working. Instead of trusting in our arguments to give sight, we must appeal to God to work. He will make the blind see!

And If we truly understand that we all begin our spiritual quest blind, we will stop asking, “Why don’t they get it?” And we will start asking, “Why do I get anything?”

S0, what question are you asking?