Blessed are the merciful

There is a saying that just like going to McDonald’s doesn’t make you a hamburger, is just like going to church doesn’t make you a Christian (I guess we are in the land of Whataburger so maybe I should say just like going to Whataburger doesn’t make you hamburger).  I may add, just like going to a Christian school doesn’t make you a Christian.

As we have been looking at the beatitudes, Jesus is telling us what it means to live in the kingdom of God. Not just anyone can be in the kingdom of God, only a follower of Christ, a Christian, can be in His kingdom. You can not assume that just because you go to a Christian school and attend a church that you are a Christian.  This is important because the beatitudes are not things you do but they are who you are. It is because Jesus has changed your heart. You don’t act poor in spirit, you are poor in spirit. You don’t act like you hunger and thirst for righteousness, in your soul, you hunger and thirst for what is right. This is important to understand as we move on to our next beatitude, blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Each beatitude builds on the one before it.  In order to be a person who is full of mercy, you must first be poor in spirit, then you must mourn the sin inside and outside of you, and next from a heart that hunger and thirsts for righteousness, you cannot help but be merciful to your neighbor.

It is like a person who by his bad decisions loses all his money and has to declare bankruptcy. He appears before the judge, thinking this is the end, but instead is told every debt has been paid in full.  That person should then be able to show great love and mercy to others around him. You see mercy comes from mercy. Pastor John Piper says our mercy to each other comes from God’s mercy to us. If you want to be a merciful person, then you must be a broken person.  Poor in spirit. Mournful. Knowing that everything we have comes by the mercy of God.

Let’s talk about mercy by talking about what it is not.  In Matthew 9:10-13 it says,

And as he (Jesus) sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  That is a quote from the Old Testament prophet Hosea where God accuses the people that their love is like the dew on the grass. It is there for a brief morning hour and then is gone.  The point Hosea is making is that God does not want us to do these religious activities, these duties, these Christian “I have to’s”, no, Jesus wants our hearts. I do these things because I want to.  I participate in chapel because I want to sing his praises. I listen in Bible class because I want to hear God’s word. Not because I have to to get a good grade. I go to church because I want to worship God not because my parents make me.  God desires mercy, not sacrifice. We think we can sacrifice a little time on Sunday morning and God is good with that. We think if we sacrifice to memorize Bible verses, God is pleased with us. We think if we sacrifice some money and buy toys for people in need, God will bless us. God desires mercy, heartfelt, sincere love for your neighbor, not outward sacrifice.  

In the passage I just read, Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and they were eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus said He came for those that knew that they were sick in their souls, not the ones that performed religious duty and thought that they were fine before God and needed no help at all.  We are to see ourselves like the poor, the tax collectors, the sinners, and not like the proud Pharisees who thought they knew everything they needed to about the Bible.

Let’s look at another example. (Matthew 23:23–24).

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”

You strain a gnat and swallow a camel.  This is a strainer. Has anyone ever seen their mom or dad use one of these?  What is it for? It is to catch particles so so you can separate a liquid from those particles.  What is a gnat? It’s those little black flying bugs. What’s a camel? This huge four-legged desert animal with humps on its back. What is the point that Jesus is making? He is saying that the Pharisees were spending all their time and energy in these little, tiny, trivial matters. And missing these gigantic, huge things of life. Can you imagine how hard it would be to try to strain out a little tiny gnat?  The warning is beware of living each day for little things, feeling little feelings, getting bothered by little matters, spending your time with things of little substance. Let’s get even more specific. Is spending a lot of time with video games, let’s say a game you may have heard of called Fortnite, is it spending your time on something of great or little value? What about laying around watching TV? Arguing? Trying to be first in line? Worrying about what others think of you?  Is that straining gnats? Especially when you worry about those things when you have in front of you great works of truth, beauty, and goodness. Do you think learning about great ideas, great men and women of history, learning about God’s word, is that straining gnats or is that learning about weightier matters? Jesus said to spend your time and energy on things that matter like learning about justice and mercy and faithfulness.

Another illustration of the opposite of mercy is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37). A proud lawyer asks Jesus, who is my neighbor, and Jesus tells a parable about a Jewish man who was traveling down a road and is beaten, stripped of his clothes and left for dead.  A priest walks by on the other side. Then a Levite walks by on the other side, but a Samaritan sees him and the Bible says “when he saw him, he had compassion.” He took care of his wounds, put him on his donkey, took him to an inn, and paid for him to stay in that safe place to get better.

John Piper puts it this way. Here we have a very sharp picture of mercy. Mercy has four parts in this story.

  1. It sees distress, it sees someone in need.

  2. It responds internally, on the inside, with a heart of compassion or pity toward a person in distress.  

  3. It responds externally, on the outside, with a practical effort to relieve the distress.  He acts. He does something.

  4. It acts even when the person in distress is an enemy. Samaritans were hated by the Jews but that is who stopped to help.

An eye for distress, a heart of pity, an effort to help, in spite of hate and hostility— that’s mercy.

Do we have eyes to see distress?  People hurting, people in need? Or are we so consumed with straining gnats, doing our own little things, that we are missing the huge things in life that God is putting right in front of us?  I guarantee you will not see those things with your eyes glued to a screen.

When you see a problem, when you see someone in need, someone hurting, do you feel that pain in your heart?  Does your heart push you to act? To do something to help? Even if it’s not a friend? When you see a need, and you feel that pain, and you act, that is mercy.  Can you imagine if Annapolis Christian Academy grammar school was full of students, teachers, and principals that were truly merciful? If that happened, we would get a clearer picture of what the kingdom of God is supposed to look like.  May we start to become merciful people, and let’s start right here at ACA.