In His amazing Sermon on the Mount the Lord Jesus clearly laid out the radical lifestyle to which He called His followers. None of Jesus’ teachings were radical than this:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” (Matthew 5:7).
These are radical words because they reflected the opposite values of those found in the religion of Jesus’ day. Jewish religionists were not inclined to be merciful. In fact, to many of them, it wasn’t seen as a virtue. In their mind you show mercy to the people who were merciful to you (see Matt.5:43-47).
Obviously mercy was not seen as a virtue in the ancient Roman culture, dominant in Jesus’ day. There was a Roman philosopher who said that mercy was “the disease of the soul.” It was the supreme sign of weakness.
But not so for Jesus. To look in the face of Jesus was to look into the face of pure mercy. He reached out to hurting people. He made time for the sick, crippled, blind, lame, deaf and the sinners. Simply put, mercy means to show genuine compassion for others. And it flowed freely out of the life of Jesus.
According to Romans 12:8 some have the spiritual gift of showing mercy. God has graced certain individuals in the Body to exercise mercy in a way that most cannot. And if we have that gift we are to use it cheerfully. But the Bible teaches us that mercy is to be resident the life of every Christ-follower.
Mercy is not just pretending to care; we should act with mercy. It’s not just feeling compassion; it’s showing compassion. But perhaps a little more defining would be helpful. What does mercy look like?
- Mercy looks like a shed tear.
The Scriptures teach us: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn,” (Romans 12:15). Only a heart of mercy can feel so deeply for and with others that we share their joy and their pain.
- Mercy looks like a helping hand.
On one occasion some parents approached Jesus for help with their son who was tormented by a demon. They begged, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us,” (Mark 9:22). Of course, Jesus can and Jesus cares. He extended a helping, healing hand in mercy.
- Mercy sounds like a kind word.
We are admonished to “Encourage one another and build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11). Who of us doesn’t appreciate a kind word when we have failed? Like most US presidents, Richard Nixon made it a habit to call the championship teams (NFL, NBA, MLB, etc.). But Nixon went beyond that common practice; he would call the losing team. His reasoning? “Everyone calls you when you’re a winner; only your friends call when you fail.”
- Mercy looks like a zipped lip.
Sometimes mercy is shown by what we say; sometimes it is shown be what we don’t say. I have been shown mercy many times when people rightfully could have pointed out a flaw in my life … but they didn’t.
- Mercy looks feels like a forgiving spirit.
It has been observed that grace is God giving us what we do not deserve in the way of blessings. Mercy is God withholding from us what we actually deserve in the way of judgment. We see this in Lamentations 3:22: “Because of the Lord’s great love (mercy) we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” When we experience God’s merciful forgiveness we are obligated to show it to others who have wronged us. “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” (Colossians 3:13).
- Mercy looks like a bowed knee.
The Lord in His Word invites us: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16). Mercy from the Lord is accessed through prayer. I think of the contrite worshipper who simply cried, “Lord have mercy on me the sinner” (Luke 18:13).
And the Lord will generously hear and heed our prayer for mercy … but only if we have shown mercy. Remember, Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” (Matthew 5:7).
There is a law of reciprocity at work here. Jesus will address this later on in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” (Matthew 7:1-2).
What you give is what you get back. I don’t know about you, but I need a lot of mercy.