Matthew 5:7

5 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [1]

A mother once approached Emperor Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice, and justice demanded death. “But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.” “But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied. “Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.” “Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son.[2]

The fifth Beatitude, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy, describes a Kingdom power available to every believer struggling with bitterness, every believer weighed down with painful burdens, and all believers laboring under a profound sense of their sin. It is available to all believers to share liberally with those in need. In our present-day ultra-legalistic culture of political correctness, mercy is an unknown commodity, making it all the more necessary for believers to spread it everywhere we go.


William Shakespeare wrote of mercy in the well-known speech by Portia in The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:

It blesses him that gives and him that takes.

’Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown….

Unfortunately, those beautiful words don’t define mercy. What is mercy? What does it mean to be merciful? There are several Hebrew words often translated as “mercy” depending on the context. The predominant Hebrew word often translated as “mercy” is chesed, God’s covenant loyalty love to his people (Ps. 89:28). It is God’s steady, persistent refusal to wash his hands of his wayward, needy people who bear his name.

In the New Testament there are also three words that, together with their cognate verbs, are rendered as “mercy.” The basic idea of the word translated merciful is “compassion to one in need or helpless distress, or in debt and without claim to favorable treatment.”[3] Mercy gives attention to those in misery. “Mercy and grace certainly fit together but they are distinct from one another. Grace is concerned for man, as guilty; mercy, as he is miserable.”[4]

Grace extends to the underserving; mercy is compassion to the miserable. We can say that the synonym for mercy is compassion. But these are more than words of feeling; they define action, doing something for the undeserving and miserable. The frequent charge of the Old Testament prophets was that Israel, the infant church, refused to extend grace and mercy to the desperately needy among their numbers.

Jesus made this clear in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus, in response to a question of “Who is my neighbor,” told the story:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.[5]

Of course, you all recognize that every major character in the story Jesus told was Jesus himself. He is the man beaten and left for dead outside the walls of Jerusalem. He is the Good Samaritan, rejected by Israel, exercising grace and mercy to the undeserving and desperately needy. He is the innkeeper who provides a place of rest and recovery – a kind of resurrection from death. Jesus saves the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead.

Jesus was pointing out that as satisfied as the 1st century Jews of Palestine were with their outward religion, they still lacked mercy. The very people deserving of mercy were not allowed into the temple. They were not even allowed to live near the temple. The prevailing theology of the day was that if they were desperately poor and needy, or ill, they were being punished by God and were unworthy of compassion.

Jesus then asked his questioner:

36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” [6]

God did not simply feel compassion when Adam and Eve rebelled against him and brought sin into the human race and the curse of it into the world. He actively extended them mercy. He clothed their nakedness and promised that the Seed of the Woman would crush the head of the serpent-dragon to restore his fallen people. Mercy is active goodwill.

The ultimate acts of grace and mercy are defined by what God does for us. Paul wrote to the Church of Rome:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.[7]

No more than the condemned soldier standing before emperor Napoleon, all humanity is completely undeserving of God’s grace and his mercy. Because all of the Kingdom powers Jesus is describing in the beatitudes flow from the King himself, being merciful describes one who forgives and pardons another who is in the wrong. Christ died for us when we were still sinners. Last time I checked all of us are still sinners. Yet, “His mercy endures forever” – a statement found at least 42 times in the Old Testament!

Extending mercy often involves forgiving and pardoning another who is in the wrong. That is certainly the case as scripture uses the term. A striking shadow of Jesus’ work to come and an example of such mercy is found in the story of Joseph and his brothers. The only reason they did not murder him as a spoiled, obnoxious daddy’s boy was that their murderous rage was tempered by their greed. So, they sold him into slavery instead.

Decades later when Joseph had his guilty brothers literally “at his mercy,” he showed them compassion. He wept for their misery, and he met their needs. He exercised forgiveness as he restored them all to his grace, saying, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good (Gen. 50:20). “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Joseph suffered unjustly at the hands of his brothers because God intended to use Joseph to redeem the children of Abraham for the sake of his covenant. Joseph was a type and shadow of the Redeemer to come.


The reason the merciful are blessed is that “they will be shown mercy.” This is an emphatic statement: they alone will be shown mercy. Again, Jesus’ declaration is found elsewhere in scripture. James writes, “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” (James 2:13). Jesus will say later in this sermon, “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).

As we’ve noted several times, it is extremely easy to interpret this statement about mercy as one of many in Beatitudes that teach one can earn God’s mercy by performing outward acts of mercy. In fact, there are more than a few very conservative scholars and preachers who believe and teach that Jesus is telling people how to enter the Kingdom of God. But scripture teaches an entirely opposite truth:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [8]

If receiving God’s forgiveness and mercy could only be earned by becoming forgiving and merciful, none of us could ever receive forgiveness or mercy. None of us could ever absolutely meet this perfect standard while living in our sinful flesh.

What this beatitude means, primarily, is that God is a God of mercy. His Kingdom is a merciful Kingdom. As Christ lives in you through the Holy Spirit, he will exercise his mercy through you to those around you in need of it. Showing mercy is evidence that you trust into the fact that you have received God’s mercy in and through Christ Jesus.

You recognize your poverty in spirit, your mourning over what sin has done in your life and in the world at large, your meekness and complete inability to manage your own flesh to appear outwardly capable and acceptable, your desire for God’s righteousness to flood you and the whole world, and your desperate need for God’s mercy that you long to extend to others.

We don’t become Christians by displaying those attributes outwardly. Those are attributes of Christ’s Kingdom and attributes of Christ himself. If those are not things that you recognize about yourself at all, then you need to consider whether or not you are truly trusting into Christ alone for your relationship with God and your fellow human beings.

Remember the context of this sermon. Jesus is preaching it to his disciples primarily but also to the interested crowds who were following and listening. The religious leaders of Jesus day did not love God with all their might and their neighbor as themselves (Lk. 10:25-28). Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan was an accurate picture of a dead, outward religion. The priest and the Levite did not even stop to bother with the injured traveler. They were on their way to Jerusalem to do what they thought was more important work, service in the temple.

Stopping to help a person who might already be dead would have defiled them and prevented them from their temple service. They were fairly sure they had the perfect excuse to not stop and exercise mercy. But the Samaritan’s act of mercy showed that he loved his neighbor as himself, and that he was loving both God and his fellow man. The work of his hands flowed out of the work of God in his heart.

In his great sermon to his beloved little church in Ephesus, the apostle John gave many tests for genuine trust into Jesus. One test was the presence of mercy in the lives of his congregation:

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 Jn. 3:17-18). [9]

The Lord warns the religious person who attends church, can recite all the acceptable answers, appears to lead an outwardly moral life, but holds a death grip on his time, property, and particularly his grudges. And unmerciful heart is not a characteristic of those who claim to trust into the person and work of the gracious and merciful Lord Jesus Christ. You cannot nourish hatred, cherish animosity, and live in comfortable malice and truly know Jesus.

You cannot remain passively indifferent to the suffering around you, particularly that of other brothers and sisters in Christ, and truly know Jesus. If that describes you, your soul may be in danger. This is not to say that you cannot feel raw and hurt from a recent conflict. It is not to say that you might lack financial resources to help brothers and sisters in need.

The point is, if we are Christians, we can and will forgive (however imperfectly) and we can and will extend grace and mercy (however imperfectly) to those who desperately need it because Christ dwells in us and works through us his Kingdom powers. If you are trusting into Christ, you have all of the Kingdom powers described in the beatitudes. If the Spirit is convicting you this morning that you have not been merciful in certain situations, then dance the Christian two-step.

Ask God to grant you genuine repentance for your sin and for Christ to live through you what you have absolutely no power to do out of your own flesh: to be merciful to those in need of mercy. Jesus himself gives a good picture of outward religion versus inner reality when he pictures two vastly different attitudes reflected in the prayers of two different men:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”[10]

The Pharisee thanked God in such a way that he took credit for his most excellent outward show of religion. The tax collector offered nothing, desperately grasping in his dirty hands the mercy of a gracious God. Which man was truly merciful and expectant of receiving the free gift of eternal mercy?

Let me close with the entire paragraph of Paul to the Ephesians from which I earlier read a portion:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [11]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 5:1–12.

[2] Luis Palau, Experiencing God’s Forgiveness, Multnomah Press, 1984.

[3] J. W. L. Hoad, “Mercy, Merciful,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 751.

[4] Id.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 10:30–34.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 10:36–37.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 5:6–11.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 2:8–10.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 3:17-18.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 18:9–14.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 2:1–10. Emphasis added.