“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)
The Beatitudes are perhaps among the most familiar of verses of Scripture. For the last several weeks, I have been teaching through this section in Matthew and have been greatly enriched in my own walk with Christ. Jesus describes a life that is truly blessed and truly happy. This is the life that He intends for His disciples to possess. It is His life supernaturally reproduced in them. The fifth Beatitude deals with the subject of mercy. Jesus says that His disciples are known by their mercy. This is because in Christ they have experienced the mercy of God. Mercy that is expressed reveals mercy that has been experienced. A hard-hearted person who shows no mercy in his or her relationships is a person who has not experienced the mercy of Jesus. Mercy that has been experienced inwardly will show up as mercy being expressed outwardly to others.
What is mercy? Simply defined, mercy is help given to the afflicted and is coming to the aid of the helpless. Mercy is compassion that rolls its sleeves up and goes to work on another’s behalf. Though closely related to grace, it is profoundly different. D.A. Carson writes, “What is mercy? How does it differ from grace? The two terms are frequently synonymous; but where there is a distinction between the two, it appears that grace is a loving response when love is undeserved, and mercy is a loving response prompted by the misery and helplessness of the one on whom the love is to be showered. Grace answers to the undeserving; mercy answers to the miserable.”
Two parables that Jesus told beautifully illustrate what mercy is. These parables are found in Luke 10 and in Matthew 18. The first is the parable of the Good Samaritan. From this story, we learn that mercy is compassion that sees a need. As the story goes, a certain man who had been traveling fell among thieves who beat him mercilessly and took everything that he had, leaving him for dead. Two religious men see him, but they pass him by. A Samaritan, of all people, comes by and sees the man. He has compassion on the man and stops to help. This shows us that true mercy is care that helps in an unselfish way. It is cost that gives and expects nothing in return. The Samaritan treats the man’s wounds, puts him on his own animal, and takes him to an inn where he pays all the expenses involved in his recovery. True mercy is willing to get its hands dirty to come to the aid of others.
The second parable in Matthew 18 also reveals an aspect of mercy, and it is the story of the 10,000 talents. A servant owed his master a debt of 10,000 talents which would be equivalent to $100 million by today’s standards. It was an astronomical amount of money that could never be paid in the man’s lifetime. He pleads with his master to forgive the debt. Jesus says that the master had compassion on the servant, showed him mercy, and forgave the debt. The servant then went out and found another servant who owed him a hundred denarii, roughly equivalent to a couple weeks wages. Instead of forgiving the debt like he himself had been forgiven, he refuses to show mercy and has his fellow servant locked up. When the master hears about what happened, he calls the wicked and hypocritical servant before him and says, “I forgave you! Why did you not forgive your fellow servant?” He then hands the wicked servant over to be punished. According to Jesus, true mercy is character that forgives the wrongs of others. How could those who have been forgiven by God not forgive others?
The greatest illustration of mercy is seen in the life of Jesus. He is the “Good Samaritan” who selflessly gives Himself. He is the “Compassionate Lord” who forgives the sin debt of repentant sinners by paying for their sins Himself through His death and resurrection. When God became a Man and walked among us, He was on a “mission of mercy.” He came to where we were and rescued us from our pitiful condition. As disciples, we too must see our life as being a “mission of mercy” to those around us who desperately need the salvation found in Jesus Christ. The church must be known for her mercy. The mission of making disciples cannot be fulfilled apart from showing mercy and compassion to those around us.