Today's Little Lift
by Jim Bullington
If we are to “...go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,'” (Matthew 9.13) then we are surely going to need to learn what the words mean that comprise the phrase. Today's message will take a cursory look at the word mercy in an effort to assist in learning what the passage meant to which Jesus referred.
The word mercy is not unique to either the New Testament or to the Old. It was used frequently in the Old Testament scriptures as well as in the teachings of Jesus. In addition, several people who met Jesus asked Him to show mercy toward them. These numerous references will go a long way to further our understanding of the word mercy.
First we will demonstrate how important Jesus taught the attribute of mercy to be. In the beatitudes, He said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5.7). In another place He said, “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6.35-36).
Next we will get a flavor for the word mercy from one of its many biblical usages. Jesus told a story in Luke 16 about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Some have said that this is a parable; still others say it was an actual event of which Jesus spoke. For our purposes here, it makes no difference. In the story, both Lazarus and the rich man died. Lazarus went to a place of blessings called Abraham's bosom, while the rich man was located “in torments in Hades.” The rich man saw the blessed estate of Lazarus and cried out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” Again for our purposes here, the outcome is not important, but suffice it to say that the rich man did not receive comfort from Abraham or Lazarus. However, even a casual reading will reveal what is meant by mercy. Coupled with other similar usages, we can conclude that mercy is the extension of an act of kindness toward another.
I have heard many teachers refer to Matthew 25, one of the judgement scenes in the Bible. Some people were assigned to a place of torment that had been “...prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25.41). Still others in this scene were invited to spend an eternity of bliss with their heavenly Father. The difference in their destinies was caused by a difference in their attitudes. Hear part of this text beginning with the words of Jesus: “'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'” (Matthew 25.41-45). Acts of mercy distinguished between the lost and the saved, not acts of worship or religious ceremony!
Jesus charged the Pharisees to learn what Hosea meant when he said, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Mercy is one of the key words in this text and, in fact, in the whole Bible. It is an important word because it is an essential trait that must be plentiful in the lives of all who please God! (Continued)
1. When the rich man asked for mercy, what specifically did he request?
2. What was the difference cited in Matthew 25 between those who were lost and those that were saved?
3. Continuing to think about the lessons of Matthew 25, how and when did those being judged come into contact with Jesus so that they could feed and clothe Him? What is the lesson for us today?
4. Toward whom ought we to have the attitude of mercy? Should we limit it to those who have a faith that is as strong as ours? Should we deny mercy to those who are overt sinners merely because they are sinners? Just how far should our attitude of mercy extend?
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