The Sermon on the Mount
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

6 – The Fifth Beatitude:  Merciful

Matthew 5:7:

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Before we discuss what mercy is, let’s discuss what mercy is not.  Mercy does not mean he is an easy-going person who excuses everybody’s sins.  That is not mercy.

Mercy is not a natural attribute that Christ is talking about here.  It is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit as a result of a person accepting the gospel.

Mercy in Greek means one who has compassion, has pity for those who need help, and puts this compassion into action.  When we were in Ethiopia, there were a young doctor and his wife who came as missionaries and she was, by nature, very compassionate.  That is fine in America but is dangerous in the Third World.  When people realize you are compassionate, they are merciless.  They gather around your gate when you go to the market.

When you first get there, they put you to the test to see how merciful you are.  She had no peace.  She was very kind, very generous, very compassionate.  As soon as the folks found out, they bugged her.  She could not even leave her house.  There were crowds around her gate.  Within six months she was absolutely exhausted and ready for a nervous breakdown.  In fact, we had to ship them back home.  But before she left she called me up and said, “When we left America everybody thought what a wonderful missionary I would make.  Now I am going six months later in disgrace.”  I said, “Sister, I want to explain.  You thought God sent you here to help the nationals but God sent you here to help you.  He wanted to exhaust you so you would realize that it is ‘not I, but Christ.’”

Only the grace of Christ is inexhaustible.  Her natural compassion was exhausted.  Sometimes it takes longer than six months.  It took God 25 years to exhaust Abraham’s natural resources, and Sarah’s, before He gave him a child.  Because He was trying to teach a lesson:  this promised child is from above.

We must not look at this mercy as a natural attribute.  Some people are born with natural compassion.  Others are not.  But Christ is talking to all the disciples.

Christ is not talking to people who are unconverted.  At the very introduction He tells us that what He was teaching was to His disciples.  See the second half of Matthew 5:1 to verse 2:

His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them....

We must take into consideration that He is talking to people who had already accepted Him as the Messiah.  I am emphasizing this because we will come to it in a moment.  This beatitude has greatly been misunderstood, just like the Lord’s Prayer.  For it says,

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

In other words, if you want God to have mercy on you, you must first have mercy.  That is what it sounds like, so we need to clarify that.

But what exactly does it mean?  It means somebody who is compassionate, has pity for the needy, and, of course, who puts that into action.  I will give you an example:  the story of the good Samaritan.  Here was this fellow that was beaten up by robbers.  You will find it in Luke 10:30.  There were two people who came by him.  They may have had pity on him.  They may have had compassion on him, but they did nothing about it.  And that is not merciful.

It is more than a feeling, or a sense of compassion.  It is putting it into practice.  Turn to Luke 10.  Who was the one injured — a Jew or a Samaritan?  A Jew.  Here is the good Samaritan who sees this enemy of his (Jews and Samaritans were at war) and see what he does.

First of all, I want you to get the context.  Remember, Jesus is answering a question.  The question was asked by an expert in the law.  It actually begins with verse 25.  He (the expert in the law) had not accepted Christ as the Messiah.  He did not call Him Messiah, he called Him Master, which means “Teacher.”  Luke 10:25:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.  “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Had he understood the gospel?  No.  So Jesus said, “What is written in the Law?  If you want to be saved by doing something, then you have to obey the Law.” Verse 26:

“What is written in the Law?” he replied.  “How do you read it?”

And the lawyer answered in verse 27:

He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

He had, at least, got the key text from the Book of Deuteronomy that the essence of the Law is love.  And that is why Jesus said to him [verse 28]:

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied.  “Do this and you will live.”

But he was not sure of salvation still.  Verse 29:

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

And then you have the parable Jesus told about the Good Samaritan.  Luke 10:30-35:

In reply Jesus said:  “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper.  ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

And when Jesus had finished, he asked a question in verse 36.  Luke 10:36-37:

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

You need to keep in mind that this young man was raised up as a Jew, with a different idea completely.  Turn back to Matthew 5:43:

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”

This is how the Jews — the lawyers — interpreted the text that has just been quoted from Deuteronomy.  You should love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  To the Jew, a neighbor was only his fellow-friend and those who were good to him.  But Jesus said [verses 44-45]:

But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

So to Jesus, even your enemies are your neighbor.  And He was saying the same thing to the lawyer, except through a parable.  I suppose the lawyer thought He didn’t know what He was talking about.  “He is asking too much.  How can I have mercy on everybody?  I will never make it to heaven.” Jesus was trying to show him that he could not make it by good works.

The good Samaritan was a person obviously touched by God.  Did the Samaritan say, “I better help this fellow, otherwise I will not make it to heaven”?  I don’t think he even had a thought of that.  His life was already changed by his relationship to God.  He went out of his way to help this man and pay his bill at the inn, etc.

Mercy is having compassion and pity and putting it into practice.  There is a difference in the Bible between mercy and grace.  On the surface it may sound as if they are the same.  How do they differ?  Grace offers pardon and justification from sin, while mercy offers relief, healing, and help because of sin.  There is a difference.

God has both:  He saves us by His grace, which means He pardons us and justifies us.  But He also has mercy — He comes to our aid, He offers us healing and help because of sin.

The first thing I want to show you now is that mercy is one of God’s divine attributes.  I want to give you several texts.  We’ll start with Psalms 108:4, this is David talking to God:

For great is your love [mercy], higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

So God’s mercy is great.  In fact, you and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for His mercy.  Now turn a few pages to Lamentations.  This is one of Jeremiah’s crying books; he has some good things to say in this book.  Lamentations 3:22:

Because of the Lord’s great love [mercy] we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

Hebrew poetry is different from English poetry.  They rhyme not words, but thoughts.  Mercy and compassion have the same meaning; that is in Hebrew poetry.  “It is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassion fails not.”  This is the rhythm.  Mercy and compassion are two of God’s attributes and they mean the same thing.

Turn to Joel 2:12-13:

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

“Gracious and merciful,” two different ideas connected by “and.”  He will forgive your sins — that is “gracious” — and He will help you.

So we have a God Who is merciful.  Let me give you one more text.  Micah 7:18:

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.

In the New Testament, the word “mercy” applied to God is linked to the gospel.  I want to give you a couple of texts.  Ephesians 2:4.  When Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful,” He is saying, “Please behave like your Father in heaven.”  He is talking to the disciples.  In verses 1-3 He is talking about our sinful state.  He ends verse 3 by saying that we are by nature the children of wrath.  Ephesians 1-5:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.

God is rich in mercy.  It is one of His main attributes.  One more text, Titus 3:4-5.  In verses 1-3 Paul describes our condition as sinners:

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.  At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

Titus 3:4-5:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,....

We are not saved by works of righteousness which we have done.  Not because we were showing mercy did He do this, but according to His mercy he saved us.  It is only after He saves you that He says, “Now, go and be merciful.”

I want to take this same mercy and show you how.  The same thing is what God wants His children to produce.  He is telling us that we are under the umbrella of His mercy and He wants us to behave just like Him toward our fellow man.

Turn back to Micah 6:8.  Talking to his people, he says,

He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Please notice these are characteristics of the Sermon on the Mount, too:  being meek, just, loving mercy.  Christians should reflect the character of their God by being merciful.  Now turn to the New Testament.  Luke repeats the Sermon on the Mount except he did not go into such detail as Matthew did.  This is a good text to show you the basis of being merciful.  Luke 6:36:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

In other words, God’s mercy should be our goal.  We should have mercy because He is merciful toward us.  I will go into more detail on this, but first I want to give you one more text about Christians behaving mercifully.  James 2:12.  The reason I am using James is because, in Chapter 2, he is dealing with the relationship of faith and works.  Are we saved by faith plus works?  No.  We are saved by faith that works.  We must make a careful distinction.  And this is what James is saying:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom....

Have you ever asked yourself what James meant by “the law that gives freedom”(in some translations, “the law of liberty”)?  Don’t stop at the word “law.”  Turn to Galatians 5.  The Galatians failed to understand this and they were trapped into legalism.  Look at verse 1:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

What is the yoke of bondage in this context?  The works of the law.  The law as the means of salvation.  If you just say “the law,” people will think that you are against the law — but works of the law.  The gospel is not asking you to give up your freedom but it sets you free to do what?  Look at verses 13 and 14:

You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Let me give you one more text.  Turn back to 2 Corinthians 3:17:

Now the Lord is the Spirit [that is, when Christ went to heaven, He sent as His representative the Holy Spirit; that is why the Spirit is spelled with a capital "S"], and where the Spirit of the Lord is [the Spirit of the Lord is in you], there is freedom.  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory [which includes His mercy], are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Mercy is not something we can generate, it is the fruit of the gospel.  Now back to James where we read only verse 12.  Now Chapter 2:12-13:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment!

Paul says we shall be judged by the gospel and the gospel sets us free, not only free to go to heaven but free to live as God wants us to live.  When you have heard the gospel and you throw it away, then you are throwing away God’s mercy.

It says two things here.  If a Christian does not show mercy it means that he has not appreciated God’s mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment because, when you are merciful, you are living the Christian life — you are not worried about judgment because you stand justified in Christ.

Now verse 14:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?

He is talking about two kinds of faith — false (cheap) faith and genuine faith.  Verses 15-17:

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

James is not saying here that faith plus works saves us.  What he is saying is that genuine faith always is accompanied with works.  And then he gives an example of Abraham in verse 21 and notice how he applies the example in verse 22 [here are verses 18-22]:

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that — and shudder.  You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.

His offering up Isaac proved that his faith was the genuine kind.

Now I want to go to the second half of the Beatitude.  Turn back to Matthew 5:7.  We have seen what mercy is not.  We have seen what it is — we have defined it.  Now I want to look at mercy as the fruits of the gospel.  Because this is one of the statements of Jesus that is greatly misunderstood.  If you look at the surface you see,

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

You have a similar problem in Matthew 6 — same Sermon on the Mount — regarding the Lord’s Prayer in verse 12:

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

There are people who won’t pray the Lord’s Prayer because of this verse.  Both of these statements give the impression that, if I am merciful, if I am forgiving, God, in turn, will have mercy and forgiveness.  Many interpret these two verses in this way.

I will give you at least three reasons why this is the wrong interpretation.

  1. If this is true, then Christ was teaching salvation by works.  This is, having mercy and forgiving others has merit and this contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture.  And Scripture never contradicts itself.

  2. When people have mercy and are forgiving because they want to be saved, they are motivated by egocentric concerns, which, in God’s eyes, is sin.  I want to give you a couple of statements that I carry with me:  one from Steps to Christ and one from Patriarchs and Prophets [both by Ellen G. White].

    “There are those who profess to serve God [they have mercy on people and they are forgiving] while they rely upon their own efforts to obey the law, to form a right character [which includes being merciful] and secure salvation.  Their hearts are not moved by any deep sense of the love of Christ, but they seek to perform the duties of the Christian life as that which God requires of them in order to gain heaven.  [That is how they interpret Matthew 5:7].  Such religion is worth nothing [it won’t save you].”  Steps to Christ, pages 44-45.

    “Love to God is the very foundation of religion.  To engage in His service merely from hope of reward or fear of punishment would avail nothing.”  Patriarchs and Prophets, page 523.

    So we must be clear on this.  If we make being merciful and forgiving as a means of salvation, man will always do it out of an egocentric concern and that is sin in God’s eyes.  It is self-righteousness.  It is the basis of paganism.

  3. This is the wrong interpretation because it makes null and void all the texts in the New Testament about grace.  If I am saved because I am merciful, then I am not saved by grace.  Let me give you three texts.  2 Corinthians 5:18-19:

    All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

    Ephesians 2:8-9:

    For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

    [Verse 10 shows the fruit.]

    Titus 3:5 (we have already read):

    ...He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,....

If this is not the correct interpretation, what then is the correct interpretation of Matthew 5:7?  We must be clear that God’s mercy toward sinners makes us merciful.  It is the evidence that we have been touched by the mercy of God.  This can only happen when you realize that God is merciful to you, a sinner, and you cannot save yourself.  If you have a high opinion of yourself, if you are not poor in spirit, then you will not appreciate mercy.  Here are three examples: Stephen, Paul, and Christ.  Turn to Acts 7:60.  Here is Stephen being stoned for witnessing Jesus Christ.  Paul was there (by the name of Saul).

Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Did he ask God to bring down fire upon them?  No.  And the last thing he said to God was not, “Please take me to heaven.”  He was sure of his salvation, but he said, “Please, these fellows have not understood the Good News; don’t bring this to their charge.”  Was he merciful to his enemies?  Yes.  Could he do it naturally?  No, it was the grace of God.  He was acting like a child of God.  Turn to 2 Timothy 4:16.  Remember that Paul is in prison and this is one of the last letters he wrote.

At my first defense [when I was taken prisoner and stood before the judge], no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me [I was alone].  May it not be held against them.

That is mercy!  “Please, Lord, forgive them.”  Turn to the last one because that is the most important one — Christ.  The only man who revealed God to the fullest was Jesus Christ.  We are a poor witness many times, but Christ fully glorified the Name of God and revealed Him.  Luke 23:33-34a:

When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals — one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

I want to explain another point:  mercy from God produces mercy in the believer.  Lack of mercy shows two things:  lack of appreciation for God’s mercy [it cost God His Son on the cross to have mercy on us] and when we realize how expensive it was, it changes us.  God didn’t say, “Oh, I love these people, I will have mercy on them,” because He couldn’t have mercy and ignore His justice.  The Bible is clear that mercy and justice “kissed each other” at the cross.

If we are showing evidence of being merciful, we are really saying that we are fit for heaven.  Let me give you an example.  2 Timothy 1:16-18.  I am not saying we are qualified, because we are qualified ones by Christ’s righteousness, but I am saying we are fit for heaven because the only kind of life we’ll live in heaven is a life of mercy.  And if you don’t enjoy being merciful, heaven would be a hell for you.  You can’t get revenge there in heaven.  It is in this sense that I mean we are fit for heaven:

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.  On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me.  May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day [day of judgment]!  You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.

But I want to give you our best example.  Turn to Matthew 18:21-35.  What was the setting in which Jesus gave this parable?  Peter had not yet fully understood the gospel — he was still a victim of Judaism.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?”  [That is what the Jews thought — you could forgive seven times and then take your revenge.]
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times
[that is not My teaching; that is what you were taught], but seventy-seven times [indefinitely].
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king
[this will be the characteristic of the people who belong to the kingdom of heaven] who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.”

And Jesus tells the parable.  When the king began to take account he discovered that there was a man who owed him ten thousand talents.  Have you ever looked up how much that is equivalent to?  Approximately ten million dollars.  And the man who owed couldn’t pay.

“As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.”

It was the custom in those days to sell those people as slaves.  And the poor man falls on his knees and begs for mercy.

“The servant fell on his knees before him.  ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’  The servant’s master [representing Jesus] took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.”

Who suffered here?  Did the king suffer by forgiving him of $10,000,000?

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [one dollar].  He grabbed him and began to choke him.  ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.”

By the way, the word “me” [in “Pay back what you owe me!”] is not in the Greek.  And his fellow servant did exactly what he had just done:  he fell down on his knees and said exactly the same thing:

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
“But he refused
[he had no mercy].  Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in.  ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’”

Who forgave first?  The king.  So also the gospel first has mercy on us.  And we in turn will say, “God, thank you for your love and mercy towards us,” and we will say, “God, we want to be like you.”  We will want to treat others the way God has treated us.

“‘Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.  [Here was salvation by faith without works, therefore, it was dead.]
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

In other words, the gospel is not cheap grace — its a conforming power.  Do you know how God defined the gospel in Romans?  Romans 1:16:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:  first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

1 Corinthians 1:18:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

In Corinthians he says, “I glory in the cross of Christ because it is the power” not only to justify us but also to change us.

We will not be successful in everything in this world.  We fall many times, but our goal in the heart is to be like Christ.  Why?  Because that is what we want to be like.  That is how God created us.  He set us free in the image of God.  We were created in the image of God.  We lost that image in the fall.  The gospel doesn’t only give us salvation, it does more than that.  Romans 3:23:

...For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God....

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