— Matthew 5:7
The pizza was good that day in the little mom and pop pizza place in Lawrenceville, Ga. I was sitting across from a church planter named Jeff. He had started a congregation in a suburban community near Atlanta, and he was sharing his heart with me. He was telling me about his struggles. He had a typical congregation of wonderful people, but people that always wanted things done their way, rather than the direction he felt God was leading them. We had a great time that day. Little did I know that it would be the last time I saw him alive.
The next Saturday morning, Jeff walked into his office and was shot dead by an intruder who had broken in the night before.
As Jeff lay dying on the floor, the man rifled through his pockets, took what little cash he had and his car keys to his late model auto.
Jeff left behind a young wife and several young children. Being a poor church planter, he left behind few resources. With Jeff’s death, his family lost their sole means of support. The church was left without a loving shepherd and the whole community was thrown into mourning. Within a matter of days, the murderer was apprehended and many began to pray for justice.
The bravest of all was the young pastor’s wife. The sheriff allowed her to go to the jail cell where she shared the love of Christ to this man who had taken away the love of her life, the father of her children and the pastor of her church.
Mercy is one of those things we expect of others but not ourselves. Yet, we are called by God to act merciful to others.
The idea of mercy comes from the Greek word that can be best translated, “to give help to the wretched, to relieve the miserable.”
Mercy is “compassion in action.” It is not enough to feel compassion for someone; we must act on the compassion. An early 20th century deacon discovered that a poor tenant farmer’s only mule had suddenly died. That mule was the only means of a livelihood for this man and his family. While a crowd of neighbors gathered around to express sympathy, the godly deacon said this, “I’m sorry $20 worth”
“How sorry are you?”
With that, he threw in a $20 bill into his straw hat, passed the hat and soon a new mule was purchased. True mercy demands action.
Mercy is also forgiving. Mercy describes the person who has been wronged and who forgives and pardons the person who is in the wrong. Think of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Sold into slavery by his evil brothers, later he forgives them and is used by God to rescue their family from a severe famine. Joseph puts it this way, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20).
What is the end result? The scripture tells us that “they shall receive mercy.” The very reason that the merciful will be blessed is that they will receive mercy. That means that one who is not merciful will not receive mercy. “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who had not been merciful.” James 2:13. Jesus himself says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15).
The picture here is this: Showing mercy is evidence that you have received mercy. If we do not show mercy for those who are physically or economically in distress, we need to examine our salvation. The second test is that of practicing mercy through forgiveness. If we fail to exercise mercy through forgiveness, what does that make us?
Remember the parable that Jesus taught about the unmerciful servant? The slave owed his master an immense sum, some say close to $20 million. The debt was impossible to pay, so he pleaded with his master to forgive his debt, and to his surprise his master forgave the entire debt, all $20 million. He was a free man! As he was leaving his master’s house, he spied a fellow slave who owed him a minor amount of cash. He grabbed the poor slave by the neck and had him thrown into prison. When the other slaves report this to the master, he summoned the wicked slave: “you wicked servant,’ he said. “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart (Matt. 18:32-25).
This is a warning for the religious person who attends church, knows all the right answers, leads an outwardly moral life, but will never forgive. This is a warning for the one who will not forgive his relatives or business associates regardless of their pleas. This person lives a life of consistent bitterness and has an unforgiving spirit. Such a person better take stock in their life.
I will never forget attending Jeff’s funeral. There in that small sanctuary stood a grieving young widow with three little boys who were too young to fully understand. The place was packed that day. And God gave this young widow the courage, the grace and the mercy to share the best message of all with that ruthless killer.
Confess your sin. Turn to Christ as your only hope. Rest in His mercy. Thank him for saving you! Then, go out and show mercy!
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
Dr. Dennis R. Culbreth is Senior Pastor of Jasper’s First Baptist Church www.jaspersfbc.org