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Author:Rev. John van Popta
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Congregation:Fellowship Canadian Reformed Church
 Burlington, Ontario
Preached At:
Title:The Merciful Receive Mercy
Text:Matthew 5:7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Matthew 18:21-35
Luke 10:25-37
Psalm 116:1,3,4,7
Psalm 25:2,3,5
Psalm 18:1,8
Psalm 103:3,4
Psalm 100:1,4
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. John van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and Sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ

One of the first things in this verse that should grab out attention is that the Lord Jesus Christ does not qualify, or limit mercy. He does not restrict mercy to any group or class of people. He simply says that merciful people will be blessed. They will and do receive the blessings of the kingdom of God. And notice how he says that merciful people are blessed already. They will obtain mercy, but they are already recipients of blessing. And blessing is undeserved favour. And undeserved favour comes to us because God is already merciful to us. This is the amazing thing. This is the astounding thing.

The Lord Jesus Christ declares that merciful disciples receive mercy.

1. Mercy described
2. Mercy demanded
3. Mercy received

1. Mercy described

What is mercy? That may seem like a silly question because we think we know what it means. But yet, to truly understand our text we need to come to grips with this question: What is mercy? Well first of all mercy is compassion. To be merciful means to have an understanding of the plight and situation of others. Mercy is that deep tender feeling of compassion that is awakened by the realization of the trouble, weakness, suffering and vulnerability of another person. It is that tender feeling towards someone who needs help. It is especially visible in family ties where a pitiable condition would arouse compassion. The scripture tells us this is so when a father loves his son (Jeremiah 31:20). Or a mother who loves her nursing child (Isaiah 49:15). Or a man’s love for his fiancée (Isaiah 54:7).

But even more, Mercy is a characteristic of God himself. In Psalm 116 the psalmists says that our God is merciful. The experience of the people of Israel was that their God was merciful, gracious, and slow to anger. We sang of that already this morning. Since mercy is part of God’s nature his mercy never fails, his compassions they fail not, there are new mercies every morning, great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Even when Israel was proven to be unworthy, God’s mercy came through. This mercy is tied to God’s covenant love. His steadfast love. That loving demonstration of Covenant faithfulness to his chosen people. His steadfast love and mercy are from of old (Psalm 25:6). He helps those in distress. He redeems his people from the pit… because of his great mercy.

It provides the basis for the Lord’s willingness to forgive. To forgive all our sins. To cast them into the farthest sea. For his mercy is greater than the highest heaven. Because of God’s mercy, we can turn to him with confidence. We can plead on the promise of his mercy. And seek help in time of need.

Think of Daniel in 9:8. He does not plead on the basis of his own righteousness, but on the basis of God’s mercy. Sinners who confess and forsake sin, may boldly appeal for mercy and find it. Yet, we know that mercy cannot be earned. For then it is not mercy at all. It cannot be demanded. No, the Lord freely bestows it.

Mercy however, is not just a feeling, an emotion. No, it is something that is worked out in action. You can feel sorry for someone, but that is not mercy. You can feel their pain (to use a modern sort of term), but that is not mercy. Compassion is to experience and feel in the heart, in the gut, the pain, the awful situation of an other person Mercy is doing something about it.

God has compassion on his people, so in mercy he sets out to save that people. Those who were not a people are now his people. Those who had not received mercy now receive mercy (1Peter 2:10). In his great mercy, he has given us new birth to a living hope.

We were hopeless, lost, abandoned. Now we have received mercy and so have been received of God. Someone once wrote that the distinction between mercy and grace is this. God’s grace is especially associated with men in their sins; his mercy is especially associated with men in their misery. Grace looks down upon sin as whole. Mercy looks especially at the miserable consequences of sin. Mercy wants to relieve suffering. The Lord Jesus constantly responded to those in need with mercy. Blind men who pleaded for mercy were given sight. A Canaanite woman who sought healing for her daughter received mercy. The father of a demon possessed child, 10 lepers, they all sought mercy with Jesus Christ and found it.

He is the merciful and faithful high priest, the letter to the Hebrews says. Because of him, because of this characteristic we can draw near to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find help in time of need.

The perfect example of mercy in the New Testament parables of Jesus is the Good Samaritan. He turned aside to help, where others would not. We know the story. The traveler assaulted, robbed and left for dead. Others have seen him but they carried on. They likely felt pity and compassion but did nothing about it. But there is one who is merciful. He picks the man up. Cleans and binds his wounds. Provides for his care. Promises to return. That is being merciful. Pity moved into gracious action. Mercy is having more than pity; it is having a great desire to do something about misery, and then going out and doing it.

As the Lord said of others, they knew the law but failed to keep the greater things of the law: Justice and Mercy.

Think of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 44 and 45. They have sold him, abandoned him. And now he stands before them in Egypt. And they are afraid. They fear for their lives. Their brother, whom they so mistreated, is the ruler of the greatest nation on earth. He has all power and authority. He can do what he wants to these unsophisticated Bedouins who have come to his palace. But he has engineered and plotted against them to get Benjamin into prison. But you know the story. What will the brothers do? Will they abandon Benjamin too? Joseph has treated Benjamin as the eldest. Will they be jealous of him? Will they abandon him too? Will they leave him in Egypt and tell father Jacob that there was nothing they could do about it? Or have they changed? And then notice that as soon as Judah says that he will stand in for Benjamin, rather than have the only remaining son of Jacob’s beloved Rachel be lost, Joseph reveals himself. He sees that his brothers have repented of their wickedness. He sees that they desire to love the Lord, to do what is right. The brothers have pity and are moved into action. Judah has mercy on Benjamin and on Jacob. He sees Jacob’s misery and does something about it. He offers himself.

And so, Joseph restores his relationship with them. He forgives them of their wicked deeds. He weeps with joy at restoration. He does not demand apologies. He does not want confessions. He does not demand acts of contrition. No, when he sees real repentance, he grants real forgiveness. When he sees mercy, he grants mercy. The merciful are shown mercy. The now merciful Judah obtains mercy.

The counter example is the unmerciful servant of Matthew 18. “How much forgiveness must we have,” Peter asks of the Lord Jesus. “How many times must we forgive those who wrong us?” You know the story as well. Jesus tells this parable.

A man owed a ruler 20 million dollars. More money than he could ever pay. Because the man could not pay, the ruler demanded all that he had, even his family be sold into slavery, to begin paying the debt. The man fell on his knees and begged for mercy, for time to pay. The master had pity, and then in mercy, not only did he not sell the man’s family into slavery, not only did he give time, no, he cancelled the debt completely. He saw the misery, had pity, and acted in mercy. The forgiven debtor went out and met a fellow servant who owed a hundred denarii: about a hundred days wages, several thousands of dollars (not as the NIV text notes say, a few dollars.) It was still a substantial amount. The forgiven debtor demanded his payment. He thought, “That is quite a sum of money he owes me. It’s about time he pays up!”

His fellow servant fell on his knees and pleaded for time. But he refused. He refused. Imagine that. He had him thrown into debtors’ prison. No pity. No compassion. Leads to no mercy. But he also did not understand mercy. Though he had received forgiveness, he did not understand it. Though his master had shown mercy, he did not value it. He had no desire to relieve the misery of his fellow servant and would not forgive him.

In the Old Testament, the Lord God is said to be merciful. All the psalms we are singing today speak of his mercies manifold. They endure forever. His mercy is like a father who forgives his children. Who has compassion and then did something about it. He saw the sorry state of his people and rescued them from Egypt. He heard their cry when under oppressors and so he sent judges. He, in covenant love, restored his people time and again. He mercies, they fail not.

And when we read the New Testament then we are faced with the greatest demonstration of mercy in the history of the world. For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son into the world to redeem it. To reconcile the world to himself. He saw our pitiable situation. He saw that mankind had plunged himself into ruin. Since the very beginning, he is the one who came seeking man, when he trembling fled from him. He called out in the garden to the man, “Where are you?” The first words of God to fallen man. “Where are you?” Words of pity. Words of mercy. Man the sinner, frightened, guilty, on the run. God the merciful, seeking man, showing mercy. Doing mercy.

So in the New Testament we read that God sent his son. He saw the suffering. The misery. The sin. Despite our sin, our sinfulness, our fallenness, our corruption… no not despite, but because of our pitiable condition, God was moved by compassion and grace to act in mercy. He paid the debt and set me free. There is no contradiction between Justice and mercy. No, they met in the cross of Christ.

There the debt was paid to set you free from the burden of sin, the debt we incurred, the guilt that we carry. No longer need we flee from the coming wrath. This then is mercy. It is to look upon a person in his pitiable condition as the result of his sins and sinfulness and the brokenness of this world, and having pity on him. And then moving to action.

2. Mercy demanded

This kind of mercy is also demanded of God’s people. When the Lord Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbour?” he told the parable of the good Samaritan. And when he finished telling it he asked, “Who was the neighbour?’ He turned the question around. He was asked, “Who is my neighbour?” He said, “Wrong question.” Ask not, “Who should I see as a neighbour?” And many still ask and answer that question. They say, “my neighbour is:” and then give a definition. Many will say, when asked the question, “My neighbour is everyone with whom I have been brought into contact by the Lord.” And that may be true, but the Lord Jesus still says, “It’s the wrong question, and so the answer is not that helpful.” Ask not, “Who is my neighbour? But rather ask, “How can I be a neighbour?” Who was the neighbour? The lawyer replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” The one who in pity was moved to action. He was the neighbour. “Go and do likewise. That is the command of the Lord. If you are a neighbour, show mercy. Do mercy. Act in mercy to others.

Citizens of Jesus’ kingdom must be a merciful people. For we are like that man, beaten, robbed and left for dead. Satan has attacked us, robbed us, left us for dead. But Jesus in his mercy has taken us in. His mercy is ever present. The lord heals all the broken hearted. For he binds up the wounds that smarted. We have received mercy.

So we must have mercy on others. Even as the Lord Jesus says in Matt 6:14. If you forgive, your heavenly father will forgive. In the following verse, Jesus says: But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. In an other place: And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.

The world is by nature unmerciful. We by nature are the same. The world finds revenge delicious. A dainty morsel. But those who show mercy, find it. This is not because we can merit mercy by mercy, or earn forgiveness by forgiveness. No for God’s mercy is by grace.

But yet, we cannot receive mercy unless we repent. We cannot claim to have repented of our sins, unless we are willing to forgive others their sins. Nothing so moves a sinner to mercy and forgiveness than the realization that he has been forgiven of God. Nothing proves forgiveness more, than the willingness to forgive. We know that if we were judged by our ability to forgive we would be lost.

We have reflected on this: that the Sermon on the Mount is not a new set of laws to follow. No, it describes the New Testament man. The woman of the New Covenant. It describes the New Israel, that people called to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know and confess that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God in Christ.

No, what the Lord Jesus is saying here is this: I am truly forgiven when I am truly aware of my sins against him, and repent of them and cast myself down on my knees before him and seek forgiveness. I realize that I cannot pay my debt, no daily I increase my debt. I deserve nothing but eternal punishment, the most severe punishment, eternal condemnation. And my forgiveness rests only upon God’s grace and mercy.

And so we will have mercy on those who suffer. Who suffer because of sin. We cannot turn our back on the misery of sin. And that misery is not just experienced by someone who is poor, or sick, or lying on the side of the road dying. That misery is more profoundly shown in those who do not know their sins and misery. That misery is shown when people are spiteful, who malign you, who hate you, who treat you like an enemy. Yet even then we are to be merciful. We are to feel pity, not anger, for those who we know to be full of bitterness and anger. They are to be pitied.

Remember Stephen the evangelist: His fellow countrymen, covenant people, children of Abraham took up stones to kill him. And he prays: “Father, lay not this sin against them. They do not know what they are doing. They are driven mad by their sin. They are blinded by their anger. Have mercy on them!” Stephen, as he was being stoned to death, had pity on his tormentors. And having pity he was moved to merciful action: he prayed for them. Even as he was dying at the hands of the mob, he was willing to forgive and seek mercy for them. He knew what forgiveness was. He had received mercy from God.

3. Mercy received

Nothing proves more clearly that we have been forgiven, than our readiness to forgive others their sins. To be forgiven and to forgive. To receive mercy and to show mercy. These belong together. He who is not merciful, simply does not, has not experienced the mercy of God. He who cannot forgive, has not realized God’s forgiveness.

Blessed are the merciful! Why? For they realize the forgiveness of God. They have experienced, realized, received the forgiveness of God and so are merciful to others.

As we noted before the beatitudes are not just isolated proverbs. No, they build upon each other. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who know their sins and sinfulness. Who understand their poverty. Blessed are those who mourn because of their sin. Who mourn with repentance that leads to life.

Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who understand and know and live in humility. Who have a right view of themselves. None can really hurt the truly meek person. For nothing that someone says can really compare to my own understanding of my own sins. “Wretched man that I am!” He says with Paul.

And so he hungers and thirsts after righteousness. He knows he has none of his own. He needs an other’s righteousness. He seeks it and finds it in Jesus Christ. He hungers and thirsts because his position is desperate. And he knows that he can receive it only by grace in Jesus Christ. By the mercies of God. And having received that mercy, being blessed with that mercy, he understands mercy. He knows mercy. He has learned mercy. He has loved mercy. And now he lives mercy. Having received mercy, does it not follow that we should all be merciful?

Let us look to the cross. There upon the cross, died one who had no sin. Who had never sinned. Who never harmed anyone. Who spoke and preached the truth. Who came to restore what he had not stolen. To find and save that which was lost. Who took upon himself our sins. Also this sin of lack of mercy. Of bitterness, of spitefulness, of meanness. For the heart is deceitful above all else and beyond cure: who can understand it? If I know in my heart, deep down in my heart, that I am what I am because of mercy alone, then there should be no pride left in me. Then I will not deny my sins. There will be no pride left in me. There will be no bitterness or vindictiveness in me. There will be no insisting on my rights coming from me. There will be no vengeful thoughts arising from me.

Rather as I look at others, I will see myself to be the greatest of sinners. And if perchance I see that there is sin in others, or anything unworthy, then I will not gloat but have sorrow for them. And if there is sin against you, you will have compassion. And that compassion will be moved to mercy, to grace and to forgiveness. Even forgiveness 70 times seven times.

This is what the Lord is saying here: “If you are merciful then you already have it.” And you will have it every time YOU sin, because you will repent and turn to God and say, “Have mercy on me a sinner. Lord, have mercy on me!”

Remember that unmerciful servant? What happened to him? Since he had not understood the mercy, his master showed him, he was taken and thrown into prison. His forgiveness was not received in his heart, and so he was not forgiven. If that unrighteous cruel servant, who tried to choke his fellow servant and threatened him, if that heartless unmerciful servant would not forgive, then he never understood forgiveness. Therefore, he was not forgiven.

Blessed are those who are merciful. For they have received God’s grace in their lives.

None of us by nature has a merciful spirit. If you do, it is because God is working in you by his Word and Holy Spirit. You have seen what God has done for you. That he has been merciful to you: Therefore, you can be merciful as well.

Paul, in 2 Tim 1:16 tells of a brother who sought him out in prison in Rome. He had compassion, took pity, had mercy. And so Paul says of Onesiphorus, “May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day!” He was blessed with the understanding of mercy. Therefore, he was merciful. And he will receive mercy on the final day.

Think only of what James writes in 2:13. Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful: Mercy triumphs over judgment. Yes, even as Paul prays that the merciful brother will receive mercy in the judgment, so also James say that the unmerciful will not receive mercy on that day. But mercy triumphs over judgment.

Blessed are the merciful, even today. For they have understood what mercy is. And so having learned it, they love it, and they live it. And they shall obtain mercy.

The grace of God makes you gracious. The mercy of God makes you merciful.

If I am not merciful, there is only one explanation. I have never understood grace and mercy. I am yet in my sins. Without Christ. Lost in the world.

Next week we come again to the Lord’s Supper table. Let each of us examine himself: Not his neighbour. Let each of us examine himself, herself, and ask this question: Am I merciful? Blessed are the merciful for the shall be shown mercy. Blessed are the merciful, for they have the Merciful one as their Lord. (D. Bonhoeffer, The Cost Of Discipleship 101)

Yes, blessed are you for your Lord is merciful.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. John van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2002, Rev. John van Popta

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