PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
One of Christ’s great commands is for Christians to extend mercy. And the fact that mercy is called for indicates people are imperfect. We struggle, err, tire; get sick, lonely, and needy. These are the constraints of being human. There are times we look within ourselves and discover we don’t have the strength, or fortitude or whatever it takes to survive without help from another. We need outside assistance for our weaknesses. And that’s why Jesus said: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Christ called us to live with more than an awareness of other’s needs. He called us to intervene. And that’s what mercy is. It’s compassion in action. It’s love without a leash. And yet extending mercy is what’s so difficult to do!
(Illustration) Some years back a photographer that worked for a Christian journal was assigned an overseas project. He was commissioned to photograph someone that characterized the wretched condition of humanity; a real life picture that would demonstrate man’s need for mercy. It took a while but after searching the photographer captured his picture. It was a hungry beggar, lying on the curbside, with his hand stretched toward a storefront displaying bread. The editor agreed that it perfectly depicted humanity’s need for mercy. After congratulating the photographer the editor asked: “And what assistance did you give the beggar after the photograph?” The photographer confessed he did nothing. The editor then responded: “You got the picture but you didn’t get the message.”
But there’s more to mercy than simply supplying answers to needs. We may see a stray animal and in a cavalier manner throw it a leftover scrap from dinner. That’s not God’s mercy. God doesn’t supply our needs in a high-minded manner. When you read of God’s mercy in Scripture it’s linked with sympathy, emotion, and love. God’s mercy issues from the depths of His soul. Paul said in Ephesians 2:4 that “God is rich in mercy.” Imagine that! He’s rich in wanting to enter our lives and release us from sin, sickness, and disappointment and offer His marvelous supply!
We find it difficult to deal with others tenderly, in part, due to the constant bombardment of tragedy, violence, and misery that assaults us through television.
We’ve repeatedly watched those planes slam into the Twin Towers and have seen them crumble into a pile of mangled steel and smoldering wreckage.
Real life TV shows us wild police chases, car crashes, and crooks menacing innocent civilians.
Even the Weather Channel shows killer storms that create chaos.
Because these images are unpleasant we try to tame our emotions by developing a thick skin. But the danger is, instead of developing a thick skin we’re inclined to develop a hard heart and a hard heart invites indifference.
That’s precisely what Jesus—the Man of Mercy—opposes. Ephesians 4:32 says: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Let’s look at that passage for a moment.
A Call to Compassion
Do you know what I hear Paul requesting here? When He says: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” I hear him saying: “Act like God. God is kind, gentle, forgiving, and merciful. Act like God.”
When you study Scripture, you see God extended mercy when we weren’t worthy of mercy. The incredible aspect of our relationship with God is “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us!” He died for us, not after we repented and got right, but “while we were yet sinners,” and deserved nothing! That’s why God requires mercy from us. He wants us to take the same grace we received and share it with others (just like us) that don’t deserve it! I know that’s sometimes difficult but let me remind you of its reward, because there’s a payoff for extending mercy. As flawed mortal men, always in need, those showing mercy are guaranteed that God will reciprocate His mercy! You give mercy, you get mercy!
That’s why Jesus promised: “blessed are the merciful, they will obtain mercy.” It’s God’s guarantee! I like Psalm 41:1 that says: “Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him in times of trouble. (2) The LORD will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes. (3) The LORD will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness.” What a promise! When we help the needy we lay up Heavenly stock. God promises to protect and preserve our life and deny Satan from ruining us. That’s why we should apportion as much as possible!
(Transition) I want us to consider Christ’s Parable of the Unmerciful Servant as we look at our need to give and receive mercy.
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
This Parable describes a servant owing his master 10,000 talents. A talent is a measurement of weight, that, when converted into its U.S. equivalent is seventy-five pounds. That means 10,000 talents of gold equals 9,000,000 ounces. 10,000 talents of gold at $400.00 per ounce equals $3,000,600,000,000. A debt that’s impossible for anybody to pay! The man owing this sort of debt doesn’t have many options. All he can do is plead for mercy and hope his creditor doesn’t imprison him. And that’s what happened. In sheer mercy the creditor wiped the slate clean, dropped the charges, and freed the man. But that same debtor, forgiven of $3,000,600,000,000, was also owed money. Someone owed him approximately $20.00. And when the poor guy didn’t have ready cash this creditor seized him by the throat and demanded payment. But it was no use, he couldn’t pay. And he was thrown into prison. When the original creditor discovered what happened he was angered at the ungrateful servant threw him into prison until all he owed was paid. Jesus closed the parable by warning: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).
It’s dangerous to ignore God’s call to extend mercy. We jeopardize our covenant relationship with Him when we ignore it. This is what Zechariah prophesied to Israel. Zechariah 7:9 says: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. (10) Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’ (11) “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. (12) They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry. (13) “When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the LORD Almighty. (14) ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land was left so desolate behind them that no one could come or go. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.””
And listen to Christ’s words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (24) You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” The people Jesus most severely rebuked were those that left no provision room for extending mercy. And people like this are the most miserable people in the world!
(Illustration) Several years ago Constance Mitchell’s son was murdered, along with five others, when a man went on a shooting rampage. The murderer was convicted and faced the death penalty. But that’s when Mrs. Mitchell stood before the court with an unusual plea. She requested that her son’s murderer not face the death penalty. That took courage because Mrs. Mitchell was black and her son’s killer was white. Later, when questioned why she would plea for mercy, she gave the following statement. “I did it for my sake. [I knew it was] . . . the only way you can be healed.”
There will always be offenses in life. We’re going to get insulted, betrayed, and wounded. Jesus said: “It’s inevitable that offenses will come.” But that’s when we have to reach for mercy, discharge the offense, and free ourselves. And when we do that we discover mercy has a double blessing. It not only blesses God, it blesses the one issuing the mercy!
Hear me Saints of God. Love, forgiveness, and mercy remove the pain from a bad experience! It’s the path to freedom, peace, and joy in Christ. You say: “I’m justified in my feelings.” Feelings of what? Animosity? Bitterness? Resentment? Anger?” Do you really want to harbor these things? People without mercy live in a vicious cycle of retaliation, hatred, judgment, and prejudice—things that pollute and destroy the soul! God wants us to understand something: He will deal with our enemies; it’s our duty to love them. Romans 12:19 says: “Do not take revenge . . . but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”
(Illustration) Scientists have theorized that if an object the size of a B-B were heated to a temperature equivalent to the sun and placed on earth it would kill every man within 1000 miles. Now do you think Jesus could walk up to that sun-hot B-B and swallow it without suffering harm? Of course! If you could trust Him to swallow a B-B filled with such intense heat you can trust Him to quench the fire of your flesh and deal with your enemies. Mercy doesn’t mean we condone deviate behavior in others, but it does mean we won’t seek revenge toward people that slander us or hurt us or whose actions oppose everything Scripture says is decent.
(Transition) Let’s look at that familiar Parable Jesus told of the Good Samaritan.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
This parable is perhaps the Bible’s most familiar Parable. It reveals three distinct personas. There’s the character of the thieves, the character of the Priest and Levite, and the character of the Samaritan.
A. When the thieves came along they found a stranger, “stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” These men were brute beasts without any sympathy for human life. To them people were simply objects of exploitation and gain. They were takers of mercy.
B. And with the man lying half dead along came a Priest and then a Levite. As apathy would have it, both men intentionally averted this mortally wounded traveler. Jesus said, “[They] passed by on the other side.”
When you hear Jesus describe their actions you know exactly His charge against them: They were filled with cold-hearted indifference and completely apathetic toward this man’s misery! They weren’t takers of mercy they were talkers of mercy. Oh, they were familiar with the word eleos. They could parse it and preach it but they couldn’t practice it. And they were as sinful as the thieves! They weren’t as brutal but equally as guilty. One group abused while the other ignored.
If we’re going to adorn the name, “Christian” we need to do more than sing and testify. We have to have to roll up our sleeves and enter the arena of agony. How often have we scrambled to avoid a drunk, a beggar, or somebody that just didn’t measure up to our standard? And these are the very ones Jesus told us not to avoid! As a matter of fact, He told us to pursue them. When Jesus authenticated His ministry to John He said in Luke 7:22, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
Jesus said in Luke 14:13, “when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, (14) and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” I thank God for the community of believers. My closest friends are those within the house of the redeemed. We’re called especially to minister to those sitting in these pews. But Christ has also commissioned us to minister to those that don’t look right, smell right, or act right!
When Jesus gathers the sea of humanity before His Judgment Seat one indictment that will be leveled against unbelievers will be indifference! The Bible says Jesus will say to those standing at His left: “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me” (Matthew 25:42-43).
C. God wants us to translate our compassion into action! And that’s what the Samaritan did. He went the extra mile. He bandaged the beaten traveler’s wounds, poured in the medicine, and transported him to a recovery room. And it didn’t stop there. He not only paid the innkeeper to care for the traveler he offered to reimburse whatever additional expenses would be incurred for his rehabilitation. You see, real Christianity translates compassion into action. The Good Samaritan wasn’t a taker of mercy, or a talker of mercy, he was a giver of mercy.
(Transition) There’s another reason God asks us to extend mercy. It’s a marvelous tool that helps us win lost souls to Christ.
Sharing God’s Mercy Helps Convert Sinners
(Illustration) How many here have noticed the logo plastered on some cars of a fish that’s grown feet and Darwin written in across it? It’s an obvious backlash to the fish Christians place on their cars. Several years ago in California a Stanford professor pasted Darwin’s fish on her vehicle but it was ripped off and thrown inside her car—not once but twice. Because of this experience she’s convinced Christians are intolerant toward those that disagree with their beliefs. And she has a point! (Author unknown.)
I admit, as a Bible-believing creationist, my emotions are stirred when I stare at a fish growing legs while I’m stopped in traffic. But we don’t have to get hostile about it! We won’t change one person by shaking a fist, cursing the darkness, or being intolerant. It only drives sinners further from the truth. We will convert sinners when we can compassionately “speak the truth in love.”
Contrary to my wish, our American culture grows more depraved every day.
We’re told to accept same sex marriages.
We’re told: “It’s narrow-minded to assume Jesus is the only way. It’s many paths that lead to God.”
We’re told that life is designed primarily for pleasure and it’s OK to do whatever we want as long as nobody else is hurt.
I don’t believe Christians should ignore or condone the world’s values. But we won’t change anybody by demonizing them or by merely crafting a more skilled argument than they can. Mercy doesn’t mean we lack convictions, it means we’re willing to approach people where they are and help them find the truth regardless of their lifestyle or how they think. That’s the essence of what mercy does. It reaches out to people that are bound by sin and offers Christ’s transforming power in a non-condemning manner. That’s what God did for us. Titus 3:5 says: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy.” Mercy . . . undeserved favor rescued us!
I love the way the Apostle Paul illustrated this in Colossians 2:13: “When you were dead in your sins . . . God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, (14) having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Here’s the graphic picture Paul paints. When he says our sins were nailed to the cross he refers to a First Century custom that created a list of charges for someone accused of a crime. But when a nail was driven through that list it cancelled the charges and cleared the offender. No accusation could be leveled against that person. When Jesus went to Calvary He bore the charges of sin against us, all that we couldn’t repay, and made full payment of them to His Heavenly Father. And the nails piercing His hands and feet declared that no charges could stand against us. We were completely acquitted of the written code condemning us.
And God’s mercy toward us doesn’t end at the moment we accept Christ as our Savior. His mercy, that unmerited favor, continues to sustain us each day of our lives. Lamentations 3:23 says: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his mercy never fails, it is new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” The Psalmist knew that and that’s why he said: “Do not withhold your mercy from me, O Lord may your love and your truth always protect me” (Psalm 40:11). “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness.” (Psalm 130:3).
The Adulterous Woman
One of the most stirring examples of Christ’s compassion is in John 8 when the Pharisees laid a trap for Jesus by bringing a woman caught in adultery before Him. Besides the crucifixion this is perhaps the most sinister plot the religionists contrived against Christ. The Pharisees had publicly exposed her transgression, convicted this woman, and prepared to stone her. What’s so devious about this scenario is they honestly thought they had Jesus trapped in a no-win situation. Moses’ Law called for stoning her . . . but, if Jesus corroborated with the Law they could charge Him with hypocrisy, because here was the Man nicknamed, “The Friend of sinners” willing to kill her. But if He acquitted her they could accuse Him of opposing Moses’ Law and being soft on sin. But Jesus knew this was an ambush. And what a reply He fired at these cold-hearted Pharisees! Jesus said: “whoever is without sin can throw a stone” (8:7). And His answer disarmed everybody. In one phrase Jesus unloaded their hands but without condoning the woman’s wrong. But let me show you where the real act of compassion is here.
When the Pharisees brought this woman public where did they put her? They stood her right beside Jesus. When Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground as they plied Him for an answer where was the woman? She stood right beside Jesus. When Jesus invited the crowd to stone the woman where was she standing? Correct, right beside Jesus! Do you think every rock hurled from that mob would have struck only that woman? No! These were Christ’s enemies not hers! This entire episode was devised against Him. But Jesus fully identified with this woman, even to the point of being stoned with her! Do you understand that when you suffer today the Man of Compassion fully identifies with you? He’s willing to enter your pain and failure and disappointments just as He did for this woman in Luke 8. Jesus cares!
Do you know what lies ahead for every person on this planet? Every human is unavoidably headed toward an appointment with judgment. At that Day of Judgment one of two destinies will be pronounced upon each individual standing their Creator Judge: (1) Eternal life with Jesus Christ or (2) the sentence of Hell. That’s why James 2:13 says: “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” When God settles the accounts of men mercy will be our best ally against judgment. We will have needed Christ’s mercy to receive forgiveness of sins and we will have needed it to extend Christ’s compassion to others. Mercy through Jesus Christ will save us in that dreadful Day of Judgment. Are you extending His mercy?