The Secret of Mercy

There is a book with an intriguing title: “How to close your church in a decade.” The ways to close a church, the authors say, are simple. Perpetuate division, party spirit and empire building. The church is not a building. The church is not an organization. The church is people, people in relationship with God and people in relationships with each other. If anybody was wanting to close a church, the simplest way would be to destroy those relationships with God and with each other. To create barriers to communication. To reject and ignore people. On the other hand, if we want to build up the church, we need to build up those relationships with God and with each other. To build bridges and tear down barriers to communication. In one word – to love each other. So we come to the Fifth Beatitude. In God’s Upside-Down Kingdom, Jesus says,
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)
Jesus is not saying that we earn God’s mercy by being merciful to others. We never could earn or deserve God’s mercy or God’s forgiveness or God’s grace. Instead what Jesus is saying is that we demonstrate that we have understood and received God’s mercy by showing in our own lives that same kind of mercy to others. In the Bible the idea of mercy embraces forgiveness, compassion and acts of kindness. Let’s unpack that. What does the Bible teach us about mercy? Before we start – a quick health warning – this morning I have nine points!
1. Mercy comes from God
The starting point for us being merciful is to receive the mercy of God for ourselves. The first Beatitude challenged us to admit our own spiritual poverty. The second Beatitude called us to acknowledge and bewail our manifold sin and wickedness and the third Beatitude urged us to a proper attitude of meekness and humility before the Almighty and Holy God.
Now the fifth Beatitude reminds us: God has forgiven us more than we could ever repay. Jesus’s parable of the unforgiving servant reminds us of the amazing grace of God.
Matthew 18 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

God has forgiven us so much! True mercy can never be earned or deserved. A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed the same offence twice and justice demanded death.
“But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I am pleading for mercy.”
“But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied.
“Sir,” the woman cried, “If he deserved it, it would not be mercy.”

God has shown each of us such great mercy! He has forgiven each of us so much!

2. So we should show mercy to others

In Jesus’s parable, that debtor who had been forgiven so much then failed to forgive another who owed him much, much less.

Matthew 18 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow
servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.

Sometimes we can forget just how much God has forgiven us. This parable brings a solemn warning to us.

Matthew 18 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

So the Fifth Beatitude challenges us. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
3. Mercy does not insist on our “rights”
The second servant did indeed owe a debt to the first. But the first servant who had been forgiven so much should not have insisted on his “right” to be paid. He was obliged to forgive the debt of the second. When we stand before Almighty God we will have no “rights” to demand. We certainly won’t be expecting any rewards. We will simply be putting all our hopes in God’s mercy and God’s grace. So we should not demand our “rights” from others but rather show them mercy.
Colossians 3 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
As the poet George Herbert said, “He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.”

4. Mercy does not seek revenge
Rivalry, party spirit, jealousy and gossip often have their root in a lack of forgiveness.
Romans 12 says this. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge …
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Sometimes people seek revenge on other people we think have wronged us by landing them in trouble, or telling other people about their mistakes, or even parading how good we are to have forgiven them despite the dreadful things they have done to us. But all the time we are seeking revenge we are stopping God’s love and forgiveness from flowing through us. Mercy does not look for revenge.
5. Mercy does not bear grudges
1 Corinthians 13 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
Love keeps no record of wrongs. It does not sit waiting for the next opportunity to drag the skeletons out of the closet. Grudges are like tumours that eat away at our heart and soul so we end up completely unable to love. We need God the great surgeon to remove grudges out of us.
6. Mercy does not depend on apologies
God’s mercy is not like human mercy and God’s forgiveness is not like human forgiveness. As human beings we wait for the other person to acknowledge they have hurt us before we will forgive them. We wait for an apology, then we show mercy. But God’s mercy and forgiveness aren’t like that. They are unilateral. The initiative for God’s mercy and forgiveness comes entirely from God.
Romans 5 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God forgave us while we were still sinners. Before we came and asked for forgiveness. Before we even acknowledged our sin, Christ died for us. Jackie Pullinger put it this way. “God didn’t wait for me to make good before Jesus died for me.” Time and time again Jesus forgave people before they asked to be forgiven. The paralysed man whose friends made a hole in the roof so he could see Jesus. “Son, your sins are forgiven. Get up, take up your mat and walk.” The woman caught in the act of adultery. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” From the cross, Jesus even forgave those who were crucifying him. “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”
God doesn’t wait for people to confess their sins, or to apologise, before He forgives them. Neither should we. Mercy does not depend on apologies.
7. Mercy forgives all kinds of people
Matthew 9 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus commands us to love our enemies, not just our family and friends. We should forgive the people who have hurt us deeply, or really annoyed us. The people we could never forgive in our own strength. Those are the people we must forgive first, not last. Not tomorrow, some day, one day, never. But today. Here and now. And it is irrelevant whether that other person is a Christian brother or sister, or if they are not.
8. Mercy leads on to reconciliation
Matthew 5 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
God’s act of forgiving our sins is not an end in itself. God’s forgiveness is just the means to the glorious end of us entering into an eternal relationship with God our Creator and our Saviour and our Heavenly Father. This is the good news of the gospel. God changes his enemies into his friends. By God’s amazing grace the barrier of sin separating us from God has been removed – we have been reconciled to God! In the same way, the purpose of us showing forgiveness and mercy to other people is not just to help us feel better and let go of our hurts and give us and the other person a clear conscience. The purpose of mercy is to restore broken relationships between us and the other person. To bring reconciliation.
9. Showing mercy is not optional
Jesus makes this very clear later on in the Sermon on the Mount in middle of the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew 6 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Here is the same warning as we find in the parable of the unforgiving servant.
We don’t earn or deserve God’s mercy when we show mercy ourselves. But if we don’t show mercy and forgiveness that reveals that we really haven’t understood or received God’s mercy for ourselves.
1 John 3 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
Clement of Alexandria put it like this. “For the sake of each of us he laid down his life – worth no less than the universe. He demands of us in return our lives for the sake of each other.”

There you go! Nine points in under 18 minutes. This is what God’s mercy is like:
1. Mercy comes from God
2. So we should show mercy to others
3. Mercy does not insist on our “rights”
4. Mercy does not seek revenge
5. Mercy does not bear grudges
6. Mercy does not depend on apologies
7. Mercy forgives all kinds of people
8. Mercy leads on to reconciliation
9. Showing mercy is not optional

Nine may be too many points to take home and remember. But while they are on the screen in front of us nine points are not too many for us to put into practice here and now! Forgiving is hard. Forgiving is painful. Forgiveness costs. But God still calls us to forgive. People may have hurt us or opposed us or mocked us or ignored us. It could be a family feud, or the neighbour from hell. The colleague at work or even somebody in the church. Let us each hear for ourselves the promise Jesus makes.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

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