The Fifth Sunday in Lent March 21, 2010
537, 150, 384, 54
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
In the name of Jesus, our merciful Savior, dear fellow-redeemed:
For hundreds of years Christian worship services have often included a part called the Kyrie. It is a very short prayer for God’s mercy: “Lord have mercy upon us. Christ have mercy upon us. Lord have mercy upon us.” But what does it mean to be merciful? What does it mean to show mercy toward someone? There are many illustrations of mercy in the Bible.
One such illustration is in Matthew 20: “As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’…Jesus stopped and called them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He asked. ‘Lord,’ they answered, ‘we want our sight.’ Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately, they received their sight and followed Him’” (Matthew 20:29ff NIV).
You may remember the account of the ten lepers. They too called to Jesus for mercy saying: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” And, of course, He did, healing them of their disease (cf. Luke 17:11ff).
Mercy is an act of sympathetic love toward those who are in need of help. Jesus showed mercy when He healed the blind men and when He cured the ten of their leprosy. There are many other examples of Jesus stopping to lend His assistance and aid. He healed. He provided food. He often took time, like the Good Samaritan in His own parable, to bind up the wounded. This is mercy.
The people of the world show mercy too, but it is not always for the right reasons. Sometimes people show mercy so they can receive recognition for themselves. For example, a person who would donate money to an orphanage, but then demands that it be named after him. Sometimes people show mercy to others figuring that they’ll earn some good favor back—If I did him a good turn, now he owes me. Still others are merciful because they are afraid of God, thinking that if they show enough mercy then God will be pleased enough to show mercy to them.
As Christians, though, we have a different reason to be merciful. We do not show mercy toward others because we want to be noticed, or because we want others to be in debt to us, or because we feel it is something we must do for God in order to secure His blessing and love. We show mercy to others because God has been merciful to us.
We were once in great need. At the moment of our birth we were living in the darkness of sin and unbelief. We did not know God and we did not know His Son Jesus who saved us from our sins. As the Apostle Paul said in the letter to the Ephesians: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins…like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1,3). We were born disobedient, opposed to God, unwilling and unable to do His will, and headed for the just punishment of eternal death.
“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” (Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV). Although we were sinners through and through, God worked out a way to save us from the punishment that our transgressions deserved. He punished Jesus Christ instead—at the cross—on Good Friday. Then He said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” And God went further to create in us a faith that believes Jesus died for us. “Now, It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
So you see, God has been merciful to us. We who did not deserve it were shown mercy. We had an enormous debt of sin and guilt built up against God, and the Heavenly Father arranged for Jesus Christ to be punished in our place. That is mercy. We were lost and God came to our rescue. He helped us in our need.
God is also merciful to each of us by giving us what we need for daily living. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall so that the land produces the food that we need. He gives us our families and friends for support and comfort. He provides shelter and clothing. These are all examples of the mercy of God. He sees what we need and He addresses those needs. We could not take a single breath apart from His power and might. Martin Luther wrote: “God does all this because He is my good and gracious Father in heaven, not because of anything I have done to earn or deserve it” (Small Catechism, explanation to the first article of the Apostolic Creed).
God is merciful to us, and He works in our hearts an attitude of mercy toward others based on His mercy toward us. We appreciate God’s mercy which forgives our sins in preparation for the life to come. We appreciate God’s mercy which sustains our bodies in the life we live now. In turn, we are merciful to those who sin against us, forgiving as we have been forgiven, and we seek to help those who are in earthly need as we have opportunity and ability.
How can we show mercy to others? There are many ways. Jesus had mercy on people by healing their diseases and attending to their earthly needs. Churches are often seen as places where help can be found and that’s rather understandable because Christians are merciful. We have a small food pantry here at church that we share with those in the community who are in need—that’s something the early Christian churches used to do too. We’re told in the book of Acts about those who were appointed to “wait at tables” and oversee the distribution of goods to the needy (cf. Acts 6:1ff). Families come by here and we show mercy to them in that way.
Individually, we have many gifts that can be used to help our neighbors who might be in need. We have not only financial resources, but also resources of time, expertise, and experience. When I was younger I remember going to the homes of the elderly in our church and helping them with different things. Sometimes it was house-cleaning. Sometimes it was setting up a new television set or radio, or even a Christmas tree. I’m sure many of you have done similar things—lending a hand when others need something done that they cannot do themselves. You might show mercy by helping someone get to a doctor’s appointment or to church, by mowing a lawn, or weeding a garden.
These are ways to show mercy to a person in a physical way. In fact, when we say the Kyrie in our church services, this is the kind of mercy for which we are asking. But the church’s greatest mission is to dispense spiritual mercy. So we are also being merciful when we share God’s mercy in Christ with others, when we tell them about the Savior, when we share with them the forgiveness of sins, or when we forgive one another even as Christ has forgiven us. This is more important than a box of food or a month’s rent.
We do not always have the resources to give people everything we would like to give them. When people stop here and are too poor to put gas in their cars, I wish that I could be merciful by filling their tanks every time, but I don’t have the resources to do that. This church gets many calls from people in the community desperately seeking help to pay their rent or to keep their utilities from getting shut off. We’re not really in a position to help them with those things, but we can show mercy to them in other ways. Like Peter said to the beggar in the temple courts who looked to him for money: “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you” (Acts 3:6). You can give people mercy that money cannot buy. You can pray for them. You can witness to them. You can give them what they need for eternal life.
Do we sin by not being merciful enough? Of course, we do. Often we show mercy for the wrong reasons like the unbelievers do, or we withhold mercy for the wrong reasons. It is hard for us to understand sometimes that Christian mercy is unconditional. That means we should not show mercy to another based on what we think they “deserve.” We shouldn’t say, “We don’t get along, so I won’t help them.” Nor should we show mercy toward someone only if they have been merciful to us. If our enemy is in need of our help, we are not to pass by on the other side and leave him lying there. Yet we find it hard to do this. So we ask God to help us be more merciful day by day and to forgive us where we have failed.
Now we do not show mercy in order to get something in return, but Jesus does encourage us with these final words of blessing: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” So although our reason for showing mercy is not to gain something for ourselves, it is true that God blesses His merciful children. Christians who show mercy will more often find mercy being returned to them by others.
Psalm 41 also speaks of the blessings of the merciful when it says: “Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble. The Lord will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes. The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness” (Psalm 41:1-3 NIV). Proverbs 21:21 says: “He who pursues righteousness and love [mercy] finds life, prosperity and honor.” Now this doesn’t mean that the merciful are promised lives without earthly pain or sickness or problems—no Christian is promised this. But it does mean that God keeps a special eye on those who are His children by faith in Christ Jesus. He has gone to great lengths to be merciful to you, and He will continue to show you mercy throughout your life.
Let us continue showing ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples, bearing the fruit of mercy from day to day. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.