Intro: Let me begin with two questions:
- What do we need more than anything else?
- What do we get more than anything else? (from God)
Both questions have the same answer (at least the answer I have in mind).
Mercy: You need it; You get it. In the final analysis mercy is the whole of your salvation if you are saved; If you are lost, its absence is the whole of your ruin.
Our verse for the month: Matthew 5:7 – 7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. The beatitudes are Jesus’ composite picture of the Christian. This verse tells us two things.
- God’s people are merciful. They extend mercy to others.
- As merciful people, they receive mercy themselves.
I. Mercy Defined: Mercy in the NT is most often translated from the word eleos which is also rendered as loving-kindness and compassion. Vines says it is the outward manifestation of pity. It is closely associated with grace.
A. The distinction between the grace and mercy may be that receiving grace is getting the reward that we do not deserve; receiving mercy is not getting the punishment that we do deserve.
B. God is a God of mercy. He does not delight in the condemnation or punishment of sinners. Thus Peter says God does not want anyone to perish. Rather He desires to bless us, or to extend mercy toward us. His mercy is seen most vividly in the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Jesus. Paul says… But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
II. The Implications of God’s Mercy: If God has been merciful to us, we also must be merciful to others. This implication is absolute and clearly taught by Jesus Himself. One of the most obvious ways in which we are to be merciful is in forgiving others.
A. Read Matthew 18:21-35 – Jesus’ parables required interpretation, but not amplification. Once a person understood who the parable was about, the lesson was too simple to miss. This simple story is pointed and graphic. Who can miss it?
1. Can you see yourself in this story? vs. 24 – And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. Here I am! I owed God an insurmountable debt. Although the 10,000 talents in the parable is difficult to translate into today’s currency, the talent was the largest monetary unit in the Roman Empire, and “ten thousand” was the largest number for which the Greek Language had a specific word (murioi, myriads). By combining the largest denomination of currency with the largest number, Christ is hyperbolically indicating an astronomical sum that was completely beyond the servant’s ability to repay. “If one talent equaled ten thousand denarii, as some suggest, the debt would be equivalent to a hundred million working days [approx. 273,973 years] for the day laborers mentioned in 20:2″ (Garland, 194).” The bottom line is that I could not pay it off.
a. Vs. 25 enunciates the demand of justice. The debtor (that’s me) cannot pay, and the punishment is clearly pronounced.
b. vs. 26 – In desperation, the debtor makes a promise he cannot keep- just give me more time and I will pay the debt. We often think that if God will just give us some time (or the right circumstances) the good will outweigh the bad, and we will be square with Him.
c. vs. 27 – I ask for patience, but God gives me mercy. The debt is cancelled. The only motivation for such an incredible act is compassion. He had compassion on the debtor. Mercy is born from compassion.
d. Mercy is the dramatic picture of how God deals with man. Many doubt that God is this merciful, but the testimony of Scripture is incontrovertible. God is “a gracious God, merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Jonah 4:2), who has “not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10), and who “abundantly pardon[s]” those who forsake their wicked ways and turn to Him (Isa. 55:7), “because he delights in mercy” (Micah 7:18). God is no Scrooge demanding of us payment with interest for every penny owed Him, but One who freely releases us from that which we cannot pay (Rom. 3.24, 5.6).
2. Now comes the dramatic and unconscionable part of the story – vs. 28 – “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ The forgiven servant will not forgive another.
a. The contrast in the amount of the debts that are owed is significant. one hundred denarii – a denarius was the average daily wage for a laborer. It was one six-hundred-thousandth of the debt he owed. It was definitely payable.
b. vs. 29 – So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.‘ – same words he used himself. But the connection and implication were completely overlooked. He threw this man into prison until he could pay all he owed. God’s mercy did not beget mercy in him.
c. vs. 31-34 recount the consequence of being unmerciful. Your merciful forgiveness is recalled, and you are judged with the same judgment you use toward others.
- Note that withholding forgiveness and acting legalistically is defined by Jesus as “wickedness” – vs. 32. The lord did not call him ‘wicked servant’ when he owed him the ‘ten thousand talents,’ but he did call him a ‘wicked servant’ for such harsh and cruel treatment toward his fellow servant (Boles, 382).
- What did the Master expect? in vs. 33 Jesus uses the word eleos twice – “Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ (NASU)
III. The Priority of Our Mercy – How important is it that I be merciful to others?
A. “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” – This statement is from the words of the prophecy of Hosea 6:6. These are the words of God Himself as He condemns the priests of Israel who violate God’s holy law and commit acts of lewdness. Hosea calls on Israel to repent and come to a true knowlwdge of God (v. 3). What does God want from Isreal and the priests who serve the temple? “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”.
B. Interestingly these words are found again twice in the book of Matthew. Both times they are spoken by Jesus at separate events. Look closer at one of these occasions in Matthew 9.
1. Matt 9:10-13 “Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” The Pharisees were quick to condemn Jesus because He associated with those they readily ostracized. The exclusion of the tax collectors and sinners was considered to be an act of righteousness, as the clean was to be separated from the unclean. It was a matter of religious worship, and indicated a superior knowledge of the law.
a. Jesus’ use of the term sacrifice here is to represent the outward religious service that typified the Jewish law of offering sacrifice. God did require sacrifices, but they were to point to something greater. It was this greater thing (His mercy toward their sins) that He “desired”.
b. Jesus rebuked the Jewish leaders because they had not learned this (“Go and learn” was a rabbinical phrase that a teacher would speak to a pupil.) Jesus was associated with sinners to show them mercy. This was the first priority of God, as so should be to His people. Jesus did not condone the sin or compromise the law. But being merciful was the point of knowing the law.
c. Paul makes a similar point about love in 1 Cor. 8 – “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” It odes no good to know the law if you do not practice it with love.
Adam Clark sees three important implications to Jesus audience in these words:
- That God prefers an act of mercy, shown to the necessitous, to any act of religious worship to which the person might be called at that time. Both are good; but the former is the greater good, and should be done in preference to the other.
- That the whole sacrificial system was intended only to point out the infinite mercy of God to fallen man, in his redemption by the blood of the new covenant. And,
- That we should not rest in the sacrifices, but look for the mercy and salvation prefigured by them.
2. The other occurrence of these words is Matthew 12:1-8. Here Jesus is again condemned for his disciples being permitted to pluck the heads of the grain as they passed through the fields on the Sabbath. Jesus pointed them to David, who, because he was hungry, ate of the showbread of the Tabernacle even though he was not a priest.
- Matt 12:3-8 – 3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? 6 Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’* you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even* of the Sabbath.”
- The Pharisees were hypocritical to condemn Jesus and not condemn David.
- But Jesus also points them to the deeper meaning of the law of the Sabbath and God Himself. If they truly understood the purpose of the law (The Sabbath was made for man, not the man for the Sabbath – Mk. 2:27) and the nature of God (He wants to see acts of mercy, more than acts of religious sacrifice), they would not have condemned Jesus. Pulpit Commentary says… Had you learned the simple Bible truth that God places the exercise of your moral faculties, particularly those of kindness, above merely external observances, you would not have committed this sin of taking up the position of wrong judges. He traces their error up to its true source, ignorance of the first principles of religion, ignorance of what God really desires.
Conclusion: It is mercy that I need most; It is mercy that I have received the most. The mercy of God has implications for me. The mercy of God demands a priority that I cannot ignore or distort..
- Whenever I begin to address the sin or weakness of another; whenever I am compelled to act in discipline toward others; Whenever my knowledge puts me in the place of judgment; I must first desire to extend mercy, because mercy is the first desire of God. Jesus says “go and learn what this means”