Sermon: Three Virtues
Scripture: Matthew 5:7-9
In this week’s lessons we look at three beatitudes that describe our Christian character, which other people must observe and experience.
Theme: Which Comes First?
In yesterday’s devotional we said that mercy is grace in action, love reaching out to help those who are helpless and need salvation. Mercy identifies with the miserable in their misery.
We cannot even state the definition of mercy as we have done here without thinking at once of the cross of Jesus Christ. For it is here that God has acted out of grace in mercy to fallen, sinful man. In fact, God acted so completely at the cross that there is a sense in which mercy can be seen by a sinful man only there. In his sinful, fallen state man could do nothing to save himself, so God stepped forward to do everything that needed to be done for man. Donald Grey Barnhouse has written:
When Jesus Christ died on the cross, all of the work of God for man’s salvation passed out of the realm of prophecy and became historical fact. God has now had mercy upon us. For anyone to pray, “God have mercy on me,” is the equivalent of asking Him to repeat the sacrifice of Christ. All the mercy that God ever will have on man, He has already had when Christ died. This is the totality of mercy. There could not be any more…God can now act toward us in grace because He has already had all mercy upon us. The fountain is now opened and flowing, and it flows freely.1
We speak of this mercy when we say:
He saw me ruined in the fall;He loved me notwithstanding all;He saved me from my lost estate.His loving-kindness, O how great!
And we correctly sing:
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;Pardon there was multiplied to me;There my burdened soul found liberty,At Calvary.
Paul wrote of it, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7). Because we have experienced this mercy from God, we in our turn are to show mercy to others.
I cannot go on from this point, however, without first calling attention to the fact that this beatitude has been a problem to some persons because it seems to imply that receiving mercy from God depends upon our showing mercy to others. The beatitude reads, “Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.” This seems to imply that we must act first in showing mercy.
Does it mean this? Well, obviously not, unless this statement of Jesus Christ’s is to be accepted as contradicting all of Scripture, including his own clear testimony, or unless we are to abandon the doctrine of grace entirely and with it all hope of salvation. If we are to be dealt with on these terms, no man would ever see heaven. No one would ever receive God’s mercy. Actually, of course, it is the other way around. For what Jesus was actually saying was that we are to show mercy because we have received mercy and are, in fact, confident of continuing to receive it. Conversely, if we do not show mercy to others, it is either because we understand little of that mercy by which we have been saved or else because we have never actually received it.
1Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Discipline (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 4.
Describe how God shows his mercy at the cross of Christ.
What problem has this beatitude created for some people? Why is this not the correct view, and what does Jesus mean by this beatitude?
Reflection: Make a list of ways other people have shown mercy to you. Give thanks to the Lord for them, and encourage them in their Christian walk.