The Jesus Revolution
Being merciful and pure
How many of you think that the world is a mess and there needs to be change? How many of you think that the change starts with you? Jesus came to bring the change we all long for, starting with you and me. It’s the Jesus Revolution. Today we’re looking at two more ways He changes us: to become more merciful and pure in heart.
Offering and Announcements:
Jesus’ central message was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.” He talked a lot about the Kingdom of God. Many people misunderstood and thought He was talking about an earthly kingdom, that He was going to overthrow the Romans and set Himself up as king. Because of this, He was accused of fomenting political revolution. At His trials, He was charged with blasphemy before the Jewish court and sedition before the Roman court. To the Roman governor, Pilate, Jesus said, “You are right in saying I am a king. But my kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.”
So Jesus is a king and He brought the Kingdom of God near. But it is not a political kingdom; it is the reign of God and He invites us to enter it, receive it, be part of it. We are invited to allow God to reign in our lives, be our Lord, Leader and Ruler. This is a much bigger than a political revolution. This changes everything! In the Kingdom of God, under the leadership of Jesus, we receive a new relationship with God, we become new people, we enjoy new relationships with others, and we live with a new purpose. We live to do God’s will. We pray, “May your Kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the Jesus Revolution.
In the first book in the New Testament, Matthew 5-7 collects some of Jesus’ teaching in what is known as “The Sermon on the Mount”. It is some of the most lofty and challenging ethical teaching in the world. It is famous. And it is impossible. I can promise you that if you try to live out the Sermon on the Mount completely, you will fail and be frustrated. So what is the point? I want to suggest that it is descriptive rather than proscriptive. Jesus is describing what life in the Kingdom looks like; He is describing what He will do in us, what He will make of us, what it looks like to live with Him, under the reign of God. This is a description of life with Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Said another way: you can’t do this on your own!
ILL: One of the endearing things about little kids that they want to do things themselves. “I want to do it myself.” Of course it is good for them to try—that’s how they learn. And they learn that there are some things that are simply beyond them right now. Imagine threading a needle to sew up a teddy bear. Your four year-old says, “I want to do it myself.” You know that he doesn’t have the eye-hand coordination to thread a needle, but you let him try. Before long the end of the thread is balled and gnarly. Finally, he hands it back to you and says, “You do it.”
That’s kind of what we need to do with the Sermon on the Mount. We can’t do it alone; we need to do it with Jesus. To enter the Kingdom of God, we become followers of Jesus. We live with Jesus, talk with Jesus, listen to Jesus, trust Jesus, love Jesus, and obey Jesus. It’s all about a relationship with Jesus. And in relationship, together with Jesus, our life changes. He works with us to make us new. This sermon describes that new life—together with Jesus in the Kingdom of God.
The sermon starts with a famous section known as “the Beatitudes.” Jesus describes who is blessed by God and why—it is a surprising list!
Matthew 5:1–8 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
These are not commands: “be poor in spirit, be meek.” These are declarations: “blessed are the poor in spirit.” This is descriptive: this is the kind of person God declares blessed, the kind of person He is making us become.
The first four beatitudes are about with our relationship with God. David and Matt did a great job the last two weekends talking about these. The next four are about our relationships with people. Let’s look at the next two.
1. Being merciful.
Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Our God is a merciful God.
Deuteronomy 4:31 “The Lord your God is a merciful God.”
Luke 6:36 “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.”
God is full of mercy towards us, and He wants us to be full of mercy towards others. Jesus told the religious,
Matthew 9:13 “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
He was saying that God isn’t interested in religious liturgies and ceremonies; God is interested in mercy. So what is mercy? Three things:
First, mercy is feeling sympathy or compassion for one who is suffering. It is something you feel. But it is much more than just feeling sorry for someone. The Bible word has the idea of getting inside someone’s skin until you can see things with their eyes, think things with their mind, and feel things with their feelings. This kind of empathy comes only from a deliberate and conscious identification with the other person. You put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it must be like for them. This is not an accidental wave of emotion, but a deliberate attempt to understand another person’s feelings. Mercy means that you make a deliberate decision to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, that you try to understand what they did and why they did it.
ILL: In an interview, Sister Helen Prejean, the author of the book Dead Man Walking, talked about one of her heroes of faith and forgiveness—Lloyd LeBlanc. Lloyd is the father of David LeBlanc, a 17-year-old who was murdered by Patrick and Eddie Sonnier. When neighbors started harassing Ms. Sonnier for her sons’ actions, Lloyd Leblanc came to her house with a basket of fruit. Lloyd told Ms. Sonnier that he was a parent too, and he understood that she wasn’t responsible for the murder.
Utterly amazed by this act of forgiveness, the interviewer asked Prejean, “How does a parent do such a thing?” Helen Prejean replied with the following story:
Lloyd told me how the sheriff had brought him to the morgue to identify his son’s body. David was a beautiful kid, 17-years-old. He had been shot in the back of the head, and when the sheriff pulled his body out on the cold tray … Lloyd—who was good with his hands and could fix things—looked down at his son and thought, I can’t fix this. And he began to pray. He came to the line in the Lord’s Prayer about forgiving those who trespass against us. “I didn’t feel it,” he said, “but I knew that was where I had to go.” And with God’s help, that is where he went.
David Cook, “And Justice for All,” The Sun (August 2010), p. 11
How could Lloyd show that kind of mercy to Ms. Sonnier? He understood what it is like to be a parent. He put himself in her shoes. And he asked God for help.
Often we are upset with people, angry or disappointed, but we haven’t taken time to hear their side of the story, and understand why they did what they did. There is always a reason why a person thinks and acts as he does, and if we knew that reason, it would be so much easier to understand and to sympathize and to forgive. A French proverb says, “To know all is to forgive all.” When we take the time to step into another person’s shoes and see it as he sees it, that’s mercy; and mercy makes it easier to forgive.
Of course the greatest example of mercy is God himself. He literally stepped into our skin, into our shoes. God became a man in Jesus Christ, and experienced what we experience.
Hebrews 4:15-16 “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Jesus knows what you are going through, because He has gone through it. He understands, and invites you to approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace, help for your need. He knows how you feel because He’s felt it, and when you hurt, He hurts.
But mercy is more than feelings; it is also doing.
Second, mercy is doing what you can to relieve another’s suffering. Your emotion results in action.
In the Bible, people would cry out to Jesus, “Lord, have mercy on us.” For example, there was blind Bartimaeus; or the lady whose daughter was tormented; or the man whose son had seizures. Each of these said, “Lord, have mercy on me!” They weren’t asking Jesus just to feel bad; they were asking Him to do something! They wanted help! They wanted relief!
ILL: You all know the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10: a traveler was robbed and beaten and left lying by the road. A pastor walks by, sees him lying there and decides it is too risky to get involved, so he passes by on the other side. A church leader walks by, sees him lying there, and he passes by too. Finally, an enemy walks by, sees him and felt pity, so he helped him. He bandaged him up, took him to a local emergency room and paid the bill himself. Jesus asked, “Which of the three was a neighbor to the injured man?” The man replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” “Go and do the same,” Jesus said.
What was mercy? For all we know the pastor and deacon might have felt sorry for the poor guy, but a fat lot of good that did him. No, mercy was more than feelings, it was action. Mercy meant feeling pity and then doing something about it.
There is so much suffering and pain in the world that we have insulated ourselves from feeling too much, and are often confused about what we could do to make a difference. The numbness and confusion paralyze us and we end up doing nothing.
ILL: Tony Campolo tells the story of visiting poverty-stricken Haiti and eating lunch at a restaurant there. Tony was sitting at a table by a window. When the waiter brought his food, Tony noticed a group of poor children standing outside the window, looking hungrily at his food. The waiter saw them too, and reached over and pulled down the shade, then said to Tony, “Enjoy your meal.”
That attitude is all too common; we feel overwhelmed by the sea of needs and suffering all around us, and our tendency is to pull the shade and enjoy our meal. We end up doing nothing. We walk by on the other side of the road. But we can’t do that anymore. As followers of Jesus, our lives (like His) are characterized by mercy—mercy that not only feels, but acts to help. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. So mercy is feeling compassion for the suffering of others and doing something to help them.
And third, mercy often involves forgiving others. We saw that in the story about Lloyd LeBlanc, and we’ll look at another example of that in a moment.
So mercy includes these three things: feeling; doing, and forgiving.
How do we become merciful? Here are two ideas.
First, remember that God has been merciful to you.
Luke 6:36 Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Those who have received mercy are more likely to give it. There is a mercy cycle in this verse. We receive mercy from God, so that we can give it to others, and then we receive more mercy again. You only keep what you give away, and you can give only what you’ve received. So first, receive God’s mercy.
ILL: In Matthew 18, Jesus told the story of a man who owed the king 10 billion dollars. When the king insisted on repayment, this man begged the king, “Be patient with me and I will pay back everything.” The king had mercy on him in a big way; he didn’t give him more time, he canceled the debt: 10 billion dollars! A little later, this man ran into a friend who owed him a few dollars. When he insisted on repayment, it was deja vue all over again! His friend begged him for time as he had just begged the king. But this man was merciless and had his friend thrown in jail until the debt was repaid! When the king heard about this, he was furious, and he called the first man back in. “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your friend just as I had on you?” This man’s lack of mercy was inexcusable because he had received so much mercy himself.
That is a story about you and me; we are the man who owed God 10 billion, and God has forgiven us. If you understand that, how can you do anything else but show mercy to others?
The first four Beatitudes set up these last four. Those who know how much they need God, those who know that they have sinned and experience the sorrow of repentance, these are the best equipped to give mercy, for they have received it. Not only that, but they have faced their own weakness and failure, so they can more easily be compassionate with others who are weak and fail. The proud and self-righteous have a difficult time being merciful. Anytime you find it impossible to forgive or show mercy, it is time for spiritual checkup. Do you have someone you can’t forgive? Is there someone you know for whom you can’t feel any mercy? Then ask yourself: Am I poor in spirit? Am I sorry for my sins? Has God been merciful to me?
Second, make a deliberate attempt to understand others. Try to place yourself in the other person’s shoes. Human decisions and actions are the result of an incredibly complex set of factors. You’ll never completely understand anyone, but the more you understand, the easier it is to forgive and the better you can help. When you don’t understand, learn to give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume the worst; it is rarely true. Most folks don’t deliberately set out to harm someone else; most offenses are unintentional; most people really want to do the right thing.
ILL: Sometimes I hurt Laina’s feelings; I rarely do it intentionally. For example, this week Laina and I were at the Oregon Coast on a study break. I got a cool new game on my iPhone—Words with Friends. It’s like Scrabble on your phone. I was excited to try it out, so I had a couple games going long distance with friends back here in Spokane. Finally, Laina said, “Hey, I’m here with you; why don’t you play Scrabble with me!”
I was guilty of one of my own pet peeves: letting technology trump relationships. I hate it when I see a couple in a restaurant sharing a meal and they are both on their cell phones! I want to go over and slap the phones off their ears and say, “Talk to each other! That’s why you’re here!” And here I was doing the same thing to my wife—playing Scrabble with friends 500 miles away while she was sitting right there beside me!
The good news is that my wife is a merciful woman; she easily forgave me. And then beat me at Scrabble.
Why was she able to forgive me? She could do that because she gave me the benefit of the doubt; when faced with a choice between “Is he a nasty, evil man who wants to hurt me?” or “Is he a noodle-head who wants to do the right thing and needs a good woman to help him do it?”, she gave me the benefit of the doubt and believed I’m a noodle-head!
Want to be more merciful? Receive and enjoy the mercy of God. And then make a deliberate effort to understand the other person and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Jesus said the merciful are blessed. Why are the merciful blessed?
They are blessed because they are free from bitterness.
They are blessed because they don’t have to play judge and jury for everyone.
They are blessed because they enjoy relationships that last in spite of human failures.
Mostly, they are blessed because they receive mercy.
One of the principles the Bible teaches is the principle of reciprocity. You tend to get back what you give. Judge and you will be judged. Be merciful and you will receive mercy. Love and you will be loved.
Luke 6:36-38 “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
I have always heard that used for offerings: give and God will give back. But Jesus was talking about love, mercy, forgiveness, judgment and condemnation. What you give will come back to you. It is the law of reciprocity; it is all over in the Bible. What you sow, you reap. What you give, you receive. So give away mercy! And it will come pouring back to you! Is there someone in your life whom you need to forgive, someone who is waiting for mercy from you? Blessed are the merciful!
This is what it means to follow Jesus, to live in the Kingdom of God, to be part of the Jesus Revolution. He is making us more merciful.
2. Being pure in heart.
Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
What does Jesus mean by “pure in heart”?
The words “in heart” indicate the kind of purity Jesus is talking about. This purity that Jesus says is blessed is not physical cleanliness. Jesus isn’t saying, “Blessed are those who shower regularly and smell good.” You know the old saying: Cleanliness is next to…impossible! Nor is it a ceremonial cleanliness. Jesus isn’t saying, “Blessed are those who can keep all the rules and regulations of religion so that they are considered ritually clean.” That was the kind of purity that was prized by the religious people of Jesus’ day. If you touched a dead body, or hadn’t washed your hands properly, or if a woman had her period, you were considered unclean, and you weren’t able to worship God. This outward purity was very important to the religious, but Jesus called for purity of the heart. It is a clean heart that Jesus is talking about here.
God’s first concern is always your heart. The heart is the sum total of human personality. It includes your mind, emotions and will; what you think, what you feel, and the force of your will.
Matthew 12:34 “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”
So, your words are an expression of your heart.
Matthew 15:19-20 “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man unclean; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean.”
So, your actions are an expression of your heart. Your words and actions both come from the heart, from who you are inside. That is why God’s first concern is the heart. If you change the heart, you change everything about a person. Our attempts to change ourselves and others often fail because they aren’t radical enough, they don’t go deep enough. We change the outside without addressing the inside, and God says that the heart is the issue. God’s first concern is always the heart.
In 1 Samuel 16, when Saul messed up as the king of Israel, God told Samuel to appoint a new king. He sent Samuel to Jesse’s house and said that one of Jesse’s sons was to be appointed as the next king. Now Jesse had 8 sons, and as soon as Samuel got there, he saw the oldest, Eliab, who was tall and strong and good-looking; and Samuel thought, “What a stud-muffin! This must be the one that God has chosen!”
1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Let that last phrase burn into your mind: “The Lord looks at the heart.” God’s first concern is always the heart. And in this case, the king that God had chosen wasn’t good-looking Eliab, but David, a ruddy-faced teenager (that means he wasn’t shaving yet; no beard, just peach-fuzz). Why David? Because he was a man after God’s heart! The Lord looks at the heart.
What does pure mean? Two things.
First, it means clean. Blessed are those with a clean heart. Why is it so important to have a clean heart? Because it is the only way to live a clean life. Everything you do and say comes from your heart; if your heart is dirty, your words and actions will be too. Jesus said it this way.
Matthew 7:17-18 “A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”
What you are produces what you do. Christianity is always being before doing. If your heart is clean, your words and actions will be. The kind of person you are on the outside is a reflection of the kind of person you are on the inside.
This is why we make such a big deal about PBJ time, about a daily time with God when you let Him speak to you. Get God’s word into your mind and heart. Let it start working, changing you.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.
Years ago, my friend Jerry Cook encouraged a group of young pastors to get God’s word into us and let it work. “Soak in the Scripture,” he told us. “Let it shape your thoughts and values and words and actions. Let it become part of you.” He challenged us to read through the New Testament in a month—10 chapters a day. And then keep doing it until we had absorbed it.
John 15:3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
Fill your heart with God’s word and let it work in you, giving you a clean heart. What’s inside your heart always comes out, so you need a clean heart.
Second, pure means unalloyed, unmixed, single. We would use the word “integrity”. The pure in heart are the utterly sincere; those who free from falsehood in their relations with God and man. Their whole life is transparent before God and men. The pure in heart have nothing to hide. Integrity is what you are when no one is looking.
A person who is pure in heart is someone of single-minded devotion.
2 Corinthians 11:3 “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
Jesus said, “You can’t serve two masters.” You can’t have a divided heart. There is only room for one primary allegiance in each of us, and that ought to be the Lord. The pure in heart are those who have a single-minded love and devotion for God. They are God-first people.
Jesus is telling us that in His Kingdom, blessed people are the ones with nothing to hide, who live with integrity, and who love God with a single-hearted devotion. These pure in heart people will see God. Intimacy with God, really knowing God, is based more on what’s in our heart than any outward ritual. It’s not those who go through the motions that see God, but those whose hearts are pure and wholly His.
How can I become pure in heart? Only God can make your heart pure!
Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”
You can’t cure your own heart. David prayed in
Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a pure heart, O God…”
He knew that only God can purify our hearts and cleanse us. How does God do that?
1 John 1:7 “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”
When we walk in the light, that is when we live in authentic relationship with Jesus day by day, He keeps us clean. He purifies us. And He does this by virtue of His death on the Cross. There is nothing like spending time with Jesus to keep you clean!
ILL: When the kids were little, we used to take them to the YMCA to go swimming. One Saturday afternoon, I took the boys into the men’s locker room, and we took a long, hot shower. Then we splashed around in the pool for about an hour. Then we sat in the sauna for a few minutes, and then back into the shower for another 10 minutes. We were wrinkled like prunes but we were clean. Anytime you spend the better part of two hours in the water, you come out clean.
Try spending an hour with Jesus—there is nothing like spending time with Jesus to keep you clean and to make you honest. Jesus wants to make you pure in heart. Let’s spend some time soaking in Jesus right now!