As many of you know, I have the honor and privilege of being married to a pastor. (Shout out to my sweet husband, Aaron, one of God’s very good gifts to me!) He has been preaching through Luke and just finished chapter 6 – Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. If you ever get to thinking that you’re doing pretty well in your Christian walk, take some time to read through the Sermon on the Mount, and you will find yourself falling so short of the high standards that Jesus laid out. Much could be and has been written about that one sermon, but I want to share with you the verse that most grabbed my attention and challenged my heart.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)
Eight words that stop me in my tracks. “Be merciful” is a pretty high standard on its own, but wait – there’s more. “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” In my own words, “When it comes to mercy, be just like your Father.” Wow. Talk about setting the bar high. In order for us to really understand what that means, we have to take a few moments to investigate and understand our Father’s mercy.
Just to make sure we’re all thinking in the same way, here’s a quick overview of what ‘mercy’ means as given to us by Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary – 1) compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power; 2) a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion; 3) compassionate treatment of those in distress. Basically, it is choosing to extend kindness and forgiveness to someone instead of punishment or harm. It’s a decision to forego the revenge that someone deserves in favor of showing compassion to that person.
So, what do we know about our Father’s mercy?
God’s mercy is endless. It is impossible to use up all of God’s mercy. It doesn’t have a limit. As sure as we can count on the sun rising tomorrow, we can count on the continued existence of God’s mercy.
“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1)
“Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. (I Chronicles 16:34)
“And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the LORD, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: ‘Praise the LORD, For His mercy endures forever.”’ (II Chronicles 20:21)
(These are just three of MANY verses that say this exact thing. That tag line “His mercy endures forever” is all throughout Scripture.)
God is rich in mercy, and His mercy abounds. God is not stingy with His mercy. He freely lavishes it on us.
“The LORD is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” (Psalm 103:8)
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7)
God’s mercy leads us to salvation. It’s because of His mercy that He saves us. Instead of giving us what we deserve, in His mercy, He draws us near and gives to us the free gift of salvation.
“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)
“ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (I Peter 1:2-5)
God’s mercy is new every day. Every single day, we get a clean slate. God is not keeping a record of our wrongs, but He promises new mercy for us every morning.
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23)
This is surely not a comprehensive list of all the facets of God’s mercy, but hopefully, it provides us with at least an overview. In the words of Charles Spurgeon –
“God’s mercy is so great that you may sooner drain the sea of its water, or deprive the sun of its light, or make space too narrow, than diminish the great mercy of God.”
Now that we have pondered some of the truths about God’s mercy, let’s consider again the imperative that Jesus issued to us. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Let’s look at just a few more verses that issue similar challenges.
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)
“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35)
The question we’re left with is this – What is our mercy like? Is our mercy just like the mercy of our Father? When I search my own heart, sadly I can’t always answer that in the affirmative. So many times, I’m just like that servant we just read about. I’ve been shown so much mercy and then I find myself so impatient with others and unwilling to dole out even a little bit of mercy to them. Oh, how I need the help of the Holy Spirit to carry out this simple command from Jesus to be merciful.
When I sat and listened to my husband preach about this little 8-word verse in Luke, I wrote in the margin of my Bible, “His mercy is new every morning. Is mine?” As I ponder those traits of God’s mercy we just reviewed, I have to ask myself, “Do I live in this way? Do I extend mercy that is abundant, that is without a limit, that gives a clean slate to others, that points others to salvation?”
In my own strength, this is an impossibility, but by God’s grace at work in me, my life can be marked by the mercy I show to others. When I let God’s Spirit flow through me in acts of mercy to others, I am putting the Gospel on display and pointing others to the greatest Source of mercy we will ever know.
“The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales.” John Stott
Dear Father, Your mercy is beyond our ability to comprehend. It humbles us and leaves us lost in gratitude that You have chosen not to give us what we deserve, but to extend Your kindness and forgiveness to us. Please help us to live our lives in the light of Your mercy and to be extensions of that mercy to those around us. Forgive us for all the times that we have fallen so short and have begrudged others of mercy when You have been so rich in mercy to us. Help us, by Your Spirit at work within us, to be merciful just as You are merciful. May our lives be marked by mercy, and may we show ourselves to be Your true children by the way that we live out the truths of the Gospel. Amen.