We see petitions for mercy in every aspect of our society.
Children plea for mercy when facing a punishment from their parents. Students beg for mercy when asking for an extension when they miss a deadline for an assignment. Even in the legal system, a person can go to traffic court and plea for mercy to not have that speeding ticket put on their driving record. I wonder how I know that!
Mercy is when someone does not get something they deserve, be that a punishment, fine, or bad grade. In his list of pathways to supreme happiness, Jesus adds this interesting truth, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
To understand the significance of this promise, we must first look at what Jesus is not saying.
Jesus Christ is not saying, “If you show people mercy, they’re going to show you mercy in return.”
If that were so, the most merciful man to ever walk the planet would have been given mercy by the mob instead of a rugged cross.
Consider young David, showing mercy to King Saul when he could have taken Saul’s life.
Twice, David could have taken the life of this cruel, vindictive king who threw spears at him, trying to pin him to the wall and who, for years, tried to hunt David down and kill him so he wouldn’t take the throne of Israel. Instead, David showed mercy while Saul only grew more vindictive.
It’s possible to show mercy to people who turn their back on you, reject you, and treat you badly.
So, the Lord is not saying, “If you show mercy to others, you’ll receive mercy in return.”
Jesus is not saying, “If you show people mercy, you’ll earn mercy from God.”
We do not earn mercy from God by extending mercy to people. Salvation from God is never earned. Salvation is received. Paul told Titus that “Christ saved us . . . according to His mercy” (Titus 3:5).
In other words, it’s impossible to be saved without experiencing the mercy of God, and salvation is an unmerited gift of mercy and grace from God.
With an understanding that we will not always receive mercy from others, why show others mercy?
As these articles have explained, the Lord is providing a pathway to happiness in Matthew 5. And now in this text, Jesus essentially announces, “Happy are those who are helpful.”
Jesus is asking, “Do you want to be truly happy? Show mercy to others.”
We believe that God is merciful. He actually doesn’t give us what we deserve, because if we did, none of us would ever enjoy one breath of air or one drop of water.
But the gospel doesn’t hide from the fact of sin’s penalty.
There can be no true mercy apart from justice. Somebody has to pay the price for sin. And Jesus did. On the cross, the Lord Jesus paid the penalty for every sin (thoughts, acts, omissions, motives) we ever did or will yet do. The apostle Peter said, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24). He canceled our record of sin that stood against us with its legal demand, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14).
We’ve been given mercy . . . but it was immensely costly.
We do not give mercy to others because it is easy, or because it benefits us from an earthly perspective. Mercy is not on the 5-step plan for the fast-track to earthly success.
But with our understanding of the mercy we have been shown by Christ, our desire is to reflect that mercy to those around us.
This is not a natural impulse in our human nature. By the world’s perspective, happiness is having people bow to our needs. Jesus effectively says, “Supreme happiness is when we stoop to meet the needs of others.”
The world would say, “When you are in control – when you have people at your mercy – that’s true happiness!”
Yet, watch as a young slave ascends to the highest pinnacle of Egyptian power. After being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, Joseph had been accused of a crime he did not commit and thrown into prison. But God never left him and gave him power and authority; authority even over those same brothers who sold him in the first place.
In Genesis 42, his brothers came to Egypt in need of food, not knowing that Joseph was in charge of the entire food storage program in the country. Joseph now had them at his mercy, but he showed them mercy.
Joseph demonstrated that while mercy is not a natural reflex for humans, it is a defining characteristic of those who understand God is watching, leading, directing and guiding all the events of their lives.
You want true happiness? Show mercy.
You want worldly power? Be stingy.
Another Joseph who rose to the pinnacle of power was Joseph Stalin, the Russian premier during World War II. Stalin had millions of people at his mercy, and he showed none, ordering the death of millions.
He was always concerned to present an image of steel (the meaning of Stalin), but lived a terrified and miserable life. He had seven bedrooms, sleeping each night in a different room, fearful of assassination plots. He even hired a staff member to monitor and guard his teabags, for fear of poisoning.
You want to be truly unhappy? Be stingy and cruel and hateful. And above all, show no mercy.
Jesus was preaching at a time when the Roman Empire despised mercy. Even Roman philosophers called mercy “a disease of the soul.” It was something to be ashamed of if you ever hoped to “get ahead” in life.
The Lord turned that conventional wisdom upside down and challenged His followers to show others compassion and mercy. By doing so, we imitate our Heavenly Father who has promised us “mercies that never come to an end, they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Aren’t we glad our God never runs out of mercy!
So let’s act like our Father and demonstrate the happiness we’ve found in Christ.