The Outward Beatitudes: We Are Merciful

One of the classic films of my childhood was Karate Kid where we learned that karate can be learned by simply waxing a car and painting a house. One of the antagonist of the movie was John Kreese who was the sensei of the karate dojo, Cobra Kai. And with the force and command of an impassioned coach / military general, he tells his students:

“We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak. Here, in the streets, in competition: A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.”

“No mercy” became a theme for Kreese and his students who used it as a battle cry as they sought to defeat, humiliate and ultimately destroy the hero and underdog Daniel LaRusso.

In the final scene where Daniel is in the final round of a karate competition against Cobra Kai student Johnny Lawrence, Kreese instructs Johnny to “sweep the leg” meaning to intentional hurt Johnny’s already injured leg–a move that was less about points in the competition and more about bringing pain and injury to your competitor.

Johnny momentarily struggles with this instruction but then Kreese stares at Johnny in a calm yet villainous way and says the now-famous words meant to strike the final blow, “No mercy”. The goal was not just to win but to destroy.

Making the antagonist’s mantra “no mercy” in Karate Kid made them easy to cheer against. We want our heroes to be compassionate and self-sacrificing. We pull for those characters who seek to help those who need help. We want our heroes to be noble and honorable. We want our heroes to show mercy and we villianize those who withhold it.

The dictionary definition of mercy is “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” The one who can give mercy often has reason why they should not. Mercy is not just a random act of kindness but a personal act of displaying compassion toward someone when judgment may be deserved. Mercy is never earned but a gift that is given.

The challenge with mercy is that while we celebrate and uphold the one who gives it to others, we ourselves struggle giving it freely to others. It is not easy to be compassionate and forgiving to those who have hurt us. It is not easy to give mercy to those we feel do not deserve it. And yet Jesus commends those who are merciful.

In Matthew 5:7 Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

So why does Jesus bless those who are merciful? Because mercy is a reflection of the heart of God.

Ephesians 2 tells us about the mercy of God. Paul tells us that were born dead in our sin. And not only that but our natural desire was to follow the evil and wicked ways of the Devil. And because of our sin, the wrath of God was on us. That is disturbing news. Because of our sin, we deserve death. That is the judgment that is on our lives. But the amazing thing is that even though we were enemies of God, he did not abandon us or reject us. One of the great verses in Scripture is Ephesians 2:4 which begins “But God…”

This is how all great stories of mercy begins, “But…”

The consequence, the judgment, the punishment is deserved but the one who has the authority to exercise the judgment withholds it.

Humanity sinned against God and God has the full right and authority to bring judgment against us. God is just in bringing judgment against. But that is where mercy changes everything. Mercy withholds what we are due. And this is what God does for us. Ephesians 2:4 says:

“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.”

While Karate Kid’s Kreese says an enemy deserves no mercy, Romans 5:10 tells us that when we were enemies of God, we were reonciled to God through the sacrificial death of His son. And by demonstrating mercy in this way, he now gives us an example of who we are to be merciful to. We have the privilege of extending mercy to everyone especially to those we believe do not deserve it. This is the outward call of this beatitiude. And the way we are merciful is to bring the Good News of the Kingdom of God to those who are perishing.

We may ask the question: why does that require mercy? Because in our own selfishness, we can find ourselves believing that there are some people who do not deserve God’s salvation. We may believe there are some people who through their wickedness having forfeited the right to receive God’s grace. To enter into a wicked world whose natural bent is to follow the desires and ways of the devil requires a love and compassion that can only come from God.

When we have mercy toward a world that is perishing without Christ, we display the heart of God.

Just as we have received mercy, we now as followers of Jesus enter into this world to give the same offer of mercy to others. As we seek to live an outward life, may that be one of our prayers. God, may have I mercy on the world around me. May I have a compassion for those who are living hopeless without Christ. May I not have a heart that condemns but heart that forgives.

What is interesting about this blessing in Matthew 5:7 is that those who give mercy will be blessed by receiving mercy. It is the first time in the beatitudes that that the blessing is what the person has blessed others with. Jesus is saying you will receive what you have given.

Why is the blessing of being merciful mercy?

First, it does not mean that when we are merciful to others that we earn mercy. Or even that we earn salvation. God’s mercy is a gift given to us.

The mercy shown to us could be future rewards we will receive in heaven. But I believe this statement goes beyond the reward and is speaking about the blessing we experience in being in a right relationship with God as we reflect the merciful heart of God.

Pastor Kent Hughes expresses it this way, “when God’s grace comes into our hearts it makes us merciful. Forgiveness demonstrates whether we have been forgiven. So the telling line is this: If we refuse to be merciful, there is only one reason – we have never understood the grace of Christ. We are outside grace and are unforgiven.”

When we are merciful are we reflecting that we have received mercy, know mercy and are responding out of the mercy that the Father has given us. When we live out mercy, we are able to continue to understand mercy and be people of mercy.

One of the most significant things to understand about our lives is that we are people of mercy because it allows us then to enter into a world full of hatred toward God and extend His mercy. If we want to live outward lives for the sake of the Gospel, we must be people walking in mercy.

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