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On Christian Virtue Part 8

Jesus shifts His focus

By Pastor Don Strand

The Beatitudes can be a problem for people and for many churches.  Today there are many churches that are, what Michael Horton has termed, the “happy-clappy” variety.  The characteristic of Happy-clappy churches is their relentless stream of feel good, positive messages.  God is a God of love.  He feels sad when bad things happen to good people, and He wants you to feel good.  The message is never about God’s just wrath for sin and the hopelessness of the natural human condition.  To the contrary, the message is usually about how to develop a positive self-esteem and then offers some tips from God that can help.  The Sermon on the Mount does not fit the happy-clappy requirements of a positive and encouraging message.

Instead, in the Beatitudes, Jesus offers us a test.  He calls us to evaluate ourselves in light of what He has said about being poor in spirit, to mourn our sin, to be meek and to hunger and thirst for righteousness.  What does this kind of introspection do to your self-esteem?  Does it make you angry?  Do your regard this test positively or negatively?  Your response, Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, indicates a lot about who you are as a Christian.  This test makes us uncomfortable.  There is pain involved in evaluating ourselves in light of what Jesus has said.  And because Jesus has said it, it must be a good thing for us to evaluate ourselves honestly.  It is good to look into the mirror Jesus places before us because it is what our hearts truly need.

Jesus is mostly concerned about the condition of our hearts.  His emphasis is on attitudes not action.  Jesus will go on in His sermon to say a lot about what the Christian does and does not do, but He prefaces that with the demand to consider the state of our hearts and our character.  He does this to make it clear that it is attitude, not action that is central to being a Christian and this is why we must be changed from within by being born again (John 3:3).  It is with ‘born again’ heart that we must come to these next three beatitudes as Jesus will now shift His focus from our relationship with God to our relationships with others.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7).

John Stott defines ‘mercy’ as compassion for people in need.  He writes, “The merciful are those who are habitually merciful, whose lives are characterized by mercy.”  Where grace deals with pardon for sin, mercy deals with the consequences of sin.  Mercy is about providing relief from the pain, misery, and distress caused by sin.  By ‘merciful’ Jesus means those who develop a quality of helpful compassion, a quality of sympathetic interest and activity for those who are suffering because of sin.  Because of a fallen world, there is poverty.  The merciful desire to find material possessions for those who lack.  There are children who are orphaned.  The merciful will look to locate them into a supportive family.  There is ignorance, so the merciful help to build schools.  There are those who are sick or handicapped.  The merciful seek to provide doctors, hospitals, and facilities for those with limitations.  The world may turn away from those in need, but the Christian will respond with compassionate and sympathetic help.

Some mistake mercy for condoning immorality or perversion, saying “the merciful are not critical or judgmental.”  They say, “extending mercy means accepting people wherever they are without any opinion about what’s right and what’s wrong.”  But that is not the case.  God is merciful, but He never condones sin.  God is rich in mercy; we read of the tender mercy of God, that He is full of compassion and is merciful (Ephesians 2:4; Luke 1:78; James 5:11), but never in a way that compromises His moral law.  God is …merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, .. forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, (Exodus 34:6–7).  Paul warns, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7).  Mercy must always be displayed in the context of just laws where offenders are properly punished, yet aid and comfort are extended to those suffering the consequences of their wrongdoing.

And the demands of mercy go beyond social justice and extend into our very homes.  The merciful extend compassion and sympathy toward those who hurt us or disappoint us.  They are quick to respond to disputes with others with mercy.  And while there are consequences for actions of hurt and disappointment, those who are merciful are quick to forgive and restore those who have offended us, even to the point of loving our enemies (Matthew 5:43, 44; 6:15).

Is this the kind of person you desire to be?  If so, God can make you to be a person who is merciful.  However, there are barriers each of us faces on that journey, and that will be the subject next time in our study of the Beatitudes.

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