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From the Series: Momentum - Vol. 2
January 9, 2013

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 5:7

Please open your Bible at Matthew 5:7. We are resuming our series in the Beatitudes, these marvelous words of blessing that come directly from the Son of God.

What the Beatitudes Are and How to Use Them

The Beatitudes describe the distinguishing marks of a true Christian

They are not given to tell us how to become Christians. Christ did not come into the world to give us a formula. He did not come to tell us that if we do certain things we will receive certain blessings as a result.

The Beatitudes are not telling you how to become a Christian, they are telling you what a true Christian looks like. We are saved by Christ through union with him in his death and resurrection.

How would you recognize a person who has this union with Christ? The Beatitudes are the distinguishing marks of a true Christian. We are to use the Beatitudes like a mirror. They invite us to examine ourselves.

Here are the distinguishing marks a true Christian. Are these the things that are true of me? Are these the things that I am pursuing at the beginning of this new year?

The Beatitudes are given to us in a particular order 

There is a progression in which each one leads to the next, and each comes out of the one that went before. We’ve tried to picture this by thinking about someone doing the monkey swing, in which you reach each ring with the momentum you gained from the last.

You will notice that I’ve picked that up in a new title for the series, “Momentum: How to Make Progress in Your Christian Life.” 

Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Matthew 5:3

Blessed is the person who knows that they do not have what it takes before God. All of us can begin there. All of us must begin there. There is no other place to begin.

Blessed are those who mourn.  Matthew 5:4

When you see that you do not have what God requires of you, you begin to mourn. You see the position you are in, you recognize your own responsibility for it, and you begin to hate the sin that has put you there.

Blessed are the meek.  Matthew 5:5

We saw that meekness is about becoming “used to the hand,” submitting yourself to the hand of God. When you see your own position before God, you will be ready to submit yourself to God and to ask of him, “Give me what I do not have.”

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Matthew 5:6

As you submit yourself to Christ, the Holy Spirit will create in you a great desire to be like him. A longing for holiness will be birthed in you. The Holy Spirit creates a hunger, a desire, a pursuit of righteousness in the life of every true Christian.

There is order and progress here. The Beatitudes are like jewels and Christ does not throw them down in a heap. He arranges them in order and strings them together like a beautiful necklace.

Like you, I am finding this series profoundly challenging, and the further we go, the more challenging it gets. We will often find ourselves falling off and going back to the beginning: “Lord, I don’t have what it takes, be merciful to me a sinner. I hate the sin that has prevailed over me. I submit myself to you and long to grow in righteousness…” And off you go again.

Roots-Life-Fruit

We saw that there is a “Roots-Life-Fruit” pattern in these Beatitudes—to be poor in Spirit, to mourn our sins, to end our rebellion and submit ourselves in meekness to God—these are the roots of a blessed life.

From these roots come the green shoots of new life—a genuine hunger and thirst for God and his righteousness. The pursuit of righteousness is the soul of a godly life. The roots of knowing your need, mourning your sin, and submitting yourself in meekness to God will produce, nourish and sustain a life that goes after righteousness.

The flesh can never produce this. But where the roots of God’s redeeming work are planted in a soul, this life begins to grow. And from this life comes wonderful fruit—mercy, purity and peace.

Think what your life would be like if, this year, there was a bumper crop of mercy, purity and peace in your soul. How blessed you would be if, this year, the heart that is often angry would soften with compassion and,

being filled with mercy, you were finally able to forgive.

How blessed you would be if, this year, the heart that that has so often been divided, causing you to fall into the same sins time and time again would become one—that’s what purity is. How blessed you would be if there was a bumper crop of purity in your heart this year.

How blessed you would be if, this year, there was a bumper crop of peace, peace in your own soul that makes you a peace maker. If you became the kind of person who has peace abounding in you, so that wherever you go you bring peace into the lives of others.

If you are a Christian at all, then just to describe these things is to desire them: “Lord, these are the things I seek in this new year!”

We will look at the fifth beatitude over two weekends. Today, we ask the question: To what is Christ calling us? Next week we ask: How can we have more of this in our lives?

What Mercy Is and Why It Matters

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

The place to begin in understanding mercy is with the Good Samaritan. You know the story… A man on a journey is attacked, robbed, beaten and left for dead. Another traveler comes along. He sees the man in his need but passes by on the other side. Sometime later another traveler comes to the same spot. He sees the need but he also passes by.

Then Jesus says, “But a Samaritan came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion (Luke 10:33). But it doesn’t end there: “He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine” (10:34).

At the end of the story Jesus asks: “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Answer: “The one who showed him mercy” (10:37).

This is a parable about mercy, and Jesus says mercy has two parts: First, there is a tenderness of heart: “When he saw him, he had compassion” (10:33). Second, there is action: “He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine” (10:34).

  1. Mercy is the character of God

“The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”  Exodus 34:6

When God appeared to Moses at Sinai, he revealed himself in this four-fold description that is repeated 7 times in the Old Testament. [1] This is your God in his four-fold glory and beauty: Gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in love. Here is what redeemed people most need to know about God. He has a tender heart that cares and acts for your good.

The rest of the Bible takes up this same theme. God is not only merciful, he is “rich is mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). His mercy is “forever,” so that David is able to say, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life…” (Psalm 23:6).

It is because of God’s mercy that we are saved. “He saved us… according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5). When Paul describes his salvation he simply says: Even though I was the first among sinners, yet “I received mercy” (1 Timothy 1:13).

The book of Hebrews zooms in especially on the mercy of Christ: “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:17).

Think about the mercy of Jesus to Peter: “The rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times” (John 13:38). “Peter, you are going to fail in spectacular fashion. It will be the mother of all mess-ups. It will leave you wondering “How in the world did I end up doing that?”

Jesus says, “Satan wants to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail” (Luke 22:31). Peter’s faith did not fail—his testimony failed. He denied Christ, but his faith could not live with his denial.

Peter’s faith produced repentance and he says to Christ, “Lord, you know that I love you.” And Christ says to him, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). Mercy means that failure need not have the last word.

In Jesus Christ, God says to His people, “I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). When you know that Christ is our merciful High Priest, you will come to him: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Think about the mercy of Jesus to Thomas. Here’s this man in spiritual leadership. He is an apostle, but his own faith is not in good shape. The unanswered questions are piling up for him, and in his heart he must have felt that he was slipping away.

Christ never lets his children go. Christ comes to Thomas: “Put your finger in the nail prints. Put your fist in my side. Stop doubting and believe.

The risen Christ can draw near to you today and bring you, like Thomas, to a place where, in a whole new way, you will look up to him and say, “My Lord and my God!”

  1. Mercy is God’s calling to us

The whole point of the Christian life is that the character of Jesus will be reproduced in all of our lives. God multiplies the image that he loves, so that Christ will be the first born of many brothers and sisters.

That means a community of brothers and sisters who have a tender heart that cares and acts for the good of others. This is our calling…

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  Micah 6:8 (NIV)

You won’t find a clearer description of our calling. And to some leaders who misunderstood what God requires of us, Jesus said…

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’”  Matthew 9:13

Think of the difference that one teacher who is merciful can make in a school, one teacher with a tender heart who cares and acts for the good of the children and the other staff, and for those in the administration.

Think of the difference in a business or a church or a family when there’s one person with a tender heart who cares and acts for the good of others.

Where and how can I be merciful? What would this look like?

Seven Opportunities for Manifesting Mercy

You will be saying, “Surely he is not beginning a list of seven things at this stage in the message!” Let me assure you, the end is near! I want you to be looking for opportunities to show mercy this week.

  1. Material needs

If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 1 John 3:17

The Good Samaritan opened his heart to a person in need and did something to help him. Sinclair Ferguson says…

Mercy is getting down on your hands and knees and doing something to restore dignity to someone whose life has been broken by sin. [2]

Then Ferguson says…

[The Samaritan] did not deal with the cause of the man’s need by chasing the robbers… [and] he did not complain about the failure of society to meet the man’s need… The Samaritan addressed the immediate need set before him and did what he could to bring relief.

  1. Spiritual struggles

Have mercy on those who doubtJude 22

God calls us to have a tender heart towards brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling in their faith. Have mercy on those who doubt.

I once heard Warren Wiersbe [3] say if he could have his time over again he would “do more to encourage God’s people.” Lord, save me from being hard and demanding. Make me tender towards others, sensitive to the loads they bear, and faithful in bringing help, as Christ is faithful to me.

Christ does not break the bruised reed. He will not snuff out a smoldering wick. David captures the mercy of God when he says, “Your gentleness has made me great” (Psalm 18:35).

  1. Embarrassing failures

Love covers a multitude of sins.  1 Peter 4:8

Some things should not be covered over. Peter speaks about sins, not crimes, and there’s an important difference. But there are a multitude of sins a merciful person will be glad to cover over. Spurgeon says:

I recommend you, brothers and sisters, always to have one blind eye and one deaf ear.

Notice its only one! In this sinful world you need to have one eye that sees and one ear that hears. But Spurgeon says,

My blind eye is the best eye that I have, and my deaf ear is the best ear I have. [4]

A hard heart always makes a big deal of another person’s failure, but a tender heart, a merciful heart, often uses the blind eye and the deaf ear!

God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. He is merciful. And love covers over a multitude of sins. Look for opportunities to do that this week.

  1. Slanderous gossip

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable… think about these things.  Philippians 4:8

Satan is the father of lies. He is always manufacturing rumors that would make a person think less of someone who is their brother or sister in Christ. Some Christians seem to be adept at helping him!

Remember this: It is as bad to believe a lie as it as to tell one. It is as bad to repeat a lie as it is to invent one. There is a harshness in our culture (and too often it is creeping into the church) that is quick to believe the worst about a person, and slow to think the best.

It is so easy to slide into making much of other people’s failings and little of their strengths and virtues. A merciful person goes the other way—he or she will make more of a person’s virtues than their failings. A merciful person will close his ears to slander unless he’s compelled to do otherwise.

Thomas Watson says,

A man’s name is worth more than his goods, and… he that takes away the good name of another sins more than if he had taken the corn out of his field or the goods out of his shop.

The receiver of stolen goods is as bad as the thief. We must not only raise a false report, but not take it up.

You, who take away the good name of another, wound him in that which is most dear to him. Better take away a man’s life than his name. It is an irreparable injury; something will remain. [5]

  1. Unreasonable expectations

God knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.  Psalm 103:14

This is one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament. I am so grateful for it. God remembers that I am dust.

I must remember this in relation to others. I must not set unreasonable expectations of my spouse, my children or of others who work with me. I must learn not to be surprised by discouragements and disappointments.

I must get beyond thinking that a person will be a consistent paragon of virtue simply because he or she is a Christian. I must think more about the weights and burdens others may carry, and the strength of temptations they may face. I must remember, as God remembers about me, that they are dust.

  1. Personal injuries

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

If someone has hurt you, injured you, or wronged you in some way, don’t be surprised if at some point God puts you in a position when you have the opportunity to get your own back.

That’s what happened to Joseph. His brothers wronged him terribly, but God blessed him. He became the Prime Minister of Egypt, next to Pharoah himself. One day, the brothers needed food and they came to Egypt, and Joseph had them in his power.

Now, what you do at that moment will be the most revealing thing about you. Joseph forgave his brothers. That’s what mercy does.

  1. Lost souls

Save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear.  Jude 23

If you have mercy in your heart, you will speak to Christ about lost people and you will speak to lost people about Christ. Augustine said…

If I weep for the body from which the soul is departed.

How should I weep for the soul from which God is departed. [6]

A tender heart that cares and acts for the good of others will care deeply about people without Christ, and will act by sharing the Gospel with them.

Spurgeon says…

There are some Christians who do not seem to have much zeal for the conversion of others, and are quite content to sit down or to stand idle believing that the decrees and purposes of God will be fulfilled.

So they will, brethren, but it will be through warm-hearted Christians who bring others to Jesus… It will be by the one who is saved telling of salvation to another, and that other to a third, and so on till the sacred fire spreads, until the earth shall be girdled with its flame.

The Lord Jesus Christ stands before you and reaches out to you in mercy today! His tender heart cares for you, and he is ready to do you good. You need have no fear in coming to Jesus Christ today.

You may have messed up like Peter or like the prodigal son. You may feel beaten and bruised like the man on the Jericho road, and now you find it hard to let anyone come near you. If someone comes over, you think they are going to beat you again.

You need have no fear of Jesus. He is the merciful high priest. He has seen human life from the inside. He knows what it is to be beaten and bruised himself. He cares for you and he stands ready to do good for you today.

This is a Christ to whom you can come. And this is a Christ in whom you can trust. His mercy is not for a moment, but for a lifetime.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

And those who know him are able to say,

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Psalm 23:6

 

[1] See also, Nehemiah 9:7; Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8; Joel 2:13; and Jonah 4:2

[2] Sinclair Ferguson, “The Sermon on the Mount,” p. 31, Banner of Truth, 1988

[3] Warren Wiersbe (born May 16, 1929) pastored for 20 years, including 10 years at Moody Church in Chicago. He is best known for his “Be” series of commentaries for ordinary believers on individual books of the Bible.

[4] C. H. Spurgeon, from sermon #3158, “The Fifth Beatitude,” 1873

[5] Thomas Watson, “Beatitudes,” p. 149-150, Banner of Truth, 1971

[6] Cited in Ibid., p. 144

 

© Colin S. Smith

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