Have you ever stopped to consider that throughout Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John who present for us a particular view of the life of Jesus, show us a boldness, authority, and fearlessness of our savior until Gethsemane? Hours before his crucifixion Jesus prayed in the place known as Gethsemane where he experienced great distress for the first time in his life:
And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:39–44)
There was something in Gethsemane that was different, for it is here we see Jesus sweating blood in extreme anguish seeking that the cup He was about to drink be passed from Him. C. J. Mahaney writes in his little book, Christ Our Mediator, that the cup before Jesus to drink, contained “the full vehemence and fierceness of God’s holy wrath poured out against all sin, and we discover in Scripture that it’s intended for all of sinful humanity to drink. It’s your cup…and mine.” Mahaney describes the cup Jesus prayed about as a cup filled with “fire and sulfur and a scorching wind” like some volcanic firestorm, like the fury of Mount St. Helen’s eruption concentrated within a coffee mug. When Jesus entered into the garden to pray and be with the Father, he, “…found Hell rather than Heaven open before him.”
Dear friend, in order to appreciate the mercy Jesus refers to in the fifth beatitude, you must understand why Jesus found hell rather than heaven in Gethsemane. You must understand what it was that caused our Savior to sweat blood as he anticipated a cross he did not deserve and why it is that we do not tremble as we ought over the words found in every Bible: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “All have sinned!”
Each one of us was born in sin. We were conceived in sin. Sin is all that we know. Sin is a part of our unholy nature. As one pastor described, “We do not know how much we have sinned in the same way a fish does not know how wet it is.” The Bible describes the heart of man as one who, “drinks injustice like water” (Job. 15:16). Sin is not unlike a terminal disease which finds its way into the womb of every woman (Psalm 51:5). This is what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote, “…just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
One theologian said of Adam’s choice: “It was an act of rebellion, the equivalent of a declaration of independence…. Adam, in effect, said, ‘I am tired of having everything north, south, east, and west of this tree. I will be independent. I will run my own affairs.’ It was not a request that God share the throne of government with man; it was an ultimatum to Him to abdicate and leave full control to man.” This is the nature we have inherited as a species from generation to generation, therefore the witness of holy scripture against the heart of mankind is this: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:10-11).
Because of this, you and I have the potential for the worst kinds of evil. All of creation obeys the word of God, the Creator, except for the only creature who bears his image. He commands the planets to stay, and they obey. He places the ocean and commands thus far and no farther, and the oceans and rivers obey. He decks the stars in the universe to serve their purpose, to shine, and they shine. Yet there is one creature who God calls, the only creature who bears the image of the holy Creator, and the response of that creature is, “No!” The only appropriate response of a perfect God to a creature who stands in defiant rebellion against him is justice, and the justice of a holy God demands his wrath for his justice to remain consistent with his perfect character.
Jesus did not plead with the Father for the cup to pass because he was afraid to die, he pleaded that the cup pass from him because he dreaded the condemnation God’s justice would require Jesus to experience in the sinner’s place. Upon the cross, Jesus became all of our sin. He became your lying, your cheating, your lusting, your idolatry, your immorality, your sin just as the Scriptures declare: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
The Christian Has Received Great Mercy
When you truly understand the good news that Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath in your place, and when you understand and feel the reality that a sinless Savior was sent to die in your place, it will affect you in such a way that all of your pride will be obliviated so that you are liberated to run to the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. This is why all who come to Jesus cannot come unless they are poor in spirit, mourning over their sin, and humbled by their inability to help themselves. It is this person who can only then hunger and thirst for a righteousness that they know only Jesus can satisfy (Matt. 5:6).
This is why there is a clear shift in Jesus’ beatitudes from the first three to the one we come upon in verse 7. The first three beatitude are beatitudes of need, but after those beatitudes are answered by the righteousness of Christ, we come upon what theologians call, “beatitudes of action.” Let me help you see this before we move any further:
- When Jesus satisfies the poor in spirit, they can respond to a world under the curse of sin with a similar mercy that they experienced through Jesus.
- When Jesus comforts those who mourn over their sin, they are then motivated to live lives that reflect the character of Jesus.
- When Jesus blesses the meek who understand that he is their only cure, they have a peace with God that they want the world to know.
Daniel Akin, in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount says of the fifth beatitude: “The person who knows his spiritual bankruptcy (v. 3), grieves over his pitiful condition (v. 4), submits his will to God’s will in all things (v. 5), and longs for godly righteousness (v. 6) shows mercy to the poor and needy because he knows himself to be poor and needy (v. 7). Mercy is something God requires of his people and to imitate his mercy to others.
What I want to focus on with the time that we have is on the mercy that all whose sins have been forgiven are now able to extend to others and what Jesus means by these words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (v. 7). The Greek word Jesus used for mercy can be translated pity or compassion and is most visibly demonstrated through forgiveness when it is not deserved. The same Greek word is used multiple times in the New Testament, but I want you to see the way it is used in two other places in the New Testament. The first passage helps us understand the magnitude of the mercy the poor in spirit experience, and the second shows how such mercy ought to effect the way we treat the world around us.
The first passage I want you to see where this same word is used in found in Ephesians 2:1-5. Consider carefully what is being said in these verses,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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… (Ephesians 2:1–5, ESV)
There it is. Because God is rich in mercy, we who were once dead in our sins have been made alive with Jesus. Because we were dead in our sins, we were absolutely helpless and as the spiritually dead, we were by nature children of his wrath. And by the way, the Greek word that is used for dead in Ephesians 2:1 is nekros, which can also be translated death or corpse and only means “dead.” The only hope for life is the mercy of a God who is able to give life to the dead and that is what the true Christian has experienced.
The Christian is called to Give Mercy
The other place that it is used is in a parable that Jesus told after Peter asked him the following question: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” Jesus answered Peter’s question by telling him a parable. The Greek word Jesus used for mercy in the fifth beatitude for mercy is used for pity and for mercy in his parable found in Matthew 18:23-35. The story begins,
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” (Matthew 18:23–27)
The Christian is the man in the parable, for our debt we incurred because of our sin was incalculable and nothing we did could satisfy that debt… NOTHING (the equivalent of 2.5 billion)! So, what was the man to do? Look at verse 26: “So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’” Yeah right! The king understood that there was no way that his servant could ever pay off his debt, so what did the king do? He had pity on him and forgave the man of his entire debt. My fellow Christian… Jesus is describing you and me.
There is a great debt we have owing to our sin, for the Bible tells us that, “Thewages of sin is death…” That death is described in Revelation 20:11-15; it is the death that waits all whose debt has not been cancelled:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
The eternal torment of hell is the only payment suitable for the gravity of our sin. That is the great debt that stands between God and all humanity. That used to be the great debt that stood before you and God until Jesus paid it on Calvary’s cross in your place; Christ was damned in your stead! Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath that was meant for you; your debt was not only forgiven, but canceled, and because it has been canceled, what others may say about us or do to us can never be so great that we cannot offer mercy, even when it is not deserved. C.H. Spurgeon said it best: “If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be.”
The point Jesus is making with his fifth beatitude is that mercy begets mercy. The Christian is a person who understands his sin to be so great that only the mercy of God was able to overcome, and because he has experienced that kind of mercy, any offence is not so great that that the Christian cannot, or should not, forgive. The mercy of God we are expected to show to others is not limited to the offences we suffer from others, but the needs of a world that does not yet know the peace of God as we now do.
Unfortunately, this man’s story did not end with gratitude, gratefulness, or even genuine appreciation for what his master did on his behalf. What we learn of this servant is that he went out and found the first person he could that was indebted to him: “But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt” (vv. 28-30).
There was no mercy demonstrated by the “forgiven” servant! There was no consideration of the great debt that he was forgiven, instead he brought harm on a man who owed him very little in comparison. All that was owed to the “forgiven” servant was 100 denarii, which was the equivalent of $4,000 dollars. Now $4,000.00 was a lot of money in Jesus’ day, but 2.5 billion was a little more, don’t you think? Here is the point Jesus was making in this parable: the sins people commit against us are petty in comparison to our offence against God that has been cancelled.
Now if the Bible stopped there, we would all go our own ways thinking of this nice moral tale. But Jesus did not stop there; notice what happened next in his story: “When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt” (vv. 31-34).
It would be one thing if Jesus ended with verse 34, but he did not! Jesus concluded his parable with a warning meant for all who claim to follow him: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (v. 35). I believe this is what Jesus meant when he said: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
So, what does this mean? Well, let me tell you what it does not mean: Jesus’ parable and fifth beatitude is not teaching us that a person can lose their salvation if they are unwilling to forgive or show mercy, nor is Jesus saying that if we forgive or show mercy to others that our sins will be forgiven. Here is what Jesus’ beatitude and parable mean for the Christian:
- There is an unbreakable connection between God’s forgiveness of our sin and our willingness to forgive others.
- A forgiving spirit is a part of the new nature the Christian has received when God made him alive in Christ.
- If you are an unforgiving person, you may not belong to the kingdom of heaven.
The Christian is a person who has experienced the great mercy of God in such a way that he/she is intellectually, emotionally, and humbly compelled to extend that same mercy to others… even if they do not deserve it.
 C. J. Mahaney, (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers; 2004), p. 54.
 Ibid, p. 55.
 Paul Washer.
 Donald Grey Barnhouse, “God’s River,” Romans vol. II, (Grand Rapids, MI: 1982)
 Daniel L. Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition: The Sermon on the Mount, (Nashville, TN: Holman; 2019), p. 10.
 James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; 2001), p. 396.