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Matthew 5:7 by Robert Dean
Does it almost break your heart to see TV ads about abused and suffering pets? Listen to this lesson to learn the difference between true compassion and the false variety. Find out whose responsibility it is to help those suffering. Discover that when government promises to limit the consequences of people's bad decisions it also limits the outcomes of people making good decisions. Find out what first century Pharisees thought about tax collectors and how Jesus pointed out that a mental attitude of compassion was superior to the performance of religious rituals with no internal reality.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:46 mins 47 secs

How to be Happy - Part 4. Mercy and Compassion
Matthew 5:7
Matthew Lesson #021
February 2, 2014

There is still more to be said in relation to understanding what Jesus is teaching here in the beatitudes in relation to mercy. We need to relate this in some way to the concept of compassion as it is expressed in the Old Testament as well as here. But first of all we always need to be reminded of our context.

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most difficult messages in the Scriptures to interpret. It is difficult because there are a number of background issues in that Jesus is talking to Jews who are under the Mosaic Law. When we as church age believers come to passages like that often there have been those who have said that really doesn't apply to us today because it just applies to Israel under the Law. That is a mistake because while this is focusing on a proper understanding of the interpretation of the Mosaic Law it does have application to us today. Jesus' message, like the message of John the Baptist, to Israel at this particular time in His ministry was to repent for the kingdom of heaven is near. In John the Baptist's message he was teaching the people that they needed to change their thinking away from either the secular thinking of that time or away from the legalistic self-righteousness of the Pharisees that was taught through the religious systems of Judaism, back to a biblical view of God based upon God's grace and the fact that salvation was a free offer. It was that message that the Pharisees reacted to with John the Baptist. He said that they were a brood of vipers and that they needed to produce fruit in keeping with their repentance.

There were two issues involved. The first issue is the act of repentance, which simply means to turn or to change your mind. It doesn't have an emotional connotation; it doesn't mean to have remorse or to feel sorry for your sins. It comes out of an Old Testament background in Deuteronomy 30:2, 3 where Moses said that there would be a time in the future when Israel was scattered among all the nations and they needed to turn back to God before God would restore them to the land and establish the kingdom. Moses states in Deuteronomy 30:2, 3 NASB "and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you." So this becomes a benchmark for understanding the term "repent".  It means to turn back to the Lord, to make this shift.

We all know there are certain times in our lives when we have committed to certain things, whether it is a diet, an exercise program, or some New Year's resolution where we have made a decision to turn from going things the way we have been doing them to improve our life in some other areas. Maybe thirty minutes goes by or maybe a day or two and we violate that. Then we sort of repent and decide we are going to change, straighten out, and it may take several days or weeks before we reestablish a new habit pattern. We have days when we fail but we restore ourselves and we keep moving forward.

Repentance as an act of turning isn't a one-shot decision. When the Pharisees came down John the Baptist emphasized first that they needed to turn, they needed to realize the error of their thinking and to turn back in obedience to God. But it wasn't just a matter of a mental shift. That mental shift needed to have follow-through in terms of their day-to-day obedience. There needed to be a shift in their thinking—what some might call a heart response—but then there needed to be an overt obedience, a pattern that extended itself beyond that.

There are those who have misunderstood John's statement to repent and produce works consistent with repentance, and what they hear is that if they truly repented they will produce works consistent with that. That isn't what he said. He said there are two things they had to do. First, they had to turn and secondly, they needed to follow through with that in terms of being obedient to God's Word, being obedient to the Mosaic Law. What he is speaking of in that passage is that they needed to have a character transformation.

In the flow of the way Matthew is setting up his Gospel Jesus is the one then who comes along and identifies what those works in keeping with repentance are in terms of a character transformation. That character transformation is summarized in these beatitudes, and then that forms the foundation for the rest of the Sermon on the Mount much in the same way that the Ten Commandments lay down the basic principles for the rest of the Mosaic Law. Those ten initial commandments state the general principles for the other 603 commandments in the Torah. Jesus is not laying down principles here of how to have eternal life, how to be justified; He is talking to His disciples about how a saved person should live in preparation for the future kingdom. This has been identified by some theologians by the term "the interim view of the Sermon on the Mount". The sermon is not being given as a code of conduct for the kingdom but as the code of conduct for those who will eventually inhabit the kingdom so that they can maximize their future experience in the kingdom in terms of rewards and responsibilities that are given out at the judgment seat of Christ.

So it applies in two directions. He is talking about general principles that are grounded in understanding the Mosaic Law in the background of the history of the Old Testament, but all of these character traits are emphasized again through the epistles written by Peter and Paul in the rest of the New Testament. So it is not a dispensational nuanced sermon. In other words, you can't come along and say He is just talking to Jews. He is laying down general principles of character for those who will inhabit the kingdom. Those who will inhabit the kingdom include both Jewish Old Testament saints as well as church age believers. They will have different destinies in the kingdom, different responsibilities in the kingdom; but the universal character traits that are established here are to be evidenced in both of them, and that has an impact on their future role and responsibilities in the kingdom.

Matthew 5:7 NASB "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."

As we come to this verse we want to point out the background for this in the Old Testament. Hosea 12:6 NASB "Therefore, return [shub] to your God, Observe kindness and justice, And wait for your God continually." The word "return" is a challenge to Israel that they need to turn back to God. Is that just a mental shift, a mental change of mind, or is it exemplified in the way they relate to God and the way they relate to everyone around them? So initially there is a turn to God in terms of learning to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and then second in terms of our relationship with God in terms of humility and grace orientation to our neighbor. This is the challenge Hosea puts before the southern kingdom. They were in a state of apostasy and he is challenging them to turn to God.

Then he said, "Observe mercy and justice". True justice should be tempered by mercy. As we have already seen we often use these terms grace and mercy in talking about the unmerited favor of God. Grace means unmerited favor. But specifically grace in the New Testament focuses on the solution to the sin problem. God provides a solution to the sin problem. This is done foundationally at the cross when Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin. We have often heard that mercy is grace in action. But what does that mean? It leaves something out. How is it grace in action? Mercy as it is talked about in the Scriptures is directed towards those who are suffering the consequences of sin in their life. Maybe they are suffering the consequences of their own sinful decisions. Maybe they are suffering because they are born into a fallen world, and we see this exemplified many times as those who are lame, blind, have leprosy. Jesus shows mercy and heals them. So mercy is directed towards those who suffer the consequences of sin. In both cases, grace and mercy are unconditional. That is, it is not dependent on the object of grace or mercy for the reception of grace and mercy. When we display grace towards other people it is because of who God is—His character, not ours—and what Christ did on the cross. Mercy is the same way. It is the expression of undeserved favor and kindness to people who are going through difficult times, whether it is their fault or not.  

"And wait for your God continually." And so it is oriented to a dependence upon God. Waiting upon God is a way of talking about faith, the faith-rest drill, trusting in the promises of God, trusting in the character of God to provide the solutions.

A second verse emphasizing mercy in the Old Testament is found in Micah 6:8 NASB "He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness [mercy], And to walk humbly with your God?" In other words, with our fellow human beings we are to treat them on the basis of justice, and to love mercy. Mercy is not at the expense of justice, but neither is justice at the expense of mercy. The word here for mercy is the Hebrew word chesed which emphasizes loyalty to God's covenant. Again that takes us back to the summary of the Mosaic Law: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. Apply the principles of Torah in the Old Testament would result in mercy. It wasn't just an external ritual thing but was to have a transformative effect upon the individual's character.

Third, "to walk humbly with your God". So there is a connection between humility, which is the focus of the first three beatitudes, and our expression of genuine mercy to others.

Zechariah 7:9 NASB "Thus has the LORD of hosts said, 'Dispense true justice and practice kindness [chesed] and compassion each to his brother' ". Notice how mercy and justice are connected. You can't have one without the other. When there is mercy without justice it is pseudo compassion; when there is justice without mercy it tends to harshness and tyranny. So the two must operate together.

This is not what is being seen in the thinking of the Pharisees. In their thinking they were often trying to find ways to avoid showing genuine mercy to people because that might cost them something. We are also reminded that when we show mercy we are reflecting the actions of God. Lamentations 3:22 NASB "The LORD'S lovingkindnesses [chesed] indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail." As we walk by the Spirit God the Holy Spirit is going to be producing character traits in us related to grace orientation and humility as well as mercy. It is extremely important to understand this concept.

So the promise of mercy in Matthew 5:7—the word ELEEO is in the passive tense, meaning to receive mercy. It is a passive voice verb indicating that someone performs the action of being merciful to us. The performer of the action at the end is not stated but the implication is that this is God who is showing mercy to us. This will come about in the future probably at the judgment seat of Christ. The foundation for understanding and exemplifying mercy is found in Hebrew 2:17 which speaks about Jesus Christ as being a merciful and faithful high priest. We are to emulate His character in our life.

Whenever we talk about mercy and that other word that is frequently associated with it, compassion, we often get confused today. There are a lot of false concepts related to being compassionate in our world. So we have some points comparing genuine compassion with pseudo compassion.

* Genuine compassion in the believer relates to being kind, generous and tender towards other people. It is a spiritual virtue that is produced in us through God the Holy Spirit. In mercy the believer seeks to alleviate any personal suffering in the lives of those around him as a result of the fact that we live in a fallen world. Even if a person is suffering consequences for their own sin we are not hardened to that but we can exhibit personal compassion for them without violating whatever justice God may be bringing in the life of a person.

* Genuine compassion may be expressed in terms of evangelism through the spiritual gift of helps or through intercessory prayer, or through personal motivation in giving. There are a lot of different ways in which we can express compassion towards people. But in pseudo compassion what happens is because the motivation is somehow based on guilt or emotion we hurt the situation more than we help the situation. So it takes a certain amount of wisdom if we are going to exhibit mercy towards people. It should be done prayerfully and we should be seeking the proper way to handle those situations through the Word of God.

* Compassion in particular situations cannot be legislated. The Government cannot come in and legislate compassion. Churches cannot come in and legislate compassion. Sometimes there are these kinds of things going on under the concept of pseudo compassion simply because the churches are trying to manipulate people in terms of giving or in terms of various other missionary programs or things of that nature from a false basis, not understanding the righteousness and integrity of God.

* We need to recognize that throughout the Old Testament the emphasis is put on the responsibility of the individual. It is not something imposed on people by the government through taxation or the distribution of wealth or through social welfare programs. When we look at what the Scriptures teach about the role and responsibility of government we see it is limited. It is designed to protect citizens from criminality, to protect the nation from foreign enemies, and to provide for general order so that people can live productive lives if they so choose, based on their own volition. As a result of utilizing their own volition and exercising their own responsibility some will fail and some will succeed. It is not the responsibility of government to guarantee the results of their volition so that they end up with minimum damage  from bad decisions, because when you limit the consequences of bad decisions you will also necessarily have to limit  the blessings from good decisions. And so the government at this stage trying to guarantee end results often produces a false concept of society and equality, trying to guarantee the equality of results. This is motivated by a false concept of compassion.

* Pseudo compassion manipulates people through emotion or guilt. We also find that pseudo compassion expresses itself through an end-justified-the-means rationale as a result against authority. It often involves illegal political activism or it uses political power to achieve goals that are not delegated by God to human government. So be very careful to distinguish between a genuine compassion for people, showing mercy to people, and a pseudo compassion.

A couple of times Jesus talks about mercy and the importance of mercy in the spiritual life in confrontations with the Pharisees. Matthew chapter nine gives our first example. Jesus has irritated the Pharisees by calling Matthew to be a disciple. Obviously Matthew has already become a believer. He has been listening to Jesus. "Follow me" is not a command to become a believer but to take another step in terms of being committed towards consistent study and application of what Jesus taught. All of these "sinners" were gathered for a social event in Matthew's home and the Pharisees see this.

Matthew 9:11 NASB "When the Pharisees saw {this,} they said to His disciples, 'Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?'"  Their attitude was that if Jesus was really holy and righteous He wouldn't have anything to do with these people.

Matthew 9:12 NASB "But when Jesus heard {this,} He said, '{It is} not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.'" In other words, you don't take the gospel to those who are already saved, you take it to those who are in need of salvation. Then He instructs the Pharisees to go and do some homework. [13] 'But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" He quotes from Hosea 6:6 NASB "For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."      

Remember that in the Mosaic Law there is this commandment to have a whole variety of sacrifices and the rituals involved with the tabernacle and the temple. So what is Jesus saying here? He is saying that there is a ritual system under the Mosaic Law that was important because it taught many things. But that ritual was not identical to their spiritual life. The spiritual life was not something of simple external action but it was based upon an internal reality that was focused upon a relationship with God. Therefore it would be grounded in grace orientation and its application in mercy. So He says that ultimately God doesn't desire just sacrifice alone, just the externals of ritual, He wants a heart orientation. He wants our mental attitude focused on Him and upon His Word. Jesus quotes from Hosea chapter six where Hosea the prophet is rebuking Israel for their disobedience to God. It is a rebuke not only of the southern kingdom but also the northern kingdom, and they are described as Ephraim and Judah. Ephraim was often used to stand for the northern kingdom.

Hosea 6:4 NASB "What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? For your loyalty is like a morning cloud And like the dew which goes away early." God is announcing through these rhetorical questions future judgments on these two nations. This is after the division of Israel into the northern and southern kingdoms. [Hos 6:5] "Therefore I have hewn {them} in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth; And the judgments on you are {like} the light that goes forth."

"Prophets" here is not a reference to the false prophets because it is parallel to the line "I have slain them by the words of My mouth". So he is talking about the prophets who were the mouthpiece of God to the nation. So these would be the spiritually-correct prophets who were walking in obedience to the Lord. The idea of hewing them is the idea of carving them out as you would a piece of wood in order to shape it. In other words, it was through the words of the prophets or the Word of God that God was shaping the character of the nation. God is saying He has worked them over by the prophets, He has slain them by the words of His mouth. He is pointing out that under the Mosaic Law disobedience to God could ultimately be punished by death. Just as when Elijah challenged the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. When it was over with and the prophets of Baal had failed Elijah had them all executed, because the penalty for being a false prophet in Israel was death. This is an example of being "slain by the words of my mouth". In other words, it was the application of the death penalty.

The next line says in the Masoretic Text which is the basis for most English translations: "And the judgments on you are {like} the light that goes forth." But a) that doesn't make sense within the context; b) the parallel versions from the LXX and other Aramaic versions has a different reading. The difference is that it says "My judgments". God is speaking about the fact in context that He has brought judgment upon Israel. The judgments of God are going to expose sin and disobedience among the nation in order to bring them to correction and to repentance. This is seen in parallel passages such as Zephaniah 3:5 NASB "The LORD is righteous within her; He will do no injustice. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He does not fail. But the unjust knows no shame." God is exposing the errors in Israel.

Hosea 6:6 NASB "For I delight in loyalty [mercy] rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."  This is the passage that is quoted both in Matthew 9 and Matthew 12 in relation to the Pharisees. This doesn't mean God didn't want them to bring the sacrifices to the temple. He is using contrast here to emphasize what is truly of value. What is of value is not the external act of sacrifice but mercy, which means that the individual worshipper is oriented to the grace of God and is humble. "The knowledge of God" emphasizes a personal relationship with God—knowing God more than burnt offerings. We see a parallel between desiring mercy and a knowledge of God. This emphasizes a personal relationship with God instead of just going through formal, ritualistic motions. 

The same idea is also expressed by Samuel in 1 Samuel 15:22 NASB "Samuel said, 'Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, {And} to heed than the fat of rams'." The fat of rams is what would be poured out upon the altar of sacrifice. He is emphasizing that it is a matter of what is going on in the mind, the mental attitude, the spiritual attitude of devotion to God, as opposed to just going through the formal ritual and external actions.

Hosea 6:7 NASB "But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me." God compares the disobedience of Israel with the disobedience of something called Adam. To what does Adam refer? Mankind? In the English it says "the covenant". The problem with that is that there is no definite article in the Hebrew. So it is not the covenant. It would either be a covenant, or maybe it would be just "they have transgressed covenant". I think it is just they transgressed "a covenant", indicating that there is a parallel between Adam and mankind and their disobedience to a covenant and Israel's disobedience to a covenant. If you have the definite article there it makes it appear that they are both violating the same covenant. But Gentiles, usually identified as mankind or the nations, were never obligated to keep the requirements of the Mosaic Law. So you can't have both parties responsible for the same covenant. So it is better to set up parallels and say they both violated covenant.

Then the question becomes; should that word Adam be translated as the personal name of the first man Adam, or is this simply referring to mankind? It should be translated as the personal name of Adam because we learn from the New Testament in passages like Romans 5:16ff that in Adam all die. The entire human race violated the original creation covenant in Adam when Adam sinned. So what Hosea is emphasizing that there has to be a change, an internal change, and not just external ritual, in terms of having a relationship with God.

In Matthew chapter 12 we have a similar type circumstance where Jesus does something that really irritates the self-righteous Pharisees. He is out with His disciples on the Sabbath when they bare not supposed to work, not suppose to go out in the fields and are not supposed to harvest, and they are going through the rows of grain, plucking off the heads of grain in order to eat them. The Pharisees said that what they were doing was a violation of the Mosaic Law. Then Jesus is an extremely sophisticated argument goes back to the Old Testament episode when David and his followers were hungry and went into the tabernacle and ate from the showbread. This was not correct according to the Mosaic Law, but it is a recognition that they hungered and should be fed. The only food available was the showbread, supposedly for the priests and for God, and God allowed that.

Matthew 12:5 NASB "Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?" He uses a second argument. Nobody is supposed to work on the Sabbath. Wait a minute, the priests all work on the Sabbath! Jesus is pointing out that there are exceptions in the Law.

Matthew 12:6 NASB "But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here." He is the one who is greater than the temple. He quotes Hosea 6:6 again. [7] "But if you had known what this means, 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent. [8] For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

Again He points out that the failure of the Pharisees is that they are focused on an external observance without an internal reality. Too often this is a trap that Christians follow into in their spiritual life, and as a result of which they end up going through certain motions without an internal day-to-day dependence upon the Lord. They substitute an external ritual. And it doesn't have to be something like sacrifice. Just going to church every Sunday, going to Bible class every Tuesday and Thursday night, can end up becoming a ritual with no internal reality. Mercy is to flow from this internal reality that is a result of our day-to-day walk with the Lord. And as we walk with the Lord we are to exhibit His character in our lives, which includes being merciful to those who are going through difficult circumstances. This is part of our spiritual life and it is part of what we will be rewarded for at the judgment seat of Christ, not because we have done it nut because we walk by God the Holy Spirit. He prompts us in this direction and is the one who is producing this fruit in our lives and so everything is ultimately a result of God's grace in our lives.