“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
First, let me remind us of what we have been over in this series. The very first of the beatitudes, blessed are the poor in Spirit, assumes repentance. Since this is the first of the beatitudes, this goes to show that all the remainder (and the rest of the sermon on the Mount) is for covenant members. These are not some handy moral-isms for just about anybody. These are principles by which the righteous are expected to live by. Each and every one of the beatitudes has a gospel focus, empowered by redemption, with the self sacrifice of Christ at their very core.
Mercy is to be distinguished from grace in that mercy precedes judgment (negative), whereas grace is unmerited favor (positive). Mercy is to withhold that which is deserved (i.e. punishment), grace is to give that which is not deserved (i.e. salvation). When Christians show mercy it is to accept and forgive those who have wronged them, or to forgive those who act or speak out of ignorance and unbelief.
Now, let me be clear, mercy does not pretend that there is no wrongdoing. Mercy does not dismiss the wrongdoing. Rather, due to love and covenant faithfulness, mercy accepts the wrong, and still shows kindness despite the weakness. Take the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21–35, in verse 35, Jesus says we will be condemned if we do not forgive those who sin against us and ask for mercy. We forget that willingness to forgive others their trespasses is a sure sign of a forgiven heart that rests in Jesus alone for salvation (6:14–15).
Thanks be to God, for He shows mercy to us even when we are not merciful to others. When we turn to Him in faith and repentance, He showers us with mercy. The promise of this beatitude is that when we are merciful to others in Jesus’ name,we receive mercy from the Lord (5:7).
But what does it mean to show mercy? In John 7:53–8:11 the scribes and the Pharisees test Jesus by using the woman caught in adultery. If He denies that death by stoning is the maximum penalty for adultery under the Mosaic law (Lev. 20:10), the Pharisees can charge Him with heresy for denying the Law.
Jesus never excuses the women, nor does he say her punishment should be lessened. He certainly does not ignore her sin, all these are misunderstandings of mercy. Instead, our Lord addresses the accusers, and says, those who are without sin should cast the first stone (John 8:7–8). None of the other men met this standard, and so they turn away one by one (v. 9).
As the Lord took our place for sin and death, he was not shown mercy for our sake. He is pure, He is sinless, yet he died in our place. The mercy that is shown to you and I, as believers, is that we do not receive just punishment for our sins. Our sins have been swallowed up in the finished work of Christ. It is right and good therefore for us to always be faithful to show mercy to others. For of him who has received much, much is expected.
It is too easy to pretend that there is no sin, or that the wrongdoing is unimportant. In a culture that has a low sense of morality, and is incredibly relativistic, it is always difficult to address wrong. In this same address our Lord teaches that the light shines in the darkness and should not be hidden, and salt that is no longer distinct is only discarded. We should look for opportunity to speak to those who have wronged us, enabling them to see the error, and yet show forgiveness and acceptance.
If the wrongdoing is by another believer, it is right and beneficial that we go to them and show them where they have gone wrong (as per Matt 18, where the Lord teaches on relationships in the covenant community). We must do this speaking the truth in love, always from a desire to see forgiveness, restoration and renewal.
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
Remember that the Lord has shown you mercy, be sure to show mercy to others in return. The promise is that then we will receive even more.