Turn with me in your Bibles to the passage that we have been looking at for some weeks now. We've been studying the Beatitudes of the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew's gospel and chapter 5. Matthew's gospel and chapter 5, and we're studying this morning from verse 7 - specifically the fifth Beatitude of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's read just all the Beatitudes again to refresh our memory about what the Lord has been saying to us.
Verse 1: "And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was sat down, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you".
Let's ask the Lord's help as we come to His word now: Our dear Father, we need Thy help today - we need Thy help always, but as we come to Thy word we feel especially our need of the Holy Ghost. Lord, we pray that Thou wilt fill the preacher, that Thou wilt fill each believer in this place that is listening for a word from Thyself. We know that many, perhaps, have not come into this place to hear what God is saying, but Lord we are concerned with those who are thirsty, with those who are hungry. For those that are not hungry and thirsty, Lord today that You would make them hungry for Thy word, for Thy truth and for Thy will. Lord, we say that our hearts are weak and poor until our Master we find, and we ask that today, as we come hungry and thirsty, that Lord as we come faint and low that we will learn what it is to be filled from God on high. Speak to us, we pray. Help us, for Christ's sake. Amen.
There's a story told of something that happened years ago in a small town where there was a business. The man who owned the business had two identical twin sons who were so close to one another that they dressed exactly the same. They were inseparable and, in fact, throughout all of their life they never married because they were so close to one another. When their father died they took over the family business. Their relationship was hailed around the whole area as a model of creative co-operation, not only in family life but within business. One day, as they were in the family business within the shop, one of the brothers was busy, so much so that he neglected to put a one dollar bill into the till. He left it sitting upon the counter, he went to serve another customer at the back of the shop, only to remember that he had left that one dollar bill sitting upon the counter. He rushed back to find that it was gone. He turned to his twin brother and asked him had he seen where it had went: 'Do you know the whereabouts of the one dollar bill?'. The brother said: 'No, I don't know where it is'. An hour later the same brother asked his brother once more: 'Do you know where the dollar bill went?'. He asked him again and again until his brother became defensive, and every time they tried to discuss the matter there was conflict that grew worse and worse, which culminated in vicious charges and counter-charges from one to the other.
The outcome was that the relationship was dissolved, their partnership was split up, there was the installation of a partition down the middle of the shop, and the two began competing with one another. This continued for 20 years, within the town it was a well-known fact that they had fallen out. But one day there was a car that drove up to the front of that business and [a man] walked into one of the brother's shops. It was a fancy car, he was in a fancy suit, he was well groomed and he stood at the counter and said: 'I have a score to settle with you'. The man said: 'Well, what score have you to settle with me? As far as I know I haven't a score to settle with anyone'. The man began to tell a story of how there was a day when he was poor, there was a day when he was weak, there was a day when he was cast down, he had no home to live in, nowhere to lay his head, no money. He was walking down the alley, down the side of their shop - and he saw upon the counter a dollar bill. Temptation got the better of him, he ran swiftly, took it from the counter and off he went. But he said, since that event, he had been brought up as a Christian by his mother, he knew what was right and wrong - and throughout his whole life his conscience was troubling him, that that one dollar bill had been stolen. So he says: 'I'm here, I'm here to settle the score, I'm here to pay any damages that I owe'. That brother stood there weeping and crying for 20 years of bitterness, for 20 years of sorrow, of the loss of the closest that he had to him - and then he told that man: 'You better go next-door and tell my brother what has happened'. That man left them both, two identical twins, standing weeping.
This Beatitude that we're going to study this morning is: 'Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy'. This Beatitude, whether we realise it at the first glance, it is the remedy, it is the cure for all bitterness - whether in family, whether in fellowships, whether in your own heart or in your mind. If you, this morning, have the problems of these twins - and let me tell you that there are many that have these problems, many a brother to a brother that has broken up, many a brother to a sister, a man to a wife, a father to a son, or daughter, or mother, and the relationship has been broken through bitterness - if you have that problem this Beatitude is the message of liberation.
Now let's think for a moment, and recap about the background of the Beatitudes. If you turn with me for a moment, just back a few pages, to Matthew chapter 3 we will see the context and the backdrop of what the Lord Jesus was preaching against within the Beatitudes. Matthew chapter 3 and verses 7 to 12: 'But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down', cut down, 'and cast into the fire'. The Lord Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees and the Sadducees here, He is speaking to their religiosity, their self-righteousness, their perception that - provided they looked alright, they talked alright, they walked alright on the outside - it didn't matter what was inside, it mattered what was outside. They were men and women who followed the law of external holiness, and thought that that was enough.
If you were to turn to Matthew chapter 23, you again see the background, the context of what the Lord Jesus was up against as He ministered in Palestine at this time. Matthew 23 and verse 27, He says: 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity'. 'You're like a dead tomb! On the outside you're all clean, you may be engraved, you may be covered in beautiful colours, you may be perceived by those around to be pure, to be holy, to be white - but within your very heart of hearts, your soul of souls, deep down in the real person you're dead!'.
What matters - the Lord Jesus Christ is getting at - within all these beatitudes, is what is in the inside. What is inside! The change that has been wrought by God the Holy Spirit within the soul of a man, the new birth, something that brings eternal life to bear on your external life. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it like this: 'A Christian is something before he does something'. The first four beatitudes that we've been studying over the past weeks really centre upon the inner principles that deal with how you are before God, how you are yourself. But we're looking this morning - and will be continuing to look at in the weeks that follow - from five on, the fifth Beatitude on, in verse 7. And these cease to deal with, primarily, how we are within ourselves before God, but they begin to deal with how we are before our brothers and sisters, and our attitudes to those around us. The first four are inner attitudes, the last four are inner attitudes that manifest themselves outwardly.
Let's look at verse 7 this morning: 'Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy'. What does it mean? Is it the humanistic philosophy: 'Well, if you're good to everybody else, everybody else will be good to you'? Is that what it means? Because there are many Christians, and that's how they interpret it, that's how they read it. What does it mean? Does it mean that God cannot be merciful to you unless you are merciful to other people? Is that what it means? Does it mean unless you forgive other men their sins, before that God can never forgive you your sins?
The Greek word for 'mercy' within the New Testament simply means this: 'to give help to the wretched, to relieve the miserable'. To give help to the wretched, to relieve the miserable. Therefore there are a few comparisons I want to make for us to understand, today, what mercy really is, how we obtain it, how we commit it, and how we get it from God. To do this we have to make some distinctions and comparisons. First of all we have to compare mercy and grace, then we have to compare mercy and compassion, then we must compare mercy and forgiveness - and then we need to ask the question: what mercy obtains mercy from God?
First of all let's compare mercy and grace. Often within the New Testament, and within the whole of the Scriptures, the word grace and the word mercy are synonymous - they mean the same thing. They mean: 'God goodness which has been shown to mankind'. But often, within the New Testament especially, there is a distinction between the meaning of grace and the meaning of mercy. Grace simply means: 'the love of God which has been shown to undeserving men'. God's love towards people that have sinned against Him, towards sinners that have broke His law, that are guilty in a legal sense before God - grace is the lavishing of God's love upon those people. But where there is the distinction, mercy is compassion that is shown to the miserable. It's a bit hard at first to see the difference between the two, but if you liken it to this: grace is taking away the guilt that is over us. God comes - we do not deserve it, we cannot merit it - but God comes and He lifts away the guilt that is ours by right, He takes it away from us. But mercy...mercy is the compassion of God, that when He looks upon us it motivates Him to lift that guilt off us.
The mercy of God speaks of those that are helpless, those that are miserable. It's another word for compassion, that He looks, He sees those that are wounded, He sees those that are broken, those that are sorrowing, those that have no hope, the hopeless of the hopeless - and He looks upon them in compassion, He sees their misery and He tries to heal them. Grace is when God pardons sin, when God pardons us. I hope you can see the difference between mercy and grace.
But then we need to compare mercy and compassion - because mercy, in the first sense, primarily means compassion. I want to stress this in the strongest way that I can: that mercy is not simply feeling compassionate. I call feeling compassionate: 'the hurdle of spiritual imagination, the barrier of Christian intentions' - and this is something that I fight with day by day, week by week, and I believe that we all - if we're honest - will fight with this for the rest of our lives: Christian intentions, the barrier, the hurdle of Christian imagination. In other words: what I know I ought to do! What I talk about with people, what I think about, what I read about, what I preach about - but no matter how much energy I can muster up within myself, I cannot bring myself to bring it about! Compassion is not feeling compassionate, it is more than a feeling, but it is an active verb - it is something that is shown, it is something that must be done.
Turn with me to Luke chapter 10, for in Luke chapter 10 we have just this that the Lord Jesus is trying to illustrate - what it is to have compassion upon another. We have within this chapter the story of the good Samaritan, and you remember the priest walked by the man that was lying bleeding, beaten up, you remember the Levite walked by the man. They both looked, I'm sure within the depths of their soul they both felt compassion upon him, but we read the Lord Jesus Christ's words in verses 36 and 37: 'Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise'. You remember that this parable of the Lord Jesus Christ was told when the man asked Him: 'Who is my neighbour?'. He was then told of how this Samaritan man - who was ethnically, socially, politically barriered from the Jews - came as his enemy and showed compassion to this poor man. What did the Lord Jesus Christ say? Did He say: 'Go and feel compassion', 'Go and feel this way about those that are poor'? No! He says: 'Go, and do thou likewise'!
The minor prophets, that we have been studying on Monday nights, but two of them that we haven't looked into - Amos chapter 5 and in the whole book of Hosea - talk about false religion that talks about, that preaches about, that writes about caring for one another, and caring for the world around them, but their words are empty. This is illustrated, I believe, by the 19th-century preacher. As he was coming along the highway he crossed his friend whose horse was killed in an accident, and while the crowd of onlookers stood by and began to express empty words of sympathy about what had happened, the preacher stood up and he put his hand in his pocket, and he turned to the loudest sympathiser and he said: 'I am sorry five pounds, how much are you sorry?' - is that not what mercy is? Is that not what compassion is? Not feeling it, not talking about it, not preaching, or singing, or reading about it - it is actually doing it! Mercy demands action! Mercy is, if you like - to put it crudely - putting your money where your mouth is! Mercy is more than feeling, for the good Samaritan looked and he saw the wounds, and he didn't just want to dress them - he dressed them! He saw the man cast down, and he didn't just know that he should get him and pick him up and take him to an inn - he did it! The Lord Jesus Christ says to us today: 'Go, and do thou likewise'.
Mercy, first of all, is compassion. But secondly: mercy and forgiveness, how does mercy relate to forgiveness? Well, you see, mercy that the Lord Jesus Christ is speaking of here in verse 7 is not just compassion, but it is also expressed in forgiveness. Mercy is the love of God that forgives, and the love of God that pardons another who is wrong. Let me give you an example: Joseph in the Old Testament Scriptures. You remember what happened to Joseph, his brothers fell upon him, they brought him because he was the beloved of his father, they threw him down a pit, they were about to kill him - and the only thing that stopped them killing him was the fact that there were traders coming along the road, and they knew that they would get a bit of money for him. They sold him, they thought that they would never see him again. He went into prison after that - you know all the things that Joseph had to endure - but there was one day, later on in his life, when his brothers stood before him, and his brothers wept, his brothers were broken because of the predicament of famine that was in the land and in his own family. And Joseph, as they stood before him, they were in his hands to do with them as he pleased. Do you remember what happened? Joseph had to go out of the court to weep, to weep because of the compassion that he had upon his brothers because the family, the nation was starving - and he didn't act against them in the way that was his right, but he forfeited his right because of compassion.
Who is the greatest person that ever showed mercy? Is it not the Lord Jesus Christ? The most merciful human being that ever lived, because He looked, he went after the deaf, the dumb, the blind, the lame, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the drunkards, the weak little children. You remember the widowed woman that was following a coffin of her son - she'd already lost the breadwinner, and now one who could bring money into her home had died - and the Lord Jesus Christ stopped the procession, He touched the casket and he brought life back into that woman's life, because He had compassion upon her! Remember John chapter 8, we have the woman caught in adultery - and there were all the religious men stuffed up with their own self-righteousness, standing about in their long garments with their big scrolls and beards, and looking ready to throw the stones at this woman. And they say: 'Rabbi, what do we do? Moses says stone her, what do You say we do?' - and the merciful Jesus looks at that woman and says: 'Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more'.
The Lord Jesus Christ was full of mercy, so much so that in Mark chapter 2 and verse 16 He's reprimanded by those about Him because He hangs about with the riff-raff of society, eating and drinking with the filth of the world. And the two merciless systems of all time, the empire of Rome and the Jews, they united together in their mercilessness before Christ to crucify Him, to nail Him to a cross. And the whole of the Lord's life, the whole of the Lord's kingdom, the whole of the Lord's teaching cries out this: that it was all of mercy! And that Christ's kingdom is a kingdom that gives, it does not take! Sure, isn't God full of mercy? He is full of mercy - why? Because He saw us in our pitiful state, He saw us the way that we were in our sin, with all the wrong that we have, with all the guilt, with all the ugliness of our filthy sores in His sight - yet He sent the Lord Jesus Christ! And listen, if you're not saved today: He sent Christ to save the sinner! What pity He had, He didn't have to do it, but He did it because He was rich in mercy!
The word of God says that He has declared: 'The pitiful, they shall obtain mercy'. And as He hung on the cross, what was it that He was praying for? He said: 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do' - He was crying for mercy! And Stephen, that walked after Christ, and walked after Him in his death - what did he say? 'Lay not this charge against them, Lord, for what they are doing. Forgive them!'. Let me say this: mercy is not some foolish sentimentality that excuses or ignores sin - that's not what mercy is. But the only person that God shows mercy towards is the person to whom He has imputed the judgement of God upon Christ. What do I mean? God shows mercy towards us not in some sentimental, wishy-washy way that He feels sorry for us, because God must judge sin, God must condemn sin - and any time that you find in the Scriptures were mercy was extended to men, someone else had to take the judgement. It was the lamb in the Old Testament, praise God it's the Lamb of God in the New Testament! The only reason that we have the mercy of God extended to us today is because Christ has received the punishment! Christ has been made a curse for us, and remember always when we talk about mercy, Psalm 85 verse 10: 'Mercy and truth are met together'. Praise God for the cross.
But finally, there's mercy in grace, there's mercy in compassion, there's mercy in forgiveness - but there's mercy that obtains mercy. Now this has been misunderstood for centuries. People have looked at this verse and said: 'Well, you must be merciful if God is going to be merciful to you. This means that you must forgive others if you are to be forgiven' - but they're missing the point entirely, because the idea is simply this: that by performing acts of mercy you will show yourself to be forgiven by God. That's the point: that the person who has been shown mercy by God, the person who knows what it is like to taste of the forgiveness and the mercy of God - how can he be anything but forgiving? How can he be anything but merciful to those who he knows around him that are in the same predicament? That's what this passage means, that our compassion, our love for the lost, our love for the poor is out of a heart that has been forgiven, out of a heart that has been shined upon by the grace and the mercy and the peace of God Almighty - that is the standard that we have. When you have been the object of God's salvation it ought to be that you show mercy to those around you - and the greatest evidence that God has shined into your heart is when you help the helpless, when you lift the downtrodden, when you heal the broken-hearted.
This world's philosophy is coined in the words of a famous philosopher, when he said this: 'Mercy is the disease of the soul that spells weakness'. What does the world emphasise? What does our province emphasise? Rights! My right! It is my right to do this, to do that! I have the right here, I have the right there! If you were living in the Roman Empire, in Jesus day, do you know that if you were a Roman father you had the right, when your child was born from the womb of its mother, that if you put the thumbs up that child would live, and if you put the thumbs down the child would die? That was a right! But I wonder if you were a Christian in that society would you take that right as your own - it's rightfully yours, but would you do it? In the Roman Empire you had the right to kill your slave and bury him. You could bury him, not another question asked by the legal system or by the police - you could do as you liked men, you could even kill your wife and get away with it! That was your right, would you take it?
In Romans chapter 1 and verse 29 to 31 we read a description of the city of Rome and those that lived in Rome. They were described as many things, but the very last word used to describe them is: 'unmerciful people'. Listen, my Christian friend today, the reality of this Beatitude in verse 7 is this, this is what the Lord Jesus Christ is saying and you must grasp this as a Christian: if you as a believer do not show mercy towards the physically and the financially pitiful - listen - you are not saved! I don't know if that's too strong, but it is not me that has put it that strong, it's the Lord Jesus Himself. The word of God testifies this: it was an answer to the Lord when he said: 'Love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself' - what was that? It's the way to be saved: to give everything to God, to show that you're wrong, to trust God. They could even do it in the Old Testament, he asked: 'Who's my neighbour?', for the priest or the Levite that failed to love their neighbour as themselves, they didn't get into the kingdom. Now don't get me wrong today, I'm not saying the opposite of what this is saying, that you have to be merciful or that you have to be forgiving - but if we look into our lives, and we search with the search light of God's holiness into our souls, and we see that we are unforgiving, that we are unmerciful - that is not a fruit of the Spirit! So what is it a fruit of?
First John chapter 3 and verse 17 depicts this - in John's words, and you remember that in this epistle he talks so often about how we ought to love one another - now listen to the implications that emanate out of this verse, think about it! 'But whosoever', verse 17 of chapter 3 of 1 John, 'whosoever hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?'. He is saying what the Lord Jesus is saying: if you don't have this compassion and this mercy in you, you don't have God in you. That is what the word of God is saying, that's what Jesus said in Matthew 18:21 to 35, where He talked about the unmerciful, the unforgiving servant. Remember, he owed the equivalent of 20 million dollars in today's terms! His master came and he wiped the slate clean because he asked him for forgiveness, and as soon as he went out of jail he found his friend that owed him the equivalent of 5000 dollars, and he grabbed him by the throat - unmerciful! The love of God was not in him.
This is surgical, this is dangerous, this is the scalpel of the Holy Spirit that goes right into our heart. This is what destroys us as Christians, as we see before God's word that we are poor, that we are broken, that within we mourn for our sins, that we are meek in front of all men and within ourselves, that we are empty and that God has to fill us - and then we realise that God has shown mercy upon us, therefore we see the pitifulness of all humanity, not just spiritually but physically and financially - and we show mercy to those around us.
Brethren, if we do not have the desire or the ability within ourselves to have compassion upon a dying world, a poor world; if we do not have it in our hearts for our brothers and sisters in Christ, to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us, we are in grave danger. For Jesus says that even the life of God may not dwell in our hearts. When we began these studies in the Beatitudes we asked two questions. First of all: is our faith real? Secondly: how healthy is our faith? I hope that we're beginning to see a diagnosis. Let me quote D.A. Carson as I close today, he said in relation to this Beatitude: 'I am persuaded that, should the Spirit of God usher in another period of refreshing revival in the Western world, one of the earliest signs of it will be the admission of spiritual bankruptcy which finds its satisfaction in God and His righteousness, and goes on to be richly merciful towards others'.
How merciful are you? Balaam in Numbers chapter 23 and verse 10, do you know what he said when he was dying? He was thinking of death and he said this: 'Let me die the death of the upright'. Let me die the death of righteous people! Maybe you're unsaved here, and you're asking: 'Let me die the death of a Christian'. Do you know what the old puritan said about him? (And I'm closing now) 'Balaam wanted to die like the righteous alright, he just didn't want to live like the righteous'. Are you merciful to others? Are you living in accordance with the Beatitudes? For Christ says: 'If you are, you are richly blessed'.
Lord, as we look into the mirror of Thy truth we see ourselves, and Lord it is not a pretty sight. We remember the Lord himself said: 'If you give a cup of water in my name, you do it unto me'. Lord, how many cups of water have we given in Thy name? How much mercy have we had to the poor, as Christ had? How much mercy and compassion and forgiveness do we extend to our brothers and sisters in Christ? Lord, help us to see today that is the road of obedience that is the road of blessing, that God desires obedience more than sacrifice. Lord, we are willing, help our unwillingness - and come in, dear God, and change us as the hymn says: 'To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus, all we ask is to be like Him'. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the seventh tape in his Beatitudes series, titled "Blessed Are The Merciful" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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