Pardon - or Perish!

We have seen that mercy involves pity for those in need, plus action to relieve that need. Since our greatest need is for forgiveness, God shows His mercy primarily by pardoning our sins. Without such pardon, we are lost. We have offended God in a variety of ways – by thought, word, and deed. We have not loved Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; nor have we loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have neglected our duties and committed countless crimes against His holy law. Nor can we change ourselves. Thus, when Jesus promises mercy to those who are merciful, He is offering to solve our greatest problem – alienation from a holy God. If only we can show mercy to others, then we can be sure of receiving similar treatment from our Maker and Judge. Here we encounter at least two huge difficulties, however: First, we are simply not naturally merciful! On the contrary, we possess hearts that are indifferent to the suffering of others. When people offend us, we seldom forgive, and almost never forget. We harbor grudges and even bitterness (even though we usually deny that unpleasant fact). Furthermore, the Bible teaches that no one can be justified by doing what God’s law requires. We are saved by grace, through faith, not by our own works, including any work of mercy we might be able to squeeze out of our hardened hearts. So what does Jesus mean here? Doesn’t He know that we can’t be merciful? Or that we can never earn God’s forgiveness by anything we have done? Of course He knows! Thus, we must seek an explanation for His teaching. As we consider other teachings of His (such as, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and “blessed are those who mourn”), we see that a merciful attitude comes naturally to those who themselves have been forgiven by God. In His parable about the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35), Jesus shows that the person who has himself been forgiven an unpayable debt (like the one we owe to God) is expected to treat his debtors with similar kindness. If he doesn’t, that means that he does not appreciate the mercy he has received. Here’s the point: Being merciful to others proves that we have known the mercy of God. This builds our confidence that, at the Last Judgment, we too shall receive full and final pardon for all our sins.