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Matthew 5:7 by Robert Dean
Me? Be kind, merciful, and forgiving even to hateful, mean-spirited people? That's not possible. Listen to this lesson to learn that the standards of righteousness Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount are impossible under our own efforts but are applicable to everyone who would be a committed believer depending on God's power. See how Jesus displayed mercy when He was on earth in a culture that was cruel and unforgiving. Note the distinctions between grace and mercy and how they relate to God's amazing attributes.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:40 mins 54 secs

How to be Happy - Part 3. Grace, Forgiveness, Mercy
Matthew 5:7
Matthew Lesson #020
January 12, 2014
www.deanbibleministries.org

The Sermon on the Mount is arguably one of the most difficult passages of Scripture to interpret. Used to think it was Revelation. Revelation is difficult in that you have to control almost all of the Old Testament prophetic passages. But the Sermon on the Mount is difficult for another reason. That is because of you were to pick up your Bible and start reading through the Gospel of Matthew, after you have made your way through the genealogy of the first chapter and of you are still motivated to read, you then come to chapter five and the beatitudes. The way they are translated and the way they appear to us at first blush is to be somewhat impossible to apply. If you have been in churches that are influenced by liberal Protestant theology where there is a kingdom today and where we are supposed to be transforming society into a more perfect society, because the utopian foundation and goal of Protestant liberalism, then you have been given a false interpretation of many of these passages and you tend to read them and understand them in wrong ways.

If you have been in Bible churches for much of your life, as many of you have been, there are some different interpretations that have been given. And sometimes when you come to these passages from that framework it seems that the Sermon on the Mount contradicts some of these things that you have been taught. All of this is to emphasize the fact that we have to carefully read Scripture, we have to understand the context of the of the original message—the Sermon on the Mount in terms of its original context—and then we have to be able to relate it to the overall context of Scripture.

As we come to it we have to contextualize it and recognize that Matthew is including this specifically within the framework of a sub-theme within the Gospel of Matthew, and that sub-theme is on discipleship. There is the call for discipleship that immediately precedes this. In all likelihood, in comparing this with the other Gospels, Jesus has called the twelve already. And these are they to whom He is speaking as indicated in the first verse of chapter five. He calls His disciples to Him and He is instructing them. Although a crowd gathers around to eavesdrop, as it were, Jesus is not talking to the crowd or to a large crowd of disciples. He is not speaking to the issue of political or a social agenda. He is not speaking of salvation in terms of gaining eternal life. He is addressing what is expected in the life of a disciple. If someone claims to be a follower of Jesus (a disciple) it is not the same thing as claiming to be a Christian. There are people who are Christians, who believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, and they are saved. That is the gospel of grace. The gospel of grace does not say: yes, you receive Christ by grace but if you do not continue in obedience then you weren't really saved. That is not biblical. That flies in the face of understanding grace.

Salvation (or, gaining eternal life) is one thing; growing as a believer is another issue. What discipleship addresses is the second category, which we refer to as spiritual growth or the Christian life. This isn't necessarily addressing the Christian life in the uniqueness of the church age believer because the church age has not been announced yet. This is given under the time of the Law in what we term as the age of Israel under the dispensation of the Mosaic Law. And what Jesus is doing in part in the Sermon on the Mount is defining for us and interpreting for us God's sense of righteousness in reference to the Mosaic Law in contrast to the superficial interpretation of righteousness as given in second temple period Pharisaism and Judaism. That is part of the contrast.

Jesus is addressing His disciples. These are men who are already believers, who are already secure in their eternal salvation, and instructing them as to the kind of life they should live in light of their future destiny in the kingdom. For that message of the kingdom is what is the overall theme of Matthew. Matthew is presenting Jesus as the Messiah who has come to offer the kingdom to Israel. That kingdom will eventually be rejected by the leadership of Israel and will be postponed. So it hasn't come into existence yet, despite all of the desires and lusts of the liberal crowd which desires so strongly to give us a utopic society. What the Scripture says is that there is no utopic society, no utopic social or political system, until Jesus comes as the King as establishes His kingdom. But in the interim period there is a preparation of His disciples to rule and reign with Him in the future. These were originally gathered around Him in a different period of time, in a different dispensation. The ethic, the standard of living, the application of these principles is designed for all who are preparing to be in that kingdom. So it is sort of a trans-dispensational application.  

The beginning of the Sermon on the Mount focuses on these eight beatitudes—eight characteristics that should be present in the life of those who will be future citizens and future rulers in the kingdom. In many ways these eight beatitudes depict for us or summarize for us the elements that come later in the sermon, much as the Ten Commandments are a prelude to the Mosaic Law and are the foundation for everything else that is said in the Mosaic Law. In fact, if we look at the eight beatitudes one of the things that becomes apparent is that there is a parallel between the first four and the second four so that the first four become something of a foundation for the second four. Many of us stumble still over some of the terms, such as the first phrase "poor in spirit". This is not talking about physical poverty, this is talking about genuine humility: those who are genuinely humble and realize they don't bring anything to the table in order to impress God, that God is the one who supplies everything for us. This is parallel to the verse that we are going to look at (Matthew 5:7 NASB "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy") for before you can be merciful you must understand grace, which means you must be humble. So the genuine humility becomes a foundation to being merciful, the fifth beatitude. 

The second beatitude is "Blessed are those who mourn". These are the ones who grieve over sin. They understand their own depravity and they recognize, therefore, the importance of maintaining a clean heart. That is verse 8: "Blessed are the pure in heart".

The third beatitude: "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth". Meekness is not being weak; it is being properly oriented to authority—oriented to the authority of God ultimately, just as Jesus Christ was in Philippians 2:7. He humbled Himself by becoming obedient and going to the cross. At the cross He became a peace offering for the human race.

That leads us to the third qualification: "Blessed are the peacemakers". Peacemakers are not those who sit in various international councils to bring about world peace but those who proclaim the gospel of peace, which is that Jesus Christ was reconciling us to God at the cross. Jesus Christ is the ultimate peacemaker; we become peacemakers by proclaiming the gospel of grace.

The fourth beatitude we looked at is "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied". That is parallel to the eighth beatitude: Matthew 5:10 NASB "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven".

This helps us to understand the framework and structure for the beatitudes as introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. Now we continue to focus on the character of those who are called and we are looking at the topic of grace, forgiveness and mercy in Matthew 5:7: NASB "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." This is in the opening section where Jesus is emphasizing the character and calling of those who will inherit the kingdom.

Inheriting the kingdom does not mean getting into heaven. It is a reference to those believers who through living the Christian life today will receive rewards at the judgment seat of Christ and will have ownership privileges and fellowship privileges with God in the coming kingdom that surpass those who are failures. All believers will have eternal life, all will be in the kingdom, but only those who have pursued the spiritual life successfully as disciples will have special, additional privileges in heaven.

The noun here translated merciful is the Greek eleemones, which means pitiful, merciful or compassionate. This form of the word is based on the basic noun for mercy. This noun is only used two times in the New Testament, here and again in reference to the Lord Jesus Christ in Hebrews 2:17 where we read: NASB "Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." This is emphasizing the fact that Jesus Christ as high priest is merciful. In His life on the earth during the period of the incarnation He exhibited this genuine mercy to a degree that no other human being has done. He responded to the pleas for mercy from the sick, from the cripple, from those who were blind, lame, and from those who had leprosy. He even gave life to those who had already died.

There are three passages in Matthew that talk about His mercy, those coming to Him for mercy. Matthew 9:27 NASB "As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, 'Have mercy on us, Son of David!'" They understood that He was the source of genuine mercy and that He could heal them from their blindness. That is a picture of the fact that if Jesus can heal them of their physical blindness He can also save them from their spiritual blindness and give them spiritual life. Matthew 15:22 NASB "And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and {began} to cry out, saying, 'Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.'" He cast the demon out of her daughter, exhibiting His mercy. Matthew 17:15 NASB "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic [epileptic] and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water." This seizure that he had was brought about also by demon possession.

Jesus exhibited mercy, He reached out to those who were rejected by the religious establishment of His day. The religious establishment of His day was operating on self-righteousness and they looked down upon those who were sinners, those who had various diseases—they believed that was a result of their sin—and so they had no sense of mercy for them. Jesus often was ridiculed and rebuked by the religious establishment because He spent time with sinners, with those who had been completely rejected by the religious leadership. One example that comes to mind is when the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him the woman caught in adultery to see if He would agree with stoning her. He confronted them with their lack of mercy and with their hypocrisy. He said: "He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone". When no one stepped forward to condemn her, no one stoned her, Jesus said: "Neither do I condemn you, go your way and from now on sin no more". He doesn't ignore the sin. Mercy is not at the expense of justice. There is not a compromise with righteousness, as we will see.

The first century into which Jesus came was not a culture that valued mercy, either among the Gentiles or among the Jews. Among the Jews, especially among Pharisaical religion and that of the Sadducees as well, they emphasized a self-righteousness. Theirs was a works based relationship with God and so they tended to be arrogant, judgmental, and these are qualities that are just the opposite of grace and mercy. In their system you would only love those who loved you; you would only show mercy to those who had already shown mercy to you. This is the attitude that Jesus condemns here in Matthew 5:7, but also later this chapter. Matthew 5:43 NASB "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.'" This was a shallow and superficial kind of love that was unacceptable to Him. In verse 44 He says: "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you [45] so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven … [46] For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors [Gentiles] do the same?" His point is that the standard of behavior, internally and externally, expected of a disciple is far different from that which is exhibited from the culture around us.

The Gentiles were no better than the Jews. A popular Roman philosopher called mercy the disease of the soul. To the Romans mercy was a sign of weakness, a sign that you weren't a real man. It is similar today to the false values of machoism. The Romans glorified a machoistic kind of courage and justice and disciple and power that rejected any sign of mercy as a sign of weakness. So Jesus presents a standard that in His day contrasted to the standards of the world, as it does in our day.

The apostle James who is the author of the epistle, says in James 2:13 NASB "For judgment {will be} merciless to one who has shown no mercy …" He is restating in another way what Jesus says in Matthew 5:7. The standard of Matthew 5:7 is not something unique or distinct to the millennial kingdom but is to be exhibited by believers in the church age.

To understand the whole concept of mercy we have to understand it in reference to the character of God, and we have to understand it in reference to two aspects of God's essence: His love and His righteousness. But then we have to understand it also and relate it with two qualities that are expressions of God's love and righteousness: grace and forgiveness. Mercy is a term that is frequently associated in Scripture with grace, but it is different from grace. Grace emphasizes God's unmerited or undeserved favor, but mercy is the expression of God's grace in action.

We have ten foundational attributes of God

1.      God is sovereign. That means He is the ruler of all creation. He is the creator of all things and He has the right to rule and govern His creation.

2.      He is righteousness.

He is also justice. Those two words, righteousness and justice, are interesting because in both the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek those English words translate the same basic words groups. The word group in Hebrew, tsedeq, can mean either righteousness or justice. In the New Testament dikaios can refer to either righteousness or justice. It depends on the context and what the writer is talking about. So these are opposite sides of the same coin, so to speak. Righteousness speaks of the standard of God's character. It is the standard of perfection. He is the standard; His character defines righteousness. In justice we refer to the application of that standard to His creatures. Often in human viewpoint or pagan thought they always talk about a conflict between God's love and His justice: how can God be just and also love His creatures? Because for them the love in pagan literature and culture is not a love that is inherently righteous. They always compromise one or the other. They cannot have a love with true virtue because they have a relative concept of righteousness and justice. Often the human viewpoint concept sees this conflict between righteousness and love because they think that in righteousness justice has always punished sin and therefore God cannot love His creatures: if God loved His creatures He would have to let them off Scott free without satisfying His righteousness. But in the divine viewpoint of Scripture God's justice finds a way to pay the penalty for sin so that His righteous standard is satisfied, and therefore His justice is satisfied. Love finds a way to find a just punishment for sin. But in doing so that payment is made on our behalf so that we can experience the love of God in our life. In Romans 5 we read that God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. The picture there is that the cross is a demonstration of the love of God, and it is at the cross that God's righteousness is satisfied. So righteousness and love are not mutually exclusive; they are not in conflict. God's righteousness is in complete harmony with His absolute love.   

We have to define what love is. Love is providing the absolute best for the object of love. We have a problem with that as creatures because when we look at another human being and say we want to do the best for you, we have a limited knowledge of what is best. Because we are not omniscient we can't determine what really is best for the object of our love. So often, because of our own self-absorption what is best for the person we love is what is best for us. And so it ultimately operates on a very self-serving motivation. But because God is omniscient He knows all the knowable, He knows everything, and He knows therefore what is absolutely best for each and every creature. So the term best, when we talk about providing the best for someone, implies something of higher value than something that is simply good or better. In order for something to be best we have implied that there is a value system in play. That value system derives from righteousness. So for us to love someone truly that love has to be based on an absolute value system. Best also implies and requires absolute knowledge so that we can determine what is truly best for the object of love. Since God is omniscient and righteousness only God can truly love. This is why we have passages of Scripture that state that God is love. 1 John 4. So because God is perfect love He can establish a perfect plan where His love and righteousness are compatible.      

In emphasizing these attributes of righteousness, justice and love we can understand the foundation of God's grace and mercy. Because God is both righteous and love He can solve the sin problems. Mercy is not something that is going to be expressed apart from the satisfaction of God's righteousness. That would be pseudo compassion. This is what we experience many times in our lives. People just want to ignore or overlook flaws and failings, sometimes malicious behavior, simply because we don't know how to handle it or because we just want everything to be fine and good. And we allow people and we allow children to get away Scott free with problems and wrong behavior under a misguided notion of compassion and mercy. One of the greatest example of this pseudo compassion in the Scripture is that of David's attitude toward his rebellious son Absolom. When Absolom was young David did not deal with Absolom's sin. It was covered over, ignored, rationalized and Absolom was allowed to mature and to let his own arrogance grow and dominate his personality. Because justice wasn't dealt with the mercy was a pseudo-mercy, a shallow mercy. The mercy from God is not a mercy that ignores the satisfaction of righteousness but is based upon the satisfaction of righteousness and justice. Failure to understand this has promoted the false mercy and pseudo compassion today of socialism, the pseudo mercy of utopianism, and political and economic liberalism. This is because it doesn't ultimately the standards of righteousness and justice. It promotes a system built on pseudo compassion that is ultimately not really merciful. True compassion must be based upon solving the problem is relation to justice first and foremost.    

The second thing we have to understand is that God's mercy is an expression of His perfect love. His love can flow because His righteousness and justice has been satisfied. We read about God's mercy in relation to salvation in Ephesians 2:4, 4 NASB "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)". Mercy flows out of love. So love comes first then mercy. Mercy is an application of His love. God's love is foundational. That is why God is stated to be love in 1 John 4:8, 16. Love is a basic element in God's essence. Because God is love and His love is compatible with His righteousness it is a love that has perfect integrity. Therefore He seeks what is best for mankind, and what is best for mankind is that the real problem has to be solved first. The real problem is the problem of sin. If that problem isn't solved and addressed first all other solutions are simply temporary, superficial and doomed to failure. So God demonstrated His love toward us [first] so that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.    

The third thing we need to understand is the relationship between grace and mercy. By doing a word study of these terms we find that they are often together but they emphasize different aspects of God's love toward us. As we have seen, grace is often defined as undeserved mercy, unmerited kindness. Mercy is the same thing. The Scriptures make this distinction that grace is one thing and mercy is grace in action. Grace and mercy are intimately connected but they are different. Grace focuses on solving he problem of sin, whereas mercy addresses the consequences of sin—the pain, the misery, the distress. Mercy addresses the situation whether it is the result of individual sin because we live in a sinful world. Ultimately all of our problems in life are the consequences of sin, so grace addresses the issue of sin and the problem of the sin nature; mercy is the application of that to individuals who are suffering the consequences of sin. God's grace provides the solution for sin in terms of salvation and mercy offers relief from the present consequences of sin but without ignoring the problem of sin itself. You can't truly address a consequence of sin if you haven't addressed the sin itself. You can't just put on blinders. We see this in the example of the story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan showed mercy, which was not deserved at all.    

This develops into the next area of mercy—mercy and forgiveness. Forgiveness is one manifestation of mercy. But mercy is much broader a category than simply forgiveness. Grace solves the sin problem. Mercy allows us to focus on the individual consequences of sin and forgiveness allows us to forgive a person for their sins and failures. As we go through the passages of Scripture we realize that forgiveness is foundational for the mercy of God as expressed at the cross. The work of Christ is often expressed as providing forgiveness of sin. Because we were all born condemned by sin (we are born spiritually dead) forgiveness has to be a part of the package of redemption which we see in both Colossians and Ephesians, and that redemption is related to the forgiveness of sin. Because if sin has been paid for (redemption) and solves the problem then God can forgive us our sin. This is freely provided to everyone without cost. This is the glory of the Christian gospel. We don't have to do anything to earn or deserve God's grace. He has already done everything for us at the cross where He provided a perfect and sufficient payment for our sin. All that is left is for us to trust in Christ. When we do the sin problem is solved and God then freely extends to us His mercy in providing solutions for us in the day-to-day issues in life related to the consequences of sin.