Blessed are the Merciful

For They Shall Obtain Mercy


Dr. John Hoole – September 27, 2015



In our ongoing series on the Sermon on the Mount, we have competed half of the beatitudes.  We are at a natural break in the entire list of 8.  Let’s again read the Beatitudes.


Matthew 5:3-7 NKJV


3   Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4   Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

5   Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.

6   Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

7   Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.

8   Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.

9   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.


Just as the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit, listed by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, are each to mature and become evident in every Christian character, so the eight beatitudes of which Christ speaks describe his ideal for every citizen of God’s kingdom.


The beatitudes paint a comprehensive portrait of a disciple of Christ.  And as you proceed through the eight beatitudes, you will undoubtedly notice that some of them focus mainly on your relationship with God.  And some are very pointed in their reference to our relationships with others.


The first four Beatitudes speak to our vertical relationship with God and the final four speak of our horizontal relationship with others.  The first 4 speak with our “being” and the last four speak about our “doing.”


Those who in poverty of spirit recognize their need of mercy are led to show mercy to others (vs. 7).  Those who mourn over their sins are led to purity of heart (vs. 8).  Those who are meek, holding their strength under control, are those who seek peace (vs. 9).  And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are never unwilling to pay the price of being persecuted for righteousness’ sake (vs. 10).


Today, we address the fifth beatitude.


Matthew 5:7 NKJV


7   Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.


I am going to read several biblical verses that address mercy, and afterward, I am going to ask how you would define mercy.


Genesis 39:21 NKJV


21    But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.


Titus 3:4-5 NKJV


4   But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,

5   not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,


Micah 6:8 NKJV


8   He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?


Proverbs 14:21-22 NKJV


21  He who despises his neighbor sins; But he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he.

22  Do they not go astray who devise evil? But mercy and truth belong to those who devise good.


1 Peter 1:3 NKJV


3   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,




The concept of mercy is seen throughout Scripture, from the Fall to the consummation of history at the return of Christ.  Mercy is a desperately needed gift of God’s providential and redemptive work on behalf of sinners.  And the Lord requires His people to follow His example by extending mercy to others.


For the most part, the days in which Jesus lived and taught were not characterized by mercy.  The Jewish religious leaders were not inclined to show mercy, because mercy is not characteristic of those who are proud, self-righteous, and judgmental.  To many – perhaps most – of Jesus’ hearers, showing mercy was considered one of the least virtues, if it was thought to be a virtue at all.


Also, the Roman world did not admire mercy.  They admired justice, courage, self-control, and wisdom – but not mercy.  One Roman philosopher called mercy “a disease of the soul,” something to be abhorred and ashamed of if you expected to be a success.  Mercy was a sign that you did not have what it takes to be a real man, and especially a real Roman.  The Romans glorified manly courage, strict justice, firm discipline, and, above all, absolute power.  To them mercy was a weakness.


We have not finished defining mercy, but let me pose another question.  Sometimes it helps to get something clear if we can see it over against its opposite.




Some of the opposites may include: Hard-hearted, ruthless, cruelty, revenge, meanness, harshness, justice, judgment, sternness.


Does the Bible help us understand the opposite of mercy.


            Let us start in Matthew 9.


Matthew 9:10-13 NKJV


10    Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.

11   And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

12   When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

13   But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."


In this illustration, the opposite of mercy seems to be sacrifice.  This is a quote from Hosea 6:6 NKJV.


6    For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.



In Matthew 9, Jesus saw sinners as sick and miserable people in need of a physician, even though they were the rich money movers of the day – the tax collectors.  They were sick – He had the medicine.  And he tells the religious leaders there that showing mercy was greater than all the legalistic ritual.


Mercy contrasted to Straining Out Gnats.


Here is another possible opposite.


Matthew 23:23-24 NKJV


23    Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

24   Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!


Jesus is telling them that they are preoccupied with the trifles of life, but pay little attention to the really important – Justice, Mercy and Faith.


Is mercy opposite to Justice or Judgment?


Mercy actually is related to justice, although on the surface, they seem to be incompatible.  Justice gives exactly what is deserved, whereas mercy gives less punishment than deserved.  This has led some to have difficulty understanding how God can be both merciful and just at the same time to the same person.  If God is completely just, how could He ever not punish sin totally?  For Him to be merciful would seem to negate His justice.  The fact of the matter is that God does not show mercy without punishing sin.  And for Him to offer mercy without punishment would negate His justice.


Now, let me take you to James 2.


James 2:12-13 NKJV


12   So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.

13   For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.


                        This gives us something to think about


Let’s get back to what the Scripture tells us about mercy.  The best illustration of mercy is the fact that the Lord Himself was the most merciful human being who ever lived.  He reached out to heal the sick, restore the cripples, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and even life to the dead.  He found prostitutes, tax collectors, the debauched and the drunken, and drew them into His circle of love and forgiveness.


When the scribes and Pharisees brought the adulteress to Him to see if He would agree to her stoning, He confronted them with their merciless hypocrisy.  He said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  When no one stepped forward to condemn her, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way, and from now on sin no more” (Jn. 8:7-11).


Jesus was mercy incarnate, just as He was love incarnate.  The more Jesus showed mercy, the more He showed up the unmercifulness of the Jewish leaders.  The more He showed mercy, the more they were determined to put Him out of the way.  The ultimate outcome of His mercy was the cross.


Let’s look a little more deeply into the topic of mercy.  Our English word, mercy, comes from the Latin, merces.  It was also influenced by the Latin miserere (to have pity), and speaks of compassionate action or treatment.


The Greek word for Merciful is from ELEEMON, and its root Greek word is ELEOS.  We have an English word, ELEEMOSYNARY, which means beneficial or charitable.  One other Greek root word is ELEEOThose two root words are found 59 times in the New Testament.  Let’s look at their use in Matthew 5:7.


Matthew 5:7 NKJV


7   Blessed are the merciful [Eleemon], For they shall obtain mercy [Eleos].


Mercy is not simply the withholding of punishment, but it is the act of giving help or having compassion on someone who is afflicted.


Again, mercy is meeting people’s needs.  It is not simply feeling compassion but showing compassion.  It is not only sympathizing but giving a helping hand.  Mercy is comforting the bereaved, loving the rejected, forgiving the offender.


In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Portia says,


The quality of mercy is not strain’d;

It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven,

Upon the place beneath; it is twice bless’d.

It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes;

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown.


Paul tells us that Jesus has saved us, not on the basis of our deeds done in righteousness, but according to His mercy.


Mercy and Love


Let’s look at the relationship between Mercy and Love.


Lamentations 3:22 ESV


22   The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;


Forgiveness flows out of mercy, and mercy flows out of love.


Ephesians 2:4-5 NKJV


4   But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,

5   even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),


Just as mercy is more than forgiveness, love is more than mercy.  Love manifests itself in many ways that do not involve either forgiveness or mercy.  Love loves even when there is no wrong to forgive or need to be met.  The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, although they are both without sin or need.  When we enter heaven we, too, will be without sin or need.  Yet God’s love for us will, in comparison to eternity, only be just beginning.  Someone has said, “Mercy is the Physician – Love is the friend.”


Mercy acts because of need – love acts because of affection, whether there is a need or not.  Mercy is reserved for times of trouble – love is constant.  There can be no mercy without love, but there can be true love apart from mercy.


Mercy and Compassion


Are mercy and compassion synonyms?  They certainly are similar if not synonyms.  One might say that mercy is expressed by one who is actively compassionate, in the same way that God is actively compassionate.  You might say compassion is generated internally but expressed externally as an act of mercy.


Before leaving the topic of compassion, let me ask:  How would you define compassion?  When a word has in it a prefix of COM, it most often means “with.”  In other words, it means “with passion.”  So, how would you define “passion?”


Passion could be defined as “strong and barely controllable emotion.”  Is that the way it is used in Scripture.  Does that describe Jesus when He had great compassion?  Maybe it would help to think of the movie title: The Passion of the Christ.  What does the word passion mean in that title.


Passion involves suffering.  Thus, compassion become “with suffering.”  Mercy differs from compassion in that mercy is the active practice of compassion in the readiness to assist those in need.  Thus, the “merciful” are those who are not passive in showing love and compassion but who take an active role in bringing aid to those who suffer.


Mercy and Grace


Mercy can also be related to grace.  There is an old hymn of the church – At Calvary – that has an interesting line in it.  It is found in the beginning of the chorus.


                        Mercy there was great a grace was free,

                           Pardon there was multiplied to me.


Let me ask a question.  Is grace opposite to mercy?  There are some who believe they are opposites.


How would you define grace?


            Mercy is not getting what you do deserve.  That could be withheld punishment.


            Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.  Thus, grace is often defined as “unmerited favor.”


I guess one could say that grace and mercy are not so much opposite to each other, but rather the inverse.


Grace flows out of love just as mercy flows out of forgiveness.  The salutation Paul writes at the beginning of 1st & 2nd Timothy and Titus includes the words “grace, mercy and peace.”  Whether because of our individual sins or because of the sinful world in which we live, all of our problems, in the last analysis, are sin problems.  Mercy offers relief from punishment – grace offers pardon for the crime.  Mercy eliminates the pain – grace cures the disease.


When we are merciful, we receive mercy.


When we are merciful, we see God’s cycle of mercy.  God is merciful to us by saving us through Christ.  In obedience we are merciful to others, and God in faithfulness gives us even more mercy, pouring out blessing for our needs and withholding severe chastening for our sin.