“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:8 ESV)
Earlier this year, a group of lawyers in New York used ChatGPT (an artificial intelligence tool) to create fake legal opinions that were then submitted to a judge as part of an ongoing case. When the opposing lawyers questioned the validity of those opinions, the whole scam quickly unraveled. The guilty lawyers admitted their deception and, in a last-ditch attempt at leniency, threw themselves on the mercy of the court.
Mercy is the only hope of the guilty. The guilty know there can be no bargaining with justice or escaping the punishment due. When the evidence stands against the guilty, so does the full force of justice. That’s what justice is: getting what we deserve. Mercy, on the other hand, means not getting what we deserve. That’s why the guilty don’t want justice—they cry out for mercy.
We know what that feels like. Even if we’ve never stood in a courtroom, we each stand before the eyes of the all-seeing, all-knowing God of justice. We have broken His law and rebelled against His rule. We know there is no question of our guilt … or the punishment we deserve. All that’s left is to face our sentence. If there is any hope to be found, it rests on the compassion and mercy of the Judge.
Thankfully, God is merciful. Instead of rightly condemning us to death, God shows mercy to us through His Son. Colossians 2:14 explains it like this although there is a record of debt that stands against us in God’s court, and although that record carries legal demands, God cancels that record of debt by nailing it to the cross.”
Mercy is not new to God. In Eden, God stands in the garden and makes coverings for Adam and Eve as their guilt is bare before Him. In Leviticus 16, we find the Ark of the Covenant described. Above its lid is the place where the cloud of God’s glory dwells among His people. It’s called the mercy seat. This teaches us an amazing truth: mercy is the place where God meets with His people. And there is nowhere that God meets with His people more mercifully than in the person of Jesus. He is living, breathing, redeeming mercy. The cry goes out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13 ESV), and that’s exactly what our Lord does.
In Matthew 5:8, Jesus talks about mercy in a surprising way. He says that it is people who show mercy to others who will also receive it. That might seem backward to us at first. Shouldn’t it say that people who have already received mercy from God will then be able to show it to others? But we must remember that, in God’s economy, things often appear backward: the last end up first, those who lose their lives find them, self-denial leads to true fulfillment, and, as we see in this verse, those who are merciful show that they already know mercy first-hand.
Consider this: when we feel a burden to pray, where does that burden come from? It’s from the Spirit, who stirs our hearts. So, the very God who invites us to cast our burdens on Him in prayer is the same God who puts those burdens on our hearts in the first place. He does this so that we may come to Him and receive what we need.
In the same way, by showing mercy to others, we not only show that we have received mercy from God, but we continue to rely on it (and thus receive it) each day. Like the man in the temple crying out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13 ESV), we know that Christ’s mercy shines brightest when our misery seems darkest.
When confronted with his sin, David cried out, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love” (Psalm 51:1 ESV). David wisely didn’t appeal to his goodness, his likeability, or his track record. Instead, he threw himself on the mercy of God because that was his only hope. David’s sin was great, but the mercy of his God was greater. As a preacher from a different era once quite helpfully wrote: “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.”
Showing mercy to others is a sure sign that we have found it ourselves. Pride doesn’t seek or share mercy. Feelings of superiority deny any need for mercy and demand swift justice for all others. Christ sees things differently. Though He is the only one who is righteous, and though He is the one most wronged by our sin, He is also the one who bleeds mercy for us.
The guilty throw themselves at the mercy of the court because it’s their only hope. Having received such mercy from God, we become people of mercy ourselves (see 1 Timothy 1:16). The mercy we show others not only points them to Christ but constantly reminds us that only in Jesus can the mercy we need be truly found.
In God’s perfect design, we discover that being merciful to those who don’t deserve it reminds us that we don’t deserve mercy either. Yet the merciful Christ invites us to “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 ESV).
Mercy is waiting for us from the very hand of Christ. Mercy is enough to cover our sins forever and meet our needs. That’s the kind of mercy that compels us to show it to others. That’s the kind of mercy that makes us—not only grateful—but merciful.
Mark A. Powell has been trusting in the mercy of Jesus since childhood. He and his wife Tricia are the parents of four boys and (because that apparently isn't crazy enough) they also have a bunny and a dog. Mark is the pastor of Valley View Baptist Church in Vine Grove, KY.