October 13, 2011 by Chris French
Just as confession is the answer to guilt and forgiveness is the answer to anger mercy is the answer to punishment. When we show mercy to others we forgo the punishment that would normally follow that person’s action. Let me show you some verses that illustrate this point.
In 1st Kings 20.31, “And his servants said to him, ‘Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Let us put sackcloth around our waists and ropes on our heads and go out to the king of Israel. Perhaps he will spare your life.” They knew their punishment was going to be death, but they also knew the king of Israel was known for his mercy. He might not punish them because of his mercy.
In Jonah 4.2, “And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Because of God’s mercy Jonah knew that He would let the Ninevites off the hook if they repented. That’s why he didn’t want to go in the first place. He wanted God to punish them, instead Jonah knew God would show them mercy.
In Luke 18.13, “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner!” He understood the punishment for sinners and pleaded with God to instead show him mercy.
These are just a few examples of how mercy is the answer to punishment. I would also suggest reading Genesis 19.16, Deuteronomy 21.8, Nehemiah 9.31 and Hebrews 8.12 to help you understand that mercy is the opposite of punishment.
Mercy has at least two components: forgiveness for the guilty and compassion for the needy and suffering. While our actions can be seen as merciful, mercy is really a way of life for Jesus’ disciples. Let’s deal with the forgiveness for the guilty part of mercy first. There are those people in our lives that will hurt us. One person may have made a habit of hurting us. You don’t have to take that person’s abuse, but you do need to get the hatred you feel for them out of your heart. You do that by forgiving them. Once you can honestly say that you want good things to happen to that person you know that you’re on the road to forgiving them. This doesn’t mean that you have to let them stay in your life and continue to hurt you though. You can forgive someone, but cut them out of your life. When I do forgive someone who has wronged me I show mercy to them. I don’t exact the punishment that would be due to them had I not forgiven, instead I show them mercy. Do you remember the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18.21-35? The king is ready for everyone to pay their debts to him, so he starts bringing them in. One guy owes him one million dollars, but he can’t pay it. The king almost throws him and his family in prison because this guy can’t pay his debt, but shows him mercy forgiving his debt because the man begged him. The first servant goes out and finds a man who owes him $10 dollars and that man can’t pay either so he too begs for mercy. Instead the first servant gives him the punishment that is called for until he can pay the ten dollars back. The king hears about this exchange and brings the first servant back in. He didn’t show mercy to the second servant so now the king exacts the full punishment from him. The original servant was shown mercy, no punishment, but refused to do the same to his own servant so the mercy that had been extended to him was withdrawn and he had to undergo the punishment. Jesus says the same thing in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” The people who show mercy get mercy from God, the people who don’t show mercy get none from God. Forgive the people who have hurt you. Show them mercy and don’t demand their punishment.
The second component of mercy is compassion for the needy or the ones who are suffering. When we see the homeless people selling The Contributor what do we do 90% of the time? We look the other way so we don’t have to look at them. Is that compassion? Are we showing mercy when we do that? I’m not saying we should give a dollar to everyone who sells those newspapers. I am saying that our hearts should burn with compassion for people who can’t help themselves, so instead of looking the other way we should think of some way to help them. Obviously these people aren’t the only ones who need mercy, but they give us a great insight into our heart don’t they? Find people who need your help and help them. Step into their lives and show them Jesus! When He stepped into people’s lives they were never the same. Check out the woman at the well in John 4, what about Nicodemus in John 2 and John 19.20, Mary Magdalene in John 20.11-18 and Thomas in John 20.24-29 just to name a few. As His hands and feet today we should take Him into people’s lives and let Him change them! Mercy has that ability. When we go out of our way to help someone who is an outcast they start to wonder what makes you different from everyone else who just passes them by.
Show your mercy thru your forgiveness and your compassion. Check out Hebrews 2.17 before you leave. What makes Jesus our merciful high priest? He knows me! That’s one of the reasons He came, so He can understand what I go thru. He’s been there and remembers each temptation I feel. Now He can say, “I remember how hard it was to resist that temptation. If you ask for it I’ll show you mercy. You won’t have to deal with the punishment. I already did that for you!”