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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Blessed are the Merciful
Text:Matthew 5:7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Mercy
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-08-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 136:1,2,3,12                                                                      

Ps 41:1,2                                                                                                        

Reading – Psalm 41; Matthew 5:1-12

Ps 103:4,5,7

Sermon – Matthew 5:7

Ps 85:1,2

Hy 80:1,4,5,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters, in so many ways we are not like God. He is eternal, and we are short-lived. God is unchanging, and we are always moving and shifting and being influenced. God is almighty, and we’re so very weak and fragile. We could go on, thinking about God’s perfect goodness and wisdom and righteousness, and how far from this we are.

We are not like him, and so we’re reluctant to ever speak of ourselves as being or doing something like God. We’d never say this, would we? “I felt a little like God today, when I forgave that rude person. When I upheld justice and truth earlier, I think that others could see God reflected in me.” It sounds blasphemous, because God and we are in entirely different categories, and his ways are far above our ways.

Yet Scripture teaches that we must become imitators of God. Think of how when you watch the way that some children act, you can clearly see their parents. They’ve obviously  been shaped by Dad and Mom, for good or for ill. In the same way, consider how we have become children of God our Father, adopted into his household. Throughout our lives, God is shaping us, disciplining us, teaching us, with the result that we begin to resemble him. Because of our good works which people see, Jesus says, others will give glory to the Father. When we forgive, and we uphold justice, and show kindness, the glorious God is seen in us!

This amazing thing also happens when we show mercy. It should happen when we show mercy! Says Christ in Luke 6:36, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” If that’s what He is like, then that’s what you must be like.

In today’s beatitude, Jesus speaks about showing this kind of divine mercy, and He speaks of the reward that comes to those who do: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt 5:7). I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

 

Blessed are the merciful:

1) mercy’s source

2) mercy’s practice

3) mercy’s reward

 

1) mercy’s source: In the first four beatitudes, the focus has been on the believer’s mindset toward God. The beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” speaks of admitting our spiritual poverty and weakness before the Lord. The beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn” teaches the need to truly confess and grieve our sins to God. The “meekness” beatitude reveals how we must be willing to submit to God, and so also to others. And in all things, we must “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” fervently desiring a right relationship with God where we trust in Christ and do his will.

In this one and in the next three beatitudes, there’s a shift toward the attitude we have to our neighbour. For Jesus now teaches us about mercy, and purity, and peacemaking, and enduring other people’s persecution and evil deeds.

Not just in the Beatitudes, but throughout Scripture, this is a natural combination: love for God, and love for others. Think of the Ten Commandments, divided into two parts: the first teaches us how to live in relation to God, and the second what duties we owe our neighbour. Or like John says in his first letter, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (4:20). If we really trust and obey God as our Father, this reality is going to be seen in a loving attitude toward all the people in our life.

So here’s an essential way of living if we will truly seek to honour God: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” Now, it is vital for listening to this sermon that we have the right idea about mercy. Just like people misunderstand meekness as weakness, we sometimes think of mercy as little more than pity, when you feel bad for someone. Or perhaps we think of mercy as an occasional act of charity, like dropping a gold coin into a tin for cancer research or famine relief. But mercy is more.

According to Scripture, mercy is a deliberate act of love shown to someone who is needy. Mercy is identifying with someone in trouble, coming alongside them, and then also giving the help that is needed.

To understand this better, we should consider the rich source of mercy. And that is the LORD God. Scripture says that mercy belongs to God, that his mercy reaches to the heavens (Ps 36:5) and that his mercy lasts forever (Ps 100:5). While we tend to think of mercy as something narrow, like the willingness to ease up on someone, true mercy—God’s mercy—is more positive and more generous. God’s mercy speaks of the ongoing kindness of his heart. It marks God’s consistent attitude to his people: He is unwavering in mercy, faithfully holding onto us in love!

It is striking that one of the statements that is repeated most often in the Old Testament is that the steadfast mercy of God endures forever. Think of the wondrous refrain of Psalm 136, in verse after verse, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For his mercy endures forever.” Again and again, and not just in that Psalm, the LORD God is praised for the lasting gift of his mercy.

And his mercy springs directly from the covenant He has made with his people. Listen to Deuteronomy 7:9, “He is… the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations of those who love him.” In God’s good pleasure, He has entered a special relationship with his people, in which He will be our God, to draw near and show us grace and goodness.

Remember that He didn’t have to do any of this—which is the point of mercy: it is undeserved kindness to someone who’s in great need. God didn’t need to spend all that effort and energy on a people who weren’t even looking for him, on a people who were often not grateful for what He gave. Yet He was willing. And now He keeps covenant and mercy!

This mercy was the keynote of all God’s dealings with Israel. Think of when Moses intercedes for his rebellious people, pleading with God that He might not destroy them in the desert. Moses knows the character of God, so he prays, “Pardon the iniquity of this people… according to the greatness of your mercy” (Num 14:19). And God does pardon them.

In another place, after several more centuries of Israel’s sin and God’s righteous wrath, the prophet Micah asks, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of… his heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy” (7:18). Forgiving sinners is not a grudging act for God, but mercy is his delight, for this is who He is.

Now, in all of the beatitudes we can hear an echo of the Old Testament—in this one too. As we’ll see in the next point, Psalm 41 begins with this beatitude, “Blessed is he who considers the poor” (v 1). But Psalm 41 isn’t only about how we should empathise with the helpless and weak, it’s also about how the LORD God is the ultimate source of mercy.

Look at the prayer in verse 4, “I said, ‘LORD, be merciful to me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.” Even as he instructs us about caring for the needy, David is in trouble of his own. And he looks to God as the one who will rescue him, “LORD, be merciful to me.” You could find the same prayer in dozens of Psalms, as God’s people throw themselves onto his mercy as their only hope.

In Psalm 41, David is facing the betrayal of a close friend. He cries, “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (v 9). There are moments in life when the stability we thought we had—the security of friendship, or the comfort of health and possessions—when all that is suddenly taken away, or when we see how helpless we actually are. And then we pray, “But you, O LORD, be merciful to me, and raise me up” (v 10). This is the true cry of the believer’s heart: “LORD, have mercy.”

For whatever our outward circumstances look like here on earth, we need mercy. We are guilty sinners, wretched, dying, and condemned. We deserve death. We are helpless. And then we hear the gospel, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (Eph 2:4-5). Here is the ultimate expression of unmerited mercy, the greatest show of compassion to the hopeless: God gives his Son.

In Christ, God identifies with us. He gets into “our skin” to help us. For Jesus saw things with our eyes, walked in our shoes, experienced all the temptations we do. Then He even accepted the terrible punishment that we deserved for sin. Now when we come before God in prayer and worship, we get the most amazing and unexpected gift: we find mercy! This is what Hebrews says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).

Each day of our life, every hour, every moment, we live by God’s mercy alone. All the blessings that we enjoy are more proofs of his compassion. And his kindness in Christ never stops—indeed, “his mercies are new every morning” (Lam 3:23).

Beloved, if this is so—if this is true for your life, just as it is true for my life—Christ says that this needs to become the tone and the spirit of how we treat other people: “Freely you have received, freely give. You have received mercy. Now show mercy.”

 

2) mercy’s practice: We can now understand the second half of what Jesus says in Luke 6:36, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” God delights to show mercy and compassion. And since mercy is basic to God’s relationship with us, it must also be basic to our relationships with each other. That’s the command in the first half of Luke 6:36, “Therefore be merciful, just as…”

In our first point we said that such mercy isn’t just an occasional act of charity. God’s brand of mercy means that we’re actually affected by the sufferings of others, and we want to relieve their burdens, and we will be persistent in doing so.

And this world is full of abundant opportunities for us to show mercy to people—there is heartache and misery and struggle all around us. In the church community too, there is an immense amount of need. Daily we come into contact with brothers and sisters and neighbours who would benefit from some real and practical kindness.

At school, there are those who would be blessed by mercy: students who are struggling, boys and girls who are being left out or pushed away. In our congregation, there are people who need mercy: did you know there are elderly folks who would love a visit, suffering members who crave support, lonely ones who feel forgotten? In our workplace too, or on our street, we see men and women who are struggling. From their appearance, we might well guess that their life is difficult, that they carry a heavy burden, that they could be blessed by someone who knows Christ. God calls us to have compassion on the souls of others and to help them.

Remember what mercy is: it’s not a vague feeling of pity for someone. Mercy takes action. Mercy gets its hands dirty. Think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, how that good man had compassion on the stranger laying at the side of the road—the stranger who was really his enemy—and how he responded to his physical needs in a generous way. And then Jesus asked, “Who was a neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?” “He who showed mercy on him,” the expert replied. And Jesus said, “Go, and do likewise” (Luke 15:36-37).

This has always been what God expects from his covenant people. Think of the summary of God’s requirements in Micah 6, “He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

Or there is our reading from Psalm 41, which actually begins with a beatitude, “Blessed is he who considers the poor” (v 1). A person who loves and fears God will consider the poor, the struggling, the sad, the lonely, the depressed, the one who’s been hurt, the one who’s had it tough. “Blessed is he who considers the poor.” That word “consider” doesn’t just mean think about them for a second, but take time to identify with them. You try to understand them so that you can meet their need.

Maybe there is someone who is struggling with chronic illness. Consider what that would be like for them? What kind of struggle would there be from day to day, to stay motivated, to stay optimistic, to keep connected with others? And how could we help such a person? “Consider the poor…”

Or maybe there is someone who often acts strange or who acts out, like one of your classmates or someone at work. Some people’s behaviour can be off-putting, yet there’s always a reason that a person thinks and acts as he does—there’s always a history, a sad history. And by considering this, we might be more merciful. “Consider the poor…”

Let’s acknowledge that this is the opposite of what we’re inclined to do. Have you ever made an excuse why you don’t need to show mercy to someone? When someone needs help—like the broken man on the side of the road in Jesus’ parable—we tend to think of the reasons not to show kindness. We don’t really know them. It was probably their fault. They’ll probably take advantage of us. We’ve helped out before. This is going to take time.

No, mercy doesn’t naturally for us. Mercy is an outward-looking love; it is the reverse of our innate self-centeredness. But mercy requires a willingness to forget ourselves and to get involved with the suffering of someone else.

Jesus tells us what mercy looks like in action. In Luke 6 He says, “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil” (6:35).

Notice a few things in this verse: mercy means love for those who don’t deserve it, like those who have hurt us. This is hard: if a wrong has been done to us, we tend to return wrong for wrong. Why should I be merciful to someone who didn’t show mercy to me? “But love your enemies, and hope for nothing in return.”

We also notice how Jesus says this kind of mercy shows that we are “sons (and daughters) of the Most High.” For this is how God acts: “He is kind of the unthankful and evil.” Beloved, are we kind to the unthankful, to the person who repays our gifts with little more than a complaint? Are we gracious toward those who are evil? We ought to be, as Jesus says in the very next verse: “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (v 36). How do we know when we’re really showing God’s brand of mercy? When it’s not easy for us. When it costs us. When it’s the last thing we feel like doing.

Here we need to think often about the rich source of mercy, reflecting on the mercy that we ourselves have received. Remember how the prophet Micah said it, “God does not retain his anger forever, because He delights in mercy.” It’s what God “delights” in. It’s his joy to show compassion, to pardon sinners and ease burdens.

So it should be for us, if we’re going to be imitators of God. We love to show mercy, because this is God’s way. We love to do it, because we know it will honour him. Now, the delight doesn’t always come—not at first anyway. We shouldn’t wait for the feeling or the urge, for sometimes that takes a while to develop. But we continue with mercy. If mercy lives in our heart, it will surely come out through our hands and words. And then God will bless us.

 

3) mercy’s reward: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt 5:7). Jesus now echoes a truth that we hear throughout Scripture. It’s the truth that as a person acts toward his fellow man, so God will act toward him. If we walk in mercy, God will show us mercy. If we live in kindness, God will be kind toward us. This is mercy’s reward.

Now, let me quickly say that this doesn’t mean that you or I can earn any blessing from God by our good behaviour. Christ isn’t saying that we’ve got to be worthy of the Lord’s favour. We’re not capable of achieving any reward. For remember that we live entirely by God’s mercy in the first place!

But it is particularly through mercy that we show we actually know God. A truly merciful person is a person who has truly been changed by the Lord’s grace. A merciful person knows what it’s like to have nothing, to deserve nothing—to deserve only wrath—to be utterly dependent on the free favour of the LORD. A person who knows this in the bottom of his heart will want to show patience toward the weak, give help to the sad, and be gracious toward those who have done wrong.

Think of what Jesus teaches in the next chapter. Right after giving us the model prayer in which we pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt 6:12), Jesus declares, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (6:14). That is mercy in action! A willingness to forgive, a desire to let go of wrong, an attitude and a practice of mercy—these things are the evidence of God’s grace in us. These things are the footprint of his Spirit in us. And these things receive his blessing.

Look at how this blessing is also spoken of in Psalm 41: “Blessed is he who considers the poor; the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. The LORD will preserve him and keep him alive, and he will be blessed on the earth” (vv 1-2). God delivers the merciful, preserves them, keeps them alive and blesses them! There is a generous reward that is ready for the one who considers the poor.

We can see this reward being given already here on earth. For instance, a merciful person tends to receive mercy from other people. A merciful person enjoys healthier relationships with those around him. A merciful person gets to experience the satisfaction of being a blessing to others. And yes, a merciful person receives God’s mercy! As it says in another Psalm, “To the merciful He shows himself merciful” (Ps 18:25).

But then the reverse is also true. If a spirit of patience and mercy shows that a person really knows God, then a failure of mercy is most alarming. A person who is harsh with others, who is indifferent toward the weak, who judges quickly, shows that they don’t really understand the depths of what God has done for them.

So Jesus says in Matthew 7:2, “With what judgement you judge, you will be judged.” And James adds to that a scary warning, “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” (2:13).

We need to hear those warnings, just as we need to hear the commandment, “Be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful.” It is that essential for a child of God! If we live by the Father’s mercy, then we must live in mercy.

Perhaps in no other area of life can we imitate our God more clearly and more powerfully than by showing mercy! By mercy we show that we are being conformed to the image of his Son. By mercy we show that are being imitators of God as dearly loved children. So in all our relationships, let us live by this beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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