Jesus’ first public sermon was recorded in the Gospels of Matthew (Matthew 5) and Luke (Luke 6). His fifth blessing from God, called the “Beatitudes,” that Matthew recorded was:
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
We all have an idea of what it means to be merciful, so what I want to do is examine what the Bible says about mercy. In the Old Testament, the word “mercy” in Hebrew is חֶמְלַת, transliterated “chemlah” (pronounced khem-law’) and “merciful” is חָסַד, transliterated “chacad” (pronounced khaw-sad’); meanings are to “be good,” “kind,” “pious,” “compassionate” and to “bow in courtesy to an equal.” In the New Testament, the word “mercy” in Greek is ἔλεος, transliterated “eleos” (pronounced el’-eh-os), and “merciful” is ἐλεήμονες, transliterated “eleémón” (pronounced el-eh-ay’-mone); meanings are to have “pity,” “compassion” or “covenant-love” for someone. Additional words we can look at in Hebrew are חַנּוּן, transliterated “channun” (pronounced khan-noon’), meaning “gracious,” and רָ֫חַם , transliterated “racham” (pronounced rakh’-am), meaning “compassionate.”
God promises that the way we treat others is the way that God will treat us, which we saw in the fifth Beatitude above. David, who walked with God throughout his life, wrote many songs about God from his own experience, gathered in the book of Psalms. David wrote on the day that God delivered him from King Saul, who was trying to kill him out of envy,
With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you deal purely, and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down… This God – his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. (Psalm 18:25-27,30).
The book of Proverbs is full of great advice that still holds true, written by a man considered the wisest to ever rule, King Solomon. Solomon spoke on how God expects us to treat our neighbors and the poor among us:
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but he who has mercy on (or, who is generous to) the poor, happy is he… Whoever oppresses a poor man insults [God], but he who honors [God] has mercy on (or, is generous to) the poor (Proverbs 14:21,31).
Jesus taught us by example how we should treat other people. He spoke openly against the Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees, who felt themselves better than most Jews and certainly the non-Jews because they sacrificed themselves to live according to the many rules they created as interpretation of Moses’ Laws, without ever getting into their hearts an understanding what God really wanted from them.
The Pharisees… said to [Jesus’] disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” [Jesus] heard [them and] said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-13)
Jesus repeatedly took the Pharisees to carpet because they were following him around trying to catch him in the act of breaking one of their rules. The Pharisees were so concerned about not breaking the letter of the “law” they weren’t performing in the spirit of it, and Jesus called their behavior profane. Similar to how Christians today use certain verses in the Bible as a weapon to condemn homosexuals; this too is profane! They forget that Jesus himself said he “didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it,” (John 3:17) and we are to love people into a relationship with God.
[Jesus said], “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)
When Jesus was teaching one day, a lawyer asked him how he can have eternal life. Jesus replied, “What does Moses’ Law say?” and he answered correctly, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. ” Then the lawyer was trying to determine who he didn’t have to treat with love, so he then asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with a story of a Jewish man who was robbed, beaten and left for dead on the road. A Jewish priest and a Levite (who were not priests but were assigned duties connected with the tabernacle) passed the man by, while a Samaritan, a group of Gentiles despised by the Jews, had compassion and took care of the man. Jesus asked the lawyer,
“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)
God shows his mercy to all those who put their faith in him, both Jew and Gentile, without favoritism.
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the [Jews] to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to [Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy (Romans 15:8-9). For God has consigned [Jews and Gentiles] to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all (Romans 11:32).
You who are Gentiles by birth… remember that at one time you were separate from Christ… without hope and without God… But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ… [Jesus’] purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two [Jews and Gentiles], thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross… For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-18).
God also shows his mercy to all unbelievers by his patience in holding back on delivering his judgment day until every person has had opportunity to receive eternal life, but he will not wait forever and that terrible day will come.
Therefore the Lord waits [in order] to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself [withdraws himself on high, in order] to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him (Isaiah 30:18).
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I [Paul] am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16). At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)