Blog Detail
RSS Feed

Mercy

Mercy



Throughout this month of May, the messages are going to center on four qualities God wants His people to have. I think it is fair to say none of us - that is true at least for me - have all these qualities fully developed. The point of the messages this month is not to make anyone feel bad. Instead, the purpose is to remind us what we are to strive to be. Qualities we can ask God to help us attain.


The quality to be discussed three weeks from today is courage. In two weeks, the quality of discipline. The desire to bear witness for the Lord will be the topic in next week’s message. For today, the quality of mercy. 


For that - to share what the Bible teaches about the need for God’s people to have the quality of mercy - I have four Bible passages. 


I also have a few stories to share, but the first Bible passage for this message on mercy is a single verse in Matthew 5. A verse toward the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Verse 7 of Matthew 5. This is what the verse says, which is a teaching from Jesus. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”


Of course, the gist of that teaching is that God’s people are to show mercy. Perhaps we should take a moment to define mercy.


I found a few definitions. All of them are of course related. One is that mercy means to withhold wrath. Another is that mercy is showing compassion or forgiveness to someone within one’s power to punish or harm. And this. Mercy is withholding wrath and forgiving because of sympathizing with a person. Feeling sorry for someone in trouble.

 

But it goes beyond that. It extends to the ability to get, as I read it worded, inside the other person's skin until we can see things with his or her eyes, think things with his or her mind, feel things with his or her feelings.


Concerning that, I came across this story.


Victoria, queen of the United Kingdom from 1837 until January 1901, had close friends named the Tullochs of St. Andrews. At almost the same time - late in 1861 - Victoria’s husband and Mrs. Tulloch’s husband died. One day, unannounced, Queen Victoria made a call on Mrs. Tulloch. When the Queen was announced, Mrs. Tulloch began to rise quickly from the couch where she was resting. She did that so she could curtsey, which was the proper way to greet the queen. 


However, Victoria stepped forward and said, “My dear, do not rise. I am coming to you today, not as your queen, but as one woman who has lost her husband to another.”


That was an example of mercy, but of course, none of the definitions of mercy are easy to accomplish. Showing mercy requires a deliberate effort of the mind and will. But mercy is what God wants His people to have for others. That is one of the points of Matthew 5:7.


But did we hear it? Those who show mercy are rewarded. Blessed are the merciful. We will be blessed by God each time we show mercy. Plus, those who are merciful shall obtain mercy themselves.


That is good news, is it not? It is certainly a good reason to be merciful since we each need mercy ourselves, always from God and at least at times from others.


This is not the only teaching that we will receive what we show to others. For instance, remember the Lord’s Prayer? “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The warning is that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. The promise is that if we do forgive others, we, too, will be forgiven.


The same thought is in Matthew 5:7. We are to be merciful. If we show mercy to others, we will receive mercy when we need it. What a wonderful promise that is. 


Of course, those of us who are Christians have already been shown mercy. Mercy was shown to us when Jesus forgave our sins. All of us at least have sinned. Because of that, none of us deserves anything from God. God had and has every right to turn us away.


But mercy was shown to us. That happened when our sins were forgiven. The question must always be that if Jesus showed such mercy to you and to me, how can I and you not give that wonderful gift to others?


How about a Biblical example of that? An example recorded in Matthew 9, beginning with verse 10, which is the second passage for this message.


This came after the Sermon on the Mount. It happened right after Jesus chose Matthew to be one of His disciples.


That selection was strange in and of itself since Matthew was a tax collector. A collector of Roman taxes, which made him instantly hated by his fellow Jews. And while we do not know anything specific about wrongdoing on his part, most tax collectors were cheaters, getting rich by over-taxing others. It can at least be assumed Matthew himself might have sinned in that way.


But Jesus chose Matthew. What an act of mercy that was, allowing Matthew to follow Him rather than rejecting him.


Right after he was chosen by Jesus, Matthew invited many of his friends to his house for a dinner. The guest of honor was Jesus. Jesus ate a meal with all those people - bad people, made up of other tax collectors and other kinds of sinners.


When the Pharisees heard what was going and went to check it out, they became very unhappy, asking Jesus’ disciples why their teacher ate with such despicable people. It was revolting to the religious leaders that any good person would associate with bad people.


Jesus heard the question asked of His disciples. Here is part of what He said to those who questioned. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what it means that I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”


The Pharisees were very good at obeying all the Old Testament laws, along with the rules and regulations developed around the laws, including all kinds of sacrifices. But they were horrible at mercy. They were always ready to condemn and punish wrongdoing. 


And listen. Jesus never condoned what the tax collectors and other sinners did. He did not excuse their mistreatment of others and of God’s laws. 


Plus, if Matthew’s guests did not repent of their sins and accept forgiveness, they eventually died in their sins. 


But Jesus wanted to withhold His wrath. He wanted to be compassionate and forgiving. He was willing to accept them as they were. His intent being to make them better from that evening on. With all that, He showed mercy.


Another story of mercy.


When Pope Francis was a parish priest in Argentina, there was, in the neighborhood, a mother with young children. She had been abandoned by her husband. She had no steady income. When odd jobs were scarce, she sold her body so she could have enough money to feed her children.


During that time, the woman often visited the church where the one who is now the Pope was priest. The church tried to help her by giving food and other goods.


One day during a Christmas season, the mother visited the church again, that time asking to see the parish priest, at that time named Father Bergoglio. 


He thought she was going to thank him for the package of food the parish had given her. “Did you receive it?” he asked. “Oh, yes, and thank you for that, but I came here today to thank you because you never stopped calling me ‘Señora,’” which is a polite, formal-type greeting in Argentina.


The woman was of course a sinner. The priest could certainly have called her appropriate names or ignored her. But he had shown her at least a glimpse of respect. By that he had shown mercy to the woman.


Pope Francis says that conversation taught him the importance of treating every human person with dignity and mercy, no matter their situation in life. And while we do not know if that woman lived up to the mercy she was shown, we know it was at least more likely she did because of the mercy shown to her.


Again listen. What the woman did was wrong. Her behavior cannot be condoned. But the priest was ready to withhold his wrath and show compassion. He was willing to show mercy.


Show mercy. That is what we who are God’s people are to do. As already discussed, that is a teaching in the New Testament. It is also an Old Testament teaching, including in today’s third passage, which is in the first chapter of Isaiah.


Beginning with verse 11, “Says the LORD, what to Me is the multitude of sacrifices. I have had enough of burnt offerings and the blood of bulls, lambs, and he-goats. In fact, bring no more offerings. Do not burn incense anymore. In fact, I will not even listen to you anymore.


Of course, sacrifices were still important. God Himself had commanded them. And praying was still important. But those things were not pleasing to God because the people to whom He spoke were just going through the motions of all they were supposed to do. They did it because they had to, and that was all they did. They did not also show respect. They did not show mercy to other people.


What were those people to do? They were to wash, make themselves clean, and remove the evil they were doing to others. They were to learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, and plead for widows.


You know what all those things refer to? Showing mercy. Being kind to others whether they deserve it or not. Of course, it can be easy to be nice to nice people, but mercy is doing things to help those who do not deserve it. That, says the LORD, is more important than making the sacrifices described in Old Testament law.


Dare I say that showing mercy now is more important that the outward things we do. Even to the extent of coming in church. Of course it is important for us to be here, but even more important is showing mercy.


Remember the point earlier that we should show mercy to others because we ourselves - those of us who are Christians - have been shown mercy, that happening when Jesus forgave us of our sins? Let’s consider one more Bible passage before one more story about mercy.


This passage is back to the New Testament. It is in chapter 1 of I Timothy. In that chapter, Paul admitted his sins, which included blaspheming, persecuting, and insulting Jesus. He did all those things as, before his conversion, he actively sought to destroy all the followers of Jesus. He himself went after followers of Jesus, capturing all he could, arresting them, then sending them to prison where they would either give up their faith in Jesus or be killed. 


In fact, Paul was on his way to the city of Damascus in Syria to find Christians there when he was confronted by the living Jesus. But during his blaspheming, persecuting, insulting days, Paul was, as he described it himself, the “foremost of sinners."


That was the bad news. But listen to what Paul wrote.” But I received mercy.” Yes, Jesus could have struck Paul dead on that road to Damascus. That is what Paul deserved. Jesus would have had every right to do that. Instead, Paul received mercy. 


As Paul also wrote, “I received mercy for this reason. That in me Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience for an example” to those who were to believe in Jesus for eternal life.


Jesus showed mercy to Paul. In return, during his own ministry, Paul showed mercy to others. Of course, Paul was never shy in his teachings. He actively and forcefully confronted people with their sins. But he never gave up on anyone.


I am thinking, for instance, of the time recorded in Acts 14 when Paul was so opposed he was stoned and dragged out of Lystra, the city where he was preaching. He was stoned so severely it was assumed he was dead. 


He was not dead. A short time later, with the answered prayers of other believers, he came to. As soon as that happened, Paul went right back into that same city to preach some more. He did the same later. Those times, his message was probably more of a warning of God’s wrath, but he was merciful enough to still try to get even his attackers converted to Jesus.


Which leads to one more story for this message.


During the early part of the Korean War - early in the 1950’s - Kim Joon-gon was about 27 years old. He saw 2,000 of the 20,000 people of the island on which he lived murdered by the Communists. Among those dragged out of his village were he and his family. Kim’s father and Kim’s wife were beaten to death. Kim was left for dead.


Kim did not die. When he regained consciousness, he sought safety at the house of an acquaintance. That did not work out well. He was turned over to the Communists.


He would then have been killed, except that an American ship suddenly appeared off the coast of the island. Seeing the ship, the Communist soldiers hurried away to the battle. Kim escaped and hid in the countryside until the South Korean army captured the island.


The Communists who had killed Kim’s wife and father were arrested. Because it was wartime, the police chief had the authority to execute people without a trial. But as the chief prepared to kill the men who had murdered Kim’s family, he pleaded, saying, “Spare them. They were forced to kill.”


The police chief showed great surprise. “It was your family they killed. Why do you now want to spare their lives?“


Kim replied, “Because the Lord, whose I am and whom I serve, would have me show mercy to them.”


I have to tell you, I do not know if I could have done that. But listen to the rest of the story. The Communists who killed his family were spared execution because of Kim’s plea. News of his action spread among other Communist supporters in the area. When Kim later climbed a mountain to preach to Communists who were hiding at that spot, he was not killed. Many of the Communists became Christians.


When Kim finally left the island, there was a flourishing church of 108 members. He later became the founder of the Korean Campus of Crusade for Christ.


Mercy. We who are God’s people are taught to show mercy. We are taught that in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Sometimes it can be as simple as showing respect to someone not as nice as we are. Other times it can be not throwing stones at someone who has failed. Someone who is trying to be restored. Sometimes it can be as difficult as giving another chance - a spiritual chance - to someone who has hurt us grievously.


And again, we are never called upon to condone sin. That is never the point of any of the teachings in the Bible. But always we are to be merciful. Let’s continue to work on that, withholding our wrath as Jesus did and does for us. Showing compassion and forgiveness as Jesus did and does for us. As we understand others as Jesus did and does for us. 


the closing song for today is a quick little chorus with two themes. One is the reminder that Jesus - the Lord - is the giver of mercy. The other is the challenge to share the great news of His mercy with others.


I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever,

I will sing, I will sing;

I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever,

I will sing of the mercies of the Lord.


With my mouth will I make known

Thy faithfulness, Thy faithfulness;

With my mouth will I make known

Thy faithfulness to all generations.


I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever,

I will sing, I will sing;

I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever,

I will sing of the mercies of the Lord.


Lord, You want Your people to show mercy. You give us that challenge in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Help us to do what You want. Help us to do that, not only because it will show our appreciation for the mercy You show us, but to also draw others to You. Thank You for that opportunity. Amen.