Pentecost Sunday—that’s what we’re celebrating today. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the believers and they became AGENTS OF MERCY IN THE WORLD! If you don’t remember anything else about Pentecost, please remember that on Pentecost the followers of Jesus became special agents of mercy in the world. It is the day the promised “HELPER” was given to the followers of Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get to live the life Jesus calls us to live. And that life is to be lived as an agent of mercy in the world.
The book of Acts tells us that after Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to hundreds of people over a period of forty days. He spoke to them and encouraged them. On one occasion he gave them this command, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4b-5) And then he adds, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you/ and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Special agents in the world: that’s what we are called to be!
As a kid growing up in the sixties, I was really into the whole idea of being a secret agent. We had The Avengers on TV. We had Danger Man/Secret Agent. We had I Spy. We had Man from U.N.C.L.E. The thought of being a secret agent was totally cool. That’s what Pentecost was all about. It enabled the followers of Jesus to be secret agents in the world—agents of mercy. Let’s face it: in a mean world our greatest witness is showing mercy. That’s what’s going to stand out the most. Every time you show mercy in the world, that is going to be your greatest opportunity to witness to your faith in Jesus Christ. That’s because we live in a world that is very unmerciful. We live in a world that is very unforgiving. IN A MEAN WORLD, OUR GREATEST WITNESS IS TO SHOW MERCY.
Jesus says, “Show mercy to others, just as your [heavenly] Father shows mercy to you!” (Matthew 6:36) So what I want to do as we wrap up this eight week sermon series on the Miracle of Mercy, I want us to look at how we can be better at showing mercy to others. Mercy isn’t just something we do one day a year. That’s what we looked at last week. Showing mercy to others is meant to be a life style. So let’s look at HOW WE CAN BE BETTER AT SHOWING MERCY. If you want to build a lifestyle of mercy, here is what you need to do:
FIRST, START BY LOOKING AND LISTENING FOR PEOPLE’S NEEDS. And you won’t have to look far. There are people all around you who are hurting and in need of God’s mercy. Developing a lifestyle of mercy is all about keeping an eye out for people who are in need. Here’s the thing: if we can meet their needs in the name of Christ, we will have the opportunity to share Jesus with them. That is, after all, why we are so dedicated to showing mercy to others—not for our own glory, but for the opportunity to bring glory to Christ by leading others to discover his greatness. He is the one who meets our needs.
To be honest, you often miss out on being an agent of mercy, not because you’re a bad person, but because you’re just too busy or distracted. You’re too caught up in your own concerns. You don’t stop and think about HOW CAN I BE BETTER AT SHOWING MERCY. That’s what I want to share with you today. Here’s how you can build a lifestyle of mercy. Start by looking and listening for people’s needs.
First, look and listen for the needs of others in your circle of contacts, in your sphere of influence, in your neighborhood. Look and listen for the needs of people in your own family, in your extended family. Mercy always begins with awareness, awareness of the needs of others. That means you’ll need to slow down and notice the needs of the people around you, and as you do, be creative as to how you can meet those needs with the resources you have at your disposal. Our greatest witness to a hurting world is to see their pain, to see their need and reach out to meet that need. The Bible says, “Look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own.” (Philippians 2:4)
The highest form of love is not SEX! The highest form of love is ATTENTION. When you give people your attention, you’re giving them a piece of yourself, a slice of your life that you will never get back. You can always make more money and get more stuff, but you only have so many days in your life, so many hours allotted to you in this world. To give away some of those precious hours is to give away yourself. That’s what it means to give your attention to another person. That’s what Jesus did for the least, the lost and the last in society. People brought little children to Jesus, asking him to place his hands on them and bless them. He gave them his attention. And he did this for a multitude of others.
One day a wealthy may came to him and asked what he needed to do to receive eternal life and it says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (Mark 10:21) In other words, he gave him his attention. When we look and listen to the needs of others with love in our hearts, it opens up to us all kinds of opportunities for us to show mercy.
THE SECOND thing we can do to build a lifestyle of showing mercy is: DON’T GET OFFENDED BY PEOPLE’S SINS. Don’t get put off by the sinful things others are involved in. Just be thankful it isn’t you doing the sinning.
Matthew Henry recorded for us an experience he had of being robbed. He said he didn’t much like getting roughed up as he was robbed and he certainly didn’t like having all his money taken from him, even though it wasn’t much. When it was all over he said, “I am just thankful it wasn’t I who did the robbing.” That’s the way we should think when it comes to other people’s sin. Just be thankful it is not you doing the sinning. Be thankful that by the grace of God it is not you.
God’s love for us is unconditionally and he calls us to love others unconditionally. We can’t wait for someone to get their act together before we care about them. We can’t tell them to go get their life together before we can show mercy to them. Jesus wasn’t offended by people’s sins. He hung out with the worst of sinners. He ate dinner with the prostitutes and tax collectors. He spent time with them, learning how they thought about things so he could talk to them and show them mercy. The Bible tells us we are to look out for the needs of others. We can’t look out for them if we’re looking down on them.
The Bible says, “Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. There are still others to whom you need to show mercy, but be careful that you aren’t contaminated by their sins.” (Jude 1:22-23) (NLT) So we are to show mercy to sinful people without joining them in their sinfulness. That can be a challenge. The Bible says, “Most importantly, love each other deeply. Love has a way of not looking at others’ sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) (ICB) It says, “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” (Ephesians 4:2b) (LB)
WE CANNOT EXPECT UNBELIEVERS TO ACT LIKE BELIEVERS UNTIL THEY ARE! We know the difference between right and wrong because we know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and yet we still mess up. To expect a non-believer to have the same moral standards as a believer is nonsense. Don’t expect those who don’t know Jesus to live like they do. Instead, do everything you can to introduce them to Jesus. More laws won’t make people more loving and kind. You can’t legislate morality. Only Jesus can change a person’s heart. You can’t get offended by people’s sins if you’re going to be an agent of mercy.
One thing the religious establishment couldn’t understand is why Jesus hung out with blatantly sinful people. He went to a dinner party with them. The Bible says, “That night Matthew invited Jesus to dinner with his fellow tax collectors and many other ‘notorious sinners.’ The Pharisees were indignant. ‘Why does your Teacher eat with such scum?’ they asked. When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do!’ Then he added, ‘Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: “I want you to be merciful, not offer sacrifices!” For I’ve come to invite sinners to me, not those who think they are righteous.” (Matthew 9:10-13) If you want to be better at being an agent of mercy, then you can’t get offended by people’s sins.
THIRD, if you want to be better at showing mercy then CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY. If you’re going to be God’s special agent of mercy in the workplace, in the marketplace, in school, in your neighborhood, on the basketball court or ball field, wherever, you’ll have to choose your words carefully. Mercy means you put a monitor on your mouth. The Bible says, “When you talk, you should always be kind and pleasant so you will be able to answer everyone in the way you should.” (Colossians 4:6) (NCV) Circle the words “pleasant” and “kind.” You are never persuasive when you’re abrasive. No matter who you’re talking to, if you are going to be God’s special agent of mercy, then you must choose your words carefully.
The Bible says, “Do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you.” (Ephesians 4:29) If you want to be better at showing mercy to others, then you’ll need to understand them, you’ll have to understand what people need. That takes the wisdom only God can give you. The Bible says, “The wisdom that comes from heaven is pure, peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. Wisdom is full of mercy….” (James 3:17) (NLT) One unkind and hurtful comment can undo a thousand words of kindness. This is called the “null effect.” A harsh response can undo and nullify all the kind words previously spoken. Choose your words carefully.
FOURTH, if you want to be God’s special agent of mercy in the world, you will need to VALUE SAVING PEOPLE OVER KEEPING RULES. Jesus taught us that saving people is a whole lot more important than keeping rules. Rules are not nearly as important as relationships. One day Jesus was walking through a grain field with his disciples and they began to take the heads of the grain stocks and rub them in their hands until they could get the grain to where they could eat it. The Pharisees condemned them because it was the Sabbath and they were breaking the rules by working on the Sabbath. Jesus defends his disciples eating grain on the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:1-8) As long as they were hungry, they weren’t going to hear the saving words of Jesus Christ. Their bellies were growling too loudly to hear anything. Jesus cared more about their empty stomachs than he did about the rules. He valued saving people over keeping rules. If we are going to be special agents of God’s mercy in the world, then we will have to value saving people over keeping religious traditions.
On another occasion Jesus confronted the religious folks saying, “You Pharisees are careful to tithe 10% of every part of your income, but then you ignore other important matters of God’s Law—[like] justice, and showing mercy, and faith. Yes, you should tithe! But you also shouldn’t neglect the more important things.” (Matthew 23:23) Jesus is showing us great wisdom here. He confronts the Pharisees for failing in the area of justice and mercy, while at the same time affirming them for tithing. That’s a relationship building technique— affirm others for something good before you point out something they are neglecting to do. Please notice that Jesus says tithing is something we should do. Many Christians fail to tithe because they say it’s not something Jesus taught us to do, it’s Old Testament thinking. Well, so are the Ten Commandments and don’t know any Christian in their right mind who would say we shouldn’t obey the Ten Commandments. Please don’t miss the fact that Jesus is affirming the Pharisees for tithing. We should all be tithing or working toward tithing.
Now let’s look at WHERE SPECIAL AGENTS OF MERCY ARE NEEDED IN THE WORLD? And I have good news for you folks who don’t like to travel. You don’t even need to leave town. The FIRST place where you can be an agent of mercy is WHERE PEOPLE ARE IN CRISIS. Look and listen for people who are in crisis. Your eyes and your ears are healing tools of mercy! Just by eye contact and listening to people you can ease their burden. With your eyes and ears you can compassionately enter into other people’s pain. That in and of itself will ease their burden. Just knowing someone else who cared is aware of what you are going through is a huge help. A crisis shared is half as heavy. The Bible says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
The SECOND place is WHERE PEOPLE HAVE UNMET NEEDS. Practical needs. Maybe someone needs a job and you know of a place that’s hiring. Maybe someone needs a ride and you can take them. Maybe someone needs some food and you can help them out. I don’t recommend giving cash to people who can’t seem to manage money. They may have an addiction and you’d be enabling them. But as an agent of mercy you could buy them a tank of gas or a bag of groceries, or even gift cards from a local restaurant. Maybe your neighbor just needs a helping hand. The Bible says, “Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’ That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but he waded right in and helped out.” (Romans 15:2-3) (MES)
A THIRD place to be an agent of mercy is WHERE PEOPLE ARE GRIEVING. The Bible says, “God comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort others who are in trouble with the same comfort that we ourselves received from God.” (2nd Corinthians 1:3-4)
A FOURTH place is WHERE PEOPLE ARE WITHOUT FRIENDS. Maybe they’re new to the community or maybe they’ve burned their bridges. As an agent of mercy we are to befriend the friendless. The Bible says, “Look for opportunities to be hospitable.” (Romans 12:13b) When we befriend the friendless, Jesus says to us, “I was alone and you welcomed me and showed me hospitality.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
A FIFTH place is WHERE PEOPLE NEED A SECOND CHANCE. That’s where we are to show mercy. The Bible says, “When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won’t give up in despair.” (2nd Corinthians 2:7) (CEV)
A SIXTH place where we are to be special agents of mercy is WHERE PEOPLE ARE RUDE. And we don’t have to go very far to find people are rude today. God calls us to show mercy to rude and unkind people. The Bible says, “Don’t repay evil for evil. Never retaliate when people insult you or say unkind things about you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God wants you to do, and he will bless you for it!” (1st Peter 3:9) (NLT)
When we go to these places as special agents of mercy, we do it, not for glory or because others deserve our kindness. We do it for our Commander and Chief. The Bible says, “God will not forget the work you’ve done and the love you’ve shown him by caring for and helping other people.” (Hebrews 6:10)